On The Distribution of Power and Wealth: A Christian Perspective [2/2]   Leave a comment


How does a Christian respond to the world when it comes to Power? Power as we know comes from 3 areas of living, but they are all intertwined. The first is social power, or influence. The second is economic power, or property and wealth. The third is political power, which is usually determined by the aggregate of the previous two aspects. Politics, at its root is, “the study of distribution of power.” Indirectly, when we speak about where power is distributed we speak also of freedom. In this essay I want to write about the purpose of hierarchy and centralization and the purpose of decentralization and common ownership. To do this however, I am going to need to write about my own personal political transition from Right-Libertarianism into a hybrid of Distributism with Libertarian Tendencies.

The Purpose of Centralization and Hierarchy

Hierarchy exists for the sole purpose of permanence, it exists so that something might last. No one makes it to the top unless their values are in line with the institutions agenda. Consider a large financial corporation, no one will get accepted into a position of substantial power unless, they have proved their worth for what the corporation believes in. Consider the government as well, the entire point to government is obviously to centralize power and possess a hierarchy, whether the people want it or not, said government will not last very long if there was no hierarchy and no centralization, now this does not mean society will not last without government, but solely government. Finally consider even the more Traditional Churches (Catholic-Orthodox) they possess a Hierarchy and the Catholic Church possesses an even more pronounced sense of Centralization.

Now does this mean that desiring permanence is bad? No, not necessarily, only in certain things can it possibly be read as such. In the case of the more Traditionalist Churches (Catholic-Orthodox) would I consider it a good thing, one does not want to create a consensus spirituality, it will merely Relativize the Truth, yet one should of course allow for freedom of discussion as well so long as it is in line with those values. However, business and government has No “Timeless Truth” to it, its “truth” is whatever works in fulfilling its constantly changing demands and desires. The Church, has a permanent mission on earth (To Preach The Gospel and To Fulfill Christs Two Greatest Commandments), whereas governments and business are designed more or less to respond to the socio-economic demands of the people as conditioned through time. According to a Labor Day article written on TheCatholicThing.Org the author goes on to state that,

“When legislation and government regulation become the primary means of ‘arbitration’ between business and labor interests, government has overstepped its bounds to the detriment of subsidiarity. When this state of affairs comes about at the behest of businesses and unions themselves – a sort of labor law arms race – both business lobbies and unions share culpability.

Subsidiarity is not about exercising power at the lowest possible level so much as it is about locating responsibility in its proper place. In other words, subsidiarity can be violated from the ‘bottom up’ as well as from the ‘top down.’ If citizens – or businesses or labor unions – fail in their social obligations, then some other institution must pick up the slack. Usually, this means the state. But this always carries with it the real danger that, as the state takes on more and more of society’s unmet obligations, society will atrophy and grow dependent, making an already difficult situation even worse.”

In light of all of this, is this to say that the Church is to remain unchanging? No, relatively speaking, while there are dogmas and understandings that we have come to confess, when it comes to the changing socio-economic times The Church is called to speak from the same Truth from which it always confesses, yet it does not surrender that Truth nor its structures entirely. Take the case of the so-called Counter-Reformation in light of the need to address the corruption that was hindering the Church’s mission on earth.

The Purpose of Decentralization and Horizontalism

So than is there a point to Horizontalism and Decentralization? Of course there is, if hierarchy was designed to keep permanence then horizontalism and decentralization is designed for adaptation to the constantly changing world around us. The Church is not designed to change because it is not a worldly institution, however governments and business are! The world is a changing place, and therefore that which is inherently rooted in impermanence ought to be structured in such a way so as to make sure that old ways can be relinquished for the new ways, so long as they maximize the welfare and freedom of the individuals involved. Therefore, governments need to be decentralized and localized so that way power is diffused to as many people throughout society as possible and businesses ought to be decentralized and made horizontal in their structure so as to make sure that the Practical Knowledge and actual laboring does not get divorced from the Theoretical knowledge and administrative work.

In light of this perspective, I come back to a similar Encyclical but this time from John Paul II titled, “Centesimus Annus” specifically the conclusion concerning Private Property and the Universal Destination of Material Goods,

“The integral development of the human person through work does not impede but rather promotes the greater productivity and efficiency of work itself, even though it may weaken consolidated power structures. A business cannot be considered only as a ‘society of capital goods’; it is also a ‘society of persons’ in which people participate in different ways and with specific responsibilities, whether they supply the necessary capital for the company’s activities or take part in such activities through their labor. To achieve these goals there is still need for a broad associated workers’ movement, directed towards the liberation and promotion of the whole person.

In the light of today’s ‘new things’, we have re-read the relationship between individual or private property and the universal destination of material wealth. Man fulfills himself by using his intelligence and freedom. In so doing he utilizes the things of this world as objects and instruments and makes them his own. The foundation of the right to private initiative and ownership is to be found in this activity. By means of his work man commits himself, not only for his own sake but also for others and with others. Each person collaborates in the work of others and for their good. Man works in order to provide for the needs of his family, his community, his nation, and ultimately all humanity.Moreover, he collaborates in the work of his fellow employees, as well as in the work of suppliers and in the customers’ use of goods, in a progressively expanding chain of solidarity. Ownership of the means of production, whether in industry or agriculture, is just and legitimate if it serves useful work. It becomes illegitimate, however, when it is not utilized or when it serves to impede the work of others, in an effort to gain a profit which is not the result of the overall expansion of work and the wealth of society, but rather is the result of curbing them or of illicit exploitation, speculation or the breaking of solidarity among working people.Ownership of this kind has no justification, and represents an abuse in the sight of God and man.

The obligation to earn one’s bread by the sweat of one’s brow also presumes the right to do so. A society in which this right is systematically denied, in which economic policies do not allow workers to reach satisfactory levels of employment, cannot be justified from an ethical point of view, nor can that society attain social peace.Just as the person fully realizes himself in the free gift of self, so too ownership morally justifies itself in the creation, at the proper time and in the proper way, of opportunities for work and human growth for all.” – Paragraph 43


One of the great contribution the Catholic Church I believe has made was help in founding a Federation of Worker Cooperatives named the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation, which is based in Spain. At the end of the day, the distribution of Power is rooted in Social Influence and Wealth, for the creation of a Free and Open Society that most people long for will be achieved once we allow for economic decentralization of wealth centers, which will only occur under Distributist and Cooperative Auspices, which embody a sense of the Horizontalist ideology. We must be careful however, that at the end of the day Freedom of Association is respected under the understandings of Subsidiarity and Solidarity, for according to another TheCatholicThing.Org post,

“Unions, along with other associations, could bring the benefits of solidarity joined with love and charity, as members help one another in many ways. But it was quite another matter when unions use their power to deny, to ordinary people, legitimate work they were willing to do… But the employer was no less a natural man than the worker. If a worker wished to join a union, that right was implicit in his standing as a free man. So too was his right to refuse to work at a place that would not confine its hiring only to members of his union. But the employer had precisely the same right to free association, including the right to refuse a relation with a union of that kind, for it barred his own freedom of association, including his freedom to employ people of his own choosing quite willing to work for him.”


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