Monday, March 09, 2015

Political realism

Maisie Ward holds the distinction of being the official biographer of G. K. Chesterton.  In her book, she recounts the epochal meeting between her subject and the great Catholic writer, Hilaire Belloc. 

From this tryst, in Chesterton's words, "emerged the quadruped, the twiformed monstor Mr. Shaw has nicknamed the Chesterbelloc."  (From Chesterton's Autobiography, quoted in Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Maisie Ward, p. 128)

Ward then offers an explanation of the manner in which Belloc influenced Chesterton:

"Belloc himself told me he thought the chief thing he had done for Chesterton when they first met was to open his eyes to reality... [Chesterton] was in fact the young man he himself was later to describe as knowing all about politics and nothing about politicians... Belloc then could teach Chesterton a certain realism about politics--which meant a certain cynicism about politicians."  (Ward, p. 129)

Interestingly enough, despite this realism, Belloc served four years in Parliament from 1906 to 1910.  This experience did little more than confirm his contempt for cynical politicians.  As he wrote to a friend during 1907, "I cannot stand the House... the incapacity of the country is incredible!  I can see little object in the House of Commons except to advertise work.  It does not govern; it does not even discuss.  It is completely futile." (Old Thunder, Joseph Pearce, p. 109)

One has little doubt how either Chesterton or Belloc would view the American political system of today.  In fact, on a trip to the StatesAmerica, the former observed: "It is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged."

Whether we like it or not, the political system if of immense importance.  It is not trivial whether the Federal Reserve decides to debase the currency so as to bailout the banks.  It is a matter of some significance with which countries we decide to go to war--or what might be a shorter list, with which countries we decide to remain at peace.  When the Government decides to create a new department--like Homeland Security--or overhaul some significant aspect of the economy--such as healthcare, education, or what passes for immigration policy--this will have an impact. 

Sadly, our influence on the powers that be are slim.  If this is cynicism, it is one grounded in reality.  We may hope and pray that the Republican Party, despite its brave hesitation, may finally do something about abortion, but we should temper our expectations.  Time and money spent on national causes yields a very poor return.

But there is room for some optimism as government becomes more local, a point Chesterton and Belloc understood well.  In this, abortion is instructive, for two reasons.  First, because if the Republicans won't even try to limit an abomination like abortion, they're not going to lift a finger to mitigate smaller evils.  Second, because all the progress being made to eliminate abortion has taken place locally.  We're winning.  It's getting so bad that soon even the Senate might notice.

We should never surrender to evil, but we should remember the lesson Belloc imparted to Chesterton: "a certain realism about politics--which meant a certain cynicism about politicians." 


Doom said...

I don't know about you, if you remember the moments... I became cynical of politics when in my early teens, but didn't become fully cynical until the last Bush. His father started the process, but it was the younger who finally pushed the understanding. A little death, of innocence?

I know not Belloc. Might have to dig in there. The trouble with great writers, often, is where to begin. Chesterton is a standby and favored greatly already though. When I'm not laughing, I might well be crying, while reading some book or other. At first I thought he foresaw. And though he did, I also realize that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Nice read, by the way. I always like little bits on favored writers/thinkers. Hope I'm not disturbing your place of quiet?

A Wiser Man Than I said...

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino! - Hilaire Belloc

I would start with The Servile State, which had a huge influence on Hayek.

Doom said...


Doom said...

Got it. Will read right after I finish my book on monsters. :p

(Seriously, just... sounds so... wrong!)