Thursday, June 30, 2011

Chesterton's People

Chesterton made fairly clear what kind of views and feelings he regarded as characteristic of the common man. There was, for example, attachment to the idea of the monogamous family, including distinct roles for men and women and opposition to contraception and similar unnatural practices. There was the desire for small-scale property within which a man could be his own master; the passion for noisy and gregarious celebrations; patriotism; the love of mystery and adventure; wonder at the sheer miracle of existence and a strain of natural piety.

...If he were writing about the family now, he would either have to modify his assumption that the “common man” is the repository of what Chesterton considered “common sense”, or else he would have to follow the Marxists and blame the wrong views of “the people” on “false consciousness”, no doubt induced by the kind of popular education that he attacked.

Margaret Canovan, Chesterton and the People, The Chesterton Review February 1984

More than two decades since Maragaret Canovan wrote this, the difference between Chesterton's view of the common man and the really existing common man seems even bigger. It might be the biggest flaw in Chesterton's whole philosophy. Many of the views and practices he viewed as the preserve of elites and intellectuals have now been embraced by the common people-- contraception being an obvious example.

(Incidentally, I am going to America for three weeks, and planning to spend as little of that time as possible at a computer, so there will be no posting for a while.)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Chesterbelloc in 1066 And All That

I bought a second-hand copy of 1066 And All That by Sellar and Yeatman today. Having read it a couple of times before, I know it's not as funny as it seems from the excerpts that get into books of quotations. But still a Good Thing, if you can find it cheap, thus avoiding any danger of Political Economy.

I had no special interest in Chesterton last time I read it, so I didn't notice this (rather irrelevant, but then the whole thing is rather irrelevant) swipe at the Chesterbelloc:

Thomas A Belloc

It was at this time that Thomas a Belloc, the great religious leader, claimed that clergymen, whatever crimes they might commit, could not be punished at all; this privilege, which was for some reason known as Benefit of Clergy, was in full accord with the devout spirit of the age. Henry II, however, exclaimed to some of his knights one day, "Who will read me of this Chesterton beast?" Whereupon the Knights pursued Belloc and murdered him in the organ at Canterbury Cathedral.

The best and funniest passage in the book, though, is this one:

With the ascension of Charles I to the throne we come at last to the Central Period of English History (not to be confused with the Middle Ages, of course), consisting in the utterly memorable struggle between the Cavaliers (Wrong but Wromantic) and the Roundheads (Right but Repulsive).

Charles I was a Cavalier King and therefore had a small pointed beard, long flowing curls, a large, flat, flowing hat and gay attire. The Roundheads, on the other hand, were clean-shaven and wore tall, conical hats, white ties and sombre attire. Under these circumstances a civil war was inevitable.

(Recently I have begun to doubt that the Cavaliers really were more romantic than the Roundheads. Underneath all the poetry and flowing locks they were really just politicians, while the Puritans were idealists.)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Twenty Followers!

Thanks to everyone who reads and welcome to new readers!

To celebrate, here is a Chesterton poem whose sentiments I heartily applaud. "Will someone take me to a pub?" is a refrain it would be hard to beat. Although I'm not sure what GKC would make of pubs today, where there is nearly always a TV intruding upon proceedings, and where the music gets louder and louder until by ten o' clock you have to shout into someone's ear to make yourself heard. Have we given up on the art of conversation entirely?

A Ballade of An Anti-Puritan

They spoke of Progress spiring roud,
Of Light and Mrs. Humphry Ward—
It is not true to say I frowned,
Or ran about the room and roared;
I might have simply sat and snored—
I rose politely in the club
And said, “I feel a little bored;
Will someone take me to a pub?”

The new world’s wisest did surround
Me; and it pains me to record
I did not think their views profound
Or their conclusions well assured;
Their simple life I can’t afford,
Besides, I do not like the grub—
I want a mash and sausage, “scored”—
Will someone take me to a pub?

I know where Men can still be found
Anger and clamorous accord,
And virtues growing from the ground,
And fellowship of beer and board,
And song, that is a sturdy cord,
And hope, that is a hardy shrub,
And goodness, that is God’s last word—
Will someone take me to a pub?


Prince, Bayard would have smashed his sword
To see the sort of knight you dub—
Is that the last of them—O Lord!—
Will someone take me to a pub?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Another Response to the Great Distributism Debate

This time from Jimmy Ryan:


Discussed at the June 18 meeting of the Irish Chesterton Society in the Central Catholic Library; aroused some heated debate about the ability of "pure" Capitalism to solve every economic problem.

