Chesterton and Belloc on the nature of democracy

Chesterton and Belloc - nature of democracy

Source: The Wrath of Gnon – Twitter feed

The author of the “Wrath of Gnon” blog quotes G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc on the nature of democracy. Some interesting concepts, and worth considering, in my opinion! Reminds me of hagiographer James Kiefer’s reflection on the English King Charles I, who for his defense of the historic episcopate and the Book of Common Prayer is accounted by many Anglicans a martyr:

“On the scaffold, he said (I quote from memory and may not have the exact words):

“No man in England is a better friend to liberty than myself, But I must tell you plainly that the liberty of subjects consists not in having a hand in the government, but in having that government, and those laws, whereby their lives and their goods may be most their own.”

“That is to say, one may reasonably ask of a government that it establish justice in the land; so that judges do not take bribes, so that innocent men are not convicted of crimes, while the guilty are convicted and punished, so that honest men need fear neither robbers nor the sheriff. One may further ask that taxes be not excessive, and that punishments be not disproportionate to the crime. Charles would have said, ‘Do not ask whether the laws were made by men whom you elected. Ask whether they are reasonable and good laws, upholding justice and the public weal.’

“He would have invited comparison of his record in this respect with that of the Long Parliament (which sat for twenty years without an election, and whose members came to think of themselves as rulers for life, accountable to no one) and Cromwell (who eventually dissolved Parliament and ruled as a military dictator, under whose rule the ordinary Englishman had far less liberty than under Charles).”

There is much truth in the above. Both the ancients and our own Founders knew that democracy is inherently unstable, since it depends upon popular sentiment that can be easily swayed by a demagogue, and the closer it is to “pure” democracy, the thinner the line dividing it from demagoguery and dictatorship.

While I am not sure I would be entirely happy under the sort of absolute monarchy Charles I favoured, I do tend to agree both with King Charles I, as quoted above, and with the “Wrath of Gnon” author – who writes, referring to Chesterton and Belloc’s comments on democracy,

“Give me a Council of Elders to govern me, and a King to protect me.”

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Chesterton on Christianity and barbarism

Cathedral interior - Gothic arches

Wise words from the great G.K. Chesterton:

“If our faith had been a mere fad of the fading empire, fad would have followed fad in the twilight, and if the civilization ever re-emerged (and many such have never re-emerged) it would have been under some new barbaric flag. But the Christian Church was the last life of the old society and was also the first life of the new. She took the people who were forgetting how to make an arch and she taught them to invent the Gothic arch.

“In a word, the most absurd thing that could be said of the Church is the thing we have all heard said of it. How can we say that the Church wishes to bring us back into the Dark Ages? The Church was the only thing that ever brought us out of them.”

— G.K. Chesterton: “Orthodoxy,” Chap. IX – Authority and the Adventurer | http://bit.ly/2s1FelS

“Do you think the word ‘feminism’ can be rehabilitated?”

I recently came across a post with the above title, on a social media site not typically noted for its preponderance of thoughtful, reflective posts, and it caught my attention. The person posting, who happens to be female, and with a background in law, noted that

Although I applaud women like these [see image, below] for making a valiant effort… I’m afraid that — like the term “conservatism” — the word “feminism” has been abused, misused and propagandized beyond reclamation.

Bruner on feminism

As I responded, this issue is far from a new one! The late great G.K. Chesterton wrote this back in the late 19th or early 20th century:

Chesterton - feminism

His point remains valid today, in my opinion.

If “feminism” means according women their proper due – that is to say, recognizing them as equal in intrinsic value / inherent worth with men, not necessarily identical in role but equal in importance and honour – then I am all for it.

If it means lowering, as the meme she posted points out, the standards for women to the abysmally low standards to which men are often held, or if it means either feminizing men or masculinizing women, as seems too often the case – or if, as one commentator described the “third wave” feminism of today, it is about “fighting for the right of women to engage in self-destructive behavior and get away with it while making sure men do not” – it is in my estimate a detriment rather than a benefit to society.

She further noted in response,

The always perceptive Chesterton was making a similar point to what I was making this morning:

“Why are millions of women taking the day off work today? To draw attention to a world where the shackles of the Patriarchy have been cast off — giving them the opportunity to be wage-slaves too — and as waves of liberation have swept further through the economy and society many women have now realized the dream of having two or even three unfulfilling jobs necessary in order to keep their family afloat.”

It is rarely mentioned that just as liberation was kicking into gear in 1973 (the same year, not so coincidentally, that Nixon closed the gold window) the economy started to warp; and one of those warps was fewer “breadwinner” jobs — jobs that pay a sufficient salary to support a family — and that is a trend which continues to this day.

Socially and culturally this stuff ended up not just dragging women down to the worst flaws of men, but dragging men even lower. Feminism incorporated the Sexual Revolution (which should no longer be called a revolution, because they won and are now the establishment). This aspect of feminism became increasingly central and more disgusting in Third Wave. Former Cosmo editor Sue Ellen Browder wrote a good book on this: Subverted: How I Helped the Sexual Revolution Hijack the Women’s Movement.

But there has been a backlash among younger women to this trash. Millennials (especially the younger tier) really are the “Pro-life Generation” — polls consistently show them to be pro-life — they are Planned Parenthood’s greatest nightmare. And there is a repulsion to the “hook-up culture” and all that among younger women — which is not surprising, that is just not the metaphysical nature of women.

The pendulum nearly always swings, thankfully, as I commented in my follow-up post. And as I wrote there, I, too, have seen the beginnings of a shift back, in the younger generation, to a more traditional — and, in my view, healthier and saner — approach to sexuality and procreation. Encouraging! But it is unquestionable that the connection between morality and economics is a closer (and, likely, less coincidental) one than most people realize.

It is ironically interesting, although sad, to track the way in which the breakdown of what are often considered “traditional family values” has marched practically in lock-step with the breakdown in the traditional family itself — in part, at least, due to the fact that, as my interlocutor commented, it is now much more rare for a single “breadwinner” to be able, economically, to support a family, meaning that both partners need to work.

This in turn tends to fragment family ties and devolve “child care” (which used to be called parenting) onto paid professionals, who may or may not share the parents’ values, background, and intentions for their children. It is difficult indeed to maintain a close, cohesive family structure, and engage in focused, intentional child-rearing, when both parents work outside the home!

A vicious downward spiral, which will likely take much more time and effort to arrest and reverse than it did to initiate. That, sadly, is the recurring pattern! Good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created… or re-created, once lost.

Chesterton on the limits of democracy

Chesterton Democracy Plutocracy

Chesterton, as usual, makes a good point. At the very least, democracy devolves into plutocracy and oligarchy, absent the “eternal vigilance” which we are reminded is “the price of liberty.” And sadly, here in America, that vigilance has long been quiescent, lulled to sleep by the modern equivalent of “bread and circuses”: cheap food, cheap consumer goods, and cheap entertainment, on TV and the internet.

With the downfall of the Constitutional, representative republican form of government bequeathed to us by our Founders (“What kind of government have you given us, Dr. Franklin?” “A Republic, madam — if you can keep it!”), we are finding the ancient and inevitable decline into “pure democracy,” resulting in the aforementioned plutocracy and oligarchy, which is likely to yield demagoguery and dictatorship (perhaps following a brief descent into anarchy).

Sadly, save for our time as part of the British Empire under the British Monarch, we have no native tradition of monarchy to fall back upon…

(See earlier posts in this blog as to why that would be a good thing!)

The great G.K. Chesterton on Tradition

“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”

~ G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy