Monday, July 04, 2005


Hat tip to Bethune Catholic for this one. Jeff Culbreath of Hallowed Ground faces an interesting conundrum here. "Who in a network of Christian agrarian communities is going to manufacture cutting-edge medical physics technology?" He believes there's room in the distributist's world for agrarian communities as well as cities and technology. But there's a price to pay for it. Observe:
These cities and towns of a Christian civilization would be different from our present ones. They would be much smaller, for one thing - probably not exceeding fifty or sixty thousand. (What should be done with the large ones we have now? Break them up into smaller units.) There would be no high rise apartments where families were crammed in like sardines. There would be no mega-stores, and there would be very few mega-corporations beyond what was necessary for the common good. Because people would work, play, study, and worship closer to home, there would be fewer cars and transportation would be more expensive. There would be fewer men willing to "sell out" to their careers the way biophysicists and other technological pioneers sometimes must, and there would be fewer comforts and conveniences as a result.

The importance of distributism is in the importance of communities and subsidiarity. When people form relationships based on mutual respect and even admiration, they treat one another better. They are more likely to live that Christian Charity that all disciples of the Lord are called to live. When these communities own the resources of their own well-being, i.e. family farms, small manufacturing, etc., they act as better stewards of them. The entire community then benefits because each person or family within it tends their part of it with care.

This vision of life does not exclude technology. It does exclude that insidious mindset that prompts people to objectify other people as though they were another commodity. However, there would need to include some careful thinking done to maximize the benefits of technology available to society without rupturing community. The Center for Economic and Social Justice proposes some solutions. I'm not entirely convinced by proposals, but they offer a good starting point.

Economics is all about the use of scarce resources that have alternative uses. There's no getting around trade-offs. Every decision has a price. A distributist society may very well surrender certain comfort and levels of technological efficience (as long as we still have broadband connections!). However, we would all benefit from improved community and practiced subsidiarity that would follow a distributist way of life. What is the price we pay for maintaining our current socio-economic culture? It may be more than we're willing to bare. Can we take that risk?

Obviously there are other ways to transform our current system that may not involve distributism. Some of these honor community and subsidiarity at least as much as Chesterton's beloved vision. Still, this does not render distributism irrelevent. Distributism still provides a place for urban and technological development. It just may offer a different place than we're used to. That may be a good thing.