Monday, May 29, 2006

Mr. Ford

by G.K. Chesterton

Though Mr. Ford can quite afford
To sell his motors cheap
I can't afford a Mr. Ford
He costs too much to keep,
He will not play with wooden toys
They must be made of steel,
I never knew him bowl a hoop
Unless it was a wheel.

Suppose the masses profit by
The Mass-production plan
I do not want to be a mass
I thought I was a man.
I can't afford a millionaire
However pure and new
I keep a wife, and I keep a house
I keep a temper too.

Though Mr. Ford can quite afford
To pay his workmen well
I can't afford a Mr. Ford
The price would be a sell,
I'd have to pawn the village pub
And scrap the village forcge
And let the Peace Ship standardise
The standard of St. George.

I can't afford a Mr. Ford
My plot of peas and beans
Won't grow sufficient greenbacks
But just sufficient greens;
Nor would I lose it all to toil
In servitude and strain
Till I had made a plutocrat
To pay me back again.

* * *

This poem, in case you missed it, is about distributism. This is Chesterton's economic system of choice (although he did not invent it). I don't know as much about it as I would like, so I've been reading Belloc's pamphlet "An Essay on the Restoration of Property." So far I like it.

When Chesterton says he cannot "afford" Mr. Ford, he means that the cost of mass production, monopoly, and unbridled capitalism includes some of the things he is not willing to go without: the village pub, the village forge, his house and garden. He is afraid he will no longer be thought of as an individual: "I do not want to be a mass / I thought I was a man."

I don't want to be a mass either. So far distributism sounds pretty good to me. But hopefully I'll find out more at the Chesterton Convention in three weeks.


Leah said...

I've never heard of the Chesterton Convention, but I just checked out the website and it looks great. *sighs consideringly* Almost thou persuadest me to go to Minnesota. :-)

Sheila said...

I would if I were you . . . it's Chesterton, after all. Definitely worth the price of a plane ticket, to me at least.

If thou, by some miracle, canst attend, do thou let me know, and we may perhaps catch a glimpse of one another.

Santiago said...

Oh, brother. Madame, with all due respect, the Industrial Revolution happened. Commerce *is not a sin.* Indulging in agrarian fantasies is a waste of time! Indulging in a potbellied aristocrat's agrarian fantasies is almost uncharitable!

We need poets and critics who can make sense and beauty out of the present time, our time -- out of the suburban postmodern anomie that is our current experience. Pining for another time and another country which we never knew (and wasn't that great, anyway) is not very useful. Instaurare Omnia in Christo--this does not always translate to in Chesterbelloc.

That said, I greatly admire Chesterton as a poet and essayist (especially his short love lyrics, which I learned about thanks to this site). But in politics and economics, I seek out writers who at least have lived through the Cold War, and have taken into account other situations unforeseen by GKC.

P.S. Is "short love lyrics" redundant? Aren't all lyrics short?

Santiago said...

BTW, does anyone know whether Chesterton ever lived on or worked in a farm?

Propter Quid said...

I always thought that it was ironic that the official distributism website encouraged people to stay off of the internet.

I ALSO thought that it was ironic that a website espousing a policy that promised among other things, to restore quality workmanship, was so poorly made. It's an eyesore.

its incase anyone's interested.

Sheila said...

Just so everyone knows, distributism is not the same as agrarianism. Distributists do not say that everyone should live on a farm. The point is that most people should own property instead of just earning a wage. This does not always mean land, but can include equipment for practicing a trade or even shares of stock.

Chesterton's sentiments leaned toward the country, as poets' feelings often do, but he also believed beauty and romance could be found in trains and lampposts as well. See The Napoleon of Notting Hill.

Santiago, calling Chesterton a "potbellied aristocrat" is definitely uncharitable. He was not an aristocrat ( he disliked the very idea of aristocracy), and his weight is simply irrelevant.

And you're saying that people can only know anything about economics and sociology after the Cold War? As for me, I like to take the best of everything that has been written. Even Aristotle must be admitted to have known something. Why not listen to Chesterton and Belloc too?

PQ, I wouldn't say that a single website speaks for all distributists. The internet could actually be used to help the distributist ideal, if used properly. Also, just because someone doesn't know a lot about making websites doesn't discredit their economics.

I would encourage anyone who likes to argue against distributism to read Belloc's pamphlet first. If it doesn't convince you to take the distributists' ideas more seriously, perhaps it would at least give you some idea what you're arguing against.

Santiago said...

I don't know whether you're right that "he disliked the very idea of aristocracy." Chesterton was situated in a historical vantage point from which he was unable to see the positive fruits of the rise of the bourgeois class, and that this rise would temper the often destructive calculus of capitalism. That's why one must read people who have seen the end of the cold war and the clash of ideologies--people like Michael Novak or Hernando de Soto--because they are in a different vantage point in history and can judge the effects of capitalism and industrialism in a different way.

Okay, maybe distributism isnt the same thing as agrarianism, and I guess since both of those isms are just that, isms--not realities--that I can't argue with that. But Chesterton was wont to romanticize a life he didn't really know, like a lot of bohemians, and George Orwell was one writer that would often call him on it. See The Road to Wigan Pier: "I have been to too many slums to go into Chestertonian raptures about them."

De rigueur, hip artists and writers oppose capitalism. Catholics with such pretentions are not often exempted, except that instead of embracing socialism (an ideology often antithetical to Holy Mother Church) they embrace the unhistoricized idea-fantasy of the great Chesterbelloc. Which is fine, I guess, but not very practical.

Chestertonian said...

