I say "outside" because I don't consider myself a distributist. And I don't consider myself a distributist because—honestly—I'm not sure what Distributism is.
That said, however, a few things on this topic are certain. Over the last few months, Ethika Politika has become increasingly a place where the term "distributist" arises in a positive, dialectical atmosphere. We have among our ranks authors like Thomas Storck, John Médaille, and others whose writings have helped shape much of the current dialogue on the subject. Moreover, we happily offer a place for emerging voices to weigh in with new angles on older questions. Distributism is—so far as I can tell—alive and well with EP, and it's even finding new conversations and expressions.
Maybe one of the reasons I find Distributism such a tough bird to identify is that it draws upon so many aspects of life—both practical and theoretical—to make its claims. There are the clear economic features that we think of first: an emphasis on localism, sustainability, and ownership. Alongside these come higher-order considerations: a primary concern for human dignity, the value of the arts, community, etc. And of course, accompanying theological convictions that defend the distributist ethos as a foretaste of the heavenly city. All of these are interesting in their own right, and they fit together on the grand scale more or less cohesively.
Still, I'd sooner adopt the moniker of "realist" than "distributist." Mostly because, in my mind, Realism evokes clearer principles than Distributism. In the same way, I'm not shy to embrace the name "Catholic"—another far-reaching term, yet one which resounds heartily and is easy enough, in experience, to comprehend.
One possible explanation for my reticence is that Distributism, unlike Realism or Catholicism, identifies a primarily negative object. Realism picks out a model of existence; Catholicism draws into one a universe of things; Distributism talks about things qua their dispersion, or in terms of their individual assignment.
It's not wrong to think of the world as distributed. But it's hardly an intuitive viewpoint. (Even from a Thomistic perspective, if universals are what are first known by the intellect, Distribution de facto takes a backseat to Reality.)
Of course, none of the distributist authors seem to be advocating that we dispense with Realism—certainly not with Catholicism. Nor do they present Distributism as anything other than a synthesis of practical and theoretical reasoning, which takes as its hallmark some appreciation for preliminary questions of existence, value, and identity. There's very little—if anything—about Distributism that fails a coherence test of truth; indeed, it stands up to the correspondence test well, too.
Where Distributism is less than impressive, I submit, is with respect to its opposition. In a word, as an alternative to free market capitalism, socialism—or even utilitarianism, more generally speaking—Distributism is a tough sell. Not because it lacks substance, but because it requires too much. To be a distributist is to take in stride questions of ontology alongside those of use, ownership, and allocation. And it's no surprise that capitalists, socialists, and many others deem that a tall order to fill, especially when pressing issues of national debt and economic survival hang in the balance.
Nevertheless, Distributism is presented mainly as an economic theory. Indeed, there might be no better way to describe a model that (again, as is evident from its name) focuses primarily on tangible things precisely as decentralized. Yet, I would suggest, this presentation is the ultimate limit of Distributism; it's what makes it an all or nothing venture—even more so than Realism or Catholicism, since at least these permit a greater degree of practical reasoning apart from their respective doctrines.
To witness the great work that folks in the distributist camp are doing, there's a part of me that genuinely wants to adopt the appellation for myself. But I fear it would limit my inclination to step back—to survey and discern—when an issue more vital than tangible distribution comes to the fore.
Anyone knows that it can be hard to adopt an unpopular worldview, even if it's right. But it's equally difficult to adopt such a worldview when so many of its basic dependencies are also—and eminently more so—worthy of our assent.