Monday, February 4, 2008

Who founded Distributism? A response to TIA

by Athanasius

There is a particular logical fallacy that is employed very frequently by the left and the right in national politics to reject an idea without even once engaging any of its ideas, or accurately depicting it to begin with. This fallacy is called "guilt by association". What it means is a syllogism is constructed in the following manner: A believes B. A is bad, therefore B is bad too. Take for example, any argument out of political debates of our day. Because a small percentage of Catholic priests are guilty of molesting young adolescent males, all Catholic priests are presumed to be involved in something bad. This is a clear case of guilt by association. Or, liberals eat organic food, liberals are bad, therefore organic food is bad. This type of absurd logic governs the lives of many people.

It is unusual however to find the same thing on the conservative side of things, coming from a Traditionalist entity which should be conscious of how logical and rational discourse ought to be carried out according to Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy.

Tradition in Action, which is a pro-Capitalist organization, has two articles attacking Distributism on their website. Interestingly, none of them deal with Distributism proper, none of them make an attempt to engage the ideas behind Distributism or its foundation in Catholic social teaching.

Both instead, engage in guilt by association and other empty reasoning which can be summarized thus: These two people are unlikeable, they were Distributists, therefore Distrubtism is unlikeable.

Here we will consider the first article, Eric Gill, the pedophile founder of Distributism, by Patrick Odou,TIA makes every misrepresentation possible, and then expects you to nod your head because, after all, Mr. Gill was a sexual reprobate.

A father and brother like Gill should raise the indignation of Catholics! They should have an equally strong rejection of any of his ideas. It is my opinion that this man should have been removed from society and put in a psychiatric hospital for sex maniacs. It seems absurd that a man with these moral patterns should be accepted and followed as an ideologue who knows what is good or bad for society. Notwithstanding, today we can see, even among Catholics, the name of this depraved father and brother being promoted as a founder of Distributism.....

Now, after studying Eric Gill, I see that Catholics are also being advised to stomach the terrible morals of a pornographic and blasphemous author. It is incomprehensible that any Catholic would suggest lending an ear to such a filthy creature.

The italicized portion should be of concern. What if he had an idea that also happened to be right? What happened to St. Thomas' principle that one should reject what is false from sources such as pagans and accept what is true?

Let us go one step further. Let us agree wholeheartedly that Eric Gill did what the author of this article alleges, and let us also agree Mr. Gill's art is profane and abominable, and that Catholics should be rightly indignant over his life. Based on my own research into Mr. Gill I have no reason to doubt any of that. The man was driven to perversion and had problems to say the least. He's despicable. How does that make him a "founder" of Distributive principles and how does that take away from the movements arguments. Furthermore, can Mr Odou point to any Distributist that has asked Catholics to accept Mr. Gill's aberrant morality? A further search of the Tradition in Action site reveals only people claiming Mr. Odou's facts were wrong. Nowhere do we find anyone saying that we must accept his life or imitate it. Morever Mr. Odou provides no citation from Gill's works on Distributism, or the article which appears in Distributist Perspectives that suggests any connection between Mr. Gill's disgusting private life and the belief that property should be well divided in society and the rights of the common man to own property should be protected against those of the wealthy. This is because there are none. Can no one say that because one pervert once said it? If so, then no one can be a Christian because one of the original founders betrayed his master for 30 pieces of silver. In fact, his master was known to eat with sinners and touch lepers. Probably not a good thing there.

In all honestly that is what it comes down to. The argument of Mr. Odou and all of TIA's remarks on Distributism are specious. It would be one thing if the article were to ask why Distributists would include a work by Gill in an anthology. I have the exact same question for IHS' editors. I would rather not be associated with Mr. Gill either, and his artwork would make better firewood than anything else. Did Mr. Odou or TIA attempt to contact the editors of IHS to find out why? They rightly ask the questions, but did they do anything that amounts to 2 minutes to write an e-mail? No.

Not only does that say nothing about Distributism, Gill is also not "the" founder much less a founder. By far the founders are Chesterton and Belloc. Without them there would not be a Distributist movement for Gill to be apart of. Chesterton and Belloc themselves derive their ideas from Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius XI who spells it out more clearly. In His encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, Pius XI calls Free Market Capitalism a poisoned spring from which all evils flow. Perhaps Mr. Odou is going to suggest to us that Chesterton, Belloc and Pius XI were all pedophiles too, all because Eric Gill was? That follows from what he has already written, even though I am sure he would not say such a thing. It has nothing to do with "following Eric Gill", it has everything to do with following Catholic social teaching. If all he had to say was why are Distributists making use of this man who is a British version of Kinsey, I should echo him rather loudly. But he has gone much further and suggested that Distributism is to be rejected because this man held to it. That is intellectually irresponsible. Should we reject Catholicism because Popes such as Nicholas II, Alexander the VI and John XII broke the vows and engaged in sexual experimentation (and with the exception of Nicholas II while they were Pope!)? After all, we should not believe anything they held to!

