Subsidiarity, J.T.Gatto on the Amish, and my oldest children.

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I have some vague memory of Dr. Scott Hahn saying something about his days studying economics when he was a fairly anti-Catholic protestant, that he (for some reason) read Rerum Novarum and had to admit, that while Catholics were terribly wrong – they were right about social teaching and economics in this area.

At the heart of Leo XIII’s encyclical is the idea of subsidiarity; doing it locally. Doing it as a family first and then a community.

From what I’ve read, the whole structure of the philosophy of Distributism is built on the corner stone of Rerum Novarum. The family is the unit of society. A strong family structure equals a strong, economically viable society therefore. Conversely a weak family structure, broken by divorce, contraception and other forms of self centeredness, will mean a poor economy.

Distributism is based on the philosophy that all men are free and that with the family at the root of society, and subsidiarity as the base of running the society which would then (as in days of old) be built on the wealth of little family businesses. Family run businesses would keep a family housed, fed and looked after, but it depended on families sharing their lives and being open to children.

The present reality for our adult children is there is no real work for them. There is only wage slavery and that means being paid as little as possible to work as hard as possible for some faceless boss of a corporate institution. Their friends, if they have work, are doing much the same. Worse still many of them have degrees in law, or biology or architecture with all the debt that goes with that and they too are either working in a shop or not working.

Many adults who are about to finish school are heading straight to University to do whatever they could get onto before the prices rise.

To be honest, I find it heartbreaking for the waste of such talent.

I am encouraging my children to work for money as they must, but to spend time trying to work out how to run a business for themselves. It will take time, and with the lack of investment in young people and the increasing demographic problem of not enough children, they will have a lot to overcome. But they are strong people.

John Taylor Gatto has never said he is a Distributist, but he surely talks like one. He gave a fascinating lecture on how the Amish community works so well. First of all, because they have strong families. They have next to NO DIVORCE at all. They do not contracept, keeping to traditional Biblical understanding of children as a blessing, so they have children as God wills. (Although sadly I have read that some Amish are being led by medics to use contraception). They run their businesses as family enterprises and they have a self-imposed cap of half a million dollars. This means, not only can they have a good standard of living, but by not expanding over the self-imposed limit, they leave room for others to run their business too. None of this shark eating waters view of business for the Amish. As a result of their very pro-family, non-greedy approach to life, they are amazingly successful in the modern world.

Obviously one of the things that must be of enormous help to the Amish is their shared culture. They live together in communities and although, as Gatto tells, they have faced some persecution, in the past, they stood their ground over the education of their children and their rights as parents. Gatto points out that their education ensures the children know their culture and heritage well. In this way, they know who they are have a sense of belonging.

Although the young adults are sent out to see the world, most return to Amish life. I can’t say I blame them. I watched a couple of Channel 4 programmes following some Amish young adults as they learned about the ‘world’. The one episode I saw took place in the UK.  They stayed with people, who on the surface, appeared to have everything, but all they really had, was money.

Gatto is right about what makes the Amish strong – family and their Christian faith. It’s a winning combination.

The Catholic worldview is based on God first, and the dignity of man second with the family as the unit of strength that expresses that dignity.  A society that does not recognise the dignity of the person will always end up with the strongest exploiting the weak.

Those who are wise will try and sidestep this by trying, at least, to make a life of their own, to earn enough for their own family needs (enough for need but not greed). It will be much harder for my children than it was for me, or for their grandparents, because we are further down the anti-family slope than back then. But there is enough pro-family culture left, that there is some hope.

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One response to “Subsidiarity, J.T.Gatto on the Amish, and my oldest children.

  1. I really like this post. I agree with everything in it. My favorite line of your post is “A society that does not recognise the dignity of the person will always end up with the strongest exploiting the weak”. That is so true.

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