Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Chesterton at CE

I had occasion to quote the big man in my most-recent article at Catholic Exchange, along with a couple of his "friends."

In his 2004 book Hip: The History, John Leland writes, "The squarest of American institutions, from gardening manuals to Army recruitment ads, now market themselves in two strengths: hip and hipper."

What does America's hip culture do? It buys and goes into debt. The United States is "awash in debt," to quote Merrill Lynch chief North American economist Dave Rosenberg. Consumer credit and mortgage debt are both a higher percentage of disposable income now than they've ever been before.

 Hip and debt have risen together because the marketplace feeds off that central element of hip: concern for nothing but immediate satisfaction. In Leland's words, hip "is well suited to the values of the market, which has always had a place for wild yea-saying."

But the marketplace doesn't emphasize another aspect of hip; namely, that of Matthew 5:3: "Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." It's an important element in the hip formula. Hip originated among poor blacks who didn't have much wealth or prospects to distract them. It was a central element of the Beatnik phenomenon: "Better to live simply, be poor and have the time to wander," is how Pulitzer Prize poet Gary Snyder explained the Beats.

Heresies, G.K. Chesterton observed, aren't errors. They're simply exaggerations of one truth to the detriment or suppression of other truths.

Hip's emphasis on Now is good. Perhaps the Now's highest praise came from C.S. Lewis, who wrote, "The Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience which [God] has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them."

The free market's ability to meet our needs and wants is also good. Market prices provide information that, properly sifted and responded to, allow buyers and sellers to conduct their affairs in the most advantageous manner. Since every person acts for a good (to move from a less satisfactory state to a more satisfactory one, said the commonsensical Thomas Aquinas), the market's ability to meet our needs is a great good.

The article first appeared in Catholic Men's Quarterly. If you haven't checked out CMQ, give it a look.

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