Santiago, the one advantage of you continuing to post comments is that, more and more, you show that you are as ignorant of Chesterton as you are of economics, especially Catholic Church teaching on economics. Orwell didn't know much about Chesterton either if he thought Chesterton harbored romantic delusions about the slums. Chesterton wrote about the slumbs, and their origins in the gross injustices caused by industrial capitalism, throughout his life.

You may fool some with your toss-off line about how you "greatly admire Chesterton as a poet," bla bla. Well you don't fool me. Not one word you've written demonstrates even the tiniest bit of familiarity with Chesterton's writing and thought. Chesterton was a bohemian? Gimmie a break!

Sheila said...

Let's be nice here.

Even though I suppose it could be said Santiago's forfeited his right to being taken seriously a long time ago. Santiago, it would really help if you would check your facts on what people like Chesterton really think before you open your mouth. I would urge you to read at least some of Chesterton's political writings before you talk about him. What George Orwell thought of Chesterton is not very helpful, and if you got all your information from secondary sources like that, it is no wonder you are confused about his thought.

A couple notes:

1. Capitalism is an "ism" too. So are socialism, communism, conservatism, and Catholicism. All of these are ideas. The difference is that people were willing to stand behind those "isms" and make them work, and not enough people have tried distributism. Those places where it has been tried even in part, as Charlemagne pointed out, it has had great success.

2. So now you think distributism is "fine but not very practical"? If it's fine for me to like the economic system, why do you feel it necessary even to get involved here? Instead you've been disparaging from the start. I don't understand why, if our ideas are so removed from reality, you people care about them so much.

Tom Farmer said...

“It takes all sorts to make a church; it takes all sorts to make a Distributist state; in one sense, it includes those who are not Distributists. Just as we wish economic power balanced between various citizens, and not trusted blindly to one monopolist, so we want social and moral power balanced between different types and tenures, and not all blindly trusted to one monotonous ideal. We do not so much wish the world to be Distributist as wish it to be more Distributist; but not necessarily more and more Distributist.” (GK Chesterton, “The Distributist” 1930)

I often use this quote as a way to introduce Distributism. We can’t all be peasant farmers. We can, however, think of “Progress” as a means rather than the goal itself.

Our economic policies and actions should uphold the dignity of life, not blindly preserve our way of life in the name of progress. I understand the tough choice of trying to deal with these issues within our current system, but isn’t our system the way it is because we feel we cannot step outside it?

“But when we in turn ask why our ideal is impossible or why the evil in indestructible, they answer in effect, ‘Because you cannot persuade people to want it destroyed.’ Possibly; but, on their own showing, they cannot blame us because we try. They cannot say that people do not hate plutocracy enough to kill it; and then blame us for asking them to look at it enough to hate it. If they will not attack it until they hate it, then we are dong the most practical thing we can do, in showing it to be hateful. A moral movement must begin somewhere; but I do most positively postulate that there must be a moral movement.” (GK Chesterton, Outline of Sanity, IHS, 2001: p175-6)

I close with a classic and applicable Chesterton quote about progress because fundamentally Distributism is much more than an economic system designed to increase stock values and bank accounts; it is a moral vision of cherishing human dignity with our economic actions.

"Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to fit the vision, instead we are always changing the vision." (GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 1908)

Roy F. Moore said...

Shiela, this is Roy F. Moore of "The Distributist Review" and Gilbert Magazine. Congratulations on reading Belloc's "Essay" as your intro to Distributism.

It is, though, only the beginning.

I invite you and this Santiago, who knows not of Gilbert, to look up the "Distributism" page on Wikipedia. Unlike the page, it is more pleasing to the eye and has more information for the curious.

The page also has links to other websites promoting Distributism, including the Distributist Yahoo Group I have the privilege to moderate. If you wish, please consider joining it. You will then be able to read the archives of past discussions, as well as links to Distributism-friendly sites and a list of books that support the Distributist cause.

The "Distributist Review" weblog is at:

Thank you for your time and attention and may Our Lord richly bless you.

Epoetker said...

I don't think that any Distributist organizing principle would EVER want to ban the Internet-it's been possibly the greatest smasher of the influence of mere television (and the improvement of the shows, oddly) than anything yet made.

If anything, the Distributists would wish to maintain it as a public good (i.e: Spammers and Porn-mongers are now active targets of the police force rather than mere nuisances) and encourage proper use.

And practically EVERY SINGLE FRIGGIN' ONLINE RPG is-surprise!-Distributist in one form or another. GUILD Wars. World of Warcraft, wherein your character supports himself by soldiering, crafting, weaving, blacksmithing...Maple Story,(It's free!!) whose detailed and highly individualistic towns create that whole middle-earthy feel.

While the adults may be indulging in 'agrarian fantasies,' the young are already living out the Distributist ideal virtually, with the rather tacit support of the capitalists, who might be very, very, interested in keeping an outlet for these things free and affordable.

As soon as somebody starts effectively turning school subjects into videogames as engaging as the current crop of MMORPGs, the Distributist ideal will be at hand. I merely wonder if any of those here have the wit or observational skills to see it.

(Yes, you should be very, very interested in the games your kids play. They're often much more like the penny dreadfuls Chesterton defended than any tool of capitalism.)

Sheila said...

Thanks for the links, Mr. Moore. Very useful. I'm quite aware that I still know very little about distributism.

Well, if I had computer-playing kids, I'm sure I'd pay attention to what they played. As it is (I'm a college student), I really don't follow gaming much. But I would agree that the internet offers a lot of opportunity for individual retail (eBay) and a press not controlled by big newspapers (blogs!).

Lucia Rosa said...

May be a bit late to post here, but for those who think that Distributism is impractical, I suggest looking into King Arthur baking company. A highly successful, reallio, trulio Distributist company!