Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Irish Monarchists Exist!

I was delighted to see that there is a well-followed, well-written Irish monarchist blog (which I discovered through linking to a site that links to THIS site).

Chesterton was not a fan of monarchy. In one article on the death of King George V (I'm too lazy to find the reference right now), he said that monarchism was perhaps the most democratic form of government after pure democracy, since the lottery of succession stood a better chance of throwing up an ordinary man than the rule of cabals and cliques. But this is the most favourable reference to monarchism I have been able to find in his work. Most of the time he insisted that democracy was the primordial form of human assocation, and that monarchy was a late-comer, a degeneration; I find this dubious as well as irrelevant. (Why should the first be the best, anyway?)

Personally, I am a monarchist to the bone, and Chesterton's lack of enthusiasm for the institution has always grieved me. I think monarchy is important because it preserves a living link with a nation's past and traditions; because the head of state should be above politics, and above the slings and arrows of invective. A man is born under a monarch, and he owes him unconditional homage; it is good for men to have a loyalty which is not negotiable, and from which they derive no benefit. (Actually, I believe they do derive benefit from being the subject of a monarch, but it cannot be reckoned in monetary or practical terms.)

The chap (I guess it's a chap, though I don't know) who writes Irish Monarchist chooses to remain anonymous, since anti-monarchism is so strong in his home of Northern Ireland. I understand his reticence. I myself sometimes feel bad insisting that I am a patriot but NOT a republican, since so many brave Irish men and women died explicitly for republicanism. But I believe that republicanism, being an atomising and ahistorical philosophy, must inevitably be antagonistic to the very idea of a nation.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Prayer

Seeing the daunting forces that are ranged against the Faith and traditional values, the readiness of ideologues in academe and quangos to cook up "scientific" evidence against natural law, the seemingly endless degradation to which human intellects and apppetites can descend, and knowing my own tendency to be intimidated and flustered and provoked, I pray: God, give me (and all who stand by the things Chesterton stood by), some fraction of his tenacity, his quick-wittedness, his breadth of vision, his grasp of essentials, his disregard for irrelevancies, his unfailing good humour, and his adamantine faith!

And may those few who raise the standard he never ceased to raise, in this election campaign when our country seems more preoccupied by the cost of living than the sanctity of life, have their efforts rewarded! Amen.

The No Problem Novel

I think the oddest thing about the advanced people is that while they are always talking of things as problems, they have hardly any notion of what a real problem is. A real problem only occurs when there are admittedly disadvantages in all courses that can be pursued. If it is discovered just before a fashionable wedding that the Bishop is locked up in the coal-cellar, that is not a problem. It is obvious to anyone but an extreme anti-clerical or practical joker that the Bishop must be let out of the coal-cellar. But suppose the Bishop has been locked up in the wine-cellar, and from the obscure noises, sounds as of song and dance, etc., it is guessed that he has indiscreetly tested the vintages round him; then indeed we may properly say that there has arisen a problem; for upon the one hand, it is awkward to keep the wedding waiting, while, upon the other, any hasty opening of the door might mean an episcopal rush and scenes of the most unforeseen description.

from The Illustrated London News, 25 June 1910 (as quoted in the Hebdomadal Chesterton)

I think this point applies especially to works of art and entertainment. Really, do we need any more searing indictments of racism on page or screen, considering only a very few people are in favour of racism, and any genuine racists are unlikely to be swayed by a movie? Do we need any more historical films bemoaning Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia? Do we need dramas denouncing wife-beating or drug-addiction? Who is in favour of these things?

It might be said that we need films such as Schindler's List, for instance, to remind us of the horrors of the concentration camps, to keep the awful reality of history vivid in our minds. And I think it's a good point-- we do need books and films and poems that simply reaffirm what is well-known.

But that is quite different from a problem novel, or a satire, or a denunciation-- that is, a piece of fiction making a case. I don't have much respects for such works unless they tackle something genuinely controversial-- for instance, making the case for censorship, or school discipline.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sandals, Good or Bad?

"One great complaint, I think, must stand against the modern upholders of the simple life--the simple life in all its varied forms, from vegetarianism to the honourable consistency of the Doukhobors. This complaint against them stands, that they would make us simple in the unimportant things, but complex in the important things. They would make us simple in the things that do not matter-- that is, in diet, in costume, in etiquette, in economic system. But they would make us complex in the things that do matter--in philosophy, in loyalty, in spiritual acceptance, and spiritual rejection. It does not so very much matter whether a man eats a grilled tomato or a plain tomato; it does very much matter whether he eats a plain tomato with a grilled mind. The only kind of simplicity worth preserving is the simplicity of the heart, the simplicity which accepts and enjoys. There may be a reasonable doubt as to what system preserves this; there can surely be no doubt that a system of simplicity destroys it. There is more simplicity in the man who eats caviar on impulse than in the man who eats grape-nuts on principle. The chief error of these people is to be found in the very phrase to which they are most attached--"plain living and high thinking." These people do not stand in need of, will not be improved by, plain living and high thinking. They stand in need of the contrary. They would be improved by high living and plain thinking. A little high living (I say, having a full sense of responsibility, a little high living) would teach them the force and meaning of the human festivities, of the banquet that has gone on from the beginning of the world. It would teach them the historic fact that the artificial is, if anything, older than the natural. It would teach them that the loving-cup is as old as any hunger. It would teach them that ritualism is older than any religion."

