Dear Occupy Wall Street: Your Message Is Distributism

Dear Occupy Wall Street: the media complain that you have no message. But you do, and you know it. The message is just not clear.

You want the economy to serve the people, and not the reverse. Pretty clear, pretty simple, I think. But you say that and your opponents call you simplistic. So the message needs to get less abstract, more concrete. It’s doable – because it’s already been done.

You might not know your message has a long history in Western ethics and economics. It’s called distributism.

Distributism simply says that private property ought to be distributed widely. It should not be eliminated as in communism, nationalized as in socialism, or concentrated in private hands as in capitalism. (Really these economics systems all concentrate wealth, either in the state or private hands – distributism opposes this.)  Distributism is a “third way” economic theory (or fourth, or more, if you are counting).

Distributist ideas are old. They can be found in Aristotle’s Politics from 23 centuries ago, where Aristotle argued that the middle class should be protected and encouraged to flourish (they are the virtuous social mean, after all).  Distributist ideals are currently mostly strongly presented by some groups of Catholics, but the message has no innately religious component. This is economics, not metaphysics. Anyone can be a distributist, and many people are and just don’t know it.

Plus distributism is just common sense.

Concentrating wealth concentrates power and facilitates injustice (like injustice needs facilitating). So distribute power more widely. Injustice becomes more difficult.

The current distributist movement is small and idiosyncratic. Don’t let that scare you. Let that encourage you: they need and want your voice! The idea is too good to be kept to a few people. Good ideas are to be shared.

Plus, like I said, you may already be a distributist and just not know it. Just start using the word.

So this is the distributist message to the Occupy Wall Street protesters: your message is distributism. Now you have a clear message. Problem solved. You may now inform the media.

Here is the Distributist Review on the subject of the protests.

And here’s the Occupy Wall Street website.

(And don’t forget the distributists are on facebook!)

UPDATE: Follow-up post here on the secular/philosophical aspects of distributism.

12 responses to “Dear Occupy Wall Street: Your Message Is Distributism

  • DAS

    please listen!!! we need to get american flags in the hands of the protesters. it is imperative to the survival of the movement. please pass this word. when the soilders come, they will be less likely to fire upon those holding american flags. we must make this a patriotic movement to gain momentum and to disarm the government stance that the protesters are terroist. this will become a tactic to turn the majority against you.please, please pass this to any one you can, pass out as many flags as you can, once again , it is imperative this be done. the flag will give all a sysmbol to will draw those who are not involved. please understand the importance of this. my bothers and sisters, the time has come. it is our duty to see this through!!! good luck to us all!!!

  • Brian Green

    I agree that the protesters ought to have American flags with them, but not to use as shields, but rather because they love their country and are trying to save it from disaster. They are patriots. They don’t need to pretend they are patriots, they just need to show who they already are.

  • Peter Michael Burke Jr.

    I’d hardly think many of them would identify themselves as distributists. Marxist/Socialist I’d find far more accurate.

  • jmalcolm

    one can hope anyway

    • Robbie

      Great post, Brian.

      I think a general rapprochement is possible. Distributists share more in common with today’s Marxists/Socialist than on that which they disagree. The old debates between Chesterton and Shaw are not nearly as interesting (or as relevant) as today’s talks between someone like Phillip Blond and Maurice Glasman. As opposing poles, they agree that we can’t keep fetishizing the political and economic arguments of 30 years ago.



  • Helen Lee

    Though most of these people have a problem with capitalism, I think a quick discussion with them would reveal that they may not be willing to stake their hopes in Socialism either. They know what they don’t want. What they don’t realize is that there’s a word for what they DO want.

    Re the flags question… I tend to take an anti-nationalist stance, personally. I don’t identify as a patriot (Politically I align more with an anarcho-Catholic stance). I’m a Catholic and I just happen to be American. The early Christians identified as Christian, not Roman. I shouldn’t have to carry an American flag to protect myself, just as early Christians shouldn’t have had to adopt Roman customs to protect themselves. In the event that it comes that, anyone who dies at the hands of American military or “civil servants” is a hero and a martyr.

    I certainly have respect for people who identify as patriots. That’s a legitimate position. But my biggest concern is putting Caesar in his place.

    Once again, Brian, great post!

  • David W. Cooney

    Mr. Burke,
    You are, unfortunately, correct. However, the reason they would identify themselves as Marxists and Socialists instead of Ditributists is that almost none of them have ever even heard of Distributism. This is true even for those who major in economics.

  • Kevin МАРУСЕК (@iPadGoober)

    Upon what is this opinion based? I don’t think anyone on any of the Occupy protests I’ve spoken with, online or in person, is all that interested in property. There is no one message or one item on their agenda, and I won’t claim to speak for all of them. Perhaps some do feel as you believe they do, but overwhelmingly I see the protesters asking/begging for services instead of property. If we are going to fill the coin purses of the 1%, we’d appreciate a quality education, health care, and a reasonable expectation of being able to enter into a vocation that will afford us to maintain a basic standard of living. It seems a fair trade: The 1% can have more money than God if the 99% get — not a trickle down — but a reasonable assurance that the quality of their lives isn’t guaranteed to suck. Right now, for a lower or middle class individual to get the basic services is almost unheard of.

    If that means you need to distribute some property or shake up the ownership of companies or centralize whatever, that is frankly up to the 1% to decide. The how is unimportant. But the line between what is fair and what is not has been breached, and the occupation will continue in all likelihood until drastic changes are made.

  • Brian Green

    Thanks to all of you for your kind words.

    Kevin, my opinion is really similar to yours (and is based on those in the OWS movement I have communicated with – admittedly not an unbiased sample). OWS, in my understanding, is (like you say) not just about “external” property but “internal” property as well – like the skills one gets from an education or well-being from basic health care. Some services become property: internal property. Education is a form of wealth, and is well-worth distributing widely. I’ve spent time in places with poor education and it is literally deadly.

    David, Helen, Robbie, and others – you are right to state that the protesters just do not realize there are other options than the binary presented to them. That is why distributists need to be loud now. When everyone is looking for the answer to a crisis and you might have that answer, hiding it is a poor course of action. Hiding it hurts everyone. But you all already know that!

    Helen, I certainly understand and sympathize with your perspective. I definitely try to separate the categories of “patriot” and “nationalist,” with a patriot being one who will talk harshly to their fellows in order to help them become better people, while a nationalist will talk harshly to their fellows to try to reduce them to conformity. A patriot is willing to tell his or her nation it is on a bad course and needs to shape up. A true friend lets you know when you are making bad choices, and we need to be true friends to our country right now. That is the ideal I am aiming for.

    Thank you all for your comments, it is my honor that I get to meet such interesting people as all of you on the web!

  • Skylar

    Another great article. Thanks Brian for your insights. I always learn something from you.

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