8/8/13

Chesterton and Distributism

"AS A YOUNG MAN, Chesterton flirted with socialism, but he soon realized that it was mostly a reactionary idea. The rise of socialism and its attendant evils was a reaction against industrial capitalism and its attendant evils. The danger of fighting injustice is that if the battle is misguided, even a victory is a defeat. Good motives can have bad results. This is the point Chesterton makes when he talks about how the 'virtues wander wildly' when they are isolated from each other and wandering alone. In a broken society where we have this seemingly endless battle between the left and right, the virtues on either side are doing war with each other: truth that is pitiless and pity that is untruthful.

"The conservatives and the liberals have successfully reduced meaningful debate to name-calling. We use catchwords as a substitute for thinking. We know things only by their labels, and we have 'not only no comprehension but no curiosity touching their substance or what they are made of.'
 
"It is interesting, it is fitting, that the philosophy which Chesterton embraced as the only real alternative to socialism and capitalism (as well as to liberalism and conservatism) goes by a name that is utterly awkward and misunderstood. As a label it is so useless it cannot even be used as a form of abuse. Its uselessness as a label demands that it be discussed. To say the name immediately requires explanation, and the explanation immediately provokes debate. The troublesome title is 'Distributism.' It has to do with property. It has to do with justice. And it has to do with everything else.

"There is more to Distributism than economics. That is because there is more to economics than economics. Distributism is not just an economic idea. It is an integral part of a complete way of thinking. But in a fragmented world we not only resist a complete way of thinking, we do not even recognize it. It is too big to be seen. In the age of specialization we tend to grasp only small and narrow ideas. We don’t even want to discuss a true Theory of Everything, unless it is invented by a specialist and addresses only that specialist’s 'everything.' In reality, everything is too complicated a category because it contains, well, everything. But the glory of a great philosophy or a great religion is not that it is simple but that it is complicated. It should be complicated because the world is complicated. Its problems are complicated.

"The solution to those problems must also be complicated. It takes a complicated key to fit a complicated lock. But we want simple solutions. We don’t want to work hard. We don’t want to think hard. We want other people to do both our work and our thinking for us. We call in the specialists. And we call this state of utter dependency 'freedom.' We think we are free simply because we seem free to move about."

--Excerpts from the essay, G. K. Chesterton's Distributism, by Dale Ahlquist on The Distributist Review website.

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