What’s Wrong with G.K. Chesterton

It may not be entirely his fault, but Chesterton is touted by his followers as the champion of democracy, the common man, and common sense over and against notions of aristocracy or elitism. He did seem to trust the common man an awful lot. I suppose that the common man, even in our day, can still be trusted to uphold a kind of Oprahfied natural goodness. But when it comes to getting the Permanent Things right, today’s “common man” is not to be trusted at all. And his moral blindness is getting progressively worse by the hour. As evidence I offer Exhibit A from LifeSite News:

“American Gallup Poll results, released this morning, indicate that tolerance of homosexuality within the United States has reached a record high. According to the Poll, since 1977 public support of legalization of ‘homosexual relations between consenting adults’ has risen from 43% to a record-breaking 59%. According to Gallup, the general trend is an increased support for homosexuality. Notably, the observed increase in acceptance of homosexuality has occurred concurrent with a nationwide promotion of homosexuality in the American public elementary school system.”

Chesterton fans are going to have to realize that what we don’t need right now is “more democracy”. Not on any level. What we need today is the courageous exercise of authority. What we need today is a virtuous and well-formed elite that is capable of winning the common man’s respect and admiration.

Tuesday links

Very busy today. Here’s some good reading for you:

William Luse on Jack Bauer and the mystery of iniquity.

Steve Skojec on liturgy here and here.

Elena Maria Vidal reproduces the last letter of Marie Antoinette. Beautiful and heartbreaking.

Dust I Am on things you never knew about hoeing the garden.

Rod Dreher on the power of tradition.

Phillip Blosser on the narcissist generation.

Joseph Bottom on death and politics.

Ascension Day customs

Today is Ascension Thursday, and the FishEaters website has some interesting tidbits on Ascension Day customs. (By the way, if you’re not well acquainted with FishEaters it is about time to remedy the situation!).

“As to customs, it is traditional to eat some sort of bird on this day, in honor of Christ Who ‘flew’ to Heaven. If you live in a hilly or mountainous area, climbing the hills in commemoration of Jesus and the Apostles’ climbing the Mt. of Olives, whence Jesus ascended to Heaven, is customary. Putting the two together, a picnic that includes some sort of bird and eaten on a hill or mountain would be a perfect way to spend the day …”

Winners and Losers

If you work in a place like this, you might be a Loser.

More Neil Postman:

“Another way of saying this is that a new technology tends to favor some groups of people and harms other groups. School teachers, for example, will, in the long run, probably be made obsolete by television, as blacksmiths were made obsolete by the automobile, as balladeers were made obsolete by the printing press. Technological change, in other words, always results in winners and losers.

In the case of computer technology, there can be no disputing that the computer has increased the power of large-scale organizations like military establishments or airline companies or banks or tax collecting agencies. And it is equally clear that the computer is now indispensable to high-level researchers in physics and other natural sciences. But to what extent has computer technology been an advantage to the masses of people? To steel workers, vegetable store owners, teachers, automobile mechanics, musicians, bakers, brick layers, dentists and most of the rest into whose lives the computer now intrudes? These people have had their private matters made more accessible to powerful institutions. They are more easily tracked and controlled; they are subjected to more examinations, and are increasingly mystified by the decisions made about them. They are more often reduced to mere numerical objects. They are being buried by junk mail. They are easy targets for advertising agencies and political organizations. The schools teach their children to operate computerized systems instead of teaching things that are more valuable to children. In a word, almost nothing happens to the losers that they need, which is why they are losers.

It is to be expected that the winners — for example, most of the speakers at this conference — will encourage the losers to be enthusiastic about computer technology. That is the way of winners, and so they sometimes tell the losers that with personal computers the average person can balance a checkbook more neatly, keep better track of recipes, and make more logical shopping lists. They also tell them that they can vote at home, shop at home, get all the information they wish at home, and thus make community life unnecessary. They tell them that their lives will be conducted more efficiently, discreetly neglecting to say from whose point of view or what might be the costs of such efficiency.

