Horrible history: G. K. Chesterton and the modern history lesson

256px-G._K._ChestertonBy Ann Farmer

In The Everlasting Man G. K. Chesterton says the most important thing to ask about history is “what it felt like”; he believed that in the study of history “we need a new thing” – something that “may be called psychological history.”[1] Ninety years on, this approach dominates British education and popular TV; but before we hail a Chestertonian revolution, there is a crucial difference: the new ‘psychological history’ is not about how people felt in the past, but about how we think they felt; more importantly, how we think they should have felt. And if we are in any doubt about that, the new psychological historians are only too happy to teach us.

In recent years, the psychological approach to history has grown in influence until it has become an almost psychiatric approach. Terry Deary’s Horrible History books enjoy enormous popularity with children of all ages, and ‘touchy feely’ history mania has taken hold of television. Members of the viewing public have been given the opportunity to live in a First World War trench; a 1970s house; a Victorian slum; a Victorian bakery – all to ‘see how it felt’. And how did it feel? The only possible answer the poorly educated modern viewer can give is that it must have felt Horrible – or, if we want to give it a touch of faux authenticity, Orrible.

But did it really feel horrible for them? The truth is that the past was both worse and better than we might imagine today; worse because unlike modern day volunteers playing at history, the men in the trenches were being fired on by real guns, and they did not know that the Great War was due to end on November 11, 1918 (to be fair, neither do many modern television viewers). But in some respects it was also better than we might think because for those who were told in 1914 that ‘it’ll all be over by Christmas’, learning that the War would last another four years, and end not in victory but an armistice, might have come as a nasty shock.

Paradoxically, in the days when death was commonplace – when newspaper sellers cried ‘Murder, ‘orrible murder’ from the street corners – life was held less cheaply than it is today; at least the murder of the innocent was not ignored or excused. Nonetheless, we would be right in imagining that the workhouses were horrible – but life outside the workhouse could be even more horrible, which explains why the workhouses were never empty. We might imagine that people felt deprived because they could spend one day (if they were lucky) at the seaside every year; but for this very reason they probably felt more intense happiness than we, in an age of multiple holidays, could possibly manage.

But were not women chafing to go out to work? That depended on the work, and mostly it was hard physical work in hot, dirty, deafeningly noisy factories, sweat shops in the slums, or eyesight-ruining, poorly paid ‘home work’, which was not so cosy as it sounds.[2] For the vast majority the aspiration was to get married and have a family – for love, not convenience; ‘love and marriage’ still ‘went together like a horse and carriage’ – with a baby carriage following close behind.

Chesterton worked alongside several women but warned of the potential for exploitation the workplace and the effects of the ‘absent mother’ on children as well as on male employment.[3] He insisted that women were too good to work outside the home,[4] and since women – and children – had not long been liberated from the mine and the factory, home was less a prison than a refuge.

With no labour-saving devices, there was little opportunity for boredom for adults, while children played with other children rather than with their parents; even more astonishingly most of them even knew who their parents were. Chesterton’s view of the future was one of work-related mother-child estrangement rather than permanently estranged fathers, but he was right in the essentials; whereas now, men meet with approval when they announce that they would like to spend more time with their children (usually when facing embarrassing revelations about their private lives), women are expected to put their children first by putting paid work first.[5]

As for women’s suffrage, poor women were more interested in their husbands having jobs that put food on the table; a vote could not purchase food or a table to put it on, and according to Emmeline Pankhurst’s daughter Sylvia, the ‘votes for women’ campaign really meant ‘votes for ladies’,[6] since poor men did not have a vote either, at least until 1918, when – it was assumed for their contribution to the war effort – women aged 30 and with a certain amount of property were rewarded with the vote. But by then even conservatives were beginning to see older women’s votes as a counterweight to newly enfranchised working men who were more inclined to be left wing.[7]

Even so, we would now see a house full of children as synonymous with drudgery – except that small families were seen by the ones with most children – the poor – as a sign of selfishness characteristic of the and decadent rich. The left-wing feminist Sylvia Pankhurst (who was not against women working) campaigned against abortion[8] while those keen to stop the poor from having children were overwhelmingly wealthy and right wing. True, female campaigners tended to have more positive slogans, and in a supreme irony some women, lulled by the propaganda of Marie Stopes and her birth control campaign about ‘every child a wanted child’, approached her family planning clinics under the impression that they could help them have a much wanted baby. But in a kind of ‘Whig history for women’, everything is getting better and better, even when in some ways it is getting worse and worse; at least nineteenth century factory owners did not kill the babies of poor women in order to chain them to the factory bench, and then claim that they were ‘pro-equality’.[9]

