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    Post Distributism

    http://www.modjourn.brown.edu/mjp/Essays/Distrib.html

    Distributism

    by Carol DeBoer-Langworthy


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Now almost forgotten, Distributism was a composite of several social and moral theories first articulated by Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) and Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) in the pages of volume 2 of The New Age. The initial concepts arose from the four-way (and more) argument among H.G.Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Belloc and Chesterton over modernity that began with Belloc’s "Thoughts on Modern Thought" (02:108). Although probably initially stage-managed by Orage, the debate became a messy, two-year-long wrangle that engaged many readers until the discussion petered out in 1909.

    That discussion, now known as "the Chesterbelloc" contoversy, helped Belloc and Chesterton develop a rationale for equitable distribution of property and restoration of worker control in commerce, agriculture, and industry. This cluster of ideas, soon called "Distributism," was based on the two men’s look back, to European history, as well as their concerns about the present and the future of mass industrial society. Their ideas were not especially daring or innovative, but rather were built on what they felt had worked in the past. Calling for a return to the Christian social conscience, Distributism warned against the trend toward dehumanizing state control of society and for the efficacy of the self-contained organic community.

    This restoration of society to a human, organic scale was to be accomplished through a return to a social system not unlike medieval guilds -- small units organized according to natural economic classes and productive functions. The idea was to create a balanced or mixed economy of independent farmers and small industries owned and operated by the workers themselves, thus creating a sort of peasant-worker state. The Roman Catholic Church was to provide whatever federal and international control might be needed. Independent, small farming was to be the backbone of this society based on decentralized control, self-sufficiency, and rural reconstruction.

    This new/old society was definitely not to be imperialist. Things were to be decided by the people in small groups, negotiated by personal interaction. Anarchism’s belief in no coercion of cooperation was a major tenet, and the Distributist ideal was not far from that described by Kropotkin. Distributism was anti-Utopian and did not offer a blueprint, as would have H. G. Wells or the Fabians, gladly, for a future society. Belloc and Chesterton refused to be tied down to specific proposals, believing that any social outcome needed to come from individual human desire and conditions, rather than from planning imposed from above.

    Distributism claimed to be much more than a political theory; it was a philosophy or way of life firmly founded on religious principles. Belloc, born in France, was a life-long Roman Catholic and Chesterton became one in 1922. Chesterton in particular sought to retrieve the sanctity of human relationships through articulating a form of Thomism that sought to reintegrate the individual into a corporate state. The key to this was the family and private property -- but not too much property.

    Distributism critiqued both socialism and capitalism. Capitalism was called a denial of property because capitalism denied its limits. Communism was termed the unnatural child of this mother, capitalism, and was predicted to eventually consume its parent. It has been called the forerunner of the "Third Way" approach now being touted as the ideal mixed economy for the 21st century. Some thinkers argue that the Chesterbelloc’s critique of collectivism has more credence for post-industrial rather than industrial society.

    Initial Distributist ideas were touted by Cecil Chesterton, W.R. Titterton, and G.K. Chesterton in the Everyman. Other early proponents of Distributist thought were A. R. Orage, A. J. Penty, S. G. Hobson, Maurice Reckitt, Father Vincent McNabb, Commander Herbert Shove, Eric Gill, Sir Henry Slesser, and Ada Jones Chesterton. Their ideas were often anti-imperial, anti-elite, anti-Utopian, and anti-machine (at least for some Distributists; not all). Distributionists were for balance -- in the distribution of property (the basis of wealth, they believed), in family life, and in the human scale of organizations. Distributism was not very compatible with the women’s suffrage movement of the time, perhaps because it failed to explore adequately the role of women in the much-lauded family unit. Chesterton attempted in his works to give credit and honor to women’s domestic labor, but perhaps that did not solve the financial problems of poor families already "divorced" from the land.

    Distributist theory contributed heavily to Orage’s enthusiasm for guild socialism in The New Age from 1911-1919. Belloc’s book, The Servile State (1912), was an important force behind this enthusiasm, along with his An Essay on the Restoration of Property (1936). S.G. Hobson promoted guild socialism in an unsigned series in The New Age, as a synthesis of political socialism and industrial syndicalism. But Distributism drew upon a range of attitudes and ideas, including Chartism, Burkean organicism, French revolutionary thought, socialism, anarchism, populism, and liberalism. As James Corrin wrote, the social philosophy of Chesterton and Belloc ["] ... was a peculiar hybrid of both radical and conservative ideas["] (Corrin, 208).

