If you ever find yourself at a CPAC afterparty and want to clear the room, just mention G. K. Chesterton. Half the people there will roll their eyes and walk away. The other half will have no clue who you’re talking about; when you explain, they’ll roll their eyes and walk away.
For the well-heeled conservative, Chesterton is an embarrassment. He’s too fat and jolly to be taken seriously. His writing is shot through with this naïve optimism. It’s like Halloween candy. When you’re a kid, you can’t get enough of it. But once you get older, the very thought of it makes you a little queasy.
So, go ahead and read him while you’re still young and innocent and your stomach is made of iron. At some point, though, it comes time to put away childish things. If you’re still quoting Chesterton into your thirties, you may as well admit you still believe in Santa Claus.
Yet, despite their betters, Chesterton remains hugely popular among the folks he lovingly referred to as “the common man.” No writer alive today is so deeply loved. According to Amazon and Goodreads, Chesterton’s novel The Man Who Was Thursday is more popular than Mark Levin’s American Marxism and Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be Antiracist.
That’s not a knock against Mr. Levin, or even Mr. Kendi. But they’ve each got half the media peddling their books. What kind of machine has Chesterton got? Just a fan club.
In 1996, my friend Dale Ahlquist founded the Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton, known simply as the Chesterton Society. Earlier this week, it was subject to a hit-piece in the National Catholic Reporter, known simply as the Fishwrap.
As one has come to expect from the Fishwrap, the article is barely coherent. Their reporter [sic] accuses the Society of downplaying Chesterton’s commitment to social justice while, in the same breath, accusing Chesterton himself of being a right-wing hate-monger. So, is the Fishwrap trying to defend Chesterton’s honor, or to sully it? The answer is neither. This isn’t about Mr. Ahlquist, or the Society, or even G. K. Chesterton. As always, this is about politics—specifically, the Orange Bad Man.
Dear reader, you won’t be surprised to learn the name “Trump” appears eighteen times in the Fishwrap’s exposé.
The reporter [sic] pays special attention to an email penned in 2021 by an actor named Kevin O’Brien. The Society used to pay Mr. O’Brien to impersonate characters from Chesterton’s novels at their annual conference. Two years ago, however, Mr. O’Brien disowned his comrades. According to the Fishwrap,
Ahlquist refused to listen to his pleas to publish an editorial in Gilbert [the Society’s magazine] condemning the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol building. In a May 2021 email that O’Brien wrote to Ahlquist and other society members, O’Brien expressed his concerns about what he saw as the society’s deafening silence on January 6 and complicity with COVID-19 misinformation.
If you read Mr. O’Brien’s email, you’ll get a sense of why Mr. Alquist declined. He has the worst case of Trump Derangement Syndrome I’ve ever seen. Karine Jean-Pierre couldn’t fit so many DNC talking-points into a single rant. Here’s just a sample:
On January 6, President Trump staged a coup, fomented a violent Insurrection that killed five people, an insurrection whose members intended to murder the Vice-President and the Speaker of the House, a coup which, if successful, would have ended democracy in America and installed a petty tyrant as dictator. And Catholics and Chestertonians have cheered this on—despite the fact that there is no doubt that Biden won the election, whether we like it or not.
Trump’s lawyers had no evidence of significant vote fraud, which is why they lost their 63 court cases. Even Devout Catholic Attorney General Barr insisted that there had been no voter fraud and that the election was won by Biden, and then resigned because he wanted no part of the Big Lie, a Big Lie which Right Wing Catholics and Evangelicals continue to endorse and spread. (Trump is not out of the picture; his legacy of “two plus two equals five” continues—see the attempts to crush Liz Cheney for speaking the truth.)
This is what Mr. O’Brien wanted Gilbert to say in its editorial. Remember, we’re talking about the in-house journal of a literary society. Chesterton died the year Franklin Roosevelt won his second term as president, beating Alf Landon in 46 of the 48 states. What GKC would make of January 6 is anyone’s guess. Only a fanatic would expect the Chesterton Society to take a stand one way or the other.
Yet that’s precisely what we are. We’re a nation of fanatics.