Perhaps the most astonishing feature of ‘new feminism’ is the ‘right to sex’ campaign, with its implication that throughout history women have been ‘denied sex’. It may come as a shock to them to learn that finding a man has never been a problem for women; the real problem has been finding a man to commit to them for life finding him, but the solution to this problem – marriage – is the very institution that they attack with such vigour as the root of all women’s problems.[10]

What can we learn from these modern history lessons? So far, that women won the war(s) and that men were too warlike[11] – even though in the Second World War Churchill had to draft women into war work, in factories, transport and agriculture; men had to be drafted into the armed forces where they actually had to be trained to kill. My mother and aunt were not alone in being more interested in looking after their small children than pining to work in a munitions factory and doing equally exhausting housework when they finally got home.[12]

But never let the truth get in the way of a good story. The Really Big History Lesson is that the past was Orrible; that ITV’s recently concluded Downton Abbey was not real history, and that we should not pine after it. But even though it is fun to play spot-the-historical-anachronism in Downton Abbey, and although its portrayal of human relationships it is far more true to life than the BBC’s many Answers to Downton, which claim to be big on ‘gritty reality’ (to be fair, nobody seems to be able to get their hatology right nowadays), Downton’s executive decreed that the cast should not be shown saying grace before meals, since “executives in charge of the series had ordered producers to “leave religion out of it”, for fear of alienating an increasingly atheistic public.”[13]

No doubt in the interests of not alienating an increasingly atheistic cultural elite, the new Call the Midwife’s series – the first not to be based on the late Jennifer Worth’s books[14] – has moved on to the 1960s and will feature women taking the Pill, throwing away their crochet needles, donning leotards, watching the telly, and becoming lesbians – probably all at the same time. What opportunities this will present for the midwives, or for the Anglican nuns who run the show, remains a mystery.[15] It will feature a thalidomide birth, however, in which a baby born without limbs dies shortly after birth; but while highlighting the continuing plight of thalidomide victims,[16] it is unlikely that the programme will tell the whole story of thalidomide’s role in fuelling the campaign to legalise abortion.[17]

And history is really repeating itself because the Zika virus is fuelling calls to legalise abortion across South America; but although we will never know what it ‘feels like’ to be an aborted foetus, we can know what it feels like to be someone who might have been aborted because they were ‘horribly deformed’ but lived to tell the tale.[18] Abortion is not a cure for anything, of course, but the subtext is that it can prevent the ‘birth of monsters’, as abortion campaigners described disabled babies back in the 1950s and not-so-swinging 60s;[19] they also advocated infanticide on the same grounds if abortion ‘failed’.[20]

Interestingly, in 2005 Call the Midwife author Jennifer Worth criticised Mike Leigh’s film Vera Drake for its implausible portrayal of backstreet abortion and its practitioners who were not, apparently, warm, cuddly, altruistic neighbourhood matrons. I exposed this re-writing of history in my own study of the sinister origins of the abortion campaign as an arm of the eugenics population control movement. Its founders and supporters were unable to appreciate that poor women had children because they liked them and took pride in them – as they still do – and that contraception, especially as used by women, was viewed by the poor as evidence of moral degeneracy in the wealthy.[21]

Worth supported legal abortion because she believed that backstreet abortion was widespread and inevitable – although it was much more widespread and inevitable after legalisation, indeed, that was the whole point of legalisation – that poor women should have abortions, not babies.[22] While mentioning the problem of poverty, Worth saw contraception, not the provision of greater financial security, as the answer; however, she did warn that Vera Drake promoted the idea that amateur abortion was straightforward and safe, and that countries where it was still illegal might copy the methods it showcased, with disastrous results.[23]

The History Lesson from so many different angles is that women have been horribly oppressed throughout history and need abortion. As noted elsewhere, the history of the poor is a blank page for all who care to scribble on it; the most industrious scribblers have been adherents of eugenics population control, and although there are now good oral history sources now available for the twentieth century, they are largely ignored.[24] Abortion is a progressive preoccupation, and increasingly we are taught to see the past through the lens of current progressive preoccupations; as Chesterton remarked: “[T]he boldest plans for the future invoke the authority of the past”; even the revolutionary “seeks to satisfy himself that he is also a reactionary”, and while evolutionist ‘pre-historians’ had insisted (without any evidence) that cave men forcibly dragged cave women to their caves, with an equal lack of evidence “as soon as feminism became a fashionable cry, it was insisted that human civilisation in its first stage had been a matriarchy. Apparently it was the cave-woman who carried the club.”[25]