Should the losers grow skeptical, the winners dazzle them with the wondrous feats of computers, many of which have only marginal relevance to the quality of the losers’ lives but which are nonetheless impressive. Eventually, the losers succumb, in part because they believe that the specialized knowledge of the masters of a computer technology is a form of wisdom. The masters, of course, come to believe this as well. The result is that certain questions do not arise, such as, to whom will the computer give greater power and freedom, and whose power and freedom will be reduced?”

The Loving Resistance Fighter

An essential book for the Catholic Restorationist’s library (someone please come up with a list of essential books before I have to do it for you) is Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology by the late Dr. Neil Postman. The importance of this book for our technology-drenched generation cannot be overstated. Here’s a sample from his chapter titled “The Loving Resistance Fighter”:

“Those who resist the American Technopoly are people –

who pay no attention to a poll unless they know what questions were asked, and why;

who refuse to accept efficiency as the pre-eminent goal of human relations;

who have freed themselves from the belief in the magical powers of numbers, do not regard calculation as an adequate substitute for judgment, or precision as a synonym for truth;

who refuse to allow psychology or any ‘social science’ to pre-empt the language and thought of common sense;

who are, at least, suspicious of the idea of progress, and who do not confuse information with understanding;

who do not regard the aged as irrelevent;

who take seriously the meaning of family loyalty and honor, and who, when they ‘reach out and touch someone’, expect that person to be in the same room;

who take the great narratives of religion seriously and who do not believe that science is the only system of thought capable of producing truth;

who know the difference between the sacred and the profane, and who do not wink at tradition for modernity’s sake;

who admire technological ingenuity but do not think it represents the highest possible form of human achievement.

A resistance fighter understands that technology must never be accepted as part of the natural order of things, that every technology – from an IQ test to an automobile to a television set to a computer – is a product of a particular economic and political context and carries with it a program, an agenda, and a philosophy that may or may not be life-enhancing and that therefore requires scrutiny, criticism, and control.”

Monday morning

Just a few Monday notes:

Mr. Adrian Martin, venerable host of The Old Tode web log, has graduated from the University of Hawaii. Now the fun begins!


Daniel, who hosts Ride of the Rohirrim, met his finance through CatholicMatch and has some interesting thoughts about meeting online. Meanwhile, Chris of Domine Non Sum Dignus complements the topic with some ruminations on courtship.


The Yeoman Farmer reminds us that “pump first, pay later” gas stations still exist in the heartland. We don’t have any of these in Orland, but one of the first things I noticed after moving here is that our drive-through businesses hand you the order before taking your money. Aren’t they afraid of me driving off? I guess not. And I still find it strange that some of our downtown establishments leave their merchandise and sandwich boards outside – totally unsecured! – when closed overnight.


Here’s Cardinal Siri’s famous Notification Concerning Men’s Dress Worn by Women. This one is always a good reminder of Catholic thinking on the topic. The foregoing link, by the way, was brought to my attention by the wonderful Elena-Maria Vidal of Tea at Trianon – a web log of the highest quality and content. I’m currently reading her gripping historical novel Trianon, a portrait of the French royal family at the time of the revolution. As I progress through the evocative and exceptionally well-written pages of this work, I am beginning to think that it belongs on every Catholic bookshelf.


Along the same lines, Requiem Press appears to be offering a bulk discount on a fine little booklet titled The Chapel Veil: Symbol of the Spouse of Christ. I recommend purchasing a batch of these for your parish bookstore.


Yesterday, the feast commemorating Our Lady of Fatima, was also the 7th anniversary of our being received into the Catholic Church and the first annual May Crowning for the Latin Mass community in Chico. LeXuan made the beautiful crown of flowers that was used in the ceremony. And tomorrow is the patronal feast day of our homestead, St. Isidore Ranch. Amidst the celebrating there is still too much work to do. Nevertheless I should get around to answering e-mails and comments shortly. Thanks for your patience!