This extract from "Christendom in Dublin/Flutter of Flags" gives the precedence to ethics:

And then as if in a dream, it seemed that the scene had altered and all the world was changed; and old powers began to play new parts. “The poor should as far as possible become owners.” The wiser statesmen of the late nineteenth century begin to hear older and more universal theories of the State, more generous than a cheap radicalism or a tribal Toryism; property as a natural right of men and not a legal privilege of lucky men; economics as the servant of ethics; the servant of the servant of God.

Or as the Lord said, possibly angrily: man does not live on bread alone!
Jimmy Ryan

Distributism-- a Dissenting Voice

As anyone who attended will remember, there was some animated debate at this week's Society meeting on the topic of distributism vs. capitalism. Here, Colm Culleton returns to the fray, putting forward the case for capitalism, and answering points that were made at the meeting.

Your humble blogmaster considers himself a Distributist; but I always admire someone willing to argue an unpopular case (as capitalism certainly is within Chesterton fandom). And, to honour the spirit of the infinitely good-humoured GKC, I ask that any comments be respectful.

So, with that, I'll let Colm speak for himself:

At the last meeting of the Chesterton Society, the question was asked: What exactly is Distributism?, which GKC considered the perfect economic system to counteract the problems of capitalism. The general opinion was that Distributism consisted of every man having 10 (I think) acres of land on which to grow food for his family. I was foolish enough to declare that this idea is similar to Socialism/Communism, which ruined eastern Europe and other countries in recent decades. (If any part of that summary is incorrect, I welcome a correction.)

I was roundly berated for fostering Capitalism, on the grounds that capitalism leads only to monopolies by the very rich. My defence of Capitalism was drowned out then; so now I write this in the hope of being listened to.

The enemies of Capitalism at the meeting were all well dressed, and presumably pleased to have bought their clothes from capitalists. It is likely that they owned cars, which they also bought from capitalists. Several had driven their cars to the meeting (using petrol supplied by a capitalist), or had paid a capitalist taxi-driver to bring them there. The rest had arrived in the capitalist shoes mentioned above. Everybody looked well-fed, from food bought from capitalists. Their hair had been tended to by a capitalist. We were surrounded by books (we were in the Catholic Library), all of which had been bought from capitalists. The group was well educated (except in economics), which suggested that they had paid capitalists for their schooling. Many of them are planning holidays, by negotiating with capitalist travel agents, airlines, and hotels. And, in all cases where the enemies of Capitalism had bought (or will buy) any of the above from capitalists, they had carefully compared the price and quality offered by competing capitalists.

I present the following defence of Capitalism. If you wish to comment, please contact me at

For a trade to take place, BOTH the buyer and the seller must gain an advantage from it. I will not sell unless you give me the price which I want; and you will not buy unless my good is worth the price I put on them. Sure, I would like you to pay more, and you would like to pay less; but BOTH of us are willing, though not necessarily happy, to trade.

The advantage of our trade to you, the buyer, is that you will gain some benefit from what I sell you. The advantage to me, the seller, is that I now have more money than before we traded.

I, the seller, inevitably make you more satisfied by our trade, otherwise you will not trade. But I also make many more people satisfied as well: the men who built and outfitted my factory, the people who made the thing in my factory, my office staff, the people who sold me the raw material to make the thing. I will pay taxes to the state. I don’t want to, so I hire an accountant to reduce them. EVERY ONE of the people who help to make my thing now has more money than if I wasn’t making the thing, and this money permits then to trade with other people, one of whom is inevitably you sooner or later.

The above benefits apply even if there is a monopoly. Monopolies have four brakes. One is government, which can legislate against them. The second is the ever-present threat of a rival appearing. The third, and perhaps most powerful is – us: we can simply stop buying their goods, and they will go out of business. If we continue to buy their goods, it is back to the beginning: we do so only because we gain a continuing advantage from doing so. The fourth brake is their own intelligence: don’t get too greedy, or the above three correctives will be activated.

In short, there is no such thing as A LUMP OF PROSPERITY, whereby the more I have of it, the less you can have of it. The truth is that the magic of free trade makes all of us richer.

What gets up some noses is that some creators of wealth have too much of it; but I say “More power to them”: they are nurturing the circle of trade like every other one of us who buys and sells, only more lavishly. Some millionaires are better than others. American Warren Buffet has so much money that the interest on the interest on the interest on his wealth is enough to bail out Ireland. He has willed only 1 million dollars to each of his children, leaving the enormous residue to charity. Bill Gates pours money into the Third World; and he and Buffet are (successfully) enticing other billionaires to donate as well.

