I recently initiated a boycott of Gilbert Magazine, not because I dislike the magazine but, on the contrary, because I love it (though I recognize its failings) and I love the American Chesterton Society (ACS). I love these institutions in much the same way that I love the United States of America and in much the same way that I love my alma mater, the University of Notre Dame. I do not love them because of their perfection but, rather, I love them because of their potential good, their potential beauty and even because of the beauty and goodness that has been, hoping that it may be again. I love them with their failings. In fact, I love them so much that I am willing to expose their failings to the light of day. I am eager to love them in a manly way and I fear any failure of love that may manifest itself in the form of indifference. So, in the case of Gilbert Magazine and the ACS my love took the form of a boycott.
The occasion that gave rise to this action of love was the editorial by Dale Ahlquist in an issue of Gilbert Magazine published in the months leading up to the recent presidential election (“Why I Won’t Vote for Mitt Romney”, May/June 2012). I laid out my objections to Mr. Ahlquist’s editorial in another article here at A Sensible Life so I will not say much more about it in this piece other than to say that I found it impossible to get through to folks at the ACS without resorting to the step that I eventually took, the Boycott. The good news is that the Boycott had an almost immediate positive effect. I was able to get the attention of some folks at the ACS. The Boycott engendered some conversation on Mark Shea’s blog as well as on the ACS blog and the ACS Facebook page. Unfortunately, the folks with whom I interacted remain entrenched in their support of Mr. Ahlquist’s position.
Let me just say that though I find Mr. Ahlquist’s position poorly reasoned and indefensible, I would not normally make a public objection to an individual’s privately held belief. The problem with Mr. Ahlquist’s error is manifestly that it is not a private error but one that he made publicly not only in his own name but also “for the editorial board of Gilbert Magazine“. In effect, he relied upon his position on the editorial board of the magazine and as president of the ACS to attempt to sway readers away from a sensible approach to our 2012 elections. Rather than remaining silent or, better yet, encouraging Gilbert readers to actively support the candidate on the correct side (if not absolutely correct, then most certainly correct on a relative basis compared to his opponent) of the great moral absolutes of our day (marriage, life, religious freedom), Mr. Ahlquist led those who would follow him to disregard their civic duty.
In the somewhat jovial though serious debate that ensued as a result of the Boycott, Mr. Shea and other Ahlquist/ACS supporters objected strenuously to my objection but their objections can broadly be summarized in two points: (a) Gilbert Magazine and Mr. Ahlquist have minimal influence in this country and (b) Mr. Romney was a flawed candidate (a point to which I stipulated over and over again). I don’t know which of these objections I found more troubling. The first indicates to me a frivolousness (and by that I do not mean Chestertonian frivolity!) that is unbecoming of an organization founded upon the memory and thought of the great apologist and social/political commentator, G. K. Chesterton. I cannot imagine Chesterton taking a controversial position and then when that position runs into some public resistance, tucking his tail between his legs and saying, “well it doesn’t really matter what I say because no-one reads what I have to say anyway”. Further, this frivolous response to my objections seems to me to indicate a failure on the part of Gilbert Magazine and the ACS to embrace the significance of the role they could (and frequently do) play in reclaiming our culture and society and the positive impact they could have in the public square. I am glad they had some fun with the Boycott but I am disappointed that to a certain extent their fun became a cover for their inability to defend an indefensible position.
With regard to the second point the Ahlquist/ACS defenders raised, the faults of Mr. Romney as a candidate, I can only say that I found it to be a red herring. Of course, Mr. Romney was a flawed candidate. However, this objection merely served to attempt to distract the conversation away from the fact that they were unwilling to act positively to remove President Obama from office. In all the dialogues in which I engaged, none of the Ahlquist/ACS crowd was willing to admit the obvious: no matter how bad a candidate Mr. Romney was, he was substantively better than President Obama on all three of the great moral absolutes facing us this election cycle (defense of real marriage, protection of innocent life and protection of religious liberty). Why did they refuse to acknowledge this reality? I fear it is because of an ideological bias against Mr. Romney’s party. I also fear there is a substantial contingency within the ACS that appears to hate the Republican Party so much that it is unwilling to ally itself with the Republicans in order to save the lives of innocent children, save the institution of marriage in our country and safeguard our religious freedoms. I realize Mr. Romney would likely not have done all we could hope in any of these areas. But there is no doubt that as a result of having President Obama in office for another four years we will lose more lives of innocent unborns that we would otherwise have done; our religious liberties will be further eroded; and marriage will suffer greater and more powerful attack.
Herein lie the reasons behind the Great Boycott. I wanted to awaken Gilbert Magazine, the ACS and Mr. Ahlquist to their responsibilities as the foremost commentators on Chestertonian thought in the United States. Have fun, by all means but do not be frivolous! Also, I would like to see the ACS work with others of us out here in the hinterlands to educate the American public in authentic Catholic social teaching. For too long Catholic social teaching has been misconstrued in such a way that it has led many men and women of good will to believe in progressivism. Progressivism and big government control of social programs are not authentic manifestations of Catholic social teaching. A proper understanding of gratuitousness, freedom, responsibility, subsidiarity and solidarity will lead us to a distributed approach to dealing with the needs of our brothers and sisters and with our economic activity. These concepts will lead us away from a focus on centralized government.
Let us unite in guiding and informing our society. Let us have fun doing it but let us be serious about it. Let us be willing to work for small victories (like defeating President Obama) when no greater victory is within our grasp!
“Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of ‘touching’ a man’s heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it.” (GKC) Hence, the Great Boycott…