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Shevolution

The Speaker, September 7, 1901

IT IS some time now since Comte and his followers called upon humanity to perform the difficult gymnastic feat of kneeling to itself. But it remains a remarkable thing that in mentioning the claims which this many-headed beast has to worship they omitted entirely the one claim that it really possesses, that of its mystery, its complete unreasonableness. They dwelt upon the orderly development of humanity, the obvious nature of its progress, the chains of unalterable causation in which it is bound, as if anyone could worship a god who was nothing but a pompous underling. A god must at least be something spontaneous and self-willed, something that can play house-breaker and play truant. Verily thou art a god that hidest thyself, said the wise old Hebrew. The essential of a divinity is mystery. Magnificent old civilisations grovelled before cats and beetles, crowned the birds and oxen which we kill for food, sought the ultimate sanctity in the dark and brutal underworld of creatures without brains or stomachs, merely because there is a mystery in the eyes of the brutes, and to the human sight a dog is more mystical than a man. The one genuine claim of humanity to be considered a god lies in the fact that it is a monster. Indeed, it is something more fierce and secret than a monster, it is a she-monster. So far from exhibiting the business-like and systematic self-improvement which Positivism attributed to it, it exhibits the dumb cravings and clamorous necessities, the crazy holidays and the burning penances, of a woman in a psychological novel. Humanity as a whole is feminine, like most other institutions, as the practice of personification attests. Men are male, but Man is female.

Woman, it is generally felt, is a relic of the supernatural age. She is left to confound our reason like a sign in heaven or a man raised from the dead. Most of us form some opinions and base them upon some reasons. Not only do we base our conviction upon reason, but we cannot imagine it being done in any other way. But a woman builds like an architect who should begin a church by putting the spire on first. To modify the image, the reasons, the evidence, the proof, are with her mere fantastic gargoyles and flying buttresses added in the exultation of artistic success. The foundation, which she lays first in solid and irrevocable masonry, is the conclusion to which she intends to come. Clever women may easily learn to be logical, for it is a mere trick like single-stick, but the essential difference will always remain that she will not use her weapon to discover and conquer new continents, but to defend that patch of ground which descends to her by a divine right. But that these things are characteristic of female humanity has often been noticed, but it has scarcely ever, I think, been remarked that they are characteristic of all humanity. Viewed in detail the history of mankind appears a series of most lucid philosophies and constitutions. But viewed as a whole, after the ages of slow and brainless evolution, the movement of humanity towards perfection has had all the inscrutable suddenness and vivacity of a boy's running away to sea. A woman, as I have said, varies in her arguments, but never in her conclusions. Nothing is more profoundly astonishing in the general character of human history than the way in which various nations and ages and civilisations have agreed in their conclusions, and consistently contradicted each other in their arguments. Immense and lonely civilisations exist, separated from each other almost as utterly as if they were different planets. Civilisations which have never crossed each other's path, since their ancestors separated in the form of something closely resembling apes, civilisations whose gods and temples appear to themselves solemn and beautiful, and to each other too hideous for a comic paper, these civilisations, when all is said and done, have not greatly differed in morality. Thou shalt not murder, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not bear false witness, thou shalt keep thine own festivals, thou shalt worship thine own gods: these are almost as familiar to every age and country as the sun rising in the east. There are divergences between races which fill us at first sight with horror, with a kind of atheistic panic of the unmeaning richness and multiplicity of things. But, when we come to think of it, there are not the divergences that one might have had a right to expect. There are pessimists who maintain that life is an evil; yet there is no such thing as a pessimistic civilisation where men are canonised for destroying life and pilloried for sparing it. There are professors of paradox who maintain that falsehood is more artistic than truth, but there is no such thing as an artistic civilisation where judges reward men for perjury, and commit them to prison for being grossly and repeatedly accurate. There is no theology of which the heaven is entirely populated with liars and assassins wearing wings and white robes; no theology in which the saints and the patriots are in hell. Nietzsche's idea that Christian purity and charity are new and abnormal things is a dream. There never was a cult of tyranny. If we could penetrate to the most faded scripture and the most forgotten god we should find, as we find in Egypt and Israel, that they inculcated the truisms of judgment and mercy which might serve as the official objects of the London County Council.

Upon these four of five matters, therefore, the various great branches of humanity are practically unanimous. The true rationalist cannot but be struck by this fact, and find in it an indication that there must be some very common central ground, some definite logical reason of very wide application, behind all these things. But here comes in the extraordinary fact. They all agree, indeed, that these things are right, but they each profess that their conclusion rests upon some entirely different line of argument. Each commonly explains that it is right in discouraging theft upon grounds which clearly show that all the others must be wrong in discouraging theft. One set of men maintain that we should spare life because it is immortal, and the slayer interferes with some splendid destiny. Another set of men maintain that we should spare life because it is not immortal, and the slayer nails down for ever the coffin-lid of annihilation. One class of thinkers maintains that we should avoid lying because there is a mystical quality in words and ideas; another, that we should avoid lying because words and ideas are unimportant in comparison to material fact. In short, these queer old scruples stand alone and undisputed in the centre of human life. Some say they are right because they are black, some say they are right because they are white. Some excitedly draw attention to their solid and decisive squareness, some ecstatically pin their faith to their exquisite and voluptuous roundness. Some say they are right because the moon is made of silver, and some because it is made of green cheese. This is the strange, humorous, and romantic condition of men. They are still on an expedition, and will always be on an expedition, in search of arguments and data. But their conclusion they formed long ago, before the darkest beginnings of the history of the world. In other words, we may fall back upon the modest and reasonable proposition involved in this article, the proposition that Man is a woman.

~G.K. Chesterton

by G. K. Chesterton (Author), Mike Miles (Compiler)

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