Allan Carlson has posted a recent speech he gave investigating the use of terms like “conservative” and “capitalism” and arguing that today’s popular libertarianism is not actually conservative in any meaningful way and that the only sort of “capitalism” which can be understood as conservative is one which prioritizes and defends conservative ideals and institutions, what he, following Wilhelm Röpke, calls “the Humane Economy.” Here are the key points, taken rom Dr. Carlson’s presentation.
A major plank to constructing this family-based humane economy would have to be, however, something very much like the distributivism of Chesterbelloc. Dr. Carlson explains:
The restoration of private property was also central to Roepke’s vision. The true antithesis or alternative to socialist or collectivized man was the property holder. As Roepke explained, competition was only one of the pillars of a free economy. The other was personal and familial “self-sufficiency.” Accordingly, expansion of the sphere of competition should be balance by also enlarging what he called “the sphere of marketless self-sufficiency.” This meant “the restoration of property for the masses,” a “lengthy and circumspect” program that would discourage the accumulation of big properties, and use “progressive death duties” to break up large estates, and redistribute land to propertyless families on favorable terms. As Roepke wrote: “the industrial worker…can and ought to become at least the proprietor of his own residence and garden…which would provide him with produce from the land.” This alone would render each family “independent of the tricks of the market with its wage and price complexities and its business fluctuation.”
And there’s even a slight resemblance to New Urbanism and other localist movements:
To heal the distortions of human life wrought by 19th Century laissez-faire Capitalism, Roepke even sought to undo — in some degree — the industrial revolution. Writing in The Social Crisis of Our Time, he called for nothing less than the “drastic decentralization of cities and industries, [and] the restoration of some more ‘natural order’.” He labeled the modern big city a “monstrous abnormality,” a “pathological degeneracy” that devitalized human existence, adding: “the puling down of this product of modern civilization is one of the most important aims of social reform.” Relative to the decentralization of industry, he urged that “the artisan and the small trader” receive “all the well-planned assistance that is possible.” He also saw promise in the rise of the “tertiary,” or service sector. Moreover, Roepke believed that recent technological advances — such as electric motors, the internal combustion engine, and compact machine tools — lent new competitive advantages to small enterprises. Anticipating Prairie Home Companion’s Garrison Keillor (who has said that you buy local products and pay a small premium at Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery in Lake Wobegon instead of at the Mall in St. Cloud, because Ralph is your neighbor), Roepke urged that consumers “should not shrink from the sacrifice of a few cents in order to carry out an economic policy of their own and support [local] artisans to the best of their ability and for the good of the community.”
We would encourage you to read the whole speech over at the Front Porch Republic. Such a view of being “conservative” would obviously require a radical restructuring of our society. And it could only hope to make any real-world effect if it were able to begin a restructuring of “conservative” philosophy and ideology. That is something that still seems too revolutionary to expect in the near future.
Steven Wedgeworth is the pastor of Christ Church in Lakeland, Florida. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Trust. A graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson, MS), Steven lives in Lakeland, FL with his wife, son, daughter, and two terriers.
The Calvinist International is a forum for research, resourcement, and renewal of Christian wisdom.