    Just one of those ideas was the back-to-the-land movement, of which Distributism was the major impetus. This resulted in the Catholic Rural Life Movement of America, the Antigonish movement in Canada, the Southern Agrarian movement in the U.S. South (which affected Franklin D. Roosevelt’s planning of the New Deal), and the Rural Reconstruction Association as well as other land reform movements in England.

    In 1911 Cecil Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc founded the Eye-Witness as a vehicle for their ideas. Renamed the New Witness in 1912 and edited by Cecil Chesterton, this paper exposed the Marconi scandal in 1916 and got Cecil a conviction for libel. G.K. Chesterton took over its editorship in 1916 when Cecil went to World War I, and continued it after Cecil’s death, until 1923. In 1925 the paper was reconstituted as G.K.’s Weekly, to be a platform for his Distributist ideas.

    In 1926, the Distributist League was founded, mainly in order to help the G.K.’s Weekly’s finances. (Sewell, "Devereux" 141) The Distributist League had two objectives:

    preservation of property, in order that the liberty of the individual and family could be independent of oppressive systems,
    and better distribution of capital by individual ownership of the means and instruments of production, which was the only way to preserve private property. (Corrin 108-9).
    But its real goal, admitted Chesterton, was propaganda. By 1928, the League had something over 2,000 members -- its peak of membership. The first large-scale Distributist public meeting was a Bernard Shaw-Chesterton debate chaired by Belloc, held in Kingsway Hall that year and broadcast live by the British Broadcasting Corporation. It resulted in a near-riot. (Sewell 141)

    Hilaire Belloc himself articulated a major criticism of Distributism in 1929. According to Duff Cooper's autobiography, the morning after an evening's campaigning on Cooper's behalf, Hilare Belloc:

    [...] was sitting in the club next morning over a glass of beer when an enthusiastic young man was shown in who wanted the honour of a word with him. The young man explained that he was a fervent supporter of the principle of distributism, the political theory for which Chesterton and Belloc were supposed to stand and which advocated the small ownership of the national wealth. Belloc said he was glad to be assured of the young man's support, and added that so far as he could see there was only one difficulty in the way of his policy being adopted.

    "What is that?" eagerly asked the young man, anxious to learn.

    "It is," answered Belloc, "like trying to force the water at Niagara to go up instead of coming down." The young man went away sorrowful. (Cooper 166)

    Over time, the Distributist League took up a number of issues and positions. In 1930, it withdrew its support of the trade union movement and turned, shortly thereafter, to monarchism. In 1931, the Distributist League began publishing its own newsletter, The Distributionist, as G.K.’s Weekly could no longer keep up with the heavy editorial traffic. As Distributism looked to the past for a model of a simpler, kinder, gentler world, it began to focus on what it saw as the abuses of international finance in causing wars, famine, and disruption in social relations. Steeped in European cultural and religious attitudes as they were, it was not a big step for some Distributists to believe in a conspiracy of international Jewish finance responsible for the social chaos caused by both capitalism and socialism. Chesterton, Belloc, Eliot and Ezra Pound were among those who succumbed to this viewpoint at various times.

    By August 1935, Chesterton wrote that, as things now stood, he personally was willing to look into fascism because parliamentary government seemed to have failed the common man. Especially after Chesterton’s death in 1936, the Distributist movement seemed to spin out of control. That year, Belloc took over as editor of the successor magazine, the Weekly Review, and the journal and organization declared themselves more sanguine about dictatorship as an expedient against international communism.

    Also in 1936, Belloc became president of the League, with T.S. Eliot, Eric Gill, and Ada Jones Chesterton as vice presidents. Without Chesterton as a calming influence, the organization began to drift toward the ideas of the British Union of Fascists, in response to what it saw as a threat of worldwide communism. This monomania drove away many initial supporters. Perhaps the last break with its early origins came when the Weekly Review advocated British imperialism. At the outbreak of World War II, 1940, the Distributist League was disbanded. A new organization was formed in March 1947, but it lasted only a few years. Finally it was apparent that the 20th-century’s move toward large organizations and mass culture was inexorable.

