by Jim Morgan
Distributism is a political philosophy based on the contention that a just and sustainable social order can only exist in which the ownership of property and the means of production, distribution and exchange are widespread.
The Distributist Movement thus seeks to achieve this end both by means of the democratic political process and by non-state mutual organizations of individuals that facilitate widespread private ownership through not-for-profit lending for private purchase and co-operative enterprise.
In Britain of the 1920s and 30s, the distributists sought the restoration of family and individual liberty by a revival of smallholder agriculture and small business and an end to grasping landlords, by attacking monopolies and trusts and denouncing what they saw as anonymous and usurious control of finance.
Opposed to laissez-faire capitalism, which distributists argued leads to a concentration of ownership in the hands of a few and to state-socialism in which private ownership is denied altogether, distributism was conceived as a genuine Third Way, opposing both the tyranny of the marketplace and the tyranny of the state, by means of a society of owners.
Like socialism, distributism is concerned with improving the material lot of the poorest and most disadvantaged. Unlike socialism, which advocated state ownership of property and the means of production, distributism seeks to devolve or widely distribute that control to individuals within society, rejecting what it saw as the twin evils of plutocracy and bureaucracy.
Early 20th century distributism saw the concentration of ownership in a few hands as the primary source of social ills but saw the removal of control from all private hands as even worse.
Subsequent history certainly seems to have supported their contention.