Clear Thinking in the Melee

We have gotten to that stage in the battle where the forces have fully joined, and there is no longer — properly speaking — a front. We do not have a distinguishable line anymore. It is more like a melee, with different colored uniforms everywhere. And this is why every topic has been swept up into the conflict.

Where can you go where the ruling elites will agree to leave you alone? Can you change a light bulb? Can you fry up some bacon? Can you decline joining in the mandatory celebrations of a same sex mirage? Can you keep your doctor? Are you allowed use plastic bags?

Chesterton said somewhere that our task is to fly the flag of the world — and we should know that this is something that is certain to bring us into conflict with the world. We affirm a fundamental creational loyalty to the world, and constantly thwart the world’s desire to become disloyal to itself. This is why it is good to be earthy, and bad to be worldly. Worldliness is just a clever way of deserting the world.

A Great Aphorism

One of the reasons why Chesterton is such an encouragement to us is that he understands the role of imagination. This is not the same thing as understanding imagination itself — for no man understands that — but Chesterton does understand the important role that imagination must play. He understands it, and he practices what he understands.

So when Napoleon said that imagination rules the world — a great aphorism if ever there was one — he was simply giving us some material to work with. In what senses might this be true? In what senses might we get all tangled up in what we falsely think of as imagination?

Lunatic Wars, Lunatic Lusts

Chesterton says that loving and fighting go together. “To love a thing without wishing to fight for it is not love at all; it is lust.”

“He knows that loving the world is the same thing as fighting the world” (Appreciation and Criticism of the Works of Charles Dickens).

Chesterton rejects the silliness of today’s philosophers who want to separate loving and fighting, putting them into separate camps. This is well represented by the glib placard of the sixties, urging us to make love, not war. This false juxtaposition is trying to hide the fact that it is always both.

Either you make love indiscriminately, and make war on the resultant offspring, or you make love to one woman for life and fight to protect her and the children you have fathered. If you determine that it is too militant to fight in the latter way, then the love you have chosen in the former way is simply lust.

And we can see that this is how it is unfolding in the West. Lunatic wars and lunatic lusts go together. So do chivalric wars and chivalric romances. The pacifist who doesn’t want to fight the dragon for the sake of the lady is actually in the process of becoming a dragon himself. This reality is sometimes obscured by the missing nostril flame and hidden claws, but there is a ready explanation. Pacifists are just passive aggressive dragons.

The Crucifixion of Coercion

“Pessimism is not in being tired of evil but in being tired of good. Despair does not lie in being weary of suffering, but in being weary of joy. It is when for some reason or other the good things in a society no longer work that the society begins to decline; when its food does not feed, when its cures do not cure, when its blessings refuse to bless” (Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, p. 153).

Girard calls this social condition a time of sacrificial crisis. Nothing coheres, nothing tastes. One of the reasons societies in this state (as we very much are) start to disintegrate is that while drumbeat demands for deeper and greater sacrifice come more rapidly, and are insistently louder, the law of diminishing returns has kicked in.

And generally the resultant hue and cry that is set up calling for shared sacrifice, or increased sacrifice, or deeper sacrifice, is a cry that is lifted up by someone clever enough to want to get in front of the mob. When crowds are calling for sacrifice, you can depend upon it, they are looking for the sacrifice of somebody else. Get in the right position early, man.

And this is why, for Christians, all coercion is such a big deal. Simple coercion, absent direct instruction from Scripture, is a big sin, and manipulative coercion, absent clear instruction from Scripture, is also a big sin. The way of vicarious substitution, what Jesus did on the cross, is how He overthrew the coercive principalities and powers. That way is doomed forever, and the sooner Christians learn to be done with it the better.

But the carnal heart turns naturally to making other people do things. This is why we must see the levy, or the referendum, or the law, or the conscription, or whatever it is, and follow it all the way out to the end of the process. When you don’t do what they say, men with guns show up at your house. Now this is quite proper when it is the house of a murderer, or rapist, or an IRS man from Cincinnati. But suppose it is just a regular guy trying to make a living who had a duck land in a puddle enough times for his land to be declared a wetlands? They still show up with guns.

Chesterton Himself

Chesterton once said, speaking of those who accommodate themselves to the trend of the times, that “at its worst it consists of many millions of frightened creatures all accommodating themselves to a trend that is not there.” It is not that hard to spook a herd. The trend is that things are trending. The buffalo set up a self-authenticating feedback loop, and the plan of action seems obvious to them all, and remains such, right over the cliff.

But there are contrarians who don’t think matters through any more than the stampeders do — and it doesn’t much matter what the fad in question is. It might be iPhones, or N.T. Wright fan clubs, or the election of a welterweight like Obama, or a Taylor Swift concert. There are contrarians who are accidentially right when the herd is accidentally wrong, or accidentally wrong when the herd is accidentally right. That’s no good either. We need thoughtful contrarians — when the house of immovability is built on the foundation of pigheadedness, that house is filled with endless quarrels. When the house is built on the foundation of well-spoken conviction, the home is filled with laughter and joy — though storms may rage outside.

In that same place, when Chesterton spoke of those sociologists who spoke of the great need we have to accommodate ourselves to the trend of time, he noted that, in any given time, the trend of the time at its best consists of those who will not accommodate themselves to anything. Athanasius had to stand contra mundum, and it is he who is the representative man from that era, and not the whole world he had to contend against. Transit gloria mundi, with the exception of that courageous glory which was willing to stand up against the glory of all the regnant poobahs.

Take Chesterton himself . . .