    Wilfred Sheed has written that, regardless of any embarrassment they may have brought to the Catholic community, ["] ... there can be little doubt that Chesterton, Belloc, and the Distributist circle shattered the intellectual inferiority complex of British Catholics ["] (Corrin, 171).

    Distributism constituted a revolutionary response to the conformity of the modern industrial age by its critique of a collectivist-plutocratic state. The mainspring of the neo-Thomist revival in Catholic intellectual circles, it profoundly affected a generation of Roman Catholic writers in England as well as many North American thinkers: Dorothy Day, Robert Coles, and Marshall McLuhan, among others. In her 1943 biography of Chesterton, Maisie Ward lists movements in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sri Lanka that were directly inspired by Distributism.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------



    Works Consulted and Cited


    Canovan, Margaret. G.K. Chesterton: Radical Populist. New York & London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977.

    Cooper, Duff. Old Men Forget: The Autobiography of Duff Cooper (Viscount Norwich). London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1953.

    Corrin, Jay P. G.K. Chesterton & Hilaire Belloc: The Battle Against Modernity. Athens & London: Ohio University Press, 1991.

    Gross, John. The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters: Aspects of English Literary Life Since 1800. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1969.

    Hattersley, Roy. "In Search of the Third Way," Granta 71:229-255.

    Sewell, Brocard. "Devereux Nights: A Distributist Memoir," in Sullivan, John, ed. G.K. Chesterton: A Centenary Appraisal. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., 1974.

    Ward, Maisie. Gilbert Keith Chesterton. London/ New York: Sheed & Ward, 1943.

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    Post Re: Distributism

    What is distributism?
    by Thomas Storck


    Thomas Storck is the author of Foundations of a Catholic Political Order and The Catholic Milieu. He is a contributing editor of New Oxford Review and a member of the editorial board of The Chesterton Review.



    Much of the history of the Western world since the middle of the nineteenth century has been the history of the clash of competing economic systems. Ever since the Communist Manifesto of 1848, when it was claimed that a "specter is haunting Europe," a specter indeed has been haunting not only Europe, but the whole world. This is the specter not just of communism, but of rival economic and social systems which many times since then have convulsed mankind. But in the minds of many this rivalry of economic systems has come to an end: communism and socialism have both been defeated, and therefore only capitalism is left to reign triumphantly throughout the entire world. However, this is not the case. In a neglected passage of the encyclical Centesimus Annus, John Paul II points out that mankind's choices are not restricted to capitalism and the now discredited socialism. "We have seen that it is unacceptable to say that the defeat of so-called `Real Socialism' leaves capitalism as the only model of economic organization" (no. 35). If this is the case, then it behooves Catholics to take a look at distributism, an economic system championed by many of the best minds in the Church in the first part of the twentieth century, men such as G. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Fr. Vincent McNabb and many others. Let us see exactly what distributism is and why many Catholics see it as more akin to Catholic thought than capitalism.

    In the first place, we would do well to make a few definitions of the chief terms we will be using, and especially of capitalism. Too often this word is left undefined, and each person gives it some sort of connotation in his mind, good or bad, depending on his own beliefs, but never clearly defined. Now first, what is capitalism not? Capitalism is not private ownership of property, even of productive property, for such ownership has existed in most of the world at most times, and capitalism is generally held to have come into existence only toward the end of the Middle Ages in Europe. Perhaps the best way to proceed is to take our definition from a very weighty source, and then we will see how that definition does indeed fit the facts of history. We will turn, then, to the encyclical of Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno (1931), in which capitalism is defined or characterized as "that economic system in which were provided by different people the capital and labor jointly needed for production" (no. 100). In other words, under capitalism normally people work for someone else. Someone, the capitalist, pays others, the workers, to work for him, and receives the profits of this enterprise, that is, whatever is left over after he has paid for his labor, his raw materials, his overhead, any debt he owes, etc.

