The Drift from Domesticity, found in Chesterton’s book entitled “The Thing, Why I am a Catholic,” introduces the idea of Chesterton’s Fence.
Basically, Chesterton claims that we should not tear down a fence unless we know why it was put there in the first place. We would certainly agree with him if there were a bull on the other side of the fence, but Chesterton was talking about the fence in the context of Domesticity.
He was concerned that if we destroyed a social institution before we had a chance to see it as an historical institution, if we failed to see how it arose, or what purposes it was supposed to serve, we might be doing a very terrible thing indeed. He saw the Household or the Home as the fundamental human creation that was being attacked.
Chesterton knew that the work in the home was not salaried, but also that it was the most important work in society. He acknowledged that there were problems wit the division of labor, saying “the domestic division of human society is not perfect, being human. It does not achieve complete liberty; a thing somewhat difficult to do or even to define. But it is a mere matter of arithmetic that it puts a larger number of people in supreme control of something and able to shape it to their personal liking, than do the vast organizations that rule society outside…”
Greater liberty is not what most people think of when they think of the stay at home mom, but if you think about it, Chesterton had this one right. Working for an employer requires a certain loss of freedom. There is even a loss of freedom when working directly for a client. When a man or woman is working as the head of their own household, then freedom has its truest expression. Their domain might not be large, but their rule is absolute. It is their task to become a benevolent ruler.
This family institution, as Chesterton said, was not perfect, being human, but provided for the maximum amount of liberty. In the next post, I will explore what happened as that fence began to come down.