Getting started

Commenting on The Rural Solution, Daniel wrote:

“I really like this post, and it was your posts before that made me start thinking about rural life as more than just an interesting idea and in fact as a real possibility. However, I am wondering what kind of advice you would give to someone with no real experience living ‘full time’ outside of the city. Self-sufficiency would not be my goal, I would merely wish to set up a real home for my (future) family, not merely a house which will be quickly sold to move into a bigger and better one. I have heard a lot about how difficult it is to live in the country, and I was wondering what you think it would be like for someone fairly new to it all.”

A note on “self-sufficiency”. Much of the literature seems to emphasize “self-sufficiency” and economic independence – especially “food independence” – to an extent that is, in my opinion, entirely unrealistic. Even if it were possible for a homestead to be self-sufficient, I don’t regard this as a good thing at all. Catholic social doctrine is essentially communitarian: economic independence is not on the radar screen. What we are dealing with, I suspect, is the infiltration of American/Protestant individualism into Catholic agrarian thought.

I agree with what Al wrote in the same comment thread. The goal of self-sufficiency should be seen as applying to communities or regions, not individuals or households. It is true that modern man is too dependent upon far-away factories and farms. This is an extreme situation brought about by an extreme economic ideology. As is often the case, the danger is that an extreme situation will bring forth an extreme reaction that will also miss the mark. The answer to collectivism is not individualism, and the answer to the “global village” is not isolated self-sufficient homesteads. Catholics should work toward building local, regional economies with minimal dependence upon outside corporations. Northern California, for instance, could be almost perfectly “self-sufficient” if the residents here so desired. We have lots of fertile ground, plenty of local water, and a long growing season. We have a large enough population to maintain economies of scale where required. Regional self-sufficiency is within our grasp. There’s just one little problem with this: sacrifice. My neighbors and I would have to sacrifice our illusions of material prosperity. Jetskis, laptop computers, and “fast food” restaurants might disappear entirely. In order for regional self-sufficiency to become a reality, you need to settle someplace where sufficient numbers of people think regionally. Big cities are therefore out of the question.

Back to your original question. If you can, find a place to settle in the country that allows you keep a decent job. That could mean settling near a larger city where employment is available. I would recommend keeping your commute under 45 minutes each way. Here in Glenn County many people work across the river in Chico, a metropolitan area of almost 100,000. I think the average commute to Chico is probably around 30 minutes: not bad at all. The point is that the earlier you move to the country, the better. It gets harder the longer you put it off. I wish we had done this fifteen years ago.

You are young and can afford to start slowly, one project at a time. I would recommend renting a small house or mobile home on a couple of acres and starting with chickens and a little garden. Take your time. Read all the books in The Yeoman Farmer’s sidebar. And don’t be afraid of renting or living in humble lodgings. We have a mobile home on our place that we rent out to another family, for $650 per month, along with about an acre of land. They could easily have a large garden, some fruit trees, chickens for eggs, rabbits for meat, and a couple of goats for milk. It’s enough for a wholesome, quiet, and hard-working country life.

Although the goal may not be “self-sufficiency”, the less dependent you are upon the industrial food providers, the better. Eggs and milk are probably the easiest and most rewarding things a homestead can produce. A garden can supply a large percentage of the food you consume, especially if you freeze your vegetables and eat them year round. Five or ten fruit trees will give you all the fruit your family can eat with plenty to spare. Apart from a couple of chickens and one goat, we haven’t supplied much of our own meat – but we’ve got one steer in the pasture that is almost ready for the butcher. He’ll provide us with a year’s worth of beef. They tell me, also, that rabbits are a very economical way to raise meat for your family. You should ask Mr. Curley about that.

There is another thing to consider. We are blessed to have two good Catholic families who live nearby, both of whom have years of expertise in rural living and various aspects of farming and ranching. We’ve relied on them tremendously – for advice, material help, and also for emergency labor. I can’t begin to tell you how important their assistance has been. Of course we have also relied on kind neighbors and local merchants, but without these good friends things would have been much more difficult for us. So, if possible, choose a place that has this kind of advantage for your family.