    Now is there anything wrong with capitalism, with the separation of ownership and work? In itself there is nothing unjust about my owning a factory or a farm and employing others to work for me, as long as I pay them a just and living wage. But nonetheless, the capitalistic system is dangerous and unwise, its fruits have been harmful for mankind, and the supreme pontiffs have often called for changes which would, in effect, eliminate capitalism, or at least reduce its scope and power.

    Let me explain and justify the assertions I have just made. And in order to do so, I must first make a brief detour to talk about the purpose of economic activity. Why has God given to men the possibility and need for producing and using economic goods? The answer to this is obvious: we need these goods and services in order to live a human life. Thus economic activity produces goods and services for the sake of serving all of mankind, and any economic arrangements must be judged by how well they fulfill that purpose.

    Now when ownership and work are separated there necessarily exists a class of men, capitalists, who are one step removed from the production process itself. Stockholders, for example, typically do not care about what the company they are formal owners of actually makes or does, but only whether its stock price is rising or how large a dividend it pays. In fact, on the stock exchange, shares change hands thousands of times a day, that is, different individuals or entities, such as pension funds, are part owners of companies for a few minutes or hours or days, and then the stock is sold to someone else and they become owners of some new entity. Thus this class of capitalists naturally comes to see the economic system as a mechanism by which money, stocks, bonds, futures, and other surrogates for real wealth, can be manipulated in order to enrich themselves, instead of serving society by producing needed goods and services. As a result, men have made fortunes by hostile takeovers, mergers, shutting down factories, etc., in other words, by taking advantage of private property rights, not in order to engage in productive economic activity, but to enrich themselves regardless of its effect on consumers or workers.

    The popes have indeed justified the ownership of private property, but if we examine how and why they have done so, we will see that the logic of their position is far from the logic of capitalism. Let us look, for example, at a famous passage from the encyclical of Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (1891).

    Men always work harder and more readily when they work on that which is their own; nay, they learn to love the very soil which yields in response to the labor of their hands, not only food to eat, but an abundance of the good things for themselves and those that are dear to them. (no. 35)

    But what happens under capitalism? Do men learn to love the very stock certificates which yield cold cash, in response to the labor of someone else's hands? The justification of private property that the popes have made is always tied, at least as an ideal, to ownership and work being joined. Thus Leo XIII: "The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many people as possible to become owners" (Rerum Novarum, no. 35), and this teaching is repeated by Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno (nos. 59-62, 65), by John XXIII in Mater et Magistra (nos. 85-89, 91-93, 111-115), and by John Paul II in Laborem Exercens (no. 14). If "as many people as possible...become owners," then that fatal separation of ownership and work will be, if not removed, at least its extent and influence will be lessened. It will no longer be the hallmark of our economic system, even if it still exists to some extent.

    And this brings us directly to distributism. For distributism is nothing more than an economic system in which private property is well distributed, in which "as many people as possible" are in fact owners. Probably the most complete statement of distributism can be found in Hilaire Belloc's book, The Restoration of Property (1936). Note the title, The Restoration of Property. For the distributists argued that under capitalism property, certainly productive property, was the preserve of the rich, and that this gave them an influence and power in society far beyond what they had any right to. Yes, the formal right to private property exists for all under capitalism, but in practice it is restricted to the rich.

    A further feature of distributism that follows from this, is that in a distributist economy, the amassing of property will have limits placed on it. Before one objects that this sounds like socialism, he would do well to remember Chesterton's remark (in What's Wrong With the World, chap. 6), that the institution of private property no more means the right to unlimited property than the institution of marriage means the right to unlimited wives!

    In the Middle Ages those quintessential Catholic institutions, the craft guilds, very often limited the amount of property each owner/worker could have (for example, by limiting the number of his employees), precisely in the interest of preventing anyone from expanding his own workshop so much that he was likely to drive others out of business. For if private property has a purpose and end, as Aristotle and St. Thomas would insist, it surely is to allow a man to make a decent living for himself and his family by serving society. But one living, not two or three. If my business supports myself and my family, then what right do I have to expand that business so as to deprive others of the means of supporting themselves and their families? For the medievals saw those in the same line of work, not as rivals or competitors, but as brothers, brothers engaged in the very important work of providing the public with a needed good or service. And as brothers they joined together into guilds, engaged priests to pray for their dead, supported their widows and orphans with insurance funds, and generally looked after one another. Who would not admit that this conception of economic activity is more akin to the Catholic faith than the dog eat dog ethic of capitalism?

