As the momentum of time drives into the coming year, the rumble of politics resounds in my head. Politics is the relational moment of the now, the way we try to make sense of today’s world before we find ourselves in tomorrow’s. My thoughts drift toward my current writer of note, GKC, who was a liberal by his own definition (in today’s politics, “liberal” can mean anything from a far rightist libertarian-anarchist to a far leftist socialist). Hopefully, these ramblings can cohere into something solid enough to enjoy.
And when I called myself a Liberal or Radical in English politics, I meant that I was opposed to the spirit of oligarchy in that society; to the big estates which prevented the existence of small proprietors; to the big employers who subordinated the interests of the employed; to the one large shop-keeper who swallowed many small shop-keepers, and so on.
Essentially, I believe, Mr Chesterton believes (liberally) that everyone is worth listening to (a beautifully Whitmanesque notion). It means that the open air of society is necessary so that ideas may be debated, so that people may live in freedom, and (most importantly) so that adventures may be had.
What makes Huckleberry Finn one of the most glorious of all epics of boyhood is the indescribable sense that Huck really does potentially own the eart, that the world is all before him, and that America is itself one vast adventure story.
So, if these are the principles of a free society, how may we get there? Ironically, we form this open space by supporting the small things, the permanent things, by giving men control over their lives. For example, he supports private property because it supports free men. He doesn’t support unrestrained capitalism or socialism, for neither supports free men.
A pickpocket is obviously a champion of private enterprise. But it would perhaps be an exaggeration to say that a pickpocket is a champion of private property. The point about Capitalism and Commercialism, as conducted of late, is that they have really preached the extension of business rather than the preservation of belongings; and have at best tried to disguise the pickpocket with some of the virtues of the pirate. The point about Communism is that it only reforms the pickpocket by forbidding pockets.
To his mind, “if a peasant can grow a cabbage himself, cook it himself, and eat it himself, he has so far attained the maximum of efficiency and certainly the maximum of economy”. Democracy has far more to do with growing your own food than it ever had with hanging chads.
I think the point is that freedom must lie where we live, in our personal spaces, not in our impersonal ones. We don’t live in some fictitious national arena of statistics and graphs, but in local communities, in families, in churches.
Now this might not seem like a complete political program, but I’d say that it’s the start of an interesting one.
I should say something too about the faux liberalism that is much common to find. To my mind, they make a mistake of beginnings. They start by saying “it’s worth listening to everyone” instead of saying “everybody’s worth listening to”. Because of this false start, they never consider strengthening the institutions that support “everybody” and jump to the possible implications. In other words, they want everyone to speak instead of giving everyone the freedom to speak. They want to feed people, instead of giving people the freedom to grow their own food. And in the end, they want to free people, instead of giving people the freedom to fight. Instead of giving dignity to people, they claim the dignity for the government.
In the end, then, I think it far more healthy to support the small things (the permanent things) over the big ones, the voters over the government, small businesses over big ones, &c.