The Outline of Sanity by G. K. Chesterton - Read Online
The Outline of Sanity
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As an advocate of Distributism, an early 20th-century school of social thought developed by the author and his colleagues, Chesterton addresses the topics of concentration of wealth, poverty, work, agriculture, machinery, and capital in this famous work. He favored distribution of wealth while being antisocialist; he advocated ownership of private property while being anticapitalist. He argues that the economic order is bound by moral law and that man should be served by the economy rather than serving it.
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ISBN: 9781605700182
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The Outline of Sanity - G. K. Chesterton

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Respecters of private property are really obligated to oppose much that is done today in the name of private enterprise, for corporate organization and monopoly are the very means whereby property is casting aside its privacy.

— Richard Weaver, 1948

No matter how unfashionable — even politically incorrect — it may be to say so, it is certain that our whole society and culture stands at a critical crossroads; though it may rightly be described as standing on the edge of a precipice. But crossroads or precipice apart, it remains that the coming few years will be decisive. They will determine whether our civilization lives or dies, and the outcome will be determined by our ability to reconnect with reality, and to translate that renewed grasp of fundamental truths into wide-ranging and salutory action. The fate of man, then, is not in the hands of the gods, but in his willingness to work with God.

It is because the situation is so grave that it is imperative for Catholics, Christians, and all men of goodwill and sound instinct to take counsel from those literary masters who foresaw what we now suffer, and who labored to show how we could gradually, but determinedly, return to the real and to the normal.

G.K. Chesterton was one of those masters who charted a course for us back to the real and the normal, and whose counsel is available to us through a thorough reading of The Outline of Sanity. This is not another book about the dissolution of the West. It is rather a book that pulls the plug on the lies; it indicates clearly what does and does not constitute a worthwhile society; it draws lines and makes distinctions. It does so in order to highlight feasible and wholly attainable remedies for our very precarious situation. Yet most of all, it inspires, it galvanizes, it exudes Hope. It is as persuasive for Calvinists as it is for Catholics — because it isbased on truths so self-evident that only the consciously dishonest would deny them.

It might be objected that Chesterton was an English journalist; that he wrote in terms of England and of his time, and that he has little or nothing to say to his fellow Europeans or their American cousins. It might be so objected, but the objection would be misleading. If Chesterton argues that Englishmen should return to the land, to become, once again, the owners of private property, does it follow that a German or an American will not appreicate the importance of this injunction to his life? If Chesterton denounces the invasion of bureaucracy into the many aspects of our life, does it follow that a Swede or a Spaniard will think this wholly alien to his situation? Chesterton’s proposals have a universal value, but like all things universal they have to be incarnated in the particular. A call to create a myriad of family farms or craft workshops is a wonderful and universally valid demand; but it is all the more wonderful when it sees the light of day in "my farm" and "your workshop."

The Outline of Sanity, therefore, might be called, in memory of St. Thomas More, A Book for All Seasons, for it talks of England, but applies everywhere; it propounds limited objectives, but its applications are unlimited; it was written in another time and another age, but it is still as fresh as home-baked bread. It can be read time and again to great profit, for in so many ways G.K. Chesterton was a great prophet.

Chesterton begins his Outline by attacking the illusions that clutter our lives and thus pollute our thinking. He begins at the beginning, which means talking of the mess that both Capitalism and Socialism have made of the world. He explains what these ‘isms’ are and what they are leading to inexorably.

At the outset, Chesterton defines what he means by Capitalism: that economic condition in which there is a class of capitalists, roughly recognizable and relatively small, in whose possession so much of the capital is concentrated as to necessitate a very large majority of the citizens serving those capitalists for a wage. Thus one sees immediately that small shopkeepers, craftsmen, co-operative owner-workers, small farmers, independent professionals and artisans are not capitalists at all in Chesterton’s eyes. They are not capitalists because they are not wage earners. They are people who work for themselves, not for others; they are peoplewho possess private property — however limited and however precariously — and thus act according to their own reasonable wishes, not according to the demands and whims of a small governing class.

