Complete anarchy would not merely make it impossible to have any discipline or fidelity; it would also make it impossible to have any fun. To take an obvious instance, it would not be worth while to bet if a bet were not binding. The dissolution of all contracts would not only ruin morality but spoil sport.
Now betting and such sports are only the stunted and twisted shapes of the original instinct of man for adventure and romance. And the perils, rewards, punishments, and fulfillments of an adventure must be real, or the adventure is only a shifting and heartless nightmare. If I bet I must be made to pay, or there is no poetry in betting. If I challenge I must be made to fight, or there is no poetry in challenging. If I vow to be faithful I must be cursed when I am unfaithful, or there is no fun in vowing.
You could not even make a fairy tale from the experiences of a man who, when he was swallowed by a whale, might find himself at the top of the Eiffel Tower, or when he was turned into a frog begin to behave like a flamingo. For the purpose even of the wildest romance must be real; results must be irrevocable. Christian marriage is the great example of a real and irrevocable result; and that is why it is the chief subject and center of all our romantic writing.
GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Reflection – It is classic Chestertonian style that in this passage anarchy does not ‘merely’ destroy morality, discipline and fidelity; anarchy even more so takes all the fun out of life. It is one thing, certainly not a good thing, to annihilate the moral sense of life or make fidelity impossible, but to spoil sport and fun and merriment—that’s really bad. That’s low.
He’s on to something there, you know. We can easily, in the debasement of our language and our general human foolishness, think of morality as something ‘out there’ which is imposed on us as a heavy burden. If we’re not complete fools, we know that this heavy burden is a good one, a necessary one, that we cannot simply do whatever we please and call it a ‘good life.’ But it is still a burden, something that we feel is coming upon us from outside of us, something that, if we could shuck it off with no ill consequence, we would.
But fun, merriment, the sense of poetry and adventure and grandeur in life—who experiences any of that as a burden we would shuck off if we could? ‘Oh, why does life have to be so rich and fun and glorious?’, said no one, ever. And it is GKC’s great insight here that, for life to have this sense of adventure and poetry and romance, it must have real consequence, real import, and our actions must matter, must bear consequences. Why play a game where the rules change mid-turn, where every move can be nullified by any player and points won only count as long as anyone wants them to count? A game where the goal posts move continually so that no matter how accurately and forcefully you kick the ball it will not enter the net except by merest happenstance?
Well, that’s something of the world we live in now, isn’t it? And I don’t think it is such great fun, as it turns out. A world where there are no rules, or where the rules change continually, or where the rules in a given situation are just set by whoever wields the power in that situation, a world where it’s all arbitrary and ultimately senseless and there’s nothing solid is a world not only where real moral action and real moral heroism are impossible; it is also a world that is a colossal big drag.
Marriage is, of course, the great common experience of this call to heroic adventure that comes to each and every human being. Of course I would enthusiastically add vowed religious life to that same category, the great romance of abandoning one’s life to God and no other. Common divorce, and the easy leaving behind of one’s vowed commitments, is a great social evil of our times – this hardly needs to be pointed out, it is so obvious. Of course there are tragic situations of abuse or other extreme situations where separation is necessary, or where a dispensation from vows is just and right.
But even deeper and more relevant to all of our lives every day (we’re not all getting divorced every day or leaving our commitments) is to take hold of GKC’s real point, which is that moral order and absolute moral laws are actually the necessary framework for a vibrant exciting purposeful meaningful adventurous life. Life as a romance, as something worth living requires moral responsibility and consequences. Far from being a heavy burden dumped on us by either a cruel God or cruel men, the moral law is truly a path of life and joy in the world that calls us to the great adventure of love and beauty. Being a good boy or a good girl actually ends up being more fun. Who knew?