Natural Protectionism

March 27, 2014

Church doctors recognize that just as rulers have the right to tax populations for the common good, they may also levy moderate import taxes to protect the local economy.

A local market in Devizes, England. Photo by crabchick

A local market in Devizes, England. Photo by crabchick

Communities and nations should have the right to take an attitude of self-defense of their own culture and economy when confronted with intrusive and especially unfair trade practices. Out of love for its own identity, a local population can have a reasonable and healthy suspicion towards the invasion of global or outside products.

The Market by Victor Gabriel Gilbert

The Market by Victor Gabriel Gilbert

Such attitudes need not take on a coercive character, as in tariffs or duties. A much more effective means of defense is a natural protectionism—respectful of free markets—that in the past was born of a zeal whereby the population simply preferred the local product out of the joy of consuming that which was specific to it and a natural wariness for that which was not. Supported by healthy customs and local elites, people had the temperance of staying within the limits of that which was an expression of their souls, culture, and mentality.

Leadenhall Market, a covered market, is one of the oldest markets in London, dating back to the 14th century and it stands on what was the center of Roman London. Photo by David Iliff.

It would be understandable, for example, that the population of a region, which has had its own distinctive drink for over 500 years, might reject the entrance of a commercialized drink that has nothing in common with their culture. We can sympathize with the attitude of residents sipping their native Scotch while a ship full of cheap vodka lies rejected in the harbor . . .

McCormick ‘s Straight Bourbon Whiskey made in Weston, Missouri. Weston is the home of McCormick Distilling Company, founded in 1856, and is the oldest whiskey distillery west of the Mississippi River and the oldest continuously operated distillery in the United States.

Any defense must be balanced and flexible enough to encourage the importation of outside products when local items are unavailable or inadequate. It should be realistic enough to understand that some local products may disappear through competition. In their enthusiastic preference for their own, members of a local community and their representative figures should be open-minded enough to appreciate occasional products from the outside that can provide legitimate diversity that helps give a bit of spice to life.

Romanée-Conti wine. In Burgundy, between Gevrey and Vougeot, in Vosne Romanée, the plot called Romanée-Conti, which produces the region’s most celebrated wines, all made entirely from the Pinot noir grape.

At the same time, a community should avoid a false cosmopolitanism where world-class products are automatically adopted without regard for the local culture or tastes as a sign of “higher culture.” For example, the systematic adoption of truly fine quality French wines to the exclusion of local wines, even very good ones, would put a society in the position of seeking to better itself inorganically, artificially, and inauthentically.

John Horvat, Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society—Where We’ve Been, How We Got Here, and Where We Need to Go (York, Penn.: York Press, 2013), 282-3.

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