The Countermarch

Get Big or Get Out

Most people think of E.F. Schumacher today (to the extent that they think of him at all) as some sort of vaguely leftist harbinger of the environmentalist movement.  His most famous work, Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, is often reduced to “Buddhist Economics,” the title of one of the essays collected therein.  Though it is true that Schumacher developed an interest in Buddhism during a stint as an economic consultant in Burma in 1955, his fascination with Catholicism ran much deeper, and after 15 years of intellectual and spiritual study, he entered the Catholic Church in 1971, two years before he published Small Is Beautiful.

For those familiar with the Church’s social teaching, the concept of subsidiarity, and the distributism of G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, and Fr. Vincent McNabb, Schumacher’s work is as Catholic as Catholic can be, even if he never identified it as such.  And there’s no reason why he should have: Subsidiarity is a doctrine developed from natural law, not from revelation, which means that all men can arrive at its truth, regardless of their faith (or lack thereof) in Christ.

Oddly enough, though, one of the reasons Schumacher is usually dismissed by American conservatives is that those conservatives—including many (indeed most) Christian conservatives in the United States—have taken their stand with the...

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