It is therefore a simple matter to note that most countries in the Western world today stand indicted by Chesterton’s criticisms of capitalist concentration. In the United States, there are few among the younger generations who are personally familiar with a life in an area dominated by family farms and small businesses, and with the community atmosphere that these create. Nearly every aspect of their economic activity is restricted to the same limited range of nearly identical — and equally impersonal — alternatives. In almost every outlet for goods and services, from clothing and hardware to food, housewares and luxury goods, they are confronted by an overwhelming choice of virtually identical products marketed by the same monolithic chain stores. These gigantic corporate enterprises and franchise operations have made the family specialty shop almost a thing of the past. For all the hype and promotion of America as a land of flourishing private enterprise, it is quickly becoming quite the contrary.

In England, the nation of shopkeepers, the capitalist takeover of High Streets is proceeding apace. Where once there would have been dozens of independent clothiers selling a wide range of quality clothes at competitive prices, there is here too the same tired list of chain stores which peddle the same poor-quality clothing, made in the sweat shops of Hispanic America and Asia for a pittance, and sold in the West at extortionate prices. In every aspect of daily life this is increasingly the case, and the small man fades into memory as one tea shop here, one butcher or baker there, closes. Each closure is not merely a personal tragedy, but also a social one, for it represents one more step towards the bland, colorless, texture-less and tasteless non-existence that capitalist adventurers have marked out for the mass of men.

There are still countries where large numbers of people live and work on the land: Ireland, Spain, France, Italy, and isolated sections of the United States. Yet partisan politicians working for sectional interests, European Union or Chamber of Commerce bureaucrats manipulating laws, and the massed ranks of bankers, industrialists and agri-business managers are being paid overtime to ensure that such survivals of private property — of normality — become a thing of the past sooner rather than later.

With such a tendency towards the concentration of property and the centralization of economic activity, it is no wonder that Capitalism’s alleged opponent, Socialism or Communism, is actually nothing of the sort. Where Capitalism concentrates wealth, Socialism merely perfects that concentration. Where Capitalism turns man into the faceless consumer, Socialism reduces him to the status of a Social Security Number. Where Capitalism steadily chips away at economic and social freedom, Socialism eliminates whatever is left of it through the permanent witch hunt of its lawyers, experts, psychologists, and spin doctors, who collectively declaim: "We know what’s best for you."

Thus Capitalism and Socialism both oppose, albeit in different ways, private property and personal freedom and initiative; they are both centralist, both materialist and ultimately tyrannical. They are deadly fraternal twins seeking the creation of what Hilaire Belloc called the Servile State, and which we might call the New World Order — an order which is profoundly unnatural, as Pope Leo XIII makes clear in Rerum Novarum (1891): "The right to private property is derived from nature, not from man, and the State has by no means the right to abolish it, but only to control its use and bring it into harmony with the interests of the public good. This concept of private property, preserved by a natural right and limited by a social duty, thus becomes the rock upon which both Capitalism and Socialism ultimately shipwreck through exaggerating one or other aspect: There is a double danger to be avoided. On the one hand, if the social and public aspect of ownership be denied or marginalized, the logical consequence is ‘individualism,’ as it is called; on the other hand, the rejection or diminution of its private and individual character necessarily leads to some form of ‘collectivism’" (Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum).

It may be objected that this tendency towards concentration and centralization is a product not of Capitalism but of Industrialism. Yet Capitalism and the capitalist spirit existed long before the Industrial Revolution in England, as Fanfani convincingly demonstrates in his masterly work, Catholicism, Protestantism and Capitalism (1935). Chesterton himself makes the same point; it is the dependency of increasingly large numbers of men for the essentials of life on a minority which provides wages that characterizes Capitalism, not the existence of machinery. It is perfectly feasible to imagine an Industrialism that is not capitalist; machinery and its ownership could easily be decentralized — and never more so than in our day when the direction of technological development in itself points to decentralization. If that tendency does not make its mark, it is only because men of power have so decided, and the mass of men have acquiesced.

That the dominant trend is towards concentration and centralization cannot be doubted. It was visible even in Chesterton’s day: The practical tendency of all trade and business today is towards big commercial combinations, more imperial, more impersonal, more international than many a communist commonwealth. In so many words Chesterton is here predicting the globalization of trade, commerce and finance; and just as he warns of the negative effect on man’s life — in areas other than the merely economic — of the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, so too we might reflect on the diverse ramifications for ourselves if this rapidly developing trend towards global concentration is brought to fruition.

