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This book, important though it is, is not, in my view, the most appropriate for the newcomer to Chesterton. Much of its tone is out of his normal pitch of good-tempered argument and counter-argument, and could be misleading to someone who is not familiar with the flavour of his writing. He opens the first chapter with the warning, “I am in a rage,” and his anger is holy anger. He does not hide it...
He was, then, a desperately tired man even apart from problems of health, and he was increasingly depressed by the way society was moving toward ever-increasing social injustice, and by the looming threat of war, which broke over Europe in August, 1914.
In November of that year he was lecturing in Oxford when he was overcome by a fit of giddiness, close to a mental black-out, and was forced to leave the platform. Taken home, he started to write a letter to Bernard Shaw, but collapsed before he could finish it. For months he lay desperately ill, in a deep coma for most of that time, and often very close to death. It is with this background in mind that Utopia of Usurers should be read and understood.
Having said that, I emphasise that these essays are central to Chesterton’s thought, underlining his indifference to literary fame for its own sake, or for the survival of his writing. His concern was to defend, in the name of Christ, the family and the ordinary man against those who, under a variety of guises and from a variety of motives, encroached ever more menacingly upon his liberty and integrity. He insisted always that it is the family and not the individual that is the true unit of the State.
As we know, to our cost, it is a process which continues even more viciously in our own day. When he writes that monopoly exists “in order that men may be unable to get what they want; and may be forced to buy what they don’t want,” or “...what modern institution has a future before it? What modern institution may have swollen to six times its present size in the social heat and growth of the future? ...the one flowering tree on the estate, the one natural expansion which I think will expand, is the institution we call the Prison.” Or read the chapter, “The Mask of Socialism,” in which he treats of the way in which the private rich are able to use public money:
Or, as a last example, when he throws out, almost as an off-hand remark, “A school in which there was no punishment, except expulsion, would be a school in which it would be very difficult to keep proper discipline,” does it not seem that Chesterton foresaw, and was commenting on, our own position not very far short of a century after he wrote those words...
I now make a prophecy of my own. I echo Chesterton’s words on the first page of this book, “Like all healthy-minded prophets, I prophesy in the hope that my prophecy may not come true.” On Tuesday, March 11, 2002, our Press reported a fresh attack on the family and on decency by our Labour Party government.
As part of its agenda in “supporting non-marital relationships, including homosexual ones, the government has cut off all funds to the charity Futureway Trust, which organises National Marriage Week” (I am quoting from the Daily Telegraph). Large sums, however, are allocated to “The Lesbian and Gay Foundation,” to the “Project for Advocacy, Counselling and Education,” set up to promote “lesbian and gay health and well-being,” and to “Relate,” a body with similar subversive aims, which is to be given over two million pounds of our money.
My prophecy is that although there will be protests from small organisations, a handful of letters in our better – or less bad – newspapers, the vast majority of people will accept this fresh insult with the same silent docility as they have accepted each previous injury from the State, from manic pressure-groups, and from the clergy, particularly the hierarchy, who have betrayed Christianity by not only allowing but promoting the jettisoning of dogma and the secularisation and trivialisation of our liturgy.
That is my prophecy, and I pray God that I will be proved wildly wrong.
There is, of course, nothing new in moves by those who would control us to stifle discussion and mislead peoples, and G.K.C. had no difficulty in foreseeing and condemning those moves. What he could hardly have envisaged was the sudden explosion of technology which would put the means of brain-washing and misinformation into virtually every home, classroom and workplace in the land, so that people have become distanced from reality and almost, in effect, drugged.
This, then, is why Gilbert Keith Chesterton is more greatly and urgently needed today than ever before; why those of us who are old have a genuine duty to introduce his sanity, his wisdom, and his holiness to the young people who are the main targets of these attacks.
In Utopia of Usurers we have, not Chesterton the exciting novelist, the poet or the literary critic, but, to borrow the phrase he himself used of William Cobbett, Chesterton exercising “the noble calling of agitator.” When you have read it you will understand why no British publisher was courageous enough to issue it, and why to this day it has never been published in Chesterton’s own country.
November 21, 2002
Feast of the Presentation of the
Blessed Virgin Mary