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Distributism Clarified

Distributism Clarified

Dear Friends:

With this insert I hope to clarify my position on distributism.  In some of my writings – Yuma, for example, and No King But Caesar – what I have written on the subject may have left the door open  to  confusion, misunderstanding and, worst of all, to false opinion.  Opinions which contradict our holy and divine faith can only lead to disaster, as they always have.

While I don’t see the need to retract what I’d written from 1986 onward on distributism, namely, that it is the Catholic ideal in furthering a just and equitable share of property, or natural wealth, I might have avoided some confusion had I recognized the need to further explicate certain distinctions.  That the widest possible distribution of property is indeed the Catholic ideal was unquestionably established by Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI in their encyclicals on the working class and the evils of socialism and on social reconstruction, though without the Popes actually using the precise term distributism.  This may be where the problem originated – at least partially. 

As I see it, the word has caused an upset among traditionalists because of two factors: 1) The Supreme Pontiffs did not specifically mention the term, as noted.  Therefore, so the argument goes, it cannot be legitimate; and 2) because of its MISUSE by certain liberals and non-Catholics in the past – most notably the Distributist League of England, which Fr. Peter Scott – a former SSPX superior – rightly criticizes and denounces.  This movement promoted a naturalistic, socialistic, even ecumenical alternative to the abusive extremes of capitalism and socialism.  In other words it was a false alternative, an invalid “third way,” just one more naturalistic forgery of true Papal teaching on social justice and property rights. 

Founders and early proponents of this, let us call it FALSE distributism, such as Arthur Penty and Eric Gill – an anti-Catholic and sexual pervert respectively – whose writings are unwisely promoted and sold by certain traditional Catholic distributors, have largely stigmatized the term distributism in the minds of its critics.  This is understandable, given its perversion as noted above, and in the light of the extreme dangers of liberalism, socialism or naturalism in any form or on any front.   And what is said about the Distributist League is no less true even if certain brilliant Catholic minds, such as Chesterton and Belloc, surprisingly got caught up in this devil’s web of social liberalism.  They exaggerated and misrepresented what the Church taught on the wide distribution of private property and on returning to the land by falling for an essentially indifferentist enterprise in England.  Such scholars whose love for the faith is beyond doubt and who have supplied us with many excellent writings, nevertheless should have known better.  In Belloc’s case, you may recall, he was actively affiliated with Frs. Edward Cahill and Denis Fahey in the League of the Kingship of Christ in Ireland from 1926 onward.  In this way it seems that he had one foot in each camp, as it were.  That is why some critics of Belloc have accused him of liberal leanings.  It is definitely true insofar as his proclivity towards false distributism is concerned. 

The bottom line, however, is that, even if the Vicars of Christ did not use the term distributism, and notwithstanding its false application by certain liberals and their unsuspecting dupes, the distributist concept originally drew its inspiration from their – i.e. the Popes’ – socio-economic thoughts.  As a concept, therefore, or as a principle underscoring the widest possible distribution of private ownership, it stands as a “sacred and inviolable” precept of legitimate papal teaching on the common and individual good.         

Before I go any further, let us call upon the Popes, and those who accurately represent their teachings, to speak for themselves.

From Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum:

“The law, therefore, must favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many people as possible to become owners.  Many excellent results will follow from this; and first of all, property will certainly become more equitably distributed.”

From Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno:

“Wealth, which is constantly being augmented by social and economic progress, must be so distributed among the various individuals and classes of society, that the common good of all, of which Leo XIII spoke, be thereby promoted.  In other words, the good of the whole community must be safeguarded.  By these principles of social justice, one class is forbidden to exclude the other from a share in the profits.”

“Each class, then, must receive its due share, and the distribution of created goods must be brought into conformity with the demands of the common good and social justice, for every sincere observer is conscious that the vast differences between the few who hold excessive wealth and the many who live in destitution constitute a grave evil in modern society.”

“…The immense number of propertyless wage earners on the one hand, and the superabundant riches of the fortunate few on the other hand, is an unanswerable argument that the earthly goods so abundantly produced in this age of industrialism are far from rightly distributed and equitably shared among the various classes of men.”

From Pius XII in his address to the Union of Men of Catholic Action, Sept. 7, 1947:

“A more equitable distribution of wealth is and remains a point in the program of Catholic social doctrine.”

From Fr. Edward Cahill, S.J., in The Framework of the Christian State, 1932:

“The social anomalies and injustice which the capitalist regime in its present form involves are not only oppressive but are now recognized as the main element of the danger which at present threatens the stability of social order.  It is only by removing the injustice through a wide distribution of the land and other natural sources of wealth and by the fostering of religious influence that the danger can be averted.”

