Sunday, August 24, 2014

Pearce: The Liberal Environmentalist Nobody Knew Was Catholic

E. F. Schumacher

Article by Joseph Pearce:

FEW realized when Small is Beautiful was published that E.F. Schumacher’s economic theories were underpinned by solid religious and philosophical foundations, the fruits of a lifetime of searching. In 1971, two years before the book’s publication, Schumacher had become a Roman Catholic, the final destination of his philosophical journey.

“It’s all very well to live simply and grow things and practice crafts… but what about the hundreds of thousands who can’t hope to be self-sufficient in property and craft?” This summarizes the complaint by modern critics against “Distributism”—the economic philosophy inspired by Catholic social teaching and developed, early last century, by Catholic thinkers such as G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. According to Distributism, property should be spread widely, so that people can earn a living without having to rely on the state (socialism) or a small number of individuals (capitalism). According to the pessimistic view of critics, small-scale economies are fine in principle, but are no longer practical.

Such questions were central to the philosophical grappling of Dr. E.F Schumacher, who came to the conclusion that pessimism was self-fulfillingly prophetic. If one believes the worst one will probably get the worst. Negation begets negation. The antidote to such despair, Dr. E.F. Schumacher believed, was hope. It was in this spirit that he wrote Small is Beautiful in 1973, a book which, for a time at least, made Distributism the most fashionable economic and political creed in the world. Schumacher’s trained economic mind had resolved many of Distributism’s alleged problems so that its principles became applicable even to ‘the hundreds of thousands who can’t hope to be self-sufficient in property or craft.’ Schumacher had succeeded where Hilaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton had failed.
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