Friedrich Engels was the chief propagator of such claims,[26] and ‘minority’ history is chiefly the province of Marxists; however, in some cases a minority group, believing that it knows how another minority group ‘felt’ under oppression, has actually appropriated that group’s historical garments. With public money being appropriated to fund “celebrations” for “LGBT History Month”,[27] commentators repeat the ‘fact’ that homosexuality ‘used to be against the law’, despite the fact that it never has been. Real history shows that it was another minority group that was imprisoned, tortured and executed for their beliefs (not their actions), and also had their property burned in the middle of a riot against attempts to relax the laws against them, as recently as 1778; but they are Catholics, now viewed as bigots.[28]

Sexual diversity campaigners have also claimed that prejudice against them was akin to anti-black prejudice, although they could hardly claim to have been enslaved, and bought and sold, while being unable to melt into the background of white society.[29] Minority history is enlightening when considered as part of a great cultural mosaic, but when it begins to predominate we really are going back to the past – when history revolved around the interests of one social class.

As it is, psychological history revolves around the interests of the left-wing progressive class, and under their brand of semi-detached pacifism the Great War was just pointless carnage, while the Second World War was a legitimate war against Fascism – although it would not have happened but for the First World War. As to the actual Great War (they didn’t know it was the First until the Second happened) the BBC’s centenary coverage of its outbreak, which minimised the role of German aggression and the plight of those under occupation, was not so much an anthem for lost youth as a gigantic exercise in semi-detached pacifism, a response to the much later Iraq war.

The one awkward detail in this new historical narrative is the fact that the Second World War – the one that was OK, albeit Orrible – was won with Winston Churchill at the helm, and he was on the wrong side, i.e. the Right side. Clearly this should not have happened, but the answer to this historical hiccup is to portray 1945 as a victory for the Welfare State, ushered in by a landslide election victory for the left-wing Labour Party under Clement Attlee. Unfortunately for this narrative, in 1908 Churchill pioneered the Welfare State as part of Asquith’s Liberal government.[30]

Churchill at least regarded the nation of his birth as worth fighting for, and regarding the crucial question of how people felt in the past, Chesterton knew that people fight for what they believe in, and for what they care about. One outcome of looking at history through the lens of the Holocaust (as he himself has been viewed) is that any kind of ‘fundamentalism’ – including patriotism, and even the belief in objective truth – is now viewed as the kind of ‘bigotry’ that ‘led to’ the Holocaust, although as an early observer of the now-prevailing Western view, post-Modernism, Chesterton observed that bigotry was not the holding of dogmas but the “incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.” The man who rejected dogmas out of hand, he said, believed in dogmas without realizing it, and in that “strange epoch” there were “no great fighting philosophers…because we care only about tastes; and there is no disputing about tastes.”[31].

Chesterton never exhibited signs of ‘chronological snobbery’ – he would never indulge in the progressive habit of sneering at his ancestors, or suggest that we should knock down what they had built up because it was ‘no longer needed’ – i.e. we find it embarrassing. He said that a belief in tradition meant “giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors” – the “democracy of the dead.”[32] He knew that we will only understand how people felt then when we understand how they feel now. Interestingly, during the real Great War, civilians did volunteer to spend time in the trenches of the Western Front, and we do know how one of them felt; Sir Eric Ohlson reported:

On the explosion of the nearest shell…I, in common with the other members of the party, threw myself prostrate. I did not, however, escape unscathed, for I was struck on the hand in two places by fragments of shrapnel, and another fragment hit me in the leg, the marks still remaining. The position now became serious, and so the members of our party hurried with all possible speed, continuing the course at right angles from the zone of fire, until we were suddenly brought up by a ditch about five feet wide and with four feet of water. To surmount this obstacle was imperative unless we were to be blown to fragments, and so, although the obstacle was wide and deep, it became a question of either the other side of the brook on the one hand, or eternity on the other, but the desperate nature of the situation proved sufficient to stimulate the agility of the party in surmounting an obstacle, which in cold blood they would have refused all the gold of the Indies to attempt.[33]

Some people think they know how the poor should have felt; the Marxist believed that poor people did not know how they really felt (i.e. that the real solution to their plight was Marxism) because of ‘false consciousness’; the eugenicist believed that the cheerfulness of the poor was a sign of mental deficiency. But Chesterton saw that cheerfulness as admirable.[34] He was always interested in people as people, not as problems.[35] In contrast to the evolutionist, he believed that whether living in a castle or in a cave, people were still people, but that unless we made allowances for the cave and the castle, we would gain a poor understanding of history.

