An important contribution of Pope John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus was that it recognized what should have been clear for a long time—namely, that the modern state is something altogether new and not to be treated analytically as merely an extension of the political order that preceded it. . . . The political state depicted in Centesimus Annus is no longer the classical or medieval civitas.
That’s Thomas Woods in his Beyond Distributism. It’s an important point, and it’s why I’ve occasionally taken the position that distributism and natural-law informed libertarianism are pretty much the same thing. They’re not the same thing, of course, and Woods points out the many ways they differ, but in this geo-political era, they’re as close as, say, today’s Republican Party and today’s Democratic Party. There are differences, yes, but when you look at what they have in common (America first, expansion of federal power, love for war, abuse of the income tax code, etc.), the differences between the parties are dwarfed.
In today’s world, all the previous political models are pretty much worthless, whether it’s Aquinas or Augustine, Aristotle or Plato. Distributists can cling to ideas like the guilds, or they can promote that other pillar of distributist thought: Disdain for Hudge and Gudge. The guilds are gone, and they’re not coming back in this global economy. Hudge and Gudge are stronger than ever. If distributists can bring themselves to take aim at the true enemy, the combination of moneyed interests and the State to the detriment of the middle class, they’d find plenty of ideological-fertile (relevant) ground to plow.
Today’s distributists may want to start with, or place emphasis on, Section Four of Belloc’s The Servile State. Here are a few relevant excerpts from that fine book (that even the folks at the von Mises Institute recommend):
Under Henry VIII, “[T]he lands and the accumulated wealth of the monasteries were taken out of the hands of their old possessors with the intention of vesting them in the Crown but they passed, as a fact, not into the hands of the Crown, but into the hands of an already wealthy section of the community who, after the change was complete, became in the succeeding hundred years the governing power of England.”
“Of the demesne lands [prior to the English Reformation], and the power of local administration which they carried with them (a very important feature, as we shall see later), rather more than a quarter were in the hands of the Church; the Church was therefore the ‘Lord’ of something over 25 per cent, say 28 per cent, or perhaps nearly 30 per cent, of English agricultural communities, and the overseers of a like proportion of all English agricultural produce. The Church was further the absolute owner in practice of something like 30 per cent, of the demesne land in the villages, and the receiver of something like 30 per cent, of the customary dues, etc., paid by the smaller owners to the greater. All this economic power lay until 1535 in the hands of Cathedral Chapters, communities of monks and nuns, educational establishments conducted by the clergy, and so forth.”
“The King failed to keep the lands he had seized. That class of large landowners which already existed and controlled, as I have said, anything from a quarter to a third of the agricultural values of England, were too strong for the monarchy. They insisted upon land being granted to themselves, sometimes freely, sometimes for ridiculously small sums, and they were strong enough in Parliament, and through the local administrative power they had, to see that their demands were satisfied.”
“The manorial house, the house of the local great man as it was in the Middle Ages, survives here and there to show of what immense effect this revolution was. The low-timbered place with its steadings and outbuildings, only a larger farmhouse among the other farmhouses, is turned after the Reformation and thenceforward into a palace. Save where great castles (which were only held of the Crown and not owned) made an exception, the pre-Reformation gentry lived as men richer than, but not the masters of, other farmers around them. After the Reformation there began to arise all over England those great “country houses” which rapidly became the typical centers of English agricultural life.”
“The Howard’s (already of some lineage), the Cavendish’s, the Cecil’s, the Russell’s, and fifty other new families thus rose upon the ruins of religion; and the process went steadily on until, about one hundred years after its inception, the whole face of England was changed.”
And finally, Belloc’s explanation of why the industrial revolution resulted in even more inequality and “wage slavery” (Belloc’s term, which I don’t like, but which has some legitimacy): “The vast growth of the proletariat, the concentration of ownership into the hands of a few owners, and the exploitation by those owners of the mass of the community, had no fatal or necessary connection with the discovery of new and perpetually improving methods of production. The evil proceeded indirect historical sequence, proceeded patently and demonstrably, from the fact that England, the seed-plot of the Industrial System, was already captured by a wealthy oligarchy before the series of great discoveries began.”
That oligarchy, according to Bellow, was in position (due to the lands it had received during the monastic pillaging of the sixteenth century) to finance and capitalize on the new means of production, thereby resulting in an even greater concentration of wealth.Bookmark it: del.icio.us | Reddit | Slashdot | Digg | Facebook | Technorati | Google | StumbleUpon | Window Live | Tailrank | Furl | Netscape | Yahoo | BlinkList