Thursday, December 29, 2011
I'm really torn -- or maybe just mixed up -- about "distributism," in many of the same ways I'm torn (or mixed up) about "new urbanism" and the "slow food" movement. I am attracted to the aesthetics, and even to the underlying anthropology, but put off by the lack of interest these ideas' advocates often seem to display with respect to details about transitions, legal structures, practicalities, coercion, and costs. I love Chesterton and Berry and all that but, dang it, markets and incentives and trade-offs are (this side of Heaven) permanent realities.
If we take a state-centric approach to distributism, slow food, and the new urbanism, all of Rick's concerns require answers. But, Chesterton takes a different approach. In Two Difficulties, an essay that prophetically reads like it was written post-2008, Chesterton says:
It has taken many years for the false system in which we live to develop to the point at which it became topheavy and collapsed. It may take many more years to make good the damage. Rome was not rebuilt in a day. ... The industrialized countries, because of the effects of industrialism, are unlikely to witness any sudden return to normality by Government action. There is more likelihood of slow but steady recovery continued perhaps for generations, through the efforts of individuals in practical work and in the exertion of whatever influence they can have on their neighbours.
With Chesterton's approach the problems associated with "transitions, legal structures, practicalities, coercion, and costs" fade into the background, not erased but much less important. But, Chesterton's approach poses a different problem for lawyers and law professors, especially those exploring Catholic legal theory - what role do we (can we, should we) play in offering correctives to current economic, legal, political, and social structures? I see 3.1 roles we can play.
First and foremost, as emphasized since the inception of MOJ nearly 8 years ago (see e.g. here and here), we can continually critique the prevailing anthropology, which incoherently reduces human persons to workers, consumers, and autonomous self-choosers/self-creators (this anthropology manifests itself albeit differently in both the left and the right) and offer an alternative rooted in natural law and revelation. Second, given that human weakness and sinfullness are permanent realities "this side of Heaven," we can remind ourselves and others of the limits of the legal and political orders. Third, we can work to ensure that the law leaves speace in society for followers of G.K. Chesterton, Wendell Barry, Alasdair McIntyre, Dorothy Day, the new urbanists, etc. Fourth, and this only gets a .1 given my second point on law's need for modesty, the law might play some small role in creating incentives for building a society more conducive to authentic human flourishing. But, like Chesterton, I remain highly skeptical of this fourth role.