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.

10 thoughts on “What’s Wrong with G.K. Chesterton

  1. “What we need today is the courageous exercise of authority.”

    Yes, exactly! When you look at polls, you’ll find that the ‘common man’ is favorable or at least soft on any number of God-awful things- stuff that would’ve made the ‘common man’ of the 19th century faint.

    We need to be looking to models of true virtue and right thinking, not idolizing those morons Joe Blow and John Q. Public. Every society needs a little bit o’ old-fashioned ‘aristocracy’ in order to remain orderly, stable, and (at least somewhat) virtuous.


  2. Count me as a contrarian political scientist who does NOT bewail declining voter turnout. Doesn’t matter to me how low the numbers go; I frankly do NOT want to be governed by candidates chosen by people who care so little about politics that they must be cajoled into showing up on election day. Let those who actually care enough about the outcome to show up on their own determine the outcome.

    That said, Jeff, you need to be careful about who your “elite” is. As William F. Buckley said, “I would rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston telephone directory than by the faculty of Harvard University.” If those were the only two options, I would tend to agree with him. The challenge for us is forming a good elite which can, as you say, win the common man’s respect and admiration.


  3. The common man is terrible and getting worse but the elites are MUCH worse and getting still worse.

    I would bet that support of legalization of ‘homosexual relations between consenting adults’ among elites is 90% or more. (Even conservative businesses are extending partner benefits and extra incentives to gay couples. Typically conservative businessmen are the last elites to buckle under, and yet they have on this particular issue.)

    But I agree that forming SOME good elites is absolutely crucial, which is why I sent money to Ave Maria (not much of course, I’m not rich). Too bad they seem to be floundering.


  4. Jeff,

    I usually like what you write, but lay off Chesterton. He had a totally different understanding of democracy than the nitwits who throw that word around today.


  5. I wouldn’t call myself a Chesterton “follower” – perhaps a Chesterton “fan” – but I think of myself more as a Chesterton friend. So when I see a blog entry entitled “What’s Wrong with G.K. Chesterton, I read with skepticism. That said, I can’t really disagree with your assesment of the state of the common man (though I think TSO makes a good point about the state of the “elite.”) But I don’t think GKC would disagree either. He was, after all, the man who spoke of tradition as the “democracy of the dead.” I don’t think he would have valued the contemporary common man’s opinion over the opinion of the Common Man throughout the ages. Another thing to keep in mind is that the common man of GK’s day was probably far more sensible than the common man of today. He was formed more by “tradition” than by the mass media than we are.


  6. Chris and TSO:

    I agree that today’s elites are in worse shape than today’s “common man”. The problem is that the common man has been following the elites over a cliff. Cultural restoration – if it is going to happen – requires the reform of our elite classes first and foremost. Chestertonians are used to thinking of culture as a grass roots phenomenon, something that flows uphill from the masses. This does happen, to be sure: no argument there. But my contention is that the more important cultural influence – and by far the more powerful in this age of mass media – is the influence which flows downhill from the “elites” to the common man. The rhetoric of democracy has things rather backwards.


    Despite the provocative title, I don’t mean this as an attack on Chesterton. I love Chesterton and enjoy his work tremendously. But sometimes reading him only makes me realize that his “common man” paradigm doesn’t fit in our time. The common man isn’t going to get us out of this mess.


    Honestly, this is a Chesterton-friendly blog. The only way to redeem Chesterton’s “common man” is do as you suggest and make him the Common Man of the Ages, realizing that today’s common man is not historically common at all. If he were writing today I have no doubt that he would have put things rather differently.


  7. It’s a really interesting question. There’s probably a mixture of both (i.e. elites leading & grassroots leading); a synergy. The grassroots can at the very least provide leaders (and thus become elites, which influence other elites).

    I think Prohibition is an example of activism that was almost totally grass-roots led. The teetotalers sure got something done, even if their experiment failed in the end.

    So I don’t think it’s historically true that the common man always follows the elites (else we’d not have had the French Revolution or the Protestant Revolution). I think a return to philosophy instead of the anti-philosophies which now pose as rational thinking would help. The deconstrutionists have done a lot of damage.

    Btw, Fr. Neuhaus talks about elitism today:

    “The protection of democracy against the demos is a perennial theme in the products of the liberal imagination. Which, come to think of it, is rather odd, since it is conservatism that is conventionally charged with aristocratic and elitist sympathies.”


  8. Jeff – I reread your comment and see that I’d missed: “This does happen, to be sure: no argument there.”

    So much of my comment was superfluous! My bad.


  9. Meh–the polls are worthless on this one. (1) Be very wary of poll results that may require the respondent to self-identify as a “bigot.” That leads to inaccurate polling every time. You can bet your bottom dollar that the response is inflated on this one.

    (2) Look at the result of gay ‘marriage’ referenda–crushing defeats for their proponents. Something’s askew here.

    (3) Even if the numbers are somehow accurate, given (2) the support is tepid. “Whatever.” They aren’t going to fight for it, that’s certain.

    I’m not saying the news is good here, but it’s not as bad as this suggests.


  10. I would like to add grist to the mill. If chaff and straw are found, please forgive me.

    In the temple times, common men, obliged to pay a yearly
    temple tax in certain coin, and having none, fell into the
    hands of men who traded coins at a premium. It was this
    elite class who set up shop in the temple that Jesus took direct action against, or so I have read.

    The parasitic elite, following the traditions of robbers
    and theives, make the common mans journey on this plane
    complicated, because they take the life energy of millions
    and apply it to acts of their own selfish, limited reason.

    This elite, with stolen treasure and athiestic draftsmen have constructed a spurious world, a mechanical civilization where common men of all shapes and sizes are hammered and roughly finnished to fit into standardized round holes.

    Not all have fallen into the trap of the municipal corporation with all of its tyranny. Indeed, more and more common men see the natural world of perfected, living creation as the ideal, rather than as a cruel fate to be avoided. Such common men know of the revealation of the time of seasons, and find their right and natural place under the sun with feet planted on the earth.

    And one day, like in days gone by, the municipal centers
    that offer no comfort or security, will be abandoned, and
    common men will return to the land.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s