I’ve been fortunate, over the years, because I have discovered a number of gurus who have cautioned me about indulging a monomaniacal commitment to work at all costs – especially when it involves a neglect of what really matters in life, such as anniversaries, soccer games and swim meets, school plays, sex in the afternoon, History Day competitions, Rock for Peace concerts, picnics, days at the beach, swimming, Aikido seminars, reading, Mass, vacations, skiing and lots more.
These gurus include personal heroes such as the English Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton… the 1930s Chinese writer and philosopher Lin Yutan… and, more recently, the British iconoclast and crypto-Recusant Tom Hodginkinson, founder of The Idler magazine and movement.
Chesterton, of course, one of the founders of the Distributist movement of the early 20th century and advocate of a “small is beautiful” approach to both economics and politics, was highly critical of the wage slave mentality that dominates modern industrial capitalism and Big Business.
The Distributists, such as Hilaire Belloc and Vincent McNabb, OP, encouraged people to abandon wage-earning factory jobs in polluted, crime-ridden, overcrowded cities and return to a more humane, more pastoral life in small towns and villages, where, they argued, a life of a small shop owner or craftsman offered a better balance for family living. Whether the concrete proposals of the Distrubutists are practical when applied on a mass scale is a topic for another chapter, but what the Distributists argued was that, at least for the individual family, a small town businessman or craftsman had a far better life than a wage worker in a big city. The reason, for this, was the priority that the Distributists gave to home life.
As Chesterton scholar Dale Ahlquist explains it:
“It is now an exception for a woman to raise her own children. But Chesterton’s Distributist ideal not only called for mothers to stay at home, it called for fathers to stay at home as well. The home-based business, the idea of self-sufficiency, would not only make for stronger, healthier families, but a stronger, healthier society. If everything in a society is based on nurturing and strengthening and protecting the family, that society will survive centuries of storms. A home-based society is naturally and necessarily a local and decentralized society. If the government is local, if the economy is local, then the culture is also local.”
Almost by instinct but with some encouragement along the way, my wife and I have struggled to build just this sort of life together – a home-schooling, home-based business in which both parents are flitting about at their work while children toil away at their studies and everyone meets for lunch and dinner.
It goes without saying that this sort of life is not possible for most people, since most people do not have their own businesses, let alone their own home-based businesses; and everything in modern society conspires to force people into the same mass market employee system.
Local governments are especially hostile toward home businesses since they limit the amount of surveillance and control that governments can exercise; and many localities, at least in the United States but also in the UK, ban them outright.
What’s more, the outrageous, artificially inflated cost of goods and services in modern industrial societies makes it very difficult for many families to survive on a small business income – forcing both parents into the workforce and their children into daycare and substandard government schools.
Nevertheless, as an ideal, the Distributist vision of home as the center of economic and well as family life is one that my wife and I embraced and I believe it has many, many benefits that most people never even experience.
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