Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Practical Distributism IV

by K.L. Kenrick

In previous articles I have tried to point out that the only basis of a practical programme is the life of the individual Distributist as expressed by the method in which he supplies his daily needs. We cannot suggest solutions of national or municipal problems except on the basis of the experience which we gain in the practice of that life. It is idle for us to think that as a League we can concoct some grandiose scheme for imposing Distributism on the whole country, while as individuals we insist on living in the grooves of industrialism. Industrialism has cut us off from contact with and experience of the real things of life. We have been carefully trained to know next to nothing about the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and the houses we live in. So long as we remain in that condition of ignorance and inexperience our best-laid schemes can be but academic and visionary. It is true that our dreamy Distributism could hardly be a more dismal failure than the highly practical industrialism of Lancashire and South Wales, but we do not propose to remain satisified with a mere piece of repartee. We have cut ourselves off from contact with reality in order to enjoy the profits and pains of contact with reality. The two things – getting into closer touch with reality and bringing about a wider and better distribution of property – are two things which go hand in hand. In making a practical programme we have to proceed step by step, keeping our feet on the ground the whole time.

I have suggested, therefore, that the raw material from which we are to build up a working model of the Distributive State is not the industrial world of factory and combine, but rather the scattered remains of an older and better world. I invite the practical Distributist to break away from industrialism on his own hearth and on his own door-step. I do not invite him to go in for what is called “the simple life,” because my experience of people who go in for “the simple life” is that generally they have large sums of money invested in the worst forms of industrial enterprise. The world of “The simple life” is an even more unreal world than the world of factory and combine. But I do invite him to go in for a simple life, which is a very different thing. Like charity, Distributism begins at home, and the only man who can really do anything to bring about a better distribution of property throughout the country is the man who has gained practical experience by trying to bring about a better distribution of property in the locality in which he lives.

I have suggested that in spending our money we should keep in mind the idea of making “areas of consumption co-terminous with areas of production.” We should try to bring the supplying of our needs as near our own house-door as possible. This means not only buying from nearer and smaller shops; it also means doing our best to make those shops into workshops, or at least into places where something is done beside the mere selling of goods. I have given what I hope are practical examples of suggestions as to how this might be done. I have suggested that every Distributist who really want to “do something” can begin at once by making a directory of the small shops in the locality in which he lives; he can supplement this from the catalogue of the Liverpool Exhibition and the special advertisement columns of G.K.’s Weekly; he will need his addition, because he will find that however assiduous he may be, many of his wants cannot be satisfied in his own neighbourhood.

I now go a step further. I suggest that we not only do our best to compel the small shopkeeper to become more of a maker and producer and less of a middleman and seller, but also that we use our wits to devise means whereby we shall ourselves play some part in the various processes which go to the production of the commodities we need to keep us alive. I suggest that if a man needs a suit of clothes and he buys the cloth from a maker of cloth and gets a tailor to make it up for him, he is not only helping to bring about a better distribution of property, but he is gaining experience which will make his ideas and his talk less academic and visionary. I suggest that the practical Distributist should not only know what length and width of cloth go to make him a suit, but that he should also know the names and amounts of the various trimmings that go to complete it. If, in addition, the cloth he buys is hand-woven and has no tinge of “art-weaving” about it, but is simply the practical work of a practical man, then I think he is furnishing the world with an almost classically perfect example of what practical Distributism really means.

I know a farmer who assiduously collects all the fallen timber on his farm, sorts out the best, and stores it to season against the time when he wants a new manger or wheelbarrow or cart or wagon. When he wants any of these things, he does not buy them ready-made as a townsman would, but he goes to the carpenter or wheelwright and tells him that he has seasoned timber in stock. I think that even the townsman might get to know sufficient about the house he lives in to act as his own contractor, his own clerk of the worls, and his own quantity-surveyor; even if he cannot be his own bricklayer, slater, plasterer, plumber, carpenter, and joiner. The man who, when he needs repairs to his house, summons the experts, and then retires to his study or his smoke-room, carefully closes the door, and becomes absorbed in his pipe and his books, cannot boast of being a practical Distributist.

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