This book requires some explanation of what appears to be a departure from the desired winsome Chesterton to a rageful Chesterton. But like Jesus who could go from a man tenderly inviting children to listen about God’s love to a man who could fashion a whip to drive money-changers from the temple, Chesterton here displays a fullness of personality – he is here taking on the quality of prophet who sadly does not want to be right. Dale Ahlquist points out the following about reading Utopia of Usurers as the first Chesterton book:
Similarly, we may encourage people to read the Bible, but we don’t recommend that they start by opening to the prophet Amos. The comparison is a good one, for in addition to admitting that he is in a rage, Chesterton also admits to being a prophet-probably the only time in his entire literary career where he makes such a statement. That is because there is a direct connection to his writing in a rage and his writing as a prophet. He is not predicting the future, he is warning about an almost certain sort of future unless things change, and his hope, like the hope of the prophets of old, is that his prophecy may not come true… The modern world suffers horribly, from the physical poverty of the permanently poor, to the moral and spiritual poverty of the ever-shrinking middle class, and G.K. Chesterton lays much of the blame at the feet of the very rich. The rich, he says, are the new rulers, “kings that have taken no oath nor led us into any battle.” They have cast a spell, turning men into sheep. We follow them wherever their advertisements lead us. We believe whatever their headlines tell us. We watch them passively as they transform the world we live in. We think bigness is a guaranty of quality. We shop in their few big stores not because we can get what we want but because we get what we’re told, and we give in to a “queer idolatry of the enormous and the elaborate.” We know very well that we’re frustrated by it, and yet, says Chesterton, “this strange poetry of plutocracy prevails over people against their very senses.” (Lecture 13: Utopia of Usurers)
“The big commercial concerns of to-day are quite exceptionally incompetent. They will be even more incompetent when they are omnipotent. Indeed, that is, and always has been, the whole point of a monopoly; the old and sound argument against a monopoly. It is only because it is incompetent that it has to be omnipotent. When one large shop occupies the whole of one side of a street (or sometimes both sides), it does so in order that men may be unable to get what they want; and may be forced to buy what they don’t want. That the rapidly approaching kingdom of the Capitalists will ruin art and letters, I have already said. I say here that in the only sense that can be called human, it will ruin trade, too.
I will not let Christmas go by, even when writing for a revolutionary paper necessarily appealing to many with none of my religious sympathies, without appealing to those sympathies. I knew a man who sent to a great rich shop for a figure for a group of Bethlehem. It arrived broken. I think that is exactly all that business men have now the sense to do.”
-G. K. Chesterton, III. Unbusinesslike Business, Utopia of Usurers, 1917
Read more of this book online: Utopia of Usurers
Read the lecture: Utopia of Usurers