Freedom & Limitation

gk_chesterton_wide-300x185.jpgLast week, New York Encounter held a conference on the theme of Freedom.  One of the presenters was Dr. Dermot Quinn of the GK Chesterton Institute for Faith & Culture at Seton Hall University – who spoke on Chesterton & Freedom.  Suzanne Lewis writes a nice little summary of Dr. Quinn’s talk, with my own reflection below.  Excerpt, emphasis mine:

Chesterton knew freedom’s power and its limits, its creative and destructive capacity, [how] it could make or break us. The task of our life, all our lives, is [to discover] when to embrace freedom and when to leave it alone.

Quinn went on to sketch out these two faces of freedom, as found in Chesterton’s work.  He quoted Chesterton’s remark: I did not understand what was meant by liberty until I heard it called by the new name of human dignity.” For G.K. Chesterton, then, liberty is an altogether mystical thing, a divine spark, and way for human beings to participate in the life of God.  Quinn went on to quote from Chesterton’s essay, Babies and Distributism:  “A child is the very sign and sacrament of human freedom… he is something his parents have freely chosen to produce and protect.”

Do read the whole thing here… (there appear to be a few other interesting essays on Chesterton as well).

The topic calls to mind conversations we’ve had in ACS.  Just the other day I was talking with Nathan about freedom/limitation – you may recall that great quote of GK’s about ‘the frame being the most interesting part of the painting’…

One analogy I like to use is that of the RULES of a basketball game, and the sidelines and endlines… without them, we would never have witnessed the artistry of Michael Jordan.  Or – the scales and strict musical education endured by Mozart- without them, he never would have been cultivated to later produce his body of work which stunned the music world.  Or – on any of the great writers – they needed first a MASTERY of the grammar of their language before they could play with language creatively.  You cannot write (at least not excellently) in metaphors, with playfulness, without having a full grasp of the rules of the language you are writing in.

You can’t BREAK the rules until you KNOW the rules – thereby acquiring a sense of when and where they can be broken or stretched without totally deconstructing the genre or FORM of the thing you are creating.

Otherwise you end up with nothing but Jackson Pollock paint splatter… the cheating-bully-ball-hog on your playground basketball team… the kid banging on the piano in discordant cacophony.  These are not the starting points of beauty – not, to extend the idea, the true aim of liberty, and not the full expression of the dignity of man.  These are, rather, stunted and dead-end outcomes of disordered freedom.

Which is why I particularly relish the GKC quote Dr. Quinn cited in his talk:

Every one of the popular modern phrases and ideals is a dodge in order to shirk the problem of what is good.

He does have a knack for getting to the heart of it, doesn’t he?  WHAT IS GOOD?  Without a properly ordered vision of the good, individually and collectively, man is bound to sow and reap confusion.  Even presumed virtues such as “freedom” become distorted, run rampant, or are perceived outside their proper place as ends in themselves.



Looking Ahead

Dear ACS friends,

Looking ahead to May of this Spring – we will jump stream mid swim (or what have you) – parting ways with our dog-eared volumes of Orthodoxy and delving into the genre of fiction!


Our ranks have grown since the formative, innocent days of Father Brown stories, and – as our little society has matured – it only seems fitting to embrace The Man Who Was Thursday, (“a nightmare”) – referred to as a “metaphysical thriller.”

Having given some thought to the best way to approach this work of fiction without sacrificing the rhythm and harmony of our group’s meetings, here is what we’ve come to:

March 2013 – final chapter of Orthodoxy, “Authority and the Adventurer”

April 2013 – a light reading month of essay(s), poetry and/or Gilbert Magazine fare

May 2013 – The Man Who Was Thursday (in full)

This way, no one is forced to rush through a novel in one month.  Alternately, no one is discouraged from reading swiftly.  But to split the book in two over two months would surely have created friction.  As it is, there is plenty of time to get your hands on a copy of TMWWT and begin reading at your leisure.  We will wait until May to cover it in discussion, and will aim (though we’re always flexible) to devote one meeting to the entire novel.

In the meantime, we trust you are all enjoying “The Romance of Orthodoxy,” and we look forward to seeing you on February 7th.


February Gathering

orthodoxy-large-194x300Join us for the next gathering of the Albany Chesterton Society:

Thursday, February 7th ~ 7 o’clock in the evening

Finnbar’s Pub ~ 452 Broadway, Troy

Orthodoxy, Chapter VIII~ The Romance of Orthodoxy

What happens at ACS meetings:

Eating, Drinking, Laughing, Thinking, Reading, Debating, Philosophizing, Tangent-following, Questioning, Common Sense-bolstering Rollicking Discussion.


The Center for Literate Values

A newly discovered site championing literacy as the seedbed of virtue.

From their homepage, a mission statement (echoing, undeniably, the sentiments of our Mr. Chesterton):

At present, our primary endeavor is to bring to the world a quarterly, Praesidium: A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis We believe that you will find the essays, stories, and poetry contained herein to be of a profound and readable caliber.  We particularly invite home-educators to exploit these resources.