"A single jewel"

“THE universe is a single jewel and while it is a natural cant to talk of a jewel as peerless and priceless, of this jewel of the cosmos it is literally true. This cosmos is indeed without peer and price; for there cannot be another one.”

~G.K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy.

Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF) image of a small part of space in the center of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field within the constellation Fornax, showing the deepest optical view in space, released on Sept. 25, 2012.


"The only real aim of education"

"THERE was a time when you and I and all of us were all very close to God; so that even now the color of a pebble (or a paint), the smell of a flower (or a firework), comes to our hearts with a kind of authority and certainty; as if they were fragments of a muddled message, or features of a forgotten face. To pour that fiery simplicity upon the whole of life is the only real aim of education; and closest to the child comes the woman—she understands. To say what she understands is beyond me; save only this, that it is not a solemnity. Rather it is a towering levity, an uproarious amateurishness of the universe, such as we felt when we were little, and would as soon sing as garden, as soon paint as run. To smatter the tongues of men and angels, to dabble in the dreadful sciences, to juggle with pillars and pyramids and toss up the planets like balls, this is that inner audacity and indifference which the human soul, like a conjurer catching oranges, must keep up forever. This is that insanely frivolous thing we call sanity. And the elegant female, drooping her ringlets over her water-colors, knew it and acted on it. She was juggling with frantic and flaming suns. She was maintaining the bold equilibrium of inferiorities which is the most mysterious of superiorities and perhaps the most unattainable. She was maintaining the prime truth of woman, the universal mother: that if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly."

~G.K. Chesterton: What's Wrong With the World, XIV. "Folly and Female Education."

Artwork: Little Artist, by Eugeni Balakshin (1962, Russian). Source:
Children in Art History: http://iamachild.wordpress.com/

"Frightful female privilege"

"NOTHING can ever overcome that one enormous sex superiority, that even the male child is born closer to his mother than to his father. No one, staring at that frightful female privilege, can quite believe in the equality of the sexes. Here and there we read of a girl brought up like a tom-boy; but every boy is brought up like a tame girl. The flesh and spirit of femininity surround him from the first like the four walls of a house; and even the vaguest or most brutal man has been womanized by being born. Man that is born of a woman has short days and full of misery; but nobody can picture the obscenity and bestial tragedy that would belong to such a monster as man that was born of a man."

~G.K. Chesterton: What's Wrong With the World.

Motherhood, by Etienne Adolphe Piot (1850–1910, French).
Source: Children in Art History,


"We are created"

“ONE of the chief uses of religion is that it makes us remember our coming from darkness, the simple fact that we are created.”

~G.K. Chesterton: The Boston Sunday Post, Jan. 16, 1921.

Creation of Adam, by Michelangelo Buonarroti; Fresco, 1510. Cappella Sistina, Vatican.


The Human Tree (poem)

MANY have Earth's lovers been,
Tried in seas and wars, I ween;
Yet the mightiest have I seen:
Yea, the best saw I.
One that in a field alone
Stood up stiller than a stone
Lest a moth should fly.

Birds had nested in his hair,
On his shoon were mosses rare,
Insect empires flourished there,
Worms in ancient wars;
But his eyes burn like a glass,
Hearing a great sea of grass
Roar towards the stars.

From them to the human tree
Rose a cry continually:
`Thou art still, our Father, we
Fain would have thee nod.
Make the skies as blood below thee,
Though thou slay us, we shall know thee.
Answer us, O God!

`Show thine ancient fame and thunder,
Split the stillness once asunder,
Lest we whisper, lest we wonder
Art thou there at all?'
But I saw him there alone,
Standing stiller than a stone
Lest a moth should fall.

~G.K. Chesterton


"The divinity of Christ"

"BUT ABOVE ALL, it is true of the most tremendous issue; of that tragedy which has created the divine comedy of our creed. Nothing short of the extreme and strong and startling doctrine of the divinity of Christ will give that particular effect that can truly stir the popular sense like a trumpet; the idea, of the king himself serving in the ranks like a common soldier. By making that figure merely human we make that story much less human. We take away the point of the story which actually pierces humanity; the point of the story which is quite literally the point of a spear. It does not especially humanize the universe to say that good and wise men can die for their opinions; any more than it would be any sort of uproariously popular news in an army that good soldiers may easily get killed. It is no news that King Leonidas is dead any more than that Queen Anne is dead; and men did not wait for Christianity to be men, in the full sense of being heroes. But if we are describing, for the moment, the atmosphere of what is generous and popular and even picturesque, any knowledge of human nature will tell us that no sufferings of the sons of men, or even of the servants of God, strike the same note as the notion of the master suffering instead of his servants. And this is given by the theological and emphatically not by the scientific deity. No mysterious monarch, hidden in his starry pavilion at the base of the cosmic campaign, is in the least like that celestial chivalry of the Captain who carries his five wounds in the front of battle."