It is shocking to see an organization dedicated to Catholic Tradition using shallow arguments more reminiscent of Communist smear tactics than clear Thomistic logic, but there you have it.

Lastly, in other articles such as this one, Mr. Odou claims again that all these men must have been in on something bad together, after all look, Eric Gill drew a picture of Belloc, he was Vice President of the League. What he forgets is men who live lives of sin often do so in secret, and unfortunately for Mr. Gill he didn't get away with it, what was wrought in darkness has been brought to light, and his fault will always injure a good cause. It is eminently possible that Mr. Gill could be guilty of all these things and more, and no one ever knew about it. Often people such as this have a certain dynamism that attracts people, or that leaves a lasting and respectable impression so that when you find out that such and such has happened, you are quite shocked. One would need that type of dynamism in order to keep his wife quiet (who undoubtedly knew all of this) and to get his daughters to allow an act of incest even at age 16 without all of this coming out in his lifetime. It is also possible that such people can have fundamental disconnects between something they acknowledge as true, and something they do which they know is evil. Can we not find Popes of this nature in history? Mr. Odou has failed to produce anything from Eric Gill's writings on Distributism that would suggest anything wrong with Distributism itself. The only thing produced was testimony from Gill himself proving he was a sick man and needed the grace of Jesus Christ to be saved, and we commend such twisted men to the mercy of our Lord.


The Scylding said...

Guilt-by-association (GBA) is unfortunately a very common tactic nowadays. But all we need to do is to find a deviant capitalist (now where will we find one..?), a morally objectionable socialist and hey presto - all economic systems are bad, and we should eh -what should we do?

Reductio ad absurdam is a good weapon against GBA.

Leo said...

Nice post, looks like I'm back to the drawing board again - oh well. Glad to see some updates and Happy New [late] to the League.

say what? said...

Until yesterday I'd not heard of Distributism, but I'm a good 31 years away from Catholicism anyhow. Having, only in the last few years, begun speaking civilly to Catholics again I have been looking for areas where I might learn something useful from them. One such area was in the “back to the land” movement. I’ve been studying a few people who have done that (make a living from their land) successfully, pagans all, and was delighted to find a copy of “The Rural Solution” so I could get an idea of what Catholics were thinking about the movement. I’m barely through the book’s intro and wondering if Catholics think at all?

Still, the book started me down some new roads of thought and landed me here. So far I’m hoping there will be more interesting blogs on this topic. I’m probably too conservative for Distributism based on what little I’ve read and I’m very likely to avoid the Church for at least another 31 years. But hey, I live in a town with at least 25% of the population being RCs. I might as well try and understand where they are coming from.

Roy F. Moore said...

Well done article, Athanasius.

I regret to say that a lot of folks on the Angelqueen (AQ) internet forum have been swayed by the TIA tactics. John Grassmeyer, who owns AQ, will not allow any new members on the forum who want to talk about Distributism. Check it for yourself and see.

He believes it to be just another form of socialism, and believes the lies of Mr. Odou. As do many of the other AQ moderators.

It's a crying shame really.

William Peaden said...

I must say that 'back in the day', that is to say when I was in the process of discovering the Catholic Church I came across the TIA article. It actually didn't have much of an effect on me, apart from make me a tad depressed (it seemed to implicate that no only was Gill evil, but so was Fr. McNabb, Fr. O‘Connor, Chesterton, Belloc et al. and as a convert in progress I had found Chesterton and Belloc at least to be a real inspiration). Actually, the logic of their argument seemed to me, even in my confused state of agnosticism, to a load of old cobblers. I remember thinking that there were a whole load of fundamentalist Protestants who basically made the same argument about the Papacy: 'Pope Medici the whatever was evil, thus Catholicism is evil'. I remember thinking that by their logic the Bull Exsurge Domine must by all counts be invalid since, Leo X was one of the most morally reprehensible of all the Popes.

It thankfully didn't set very well deeply on my mind. I remember thinking that I hoped that it wasn't true, and that if it were true it must be the result of ignorance on the part of IHS and people like Joseph Pearce that he was still admired. In any case I have just completed my dissertation on Distributism, I am now a Distributist, and I am pleased that there is a refutation out there. I had half a mind to refute the argument myself, especially in light of the fact that Distributism was ‘founded’ by Belloc, taken on by Chesterton, and then by others.

Besides as much whatever happened to ‘The Church is for Saints and Sinners, and for respectable people the Anglican Church will do’. Frankly, it is best that Gill was in the Church, and please God he was repentant and got to purgatory.

Still thank you Athanasius you have at least put my mind to rest, for although I never took the argument seriously it has bugged me since I read it, at least in the back of my mind.