Appeared in Summer/Autumn/Winter 2002, Vol. XXVII, No. 2, 3, 4
Capitalism no more means the affirmation of an individual, or a family’s right to possess land, machinery, housing, clothing, reserves of food and the rest, than fatty degeneration of the heart means the normal function of the heart as the circulator of the blood in a healthy human body. -Hilaire Belloc
When one considers how often and with how much passion the question of capitalism has been debated for the past one hundred and fifty years or so, it is surprising how seldom a true definition of it has been attempted. Most discussions of the subject seem to assume that everyone already knows what it is, or they characterize it simply in historical or even geographical terms. But what is capitalism? Is it possible or desirable to define it, and if so, can we learn anything from such a definition? In the first part of this article, I wish to approach the question of a definition of capitalism and to argue that a definition is not only possible, but that the correct definition can shed much light on the actual modus operandi of capitalistic economic systems and on what has often been called the “spirit of capitalism.” In the second part, I will discuss distributism and contrast it with capitalism.
To continue reading, download the PDF here.