G.K. Chesterton reveals the most quietly held secret of the Liberal System, the “liberty” instituted as the foundation of the System, is for the benefit of the few and for the gradual impoverishment and enslavement of the rest.
If the phrase, “in vino veritas” has been exponentially validated through the long ages of mankind, I would venture to say that anger, tinged with wrath, an anger that is not artificial, but, rather, spontaneous, is another deep wellspring of truth. It is the gushing forth of that which is meant to cleanse or to sweep away. Such a manifestation of wrath, rarely tied to self-interest or petty ambition, is the most honest account of what a man is, a revelation of his inner capacity for nobility and heroism. Of course, the appearance of anger on an occasion when some great good is sullied or threatened is truly a sign that there has been a great patience at work in the mind of the man of wrath. He has borne with that which he finds intolerable. He only “strikes out” when he, from the deepest recesses of his being, knows that the good, if not defended now, will be damaged irreparably. The man of righteous anger will not see the idiocy of evil and error stand triumphant over the fallen body of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.
The writer of the preface to G.K. Chesterton’s Utopia of Usurers, Aidan Mackey, states that this is not the book for a newcomer to the writings of Chesterton. In this book, published last year by IHS Press, we find Chesterton in a rage. Mackey states, Chesterton opens the first chapter with a warning, “I am in a rage,’ and his anger is holy anger. He does not hide it.”1 Just as Our Lord Jesus Christ was angered, and grasped hold of a whip, in a fitting response to the desecration of sacred realities by the commercial mentality of his own contemporaries, so too does Chesterton break free from his normal reliance on paradox and, instead, says what he really thinks. Chesterton, in his 1913 to 1914 articles for the Daily Herald, put together in 1917 in this book, puts aside all intentional ambiguity, which serves the cause of truth in so many other places, and states what he thinks about the newly dominant economic, political, and social reality of his time: Capitalism. I should hesitate to say “newly dominant,” since, as Chesterton himself indicates, Capitalism had been economically dominant in Britain for about 100 years before he wrote. What truly enraged Chesterton was the fact that Capitalism was no longer being checked by the traditional institutions that had been the mainstays of the British people in the past. The life that the British people were living was not a life expressed in the country holiday, the pub, the royal dynasty, the church fete, and the variegated life on the land; rather, Capitalism was usurping for itself all aspects of life and demanding that human “life” consist in those activities which bolster the profits, whether short-term or long term, of the Capitalists themselves. If we see Chesterton, in this book, only “in rage against the System,” we are mistaken. What he is enraged about is the usurpation of human life itself, by those who would use our God-given human, personal, spiritual life for the benefit of their own monetary profit. That is why Chesterton states,
The word “rebel” understates our cause. It is much too mild; it lets our enemies off much too easily—By all the working and orthodox standards of sanity, Capitalism is insane. I should not say to Mr. Rockefeller “I am a rebel.” I should say “I am a respectable man and you are not.”2
The question is, however, “why would any one want to ‘rebel’; aren’t we living in a world which is the realization of all that mankind has ever striven for and desired?” Why would any man be “enraged,” unless he was mad? Haven’t all men of good will “seen our day and rejoiced in it”? Aren’t we living in the days of freedom and plenty that all men have hoped for? Doesn’t our government and our media keep telling us that those who strive for a religious “utopia” are nothing other than insane, because we have a perfectly well functioning secular one already?
There can be little doubt that our mass media continually projects the following subliminal message, no matter what the news “event” or story:
All continues to go well in the Land of Plenty. That is why we normally focus your attention on the trivialities and mere accoutrements of human existence. Obviously there is no crisis to worry about. There are, of course, certain diabolical obstacles, even though one of them is, clearly, not the devil, to the transmission of this paradisiacal world to all of humankind; these evil individuals might even be an inconvenience to us. The reason these fanatics act as they do is on account of the fact that they just cannot stand for people to be free and happy. There are, sadly, some who want to be enslaved and miserable. But, as you can tell, these threats are quickly and assuredly being overcome. Once they disappear from your TV screens, the people whom they have tyrannically dominated will be free to follow their natural desire and join, like everyone else, the utopia that they have been illegitimately excluded from. And now the stock report.
