Alternatives to the Market and the State

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* Book: Dr. Race Mathews in Jobs of Our Own: Building a Stakeholder Society, Alternatives to the Market and the State. The Distributist Review Press, 2009


Introductory Citation

Race Matthews:

"Alongside profit-oriented private enterprise and the various types of public enterprise, there must be room for commercial entities based on mutualist principles and pursuing social ends to take root and express themselves. It is from their reciprocal encounter in the marketplace that one may expect hybrid forms of commercial behaviour to emerge, and hence an attentiveness to ways of civilizing the economy." (


'Can we really produce the complex products of modern life by giving each family a little, rather than a few men a lot? The answers to these questions are tackled by Dr. Race Mathews.

His book tackles the history, theory, and practice of Distributism. The book is divided into two sections, the first dealing with the history and theory of Distributism and the second with actual practice of the theory. The history starts with the early socialist attempts to answer the question, “Why are the poor so many?” The socialists identified the accumulation of property as the cause, however they wanted to “cure” the problem of accumulation in a few hands by further gathering property into even fewer hands, namely those of the state bureaucrats. But many that were initially attracted to Socialism began to find that course problematic.

Distributism begins with the efforts of Cardinal Manning, a most remarkable cleric. An archdeacon in the Anglican Church, he converted to Catholicism and became the Archbishop of Westminster. His influence on Catholic social teaching was profound. He converted Elizabeth Belloc to Catholicism and her talented son, Hilaire, became his protégé. But he also urged his friend Pope Leo XIII to tackle the social issues in an encyclical, which the Pope did. This was the masterful document Rerum Novarum, which laid the foundation of modern Catholic social doctrine and which reflected the influence of Manning.

Young Hilaire took the ideas of Rerum Novarum and forged them into the economic philosophy known as Distributism. Among his converts were two young writers, Gilbert and Cecil Chesterton, and the rhetorical talents of all three were sufficient to establish Distributism as a serious movement. The greatest competitors of the distributists were the Fabian Socialists, led by such figures as Sydney and Beatrice Webb and George Bernard Shaw. The Fabian Socialists wanted to impose Socialism by stages, gradually eroding the rights of property, which would fall increasing in the hands of the government. Like all socialists, they saw the great fortunes and immense power conferred by private property as the root of the problem.

Against this plan the distributists reacted forcefully. The problem of property was not that there was too much of it, but too little. Productive property was becoming the domain of a small class, gathered into great estates and huge piles of capital. The answer was not to restrict it to fewer hands—the government bureaucrats—but to spread it among a greater number of citizens, hence the name “Distributism.” Belloc argued that the accumulation of property, whether in the hands of the state or a few industrialists, would lead to a servile state in which people might be politically free but would certainly be economically dependent. The interests of the capitalists and bureaucrats would merge into The Servile State.

For all the brilliance of Belloc and Chesterton, they were never interested in pursuing Distributism as a purely economic theory. This put them at a great disadvantage in regard to the Fabians, who always insisted on first-class economic research. It would remain a task for the implementers of Distributism to develop a practice that would amount to a theory. Distributism thus became not a textbook exercise, but an evolved system based on its own practice.

This evolved Distributism is the subject of the second half of Mathews’ book, which deals with two large-scale examples of Distributism in practice. The first is the Antigonish movement of Nova Scotia which flourished for a long while before failing. The second is the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation of Spain, which survives to this day as one of the largest corporations in Spain, and is comparable in size and range of products to the great corporate conglomerates of Europe or the United States." (