Of the few today who have heard of Distributism, some mistake it to be Socialism. And some mistake it to be Fascism. The Fascist bogeyman still taunts Chesterton’s memory and his followers even now simply because at one point in his life, Chesterton expressed certain admiration for Mussolini, being somewhat taken in by the lying charm of Mussolini, thinking him sympathetic to what Chesterton stood for. But when Mussolini enslaved Rome and Hitler was on the rise, Chesterton said clearly and without mistake: “The intellectual criticism of Fascism is really this: that it appeals to an appetite for authority, without very clearly giving the authority for the appetite." In 1999, an edition of the Chesterton Review devoted an entire issue to the question of Chesterton and Fascism and a series of scholarly articles demonstrated quite clearly that Chesterton was anything but Fascist.
Chesterton wrote about the subject in his book, The Resurrection of Rome. On its pages, he debated the pros and cons of the system Il Duce used to bruise and crush the Italian people. Some readers consider this one of his weakest books. He himself described the book as “a warning against Fascism.”
The very term “Fascist,” like its counterpart “Bolshevist,” has almost lost its meaning, becoming an all-purpose insult used to stifle debate. But the ideology behind the insult still remains a constant temptation for men in power to concoct policies based on those of the Mussolini regime. Many hold that the Patriot Acts and the recently passed Real ID Card Act, mandating a national ID card for all citizens, have that same basis in such an ideology.
The average American probably believes that Fascism is “right wing,” but Libertarian columnist Ron Mexico - better known by his pen name “Vox Day” - has recently argued that this is a fallacy. He notes that the Fascists accepted all but two of the ten points comprising Marx’s Communist Manifesto. Further, both Mussolini and Hitler were more nationalist in their focus unlike their internationalist rivals, Lenin and Trotsky.
Other than these deviations, the essential core of Fascism is Socialism. For like their Communist rivals, the Fascists also believed in centralization of finance and transportation, state control over children’s education, progressive income tax, national government control over production and distribution of goods and services and so on.
Distributism, on the other hand, advocates subsidiarity, meaning decentralizing political and economic decisions to the lowest levels in society. That means the family, the neighborhood and city or town authorities. Or in modern lingo, running things from the bottom-up, rather than the top-down. Only when events get too big to handle does one turn to higher authorities, and even then, only for certain things, not for everything.
Furthermore, Distributism also believes in “class cooperation.” That is, the poor and middle classes pool their resources together to build up and strengthen the local economy and community. Hence, there is no need for state micromanagement of affairs nor for the dominance of big business or big finance. Neighbor helps neighbor for the sake of all, without - as Chesterton called them - “Hudge” and “Gudge” sticking their noses into things.
And like the Reds, the Fascists either tried to control religious authority or made up their own under state control. As William Shirer wrote in The Rise And Fall of the Third Reich, the Nazis set up their own “National Reich Church,” with the infamous Mein Kampf as their banal substitute for the Bible. And their ersatz messiah was their idea of the Nordic race as some collective divinity, come to rid the Earth of supposed “inferiors.”
Mussolini himself, in a 1925 speech, pronounced the maxim that has ever defined Fascism: "Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State." Thus it shares with Socialism and Communism the trait of making a “god” out of the national government. A “god” who, however, was endowed with the bloodthirsty traits of a Baal, Moloch or Quetzalcoatl. As Chesterton warned us in Christendom in Dublin, "Once abolish the God, and the government becomes the God."
Distributism, by contrast, knows how to do something Fascism never could: reject every pretense to be a substitute “god.” It refuses to assimilate everything into itself, like the Borg of the later Star Trek sagas. It embraces humility and sane limits, which the Hobbits embodied in Tolkien’s epic The Lord of the Rings. It rejects every pretension to become the reason for existence. It condemns the notion that an iron-fisted rule of race, class, party or ethnicity can enliven a society better than that of Our Father in Heaven and His guiding hand.
The standard boast about Mussolini was that “he made the trains run on time.” Like Fascism, that isn’t something to boast about, as Chesterton wrote in All Things Considered:
"It is a good sign in a nation when things are done badly. It shows that all the people are doing them. And it is bad sign in a nation when such things are done very well, for it shows that only a few experts and eccentrics are doing them, and that the nation is merely looking on."
Reprinted with Permission