Of the historian who says that historical figures may deserve credit allowing for the ideas of their time, Chesterton remarked: “There will never be really good history until the historian says, ‘I think they were worthy of praise, allowing for the ideas of my time.’”[36] Chesterton heard the voices of the past because he heard their echoes in the voices of his own time. We might wish that people in the past had felt differently, but the past really is a foreign country now, so we must listen to what they say, and take care how we translate it.[37] The futuristic historian presumes to speak for them but listens neither to the voices of the past nor to the voices of his own time, only to the siren voices of a Utopian tomorrow. Chesterton made allowances for the ideas of his own ‘today’, because he feared what the morrow might bring if people failed to listen to the voice of their yesterdays; consequently he is the true psychological (and also more reliable) historian.

[1] “No wise man will wish to bring more long words into the world. But it may be allowable to say that we need a new thing; which may be called psychological history” (G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1925/1993), p. 139).

[2] See: M. Llewelyn Davies, Ed., Maternity Letters from Working Women (London: Virago Ltd., 1915/1978). One of my grandmothers assembled feather dusters for a pittance.

[3] G. K. Chesterton, ‘The Emancipation of Domesticity,’ What’s Wrong with the World (London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1910), p. 54.

[4] G. K. Chesterton, ‘The Modern Surrender of Woman,’ What’s Wrong with the World (London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1910), p. 63; “His defense of keeping women in the home was more eloquent than most such arguments, simply because the home seemed to him a very exciting place” (M. Canovan, G. K. C.: Radical Populist (New York/London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977), p. 54).

[5] “I remember my mother, the day that we met,/ A thing I shall never entirely forget;/ And I toy with the fancy that, young as I am,/ I should know her again if we met in a tram/ But mother is happy in turning a crank/ That increases the balance at somebody’s bank;/ And I feel satisfaction that mother is free/ From the sinister task of attending to me” (G. K. Chesterton, Songs of Education: III. For the Crèche: Form 8277059, Sub-Section K, The Works of G. K. Chesterton [Ware, Herts.: Wordsworth Poetry Library, 1995], pp. 76–77).

[6] See: R. Taylor, In Letters of Gold: The story of Sylvia Pankhurst and the East London Federation of the Suffragettes in Bow (London: Stepney Books, 1993).

[7] In 1918 all adult males were allowed the vote, together with married women aged 30 and over; in 1928, all adults were enfranchised (M. Phillips, The Ascent of Woman: A History of the Suffragette Movement and the Ideas Behind It (London: Abacus, 2003), p. 230; p. 308).

[8] Suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst maintained that it was society’s “true mission” to provide the social conditions that would guarantee “happy and successful motherhood”; it was “grievous indeed that the social collectivity should feel itself obliged to assist in so ugly an expedient as abortion in order to mitigate its crudest evils” (S. Pankhurst, Save the Mothers (London: Alfred A. Knopf Ltd., 1930), p. 110); Sylvia campaigned for the welfare of poor mothers, turning a disused East End pub into a crèche for working mothers – the ‘Gunmakers’ Arms’ was renamed ‘The Mother’s Arms’ (R. Taylor, In Letters of Gold: The story of Sylvia Pankhurst and the East London Federation of the Suffragettes in Bow (London: Stepney Books, 1993), p. 30); see: R. MacNair, M. Krane Derr, L. Naranjo-Huebl (Eds.), Prolife Feminism Yesterday and Today (New York: Sulzburger & Graham Publishing Ltd., 1995).

[9] According to one historian, after the Great War everything changed for women: “Nancy Astor, the first female MP, took up her seat and women could now legally enter professions that had been barred to them… Marie Stopes’s bestselling Married Love was opening eyes to intimate dialogue between the sexes and paving the way for readily available contraception; 1919 was arguably when the modern world with its particular opportunities for more than just a few was stirring into shape” (Diane Samuels, ‘History: 1919: birth of modernity’, Jewish Chronicle, February 12, 2016, p. 45). Nancy Astor and Marie Stopes were wealthy eugenics supporters who believed in controlling the numbers of the poor; see: Ann Farmer, Prophets & Priests (London: St Austin Press, 2002); By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control and the Abortion Campaign (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2008).