When you move to the country you’re going to need three basic things: a pickup truck, a dog, and a shotgun. The truck is indispensable: you’ll use it more than you ever imagined. The dog will guard your place and alert you to problems with critters. The shotgun … well, I’m not sure why you’ll need it, but everyone has one so you had better get one too. I haven’t used mine much – I shoot some clay pigeons now and then – but it’s good to know it’s there. You’re going to need lots of other things you never thought about before. Tools, for example. Tools you have never heard of. If you’re not already familiar with tools, you might want to take a class, do some reading, or start a small building project. I’m not very mechanically inclined myself, but I’ve had some shop experience and can fumble around with some basic tools. You’re also going to spend a lot of time fighting weeds and pests. You’ll need, at minimum, a sprayer and a weed-eater. But these kinds of things are “learn as you go”, and you really don’t need to worry about them until a problem comes up. Take your time, enjoy the peace and serenity that country life offers, and your “education” will take care of itself.

Some interesting discussion

Between my regular job and working on the homestead, I haven’t had much time for blogging. Based on the questions and comments of readers I hope to address the following topics shortly: self-sufficiency, getting started in agrarian living, fighting modern and post-modern ideologies, homeschooling, and male headship. Your patience is appreciated. In the meantime, the tradition and restoration conversation continues elsewhere:


Practical Steps

Homeschool Bleg

I Hate Nanny

What to Wear?

John Senior: Should We Moderate Our Praise?

Are Catholics and Television Like Oil and Water?

The University Question


Kill your television!

A commenter on the Steps to Restoration thread wanted to add “Smash your television!” to the list. I heartily approve, and toward that end I recommend this article by Fr. John D. Fullerton (SSPX, I know) on the evils of television. The author recalls the prophetic warning of Pope Pius XII in Miranda Prorsus:

“For these new possessions and new instruments which are within almost everyone’s grasp, introduce a most powerful influence into men’s minds, both because they can flood them with light, raise them to nobility, adorn them with beauty, and because they can disfigure them by dimming their luster, dishonor them by a process of corruption, and make them subject to uncontrolled passions, according as the subjects presented to the senses in these shows are praiseworthy or reprehensible.

In the past century, advancing technical skill in the field of business frequently had this result: machines, which ought to serve men, when brought into use rather reduced them to a state of slavery and caused grievous harm.

Likewise today, unless the mounting development of technical skill, applied to the diffusion of pictures, sounds and ideas is subjected to the sweet yoke of the law of Christ, it can be the source of countless evils, which appear to be all the more serious, because not only material forces but also minds are unhappily enslaved. And man’s inventions are, to that extent, deprived of those advantages which in the design of God’s Providence ought to be their primary purpose.”

Television might be – in theory – redeemable and put to good use. But practically speaking it is just too late: the whole project is in the sewer. Furthermore, the dangers of the medium itself far outweigh the meagre benefits you might gain from catching a good show now and then. Some people tell me they have a television so they can watch EWTN or documentaries on the History Channel. Along the same lines, I suppose they read Playboy magazine just for the articles. Good luck with that.

How modern discourse avoids the Good

A gem from G.K. Chesterton brought to you by William Luse via What’s Wrong With the World:

“Every one of the popular modern phrases and ideals is a dodge in order to shirk the problem of what is good. We are fond of talking about ‘liberty’; that, as we talk of it, is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about ‘progress’; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about ‘education’; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. The modern man says, ‘Let us leave all these arbitrary standards and embrace liberty.’ This is, logically rendered, ‘Let us not decide what is good, but let it be considered good not to decide it.’ He says, ‘Away with your old moral formulae; I am for progress.’ This, logically stated, means, ‘Let us not settle what is good; but let us settle whether we are getting more of it.’ He says, ‘Neither in religion nor morality, my friend, lie the hopes of the race, but in education.’ This, clearly expressed, means, ‘We cannot decide what is good, but let us give it to our children.'”