Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Gift of a Dandelion

The G.K. Chesterton Library has its own web page at last. It is only a modest affair – a free blogspot used to post the vital information about our identity, plans, and needs – but a fully customized web site will replace it once the Library is properly launched in 2013. For the time being this is all we need, and it is there to encourage donations via PayPal to the Trustees or to the Oxford Oratory to support their work in promoting interest in one of England's greatest men of letters and Christian apologists.

One thing that may puzzle you is the emphasis on dandelions. You’ll see there a famous picture of Chesterton graciously accepting the gift of a dandelion from a young admirer next to an ugly brick wall. The page itself has a dandelion motif at the top (along with a picture of Oxford’s dreaming spires among which the Library is located). But dandelions are a pest, and a weed. They are the gardener’s bane – constantly spreading, rooting deeply, hard to kill. Their little golden faces are so lurid they could almost be called ugly. Looking unkempt, they creep into places deprived of human care and attention.

I have seen whole landscapes spoilt by unchecked dandelions (in Lithuania, for example). And yet everything that lives is holy, and Chesterton is a great inspiration to us because he would love and cherish and defend everything as a direct gift of the Creator and an expression of his wisdom and beauty. In his first book of essays, The Defendant (1901), he defended, among other things, skeletons, cheap thrillers, china shepherdesses, slang, planets, and ugly things in general. He even defended defending them in the Introduction. Yet he left it to the end of his life, to the last pages of his Autobiography, to mount a proper defence of dandelions. He mentions asking in his earliest juvenile poems, "through what incarnations or prenatal purgatories I must have passed, to earn the reward of looking at a dandelion."
"I do not believe in Reincarnation, if indeed I ever did; and since I have owned a garden (for I cannot say since I have been a gardener) I have realised better than I did that there really is a case against weeds. But in substance what I said about the dandelion is exactly what I should say about the sunflower or the sun, or the glory which (as the poet said) is brighter than the sun. The only way to enjoy even a weed is to feel unworthy even of a weed."
He goes on, this mystic of the ordinary, to defend his whole philosophy of life by means of a dandelion. And we want to preserve his precious words, as dense and prolific as the petals of a dandelion. Others choose more noble flowers as their emblem – the rose or the lily. But Chesterton’s emblem is a golden flower that no one values, the seeds of which were handed him by a little child.

A longer version of this article appeared in Gilbert! magazine. A rather different piece along the same lines – "The Romance of Receptiveness" – was published on the Imaginative Conservative website in August 2013.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

What is money?

The question is raised and discussed in David C. Schindler's brilliant article, "Why Socrates Didn't Charge: Plato and the Metaphysics of Money" (Communio, Fall 2009), available on our Economy website. "When St. Paul says that the love of money is the root of all evil," Schindler writes,
"it would seem that he is echoing a Platonic insight. Our aim in the following is to understand what it is about the nature, the inner logic, of money that inclines it to usurp the divine throne, to see precisely how the question concerning the ultimate end of action serves to distinguish the philosopher from the sophist, and then to consider what a healthy love of money would be.... Money has the whole of its truth in being a symbol of the soul’s adherence to the good. It is meant, above all, to be a ‘reminder’ to those who are wealthy in a true sense.... Socrates does not think of money primarily as something to be stored, that is, as a destination of the soul’s love, but rather as something ever available to be spent, that is, always a means that brings to realization true, concrete goods. And so he does not call gold itself wealth. Instead, it is a token that enables him to recollect the true wealth that is wisdom, the soul’s free and rightful order under the sun, the light of the good." 

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Italian Chesterton Society

Last week I was privileged to be among the speakers at an informal conference organized in the hot Italian sunshine by the Italian Chesterton Society, whose blog is an important point of reference on matters connected with GKC. Some photos of the event can be found on the blog post for 5 July. In the course of a week of events celebrating the brief but luminous life of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, one day was set aside to discuss the philosophy and way of life known as DISTRIBUTISM – which seems to be alive and well in Italy. The country as a whole is blessed with relatively strong regional identities, strong families, and rich natural resources – and is the home of the Slow Food Movement. Of course, it, is affected as the rest of us by the economic crisis in Europe, but one feels that if anyone can find their way through the crisis to a new and saner way of life, it is the Italians. While there we heard about the Monti di Pieta (Montes Pietatis), credit unions and confraternities that flourished there in the past until swept away by modernity. The Italian Chesterton Society is playing its part in trying to revive such initiatives, by founding cooperatives to put Catholic social teaching into practice – and even a Scuola Chesterton, similar to the Chesterton Academy in the US. For my article proposing "a distributist philosophy of education" go to The Distributist Review.