Broad Oak: your emotional support animal

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Broad-minded is no escape

Modern broad-mindedness benefits the rich; and benefits nobody else. It was meant to benefit the rich; and meant to benefit nobody else. And if you think this unwarranted, I will put before you one plain question. There are some pleasures of the poor that may also mean profits for the rich: there are other pleasures of the poor which cannot mean profits for the rich. Watch this one contrast, and you will watch the whole creation of a careful slavery.
G K Chesterton – What’s Wrong With the World (1910)

In his social and political criticism old Gilbert was essentially a pundit with a love of paradox and a pundit’s weakness for hyperbole. He wrote much that leaves one wishing he’d been less sweeping in his judgement, more analytical, less fond of shaky analogies.

Nevertheless he had many penetrating insights if we take the trouble to examine matters from his idiosyncratic perspective. The above quote is a case in point. These days it is somewhat dated in that it refers to the poor who in Chesterton’s day were more numerous, closer to destitution and possessed of fewer resources than today.

His attack on the pursuit of money also seems dated from our opulent perspective because Chesterton’s poor are no longer with us and much of that is down to the pursuit of riches he so eloquently despised. From that perspective it is easy to dismiss his view as an irrelevant cry from another age.

Yet Chesterton still commands respect. He saw what we have almost lost the ability to see because modern life is so enfolding, so clamorous and demanding, so adept at diverting all but the most detached attention. He was both anti-capitalist and anti-socialist. He saw both as social evils bent on crushing us all between the grindstones of big business and big government.

What did he mean by pleasures of the poor which cannot mean profits for the rich? Those which were so unprofitable that they were doomed to be rooted out by the rich and powerful?

Family life perhaps, the traditional work, comforts and pleasures of building a home. Pubs, clubs, a quiet smoke and a game of skittles. A Sunday walk in the park. A stroll by rivers unpolluted by factories. A traditional glass of lemonade rather than some fizzy, concoction made in a rich man’s vats, forced on the unwary by another of Chesterton’s bêtes noires - advertising.

Escape in other words, in a world where escape had become a necessary part of life even for the middle classes.

..to escape foul air, noise, hard hats, black uniforms, multitudes, confusion, incompleteness, elaborate means without clear ends.
Edward Thomas - The Country (pre-1945)

What about that intriguing comment on broad-mindedness? It’s obvious enough once we see it from Chesterton’s perspective. To be broad-minded is to be ripe for profitable exploitation. It offers no escape from the daily grind, nothing but the insipid palliatives of assent.

Chesterton may have been a reactionary, even a professional reactionary but one is left with a strong temptation to raise a glass in his memory. Before all the good pubs close down.

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4 comments:

Sackerson said...

Of course, many pubs then were what Barry Humphries described as "licensed pissoirs," and drink is still ruining family relationships. Fags, booze and soon drugs - liberty is the businessman's opportunity to profit from slaves to appetite.

Libertarians these days will turn on you for observing that - "How dare you tell ME not to have the occasional glass/smoke/toke!" And doubtless the more they consume, the freer they are.

Wasn't liberty once about other things?

Paddington said...

Not really. For most people, life sucks. As you said to me once, 'Education is furniture for the mind', and many people lack the drive and/or ability to think deeply.

A K Haart said...

Sackers - don't forget food. A chap I knew by sight with two young kids recently died of a heart attack. Hugely obese he was. I don't think we have answers to these issues.

Paddington - and furniture is supposed to look good, be durable and comfortable.

James Higham said...

Important figure in turn of the century England. Those standing against the tide must always be remembered.