I have, in the past, used the terms “left distrubutism” and “right distributism” to explain to bewildered leftists that some of the people claiming the title of distributist hold ideas that are not true to traditional distributism.
I used the terms as a sort of shorthand, as distributism has always been “left” on the question of using the power of the State, ie, taxation, to limit the size of corporations, to encourage smallness and broad ownership, and in endorsing worker cooperatives for larger enterprises. And it is “right” in opposing the managerial, totalitarian State. That some seize on this “antistatism”-which they identify with subsidiarity- without any emphasis on solidarity lands them on the “right”. (As we have said here before, subsidiarity is a communitarian social virtue, one that cannot stand alone without acknowledging the primacy of solidarity.)
My good friend Tom Storck, a leading distributist thinker, objects to this, saying it is confusing, because distributism is at heart neither left nor right and that those who call themselves distributists while offering no real means of limiting the size of economic enterprises, are in fact not distributists at all.
He is right of course; it really is a question of real distributism and false distributism. Real distributists may protest an overarching bureaucratic State, but unlike libertarians and others on the right, they believe that the State is a natural good, like the family. The existence of dysfunctional states no more negates that fact than the existence of unhappy and abusive families negates that natural institution.
And who, exactly, are these fake distributists, who quote Belloc on the Servile State but never on using taxation to limit corporate power or transforming capitalist entities into worker cooperatives?
They are, overwhelmingly, the products of the handful of Catholic liberal arts colleges that pride themselves on their doctrinal orthodoxy, all the while harboring many dissidents on Catholic social teaching among the faculty. Having encountered the luminous writings of distributism’s leading lights- Chesterton and Belloc- and acknowledging their eminent place in 20th century Catholic thought, they selectively appropriate their thought, while holding to most of their received “wisdom” on economic individualism. So they present this strange thing, like the bastard child of Ayn Rand and Hillaire Belloc, and call it “distributism”.
It is not, and we must be clear that it is not. In an age where we see the likes of Congressman Paul Ryan and Fr Robert Sirico attempt to wrap themselves in the mantle of Catholic social teaching we must speak clearly when there are such attempts at dissembling.
From now on, I will call what I have called “right distributism” by its proper name: it is phony distributism.