Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Is Bishop Gore a Distributist?

by Fr. Vincent McNabb

There is no cause that would not gain by the pen of Bishop Gore. Not that it would always gain in clearness. The Bishop can be so deep or so dark that many of his writings are read by his enemies, who quarry in them for something to denounce, rather than by his friends, who are anxious for something to understand.

On social matters, such as form the subject of these gathered Halley Stewart lectures, Bishop Gore speaks with something of prophetic power. Amongst the “word-sowers” of the Church of England the authentic prophetical note will oftenest be heard, not from the pulpit of St. Paul’s or the chair of Birmingham, but from this cultured voice to which, we believe, not a few pulpits are closed. But as far as we can judge, if all the pulpits in the Church of England were closed to him, he would feel no sense of narrowed outlet, still less of thwarted ambition. The man who has given up two Episcopal chairs for the sake of intellectual life and social truth is set beyond the little passions that shake lesser men. Nowhere in the written or spoken words of the man has anyone detected an effort or intention to “play to the gallery” or to catch votes. For this reason his readers know that, even in those pages where his mind seems bewildered, his bewilderment comes of that “cor sincerum” on which alone the final stages of truth can be built.

In these lectures, this sincere heart, and on the whole this clear thinker “sets out four main propositions: (1) That the present state of society demands a reform so thorough as to amount to a peaceful revolution; (2) That the revolution must consist of a change of spirit rather than a change in legislative administration; (3) That the change in spirit will not come from any conversion of men in masses, but from the influence and inspiration of leaders; (4) Finally, that Jesus Christ is the Saviour and Redeemer of man in social as well as individual life.”

It is in the development and proof of this thesis that Bishop Gore leads us to ask if he is a Distributist. If ever he was a “Socialist” in deed or name, life and thought have brought a gradual focusing of vision. Or it may be that the young man who saw visions has gradually grown into the older man who dreams dreams – those prophetical dreams that are woven of spun memories. No wonder, then, that the dream which ends the book should have so many pages of history – the “memory of mankind.” But this history of Bishop Gore’s is such as a Distributist would write. It is a quiet panegyric, not of what is primitive but what is primary. It can look on the Middle Ages, as many historians look on the Crusades, as the tragedy of thought and purpose outrunning accomplishment. It has no wish to copy the failures of the past, but only its clear, damning vision of transcendent intellectual and moral right.

In many or most of the details of the Bishop’s dream he is frankly distributist. Thus he writes of the Early Church:-

“We find in the Christian fathers vigorous denunciation of all keeping of private wealth such as is not needed for the support of the possessor’s own family. Such selfish keeping of wealth from the common land they call – not lack of generosity only, but injustice or theft. It is not that they deny the right of private property. In a world of sin, private property must exist; and the law must maintain it. But it is only to be justified when it is reduced to the minimum needed to meet the reasonable requirements of life according to a man’s condition.” (p. 84)

A further passage in Bishop Gore’s most convincing manner might well be copied into any handbook for Distributists:-

“From any democratic point of view the aim of the State in legislature must be, as far as possible, to secure the reality of private property to all citizens, though no doubt in varying degree. As against any thorough-going form of Socialism or Communism I desire to insist that the maintenance of the family (which should always be regarded as the root and center of the organization of human society) as well as the encouragement of individuality demands the maintenance of private property…the object of legislation should always be to endow the largest number of individuals with property and the sense of property. It is in both these respects that our laws have signally failed. Their tendency throughout history has been to create a propertied class and make it dominant over an unpropertied nation. It is certain, if anything that can be called democracy or freedom to prevail, that this tendency has to be deliberately and systematically reversed. Nothing seems to me at this moment more alarming than the concentration of capital, and the vast power that capital gives, in a few hands. For instance, in the department of journalism, so important for the life of any nation, it appears already to have almost destroyed the freedom of the Press.” 9pp.143,144).

This is vigorous, limpid, well-head Distributism. Are we to welcome Bishop Gore as a Distributist?

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