As others have noted , today is the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, instituted by Pope Pius XII in part to serve as a counterpoint to that high holiday of socialism, May Day (celebrations of which evidently  still persist , albeit in marginal and mildly annoying form). For some related reading, a recent article at the Distributist Review offers a brief exposition of an interesting economic counter-movement, the “Catholic rural life” campaign, which had marginal success in the United States and United Kingdom in the 1920s and 30s. Its goal was essentially the construction of a family-centric economy, and it was wary of the welfare state (then still being constructed) though not averse to cooperation with it:

They viewed agrarian life as partial to virtuous living and frugality. It was vocational as the time spent working the land developed their affection and admiration for God’s creation, because, according to G.K. Chesterton, “nature is a sister, and even a younger sister: a little, dancing sister, to be laughed at as well as loved.” Fond of good stewardship, Distributists found joy in smallholdings and small communities: the picking of common fruits, making butter and cheese, brewing beer and sharing these gifts with neighbors. Like the Ligutti homesteads, Distributists also conjured a scheme to encourage the local production and consumption of agricultural produce and to bring families “back-to-the-land.”

This movement’s chief theoretician in America was Fr. Domenico Ligutti; in the UK, that role fell to Fr. Vincent McNabb. Both sought to turn the Catholic desire for a “third way” into a practical program. It didn’t succeed, exactly (and whether a voluntary “down to the countryside” initiative can ever really succeed in a society which has become industrialized and hyper-connected is certainly a matter for debate), and there’s no denying that some of the issues the movement raised (poor working conditions in factories, the importance of unionization) have subsided (or at least been relocated out of the West via globalization) in the ensuing decades.

But many of the other concerns distributism addressed were quite prophetic (take, for example, the central place accorded to families, and concerns about absentee fathers), or indeed perhaps too ahead of their time (the importance of sustainable agriculture and local connections to the land, now so in vogue). And while I’m not sure I agree with the Distributist Review ‘s contention that this tradition “[remains] as vibrant as ever,” it’s foolish to bet against its continued relevance or even resurgence in a world where much of political and economic life is emphatically not conducted as if people—or God—matter.

Articles by Matthew Cantirino

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