The human house is a paradox, for it is larger inside than out.
So, if you say that marriage is for common people… all men are ordinary men; the extraordinary men are those who know it.
G.K. Chesterton did not write; he imposed himself upon the page. I first discovered this unsurpassed wordsmith several years ago when, as a recent college graduate, I was looking for something interesting to read over the Christmas holiday. Little did I know it was the beginning of a (mild) obsession—I have since devoured Chesterton wherever I may find him. Small wonder then, I leapt at the chance to read his work again while interning at WYA North America.
Brave New Family is a collection of Chesterton essays addressing marriage, family, children, domesticity, consumerism, and even Christmas. Anthologized by Catholic Friar Alvaro de Silva, this volume is replete with the best of Chesterton’s witticisms, some of which I have scattered throughout this blog post. Perhaps the best element of Chesterton’s writing—and the one most difficult to communicate—is how he eloquently distills truth in a simple, crystalline way.
The world cannot keep its own ideals.
Free love is the enemy of freedom.
Because it is a collection of independent essays, Brave New Family does not constitute a comprehensive case for the importance of the family per se. The claims Chesterton makes in each chapter do not fall into a disciplined line of linear points building to a grand conclusion. Rather, what is offered by this book is a series of ponderings that call into question how modern western society values the home. Why, Chesterton asks in one chapter, do we suppose that freedom is found in the world outside the house, ruled by the laws of supply and demand as it is? What, he inquires, is the purpose of celebrating a wedding or holiday when we have done all in our power to empty these events of any real meaning? Why pay a person to educate 100 children poorly when each individual child’s parents can do it splendidly, and for free—not for wages, but from love? I discover that I lack a defensible answer to many of his uncomfortably probing questions.
Make up your mind whether you want unlimited education or unlimited emancipation, but do not be such a fool as to suppose you can have both at once.
If the breadth of Chesterton’s insights in Brave New Family exceeds my ability to appraise them, then perhaps a single remark will do. In his review of Macbeth, Chesterton declares that “All very great classics of art are a rebuke to extravagance, not in one direction but in all directions.” By this he means that the best works condemn both sides of a controversy: the figure of classical Venus indicts gluttony as well as anorexia as surely as Macbeth contains correctives for both unrestrained violence and insipid passivity. Likewise, reading Brave New Family will challenge the reader no matter his or her prior persuasions. In the end, Chesterton’s call for a brave new family is accomplished not by turning to revolutionary ideas or the latest modern culture, but by returning to the truths of old. In doing so he forces us to articulate why we abandoned them in the first place—and perhaps ask whether we should not have.
Those who believe in the dignity of the domestic tradition, who happen to be the overwhelming majority of mankind, regard the home as a sphere of vast social importance and supreme spiritual significance; and to talk of being confined to it is like talking of being chained to a throne.
Randall Fowler is an Intern for WYA North America.
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