The president of the American Chesterton Society, Dale Ahlquist, began his presentation on October 11 with a warning. He admonished that he would speak of “controversial things in honor of Gilbert K. Chesterton’s visit to campus 80 years ago, and the 100th anniversary of his book What’s Wrong With the World.”
A well-known speaker and writer on G. K. (Gilbert Keith) Chesterton, Ahlquist did touch on a number of controversial subjects with humor, quoting Chesterton frequently throughout his talk. Ahlquist focused on two key issues that Chesterton deemed “wrong with the world,” big government and big business.
Nicknaming them “Hudge” and “Gudge” respectively, Chesterton worried that big business was propped up by big government, and big government propped up by big business. One of the primary proponents of distributism, Chesterton, as Ahlquist explained, was a firm believer in microeconomics, democracy, local government, and, most importantly, the primary role of the family.
Chesterton’s assertions derive from the principle of subsidiarity found in Catholic social teaching. Subsidiarity, Ahlquist explained, is the practice of making decisions on the most local level possible. In Chesterton’s view, higher orders of government should not be unnecessarily replacing lower ones, and, “what’s more, they should be accountable to the lower orders.”
Local government must become more responsible, making neighbors more accountable. The government should not be replacing the family; rather, the family should play a decisive role in government. In Chesterton’s view of society, the family is the most central unit of society.
“People avoid talking about politics because most don’t want to talk about religion,” Ahlquist commented, pointing out that every man has a family, and both politics and religion closely affect them. Policies that are hostile to the family can be attributed to the fact that “family men don’t have time for politics, and most politicians don’t have families,” Ahlquist generalized.
One of these, Ahlquist remarked in the spirit of controversy, is the “contraceptive mentality [that] is raping the earth.” “[Traditional] doctrine and discipline are walls—but they are walls for the playground,” allowing us to be wild, but safe, within their confines he continued. A world that breaks down these walls and exalts lust but forbids fertility can never be satisfied,” said Ahlquist.
Neither love nor money are free, Ahlquist contended. Likewise, the belief that “bigger is always better” can never be satisfied. Otherwise, nothing is big enough to satisfy our demand. Money and love both require self-control, but lack of control is another symptom of what is wrong with today’s world.
Ahlquist pointed out, for example, that the word “economics” literally has to do with the house, but today all economic activities are out of domestic control. There is something wrong with a society whose trade can be shut down by a single terrorist airplane, Ahlquist claimed: “a distributist society could not be shut down by a terrorist attack.”
Not only is our economy dependent on global trade, claimed Ahlquist, but we also “don’t produce anything.” Our main products, he said, “are health and education,” which cannot be exported. And healthcare has become too industrialized, causing it to be inordinately expensive. “Even farming,” Ahlquist lamented, “is now industrialized.”
Another troubling sign, in Chesterton’s words, is “that masses of our fellow citizens are too poor to be taxed.” Ahlquist proposed, “If we truly believed in democracy, we would not be arguing about what to do with poor people, they would be arguing about what to do with us.”
Chesterton always advocated democracy, believing that it was “the best form of government.” Half our population does not vote, Ahlquist alleged, “because they realize it won’t make a difference anyway.” Although this inaction itself shows disapproval, he claimed that the real issue is that “we only get to vote on the answers, not on the questions.”
To counteract national apathy, Ahlquist suggested a tongue in cheek solution: Next election, vote for G.K. Chesterton! Chesterton, Ahlquist proposed, is a strong proponent of the family, local government, and a stable, distributist society: an economic solution worth our votes.
Leandra Wolf is a sophomore in philosophy-theology who’s not sure she’s ready for the stereotype. But she will confess she enjoys the major. If you think that’s worrisome, ask her parents! Email Leandra at lwolf1-at-nd.edu.