In The Free Press Hilaire Belloc's concern was to get the truth published so that by its very liberating nature it would undermine the rampant and growing subordination of the press (either through direct ownership or advertising) to the vested interests of the super wealthy. In his Essay on the Restoration of Property he tackles the problem of modern man's intensifying servility to the amoral beneficiaries of an economic system that has enabled a minority, a wealthy elite, to monopolize ownership of the means of production. So many Catholics today are confused about the subject of economics. It is a confusion born of an ignorance that, sad to say, is practically universal. Not that the Church has been negligent during the industrial age in her magisterial teachings on socio-economic justice, for she certainly has not. The reign of Christ the King ought to be as morally extensive in the governing of man’s economic interdependence with his neighbors (fellow men) as it is in marriage and family life.
Papal encyclicals often dealt with issues of social justice. Most Catholics have heard of the Rerum Novarum of Leo XIII, but how very few have ever read it. Hilaire Belloc was more than well grounded in the social teachings of those Popes who shared his days on earth, he was imbued by them, convinced by them, and committed to them. The publication of this magnificent essay is a hearty expression of that commitment. Catholics, first of all, have to face the reality of their own ignorance and desire to be educated in this field. It will take at least a spark of holy humility, however, for Catholics to realize that the cause of our own downfall and defeat in the social sphere is this unhealthy economic illiteracy. We now find ourselves, and our families, under the heel of a colossal conglomerate of finance, industry and government which is inimical and totally suppressive of Catholic family life. Unless we understand both the problem and the remedy, true Catholic family life, with all of its intrinsic supports for our common vocation to contemplation, will be extremely difficult to restore and live, and to foster and maintain.
This essay will help a great deal in educating the reader in regard to the problem and the remedy. Belloc provides a lucid and straightforward analysis of the prevalent demise of the social order in Christendom, while, at the same time, laying out a truly Catholic economic system that can gradually – if there is a growth of interest and desire – be planted and nurtured. Such a system, which the great thinker calls distributism, will only materialize if it grows naturally in this or that local environment ready and determined to assimilate it organically. Both Capitalism (note: not free enterprise) and Communism (along with its weak sister, Socialism) are completely condemned and exposed for the anti-Catholic, self-defeating and self-destructive economic structures that they are. This book was not written to condemn industry (or technology). Man is inventive by nature. When he manufactures a product he assumes that the product is a good that will enhance the quality of the multiple activities that make for an abundant life. What Belloc sees as destructive, and the reader will find it obvious, is the usurpation of ownership of the means of production (i.e., property) by a wealthy oligarchy of financiers. What we end up with is the crushing of the local and independent tradesman, craftsman, baker and farmer and their replacement by the monopoly. As the brilliantly written introduction to this book by IHS Press puts it: Belloc's vision was nothing less than "a science of reality, based upon a conception not merely of what is . . . but, more importantly, of what ought to be according to the divine and natural law."