"On Sandals and Simplicity", Heretics 1905

Of course one cannot contradict that, and of course it is brilliantly put. This is Chesterton we're talking about. And yet...

And yet, I can't quite agree with Chesterton here. Ritual may be older than any religion, and ritual is the last thing I would want to abolish. I wouldn't want to do away with banqueting, for that matter, or with any of the graces and adornments-- or even the fripperies-- of human life.

But is it as simple as a clash between simple artificiality and artifical simplicity? Modern man is chronically, even morbidly, self-aware and self-conscious. It seems to me that the damage has been done already. We have so few simple pleasures; Christmas is one. Aside from that, our music and our cinema and our advertising and our journalism, and even our t-shirts with their smart-alecky captions, all drip with irony and over-sophistication. Going to live in a teepee in a field somewhere, or refusing to switch on the television or read the newspapers, would be a highly contrived naivity, but I can't help feeling it would do a lot of good-- for those who made the experiment and for those who witnessed it. Wonder may welcome all things, even modern civlization, but modern civilziation has a way of dousing wonder.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The So-Called Art of Murder

"Murder, for instance,is quite overrated, aesthetically. I am assured by persons on whose judgment I rely, and whose experience has, presumably, been wide, that the feelings of a murderer are of a quite futile character. What could be stupider than kicking to pieces, like a child, a machine you know nothing about, the variety and ingenuity of which should keep any imaginative person watching it delightedly day and night? Say we are acquainted with such a human machine; let us say, a rich uncle. A human engine is inexhaustible in its possibilities; however long and unrewarding has been our knowledge of the avuncular machine, we never know that the very moment that we lift the assassin's knife the machine is not about to grind forth some exquisite epigram which it would make life worth living to hear, or even, by some spasm of internal clockwork, produce a cheque. To kill him is clearly prosaic.

From On Cheapness (The Apostle and the Wild Ducks)

I heartily agree with this; and it is one of the main reasons I don't want to read any more Father Brown stories, after ploughing my way (almost) through the first two collections. At least Chesterton had a mercenary motive for writing them, since Father Brown was his main money-spinner, and provided much-needed funds for his other projects (such as publishing GK's Weekly).

Murder is certainly dramatic, but it could hardly be more crude. What a condemnation of the species it is, that of all the actions of the human being-- how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable!-- the one we find most enthralling is the cessation of all its powers. There is an infinite amount of things a man can get up to; a corpse never gets up to anything much; but we find the second more interesting.

Fans of the detective story-- that degraded contingent-- will reply that it is not the murder they find interesting, but the problem of how it was done, and by whom, and using which implement, and whether it was in the conservatory or the library. I'm not persuaded by this. Because if it was true, why would our whodunnit concentrate so obsessively upon homicide? Why can't we have puzzles about stolen chocolate bars and leaked examination papers?

Insofar as I enjoy any detective stories, those are the ones I enjoy. I remember Ireland's Own, the only Irish magazine I can bear to read, had a character called Miss Flanagan (who was old but a long way from losing her marples). The Miss Flanagan Investigates serial rarely dealt with stabbings and clubbings, devoting itself rather to missing bicycles and mysterious absences from home. I prefer it over Cracker any day.

In just the same way, who wouldn't agree that the best pages of a Sherlock Holmes story come before any misdeed occurs, or is anticipated? The idle conversation between Holmes and Watson, or Holmes's observation of a visitor's poorly-pressed trousers, are far more entertaining than a poisonous snake climbing down a bell-pull.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Those Comely Maidens Again

Remember a little while ago I aired the idea of an Irish conservative group blog, piquing the interest in some of you?

The project is now off the ground! The Comely Maidens blog can be found here.

So, since it's a group blog, please send contributions-- any posts will sent to irishchesterton@gmail.com will be passed on to its webmaster.

Apologies, again, to any Chestertonians who don't consider themselves conservative. Chesterton called himself a liberal (at least in the early part of us career), but liberalism has moved on so much since his day, it's hard to believe he could have any sympathy with the term as it used today...