From Fr. Joseph Husslein, S.J. Ph.D. in The Christian Social Manifesto, 1931

(this volume received the Imprimatur and Apostolic Blessing of the Holy See, Cardinal Pacelli (the future Pius XII) writing as Papal Secretary of State on behalf of Pius XI.

“For that ideal is neither to be found in socialism, which would deprive all men forever of the possession of all private productive prosperity; nor yet in individualism, which would confine such possessing to the comparatively few who are to hold the controls of wealth; but in a distributive ownership, which would have as many as possible become private owners, with all the reasonable material benefits and mental and spiritual development which this can help to confer.  Such is the Christian vision of that better day which all true men must desire and for which the Church would have us work.”

From these few sources, it seems reasonable that the term distributism would correctly describe what was taught from the Chair of Peter.  But we fully understand how it had come to be prostituted by those less than integrally orthodox zealots in what they were espousing, and therefore we sympathize with those who take issue with the term.  Maybe they’d have less of a problem with the term “distributive ownership.”  I like that one myself, though, once again, it is not found in the papal writings themselves.  Or perhaps we should make reference in our discourses to true versus false distributism. 

In summary, I think it reasonable to assert that it is more the term than it is the concept that has prompted certain very intelligent and no doubt earnest traditionalists to protest it.  It behooves us all, therefore, in the ongoing debate, to be sure to make this explicit distinction at each and every forum where the subject is discussed.   Hopefully it will help overcome at least some of our differences.

Perhaps if we considered this simple rule in all our public exchanges, we might actually discover that traditional Catholics have more in common with one another than they may think.  Imagine the kind of public impact we might have if all the factions of the remnant came together and fought on the same side instead of fighting each other!  When St. Pius X condemned Catholic Action in France, he was not condemning Catholic Action per se, but only its falsification by the Sillonists who defected from its magisterial and ecclesial guidelines and directives.  Yet some have wrongly concluded that the saint frowned upon Catholic Action in general, which is absurd in the light of his many allocutions strongly endorsing and even more strongly encouraging it.

There are many similar analogies, each one tragic in its ability to divide the faithful and weaken the defenses of Catholicism.  Democracy is a grave evil, whereas democratic principles are not necessarily so, and may even be quite good, as St. Thomas Aquinas has written.  Clericalism, liberty, ecumenism, capitalism, patriotism, conservatism, even Christianity itself – and so many other terms besides – may be either good or evil, depending on individual or social perception and specific or historic application.  The same is true of distributism.  I think it is misleading and therefore unnecessarily divisive either to automatically condemn it or to uncritically endorse it, without pointing out the variables.  

In conclusion I must apologize if, in using the term distributism too loosely, I have misled anyone.  With the first printing of No King But Caesar (1994), as far as I knew the heated controversy had not yet erupted.  I just assumed my readers understood that by distributism I meant it in the exact context of the papal encyclicals, and nothing alien to it such as that expressed by other “Distributists” who were/are much less inclined to adhere to the dictates of Catholic social thought.  I used the term distributism much the same way I have used the term Christianity – that is, in the Catholic sense.  Perhaps this was naïve of me.

In any event there is an important lesson to be learned here.  Let us firmly brace ourselves, for it is a certainty that there will arise lots more issues in the years ahead that the Devil is sure to use to keep us from forging a truly unified front for the rights of God and reign of Christ.  Let us be confident that we can minimize the friction and facilitate maximum damage control by following a few simple rules.  The more we establish ourselves as deeply spiritual people, for example, as well read and knowledgeable Catholics, as loving devotees of Mary, as more and more magisterial-minded, and as humble believers ready and willing to conform our minds to the mind of the Church – the less likely we are to become casualties in this grueling and ever-intensifying war.  If there is to be any unity amongst good Catholics in this day and age, it can only be derived from a oneness in the doctrine and charity and grace of Christ, outside of which stands Satan’s dark and evil empire of falsehood and hate.

In closing, let us hope this brief explanation will have served its intended purpose.  If not, I welcome further questions or comments to help rectify any remaining doubts.

Thank you for your understanding and continuing support.  

Sincerely in Jesus our King and Mary our Queen,

Hugh Akins

Posted by Hugh Akins

National Director, Catholic Action Resource Center

Founding President, League of Christ the King

Editor/Publisher, Oportet Christum Regnare

Active supporter of the SSPX Resistance

Post Office Box 678047 + Orlando, Florida 32867 USA