For the trend is not just economic. It is the centralization of Life, both in its parts and as a whole. Its purpose is social control, the modern phrase for the age-old institution of Slavery. It is the attempt to give birth to an International Government, complemented by an International Armed Forces, an International Judiciary and an interlocking International Economic Structure. It aims, too, at a universal religion that merges all of the religious traditions and customs of mankind to provide a kind of social cement in an otherwise rootless world, while at the same time it implicitly and explicitly negates — and necessarily so — the claims of the Mystical Body of Christ.

The UN Security Council is the public face of the incipient World Government, though its heart and soul are to be found in covert and semicovert policy-making bodies, such as the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Group and the Council on Foreign Relations. Such bodies bring together the real centers of power in our society, their managerial servant class, and their protégés. They represent all fields of study and endeavor, so that no sphere of influence is exempt from their strategy and long arm.

The impact on the military, for instance, is very clear, as Armed Forces no longer act nationally and in national interests, but increasingly in international conflicts which are designed to bring under control so-called rogue states — that is, those states, albeit of widely differing political hue, which, for a variety of reasons, are resisting some aspect or other of globalization. Of course, these wars are dressed up by politicians and the media as wars aimed at securing for mankind the blessings of Peace, Justice, and Democracy since this is the only way to justify the patently unjustifiable interference in other nations affairs. The extension of NATO membership, its growing field of operations, the specious Partnership for Peace which puts Allied soldiers alongside formerly Communist troops, along with the European Rapid Reaction Force are the visible manifestations of an unseen spirit — the desire to extinguish National Defense, both militarily and psychologically.

The globalizing efforts in the field of Law are even more spectacular. The so-called Western media rejoices when alleged Libyan terrorists are taken to the Netherlands to face trial before a Special Court; when a Serbian President is kidnapped to face trial at the Hague; when Croatian and Bosnian Generals are forced to appear before International Tribunals on war crimes charges; when Rwandan political and tribal leaders are indicted by bodies that clearly have no jurisdiction in the traditional sense. We pass no judgment whatsoever on the rights and wrongs of these particular cases, but there can be no doubt that this supranational tendency in law is effectively destroying the peculiar systems of law in various communities and nations, systems developed over centuries under diverse historical, moral and religious circumstances. And all too often demands that the perpetrators be brought to justice emanate from interested parties. In too many cases the Judges and Juries of today are simply the enemies of yesterday.

Ordinary citizens should be wary of supporting such precedents, for every exception that is made to the traditional understanding of Law breaks a barrier that can be broken again and again with ever-greater ease. The citizen who genuinely cheers on such precedents may come to regret it when the object of persecution has changed: when the teacher who teaches real history; the priest who preaches the True religion; the politician who defends the national interest; the activist who defends the unborn child — are taken to face other and newer tribunals.

Finally there is the obvious globalization of Economics — a process that has perhaps surpassed Chesterton’s worst nightmare. The institutions, both public and private, which have created and which continue the trendtowards the international centralization of economic activity are legion. They range from the World Trade Organization to the EU’s Single Market and the ever-growing Free Trade Area of the Americas. There are the central banks, the international banks, such as the International Monetary Fund and the Bank for International Settlements, and the merchant banks, such as Chase Manhattan, Lehman Bros., Goldman Sachs and M. M. Warburg. Despite claims to the contrary, these institutions, banks and agreements exist for one purpose only: financial gain. The tearing down of economic barriers between nations merely facilitates the transfer of monetary capital and the means of production from regions where they are less productive (read less lucrative) to others where they are more so. Never mind that exporting jobs in search of cheap labor adversely affects real men who have real families to feed. Never mind that playing games with debt, finance and capital to drive CEO’s salaries and shareholders dividends up may at the same time drive the average citizen’s purchasing power down. Such are the consequences determined by the invisible hand of the so-called free market when it is conducted on a global scale, and where the needs of finance and market forces come first and those of the Common Man barely register.

Now, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, the economic order should be organized in a diametrically different fashion: the needs of man must determine economic priorities. What man needs is neither an ever-increasing cash flow nor a continually expanding investment portfolio, but rather a society that gives him a chance to procure what he needs for himself and his family, and to use what he procures virtuously. He needs a society that looks after the Common Good, which, by definition, will be a society that places his fundamental needs and those of his fellow-citizens — and not those of merchants, bankers, and bureaucrats — at the center of economic organization. From the spiritual point of view, those economic needs must be satisfied in such a way as to secure that most important of all retirement plans: Eternity. As Chesterton himself remarks, For those holding certain beliefs, the happiness which society offers to its citizens is conditioned by the hope of a larger happiness, which it must not imperil. Fr. Denis Fahey, in The Mystical Body of Christ and the Reorganization of Society, following St. Thomas, makes the point perfectly clear: God desires that the Common Good of the State, political and economic, should be sought by those inauthority in such a manner as to favor the development of the Supernatural Life of the citizens.

