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.)


  1. I just saw this comment on the American Chesterton Society website, from Daniel Collins, "Please, everyone who reads this, please pray to Chesterton for a miraculous healing of my Grandmother. She is very ill, and there is a problem in doing surgery.

    Chesterton once said that he believed in miracles even though he could not perform any. But I think that he can and he will, if we ask him. Please pray for my Grandmother, and also try to make this date a real Feast day for Chesterton."

    God Our Father, Thou didst fill the life of Thy servant Gilbert Keith Chesterton with a sense of wonder and joy, and gave him a faith which was the foundation of his ceaseless work, a charity towards all men, particularly his opponents, and a hope which sprang from his lifelong gratitude for the gift of human life. May his innocence and his laughter, his constancy in fighting for the Christian faith in a world losing belief, his lifelong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and his love for all men, especially for the poor, bring cheerfulness to those in despair, conviction and warmth to lukewarm believers and the knowledge of God to those without faith. We beg Thee to grant the favours we ask through his intercession, [and especially for……] so that his holiness may be recognized by all and the Church may proclaim him Blessed. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

  2. The monogamous family, a Christian ethic, remains solid common sense. What is happening today in morally corrupt western countries is a collapse of marriage and the family. I suspect GKC would regard this collapse and abortion, as sort of social madness that will have the effect of eliminating itself from society sooner rather than later.