I have my Collected Works of Chesterton sitting on my Kindle in case of the emergency that reading for whatever reason loses its luster. I’m sorry guys, I haven’t been reading as much lately due to a variety of things– graduating, defending my thesis, house hunting, having a new child, etc. But probably the biggest thing was the luxury of working from home the past few weeks: it obliterated my regularly scheduled reading time for which I reserve my bus rides. With that gone, I hardly get a few pages in. Add to that the fact that I hadn’t found a book that I really got into, so I had to pull out my emergency Chesterton.
I flipped to some of his non-fiction, and ended up with this pamphlet on divorce. Sounds like a happy topic, right? Back in the day, divorce laws were liberalizing battlegrounds, from what I can gather. It seems that the specific law in question Chesterton was writing about would have allowed a woman or man to file for divorce in the case of three years absence. Chesterton, as usual, writes very wittily on the topic with a very shrewd defense of conservative values that rings very full of common sense. His opening argument is the classic conservative position:
“The man, like the mouse, undermines what he cannot understand. Because he bumps into a thing, he calls it the nearest obstacle; though the obstacle may happen to be he pillar that holds up the whole roof over his head. He industriously removes the obstacle; and, in return, the obstacle removes him and much more valuable things than he.”
The discussion of divorce includes a beautiful section on vows that a Latter-Day Saint could definitely appreciate. Covenants are central to our theology, and perhaps the idea of a vow is slightly different: freely chosen, to a larger extent than covenants (you can choose to make the covenant, but the terms and conditions are less up to you than in a vow). Take this section:
The idea, or at any rate, the ideal, of the thing called a vow is fairly obvious. It is to combine the fixity that goes with finality with the self-respect that only goes with freedom.
When society lost the centrality of vows, men were a little less free. Chesterton paints marriage as family as the only institution that can stand up to ever-growing governments:
They desire the democracy to be sexually fluid, because the making of small nuclei is like the making of small nations. Like small nations, they are a nuisance to the mind of imperial scope. In short, what they fear, in the most literal sense, is home rule.
To me, Chesterton paints the family in a romantic light that the formal language of The Family: A Proclamation to the World doesn’t capture. I think we need a Mormon Chesterton, tbh. One that makes it clear that the conservative position doesn’t have to be that of a stuffed shirt, accepted blindly from tradition. But an intellectually engaging one, one filled with a spirit of adventure, and one that embodies the love that is meant to be central to the gospel.