Perhaps a reader will say: “Capitalists can cheat by suborning politicians”. That is true, but that is politics and not economics, and therefore outside the purview of this outline.

There are many more defences of Capitalism, available on request.

As for Distributism’s “10 acres per man”: Who pays for the acres? The man could, but only if he is already earning money in a capitalist economy. The government could pay for them, but only if the man has been paying tax on the money which he has already earned in a capitalist economy.

What about the man who knows nothing about farming? He would soon starve his family to death. He could ask for help from the man in the next farm, except that that other man needs to feed his own family. And, if he does have spare time, the first farmer needs money to pay him, except that the first man has no money since he does not work in a capitalist economy.

What about the man, or his son, who wants to become a teacher?: nobody is building schools or paying teachers, because everyone is farming.

I think I will stop here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Fourth Meeting of the Irish Chesterton Society a Resounding Success!

There was a good turnout for the fourth meeting of the GK Chesterton Society of Ireland, held in the Central Catholic Library, Merrion Square, Dublin. (A library which is now holding a Chesterton exhibition, and which-- I have just learned- Chesterton himself visited, as can be seen from the document pictured here.)

I also notice that we now have nineteen followers on the blog! It seemed only the other day that we hit the ten mark!

Let's hope the Society keeps growing and thriving!

Monday, June 20, 2011

How Good is Your Italian?

The Fourth Meeting of the GK Chesterton Society of Ireland (which took place last Saturday and was a great success) is featured on the blog of our sister society, the Italian Chesterton Society.

Our report to follow soon!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Bloody Street Performers

I’ve just learned that there is no parking in Merrion Square on Saturday, the very day of the Chesterton Society’s fourth meeting in the Central Catholic Library, 74 Merrion Square. This is due to the World Street Performance Championships. Obviously not fans of Chesterton...

Sincere apologies for the inconvenience to anyone who is driving. I hope you can still come.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Little and Large

"I have always firmly believed in two things; the value of little states and local liberties, and the necessity of a general moral philosophy, big enough to defend such little things."

The Resurrection of Rome

I read these words today-- only a few moments ago, in fact-- after pondering earlier upon a paradox in my own views. Like Chesterton, I love everything that is regional, local, familial and small enough to be personal; the inn (or the pub), the club of friends, the fireside, the amateur dramatic show, the little family-run shop and the small farm. Like Chesterton, I shudder at bureaucratic monsters such as big business, big government, supranational institutions like the European Union, and mass media. And like Chesterton, I am an enthusiastic member of (so I read) the biggest organization in the world, the Catholic Church, and I wish it were bigger still. How to reconcile this contradiction? It does not seem like a contradiction to me at all, since the Church is sui generis, organised into parishes and other units which are as far from impersonal as can be imagined, and always respectful of national and historical traditions. But would that explanation satisfy everyone?

The Resurrection of Rome is a fascinating book. Chesterton has been criticised for his evaluation of Italian Fascism, which is neither endorsement nor condemnation. Of course, he did not live to see World War Two. I was surprised to read a description of an interview with Mussolini himself, since I don't remember ever reading about this. The interview was not a great success, apparently, as they spoke in French and Chesterton's spoken French was poor.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Seventeen Followers!

Fantastic stuff!

To celebrate, a passage from Chesteton's book on William Blake, which amused me this morning:

I have often been haunted with a fancy that the creeds of men might be paralleled and represented in their beverages. Wine might stand for genuine Catholicism and ale for genuine Protestanism; for these at least are real religions with comfort and strength in them. Clean cold Agnosticism would be clean cold water, an excellent thing, if you can get it. Most modern ethical and idealistic movements might be well represented by soda water-- which is a fuss about nothing. Mr Bernard Shaw's philosophy is exactly like black coffee-- it awakens but it does not really inspire. Modern hygienic materialism is very like cocoa; it would be impossible to express one's contempt for it in stronger terms than that.

I think Chesterton was quite hard on cocoa. He famously burned his bridges with one newspaper with the lines:

Cocoa is a cad and coward
Cocoa is a vulgar beast.

He was taking a swipe at a cocoa magnate at the time, of course. I hope he was not actually an enemy of cocoa. Of course, hot chocolate is the best of all. I wonder what creed hot chocolate would represent?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Fourth Meeting of the Irish Chesterton Society...

...will take place in the Central Catholic Library, 74 Merrion Square, on June the eighteenth 2011 AD, beginning at two o'clock. (That's a Saturday.) Please come! Talk about Chesterton with fellow Gilbertians! Admission is free, all are welcome, and there is positively no walking on the grass.