In late September 2022, shortly after the election of Giorgia Meloni as Italy’s presumptive new Prime Minister, a surprisingly loud fervor was caused by her mention of Chesterton in a speech. References to her speech and Chesterton reverberated through the main stream media, and caused quite a stir. Personally, I received many excited emails pointing out her quote and eliciting my response.
I know absolutely nothing about Italian politics, so I am not qualified to give an opinion on Meloni’s views. And as much as I love a good “Chesterton sighting,” my main interest in the excitement surrounding her quoting of Chesterton is – why do we care so much? What exactly does the quoting of Chesterton by a main stream politician most of us have never heard of inspire such hope? Should it inspire hope, and if not, what should inspire hope?
Certainly, the words “Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer. We shall be left defending, not only the incredible virtues and sanities of human life, but something more incredible…” from the end of Heretics, resonate with any good Chestertonian. We want a return to common sense, to a focus on the family, to virtue. This appears to be a contradiction to the sprit of the age. I think, however, Chesterton would caution us against placing our hope in political leaders and rhetoric.
In his collection of essays, The Apostle and the Wild Ducks, Chesterton points out “For at present we all tend to one mistake; we tend to make politics too important. We tend to forget how huge a part of a man’s life is the same under a Sultan and a Senate, under Nero or St Louis. Daybreak is a never-ending glory, getting out of bed is a never-ending nuisance; food and friends will be welcomed; work and strangers must be accepted and endured; birds will go bedwards and children won’t, to the end of the last evening.” For all of us, the domestic sphere is the preeminent one.We would do well to remember that what we do in the home has significantly more effect on us and those we love than any political forces. Our hope lies in fulfilling the call to be what God intended – to fulfill his plan for us in our state in life.
Guided by Chesterton’s distributist principles, we keep the focus local, and small. This means we choose to focus our energy on those things we can directly affect. Chesterton reminds us that our efforts, especially in the home, are not wasted. Politics is a necessary – and dirty – business, and our efforts are best spent where we can make the most difference. Whatever benefits there are to political involvement, an equal amount of effort spent in the too often neglected domestic sphere will pay off inordinately more.
If our focus is on our homes and local communities, our influence goes far beyond our ballot cast or campaign contribution. Politicians may promise care for the elderly and children, but a well-supported domestic empress can make it happen. Regardless of the funds spent to bolster local schools, the support of parents in the education of their own children is priceless and indispensable. The incredible, and sometimes untapped, power of the domestic empress is a force which, when unleashed, has the capacity for incredible societal benefit.
As far as spreading Chesterton’s message and influencing the culture – I have two suggestions which will go further than including one of his quotes in a speech. First, the local chapter of the Society of G.K. Chesterton is a place not only to learn more about Chesterton, but to foster support in your local community for those who are implementing his thought in their daily lives. As a stay at home mom, local societies in Illinois and St Louis were critical venues for intellectual stimulation, camaraderie, and support for the very large task I had undertaken. I found it so important that I started my own local chapter as soon as I could after moving to Maryland. Wherever I have found them, Chestertonians have been wonderful, interesting, challenging individuals who have enriched my life in many ways.
The next way is, of course, to support the Chesterton Schools Network. The work of the Knights of the Apostolate of Common Sense is to pray for and financially support the Chesterton schools. There is not one in my area – yet – but I know that supporting the CSN is a way to ensure Chestertonian thinking will be relayed to the next generations, and that gives me hope. These graduates will influence society with joy and wonder – what a great longterm investment!
Regardless of your political leanings, it is difficult to argue with Chesterton’s assertion that the home, and the woman within, is worth fighting for, defending, and rediscovering. When political rhetoric excites your passion for the good life, and God’s kingdom here on earth, remember your energy, poured into those people right beside you and in the community where you dwell, will do more to bring flourishing than politicians or politics ever will. Paradoxically, by focusing on our own smaller domestic sphere, we maximize our influence and power to effect significant change in society at large.
This article was originally published in the Nov/Dec 2022 issue of Gilbert, the official magazine of the Society of G.K. Chesterton. www.chesterton.org