Book Review: The Hound of Distributism

The Hound of Distributism, A Solution for Our Social and Economic Crisis, Edited by Richard Aleman.

I picked up this gem at the 2023 Chesterton Conference in Minneapolis. If you want to quickly and (relatively) easily get the gist of Distributism — or localism, if you will — this book will do the trick.

What does the title mean? Read the book to find out!

Distributism is a socio-economic theory developed and popularized by G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc in the early 1900s. It is deeply rooted in Aristotelian philosophy and Catholic social teaching, and stands in stark contrast to socialism and capitalism, which distributists see as two sides of the same coin. Key distinctions:

  • With socialism, the state is god. With capitalism, the individual is god. With Distributism, God is god.
  • Socialism and capitalism are antagonistic to the family. With Distributism, the family is the foundational, fundamental social unit.
  • Socialism and capitalism lead to an extreme concentration of wealth. Distributism aims to make property ownership as widespread as possible.
  • Socialism and capitalism are materialistic philosophies. With Distributism, a full and happy life, rather than the glory of the state or the accumulation of stuff, is the overarching goal.

The short essays in The Hound of Distributism, written by distributist all-stars, cover Distributism from all angles. Here is a quick synopsis.

  1. What’s Wrong with the World (and How to Fix It), by Dale Ahlquist. An overview of distributist ideas and their enormous value in the world today. Excerpt:  “The state and the marketplace must serve the family; not the other way around, We must make government more local and more accountable.”
  2. Towards a Description of Distributism, by Dr. William E. Fahey. An entertaining dialog that kicks around common questions about and objections to Distributism. Excerpt: “Private property is a fundamental doctrine of Distributism, my friend. Yet distributists are rather traditional in believing all ‘private’ affairs are embedded in a larger social reality.”
  3. On a Tiresome World, by G. K. Chesterton. A witty critique of why capitalism is unjust — and is not what most people think it is.
  4. Chesterton as Economist, by Russell Sparkes. Explains in detail the distributism program and why it is far more reasoned and reasonable than its critics admit.
  5. What’s the Use of Having Stuff Anyway? by Thomas Storck. A meditation for everyone: What is the point of economic activity?
  6. Small Is Beautiful Versus Big Is Best, by Joseph Pearce. Excerpt: “The solution is to replace the soulless economics which knows the price of everything and the value of nothing with an economics with soul: an economics as if people mattered.”
  7. Usury, From Brotherhood to Universal Otherhood, by Dr. Peter Chojnowski. A fascinating analysis of the history of charging interest, and its many subtle but profound implications on economics and social justice.
  8. Understanding Subsidiarity, by David W. Cooney. The very important concept of subsidiarity explains why small, local government is infinitely more just than the large, distant variety we are plagued with today.
  9. Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, & Distributism, by Mark and Louise Zwick. An historical example of distributism at work, bringing great benefits to common workers and society as a whole.
  10. The Guild Idea, the Guild Possibility, by G.K. Chesterton. Critics sneered at Chesterton’s love of guilds, labeling their wished-for return a medieval daydream. Had these critics ever heard of doctors? Chesterton blows these critics away and in the process validates the distributist program.
  11. A Distributist Banking System, by John Medaille. Banks create money. Why is this bad? What would be better?
  12. The Participative Economy, by Phillip Blond. The left and right work together against the individual and the family. Excerpt: “So we pursue monopoly in the name of freedom and asset capture in the name of wealth extension. What we have produced as a result, from the Right is a whole ideology of competition but no competitors.”
  13. Distributism, the Common Good, and the Rejection of Totalitarianism, by Philippe Maxence. Excerpt: Thus, the power of Distributism: the purpose of society and hence of man, is not primarily the production of wealth or collective servitude. It is about allowing men to achieve their purpose, to live in political camaraderie, to practice the virtues, and to achieve happiness and contemplation, which is the highest good in man according to Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics.” Amen to that.
  14. Distributism and Marxism, byt Donald P. Goodman III. Explains why equating Distributism with Marxism is dumb.
  15. Make Your Backyard a Forest Garden, by Bill Powell. You can start living a fuller, more local, more self-sufficient life and have a lot of fun in the process.
  16. Distributism & Mutualism, The Convergence, by Hon. Dr. Race Mathews. Under the radar: Mutual organizations are actually thriving in various parts of the world, and demonstrate not only how well Distributism can work, but also how well it does work.
  17. Distributist Education, by Ryan Grant. Thankfully, there’s a growing realization that our system of education is a quagmire. This essay explores why a Distributism-inspired alternative is the right way out.
  18. To Our Hopeful Prosperity, by Richard Aleman. How we can actually implement Distributism, and what our society would look like if we succeed.

Since Distributism is anathema to the world’s power structure, it’s no wonder it has been ridiculed, mischaracterized, and mainly, ignored, for nearly 100 years. Despite the ideological blockade, the systemic evils of this left-right power structure, so clearly foreseen by Chesterton and Belloc, have now reached the point where grassroots interest has taken some serious hold. If you buy local and try to live local, then you are a distributist. If you support local businesses, if you support laws that support local businesses, if you are active in your school system to make school boards more accountable and curriculum more suitable, then you are a distributist. If you lament healthcare decisions being taken away from you and your children, if you deplore the massively uneven distribution of wealth in the world and the sacrificing of the environment for economic gain, then you are certainly a potential distributist if not one already.

For Distributism to gain political traction the discussion must move beyond the echo chamber of that small subset of Catholics who understand and support its philosophy. You do not have to be Catholic to be a distributist, and you don’t have to be rocket scientist to appreciate Distributism’s value.

What you do need is the realization that the real political tension today is not between left and right, but between localist and globalist. Massive, well-organized, and technologically sophisticated forces are working hard to impose uniformity and obedience, something that became literally painfully obvious during the Covid affair. Lest we lose what we value most, we must dig deep to understand where the problem is, and where it isn’t. Reading this book is a great place to start.