6/29/15

The Free Family

AS I have said, I propose to take only one central instance; I will take the institution called the private house or home; the shell and organ of the family. We will consider cosmic and political tendencies simply as they strike that ancient and unique roof. Very few words will suffice for all I have to say about the family itself. I leave alone the speculations about its animal origin and the details of its social reconstruction; I am concerned only with its palpable omnipresence. It is a necessity far mankind; it is (if you like to put it so) a trap for mankind. Only by the hypocritical ignoring of a huge fact can any one contrive to talk of "free love"; as if love were an episode like lighting a cigarette, or whistling a tune. Suppose whenever a man lit a cigarette, a towering genie arose from the rings of smoke and followed him everywhere as a huge slave. Suppose whenever a man whistled a tune he "drew an angel down" and had to walk about forever with a seraph on a string. These catastrophic images are but faint parallels to the earthquake consequences that Nature has attached to sex; and it is perfectly plain at the beginning that a man cannot be a free lover; he is either a traitor or a tied man. The second element that creates the family is that its consequences, though colossal, are gradual; the cigarette produces a baby giant, the song only an infant seraph. Thence arises the necessity for some prolonged system of co-operation; and thence arises the family in its full educational sense.

It may be said that this institution of the home is the one anarchist institution. That is to say, it is older than law, and stands outside the State. By its nature it is refreshed or corrupted by indefinable forces of custom or kinship. This is not to be understood as meaning that the State has no authority over families; that State authority is invoked and ought to be invoked in many abnormal cases. But in most normal cases of family joys and sorrows, the State has no mode of entry. It is not so much that the law should not interfere, as that the law cannot. Just as there are fields too far off for law, so there are fields too near; as a man may see the North Pole before he sees his own backbone. Small and near matters escape control at least as much as vast and remote ones; and the real pains and pleasures of the family form a strong instance of this. If a baby cries for the moon, the policeman cannot procure the moon—but neither can he stop the baby. Creatures so close to each other as husband and wife, or a mother and children, have powers of making each other happy or miserable with which no public coercion can deal. If a marriage could be dissolved every morning it would not give back his night's rest to a man kept awake by a curtain lecture; and what is the good of giving a man a lot of power where he only wants a little peace? The child must depend on the most imperfect mother; the mother may be devoted to the most unworthy children; in such relations legal revenges are vain. Even in the abnormal cases where the law may operate, this difficulty is constantly found; as many a bewildered magistrate knows. He has to save children from starvation by taking away their breadwinner. And he often has to break a wife's heart because her husband has already broken her head. The State has no tool delicate enough to deracinate the rooted habits and tangled affections of the family; the two sexes, whether happy or unhappy, are glued together too tightly for us to get the blade of a legal penknife in between them. The man and the woman are one flesh—yes, even when they are not one spirit. Man is a quadruped. Upon this ancient and anarchic intimacy, types of government have little or no effect; it is happy or unhappy, by its own sexual wholesomeness and genial habit, under the republic of Switzerland or the despotism of Siam. Even a republic in Siam would not have done much towards freeing the Siamese Twins.

The problem is not in marriage, but in sex; and would be felt under the freest concubinage. Nevertheless, the overwhelming mass of mankind has not believed in freedom in this matter, but rather in a more or less lasting tie. Tribes and civilizations differ about the occasions on which we may loosen the bond, but they all agree that there is a bond to be loosened, not a mere universal detachment. For the purposes of this book I am not concerned to discuss that mystical view of marriage in which I myself believe: the great European tradition which has made marriage a sacrament. It is enough to say here that heathen and Christian alike have regarded marriage as a tie; a thing not normally to be sundered. Briefly, this human belief in a sexual bond rests on a principle of which the modern mind has made a very inadequate study. It is, perhaps, most nearly paralleled by the principle of the second wind in walking.

The principle is this: that in everything worth having, even in every pleasure, there is a point of pain or tedium that must be survived, so that the pleasure may revive and endure. The joy of battle comes after the first fear of death; the joy of reading Virgil comes after the bore of learning him; the glow of the sea-bather comes after the icy shock of the sea bath; and the success of the marriage comes after the failure of the honeymoon. All human vows, laws, and contracts are so many ways of surviving with success this breaking point, this instant of potential surrender.

