Thursday, January 28, 2010


Joe Hargrave "submit[s] two propositions: 1) that the philosophical dispute between libertarianism, CST, and distributism has obscured practical ways in which Catholics of different philosophical persuasions might collaborate, and 2) that the philosophical dispute itself does not need to end in the total destruction of one of the contending philosophies" — Middle Ground Between Storck and Sirico? In the comments, I posted these thoughts from a reader "Araglin" — The Austrian School and Distributivism:
    I think that the foregoing reconcilation of Austro-libertarianism with distributivism is, indeed, an extremely important project (not only from a theoretical standpoint, but also as a means of keeping otherwise well-intentioned believers in each of these schools of thought from killing each other).

    This reconciliation is one to which I have given a great deal of thought in the last several years (after being convinced by the rigor of the Austrian School, but also lured by the beauty of the Distributivist vision, as well as the social thought of William Cobbett, John Ruskin, William Morris, etc.

    I am also interested in reconciling Austro-libertarianism with (a) the social, ontological, and liturgical insights of Radical Orthodox theologicans such as John Milbank and Catherine Pickstock (when ripped from its Anglican context and made fully Catholic), (b) and the permaculture of Bill Mollison and Paul Stametz (sp?), and (c) and the agrarianism of Wendell Berry and Joel Salatin.

    Here are a few points that ought to be attended to in attempting to bring about the reconcilation of Austro-libertarianism with Distibutism:

    (1) Land reform and other one-off property redestributions commended by Agrarians, such as Cobbett, and the Distributivists can be justified, but not on account of the injustice of big land holdings per se, but rather, as restitution for certain prior acts of aggression and conquest which allowed for the agglomeration of those holdings in the first place. In other words, the ground for effecting such a coercive redestribution is not some patterned theory of justice (that only small holdings can ever be legitimate), but on a historical one (that, in point of fact, the only way that such large holdings ever arose was through robbery and/or cooperation with the state in enclosure movements, the expropriating of cottagers, etc.

    (2) The well-being and virtues of the petit-bourgeosie class farmers, artisans, and shopkeepers, and of economic decentralism more generally, can and should be unabashedly promoted (as per the suggestion of John Zmirak in a recent article), and this non-coercive promotion of these and other ends such as bio-regionalism/permaculture, hospitality and almsgiving (and other concern to the poor), and a public liturgical cycle of both asceticism and festivity , should be thought of as part and parcel of our political programme (this, then would be a very thick version of libertarianism,or voluntary solidariam), and not as mere non-political preferences which are matters of indifference politically. The Church (broadly considered) ought to be considered the ultimate site of such non-coercive politics (as such non-coercive politics has been sketched out in Geoffrey Plauche's recent work). Nonetheless, we ought of course to cooperate and ally ourselves with those advancing thinner versions of libertarianism when it comes to advocating the libertarian conception of justice and condemning violations thereof. Where we will dissent is in insisting that there are virtues other than justice (such as loyalty, generosity, etc., that are also absolutely necessary for the flourishing of social life, and in fact, in there absence, justice itself cannot long be maintained).

    (3) It should be remembered that much of the criticism of "Capitalism," whether in the works of the Distributists or elsewhere is really a critique of the prevailing system of state-capitalism (or the misdoings of neo-liberalism abroad) and not of the free market as such. At this point the work of left-libertarians and mutualists (e.g. Roderick Long, Charles Johnson, and Kevin Carson) can go along way. This requires reading charitably the works of others who may advocate a "socialism" that has absolutely nothing to do with state ownership of the means of production or command economies. Furthermore, even a perfectly free market (populated by fallen men) will require prophetic denunciations of greed and preoccupations with the glittering distractions of this-wordliness.

    (4) The only thing I thing I think Roepke, the Distributists, and the Southern Agrarians missed was that that that they tended to think that the competitive market led inexorably over time to the the consolidation of industry in fewer and fewer hands. Because of this, they tended to think that (even, absent any aggression or conquest) periodic land reform would have to take place to prevent undue aggregation, or that certain industries would likely need to be either strictly-regulated or nationalized and run for the public weal. On this point, the New Left historiagraphy of Gabriel Kolko and William Appleman Williams is absolutely crucial in showing that most "anti-trust" agitation and other progressive legislation supposedly put forward to reign in the excesses of Big Business were really pushed through by those self-same Big Business interests to prevent the competition of new entrants from cutting into their profit margins. Again, the work of Kevin Carson is of huge help here.

    (5) Finally, I think that there is a problem with "political individualism" when taken to require that only natural persons can hold property, enter into binding contracts, sue and be sued etc. At this point, the work of Robert Nisbet, Otto von Gierke, and others has shown that the State has selectively used such individualism to weak and/or eradicate all other institutional and associational forms that stood intermediate between the individual and the state. This means vigorously denying the concession theory of corporations (that all non-natural legal persons are legal fictions, stemming from state privilege); and it also means, promoting the sort of Social Pluralism advocated by Robert Nisbet and illustrated in the work of legal historian Harold Berman in his masterful study Law and Revolution.

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Blogger papabear said...

Odd, I thought my comment posted -- re: 1 -- one does not need to hold to "some patterned theory of justice (that only small holdings can ever be legitimate)" in order to justify redistribution. Catholic moral theology does hold distributive justice to be a virtue, and land and other natural resources are common goods which fall under the sphere of distributive justice. (It must also be said that distributive justice does not require that all have equal shares, small or otherwise.)

4:53 PM  
Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

Hayek + Chesterton = ?????

2:12 AM  
Anonymous ben said...

I think it's time for Joe Hargrave to read John Senior.

He is working harder than he needs to here.

modernism is simoly not reconcilable with the Christian Tradition--even if Milbank and Pickstock think it is.

2:40 AM  
Anonymous clay barham said...

Can we legitimately relate individualism with libertarianism?I wonder if the "original" 20th century libertarians, seeking legalizing drugs, etc., can ever compare to the real libertarians, the 19th century Democrats following Jefferson and Madison, to Cleveland, as cited in The Changing Face of Democrats on Amazon and I do not recall anything from Jefferson or Madison about the importance of smoking pot. Where have I gone wrong?

6:59 AM  
Anonymous love the girls said...

When given the choice between mud pies or an imaginary Neverland banquet, reconciliation between the two is not the solution to the problem of starvation.

I have no idea if there is a solution to the myriad of problems besetting us, with the first problem being that there's a myriad of problems so that even the causes are extremely difficult to even apprehend, let alone put together any sort of broad societal plan of action. As far as I can tell the only solution worth pursuing is to individually dropout of society as much as possible, all else is mud pies and imaginary feasts.

6:30 PM  
Blogger Ed Cole said...

The only thing I thing I think Roepke, the Distributists, and the Southern Agrarians missed was that that that they tended to think that the competitive market led inexorably over time to the the consolidation of industry in fewer and fewer hands.

The Distributists recognized the influence of original sin. Their system is based on what ought to be and how to make that happen in the real world. The rich get richer because wealth increases the desire for wealth, and it makes them able to compete better, by fair means or foul. A distributist system must include some means to keep the avaricious in check.

9:03 PM  

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