18 June 2017

Has this blog shifted left?

On my Facebook page, I got a comment from a deeply-respected reader of this blog to the effect that it seemed I was going ‘soft’ on socialism. I had actually described myself as ‘Orthodox, monarchist, socialist – in that order’, and in light of my recent post on RH Tawney, this seemed to be a cause for concern.

Let me clarify my position, then. I don’t think the shift, if there has been one, has been that drastic; it’s more a shift in emphasis than in conviction. To some of my gentle readers, it may confirm what they had long suspected; to others, it may allay some of their concerns. As long as this blog has been active, I have considered myself a ‘man of the Left’, albeit one with a strong Tory streak. My biggest objections to socialism in the main, were its tendencies toward materialism and toward urban chauvinism, but I’ve also had a long-standing appreciation for the post- (or non-)Marxist socialisms of people like Ruskin, Morris, Berdyaev, Bulgakov, Vonnegut, Fei, Wang and Miyazaki. The fact that there are Orthodox saints and martyrs like Blessed Ilya Fondaminsky and Mother Maria Skobtsova, whose socialist-revolutionary instincts never really went away on conversion, but in fact led them to a self-sacrificial embrace of Christ in the concentration camps, heartens me quite a bit as well.

I still do have a significant level of respect for distributism – and particularly for Chesterton and Mihalache. At the same time, the cliquish tendency among distributists to artificially distance themselves from their closest cousins (the guild socialists and the social-credit movement) has become somewhat irritating to me. I do understand the differences and their importance – I have, after all, read Mitrany’s book and understand its critiques, even of the ‘democratic’ socialists who threw peasant movements under the bus for the sake of ideological rigour. I also understand the ideologically-motivated, malicious and dishonest desire on the part of distributism’s ideological foes to tar it with a ‘red’ brush. I know exactly how this causes a certain level of defensiveness on the part of distributism’s committed defenders. At the same time, it strikes me as equally dishonest to understate or ignore the importance of the Oxford Movement and the left-radicalisms of Cobbett and Morris on distributism’s development in the West (Chesterton did, after all, love him some Cobbett!), or of narodnichestvo on its development in the East, through transitional figures like Svetozar Marković in Yugoslavia and Constantin Stere in Romania. German revisionists like Karl Kautsky and Eduard Bernstein were notably influential on the most successful distributist statesman of the Green Rising, Bulgaria’s Aleksandar Stamboliyski.

The other reason my thinking has taken a more Fabian turn of late is precisely this: distributism requires a far fuller and more cogent awareness of its radical roots if it is to retain its character. Allan Carlson, in his book Third Ways (a read I highly recommend, by the way), not only engages fruitfully and in interesting ways with the legacy of Karl Polanyi and the forgotten story of how Ellen Key’s ‘Swedish socialist housewives’ battled against the creeping ideology of defamilialisation. He also issues a stern warning to the would-be torchbearers of distributism and Christian democracy in our age. He notes the sharp turn of the Christian Democratic parties in the 1950’s away from the Catholic personalist radicalism of Emmanuel Mounier and Stephen Borne toward a bureaucratised, bourgeois ethic:
As early as the 1950s, Christian democracy as a vital worldview entered another period of crisis. The youthful excitement, energy and sense of positive Christian revolution evident in the 1940s dissipated… In Italy and West Germany, Christian democratic parties consolidated their hold on power at the price of their vision. By the early 1960s, they were increasingly pragmatic and bureaucratic, self-satisfied defenders of the status quo. Ambitious office-seekers, rather than Christian idealists, came to dominate the parties. Movements for ‘moral and spiritual renewal’ became simply mass parties of the right-of-centre. When a new ‘crisis of values’ hit Europe with particular force in the 1960s, the Christian democrats were unprepared to respond. They appeared by then to be old and discredited guardians of a new kind of materialism, the very opposite of what the movement’s visionaries had intended.
It’s precisely this turn in the Christian democratic movement in this country – the American Solidarity Party – that I’m most coming to fear. The party builders in many of the state-level outfits seem more concerned with building a big tent of the centre-right, than with challenging the Lockean presuppositions of our mainstream politics and articulating a genuine alternative to the two big parties. My explorations into Tawney and Cole, and my turn toward the saintly Bunakov for inspiration, comes straight from Carlson’s warning and example. Perhaps a good hard shot of Fabianism (of the localist, industrial-democratic variety which also takes virtue ethics seriously) is just the thing needed.

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