[10] Veteran feminist Gloria Steinem in 1970 declared that marriage “turned women into half-people”, but at age 66 married a wealthy entrepreneur and support of her political group Voice for Choice, explaining that feminism was “about the ability to choose what’s right at each time of our lives” (Independent, September 7, 2000, p. 19).

[11] A film version of the much-loved War-time television series Dad’s Army was criticised for featuring “tokenistic ‘girl power’ moments when Walmington-on-Sea’s women’s auxiliary army save the day” (Robbie Collin, Review, Dad’s Army ‘Who do you think you are kidding? Updated Dad’s Army is let down’, Daily Telegraph, January 27, 2016).

[12] Some men simply disappeared for the duration of the Second World War, including one of my mother’s cousins; in the Great War it was reported: “Through the offices at 58, Victoria Street there have passed some 8,000 women, old as well as young. Of these 2,000 have desired to do munition work, and the rest have offered themselves for other vocations. They have ranged from the quite unhelpable, as the old lady of over 70 , who wanted ‘munition work that she could do at home,’ under the impression that it was a new form of embroidery not too fine for her fading eyesight, to the bright, capable girl, who could be sent at once to drive a motor delivery van. … Wherever a woman comes with some special domestic qualification, as the trained are of children or cookery, she is always earnestly advised to continue in it, as the calls for special work have left thee callings much under-supplied” (‘Women and War Work: How Posts are Found. The Service Bureau’, Daily Telegraph, February 8, 1916). See: P. Addison, Churchill on the Home Front 1900-1955 (London: Jonathan Cape, 1992).

[13] ‘God banished from Downton Abbey, says show’s historical advisor: Alastair Bruce said ‘panic’ over showing religion on TV meant the Crawleys could not be shown saying grace before meals’, Telegraph, November 15, 2015, accessed at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/media/11997169/God-banished-from-Downton-Abbey-says-shows-historical-advisor.html at February 21, 2016.

[14] See: Jennifer Worth, Call the Midwife: A True Story of the East End in the 1950s (London: Phoenix, 2002); Shadows of the Workhouse (London: Phoenix, 2005/2009); Farewell to the East End (London: Phoenix, 2009).

[15] “Helen George, who plays Trixie, said: ‘The fashion is changing, the music is changing, and so are the home improvements. Instead of doing crochet we’re watching telly” (‘The Pill, sexual politics and the horror of thalidomide as Midwife swings into 60s’, Daily Telegraph, January 17, 2016). The capacity of women to do both at the same time was not touched upon.

[16] ‘Call the Midwife “robot baby” could bring hope to Thalidomide survivors fighting for compensation: Programme-makers have used a specially-made animatronic baby and CGI in heart-rending storyline of baby born without any limbs, Daily Mirror, January 9, 2016, accessed at http://www.mirror.co.uk/tv/tv-news/call-midwife-robot-baby-could-7144056 at February 18, 2016.

[17] As two leading abortion campaigners recalled: “In the early 1960s ALRA [Abortion Law Reform Association] had less than two hundred members, but with the advent of thalidomide and the rejuvenation of the Executive Committee, membership grew steadily. By 1966 individual membership had passed the thousand mark” (Madeleine Simms, Keith Hindell, Abortion Law Reformed (London: Peter Owen, 1971), p. 120).