~G.K. Chesterton: The Everlasting Man.

The Ghent Altarpiece: God Almighty, Jan van Eyck;
Oil on wood, 1426-27. Cathedral of St. Bavo, Ghent.


On Art

"ART is a language, and not a secret language."
Illustrated London News, Oct. 3, 1908.

"EVERY form of art has a soul of its own. It has a certain psychological effect which differs from the impression produced by another kind."
Daily News, April 9, 1901.

"A WORK of art is like a prayer."
Daily News, June 7, 1901.

"IN our time we find a great deal of religion in art. In former ages we found a great deal of art in religion. Religion was the orthodoxy of those days: art has become almost the only orthodoxy of these. They permitted art and literature because they glorified God."
Daily News, Jan. 2, 1902.

"THE province of art may be said to be to discover what are the main lines of our pleasure, and to fix them firmly in the mind. It recreates for us the vanished sensation, and hunts the flying happiness."
Daily News, Feb. 7, 1902.

"IF Art is crowned queen, the first who will suffer will be the artists. This new tyranny will be of necessity a tyranny of the critics, who are many, not merely of the creators, who are few."
Daily News, Nov. 19, 1904.

"MEN do not produce art in order to become joyful. They are joyful, and therefore they produce art. Men do not dance in order to be happy. They dance because they are happy…Art is not the mother, but the child of beauty."
Daily News, April 8, 1905.

"ALL art is a thing of glimpses."
Daily News, May 26, 1906.

"MUCH is said nowadays against the cult of pleasure, not without reason; and it is possible to make far too much of the cult of art. It is only fair to count this truth on the other side; that there is a certain candour about the worlds of impressions and sensations that there is not always in
the world of theories and of laws; and that in this sense it is not only possible to dispute about tastes, but they are things about which men dispute with least hypocrisy and sophistry."
Introduction to The New World of the Theatre.

"THERE are two senses in which an artist may work to awaken wonder. One is the basest and vulgarist kind of art; the other is the highest and noblest kind of art. The former is meant to make us wonder at the artist; the latter is meant to make us wonder at the world."
New Witness, Mar. 12, 1920.

"EVERY great artist in his heart scorns art, as compared with the greatness of God and man."
Shakespeare and the Germans.

~G.K. Chesterton

(Quotes from Gilbert Magazine, Vol. 13, Num. 8; July/Aug. 2010; Art: Battleground for the Soul of Man. http://tinyurl.com/caux8s9 )

The Art of Painting, by Johannes Vermeer; Oil on canvas, 1665-67.
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

"The philosopher of the ego"

"THE MOST brilliant exponent of the egoistic school, Nietszche, with deadly and honourable logic, admitted that the philosophy of self-satisfaction led to looking down upon the weak, the cowardly, and the ignorant. Looking down on things may be a delightful experience, only there is nothing, from a mountain to a cabbage, that is really seen when it is seen from a balloon. The philosopher of the ego sees everything, no doubt, from a high and rarified heaven; only he sees everything foreshortened or deformed."

~G.K. Chesterton: The Defendant, 'A Defence of Humility.'

The Defendant by G.K. Chesterton
At Amazon,

Neitzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist
by Walter Kauffann
At Amazon,

"Art is the signature of man"

BUT SUPPOSE the boy bad not been taught by a priest but by a professor, by one of the professors who simplify the relation of men and beasts to a mere evolutionary variation. Suppose the boy saw himself, with the same simplicity and sincerity, as a mere Mowgli running with the pack of nature and roughly indistinguishable from the rest save by a relative and recent variation. What would be for him the simplest lesson of that strange stone picture-book? After all, it would come back to this; that he had dug very deep and found the place where a man had drawn the picture of a reindeer. But he would dig a good deal deeper before he found a place where a reindeer had drawn a picture of a man. That sounds like a truism but in this connection it is really a very tremendous truth. He might descend to depths unthinkable, he might sink into sunken continents as strange as remote stars, he might find himself in the inside of the world as far from men as the other side of the moon; he might see in those cold chasms or colossal terraces of stone, traced in the faint hieroglyphic of the fossil, the ruins of lost dynasties of biological life, rather like the ruins of successive creations and separate universes than the stages in the story of one. He would find the trail of monsters blindly developing in directions outside all our common imagery of fish and bird; groping and grasping and touching life with every extravagant elongation of horn and tongue and tentacle; growing a forest of fantastic caricatures of the claw and the fin and the finger. But nowhere would he find one finger that had traced one significant line upon the sand; nowhere one claw that bad even begun to scratch the faint suggestion of a form.

