Fairy Tales and Distributism: A Quotation from G. K. Chesterton

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

I’ve finally started reading Chesterton’s The Outline of Sanity in earnest and wanted to share this quotation, a day late for Labor Day, but perhaps not inappropriate for the feast of the birth of Mary:

“About fifteen years ago a few of us began to preach, in the old New Age and New Witness, a policy of small distributed property (which has since assumed the awkward but accurate name of Distributism), as we should have said then, against the two extremes of Capitalism and Communism. The first criticism we received was from the most brilliant Fabians, especially Mr. Bernard Shaw. And the form which the first criticism took was simply to tell us that our ideal was impossible. It was only a case of Catholic credulity about fairy tales. The Law of Rent, and other economic laws, made it inevitable that the little rivulets of property should run down into the pool of plutocracy. In truth, it was the Fabian wit, and not merely the Tory fool, who confronted our vision with that venerable verbal opening: ‘If it were all divided up tomorrow.’

“Nevertheless, we had an answer even in those days, and though we have since found many others, it will clarify the question if I repeat this point of principle. It is true that I believe in fairy tales––in the sense that I marvel so much at what does exist that I am the readier to admit what might. I understand the man who believes in the Sea Serpent on the ground that there are more fish in the sea than ever came out of it. But I do it the more because the other man, in his ardour for disproving the Sea Serpent, always argues that there are not only no snakes in Ireland, but none in the world. Suppose Mr. Bernard Shaw, commenting on this credulity, were to blame for believing (on the word of some lying priest) that stone could be thrown up into the air and hang there suspended like a rainbow. Suppose he told me tenderly that I should not believe this Popish fable of the magic stones, if I had ever had the Law of Gravity scientifically explained to me. And suppose, after all this, I found he was only talking about the impossibility of building an arch. I think most of us would form two main conclusions about him and his school. First, we should think them very ill-informed about what is really meant by recognizing a law of nature. A law of nature can be recognized by resisting it, or out-manoeuvring it, or even using it against itself, as in the case of an arch. And second, and much more strongly, we should think them astonishingly ill-informed about what has already been done upon this earth.