Message from the President
Chesterton Institute

Message from Fr. Ian Boyd, C.S.B.

Introduction to The Chesterton Review

Vol. XXXX, nos. 1 & 2, Spring/Summer 2014


TCR XXXX,  1 & 2 COVER“What is property? Property is theft.” These words were written by Pierre-Joseph Proudon in 1840. Proudon was an Anarchist, and a friendly article about him may seem out of place in a journal devoted to a writer famous for his untiring defense of property. Nevertheless, there are significant similarities between the philosophical Anarchism of Proudon and the social philosophy of Chesterton. Like Proudon, Chesterton distrusted the modern State and celebrated local liberty. Like Proudon, he had an intense dislike for regimentation and standardisation, and a preference for the local and the agrarian. The two authors also shared an affection for the petit bourgeois world in which Proudon was born, a world that the overwhelming majority of modern thinkers despised. And finally, both Proudon and Chesterton believed in the fundamental virtue and wisdom of the common man. In short, there is nothing surprising in a Chesterton journal printing a sympathetic article about Proudon. We print it, not in spite of his Anarchism, but because of it.

 

Chesterton’s Anarchism was however qualified by a religious faith that stressed man’s need for redemption. Growing up in a religiously liberal family, he never lost the cheerful view of life learned from his tolerant and loving parents. The atmosphere of his family home was more Unitarian than religiously orthodox. It was only after his marriage to his devoutly Anglo-Catholic wife that he adopted a more traditional faith. Even then he never received Anglican confirmation, and the Christianity about which he wrote so eloquently during these happy Edwardian years in a book such as Orthodoxy was curiously non-denominational. It is true that long before he entered into full communion with the Catholic Church, he defended Catholic ideas. But in spite of a host of Anglican friends, he remained outside the religious community with which he was identified. Nevertheless it was from Anglican teachers such as Bishop Charles Gore, Henry Scott Holland and Conrad Noel that he learned the need for a theology of grace that would address the problem of original sin. As early as 1905, in his book Heretics, he mocked the shallow utopianism of his friend H.G. Wells.: “The one defect in his splendid mental equipment is that he does not sufficiently allow for the stuff or material of men. In his new Utopia he says, for instance, that a chief point of the Utopia will be a disbelief in original sin. If he had begun with the human soul---that is, if he had begun on himself—he would have found original sin almost the first thing to be believed in. He would have found, to put the matter shortly, that a permanent possibility of selfishness arises from the mere fact of having a self, and not from any accidents of education or ill-treatment. And the weakness of all Utopias is this, that they take the greatest difficulty of man and assume it to be overcome, and then give an elaborate account of the overcoming of the smaller ones.” 1

 

An article concerning the sinister Eugenics movement provides a reminder about Chesterton’s ability to read the signs of his time. The proto-Nazi ideas underlying this movement were accepted by the political Right and Left, until they were discredited—alas, only temporarily—by their implementation in Hitler’s Germany. It is significant that Chesterton and C.S. Lewis confronted this evil even before it clearly appeared. An examination of Chesterton’s ideas about the free family as the guarantee of civic liberty is the subject of another piece. Yet another article discusses Chesterton’s holiness, and the more controversial question of whether or not he should be canonised. A light-hearted piece by Maurice Baring and a satiric poem by Chesterton are included as illustrations of the sense of fun that irradiated the writing of Chesterton and that of one of his closest friends.

 

The rest of the issue requires little further introduction. A review of a book about Wendell Berry is of particular interest because it draws attention to a contemporary writer in the agrarian tradition to which Chesterton also belonged. The “News and Comments” piece by Joseph Sobran should also be highlighted. This article, which first appeared in The National Review, is a report about a Chesterton conference held in Toronto, Which Mr. Sobran attended. He was a great admirer of Chesterton and a good friend of our journal. His own writing had many of the qualities associated with that of his literary hero. Reports about Chesterton Institute conferences in South America and Europe draw attention to the growing and world-wide interest in Chesterton. Papers read at these conferences will be printed in the French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish issues of our journal.


1G. K. Chesterton, Heretics, (The Bodley Head: London, 1960), pp.73-74.


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