Kenneth Spence recently posted an odd response on the Acton Institute’s blog to John Medaille’s defense of distributism, published over at Dappled Things. Spence describes the failure of the Gracchi’s attempts to curtail the concentration of land into the hands of a few investors at the expense of the Roman citizen-farmers who had been the bulwark of the Republic. “As Rome grew,” he explains,
the army was no longer made up of farmers who tilled their fields six or nine months out of the year, so that by the time of the Gracchi, the citizen farmer class upon which the Republic had been built was basically extinct. The rich could buy out the farms of whomever they wished, and more and more common families left their lands and moved to the capital, where they lived as dependents on the public. In an attempt to save the Republic, Tiberius moved to redistribute the land and prevent the rich from buying it up in large tracts…
He claims that their failure (Tiberius was assassinated, and Gaius driven to death, by tetchy land speculators in the Senate) was a lesson for modern defenders of distributism: If, he says, “there is anything to be learned from the failure of the Gracchi, it is that a distributist system is, if not totally impossible to implement, certainly a cure worse than the disease.”
The logic is wonderful. Apparently, according to Spence, the difficulty of social reform (and the murder of social reformers) proves that reform would be “certainly a cure worse than the disease,” and should not be retried. Gotta say I’m glad that William Wilberforce didn’t subscribe to his blog. Not to mention MLK.
Plutarch’s assessment– which Spence quotes, in order to disagree with– was quite different.
What could be more just and honorable than their first design, had not the power and the faction of the rich, by endeavoring to abrogate that law, engaged them both in those fatal quarrels?