    I realize that much of what I say here must sound strange to many readers. Most Americans are acquainted only with capitalism and socialism. But a little knowledge of Catholic economic history and of traditional Catholic economic thought will be enough to convince any fair minded reader that there is an entire world out there of genuine Catholic thought on this subject nearly unknown in the United States. And if the current "science" of economics contradicts this thought, then ask yourself, what authority does that "science" have? It arose from the deistic philosophy of the so-called Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, and it is curious that some Catholics, while condemning (rightly) the philosophy of that unfortunate century, warmly embrace its economic theories, not realizing that those economic theories arise from the same poisoned well as Voltaire and the Encyclopedists. But it is not too late to remake our thinking after the very pattern of Jesus Christ and his Church--if we are willing to banish from our lives the idols that are worshipped in our own country and embark on the fascinating journey of discovering Catholic economic thinking.

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    Post Re: Distributism

    In modern NS, an individual owns his or her own work. This means if you are a butcher, baker or candle stick maker, you operate your own business. You can pass this on to your son or you may choose to take-on someone to help you with your business. In the latter case, that individual would be paid only a basic wage but gradually earn a piece of the business through sweat equity.

    This idea can be scaled up to the size of a large factory. In this case shares would be paid "employees" each year alone with a basic salary. The shares would pay dividends and so the income would increase. Speculation on shares as in a stock market would be illegal.

    Funding for large projects could be raised directly from investors who would receive shares. This is how the .com revolution was funded, not by borrowing from banks. It works.

    With Finance and Labor eliminated from the equation, people would not have to work as long or as hard and could control the conditions under which they work--after all they are co-owners of the business.

    Government could own utilites and perhaps strategic industries and either own or regulate transportation. For instance, the thousands of miles of highways tied up in distribution of goods via truck could be eleminated. Shipment could be by super-modern rail and only local distribution by truck. This would save millions in infa-structure, energy and polution.

    Taxes could be based on tariffs but only tariffs on products which are also produced in the county in question. If the product was not produced internally, no tariff. If the product was deemed superior to that produced domestically, no tariff. But if the import was produced locally, then a tariff should be assessed so that the import costs more than the domestic product. This supports a higher standard of living and has the opposite effect of outsourcing.

    In a NS economy and individual would work less, make better products, enjoy better working conditions and have more freedom than either a communist or capitalist system.

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    Post Re: Distributism

    Has anything been done with Distributism in the past 50 years? It sounds like an interesting concept that fits well with Christian Socialism and Agrianianism as well.
    --------------------------------------------------------
    There is nothing the matter with Americans except their ideals. The real American is all right; it is the ideal American who is all wrong. ~G.K. Chesterton

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    Post Re: Distributism

    Quote Originally Posted by Frontiersman
    Has anything been done with Distributism in the past 50 years?
    Indeed yes. Right now Im reading G.K. Chesterton & Hilaire Belloc : the battle against modernity by Jay P. Corrin, and he notes the strong influence Distributism had on many schools of economic thought and how many of its ideals are still relevant today. In fact he argues that Distributism was ahead of its time and much of its theory is more relevant today in the "post-industrial" world than it did back during Chesterton's and Belloc's times.(I put "post-industrial" in quotations because thats the term the author uses but I personally dislike it and think it's idiotic).