In everything on this earth that is worth doing, there is a stage when no one would do it, except for necessity or honor. It is then that the Institution upholds a man and helps him on to the firmer ground ahead. Whether this solid fact of human nature is sufficient to justify the sublime dedication of Christian marriage is quite an other matter, it is amply sufficient to justify the general human feeling of marriage as a fixed thing, dissolution of which is a fault or, at least, an ignominy. The essential element is not so much duration as security. Two people must be tied together in order to do themselves justice; for twenty minutes at a dance, or for twenty years in a marriage In both cases the point is, that if a man is bored in the first five minutes he must go on and force himself to be happy. Coercion is a kind of encouragement; and anarchy (or what some call liberty) is essentially oppressive, because it is essentially discouraging. If we all floated in the air like bubbles, free to drift anywhere at any instant, the practical result would be that no one would have the courage to begin a conversation. It would be so embarrassing to start a sentence in a friendly whisper, and then have to shout the last half of it because the other party was floating away into the free and formless ether. The two must hold each other to do justice to each other. If Americans can be divorced for "incompatibility of temper" I cannot conceive why they are not all divorced. I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable. For a man and a woman, as such, are incompatible.

~G.K. Chesterton: What's Wrong with the World, Part One, Chap. VII.


Allegorical Family Portrait, by Jan de Bray. 
Oil on canvas, 1670; The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia.

6/26/15

It’s Not Gay, and It’s Not Marriage

By Dale Ahlquist

ONE of the pressing issues of Chesterton’s time was “birth control.” He not only objected to the idea, he objected to the very term because it meant the opposite of what it said. It meant no birth and no control. I can only imagine he would have the same objections about “gay marriage.” The idea is wrong, but so is the name. It is not gay and it is not marriage.

Chesterton was so consistently right in his pronouncements and prophecies because he understood that anything that attacked the family was bad for society. That is why he spoke out against eugenics and contraception, against divorce and “free love” (another term he disliked because of its dishonesty), but also against wage slavery and compulsory state-sponsored education and mothers hiring other people to do what mothers were designed to do themselves. It is safe to say that Chesterton stood up against every trend and fad that plagues us today because every one of those trends and fads undermines the family. Big Government tries to replace the family’s authority, and Big Business tries to replace the family’s autonomy. There is a constant commercial and cultural pressure on father, mother, and child. They are minimized and marginalized and, yes, mocked. But as Chesterton says, “This triangle of truisms, of father, mother and child, cannot be destroyed; it can only destroy those civilizations which disregard it.”

This latest attack on the family is neither the latest nor the worst. But it has a shock value to it, in spite of the process of de-sensitization that the information and entertainment industries have been putting us through the past several years. Those who have tried to speak out against the normalization of the abnormal have been met with “either slanging or silence,” as Chesterton was when he attempted to argue against the faddish philosophies that were promoted by the major newspapers in his day. In 1926, he warned, “The next great heresy will be an attack on morality, especially sexual morality.” His warning has gone unheeded, and sexual morality has decayed progressively. But let us remember that it began with birth control, which is an attempt to create sex for sex’s sake, changing the act of love into an act of selfishness. The promotion and acceptance of lifeless, barren, selfish sex has logically progressed to homosexuality.

Chesterton shows that the problem of homosexuality as an enemy of civilization is quite old. In The Everlasting Man, he describes the nature-worship and “mere mythology” that produced a perversion among the Greeks. “Just as they became unnatural by worshipping nature, so they actually became unmanly by worshipping man.” Any young man, he says, “who has the luck to grow up sane and simple” is naturally repulsed by homosexuality because “it is not true to human nature or to common sense.” He argues that if we attempt to act indifferent about it, we are fooling ourselves. It is “the illusion of familiarity,” when “a perversion become[s] a convention.”

In Heretics, Chesterton almost makes a prophecy of the misuse of the word “gay.” He writes of “the very powerful and very desolate philosophy of Oscar Wilde. It is the carpe diem religion.” Carpe diem means “seize the day,” do whatever you want and don’t think about the consequences, live only for the moment. “But the carpe diem religion is not the religion of happy people, but of very unhappy people.” There is a hopelessness as well as a haplessness to it. When sex is only a momentary pleasure, when it offers nothing beyond itself, it brings no fulfillment. It is literally lifeless. And as Chesterton writes in his book St. Francis of Assisi, the minute sex ceases to be a servant, it becomes a tyrant. This is perhaps the most profound analysis of the problem of homosexuals: they are slaves to sex. They are trying to “pervert the future and unmake the past.” They need to be set free.

Sin has consequences. Yet Chesterton always maintains that we must condemn the sin and not the sinner. And no one shows more compassion for the fallen than G.K. Chesterton. Of Oscar Wilde, whom he calls “the Chief of the Decadents,” he says that Wilde committed “a monstrous wrong” but also suffered monstrously for it, going to an awful prison, where he was forgotten by all the people who had earlier toasted his cavalier rebelliousness. “His was a complete life, in that awful sense in which your life and mine are incomplete; since we have not yet paid for our sins. In that sense one might call it a perfect life, as one speaks of a perfect equation; it cancels out. On the one hand we have the healthy horror of the evil; on the other the healthy horror of the punishment.”