[18] “In Brazil, where most abortions are illegal, activists want the supreme court to allow an exception for pregnant women who have been infected with the Zika virus. The prospect of raising a child with severe intellectual and physical disabilities is impossibly demanding, they suggest. One woman who objects to this scenario is 24-year-old journalist Ana Carolina Caceres. She has microcephaly and has been to university, runs a blog, plays the violin and has written a book about her experiences”; Ms Caceres said: ‘“People need to put their prejudices aside and learn about this syndrome”’; when she was born her mother was told by the doctor: ‘“She will not walk, she will not talk and, over time, she will enter a vegetative state until she dies”’; Ms Caceres advised people to remain calm, take pre-natal tests as early as possible, consult a neurologist and talk to mothers with microcephalic children: ‘“Microcephaly is a box of surprises. … But what I recommend to mothers or pregnant women is that they remain calm. Microcephaly is an ugly name but it’s not an evil monster”’ (Michael Cook, February 2, 2016, Mercatornet, accessed at http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/the-wrong-solution-to-zika-caused-microcephaly/17543 at February 2, 2016). “A dispute has broken out in Brazil over whether the Zika virus is responsible for a rise in cases of microcephaly after a report by Argentinian doctors claimed a larvicide used in drinking water was instead to blame. Brazilian health officials were yesterday forced to address claims that the larvicide pyriproxyfen, which is used to control the Aedes aegypti mosquito, could be associated with a surge in babies born with the condition after one state said it was suspending used of the chemical” (‘Brazil’s rise in deformities due to “chemical in water, not Zika”’, Daily Telegraph, February 16, 2016, p. 12). The chemical is manufactured by Sumitomo Chemical, one of chemical giant Monsanto’s ‘strategic partners’ (‘Pyriproxyfen, Zika and microcephaly, Alliance for Natural Health International’, February 17, 2016, accessed at http://anhinternational.org/2016/02/17/news-alerts-week-7-2016/?utm_source=The+Alliance+for+Natural+Health&utm_campaign=7057534dcb-160217_ANH_Intl_eAlert_No_2882_17_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_aea8a87544-7057534dcb-84964703 at February 17, 2016). “Abortion advocates are pressuring pregnant women in South America who may be infected with the Zika virus to abort their unborn babies with dangerous, mail-order abortion drugs. The pro-abortion group Women on Waves is known for sailing and docking its “abortion boat” outside of pro-life countries and then offering abortions to women in violation of their countries’ protective, life-affirming laws. The group recently began targeting South American countries where an outbreak of the Zika virus appears to be causing brain disorders in babies” (LifeNews, February 1, 2016, accessed at http://www.lifenews.com/2016/02/01/group-sends-dangerous-abortion-pills-to-pregnant-women-with-zika-virus-in-pro-life-nations/ at February 2, 2016).

[19] A Eugenics Society member and vice-president of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, as well as the Abortion Law Reform Association’s legal advisor and President, Glanville Williams maintained in a chapter on “monsters”: “On rare occasions such a monster will live. It may belong to the fish stage of development, with vestigial gills, webbed arms and feet, and sightless eyes. The thing is presented to its mother, who struggles to nurture it for a few months, after which she sends it to a home” (Glanville Williams, The Sanctity of Life and the Criminal Law (London: Faber & Faber Ltd., 1958), p. 33); ALRA’s Madeleine Simms and Keith Hindell concurred: “When a woman is confronted with a medical diagnosis showing that she may give birth to a severely handicapped child, or still worse a monster, she knows she has a problem that could be with her for a lifetime” (Abortion Law Reformed (London: Peter Owen, 1971), pp. 18-19). These descriptions recall the theories of Ernst Haeckel, biological ecologist, abortion advocate and important influence on Hitler, and “one of the earliest German thinkers to discuss the extermination of ‘inferior’ human races by the ‘superior’ Europeans and the killing of the disabled” (R. Weikart, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany. Houndmills, Hants.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p. 14); Haeckel believed that embryonic development recapitulated evolutionary progress, supportin his theory with detailed drawings showing the human embryo going through a fish-like stage, complete with gills, thence passing through reptilian, early mammalian and simian stages before becoming recognisably human; he saw the embryo – and also the newborn – as not fully human, hence his support for infanticide (Ibid, p. 147).

[20] Prominent abortion campaigner Madeleine Simms recommended to parliamentarians that disabled infants be killed (M. Simms, ‘Severely handicapped infants: a discussion document’ (n.d., c.1980s)).

[21] The sources used by modern ‘reproductive historians’ were almost exclusively the works of eugenicists and Malthusians; see: Ann Farmer, By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control and the Abortion Campaign (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2008), Chapter Five.

[22] Abortion advocate Bernard Dickens noted: “[T]o a large extent legal abortion in Sweden has been made available to women who would not have had an illegal operation. Finding this mainly among happily married women, [Ekblad] comments ‘Previously, and as a rule thanks to their personal disposition, these women had taken an unwelcome pregnancy with resignation, submissively accepting it without protest. The [Swedish] Abortion Act now gives possibilities of helping them”’ (M. Ekblad, Induced Abortion on Psychiatric Grounds (Copenhagen, 1955), quoted in B. M. Dickens, Abortion and the Law (Bristol: Macgibbon & Kee Ltd., 1966), p. 161); Dickens added: “It is, of course, among this group that most pregnancies arise” (Ibid).

