A questioner wrote to me with three questions following my recent podcast recording on Distributism, and as I took some time to answer them and thought them generally useful basic questions on the subject, I decided I'd post them with the answers I gave here.
Here follows the first question and its answer; questions 2 and 3 with their respective answers will be posted separately. Be not faint of heart, this is the longest answer by a good margin, but also the most fundamental question.
Years ago, after I first read The Screwtape Letters, I liked to quote often the two epigraphs Lewis included before his preface. The first, taken from the "table talk" of Martin Luther, ran thus:
The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.
The second, from St. Thomas More, is in very much the same vein.
The devil… the proud spirite… cannot endure to be mocked.
There is, of course, a certain amount of great wisdom contained in these quotations—although, for a young man just setting out on a path of growth in the spiritual life, there may have been a bit of what Freud called Verleugnung (sort of a species of denial) involved in my attraction to these adages. Indeed, the second quotation, given as it is in truncated form and contextualized by the Luther bit, might be mistaken to mean something quite different from what Saint Thomas More intended. In its original context, the Saint was speaking about the perseverance with which a virtuous man rebukes temptation: how the devil will eventually give up tempting him rather than risk being "mocked" by his continual refusal—or worse, cause the virtuous man to attain even higher merit in warding off stronger diabolical assaults.
Apart from that potential misreading, thought, there is another manner in which the wisdom of these quotations must be taken with a grain of salt, and balanced by broader perspective: because it seems there are at least some times when the devil delights in being mocked, and we have all seen evidence of this recently...
From the "GKCDaily" quotations account on Twitter comes this nugget that caught my eye:
Though the source isn't given, this is apparently in one of Chesterton's Illustrated London News pieces from the period between 1920-22 - I don't have my volumes near to hand, so I can't zero in on the particular date and title of the article.