Monday, July 30, 2007

On Distributism

Answer to John Cort
An Excerpt
By Dorothy Day
The Catholic Worker, December 1948

"Yes, we are quite willing to think in terms of immediate needs, the immediate struggle and I think we show that willingness to deal with the actual and the concrete in every issue of our paper which reach, we remind you, 65,000 people every month. That is the number of papers which go out. As to how many people see them, that is another matter. Oftentimes statisticians think in terms of so many readers to each paper, so that circulation figures are not too certain.

We deal with conditions of work, with wages, with housing, and the existence of our Houses of Hospitality in New York, for men and for women, in Rochester, in Harrisburg, in Pittsburgh (there it has been taken over by the diocese, but we started it), in Cleveland and Detroit testify to that. Our breadlines become longer. In New York, where jobs are scarce in spite of full employment in the rest of the country, we serve 800 meals a day at least. We have our feet in the gutters. Louis Murphy, of the Detroit house, says that we are the gutter sweepers of the diocese.

Just the same, I'd like to call our farm at Newburgh, The Ivory Tower. It is a title of the Blessed Mother, you will recall.

But we plead with our readers to keep a long view, a long range program of action. Hilaire Belloc, in his Restoration of Property, gives a good blueprint for action. He talks about large-scale machinery, what must come under common ownership (and he endorses communal as against state ownership) and what can be broken up into smaller units. His book is short, is factual, is practical, and it is just republished by Sheed and Ward, for two dollars in this country, and there is a seventy-five cent paper covered edition published in England.

One of the saddest things about this whole controversy is that our opponents look upon agrarianism as visionary. Here is what Chesterton said about such a criticism:

"They say it (the peasant society) is Utopian, and they are right. They say it is idealistic, and they are right. They say it is quixotic, and they are right. It deserves every name that will indicate how completely they have driven justice out of the world; every name that measure how remote from them and their sort is the standard of honorable living; every name that will emphasize and repeat the fact that property and liberty are sundered from them and theirs, by an abyss between heaven and hell."

This sounds pretty harsh from the gentle Chesterton, but we, who witness the thousands of refugees from our ruthless industrialism, year after year, the homeless, the hungry, the crippled, the maimed, and see the lack of sympathy and understanding, the lack of Christian charity accorded them (to most they represent the loafers and the bums, and our critics shrink in horror to hear them compared to Christ, as our Lord Himself compared them) to us, I say, who daily suffer the ugly reality of industrial capitalism and its fruits--these words of Chesterton ring strong."

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