[23] “Mike Leigh’s award-winning film Vera Drake…is brilliant – well written, directed and acted, evocative of London life in the 1950s. But unfortunately, it is medically inaccurate. …abortion used to be a criminal offence, punishable by a prison sentence for the woman and the abortionist…until the Abortion Act 1967… No doctor who valued his career would perform an abortion and no hospital could do so. … The law encouraged backstreet abortionists to flourish. … Often [poor women] had too many children – far more than they could house and feed decently, and for them another baby would be a disaster. Contraception was inadequate”; Mike Leigh could “be excused for not knowing, but his medical adviser should certainly have known that Vera’s method of procuring an abortion – flushing out the uterus with soap and water – was invariably fatal. One of the most severe pains a human being can endure is the sudden distension of a hollow organ. Inflating the uterus with liquid will induce primary obstetric shock, a dramatic fall in blood pressure, and heart failure. Thousands of women have died instantly from this abortion method. The idea that a woman who has just had half a pint of soapy water put into her uterus could then get back up on her feet and walk around is utterly implausible. And the idea that Drake had used this method successfully for 20 years is sheer fantasy; abortionists knew of the danger of the ‘flushing out’ technique, and it was known to have been tried. I was a district midwife in London in the 1950s and I certainly never saw a survivor of that method. … The film is dangerous because it will be shown worldwide, in countries where abortion is still illegal. If women in these countries see a film that depicts abortion as no more problematic than syringeing wax out of an ear, they might try it themselves, with fatal results” (Jennifer Worth, Guardian, January 6, 2005, last modified January 12, 2016, accessed at http://www.theguardian.com/film/2005/jan/06/health.healthandwellbeing at February 8, 2016). In fact the law protected women and children, enabling the police to prevent backstreet abortion, and in practice women were never prosecuted, as their testimony was needed to convict the abortionist; for the very reasons Worth adduces, backstreet abortion never claimed enormous numbers of victims because its effects could not be concealed; however, by the early 1960s hospitals were performing thousands of abortions under the legal precedent established in 1938 by the Bourne case; see: Ann Farmer, By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control and the Abortion Campaign (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2008).

[24] See: Elizabeth Roberts, A Woman’s Place: An Oral History of Working-Class Women 1890-1940 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1985); Women and Families: an Oral History, 1940-1970 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995); Ann Farmer, Prophets & Priests (London: St Austin Press, 2002); By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control and the Abortion Campaign (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2008).

[25] G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1925/1993), pp. 63-64.

[26] Modern feminism owes a philosophical debt to Marx, and to his colleague Friedrich Engels; Engels read his communistic power preoccupation into the nuclear family and was convinced that it had been shaped by capitalism for the purpose of exploiting women, influenced by Johann Jacov Bachoven’s 1861 Das Mutterrecht (‘The Mother-Right’) (1861), which posited that early humans lived in matriarchal societies, theories long since disproved (M. Phillips, The Sex-change Society: Feminised Britain and the Neutered Male (London: The Social Market Foundation, 1999), p. 204).

[27] “The Rainbow Flag will be raised at Waltham Forest Town Hall on Tuesday 2 February to mark the start of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LBGT) History Month. … Residents are also urged to attend and show their support. LBGT History Month was initiated in the UK in 2005 by an organisation called Schools Out, which campaigned for LGBT equality in schools. … Waltham Forest is now busy planning some special events as part of the celebrations, along with commissioned partner Salon Outré” (Waltham Forest News, Issue 154, January 25, 2016, p. 2); the newspaper, funded by rate payers, is distributed free of charge.

[28] Suring the Gordon Riots; see: David Mathew, Catholicism in England 1535-1935: Portrait of a Minority: its culture and tradition (London: The Catholic Book Club, 1938); E. E. Reynolds, The Roman Catholic church in England and Wales: a short history (Wheathampstead, Herts.: Anthony Clarke Books, 1973); Herbert Thurston, SJ, No Popery: Chapters on Anti-Papal Prejudice (London: Sheed & Ward, 1930); Philip Jenkins, The New Anti-Catholicism: The last acceptable prejudice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).

