Troubled by rampant injustice and inequality, many conscientious Christians advocate radical economic reforms. Distributism, a program that traces its popularity to Catholic writers Hilaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton, promotes the widespread ownership of property by tempering the market with guilds or similar associations. By its nature, distributism must invoke the power of the state, a dangerous move that ultimately undermines its own objectives. Economic freedom in a market system, Thomas Woods advises, is a context more conducive to justice and human flourishing.
Nostalgia is a useful and dangerous thing. At its best, it connects us to the past, providing a sense of community over time and guarding against what C. S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery.” Less helpfully, it can lead to mythologizing the past and blind us to the advantages of the present.
The ongoing appeal to Catholics of the economic arrangements called distributism and corporatism manifests in some cases the harmful form of nostalgia. In response, Thomas Woods pares away the inaccuracies of economic history that have accumulated over the last hundred years. Never does he call into question the good will of those who advocate older or more ideal forms of economic organization. Instead, he argues that the kinds of economic reform explicitly or implicitly promoted by the various defenders of distributism are imprudent. They would not further the ends that all devotees of Catholic social teaching share: wide ownership of property, service of the common good with particular attention to the poor, and a right ordering of the use of material goods.