Chesterton referred to Wilde’s homosexual behavior as a “highly civilized” sin, something that was a worse affliction among the wealthy and cultured classes. It was a sin that was never a temptation for Chesterton, and he says that it is no great virtue for us never to commit a sin for which we are not tempted. That is another reason we must treat our homosexual brothers and sisters with compassion. We know our own sins and weaknesses well enough. Philo of Alexandria said, “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a terrible battle.” But compassion must never compromise with evil. Chesterton points out that balance that our truth must not be pitiless, but neither can our pity be untruthful. Homosexuality is a disorder. It is contrary to order. Homosexual acts are sinful, that is, they are contrary to God’s order. They can never be normal. And worse yet, they can never even be even. As Chesterton’s great detective Father Brown says: “Men may keep a sort of level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level of evil. That road goes down and down.”

Marriage is between a man and a woman. That is the order. And the Catholic Church teaches that it is a sacramental order, with divine implications. The world has made a mockery of marriage that has now culminated with homosexual unions. But it was heterosexual men and women who paved the way to this decay. Divorce, which is an abnormal thing, is now treated as normal. Contraception, another abnormal thing, is now treated as normal. Abortion is still not normal, but it is legal. Making homosexual “marriage” legal will not make it normal, but it will add to the confusion of the times. And it will add to the downward spiral of our civilization. But Chesterton’s prophecy remains: We will not be able to destroy the family. We will merely destroy ourselves by disregarding the family.

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Dale Ahlquist is the president and co-founder of the American Chesterton Society. He is the creator and host of the Eternal Word Television Network series, "G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense." Dale is the author of G.K. Chesterton: Apostle of Common Sense and the recently published The Complete Thinker. He is also the publisher of Gilbert Magazine, and associate editor of the Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton (Ignatius). He lives near Minneapolis with his wife and six children.

The Enemies of Property

BUT it is for this especial reason that such an explanation is necessary on the very threshold of the definition of ideals. For owing to that historic fallacy with which I have just dealt, numbers of readers will expect me, when I propound an ideal, to propound a new ideal. Now I have no notion at all of propounding a new ideal. There is no new ideal imaginable by the madness of modern sophists, which will be anything like so startling as fulfilling any one of the old ones. On the day that any copybook maxim is carried out there will be something like an earthquake on the earth. There is only one thing new that can be done under the sun; and that is to look at the sun. If you attempt it on a blue day in June, you will know why men do not look straight at their ideals. There is only one really startling thing to be done with the ideal, and that is to do it. It is to face the flaming logical fact, and its frightful consequences. Christ knew that it would be a more stunning thunderbolt to fulfil the law than to destroy it. It is true of both the cases I have quoted, and of every case. The pagans had always adored purity: Athena, Artemis, Vesta. It was when the virgin martyrs began defiantly to practice purity that they rent them with wild beasts, and rolled them on red-hot coals. The world had always loved the notion of the poor man uppermost; it can be proved by every legend from Cinderella to Whittington, by every poem from the Magnificat to the Marseillaise. The kings went mad against France not because she idealized this ideal, but because she realized it. Joseph of Austria and Catherine of Russia quite agreed that the people should rule; what horrified them was that the people did. The French Revolution, therefore, is the type of all true revolutions, because its ideal is as old as the Old Adam, but its fulfilment almost as fresh, as miraculous, and as new as the New Jerusalem.

But in the modern world we are primarily confronted with the extraordinary spectacle of people turning to new ideals because they have not tried the old. Men have not got tired of Christianity; they have never found enough Christianity to get tired of. Men have never wearied of political justice; they have wearied of waiting for it.

Now, for the purpose of this book, I propose to take only one of these old ideals; but one that is perhaps the oldest. I take the principle of domesticity: the ideal house; the happy family, the holy family of history. For the moment it is only necessary to remark that it is like the church and like the republic, now chiefly assailed by those who have never known it, or by those who have failed to fulfil it. Numberless modern women have rebelled against domesticity in theory because they have never known it in practice. Hosts of the poor are driven to the workhouse without ever having known the house. Generally speaking, the cultured class is shrieking to be let out of the decent home, just as the working class is shouting to be let into it.

Now if we take this house or home as a test, we may very generally lay the simple spiritual foundations of the idea. God is that which can make something out of nothing. Man (it may truly be said) is that which can make something out of anything. In other words, while the joy of God be unlimited creation, the special joy of man is limited creation, the combination of creation with limits. Man's pleasure, therefore, is to possess conditions, but also to be partly possessed by them; to be half-controlled by the flute he plays or by the field he digs. The excitement is to get the utmost out of given conditions; the conditions will stretch, but not indefinitely. A man can write an immortal sonnet on an old envelope, or hack a hero out of a lump of rock. But hacking a sonnet out of a rock would be a laborious business, and making a hero out of an envelope is almost out of the sphere of practical politics. This fruitful strife with limitations, when it concerns some airy entertainment of an educated class, goes by the name of Art. But the mass of men have neither time nor aptitude for the invention of invisible or abstract beauty. For the mass of men the idea of artistic creation can only be expressed by an idea unpopular in present discussions—the idea of property. The average man cannot cut clay into the shape of a man; but he can cut earth into the shape of a garden; and though he arranges it with red geraniums and blue potatoes in alternate straight lines, he is still an artist; because he has chosen. The average man cannot paint the sunset whose colors be admires; but he can paint his own house with what color he chooses, and though he paints it pea green with pink spots, he is still an artist; because that is his choice. Property is merely the art of the democracy. It means that every man should have something that he can shape in his own image, as he is shaped in the image of heaven. But because he is not God, but only a graven image of God, his self-expression must deal with limits; properly with limits that are strict and even small.

