Skip to main content

Will we get the first Liberal saint?

Will we get the first Liberal saint?

Republished blog from my Friend David Boyle
Some weeks have gone by since the strange news that the Roman Catholic Church is thinking of canonising G. K. Chesterton, author of ‘The Rolling English Road’ and other ditties.

It felt like a silly season story, but the time has gone by and it still seems to be true.

I’m sure it won’t happen. Chesterton was an early critic of Hitler, naming him for what he was before most of the commentariat, but his fatal admiration for Franco and Mussolini probably puts him beyond sainthood these days.

These issues were more complicated then than they seem now. Much of the staff of G.K’s Weekly, Chesterton’s newspaper in the 1930s, were followers of Mosley largely – it seems to me – because of the element of romanticism that Mosley retained when other political parties lost it.

But here is the irony. Chesterton was a committed Liberal for the first half of his life, falling out with the party over the Marconi affair along with his friend Hilaire Belloc, a Liberal MP.

If he was to be canonised, he would be – as far as I know – the first former member of the Liberal Party to be made a saint.

Instead, Chesterton launched and inspired his own political movement in the 1920s, which he called Distributism. It is a Liberal ‘heresy’ but one which attracts me enormously, because of the insight that economic independence for poor people was the basis of human liberty.

Small-scale ownership – emphatically not corporate or plutocratic ownership – of a home and piece of land, was at the heart of it. Belloc borrowed the idea in 1912 from Catholic social doctrine as the only possible inoculation against tyranny from big business or big bureaucracies.

It was also a kind of Liberalism without Fabianism, and Chesterton and the great Fabian George Bernard Shaw used to slug it out in a series of public debates in Holborn, into the 1930s.

Belloc borrowed the idea from Catholic social doctrine as promulgated by Pope Leo XIII, and drafted by Cardinal Manning, who borrowed it partly – you guessed it – from his great friend, William Ewart Gladstone.

So there are links. And they are made explicit in the 1938 Liberal policy on ownership, written by Elliot Dodds, the Huddersfield journalist who was so influential on Liberal thinking in the Grimond years.

"Tribute must be paid to the work of Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton who, though they fell foul of the Liberal Party, were such doughty fighters for Liberal values," wrote Dodds in the acknowledgements, "and whose 'Distributist' crusade inspired so many (including the present writer) with the ideal of ownership for all."

There are also clear links between Distributism and mutualism, as long as the mutualism enables individual ownership – for Distributists, ownership which is entirely collective or theoretical (like the way we used to own building societies) was meaningless.

In that respect, St Gilbert Keith Chesterton remained a Liberal, and his Distributist call to arms in 1926 urged the defence of those economic units which were most threatened – and which provided a buttress for individual liberty. It still rings true today:

“Do anything, however small, that will prevent the completion of the work of capitalist combination. Do anything that will even delay that completion. Save one shop out of a hundred shops. Save one croft out of a hundred crofts. Keep open one door out of a hundred doors; for so long as one door is open, we are not in prison.”

It’s good stuff, and I agree with it. But I’m not sure it will lead to canonisation.
republished blog from my friend David Boyle


Popular posts from this blog

Guest Blog Mike Barry: 5 things we learnt on Marks and Spencer Plan A journey over last 12 months

Guest Blog by Mike Barry:  Director of Sustainable Business (Plan A) at Marks and Spencer

It’s that time of year, publication of our annual sustainability (Plan A) report. After the harum scarum dash to gather, collate, assure, sign-off and publish a wealth of data we can breathe (for a moment!) and reflect on what it all means.
Here are some quick insights into what we’ve learnt at M&S in the last 12 months on our Plan A journey.
1. Succession – Nine years is a long time in the world of sustainable business. How many corporate plans have come and gone since we launched Plan A in 2007? Too many! The continuity offered by having a single multi-year plan has been incredibly important. It’s allowed us to take long term decisions in a very short term turbulent retail marketplace. It’s allowed us to build the skills and capabilities in our business units to integrate Plan A into their ways of working. It’s allowed us to pick our battles, knowing that occasionally we’ve just got to let a …

Bokova out? Georgieva in for next UN Secretary General

The rumors that have been circulating for the last month have now proven to be true. The Bulgarian government has withdrawn support from Irina Bokova as their candidate for UN Secretary General and replaced her with Kristalina Georgieva, the European commissioner for budget and human resources.
There is some evidence that the right of center parties in European capitals have been behind this with some articles appearing in the last few weeks against Bokova. The Guardian reported on the 26th: “one of her (Kristalina’s) staff members was hacked and emails purporting to be from one of her top aides were sent out to the rest of her office, instructing them to attack Bokova”There is no question that Kristalina has the cv and record to be a very good UN Secretary General. She is a strong supporter of sustainable development issues she will pick up the SDGs and climate agendas with ease. She is dynamic and very personable and was very active around last week’s UN General Assembly High Level se…

Rest in Peace Tania Valerie Raguz 'one of our own'

Photo by IISD/ENB 
It is with deep sadness that I heard of the passing of Tania Valerie Raguz.

Many of us will have worked with her at United Nations meetings over the past ten years when she was the First Secretary of the Mission of Croatia to the UN.

Tania Valerie Raguz was on the Bureau for Rio+20 and a Vice-Chair Of the Bureau of the seventeenth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) and  most recently she had joined the world of NGOs working as the Public Affairs Advisor for the World Animal Protection previously know as World Society for the Protection of Animals. WAP had been very active around Rio+20 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and she helped their work particularly around the SDGs.

Tania played her role in helping to frame the agenda that we are all committed to delivering on. CSD17 was one of the more successful CSD and without Rio+20 there would be no Sustainable Development Goals.

Photo by IISD/ENB I will miss her positive energy, laught…