Sunday, January 21, 2007

A Review of An Essay on the Restoration of Property


After more than 66 years since Belloc's masterful Distributist essay was issued by the Distributist League, IHS Press brings you a newly edited, footnoted edition of the Essay on the Restoration of Property, by Hilaire Belloc.

This concise, 104pp, easy-to-read but thorough and engaging essay, is Belloc's sketch of just what Distributists have in mind when they say that they long for a society of widely distributed productive property. In this clever essay, Belloc demonstrates that the society to which we've grown accustomed – a society in which most of us must work for someone else in exchange for a wage – is by no means necessary, but rather it is the result of free decisions by free men; and he says just as convincingly that those conditions can be changed by similarly free decisions, by similarly free men.

Many Americans, both Catholic and otherwise, become immediately defensive whenever someone suggests that there may be an economic alternative that is preferable to Capitalism. Immediately images of Soviet-style planned economies come to mind.

It is especially for these readers that Belloc's essay will be both illustrative and instructive, for he explains how it is possible to re-build a society in which men are both economically and politically free – free from the tyranny of state ownership of economic assets, as well as from the arbitrary tyranny exercised by huge corporations and industrial conglomerates.

In this era of Enron, Worldcom, JP Morgan, and you-name-which-other financial and business scandal, few will need serious persuading that the search for another way of doing business is worth undertaking. What Belloc provides is a description of where such a search might possibly lead, and – if we're lucky – where it will lead.

An Essay on the Restoration of Property is Belloc's most famous Distributist tract, being a clear, concise, and straightforward sketch of how a society of real property owners might be re-established and defended. "Re-established," because, contrary to popular opinion and our own personal experience, civilized society up until the last 150 years consisted largely of independent owners of real property. Men, either individually, as heads of families, or in cooperative enterprises, owned – as opposed to renting from a landlord or renting from a bank (what is now called a mortgage) – the means whereby they made their livelihood. Though such a situation is almost incomprehensible today, being as we are so accustomed to working for someone else for a wage in order to support ourselves, it was not so long ago that men possessed real freedom to control their own destiny. It is possible again; Belloc's outline is just one of many possible glimpses of what such a situation might look like.

We say "defended" because once established, such a society must be maintained by consensus, by custom, and by law. Modern economic "thought" would maintain that the "invisible hand" of the "free market" automatically guarantees the greatest amount of material and moral happiness for the greatest number in society; such nonsense should be easy enough to dismiss, in light of Enron, WorldCom, and you-name-which other scandal that has recvently rocked Wall Street as a result of the "no holds barred" and "anything goes" economic vision.

Just as some men in the not too distant past choose to inaugurate and implement the social-Darwinist economic free for all, so too may men today freely decide to move society in a different direction. A society where cooperation, community, and culture are superior to profit, franchise expansion, and silly fantasies like the "New Economy." All it takes is a vision, and a practical sense of how to implement that vision; Belloc's Essay provides both.

Interview with Thomas Storck

On Cooperative Ownership

John Médaille Interview in Romania

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