To all appearance, the thing would be as unthinkable in all those countless cosmic variations of forgotten eons as it would be in the beasts and birds before our eyes. The child would no more expect to see it than to see the cat scratch on the wall a vindictive caricature of the dog. The childish common sense would keep the most evolutionary child from expecting to see anything like that; yet in the traces of the rude and recently evolved ancestors of humanity he would have seen exactly that. It must surely strike him as strange that men so remote from him should be so near, and that beasts so near to him should be so remote. To his simplicity it must seem at least odd that he could not find any trace of the beginning of any arts among any animals. That is the simplest lesson to learn in the cavern of the colored pictures; only it is too simple to be learnt.

It is the simple truth that man does differ from the brutes in kind and not in degree; and the proof of it is here; that it sounds like a truism to say that the most primitive man drew a picture of a monkey and that it sounds like a joke to say that the most intelligent monkey drew a picture of a man. Something of division and disproportion has appeared; and it is unique. Art is the signature of man.

That is the sort of simple truth with which a story of the beginnings ought really to begin. The evolutionist stands staring in the painted cavern at the things that are too large to be seen and too simple to be understood. He tries to deduce all sorts of other indirect and doubtful things from the details of the pictures, because he cannot see the primary significance of the whole; thin and theoretical deductions about the absence of religion or the presence of superstition; about tribal government and hunting and human sacrifice and heaven knows what.

~G.K. Chesterton: The Everlasting Man.

Lascaux cave art from Upper Paleolithic period; c. 15,000 B.C

About Political Creeds

AS I AM myself a Liberal without any Liberal Party; a Little-Englander in the sense that I care more about England than about Newfoundland or Tasmania; a Radical in all my instincts in the general social quarrels of our plutocracy; an ex-Socialist who is still enough of a Socialist to be a sort of revolutionist, and to regret that the Socialists have become as respectable as the Prime Minister; a Distributist who denies that any of the nineteenth-century parties of squires and merchants had the remotest notion of what was wrong with the nineteenth century, especially in England (for what was wrong was the absence of peasants, who are equally opposed to merchants and squires)—in short, since I am a disreputable demagogic sort of person, holding that most reforms are too slow rather than too fast— from all this it will be easily and naturally deduced that my favourite politician is Mr. Baldwin. The deduction may not be swift and obvious; but it is sound. When I say my favourite politician, I mean in so far as any politician can be anybody's favourite. I do not take the taste with tremendous solemnity; because our politicians do not control our politics. Even the best of them are forced to a continuous compromise by the pressure of private interests, which are also public monopolies; and it is these commercial monopolies that rule the State. But if I were in practical politics (which God forbid), and if they involved me in that particular problem of party allegiance, I should support Mr. Baldwin for all I was worth, or rather for all he is worth—which is not a little. I should support him even though I disagree with him; on the ground that at least he is more liberal than the Liberals, more social than the Socialists, and immeasurably more patriotic than the Imperialists. I should support him through thick and thin; for I think the opposing theories are pretty thin and the impudence a bit thick. I should support him especially against his loyal and devoted followers.

But I value him very specially for this: that I do think he is the one politician alive who has some inner understanding of the English people. They are exceedingly difficult to understand. So far from being merely bluff and sturdy, as they used to imagine, they are by far the most subtle and complex of all the great nations of Christendom. Since the fall of the Stuarts, with the beginning of the eighteenth century, their system has worked with a quite abnormal sort of anonymity and evasiveness. At that date they set up a king who was not allowed to govern anything and an aristocracy which in reality governed everything, but which went on saying louder and louder that it governed nothing and was not an aristocracy at all. All our chief official figures are unofficial; they are in that sense outsiders. The Prime Minister is an outsider, for he is unknown to the British Constitution. The Speaker is so called because he is the one Member who never speaks. The Cabinet carries with it the suggestion of a secret meeting; or men hiding in a corner, or even locked up in a box. For the only lawful power was in the Privy Council, which never meets at all. The power has passed to something much privier than a Privy Council. These are only instances taken at random; these and a thousand other things illustrate the strange quality I have mentioned; the quality of evasiveness; we might say of escape. And the most singular form of it is that to which I have already referred, the curious anonymity of aristocracy. For two centuries, and at least up to very lately, England has been a State of a special historical type. It was a type very common in mercantile and seafaring States; as in the Republic of Venice and the Republic of Holland. One feature of these Republics was that they were not republican— in the modern sense of democratic. But the feature of England was more odd and unique. It was, in effect, that aristocrats could do anything except call themselves aristocrats. They must be very careful only to call themselves gentlemen. It may seem a very vague and irrational understanding, but upon that understanding rested the safety of a vast and often victorious system; and, for some time at least, the greatness of England.

