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The Shell Game of Distributists

Patrick Odou

I want to share with my readers the following letter to the TIA correspondence desk and my reply to it.
I am very much opposed to Patrick Odou attacking Distributism as coming from a degenerate like Gill, claiming he was the man to make up this idea of an ideal economy. The men he’s condemning were not the founders. The real Distributist concept comes from Belloc and Chesterton, both Catholic literary geniuses.

After reading Chesterton and Belloc I’m disposed to favor small government and small business as the ideal economic society. Distributism seems to be the economical system that existed in Christendom. In Medieval Europe businesses were local and government was small with the guild system.

Capitalism is the invention of Rothschild who started his chain banks. I also know that Rothschild created the Bolsheviks and sent them into Russia. Capitalism and Communism were invented by Rothschild.
Dear Distributist Reader,

You seem to be ill-informed and confused regarding my articles on Distributism. I have discussed several Distributists. I began with an analysis of Arthur Penty, and then wrote two other articles on Penty (click here and here). I also wrote three articles on Eric Gill (click here, here and here). These articles on Gill have received the most attention due to the fact that The Angelus magazine simultaneously promoted an article by Gill and the editor highly praised him. I have never claimed, or even implied that Eric Gill is the sole creator of Distributism. I also wrote an article criticizing Fr. McNabb, Herbert Shove and Harold Robbins for their biased attacks on Capitalism.

In all these articles I pointed out the Socialist and Communist tenets of Distributism, and the somewhat Nazi tendency that at present some of its propagandists display. If you are a faithful Catholic you should be “very much opposed” to the people who promote these tenets, not opposed to me for exposing them.

Chestertons grave, sculpted by Gill

Gill was so close a friend to Chesterton that he sculpted the grave of the latter, above.

a scketch of Belloc
by his good friend Eric Gill.

Hillaire Belloc, as sketched by Eric Gill
You say that Gill is not considered a founder of Distributism. I believe you are mistaken here also. He was the principle founder, inspirer, engine, and some would say “heart and soul” of the Ditchling Village; the much heralded model of a Distributist community that was meant to be applied in society as a whole. He was also vice-president of the Distributist League. He maintained regular contact and friendship with other Distributists, including Fr. Vincent McNabb, Hillaire Belloc and Gilbert Chesterton, his close friends. He was considered one of the four principle public spokesmen for the Distributists, along with McNabb, Belloc and Chesterton. For you to claim that Gill was not fundamentally involved with the development of Distributism because “authentic” Distributism only comes from Belloc or Chesterton, is like saying that Lenin did not represent Communism because “authentic” Communism only comes from Marx or Engels.

It seems that you believe that there are two Distributisms: an “authentic” Distributism presented only by Belloc and Chesterton, and a false Distributism presented by “others.” Therefore, you believe I should only address this “bona fide” brand of Distributism, and not that of the “others.” If this is your position, my answer is this: I will stop exposing the “others” when the disseminators of Distributism stop promoting the “others.” I think it is dishonest for anyone to promote the errors of a variety of authors under the name Distributism and then spread the falsehood that the only authorized representatives of this current are Belloc and Chesterton.

Instead of coming against me, why don’t you direct your indignation to those who are promoting the “others’? If you were consistent, you would be angry with these layman and priests who are mixing the “authentic” Distributism with Socialism, Nazism, Communism, Progressivism and showing complacence toward all kinds of degeneracy. Why not insist that they stop spreading such publications, and publicly renounce the errors they have disseminated? In fact, to be consistent, my dear reader, this is precisely what you should be doing.

“Belloc and Chesterton are literary geniuses,
therefore their economic theory is true”

GK Chesterton

Above, Chesterton: "The sort of man who does really become a Distributist is exactly the sort of man who has been a Socialist"
You imply that we should accept the economic theory of Belloc and Chesterton because they are “literary geniuses.” The literary ability of Belloc or Chesterton – real or exaggerated – is not at issue here; nor is Gill’s artistic talent or Penty’s alleged architectural skills. If you wish to understand Catholic Social Doctrine, then follow the Magisterium of the Church and the examples of the saints. May I suggest starting with the “Saint of the Day” section on this, the TIA website. The saints who lived in the Middle Ages can be particularly helpful for us to understand the religious, social and economic fabric of those times. Also, TIA is opening a new section on its website called “Organic Society” to begin early in 2007. Its focus will be how to build a Catholic society.

