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Sunday, February 4, 2018

How Chestertonian is the American Chesterton Society?

For Dale Ahlquist and co.
Following my post Friday on the Chesterton Society's attack on Trump and discussing Dale' Ahlquist's support for allowing certain people living in adulterous situations to return to Communion, several Facebook Friends chimed in with interesting comments. I think what they have to say is worth sharing.

A lawyer friend said that "the saying [Dale mentioned] that the exception proves the rule means the opposite of what Dale suggests it means."

Just goes to show that being a fan of Chesterton doesn't necessarily mean you are as clear a thinker or as precise in your use of language.

Another friend, Brock Fowler, left a long comment I found fascinating and eye-opening:
The American Chesterton Society (ACS) has a difficult dilemma. On one hand, Chesterton wrote constantly about contemporary matters, so it seems silly to disbar such discussions now. 
On the other hand, Chesterton did it much better than the ACS--and almost any of us. He was calm, irenic, balanced, humorous, and not reactionary (i.e., not determining his position to oppose the position of his opponents--but based upon what he really believed...if he agreed with some point of theirs, that was not a problem to him).
Moreover, although he addressed contemporary problems, his writings which have stood the test of time have NOT been about this specific candidate, nor passing, minor controversies of the moment. 
Further, there is a tendency for humans to try to pose as the reasonable middle against two equally bad extremes: but things have gone so far since Chesterton's time that there is no reasonable middle any more--or at least, it is no longer in the middle, but rather far to one end. I don't mean that those who support natural law never do so unreasonably: but rather that our society has largely rejected natural law far beyond the rejections of Chesterton's day. 
I have seen such nonsense as basically trying to recruit Chesterton as a 2nd Amendment opponent...although he was British, not American, and carried a gun and a sword cane at times. And as an open boarders advocate: although he stressed the value of the community and nationality. And as an advocate for Clinton (see below). And the selection of Mark Shea as a speaker at the last conference was puzzling. (Those who don't understand that puzzlement have not read Mark recently.)
Since the video was new to you, but nevertheless a year old, let's bring it up to date just a bit--although this will not be about Dale personally. 
Would G.K tolerate just a little adultery?
I had shared an American Chesterton Society (ACS) meme that had a hard-hitting quote about the press. But when I went to the ACS page, I saw comments to the effect that it was terrible to have such memes, because they said things that sounded like (or tended to support) Trump. So now we are to censor Chesterton?
But there was more. One of the regular columnists (Emma Fox Wilson) for their magazine, Gilbert, said: "And there is absolutely no doubt that if [Chesterton] were alive today, he would be writing and speaking energetically and constantly against Trump and everything that he stands for. If you can't see that from the writings he has left us, then you are no Chestertonian." And, "[Y]ou clearly haven't read much Chesterton." Note the willingness to claim that somebody who disagrees is not a "Chestertonian" and unread: this comes up again below. 
Now, Emma made an absolutist claim: that Chesterton would be speaking "constantly" against Trump, and "everything" he stands for--and it was that absolutism that I objected to. I specifically and explicitly agreed with her that Chesterton was opposed to capitalism, very rich businessmen, and oligarchies--and that he was NOT uniformly conservative. 
But by citing ONLY factors regarding Trump--and none about Clinton, Democrats, or groups on the left--it APPEARED to me that Emma was seeking to enlist Chesterton as a cultural justice warrior for the left. So, I claimed that he was ALSO concerned about other things as well: such as concentration of government power, socialism, political corruption, natural law--and on these and many other issues, he may well have seen some problem in Clinton's candidacy, and some virtue--no matter how small--in some of Trump's actions/positions. (After all, Chesterton seemed to be able to find SOMETHING good to say even for those whom he opposed the most.) 
After some discussion/clarifications, she became conciliatory, but then the long-term editor of Gilbert (Sean Dailey who only recently stopped being the editor, and then perhaps only as an economy measure) said: "No one who has read even a smattering of Chesterton can deny that Trump embodies everything - avarice, lust, cowardice, thin-skinned vindictiveness, narcissism, cruelty, and contempt for the poor - that Chesterton wrote and fought against his entire life. Chesterton especially warned against millionaires, and the nihilistic destruction they can wreak upon a nation if given any political power. And any `Chestertonian' who can't see that must have glossed over the passages regarding millionaires that fill Chesterton's books." (However, he did go so far as to concede that Chesterton would have found "H Clinton exasperating". Well, yes, I suppose that abortion fanatics can be that and more.) 
This was not the first time I've seen him do this: Mark Shea was doing his usual demonization of conservative Catholics, and Sean came in on that conversation too.
But here we come again to this notion that somebody who dissents from their views is not a "Chestertonian" and is unread. Now, as you know, Mary Ann, I have been active in the ACS for over a decade, have been to 3 conferences, participated in local groups, and have lead a local ACS group which had Dale Ahlquist come and speak. This is my first experience with Chesterton being turned into a cult like Objectivists: whereby any deviation makes you no longer a true believer. 
As to the merits, we could start with this awkward point: Hillary Clinton is a millionaire too! And the Clintons made their millions while in politics! During the discussion the moderator (who turned out to be Nancy Brown) "liked" some of my comments, but she ultimately deleted the entire post. I certainly understood why they would not have something like that on their page, and I did not object, but that did mean that those who opposed the accurate Chesterton quote won. Also, Dale complained that people were just slinking away: that they should debate instead! Well, not so much...

A big thank you to Brock for sharing his views! My feeling about the ACS is that it is becoming a clique of people who all think a certain way and dismiss anyone who disagrees. I too was disturbed by Mark Shea being invited to the last conference and it was a determining factor in my not attending. The conferences are becoming more and more incestuous with most of the same speakers year after year. It reminds me of a home schooling conference where I was invited to speak by the organizer who was chided by the board of directors for asking someone who wasn't a member of the insiders' clique. I did end up speaking (about teaching Shakespeare to youngsters, and my little troupe of home schoolers acted out an edited version of The Tempest}, but it was only because of the insistence of the organizer.

There is something decidedly un-Chestertonian (to use the words of Emma Wilson) about putting words into Chesterton's mouth and using them to censor and beat up on those with whom you disagree at the same time ignoring things Chesterton said that don't fit your agenda.

Actually, I think Chesterton would have been somewhat amused by Donald Trump. Anyone who's read Chesterton's biography of William Cobbett can see his appreciation for a man who was more "Billingsgate" than Eton. And Chesterton was a master at appreciating those with whom he disagreed. His friendship with George Bernard Shaw is well known and yet Shaw advocated some of the views Chesterton regularly excoriated, particularly eugenics. It's unfortunate that some of those representing the ACS are attempting to remake Chesterton in their own rigid and humorless image.

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