Now when the quarrel began about the Black-shirts and the Red Peril in England, Mr. Baldwin said one very profound and penetrating thing. Nobody else said it; and nobody seems to have taken any particular notice of it. What he said was, in substance, this, or words to the same effect. Whatever you may think about rival theories or systems, the fact will remain that Communists generally are poor men and Fascists generally are not. He was right; and it is unfortunately the fact, in England, that a fight between them will seem to be simply a fight of rich men as such against poor men as such. And that is precisely the one thing that the policy of a popular gentry must avoid as a matter of life and death. Cynically speaking, it may have any amount of general injustice, in the impersonal pressure of one economic class upon another. But if you can actually take a snapshot of the squire kicking the poacher, if you can prove the practical occurrence of a banker bashing a beggar on the head—then you explode the whole generous fiction on which the popularity of a gentry reposes. Anybody who does not understand that does not understand the English people; and Mr. Baldwin does.

It is not so with the same factions of Fascists and Communists on the Continent. For on the Continent the traditions of a conflict of ideas have come down continuously from the Crusades and the religious wars and the wars of the French Revolution. And the intellectual vision, even the enemy's intellectual vision, is often vivid enough to make men forget the mere facts of wealth and poverty. When a Crusader fought with a Saracen, it might happen that the Crusader was a poor knight or squire driven to the wars by sheer poverty and the other a great Sheik with whole processions of camels and concubines. Or it might equally happen that the Crusader was a rich and powerful baron and the Moslem a poor and ragged Bedouin. But it was in the whole temper of the time to think of it first as a fight between Christendom and Islam. So, even in England, as late as the genuine struggle of Roundheads and Cavaliers, the Cavalier might be a great noble like Newcastle, or he might be a nameless yeoman from loyal Hereford or Cornwall. The Roundhead might be a tinker like Bunyan, though he was quite as likely to be a Puritan aristocrat rich with the abbey lands, or a wealthy London merchant. But there remained some true feeling that it was the anointed King against the Parliament—or the Saints. So in Europe still, whatever be the facts, it is felt as a fight between a Fascist who does believe in the Corporative State and a Communist who does believe in the Communist State. But, for good or evil, we have never got ideas worked into the popular intelligence, as on the Continent. We have forgotten the fight about ethics, and are left with the depressing substitute of economics. With us it would really be a Class War; but with them it is only the last of the Wars of Religion.

~G.K. Chesterton, As I Was Saying.

The Maniac

FOR WE must remember that the materialist philosophy (whether true or not) is certainly much more limiting than any religion. In one sense, of course, all intelligent ideas are narrow. They cannot be broader than themselves. A Christian is only restricted in the same sense that an atheist is restricted. He cannot think Christianity false and continue to be a Christian; and the atheist cannot think atheism false and continue to be an atheist. But as it happens, there is a very special sense in which materialism has more restrictions than spiritualism. Mr. McCabe thinks me a slave because I am not allowed to believe in determinism. I think Mr. McCabe a slave because he is not allowed to believe in fairies. But if we examine the two vetoes we shall see that his is really much more of a pure veto than mine. The Christian is quite free to believe that there is a considerable amount of settled order and inevitable development in the universe. But the materialist is not allowed to admit into his spotless machine the slightest speck of spiritualism or miracle. Poor Mr. McCabe is not allowed to retain even the tiniest imp, though it might be hiding in a pimpernel. The Christian admits that the universe is manifold and even miscellaneous, just as a sane man knows that he is complex. The sane man knows that he has a touch of the beast, a touch of the devil, a touch of the saint, a touch of the citizen. Nay, the really sane man knows that he has a touch of the madman. But the materialist's world is quite simple and solid, just as the madman is quite sure he is sane. The materialist is sure that history has been simply and solely a chain of causation, just as the interesting person before mentioned is quite sure that he is simply and solely a chicken. Materialists and madmen never have doubts.

