Reimagining American Community

pubscene“Look here,” G.B. Shaw once gently chaffed his friend and debating partner G.K. Chesterton, “Is there really a Distributist League, or is it merely Titterton running in and out with a flag?”

Shaw was referring to W.R. Titterton, the de facto organizer of the League, who once described their meetings thusly:

“The formal business of the [Distributist] League was followed by after-meetings in the general bar of the Devereux, where an account by one of the members describes pint pots banging on the tables and members ‘shouting texts of St. Thomas at each other, calling on the people of England for the overthrow of their taskmasters, and a return to the religion of their forefathers.’”

The worthy Titterton continues:  “There was also much singing. I have always regarded this singing as an essential part of Distributism.” (The quotes are from Race Matthews’ excellent Jobs of Our Own.)

The best thinking ever done on Distributism, according to no less a witness than Dorothy Day herself, was the little book by Harold Robbins (no, not the pot-boiler novelist), The Sun of Justice, available for a mere three doubloons on your Kindle.

Robbins, an activist editor and key figure in the history of distributism in England, wrote his short treatise on the Catholic meaning of social justice in 1938. He stated, “If Charity, the greatest of Christian virtues, is not emphasized in this book, it is not because its necessity to human welfare is not realized. It is because in logic, if not in time, there can be no Charity until Justice has been granted or achieved.”

His table of contents gives a hint of Robbins’ aim at communicating the vision and structure behind distributist ideas: chapters include The Person, The Family, Work and the Machine, Finance and Commerce, Self-Sufficiency and the Land.

Further, Robbins has a talent for putting things succinctly: “The heresy of necessary progress finds no echo in the Church…The world forces man into the mould or template of fashion. The Church uses man as the master-mould.”

Most interesting to me is Robbins’ elucidation of the link between Distributist ideas and Personalism. “The majestic Catholic conception of the Common Good arises naturally from the concept of Personality. As Maritain says…’A Personality as such aspires naturally to the social life; it is a whole which seeks to be united to other wholes in spiritual exchanges of intellect and of will.’”

He also quotes favorably the scientist Alexis Carrel: “The development of human personality is the ultimate purpose of civilization.”

A few other gems from Robbins:

  • “…The idea of the Home involves the idea of the Homestead.”
  • On the Living Wage: “It is clear, therefore, that…wages under Industrialism…should be not only sufficient for the reasonable comfort of the family, but should permit of saving to acquire property.”
  • On Guilds: “The larger and wider association never supplants the smaller and more intimate one.”
  • A quote from Pope Leo XIII on the infotainment society: “If any there are who pretend differently—who hold out to a hard-pressed people the boon of freedom from pain and trouble, an undisturbed repose, and constant enjoyment—they delude the people and impose upon them, and their lying promises will only one day bring forth evils worse than the present.” (Rerum Novarum)
  • Industrialism “affronts Catholic principles by making impossible personal control of the necessary minimum of things.”
  • “…All human operations, and even the tokens of operations, should be anchored to the sanity of natural things.”
  • “We must oppose the modern tendency to reestablish slavery.”
  • “Finally, I will not accept that the task is impossible. To repeat a principle I have used many times, it is incumbent upon anyone who believes in God to hold that if a thing ought to be done, it can be done.”

Highly recommended.







About the Author
A native Texan, Elias spent several good years studying classics and medieval Italian at UC Berkeley before wasting several more years in financial journalism around Chicago. He has written for Strong Towns, the American Scholar, the New Urbs blog, and the Gary Catholic Worker and is the co-author of a textbook on character education. He briefly published something called The Armchair Historian. None of his three teenage daughters display an interest in the Greek and Latin classics thus far. He and his family reside in leafy Valparaiso IN.