No one really disagrees with Distributism, do they? No one would really prefer Wal*Mart to a family-owned general goods store, or McDonalds to the little pub down the street. We are just pulling the wool over our eyes if we think Distributism could actually happen, the anti-Distributist says.
Well, look at it this way. Do you agree that our primary source of produce should be local farmers, rather than corporate agriculture? (Yes, you say.) Do you believe the crafts—carpentry, metalworking, etc.—should be as localized as possible, ensuring diverse regional aesthetics survive in our increasingly globalized, standardized economies? (Naturally.) Do you think access to non-urban living should be widely available and sustainable? (Of course.) Would you rather buy your couch from the local furniture-maker and have it last generations, as opposed to buying one from Ikea and plan on picking up a new one in a decade or so? (Certainly you would.) Then congratulations—you are a Distributist!
“But I don’t want to set the factories on fire, or have government thugs running around pulling the chairs from under CEOs!” you say, “I just do not particularly care for crowded cities or Columbian blood-coffee.” Like I said, you are a Distributist. Chesterton himself urged the Distributist program to be gradual—
Do anything, however small. Save one out of a hundred shops. Save one croft out of a hundred crofts. Keep one door open out of a hundred doors; for so long as one door is open, we are not in prison.
—and mostly apolitical—
We have formulated questions to be addressed to Parliamentary candidates. We think that something can be done through Parliament to make small ownership easier to gain and to hold. But we are not a Party, and our main effort must be always outside Parliament. As we remarked last week, it was the Land League, and not the Nationalist Party, which gained peasant proprietorship for Ireland. When our League has grown to like dimensions it may do as much for Englishmen.
So what, then, does the Distributist intend to do?
First of all, once you can accept that you are, indeed, a Distributist, get in the habit of calling yourself a Distributist. Read Distributist literature. Tell your friends about Distributism. We cannot resign Distributism to the dustbin if we’re expecting everyone to come to the same conclusion independently. (Though once you embrace Distributism you will see that we are, indeed, all coming around to a Distributist way of looking at the world—it is just a matter of piping up.)
Once you have got the Distributist Review set as your homepage, start committing to buying local produce. If you live outside the city, that should be easy enough. If you live inside the city, there’s almost certainly a community garden or coop in the area. It will be full of hippies. Go and talk to them about Distributism. Farmers markets are invading urban spaces. Sniff them out. Dump your bank and join a credit union. Get your shoes fixed at the local cobbler rather than tossing them out. It’s the small things that add up. And you do not have to go out and spend your life’s savings on a solar panel. Distributism is meant to make the good life more affordable—more affordable, in fact, than the not-so-good life.
If you can afford to do so, you might even consider moving outside the city. Excepting maybe New York, most major American cities have a rural area less than an hour outside the city boundaries. You could commute to work! Convince your wife/husband/children that you would all be better off living in the peace and quiet of semi-rural upstate. Once there, you can live the good Distributist life. Grow a garden, jar your own preserves, and take up woodworking. And do your best to pass it on to your kids. The next generation’s narrative is not going to be looking for adventure in the city—it will be looking for peace in the country.
As Distributism expands—which it will—there will need to be a Distributist League. The Distributist League’s chapters will serve as a forum for members to raise concerns in the community, direct one another toward local producers to patronize, and share tips on how to live Distributism. It would also hold regular crafts fairs and farmers markets for independent artisans and agrarians. What Distributism needs more than anything is such an available supply of locally made and locally grown goods. Independent, local production, not only will those remaining craftsmen and farmers be able to compete with large corporate entities, but they will be able to take on apprentices to ensure their trade survives into future generations.
When Distributism receives national attention, it is not going to be only with Conservatives or Liberals, Democrats or Republicans. There are going to be Distributists on both side of the fence, both lobbying their parties to go for the “Distributist vote.” The Distributist voter will want international trade agreements that respect human rights, closing big business tax loopholes, the end of corporate welfare, and more accountability for abuses in the finance sector—at least. Alongside the Distributists’ efforts to live the Distributist lifestyle and to help others to do so, tightening up existing laws may well be enough. But then we will have the more proactive Distributists, who will insist on larger things like tax breaks for local farmers, higher tariffs on goods from mega-exporters (China, India, Japan), and more trust/cartel-busting laws. All of that amounts to decentralizing, and thereby authentically liberalizing, the markets.
I am certain this is not the best introduction to Distributism anyone will find, but it seems to me that there are more anti-Distributists these days than reasonably informed persons with no idea what Distributism is. That is a good thing: It is better to have detractors than to be anonymous. But now is the time to start explaining the Distributist program. No doubt there are Distributists who disagree with mine, and they may well be right. I have only been involved with Distributist thought for about three years, and there is bound to be veterans with criticisms for my assessment. Still, what I think Distributism needs now is not to inflate itself to attract attention, but to put together a plan for action. If you, dear reader, have any ideas about how to implement the Distributist model—if you want to tell me why my ideas are rotten and what we should do instead—if you want to recommend a do-it-yourself water purification system, a company that needs to be reigned in, a local farmer that needs our support—write it in the comments section. Or, even better, draw it out in an article and publish it on an e-journal or on a blog. We are afraid to call ourselves Distributists because people will think we are loony, and people think Distributists are loony because they only hear about Distributism from its detractors. We need to get the conversation started. That is how it always begins.
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