[29] Feminists and students have claimed slavery’s mantle of suffering to justify their campaigns; some diversity campaigners pressed the comparison with race so far that they actually became black; according to Paul Goodman: “In essential ways, my homosexual needs have made me a n*****”; he “identified homosexuals as another civil rights group that is politically repressed and oppressed” (P. Goodman, ‘The Politics of Being Queer’ (1969), Essays of Paul Goodman, T. Stoehr (Ed.) (New York: Free Life Editions, 1977), p. 216, quoted in Kevin Slack, ‘Liberalism Radicalized: The Sexual Revolution, Multiculturalism, and the Rise of Identity Politics,’ Heritage Foundation, August 27, 2013, accessed at http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/08/liberalism-radicalized-the-sexual-revolution-multiculturalism-and-the-rise-of-identity-politics at August 31, 2013); however, some extreme black campaigners concurred: “Gay, lesbian, and transgendered rights were recognized as an issue of radical solidarity. In a 1970 open letter, Black Panther Huey Newton promoted an alliance between black revolutionaries and “the Women’s Liberation and Gay Liberation Movements” (Huey Newton, ‘A Letter From Huey to the Revolutionary Brothers and Sisters About the Women’s Liberation and Gay Liberation Movements,’ D. Hilliard, D. Weise, Eds., The Huey P. Newton Reader (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002), p. 157, in ibid). Prominent sexual diversity campaigners asserted: “Just as blacks allowed whites to render them ‘invisible’ until the 1960s, so have gays made of themselves ‘invisible men’ (and women)”; “Until a very few years ago, ‘gay rights’ was a non-issue in American history, simply because, in effect, whenever the roll was called, there were no gays to speak up!” (M. Kirk, H. Madsen, After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90s (Harmondsworth, Middx.: Plume, 1990), pp. xvii-xviii).

[30] In his earlier incarnation as a progressive Liberal, Churchill visited Germany to see how labour exchanges might help the long-term unemployed, and the following year introduced them into Britain. In a speech he described the House of Lords as ‘“five hundred randomly selected unemployed’”, pointing out that 23 dukes owned three and a half million acres of land, while 23 million people “owned not one inch” (C. Lee, J. Lee, Winston and Jack: The Churchill Brothers (London: Celia Lee, 2007), pp. 243-244). Part of the Liberal Government that introduced old age pensions in 1908 for persons aged over 70, as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1925 he introduced Neville Chamberlain’s old age and widows’ pensions bill, “the first contributory scheme of state pensions, covering more than 15 million people. In conjunction with other sources of income the new benefits freed thousands of unfortunate people from dependence on the poor law. Churchill’s involvement underlined his commitment to the idea of the state as the provider of a safety net” (P. Addison, Churchill on the Home Front 1900-1955 (London: Jonathan Cape, 1992), p. 243; he also cited the physical deterioration of the urban working class as a good reason for land reform (Ibid, p. 57).

[31] G. K. Chesterton, ‘The Bigot,’ Lunacy and Letters (1958), in Gilbert Magazine, 12 (2 & 3), (November/December 2008): 58, accessed at http://www.209.236.72.127/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/gilbert_12.2_5.pdf at May 19, 2011.

[32] G. K. Chesterton, ‘The Ethics of Elfland,’ Orthodoxy (1908), G. K. Chesterton Collected Works, Vol. I (The Blatchford Controversies; Heretics; Orthodoxy), (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), p. 251.

[33] ‘In the trenches. Civilians’ visit to the Western Front. An exciting week-end’, Daily Telegraph, January 27, 1916.

[34] The English tendency was to use “humour somewhat defiantly as a smoke-screen”; it was the “trench” humour of ‘Tommies’ in the face of death that Gilbert so much admired (M. Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1943), pp. 397–398). Of his visit to America he recalled: “The chief thing that struck me about the coloured people I saw was their charming and astonishing cheerfulness” (G. K. Chesterton, What I Saw in America (London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd., 1922), pp. 158–159).

[35] Chesterton had always believed that the “right way” was “to be interested in Jews as Jews; and then to bring into greater prominence the very much neglected Jewish virtues, which are the complement and sometimes even the cause of what the world feels to be the Jewish faults” (G. K. Chesterton, Autobiography (Sevenoaks, Kent: Fisher Press, 1936/1992), pp. 71–73).

[36] “The historian has a habit of saying of people in the past: ‘I think they may well be considered worthy of praise, allowing for the ideas of their times’” (G. K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News, August 15, 1925).

[37] “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there” (opening sentence, L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between (1953)).

Copyright 2016 Ann Farmer

Ann Farmer is author of Chesterton and the Jews: Friend, Critic, Defender.

About Angelico Press

Preserving Our Catholic Intellectual and Cultural Tradition in the Digital Age. Twitter @AngelicoPress
This entry was posted in Featured and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.