Monday, May 29, 2006

GKChesterton: Truth, Pity, Governments, and Fanatics

Gilbert! magazine is a semi-scholarly publication issued six times/year; it's the magazine of the American Chesterton Society. The April/May issue has some articles of interest which seem to be related.

"The real evil of our social estate is not so much that nothing is being done for the people; a great deal is being done. The real evil is that nothing (literally, nothing) is being done by the people.
...they have no organ by which to control government. It is easy enough to say that the costermonger can vote; but what for? He is allowed at rare intervals to vote for one of two highly disputable theories of some very distant question...

...But this is the great curse of modern reform; we merrily spread the habits of wealth, and call them the necessities of civilization. (GKC, 3/12/10)

While the excerpted essay was written about divorce (some British Government commission was conducting hearings on that topic at the time,) the thoughts apply in other venues--we could talk about the WI Supreme Court's derogation of "lawful purpose" in preventing self-defense for those who do not live in comfortable suburbs, for example.

Reviewing a book, Catholic Worker Movement: Intellectual and Spiritual Origins (Paulist Press, M & L Zwick, co-authors,) Dale Ahlquist compares GKChesterton with Dorothy Day.

Day is viewed with suspicion by both the Left and the Right; by the Left because in the end she foreswore Communism, and by the Right because at one time she had been sympathetic with Communism. In the end, Dorothy Day was a Catholic, which earned her the disdain of both the Left AND the Right.

"In the case of conservatives, what has hurt Dorothy Day is her spotty past...which she deeply regretted. But...what happens before one's conversion must never be forgiven. This helps conservatives turn a blind eye toward the unseemly conditions of the Chesterton's words, 'their Truth is pitiless.'

"In the case of liberals, what has hurt Dorothy Day is what happened after her death. Some of the Catholic Worker houses she founded...have neglected the "Catholic" part...Their strength is mere activism...abortion has been the preferred method of dealing with crisis pregnancy, and Catholic moral teachings...on homosexuality is studiously ignored. ...'their Pity is untruthful.'"

It is true today, as well...

Were the above comments all the magazine contained, it would be worth the $5.50 price. But in addition, Fr. James Schall, S.J., contributes an article on "Fanaticism" which serves, in a way, as a capstone.

Fr. Schall tells us that he was looking for a Tolstoy book, and found an essay on Tolstoy by GKC in the process. In the essay, Chesterton mentioned "Enthusiasm," "...which meant, in the eighteenth century, the condition of a lunatic, and in ancient Greece, the presence of a god."

Schall goes on to reference Josef Pieper's take on the word 'enthusiasm' ---in the Platonic/Greek sense of "having our world open to more than nature or our own constructions," and then Schall mentions Ronald Knox's application of the term to "movements that went beyond the normal, something that could undermine any social or religious order."

"Chesterton, for his part, sees...utter logical consistency, the meticulous carrying out of a principle...[as] what is wrong..."

"Already for a half century before his time, Chesterton noted something that is very common today, namely the view that religion is the origin of 'Fanaticism.' ...The irony of this view, however, is that getting rid of religion will not get rid of Fanaticism. Scientists and politicians, Chesterton thought, are just as capable of being 'Fanatics,' as priests, maybe more so.

"[In the case Tolstoy mentions, the Doukhnabors] 'A sect of men starts with no theology at all, but with the simple doctrine that we ought to love our neighbor and use no force against him, and they end in thinking that it is wicked to carry a leather handbag or to ride in a horse-driven cart.'

"Of Tolstoy, ...'A great modern writer who erases theology altogether, denies the validity of Scripture and the Churches alike, forms a purely ethical theory that love should be the instrument of reform, and ends by maintaining that we have no right to strike a man if he is torturing a child before our very eyes.'

Both of these examples of real Fanaticism remain with us today.

"'Fanaticism has nothing at all to do with religion,' Chesterton affirms.

'[Tolstoy] is not a mystic and therefore he has a tendency to go mad.'

"This passage recalls Chesterton's discussion of the Maniac...a man with one idea according to which he sees all else in a distorted light. 'Men talk of the extravagances and frenzies that have been produced by mysticism; they are a mere drop in the bucket. In the main, and from the beginning of time, mysticism has kept men sane.'

"[Chesterton] chastised the Augustinians and Platonists for their withdrawal from things to contemplate The One as if they could not also find The One through particular things which after all, originated in The One.

"'The thing that has driven them mad (that is, the Fanatics) was logic.'...The only thing that has kept the race of men from the mad extremes...has been mysticism--the belief that logic is misleading, and that things are not what they seem.'"

Schall concludes: "Common sense does not eschew logic as such. But it does see that at the origin of things is a Reality Whose ways are not our ways. This is what the mystic also sees. It is the Fanatic who does not see this limitation, but chooses to follow the logic of his position even when it leads him to absurdity. Things are, and can be known. But likewise, things "are not what they seem." We did not create them and must be prepared to find in them more than we could imagine."

One hestitates to refer to this issue of Gilbert! as "thematic." But the excerpts assembled above, taken together, speak a loosely-unified message: that "Truth deficient in Pity," or "Pity deficient in Truth" are both Fanaticisms, as is Government without the mysteriously mystic input of the People.


Billiam said...

So you're essentially saying that fanatics ignore either truth or faith, depending on their "bent". That faith AND reason are required? This would seem true. Or did I completely miss it?

Dad29 said...

Certainly, Faith AND Reason are required for understanding--and even then, our understanding will be limited.

You got it right. In the largest sense, that's what the connection is.

But it's also a bit more specific. The reason Mohammedans are wrong is that they have no Trinity; thus they do not understand God the way the Christians do, or even the Jews.

Another way to look at it is the seeming "contradiction" between Mercy and Justice. We know that God is all perfections, and thus, insofar as Justice and Mercy are both virtuous, they cannot conflict in their perfection.

But that's not too easy to explain to either a Conservative or a Liberal; one will favor the first, the other the second.

Ah, well.

Billiam said...

There is a time for both. Sometimes justice is required. The same goes for mercy. Because we are a fallen people, our will be imperfect. God's, however, will be perfect.