Once upon a time G.K. Chesterton published a book he titled What’s Wrong with the World. While the book was intended to oppose socialism and a bit of capitalism, it has been taken by many people as promoting the very thing it was primarily intended to counter: Fabian socialism.
It began sometime before 1910, when Chesterton and some others began publishing articles advocating a policy of widespread capital ownership in the New Age and New Witness magazines. This eventually came to be called distributism (G.K. Chesterton, The Outline of Sanity. Collected Works, Volume V, San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 1987, 45). The articles were based in part on “idle arguments” Chesterton had with Charles Frederick Gurney Masterman, a Christian socialist politician who was a friend of Herbert George Wells and on good terms with the Fabians (G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong With the World, Collected Works, Volume V. San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 1987, 35).
|Charles Frederick Gurney Masterman
In 1909, Masterman published The Condition of England (C.F.G. Masterman, The Condition of England. London: Methuen and Co., 1909). His goal was to present specifics that would justify imposition of the ideal socialist world and establish the Kingdom of God on Earth (Alzina Stone Dale, The Outline of Sanity: A Life of G.K. Chesterton. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1982, 140-141). He rejected theories as “generalizations about realities” (Masterman, The Condition of England, op. cit., vii).
In response, Chesterton reworked his articles as “a thundering gallop of theory” titled What’s Wrong With the World (1910). He countered each of Masterman’s pragmatic collectivist proposals with a theoretical personalist principle.
Oddly, although Chesterton thought he was being rather clear, people completely missed the point, even after he put it explicitly in the foreword. For every one of Masterman’s “practical” (and socialist) proposals, Chesterton gave a theoretical response explaining why it was wrong. One look at the structure of Masterman’s book and then at Chesterton’s reveals this parallel between Masterman’s “practicality” and Chesterton’s “thundering gallop[s] of theory.”
|Msgr. Ronald Knox
Over the next decade, Chesterton kept trying to get people to understand, but with little success. Then in 1923, he came out with a book that, judging from his introduction, he believed would do the trick. He would take St. Francis of Assisi, the one saint beloved of the socialists, and show what Il Poverello really thought and what he stood for, particularly his view of private property. Along the way he demolished the Fraticelli, proto modernists (what Msgr. Ronald Knox called “enthusiasts” or “ultrasupernaturalists”) who sought to destroy the world to establish the Kingdom of God on Earth.
Naturally, most people took and have taken Chesterton’s Saint Francis of Assisi as espousing the very views he was refuting. It never strikes them that, just as Chesterton wrote What’s Wrong With the World in response to Masterson’s The Condition of England, he wrote Saint Francis of Assisi in response to R.H. Tawney’s The Acquisitive Society (1920), a book revered by many who think they are somehow promoting the Chestertonian ideal by venerating Tawney’s thought. They little realize that G.K.’s distributism was specifically intended as an alternative to, not a baptism of Fabian socialism. Tawney, who headed up the Fabian Society from 1920 to 1933, had a sort of loath-hate relationship with Chesterton but could never bring himself to do more than take swipes at him along the sidelines.
Nevertheless, Tawney did get a few licks in at both Chesterton and his more irascible confrere, Hilaire Belloc, in Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926). In it, Tawney presented modernism as authentic Christian doctrine, and socialism as applied Christianity. Making the Catholic Church the villain, Tawney added insult to injury by claiming that distributism — promoted by Chesterton and Belloc as a progressive (in the Theodore Roosevelt sense) application of Catholic social teaching — was really reactionary and Protestant. (R.H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism: A Historical Study. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1952, 92.)
Chesterton commented a few years later that “[A]pparently anything can be called Socialism, . . . If it means anything, it seems to mean Modernism; in the sociological as distinct from the theological sense. In both senses, it is generally a euphemism for muddle-headedness.” (G.K. Chesterton, “There Was a Socialist,” G.K.’s Weekly, May 10, 1930.)
|De Lamennais, first modernist
Chesterton had the last word with Saint Thomas Aquinas: The “Dumb Ox” (1933). In what Étienne Gilson called “the best book ever written on St. Thomas” (Maisie Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton. New York: Sheed & Ward, 1943, 620), the “Apostle of Common Sense” refuted the modernist principles behind Fabianism and defended the primacy of the intellect against irrational faith in matters pertaining to natural law.
Now, why all this about modernism, socialism, and Catholicism? Simple. The problems in the Catholic Church these days are the same ones affecting the rest of society, although to hear them talk, you’d think that it was modern society attacking the Catholic Church. Actually, a good case could be made that it’s the “modernist” Catholic Church that is attacking modern society and the non-modernist portion of the Catholic Church and most other faiths and philosophies in the world.
|Gregory XVI, condemned "New Things"
They’re called the “New Things,” rei novae, a term signifying overthrow of society and the collapse of civilization, and as applied religiously as modernism and socially as socialism, have turned the entire world upside down. Although the tendency has always been around, the “New Things” gained incredible momentum in the early nineteenth century when society, disrupted by bad ideas of money and credit and the advance of technology, succumbed to the evils of capitalism and socialism.
Instead of reason, the natural law — the general code of human behavior — became based on faith, which ended up meaning personal opinion and might makes right. That was not a new idea, of course, but (again) it gained tremendous force as a lousy monetary system and concentrated ownership of the means of production became the rule rather than the exception. As a result, everything became subjective, with nothing objectively true. Positivism ruled civil, domestic, and religious society. As long as you had enough money, power, or votes, what you said was ipso facto true. The only absolute is that there are no absolutes, and the powers-that-be are absolutely sure of that.
Keynesian economics is built on the assumption that there are absolutely no absolutes, and if you just believe something long enough and hard enough, it will come true . . . until you believe something else long enough and hard enough. As he said, “For at least another hundred years we must pretend to ourselves and to every one that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not. Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still. For only they can lead us out of the tunnel of economic necessity into daylight.” (John Maynard Keynes, “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” Essays in Persuasion, 1931.)
In other words, lie to yourself long enough and it becomes true. Nowhere was this applied with more devotion than in Keynes’s definition of money:
It is a peculiar characteristic of money contracts that it is the State or Community not only which enforces delivery, but also which decides what it is that must be delivered as a lawful or customary discharge of a contract which has been concluded in terms of the money-of-account. The State, therefore, comes in first of all as the authority of law which enforces the payment of the thing which corresponds to the name or description in the contract. But it comes in doubly when, in addition, it claims the right to determine and declare what thing corresponds to the name, and to vary its declaration from time to time — when, that is to say, it claims the right to re-edit the dictionary. This right is claimed by all modern States and has been so claimed for some four thousand years at least. It is when this stage in the evolution of money has been reached that Knapp’s Chartalism — the doctrine that money is peculiarly a creation of the State — is fully realized. (John Maynard Keynes, A Treatise on Money, Volume I: The Pure Theory of Money. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1930, 4.)
You can’t make this stuff up. Anyway, the point of this all is to emphasize the need for the Economic Democracy Act, especially the monetary reform package, all of which is based on the thought of Louis Kelso and other seminal thinkers, and which will be the point of the Saturday, April 29, 2023, conference in Bridgeport, CT, on the Economic Democracy Act, and which will also be livestreamed — for free! — on FaceBook.#30#