I was looking at a Spanish 'Distributist' site, recently, which was, and is, surmounted by a picture of members of the Ditchling Community. Ditchling was founded by a group of people who were inspired by the writings of Belloc and Chesterton. More specifically, what they had to say about 'Distributism'.
One day I will blog about 'Distributism'. It's a very home grown socio/political/economic 'theory' (owing more to Cobbett and Goldsmith than Leo XIII). But referring to it in such terms probably makes it more complicated than it actually was. In fact, to a certain extent, it boils down to a theory of ownership. It certainly wasn't a small-holders version of Capitalism. Belloc described Capitalism as the 'disease of property' and Distributism was his antidote for it.
But anyway I digress (creatively). Thinking about Ditchling reminded me of one of Belloc's firm friends Father Vincent McNabb. He was visiting the community, on one occasion, and told them off for not getting their hands dirty. I don't think that it was a question of them being too artsitic but, as he saw it, there was no point in moving to the countryside if agricultural activity did not form part of the agenda.
But who was Father McNabb OP? Thank you to MH (our very own Belloc Blog historian) for this small piece:
'I find it a matter for great perplexity that relatively so few people who know about the great Father Vincent McNabb OP have yet read nothing by him. I won’t bore you here with his life-story (not that it would bore, although my recounting of it may be wanting), which you can find at http://vincentmcnabb.org/contradiction.html if you want to know more, but I do want to say something about one of the matters he often wrote about.
Father McNabb‘s writings by and large posses the admirable Dominican quality of clarity: they can be astonishingly forthright, but are usually a model of compressed lucidity. Occasionally they become so compressed (as though the reasoning is foreshortened) that they can be tough to follow: occasionally his Irish temperament admits the mystic mists of poetry into his writings, and its meaning loses some of its immediacy. However, Father McNabb is always clear about family, about contraception (which he grimly refers to as ‘race suicide’), and about conditions in the modern city being for many a proximate occasion of mortal sin. I was thinking about Father McNabb and his writings as I travelled home from work in the great Babylon of London a week-or-so ago. My mind (such as it was after a day in a stinking office) was full of the recent attacks made on Catholic morality and proper liberty of (informed) conscience by the Government and I was mulling over the failed attacks upon home-schoolers orchestrated by local authorities in cahoots with the Department for Education and Skills in 2009. I thought immediately of McNabb’s ‘Nazareth Measure’, that measure by which he suggested all legislation and social action should be assessed, and - if found wanting – rejected:
“The Nazareth Measure of length and weight and worth is the family - that terrestrial “Holy and Undivided Three”. Let no guile of social usefulness betray… [the Government] into hurting the authority of the Father, the chastity of the Mother, the rights and therefore the property of the Child. Social and economic laws are more subtle but no less infallible than physical laws. No program of good intentions will undo the mischief caused by an interference with family life. As well try to arrest a thrown bomb by a plea of good intentions as try to prevent the final ruin of the State by the plea that our ruin of the family was well-intentioned.”
Increasingly in this country (as in many others) we will find the rights of parents under attack on account of a purported desire to protect or assist the child:
“The Rights of the Parent are Natural Rights…When therefore a child is born its parents find themselves possessed of certain rights which, though occasioned by their own acts of marriage and procreation, are not determined by their own will, nor by the will of the State, nor by the will of man, but by the Will of God. The Rights of the Parent are prior to the Rights of the State. This is clearly seen by those who recognise the Catholic doctrine that the family as a family is prior to the State. Not only in idea but in facts, families must have preceded States….It is truer to say that the State has duties towards the family than that families have duties towards the State. A nation’s chief duty towards this living and essential thing is to safeguard it… Thus the home, with its dowry of natural rights, is an older institution than any law or Parliament of men.”
Yet the rights of the child will clearly be in danger the more threatened become the rights of parents:
“The Rights of the Parent are the Best Safeguard of the Rights of the Child… Thoughtless folk whose vision has been darkened by meddlesome philanthropy can hardly be expected to see that even in idea childhood could have no better guardian than parenthood. These people are often heard to ask “why we hear so much about the rights of parents, and so little about the rights of children.” Their foolish question shows them ignorant of the psychological principle that although the rights of parent and child seem to be two, these two are really one. Until the child is of an age to defend itself against those who merely seek to use it, or improve it as a means to an end, the child’s rights are centered in the parent, the only one whom nature has empowered to love it as an end in itself. No other institution in the world either loves the child as the parent loves it, or even loves it at all.”
As my train passed out of the stench of London and briefly passed through an open landscape of tilled fields (unfortunately on its way to another urban conglomeration, further along the Thames Valley) I thought of those lines of Father McNabb which had first lodged in my mind after one casual reading of his book The Church and the Land several years ago and had caused me to read more of his writings and learn more about his holy life:
“Full family life must be the acid test of any system calling itself civilisation. But under our present system [he was writing this in 1925] the possibility of full family life is practically and explicitly dead. As wages and rents now are [one now might add, the cost of housing in general], there is no possibility for the average working man to have the average [Catholic] family. In order to avoid this average family only two courses are now open to him. He may exercise birth-control by abstinence, which is sinless, or by neo-Malthusian methods of mortal sin. His choice is therefore between mortal sin and what is for the average individual heroic virtue. In other words, the town civilisation of today is for the vast majority of the married classes a proximate occasion of sin. But it is teaching of the Church that we must fly the proximate occasions of sin. To remain in unnecessary occasions of sin is to be guilty of the sin we should fly.”
Thus the rallying cry of “Flee to the fields!” with which Father McNabb is often identified. Things have obviously changed since McNabb’s day, but the economic pressures that made what he referred to as an average family (and which would be referred to in this benighted day and age as a very large family), pressures which may now be less for most people, have been in good measure replaced by social and cultural pressures which, with the dilution of Catholic life since Vatican II, it can require heroic perseverance and a good degree of courage to overcome. And while McNabb was very much aware of the “evil propaganda” of his day, pushing families into ‘race suicide’, into sin and immorality, he would have been appalled at the wall-to-wall, full throttle licentiousness which parades itself in its full measure of perversity and wretchedness across the advertising hoardings of tube stations and shop windows, and across the pages of mainstream magazines and newspapers which many of those around you, crowded onto buses and trains, are greedily consuming.
Cheery journeys, my journeys home from London.'