Sometime this year I'm going to be reading a few things and maybe they'll help me formulate an answer, if only a tentative one, in my own mind. These were already on my reading list, but in light of the new bill, these books just got a whole lot more interesting. First I'm going to read Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom (or should I read Hayek?) to get an intelligent answer from one side of the spectrum. Then I'm going to read John Rawls' A Theory of Justice (or should I read Milbank?) to get an intelligent answer from the other side of the spectrum.
But I'd actually be most interested to hear Phillip Blond's take, who I've only recently heard of. Jonathan Derbyshire calls him conservatism's next philosopher-king, which is something we desperately need. After all, we've sunk from a high point of Reagan, Thatcher, Friedman, and Buckley, to all-time low of Palin and Prejean. The reason I'd like to hear from Blond is that a year or two ago, I read the encyclical Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XIII. Through several commentaries on the same, I became aware of the Catholic social teachings of subsidiarity and distributism which are a couple of so-called "third-way" economic concepts.
The ideas excited me, but I thought the philosophy, and any practical hope for its implementation, was dead in the water, due to the fact that its main proponents were early 20th Catholic writers and thus, since it is the 21st century, dead themselves. These writers included G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. But what excites me now is that Phillip Blond seems to be taking up the torch of the distributists, the torch of subsidiarity.
Just recently, in an op-ed for Britain's The Guardian entitled Let's Get Local, Blond connects globalism to the economic crisis and proposes a more sustainable way forward. Read his article here, it is pretty short. In it, he illustrates subsidiarity as follows:
"Traditionally, subsidiarity means that no function should be performed at any level that could be performed by a level below it. So in a dramatic reverse of the trend towards centralisation, bureaucracy and monopoly, subsidiarity insists on a radical decentralisation, and delegation to the level below it. In practice this means that the state defers to civil society, civil society to institutions and institutions to individuals. Its political correlate is federalism and localism and its political outcome is a dramatic increase in the power and potency of individuals and communities."
Doesn't that sound an awful lot like the way the U.S. Constitution was written? Doesn't that sound like something libertarians can cheer? Doesn't that sound like something FLDS members, homeschoolers and gun owners can get behind? I sure can. Blond continues,
"The net effect of this doctrine is radical empowerment of what normally suffers under modern political settlements – individual sovereignty and communal autonomy."
Now distributism sounds eerily like a nicer word for communism. But as Blond illustrates above, here we are not talking about a distribution of wealth, but rather a just distribution of power. Subsidiarity and distributism are goals worth striving towards, for reasons of justice alone. But the economic crisis has revealed so many more good reasons for radical empowerment. His next book is coming out in April. It is entitled Red Tory: How Left and Right Have Broken Britain and How We Can Fix It. He's got a chance to as any as he is an acknowledged adviser to British leader David Cameron.