Anarchy Inc. - Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton
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Anarchy Inc.

Dale Ahlquist
From the March/April 2024 Issue of Gilbert Magazine

“I tell you …” he repeated, with wild eyes, “… they were full of men in masks!” 

In G.K. Chesterton’s marvelous and mystical novel, The Man Who Was Thursday, there is one scene that is striking for its prophetic power. 

The main character, a poet named Gabriel Syme, is recruited by a policeman to become an undercover detective. The policeman explains: 

We believe that a purely intellectual conspiracy will soon threaten the very existence of civilization, that the scientific and artistic worlds are silently bound in a crusade against the Family and the State. We have formed a special corps of policemen, policemen who are also philosophers. It is our business to watch the beginnings of this conspiracy. 

The policeman assures Syme that he is not talking about the “poor criminal … the ignorant and the desperate.” 

We say that the dangerous criminal is the educated criminal. We say that the most dangerous criminal now is the entirely lawless modern philosopher. Compared to him, burglars and bigamists are essentially moral men; my heart goes out to them. They accept the essential ideal of man; they merely seek it wrongly. Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it. But philosophers dislike property as property; they wish to destroy the very idea of personal possession. Bigamists respect marriage, or they would not go through the highly ceremonial formality of bigamy. But philosophers despise marriage as marriage. Murderers respect human life; they merely wish to attain a greater fullness of human life in themselves by the sacrifice of what seems to them to be lesser lives. But philosophers hate life itself, their own as much as other people’s. 

Chesterton wrote this book in 1908. He foresees the attack on property, on the home, on marriage, and on life itself. He foresees what Pope John Paul II would call the Culture of Death. 

Today, we continue to reel from the blows dealt by the Culture of Death. The attack on life, and particularly on the family, that institution that is the incubator and nourisher of life, continues relentlessly. We are seeing the slaughter of the unborn being enshrined as a fundamental right. We have given the sacred name of “marriage” to a perversion. We are dismantling the very work of God who created us male and female. It is disorienting. It is stupefying. 

Meanwhile back in the novel, Gabriel Syme becomes an undercover policeman, posing as an anarchist and joining a group of anarchists, each of whom is named after a day of the week. He is Thursday. But then he begins to experience that disorientation described above. He is a policeman, a representative of law and order, but he is pretending to be just the opposite. “His soul swayed in a vertigo of moral indecision.”  

Then, in one of the novel’s many twists and turns, Syme discovers that one of the other anarchists is unmasked as an undercover policeman. And then another. Everyone is wearing masks. Portraying themselves as outlaws, as anarchists, when actually they are fighting on the same side against the anarchists. Each one has been acting as if he was going along with an insane scheme of the destruction of a well-ordered world, and was afraid of being caught and exposed as a good guy.  

In 1908, there really was a conspiracy of evil brewing, and there were some who recognized it, and really had to go to that dark underworld in order to expose it. But now it has been exposed. The conspiracy is out in the open. 

The problem is, we are still undercover. 

We still haven’t the courage to take our masks off. We are still pretending to be anarchists, going along with the anarchists, the godless philosophers who hate the home, hate marriage, hate life itself. 

If we took off our false faces, we might be surprised to discover how many others will take off theirs. We often think we are fighting alone, but sometimes we are fighting people who are actually on our side, but neither of us know that we share the same ideas. They, too, really want to defend the normal, but they, like us, are afraid of being exposed as good guys. But by not doing anything, our souls sway, “in a vertigo of moral indecision.” 

Make no mistake, there is real evil. There is a devil. And the devil enjoys having us fight each other. But as Gabriel Syme realizes in The Man Who Was Thursday, the Devil doesn’t make, he only destroys. He destroys homes, destroys marriages, destroys babies. He also destroys schools where young minds are formed. He destroys the learning of truth by using “the educated criminal.” 

We are at war with the devil. But we can do what the devil cannot. We make things. We are made in the image of the Creator, which makes us creators. We make homes, we make marriages, we make babies. We make life. 

We also make schools. 


Dale Ahlquist is President of The Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton, a worldwide lay apostolate dedicated to Catholic education, evangelization, and the social teaching of the church. He leads the Society’s Chesterton Schools Network, which exists to inspire and support the creation of joyfully Catholic, classical, and affordable high schools around the world. Learn More