Fr. Vincent McNabb, the Land, and Distributism: A Thumbnail Sketch
William Edmund Fahey, Christendom College
...Distributism may be described as a social disposition held by those who emphasize life as lived out in a local community. Distributists see this emphasis as the best response to the modern tendency of man to be attenuated by participation in larger abstract associations. Distributists hold that there is an organic link between the person, the family, the homestead, the city, and the State. Yet Distributists view concentrated political and economic power with suspicion and seek to influence private and public initiatives in such a way as to encourage a decentralized polity and the widespread distribution of property. Distributism encourages the orderly desire for ownership (in particular, the ownership of the means of production) among individuals, free families, and independent worker co-operatives.
Distributism was shaped initially in Great Britain by Hilaire Belloc, G.K. and Cecil Chesterton, Arthur Penty, Eric Gill, and, of course, Fr. McNabb. The movement came as a response to the perceived twin evils of Communism and the unrestricted Capitalism generated by classical liberal ideology. Both of these systems emphasize the materialist dimension of man and are marked by a false faith in the continual unfolding of Progress. McNabb and Belloc vociferously pointed to the unity of Marxism and contemporary Capitalism in their materialistic leveling of man.
The point has been re-emphasized recently by Pope John Paul II in his reflection on Rerum Novarum: it agrees with Marxism, in the sense that it totally reduces man to the sphere of economics and the satisfaction of material needs. From the beginning, two complementary traditions of European thought opposed this two-headed liberal materialism and deeply influenced Distributist writings: Thomism, restored to prominence under Pope Leo XIII, and the anti-Whig medievalism of late eighteenth and nineteenth-century English cultural conservatives such as Cobbett, Coleridge, Ruskin, and Newman...Read it all