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The Distributist Alternative: A Voluntary Safety Net

As an economic concept, distributism refers to a broad, voluntary distribution of wealth in land, labor, and capital.  The idea has its origins in Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 social encyclical Rerum novarum, which rejected Marxism and capitalism’s laissez-faire variant, and in the works of Hilaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton.  Belloc’s Servile State (1912) recognizes that “There is a complex knot of forces underlying any nation once Christian; a smouldering of the old fires.”  Chesterton wanted to stoke those fires by placing distributism in the context of the imagination.  The “first fact in the discussion of whether small properties can exist,” Chesterton wrote in The Outline of Sanity (1927), “is the fact that they do exist.  It is a fact almost equally unmistakable that they not only exist but endure.”  Volunteers, he suggested, serve as “a nucleus of attraction.”  Chesterton envisioned this nucleus “not only as a rock but as a magnet.”  Imagination is a key foundation of distributism, while programs and services operated by volunteers are the magnets that attract and sustain in time of need.

Personal experience can help explain distributism and counter the doubts and objections of skeptics accustomed to life in a modern state, where alternative economic solutions are often overlooked or dismissed out of hand. ...

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