Is Edward Bellamy's book, Looking Backward, a 21st century distributist manifesto? Because whenever I read the the writing of the New Distributists the dystopian Looking Backward is invariably what comes to mind.
Equality masquerading as solidarity, not subsidiarity, is the mark of the New Distributists. A solidarity similarly envisioned by Bellamy, that is only at odds with most distributist writers insofar as Bellamy envisioned a managerial state where the industrial class would be benevolently ruled by the managerial class, whereas in contrast most distributist writers gloss over the subject.
Distributists write only of democratic rule, but Bellamy's vision of a managerial class is in the final analysis likewise the distributist model because the intensely structured society distributists envision would likewise have to be ruled by a managerial class.
The managerial state is seen from our backward looking eyes for what it is, because we have seen, and currently see, the managerial state in action, but for Bellamy it was still in the future, untested and full of hope for a better future. For us, we have the former Soviet Union as well as our own managerial state, among other examples, to see how the managerial state takes away men's human dignity. But for Bellamy, the managerial state was the solution to ridding the world of man's inhumanity to man.
Bellamy dedicated his life to changing society into one that treated all men with human dignity. The same change of society distributists likewise dedicate themselves toward.
Bellamy's error is an error distributists should pay close attention to, because they are akin to Bellamy in their advocating an untried system. An untried system insofar as the system distributists advocate is more democratic than Bellamy's. And untried because the examples of distributism in action that distributists cite, such as Mondragon, are tiny and marginal in comparison to ordering an entire society according to distributism.
Bellamy's untried utopia has since proven to be a dystopia. Why should we expect better with a more democratic version of the same? Especially when the difference between Bellamy's dystopia and distributism has already proven destructive to our society.
When we look backwards on our own society we can see how destructive ordering our own society along lines of equality has been. Take for instance affirmative action which is grounded in the concept of equality and is the antithesis of the natural order of society grounded in the family. Or take for instance the laws that deny parental authority over their own children placing children as the equal to their parents such as when parents are denied by libraries to even know the books their own children check out.
Distributist democratic rule at first blush appears good, but we can see by looking backwards to the dystopia that would follow from it by looking at what has already occurred when equality has been placed as the principle of society.
Obviously, our current society leaves much to be desired, but a radical change into a distributist society versus a more organic approach of adjusting our current society, is an approach fraught with unknowns that have proven dystopian.
Some distributists will no doubt object to my comparison of distributism with Looking Backwards even though the mark of Bellamy's book is both solidarity and commonly owned means of production.
But in my defense, when it comes to parsing out differences between this version of a utopian future versus that version where the outcome is always somewhat the same, such as government ownership of all productive land in the name of private property as agrarian distributist Henry George advocated, it gets rather difficult to tell them all apart.
And on the practical level, when it comes down to it, does it really matter if those who take your land from you, ( and give it back to you to use as a serf ), are doing it for your own good in the name of distributive justice, or doing it for their own good in the name of greed?
Except perhaps you're better off in the long run doing business with those who take out of greed, because those who take out of greed are typically satisfied with the land. Whereas with the distributists taking the land is only the beginning, because they also trust big brother to control the minutia of your daily life concerning all things economic.
Yes, I know some Catholic intellectual class distributists say the mark of distributism is privately owned productive land, and well they should say it because that is a Catholic understanding, but that understanding also appears to be a minority understanding among distributists when all is said and done. Because in the final analysis, control of productive land is the real mark of distributism as most distributists describe distributism.
And yes, I know there are some Catholic intellectual class distributists who envision a distributist society as being at a micro small scale of all locally owned shops manufacturing their own goods. For instance, there would not be men's clothing stores selling goods purchased from a local clothing manufacturer, but there would instead be tailor shops making clothes on site. With a tailor's guild deciding who, and when, someone could set up shop as a tailor. as per Donald Goodman's audio
But these exact same distibutists who envision distributist society at too small a scale, also turn around and extol Mondragon, ( as Micheal Goodman does in the exact same audio) , the manufacturing and retailing conglomerate, as a paradigm of distributist society.
And because Mondragon could not be more unlike a society of craftsmen plying their trades at a local scale because Mondragon instead consists of large scale manufacturing distributing goods throughout the world, as well as consisting of large scale retailing stores best described as european wallmarts, and because all Catholic intellectual class distributists invariably extol Mondragon as a distributist paradigm, it's fair to say that Mondragon type conglomerates are more in keeping with the Catholic intellectual class's understanding of human scale.
Chesterton and Belloc extolled a world of small businessmen running owner-operated shops. Where as today the Catholic intellectual class extol the supersized worker-owned cooperative-conglomerate Mondragon.
Chesterton and Belloc extolled a world at human scale of local decisions made locally. Where as today the Catholic intellectual class extol a world of a vast nanny state of local decisions made anywhere but locally.
Chesterton and Belloc extolled a world where private property could actually exist because control of property is not accidental to ownership. Where as today the Catholic intellectual class extol the concept that private property is privation of property from productive use when control is not finally at all levels in the control of nanny state economic micro-managers.
Chesterton and Belloc extolled a world which fits their writing. Where as today the Catholic intellectual class extol a world which fits the writing of Edward Bellamy.
Qualification : Of course Chesterton and Belloc also extolled some rather impractical and dumb ideas themselves. Impractical and dumb ideas which likewise appear to be the cherry picked tidbits the our modern intellectual class Catholics find most appealing.
If you liked this article then you may like my others on the same subject:
When ever I read some advocacy for distributism
I would rather be ruled by the illiterate carpenters I've known
Will the Real Distributists Please Stand Up
Hand to mouth survival / working 3 times as hard for a third of the money.
Occupy american distributism with foreign writers
Do distributists realize how absurd they sound?