I am well aware that the word "property" has been defied in our time by the corruption of the great capitalists. One would think, to hear people talk, that the Rothchilds and the Rockefellers were on the side of property. But obviously they are the enemies of property; because they are enemies of their own limitations. They do not want their own land; but other people's. When they remove their neighbor's landmark, they also remove their own. A man who loves a little triangular field ought to love it because it is triangular; anyone who destroys the shape, by giving him more land, is a thief who has stolen a triangle. A man with the true poetry of possession wishes to see the wall where his garden meets Smith's garden; the hedge where his farm touches Brown's. He cannot see the shape of his own land unless he sees the edges of his neighbor's. It is the negation of property that the Duke of Sutherland should have all the farms in one estate; just as it would be the negation of marriage if he had all our wives in one harem.

~G.K. Chesterton: What's Wrong with the World, Pt. One, Chap. VI.

The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, Vol. 4: 
What's Wrong with the World / The Superstition of Divorce /
Eugenics and Other Evils / Divorce versus Democracy /
Social Reform versus Birth Control.
Amazon

"The Radical gets as much into a rut as the Conservative"

"Revolutionists make a reform, Conservatives only conserve the reform. They never reform the reform, which is often very much wanted. Just as the rivalry of armaments is only a sort of sulky plagiarism, so the rivalry of parties is only a sort of sulky inheritance. Men have votes, so women must soon have votes; poor children are taught by force, so they must soon be fed by force; the police shut public houses by twelve o'clock, so soon they must shut them by eleven o'clock; children stop at school till they are fourteen, so soon they will stop till they are forty. No gleam of reason, no momentary return to first principles, no abstract asking of any obvious question, can interrupt this mad and monotonous gallop of mere progress by precedent. It is a good way to prevent real revolution. By this logic of events, the Radical gets as much into a rut as the Conservative."

~G.K. Chesterton: What's Wrong with the World, Pt. Four, Ch. XII.—The Staleness of the New Schools.

6/22/15

Ballad of the Sun

O WELL for him that loves the sun
That sees the heaven-race ridden or run,
The splashing seas of sunset won,
And shouts for victory.

God made the sun to crown his head,
And when death’s dart at last is sped,
At least it will not find him dead,
And pass the carrion by.

O ill for him that loves the sun;
Shall the sun stoop for anyone?
Shall the sun weep for hearts undone
Or heavy souls that pray?

Not less for us and everyone
Was that white web of splendour spun;
O well for him who loves the sun
Although the sun should slay.

~G.K. Chesterton

6/21/15

The Happy Man

TO teach the grey earth like a child,
To bid the heavens repent,
I only ask from Fate the gift
Of one man well content.

Him will I find: though when in vain
I search the feast and mart,
The fading flowers of liberty,
The painted masks of art.

I only find him at the last,
On one old hill where nod
Golgotha’ ghastly trinity—
Three persons and one god.

~G.K. Chesterton


A Chord of Colour

MY Lady clad herself in grey,
That caught and clung about her throat
Then all the long grey winter-day
On me a living splendour smote;
And why grey palmers holy are,
And why grey minsters great in story,
And grey skies ring the morning star,
And grey hairs are a crown of glory.

My Lady clad herself in green,
Like meadows where the wind-waves pass
Then round my spirit spread, I ween,
A splendour of forgotten grass.
Then all that dropped of stem or sod,
Hoarded as emeralds might be,
I bowed to every bush, and trod
Amid the live grass fearfully.

My Lady clad herself in blue,
Then on me, like the seer long gone,
The likeness of a sapphire grew,
The throne of him that sat thereon.
Then knew I why the Fashioner
Splashed reckless blue on sky and sea
And ere 'twas good enough for her,
He tried it on Eternity.

Beneath the gnarled old Knowledge-tree
Sat, like an owl, the evil sage
'The World's a bubble,' solemnly
He read, and turned a second page.
'A bubble, then, old crow,' I cried,
'God keep you in your weary wit!
A bubble — have you ever spied
The colours I have seen on it?'

~G.K. Chesterton