With Globalization, we are a world away from the Common Good taught by Holy Church and defended by Chesterton. Sound bites emphasizing interdependence, the global village, consumer choice, debt relief for the poor, and keeping the international economy competitive for the benefit of all, ring hollow when the military, legal, and economic effects of the global rush toward centralization are examined in light of a sane social philosophy…in the light of Chesterton’s Catholic and Distributist philosophy.

Yet it is difficult to hear the reasonable and convincing Chestertonian critique of global concentration over the din of the so-called anti-Globalism movement — often styled the people of Seattle in reference to the protest activity that took place at the December, 1999, meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle, Washington, and which has shuffled from Washington D.C. to Gothenberg, Sweden, and to Genoa, Italy, causing violence and mayhem in the process.

These self-styled anti-globalists oppose international consolidation and centralization as much as the Socialists of Chesterton’s day opposed bureaucratic collectivism – that is to say, not at all. …Sometimes, I think it’s moving towards creating a global New Deal, and sometimes I think it’s way more radical than that, said Naomi Klein in an interview published in the Guardian on September 23, 2000. Klein became the public pretty face of the movement after she was catapulted to the anti-globalist center stage with the publication of her book, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies. It purports to attack the big company brands for their domination of the market and their labor abuses, and claims to be at the center of the anti-corporate resistance, as a sort of Manifesto of anti-globalism. Most revealing is the fact that in anti-globalist circles it is called "the Das Kapital of the growing anti-corporate movement, which Klein sees as the first genuinely international people’s movement." Few signs, then, of a commitment to decentralization and the rights of private property.

What the movement does provide, however, is a convenient public target for the supporters of the free market and the globalization of the economy, who are eager to savage any critique of Globalization, and who do so by referring to their alleged opponents as flat-earthers. Themovement itself claims to be the alternative to Globalization, and yet it succeeds only in either drawing those disposed to criticize modern Capitalism towards an equally unappealing, if extremely vague, alternative; or in turning people off of any opposition to Capitalism whatsoever, by its motley composition of pacifists, socialists, communists, anarchists, the unemployable, social inadequates and the militantly nihilist, who exhibit a ritualistic penchant for ransacking the odd MacDonald’s restaurant. Such vandalism subtly but effectively reduces a vital debate to one sterile question: should the burning, rioting and violence of the protestors be supported? Normal people will respond with a resounding no.

The globalists themselves, of course, benefit from this elimination of rational debate on the question. The sheer anti-social nature of the anti-global movement makes globalization look good, indirectly. It should not come as a surprise, therefore, to find the support of multi-national firms and foundations lurking behind the rag-tag appearance of this anti-capitalist circus. The very organizations that should come under fire for their globalist philosophy are actually providing the financial support for this band of protestors as it winds its way around the world. After all, how else could they afford the travel? According to the Italian daily, Il Giornale, which studied the question in the wake of the Genoa violence, a whole list of Foundations are pumping money into this anti-global movement. The first among them is the Ford Foundation, to which an International Herald Tribune report adds the World Wildlife Fund, among others. Meanwhile Klein’s allegedly anti-corporate No Logo is produced by serious publishing firms — Flamingo, part of the Murdoch-owned Harper Collins conglomerate in the U.K.; and Baldini & Castoldi in Italy, previously part of the publishing giant, Mondadori, and now under the equally-powerful Alessandro Dalai, to name but two. Available in many languages and found in bookshops both large and small throughout the world, the book can only owe its circulation to distribution by the big publishers and distribution cartels. The tone and duration of this allegedly anti-global debate is, therefore, very easily controlled by those forces supposedly being opposed.

The alleged anti-globalist movement, then, is materialist in its philosophy, superficial in its activity, and co-opted by those who fund it. It is, therefore, wholly ineffective. A serious anti-global movement startsfrom a wholly different position.