Sunday, April 26, 2009

G.K. Chesterton

“I have said that the strong centers of modern English property must swiftly or slowly be broken up, if even the idea of property is to remain among Englishmen. There are two ways in which it could be done, a cold administration by quite detached officials, which is called Collectivism, or a personal distribution, so as to produce what is called Peasant Proprietorship. I think the latter solution the finer and more fully human, because it makes each man as somebody blamed somebody for saying of the Pope, a sort of small god.” ~ G.K. Chesterton

What follows is another installment in occasional biographies of influential people in cooperativism.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (b. 5/29/1874 – d. 6/14/1936) was born in Campden Hill in London, England to a Unitarian family. His father was a successful auctioneer and considered liberal in his political thought. Chesterton was a large man in more than just intellect and words. Chesterton was six foot four and weighed over three hundred pounds. In addition he carried around with him a small arsenal consisting of a sword, a knife and a gun. When once asked why he had a firearm he said he had bought it to protect his wife right after their marriage. He bragged that whenever he heard someone say that life wasn’t worth living he would pull it out and point it at the person. One must wonder at the other person’s reaction facing down the barrel of his gun.

While Chesterton was a towering intellect that loved to debate he was very dependent upon his wife and others. He was unable to dress or shave himself due to his large size. Plus, he was dependent upon his wife to make nearly every decision for him. She handled his finances, such as filing and paying his income tax, and even details as minor as whether he would take the stairs or an elevator to go to another floor.

One might wonder how much his father’s liberalism influenced him. According to Christopher Hollis his liberalism was based on a “belief in small units.” For example, GK Chesterton supported the South Africans against his own British during the Second Boer War because he felt like the British were using their Imperial might against the weaker South Africans.

This belief in small units also translated into a disdain for nationalistic patriotism. According to Hollis, “At the same time he had no sympathy with those who decried the virtue of patriotism. For the British Empire as such he cared little, but he championed as passionately the right of an Englishman to live England as of a South African to love South Africa.”

One might also see his advocacy of the small over the large reflected in his economics. Chesterton ran a newspaper called the New Witness in which they would, “oppose alike the capitalist solution which would concentrate all property in the hands of rich men and the Socialist solution which would concentrate all property in the hands of the State and to argue that instead property should be as widely distributed as possible.” As a result Chesterton is widely known as a Distributist.

In would be incorrect to say that Chesterton would approve of all elements of economic democracy. It’s known that he opposed the state insurance for workers in England, which were modeled after Germany’s, because he thought it would lead to a “return to slavery and a Servile State.” And he held several views that very few today would support, capitalist or otherwise. For example, he opposed giving women the right to vote. Even with these faults Chesterton was a strong supporter for cooperativism and for that he deserves to be recognized here.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Ah, spring. Flowers are in bloom. Grass is turning green. Birds are singing. Spring also means the return of America’s favorite past-time: baseball. Baseball is of course more than just a sport. The boys of summer bring with them tradition and history that strikes a chord deep within into the American psyche. Baseball is also special in another way. Within baseball we can see evidence of the superiority of cooperativism over rugged individualism.

While baseball grants numerous opportunities for individual displays of talent for a team to be successful it demands teamwork and a willingness of each team member to make personal sacrifices. The best batter on the team at times may have to sacrifice bunt if it means advancing another player. On a fly ball one outfielder often has to swallow his or her pride and allow another to make the catch. All of these plus other sacrifices will often times be necessary for the good of the team.

The Texas Rangers are the perfect example of how the lack of teamwork will work against a baseball team. How could a team that had great pitchers like the all-time no-hitter Nolan Ryan never win a single playoff series? A major reason is that while the Rangers have had great batters, great pitchers, great catchers they have always lacked teamwork.

Like a well run baseball team a cooperative strikes a balance between the needs of individual and the needs of the group. Each individual has opportunities to show his or her talents in the daily operations. Yet, for the cooperative to be successful the individual members must work together. If they begin to compete against each other in their daily operations then the cooperative will fail.

So as you sit there at the ballgame eating your hot dog and drinking your beer remember that you’re not just watching a wonderful sport. You’re watching a great example of cooperativism in action.

PS: Looking for a great baseball team? Check out the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. According their web site, "The Timber Rattlers are a non-stock, community-owned team similar in structure to the Green Bay Packers organization."