To anyone paying attention it is obvious that the last few years have seen a reawakening on the Left. The Occupy Movement, a rise in interest in and formation of cooperative enterprises, a growing awareness of what three decades of “free” market thinking, deregulation and low taxes for the rich have wrought; all these things and more reveal a growing consensus that capitalism has failed, and failed in a big way.
This may not be a majority opinion, but, especially among the young and educated, it seems to represent at least a plurality.
And there has been a renewed interest in socialism. Not “socialism” as in Soviet style State monopoly, but in democratic and cooperative ownership, something that several popes have noted as being very close to what Catholic social teaching envisions.
I would suggest, however, that “socialism” is a term so tainted by its association with tyranny that it should be sacked. Besides, if you are going to call your project “socialist” you will get precisely nowhere in the US: Americans have been programmed to react negatively to the word, legacy of the Cold War. Yes, I know that all the evils of Soviet-style State Socialism have been emphasized and few of its real accomplishments have been noted, even in places that never rivaled the Soviet Union in terms of oppression and the statistics of death (think of Cuba’s very real progress in education and public health).
But the word is forever ruined.
So why not call the new paradigm “distributist”? After all, there is little difference between what the “new socialism” proposes and what distributists propose (at least what I have called “left distributists”) propose?
A) the word if unfamiliar to most people. Indeed, if I hit the “spellcheck” button it will be highlighted. When spellcheck doesn’t recognize a word you know it is obscure.
B) to those who know the term it is associated with a sectarian viewpoint; ie, it is seen as “Catholic economics”.
While it is obvious that distributism has historically been influenced by Catholic social teaching, it is also true that its identification with Catholic piety is recent. If one takes a look at GK’s Weekly, the distributist journal edited by Chesterton in the 30s, aside from advertisements for Catholic book companies, there is little to indicate that distributism is a religious endeavor.
There is also a lot to be troubled by, like persistent sympathy for Mussolini, even after he invaded Ethiopia, but that is another matter.
On the other hand, if one looks at the online Distributist Review, it is hard to see what the appeal would be to a non-Catholic, let alone a non-Christian. It is marked by a lot of very specifically Catholic articles and images.
At a time when there is widespread awakening to the evils of the corporatocracy, and at a time when we have a pope who, while not necessarily being more critical of capitalism than other modern popes, is, unlike them, very plainspoken, and at a time of a reapproachment with Liberation Theology, there is every reason that we should be a part of this new movement, however problematic such an alliance may be in practice.
But we need new words for a new movement.