Book Review: The Apostle of Common Sense by Dale Ahlquist

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This book by Dale Ahlquist stems from his TV show with EWTN with the same title. Ahlquist said that it was rather difficult to choose a book by Chesterton to get acquainted with his work, and that there is no sure option to start with. He therefore suggests that this book might serve the purpose of being a primer to the thought of G.K. Chesterton.

Ahlquist begins with a rather startling statement: “G. K. Chesterton was the best writer of the twentieth century.” (Ahlquist 12) Being a fan of Chesterton, I would have to agree. G. K. Chesterton wrote on just about everything and anything. Ahlquist’s main point is that Chesterton had common sense, and that is what he will mainly study in this book. Ahlquist aptly points out that, “The only thing surprising about common sense is how uncommon it has become.” (Ahlquist 20)

A major charism for Chesterton was his love of paradox. This theme of paradox permeates almost all of his writings. Ahlquist says, “He discovered that paradox is the key to truth, and that the ultimate paradox is the key to ultimate truth. And the ultimate truth is Jesus Christ: fully God and fully man.” (Ahlquist 30)

Next, Ahlquist turns to Chesterton’s defense of the Catholic faith, as mainly seen in his book Heretics. The conclusion is that the Catholic faith is common sense. “Heresy, it turns out, is usually a distinct lack of common sense.” (Ahlquist 35) In fact, Heretics and Orthodoxy, two of Chesterton’s greatest defenses of the Catholic faith, were written years before he became Catholic! This, I believe proves that the Catholic faith is truly common sense.

Along with this defense of the Catholic faith, Ahlquist discusses Chesterton’s defense of the family, and family life. In today’s society, the family, and especially women are being attacked. The government is no longer teaching “…traditional ideals, but the fashionable ideals of the governing class..” (Ahlquist 53) Chesterton’s solution is “…to repent and return to the Christian ideal,” (Ahlquist 54) which is namely common sense.

Continuing, Ahlquist briefly discusses Chesterton’s conversion to Catholicism. “In the Church he found his freedom. The truth does set you free. He says if he ever left the Church, it would mean giving up his freedom.” (Ahlquist 65) Ahlquist also talks about some of Chesterton’s essays on why he became a Catholic. “He not only defends the Church from a great variety of attacks, he shows how it is the right solution to all the world’s dilemmas. In every case, the Catholic position is one of common sense.” (Ahlquist 68) Thus Chesterton believes that the solution to every problem, every heresy, and every ideology is the Catholic faith. “He believe that ‘The Thing’ is the Catholic faith, which is not just a religious doctrine but a complete and integrated world view.” (Ahlquist 80)

St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thomas Aquinas were two very influential saints on the life of Chesterton, especially since he wrote a book on each. Chesterton describes St. Francis’ mysticism as the common sense of a child. (See Ahlquist 99) Most of Chesterton’s wit and wisdom, although most of it is profound, is also extremely simple, like that of a child, like that of St. Francis. Chesterton says that although Aquinas’ writings may not be easy to understand, Aquinas’ “’…conclusion is what is called the conclusion of common sense; it is his purpose to justify common sense.’” (Ahlquist 105) Chesterton also believes that any other modern philosophy that does not cohere with Aquinas’ philosophy simply is the lack of common sense.

One of G. K. Chesterton’s greatest books (although just about any book by Chesterton could be argued to be his greatest) is The Everlasting Man. In it, he shows that Christ and the Cross are the center point of history. “The soul of Christendom, he says, is common sense.” (Ahlquist 124)

G. K. Chesterton was not a fan of big government. He was not a fan of socialism or capitalism. Instead he offered a third mode, mainly that of distributism, a term coined by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum Novarum. Essentially, distributism seeks smaller government, small businesses and true craftsmanship, compared to large government, large businesses, and mass manufacturing. Although not a fan of capitalism, Chesterton was a staunch attacker of socialism. “Socialism does not accomplish any of the things it sets out to do because those who hold the socialist philosophy do not trust the common man and leave nothing to common sense.” (Ahlquist 129-130)

As stated earlier, in our society today, the family is being attacked. Chesterton says that one of the major components of this assault is divorce. Chesterton made many arguments against divorce, but the greatest argument he could have made, seems to have been left out. He does not argue that it is a divine institution. The reason for this, is that if people believed it to be a divine institution, they would never get a divorce. Other major attacks on the family are abortion and contraception. These are discussed in Chesterton’s book Eugenics and other Evils. Both “… propose to eliminate poverty simply by eliminating people.” (Ahlquist 160) Chesterton’s solution on the other hand is to eliminate people’s poverty. “They deserve enough property and capital and liberty so that they can keep their families and their dignity.” (Ahlquist 160)

Another crowning achievement of Chesterton’s was his Father Brown stories. The difference between Father Brown and other detectives is that the detectives discover the murderer, while father Brown discovers the murderer, but also cares about his salvation. Having read many of the Father Brown stories myself, I would go so far as to say that Father brown was the priest/detective of common sense.

In conclusion, I believe Dale Ahlquist has shown that G. K. Chesterton truly was and still is the Apostle of Common Sense. Not only was he an Apostle of Common Sense, he was also an evangelist, and prophet. I believe many of his prophecies about our modern times have come true. I believe Chesterton has struck the sole problem of our society: “A society is in decay when common sense has become uncommon.” (Ahlquist 172) The only way to halt this decay, and build again, is by using the common sense of the Catholic Church.

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