Chesterton, in this series of articles, written for a Socialist newspaper and, yet, distinctly non-Socialistic in character, does, indeed, state that the “progressive” men of his day are building a utopia. The only problem with this is that it is a utopia for a specific group of individuals. If you build a world that is meant to be perfect for a particular group of individuals, you, sooner or later, make a world increasingly hell-like for those whom the utopia is not meant for. This is what angered Chesterton. The “freedom” that is allowed by the Liberal System loses its paradisiacal aura before the simple question, Cui Bono? To whose good is this utopia ordered? Who really benefits? In this text, the answer of Chesterton is simple: the Capitalists benefit and those Financiers who, having a monopoly on the issuance of credit, can make or unmake Capitalists. In this regard, we find Chesterton articulating a truth that is hidden from public sight by the jargon of Liberalism. The Capitalist/Liberal Order is absolutist and “complete” by its very nature. It will tolerate nothing really independent of itself. Now it is true that any positive creed, true or false, would tend to be independent of itself. It might be Roman Catholicism or Mahometanism or Materialism; but, if strongly held, it would be a thorn in the side of the Servile State.3
The “religion” of the Liberal Servile State (by no means an oxymoron), “must have no dogmas or definitions. It cannot afford to have any definitions…[because] [t]hey fight.”
So it is here in this book, “not most appropriate for the newcomer to Chesterton,” where G.K. Chesterton reveals the most quietly held secret of the Liberal System, the “liberty” instituted as the foundation of the System, is for the benefit of the few and for the gradual impoverishment and enslavement of the rest. As Chesterton states, “Modern broad-mindedness benefits the rich; and benefits nobody else. It was meant to benefit the rich; and meant to benefit nobody else.”4 Here is a point that too few engaged in the struggle against Liberalism recognize: the modern “liberties,” all of which have been condemned by the papal Magisterium, are meant to create a society which eliminates the obstacles to the achievement of world domination and power by the rich few. “Freedom of the Press” who will dominate public discussion, but those who can afford to buy out the media outlets that broadcast to tens of millions. During the process of “free discussion,” the fixed wisdom of millennia is quickly sidelined as “irrelevant to the current discussion.” “Freedom of Religion” reduces religion to a private matter, thereby making it incapable of interfering with Capitalism’s drive to gain hold of the complete practical attention of men who must focus on what is “important,” if they are to survive in the dog-eat-dog laissez-faire free for all. Religion, duly “privatized,” can be tolerated insofar as it encourages the small virtues that support the maintenance and efficacy of Capitalism and discourages the huge virtues that defy it.5 Chesterton’s clear and rambunctious challenge to the truisms of his own age is clear, when he states,
Such is the society I think they will build unless we can knock it down as fast as they build it. Everything in it, tolerable or intolerable, will have but one use; and that use what our ancestors used to call usance or usury. Its art may be good or bad, but it will be an advertisement for usurers; its literature may be good or bad, but it will appeal to the patronage of usurers; its scientific selection will select according to the needs of usurers; its religion will be just charitable enough to pardon usurers; its penal system will be just cruel enough to crush the critics of usurers; the truth of it will be Slavery; the title of it may quite possibly be Socialism.
