Of Little Red-Headed Girls And Redistribution

In the course of this excellent Mark Shea post on opposing abortion and supporting a social safety net, he quotes GK Chesterton.

It’s a wonderful quote:

I begin with a little girl’s hair. That I know is a good thing at any rate. Whatever else is evil, the pride of a good mother in the beauty of her daughter is good. It is one of those adamantine tendernesses which are the touchstones of every age and race. If other things are against it, other things must go down. If landlords and laws and sciences are against it, landlords and laws and sciences must go down. With the red hair of one she-urchin in the gutter I will set fire to all modern civilization.

Amen!

The quote goes on:

Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home; because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious landlord, there should be a redistribution of property; because there should be a redistribution of property, there shall be a revolution.

Here’s another version I’d like to suggest:

Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home; because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious landlord, there should be a free market in housing so that supply is plentiful, prices are low and competition weeds away the bad landlords.

The point is that much of what appears as theological or philosophical or ideological disagreement, inside Catholic-world as well as outside is actually an empirical discussion about means rather than an abstract discussion about ends. (Take it away, Sane Paul Krugman)

Here’s another version:

Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home; because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious landlord, all housing should be owned by the government and distributed to each according to their need.

(I am well aware that the “redistribution of property” that Chesterton talks about is a, well, distributist redistribution, which has nothing to do with either technocratic social-democratic or communist redistribution. This is just for the sake of argument.)

The problem with this version is that when the government does own the housing, everyone gets the most usurious of landlords, and the “homes” end up being very unclean on every possible dimension. (I write here as one who spent some time living in public housing as a child, btw. (I even once lived in public housing, literally, IN SOVIET RUSSIA.))

This is something that, in re: housing, almost everyone now agrees with, but this was not the case at all for many decades, even in the face of overwhelming evidence.

The problem that someone who opposes this version is often taken to oppose “a girl should have clean hair” rather than, you know, housing socialism. (And in the American political context for decades, as well as in the French political context nowadays, opposition to public housing was written off as inherently racist.)

Again, Chesterton is right, and Shea is right. But I did want to make this point.

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