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Distributism (also known as distributionism, distributivism) is a third-way economic philosophy formulated by such Roman Catholic thinkers as G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc to apply the principles of Catholic Social Teaching articulated by the Catholic Church, especially in Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum[1] and more expansively explained by Pope Pius XI's encyclical Quadragesimo Anno[2]

According to distributism, the ownership of the means of production should be spread as widely as possible among the general populace, rather than being centralized under the control of the state (state socialism) or a few large businesses or wealthy private individuals (plutarchic capitalism). A summary of distributism is found in Chesterton's statement: "Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists."[3]

Essentially, distributism distinguishes itself by its distribution of property (not to be confused with redistribution of capital that would be carried out by most socialist plans of governance). While socialism allows no individuals to own productive property (it all being under state, community, or workers' control), distributism itself seeks to ensure that most people will become owners of productive property. As Belloc stated, the distributive state (that is, the state which has implemented distributism) contains "an agglomeration of families of varying wealth, but by far the greater number of owners of the means of production."[4] This broader distribution does not extend to all property, but only to productive property; that is, that property which produces wealth, namely, the things needed for man to survive. It includes land, tools, etc.[5]

Distributism has often been described as a "third way," in opposition to both socialism and capitalism. Thomas Storck argues that "both socialism and capitalism are products of the European Enlightenment and are thus modernizing and anti-traditional forces. In contrast, distributism seeks to subordinate economic activity to human life as a whole, to our spiritual life, our intellectual life, our family life".[6]

Some have seen it more as an aspiration, which has been successfully realised in the short term by commitment to the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity (these being built into financially independent local co-operatives and family owned, small businesses), though proponents also cite such periods as the Middle Ages as examples of the historical long-term viability of distributism.[7]


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