One of the prophetic parts of the text, Utopia of Usurers, is the chapter on “The Evolution of the Prison,” in which Chesterton predicts that the only institution of his time that will have a future will be the institution of the prison. The idea that the institution of the prison “may have swollen to six times its present size in the social heat and growth of this future” does not in any way indicate that Chesterton believed that Liberalism would deviate from its ideological trajectory. Rather, such a development, in which, “Prison will become an almost universal experience,” perfectly fits with the Liberal system of a society fragmented into isolated individuals who are invested with rights that cannot be violated by others. Since man is supposed to be free from all taint of Original Sin, such being the most fundamental principle in the Liberal Outlook, any “transgression” against the various webs of individual rights is seen as an act of malice, rather than one of “weakness.” So, although imprisonment under Liberalism might be more humane, it will, also, become more frequent. In a United States, in which 3% of the population is either in prison or on parole from prison, such statements must be seen as truly prophetic. In this regard, Chesterton’s sense of humor breaks through this literary outburst of anger, when he states that, “I should not be surprised if, before we are done with all this, a man was allowed to smoke in prison, on condition, of course, that he had been put in prison for smoking.”6 And this in 1914!
After spending the greater part of this review praising the “anger of Chesterton,” we must consider the fact that anger, while often expressing red-hot purifying truth, can also blind.
This, I fear, is the case with Chesterton’s attitude towards the Great European War that was in its initial stages when he wrote the series of articles which constitute this text. Surprisingly, in light of Chesterton’s universal reach of mind, his comments in these articles are examples of a blind nationalism. Some of the lines that can be found in these articles are so vitriolic that they cannot but be painful for those who both love Chesterton and have a retrospective historical knowledge of the atrocities and diplomatic blunders on both sides of that conflict. Those who have some understanding of the historical record, admittedly not available to Chesterton, concerning the various cliques, individuals, and nations responsible for the initiation of that terrible and, ultimately, catastrophic conflict, know that there is plenty of “war guilt” to go around. Any one who has read the recent biography of Hilaire Belloc by Joseph Pearce, knows that Belloc himself falls under exactly the same accusation of a blind nationalism with regard to World War I. That such great universal and Catholic minds could have been so fixated on the image of the “wicked” and monocled Prussian Junker (i.e., a member of the Prussian landed aristocracy) that they failed to weigh in the balance the survival of the ancient Catholic Habsburg monarchy is disappointing. His statement that, “the Prussians are tyrants; tyrants in a peculiar and almost insane sense which makes them pre-eminent among the evil princes of the earth,” would have more fittingly come out of the mouth of Woodrow Wilson. It is, also, disappointing to think that, with regard to such a critical issue, Chesterton, Belloc, David Lloyd George (British Prime Minster from 1917-1922), and Georges Clemenceau (French Prime Minster during the Versailles Conference of 1919 and fierce anti-clerical, who in 1904 wanted to outlaw the Mass in France), could have been on the same side. Surely someone was missing the point! That, in some way, the Catholic German Social Movement had helped shape the policy of the German Empire and that Emperor Wilhelm II, “Kaiser Bill,” had been the one who dismissed the anti-Catholic author of Kulturkampf, Otto von Bismarck, seems not to have made any impression on Chesterton’s outlook. From a Distributist/Corporatist perspective, this would lead one to believe that Chesterton knew little of what was happening with regard to Catholic Social Action in the European heartland. If we would search for reasons for this instance of partial blindness and one-sidedness, which did nothing for the cause of the Christendom that Chesterton loved, I would say that Chesterton’s rather imprecise use of the word “democracy,” his myopic focus on the influence of the Krupp family (German family of armaments manufacturers established by Friedrich Krupp [1787-1826]), and his, apparent, prima facie acceptance of the worst of British war propaganda contributed to the idea which he had of the war during the conflict itself.
Most of us have seen Chesterton the novelist, Chesterton the wit, Chesterton the poet, and Chesterton the historian. In this text we find, as Aidan Mackey states in the preface, Chesterton “exercising the noble office of agitator.” In Utopia of Usurers, we find Chesterton’s blood boiling. Perhaps he was trying to get our blood to do the same!
1. G.K. Chesterton, Utopia of Usurers (Norfolk, VA: IHS. Press, 2002), p.9.
2. Ibid., pp.52-53.
3. Ibid., p.30.
4. Ibid., p.31.
6. Ibid., p.46.
7. Ibid., p.37.