Friday, January 05, 2007

Chesterton's Mr. Hudge and Mr Gudge

G.K. Chesterton is a gem. Born in 1874 and though he left this Earthly stage in 1936 he left behind wit and wisdom that is beyond compare. If you have never heard of him you should consider yourself unfortunate. I would urge you to check out this web site devoted to his legacy. Of all the pointless reading you do in a day just to get to something really interesting, poignant, and memorable you would find yourself greatly rewarded catching up with Chesterton.

Now, in a piece he wrote called "What's Wrong with the World" probably around 1910 Chesterton introduces us to two men we know all too well in 2007. Mr. Hudge and Mr. Gudge. Both of them outlived Chesterton as they will probably outlive you and I. Interestingly enough I think that Gudge has grown and changed (progressed if you will) far more than Hudge.

Gudge, Chesterton described as a conservative, an individualist, and perhaps a slumlord. Hudge, he hinted was a socialist, an idealist, a progressive, and perhaps a vegetarian.

These are, of course, none other than the political adversaries we all know and love - the Liberal (Hudge) and the Conservative (Gudge). The third individual in Chesterton's story, was Mr. Jones. He was not a member of the ruling class but simply everyday Joe Sixpack - the family man.

The powerful and influential Hudge and Gudge should be judged by the test of the Joneses. What, Chesterton asked, had Gudge, the industrial-capitalist, done to strengthen the family of Jones? What had Hudge, the socialist-idealist, done to strengthen the family of Jones?

Dale Ahlquist, the purveyor of the above mentioned website parses Chesterton's book with care and grace:

Our society is experiencing exactly the crisis that Chesterton warned us about almost a century ago. There is a greater disparity than ever between the rich and poor. Our families are falling apart, our schools are in utter chaos, our basic freedoms are under assault. It affects every one of us. As Chesterton says, "Not only are we all in the same boat, but we are all seasick."

But while we agree about the evil, we no longer agree about the good. The main thing that is wrong with the world is that we do not ask what is right.

Some people say that idealism is impractical. But Chesterton says, "Idealism is only considering everything in its practical essence." In other words, idealism is common sense. It is what the common man knows is right, in spite of all the voices telling him it is impractical or unrealistic or out-dated. And when Chesterton says idealism, he means the Christian ideal. "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." It would mean the ideal house and the happy family, the holy family of history. It would mean making laws that respect the family as the most important unit of society, and laws which are moral and respect religious principles.

It would mean the widespread distribution of property and capital to provide for greater justice and liberty. It would mean not being afraid to teach the truth to our children. But we have left the truth behind us. And instead of turning around and going back and fixing things, we rush madly forward towards we know not what, and call ourselves, "progressive." Instead of the solid family and the church and the republic being held up as ideals, these things are now assailed by those who have never known them, or by those who have failed to fulfill them. "Men invent new ideals because they are afraid to attempt old ideals. They look forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back."

Although this book is a work of non-fiction, Chesterton introduces us to two characters: Hudge and Gudge. Well, three characters: he also introduces us to Jones. Hudge and Gudge are the enemies of Jones. Simply put, Hudge is Big Government and Gudge is Big Business. And Jones? Jones is the common man. "This man Jones has always desired ordinary things; he has married for love, he has chosen or built a small house that fits like a coat; he is ready to be great grandfather and a local [hero]." But something has gone wrong. Hudge and Gudge have conspired against Jones to take away his property, his independence, and his dignity.

The home is the only place of liberty. "Property is merely the art of democracy. It means that every man should have something that he can shape in his own image…To give nearly everybody ordinary houses would please nearly everybody." But in a society where most people cannot afford their own home, and they cannot properly support themselves but have to be someone else's wage slave, easily sacked, easily replaced and displaced, having to rely on the government to supplement their needs, in other words, when they are totally at the mercy of Hudge and Gudge, it means enormous pressure is put on the family, and it means the society will crumble from the bottom up. The society is especially in danger when the common man, left reeling by the loss of religion, of home, of family, is not even sure what he wants any more.

When the mother is pulled out of the home and made a specialist, working for Hudge and Gudge, the child is left to be raised by "experts." Thus, both the mother and the child become narrower. And so does the whole society as the family of course is ripped apart. And so is every integral element of society torn apart from everything else. The world, says Chesterton, "is one wild divorce court." Religion is banned from the classroom. So are the parents. So is common sense. Each subject is taught in a vacuum. Each profession is increasingly narrow. People more know more and more about less and less.

What's wrong with the world? Take a good look around.

It's hard to find fault with Mr Ahlquist's conclusions but I think that the industrialist/capitalist in today's world has tempered his extremes and now does help provide for the average man with decent wages, benefits and doable working conditions and hours. It is Mr Hudge - the socialist government flak that never changes. The socialist never relents in his drive to control the life of Mr. Jones, never. The socialist would argue that it was they who forced the capitalists into submission. This is perhaps a partially true statement. The difference is the socialist has a goal of destroying capitalism. While the capitalist may disdain his socialist brethren for his beliefs, but there has been no concerted effort by conservatives and capitalists to do away with an effective social safety system. This is a big difference and I think Chesterton would recognize it as such.

He was not a big fan of capitalism and even less a fan of socialism, hence the tale of Hudge and Gudge. But, I submit that the brand of capitalism practiced in the late 1800's and the early 1900's was not the same as the system we have today. Socialism on the other hand is exactly the same.

Again, I urge you to take a look at this remarkable man and his work. It's good stuff.