I do not suggest relying on men like Belloc or Chesterton to understand Catholic Social Doctrine. I come to this conclusion from the words of Chesterton himself. He affirmed:
"It is my experience that the sort of man who does really become a Distributist is exactly the sort of man who has been a Socialist ... Mr Belloc himself had been a Socialist; my brother had been a Socialist; I had been a Socialist."

(G.K. Chesterton, "Conversion and Conquest" in G.K.'s Weekly, vol. 22, No. 566, 28 November, 1935, pp. 143-144.).
The shell game of the distributists

What I have seen in the polemic on Distributism is that the most common maneuver of its partisans is that of a shell game. Anyone I criticize is thereafter downplayed or set side, and then the Distributist supporters complain with an air of importance: “But you did not analyze the others.”

This happened with my articles on Penty. They responded that Penty was not expressive of the movement, and that I should analyze Gill, McNabb, Belloc and Chesterton. Then, I analyzed Gill, and they put him aside. I went on to critique a major point of the position held by McNabb, Shove and Robbins, and they stopped talking about them. Now, the insistence on Belloc and Chesterton continues. I intend to study their social doctrine, and I have already started. I hope to have some material to publish on them also soon.

But what I want to stress here is the tactic used by the promoters of Distributism. They complain that I didn’t analyze this or that author, but they don’t stop promoting those who were criticized. It is the maneuver of the shell game where one player is always trying to deceive the others.

Let me give an example, Arthur Penty, who wrote the Manifesto for the book Distributists Perspectives, is a Socialist. I criticized his work and no one presented a valid refutation to what I wrote. This and other works of Penty, however, continue to be promoted by the same traditional Catholic circles, including The Angelus magazine, the official organ for the Society of St. Pius X in the United States.

To such persons who are always playing the shell game, I firmly respond: Don’t change the subject. I am not discussing Belloc or Chesterton right now. I am discussing Penty, a man whom you are promoting in your publications. If you agree with Penty, then say so! If you don’t agree, then admit it and stop spreading his ideas. To do otherwise is dishonest.

Old Capitalism

My dear reader, you concluded by informing me that Capitalism was an invention of Rothschild. I was really amused by this affirmation. But since you want to blame Jews for the birth of Capitalism, let me point out a few of them who are somewhat older than Rothschild.

Did you ever hear about an old Jew called Abraham? He is mentioned more than once in the Bible. There you can read that he accumulated an enormous quantity of gold and silver as well as properties for him and his family and became extremely wealthy. We can easily imagine that he had some organization, like a bank, to manage his goods. Why shouldn’t we consider him as the founder of Capitalism rather than Rothschild? Another Jew was Joseph who was the minister of the Pharaoh. He put aside a huge amount of money and supplies to prepare for the future - a true capitalist. And why wouldn’t David be one of the founders of Capitalism? For years and years he accumulated a great amount of gold, silver, precious stones, fine woods and all kinds of exquisite pieces to be used by his son Solomon? Weren’t these men who amassed and multiplied great fortunes prefigures of bankers? So, all of them can be presented as capitalists before the Rothschilds.

I’m sorry, just having a little fun regarding the sources of your historical data.

Large, medium and small properties should exist harmoniously

Let me close by saying that I also am opposed to the hypertrophy of the role of the State and the inhumane macro-economy that exists today. I see them principally as fruits of intemperance in seeking money and material things as primary goals of life.

But your Distributist friends seem to suffer from an analogous intemperance. In a kind of knee-jerk reaction against the lamentable abuses of Capitalism, they demand that every property be reduced to small proportions. However, in a Catholic, temperate, organic society, ownership of property should not be necessarily small. The Church not only defends the rights of the small – be it in fortune or status - but also the rights of the medium and great.

Here is the teaching of St. Pius X on this topic:
“According to the order established by God in society, there should be princes and vassals, superiors and workers, rich and poor, learned and ignorant, nobles and plebeians, who all together, united by the bond of a common affection, help each other to reach their final end in Heaven and a moral and material well-being on earth."

(St. Pius X, Motu Proprio on Popular Catholic Action of December 18, 1903, commenting on Leo XIII's Encyclical Quod Apostolici muneris, Petropolis: Vozes, pp. 22-24)
I hope such words by a Saint and Pope will help to give you a better Catholic understanding of society and also serve as an effective antidote against poisons found in Distributist writings.


Blason de Charlemagne
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Posted December 28, 2006

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