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    Post Re: Distributism

    Quote Originally Posted by Pushkin
    Indeed yes. Right now Im reading G.K. Chesterton & Hilaire Belloc : the battle against modernity by Jay P. Corrin, and he notes the strong influence Distributism had on many schools of economic thought and how many of its ideals are still relevant today. In fact he argues that Distributism was ahead of its time and much of its theory is more relevant today in the "post-industrial" world than it did back during Chesterton's and Belloc's times.(I put "post-industrial" in quotations because thats the term the author uses but I personally dislike it and think it's idiotic).
    Hey, Pushkin. Just wanted to thank you for turning me onto this subject. If there is a more 'European' economic system, I'm not aware of it. Distributism seems to be a bit of a Traditionalist economic system, being that of Middle Ages Europe. Tolkien's Middle Earth seemed to describe Distributive societies as well. I've been working on developing a colony with some colleagues, and we think this system might work best for what we want to achieve. The founding of a Guild, the most even distribution of property, care of the soul and spirit, neither the community or individual is debased. Wonderful idea. It fits in well with some of the other ideas I've tinkered with, philosophical Anarchism, Christian Monarchy, Agrarianism, New Urbanism, even possibly with the design/construction of Arcologies. For the economic groundwork of our 'colony/community' this seems to fit in the best with a traditional Western European, Christian (Orthodox/Catholic), free society.
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    There is nothing the matter with Americans except their ideals. The real American is all right; it is the ideal American who is all wrong. ~G.K. Chesterton

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    Post Re: Distributism

    Quote Originally Posted by Frontiersman
    Hey, Pushkin. Just wanted to thank you for turning me onto this subject. If there is a more 'European' economic system, I'm not aware of it. Distributism seems to be a bit of a Traditionalist economic system, being that of Middle Ages Europe. Tolkien's Middle Earth seemed to describe Distributive societies as well. I've been working on developing a colony with some colleagues, and we think this system might work best for what we want to achieve. The founding of a Guild, the most even distribution of property, care of the soul and spirit, neither the community or individual is debased. Wonderful idea. It fits in well with some of the other ideas I've tinkered with, philosophical Anarchism, Christian Monarchy, Agrarianism, New Urbanism, even possibly with the design/construction of Arcologies. For the economic groundwork of our 'colony/community' this seems to fit in the best with a traditional Western European, Christian (Orthodox/Catholic), free society.
    No problem. I myself am still educating myself on this particular form of politcal economic thought and hope to learn more in the future. If you want, I can send you some links that deal with this topic more including at least one mailing list dealing with Distributism. There is a Distributist forum, but its hardly active.

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    Post Re: Distributism

    Quote Originally Posted by Pushkin
    No problem. I myself am still educating myself on this particular form of politcal economic thought and hope to learn more in the future. If you want, I can send you some links that deal with this topic more including at least one mailing list dealing with Distributism. There is a Distributist forum, but its hardly active.
    Please do! The idea I believe was victim to the follies of the early 20th c. and the Zeitgeist then current. Now might be much more appropriate to attempt it.
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    There is nothing the matter with Americans except their ideals. The real American is all right; it is the ideal American who is all wrong. ~G.K. Chesterton

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    Post Re: Distributism

    Quote Originally Posted by Frontiersman
    Please do! The idea I believe was victim to the follies of the early 20th c. and the Zeitgeist then current. Now might be much more appropriate to attempt it.
    Indeed. Well here are some links that should help you.

    http://www.distributism.com/ Good intro

    http://www.theuniversityconcourse.co...000/Storck.htm
    What is Distributism? by Thomas Storck

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/distributism/ Distributism forum

    http://mdemarco.web.wesleyan.edu/gkc/distrib/ A Distributivism Page(many links)

    http://www.medaille.com/distributivism.htm Distributivism and Catholic Social Teachings

    http://www.thirdway.org/ Third Way, A Catholic Distributist group in England

    http://www.geocities.com/kevinjjonesy/distributism/ Another good Distributism site with links

    http://www.catholicculture.org/docs/...fm?recnum=1191 The Social Order Before and After the Protestant Reformation (useful for distributists who look to the medieval age for inspiration)

    http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Leo13/l13rerum.htm Rerum Novarum, the Papal Encyclical that much of Distributism is based on

    http://www.politicalsoldier.net/indexmain.php International Third Position, a distributist movement.

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    Post Re: Distributism

    A great source for literature on Distributism is the Chesterston Review. Luckily a library near my house has several old editions of this publication(1974-2002) and there are several interesting articles. When I get a chance I'll try reprinting some here.
    Last edited by Taras Bulba; Friday, October 1st, 2004 at 08:00 PM.

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