Spiritual doctrines do not actually limit the mind as do materialistic denials. Even if I believe in immortality I need not think about it. But if I disbelieve in immortality I must not think about it. In the first case the road is open and I can go as far as I like; in the second the road is shut. But the case is even stronger, and the parallel with madness is yet more strange. For it was our case against the exhaustive and logical theory of the lunatic that, right or wrong, it gradually destroyed his humanity. Now it is the charge against the main deductions of the materialist that, right or wrong, they gradually destroy his humanity; I do not mean only kindness, I mean hope, courage, poetry, initiative, all that is human. For instance, when materialism leads men to complete fatalism (as it generally does), it is quite idle to pretend that it is in any sense a liberating force. It is absurd to say that you are especially advancing freedom when you only use free thought to destroy free will. The determinists come to bind, not to loose. They may well call their law the "chain" of causation. It is the worst chain that ever fettered a human being. You may use the language of liberty, if you like, about materialistic teaching, but it is obvious that this is just as inapplicable to it as a whole as the same language when applied to a man locked up in a mad-house. You may say, if you like, that the man is free to think himself a poached egg. But it is surely a more massive and important fact that if he is a poached egg he is not free to eat, drink, sleep, walk, or smoke a cigarette. Similarly you may say, if you like, that the bold determinist speculator is free to disbelieve in the reality of the will. But it is a much more massive and important fact that he is not free to raise, to curse, to thank, to justify, to urge, to punish, to resist temptations, to incite mobs, to make New Year resolutions, to pardon sinners, to rebuke tyrants, or even to say "thank you" for the mustard.

~G.K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy.

"Inventions have destroyed invention"

“INVENTIONS have destroyed invention. The big modern machines are like big guns dominating and terrorizing a whole stretch of country, within the range of which nothing can raise its head. There is far more inventiveness to the square yard of mankind than ever appear under that monopolist terror. The minds of men are not so much alike as the motor cars of men, or the morning papers of men, or the mechanical manufacture of the coats and hats of men. In other words, we are not getting the best out of men. We are certainly not getting the most individual or the most interesting qualities out of men. And it is doubtful whether we ever shall, until we shut off this deafening din of megaphones that drowns their voices, this deathly glare of limelight which kills the colours of their complexions, this plangent yell of platitudes which stuns and stops their minds.

"All this sort of thing is killing thoughts as they grow, as the great white death ray might kill plants as they grow. When, therefore, people tell me that making a great part of England rustic and self-supporting would mean making it rude and senseless, I do not agree with them; and I do not think they understand the alternatives or the problem. Nobody wants all men to be rustics even in normal times; it is very tenable that some of the most intelligent would turn to the towns even in normal times. But I say the towns themselves are the foes of intelligence, in these times; I say the rustics themselves would have more variety and vivacity than is really encouraged by these towns. I say it is only by shutting off this unnatural noise and light that men’s minds can begin again to move and grow. Just as we spread paving stones over different soils without reference to the different crops that might grow there, so we spread programmes of platitudinous plutocracy over souls that God made various, and simpler societies have been made free."

~G.K. Chesterton: The Outline of Sanity.

Farmer Inserting a Graft on a Tree, by Jean-François Millet.
Oil on canvas, 1865; Neue Pinakothek, Munich.

The Angelus, by Jean-François Millet; Oil on canvas, 1859-60.
Musée d'Orsay, Paris.


"Humility in the wrong place"

"BUT WHAT WE suffer from to-day is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert—himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt—the Divine Reason. Huxley preached a humility content to learn from Nature. But the new sceptic is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn. Thus we should be wrong if we had said hastily that there is no humility typical of our time. The truth is that there is a real humility typical of our time; but it so happens that it is practically a more poisonous humility than the wildest prostrations of the ascetic. The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether....We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table."

~G.K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy.

The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, Vol. 1:
Heretics, Orthodoxy, the Blatchford Controversies.

At Amazon, http://tinyurl.com/b7kfage

Babies and Distributism

I HOPE it is not a secret arrogance to say that I do not think I am exceptionally arrogant; or if I were, my religion would prevent me from being proud of my pride. Nevertheless, for those of such a philosophy, there is a very terrible temptation to intellectual pride, in the welter of wordy and worthless philosophies that surround us today. Yet there are not many things that move me to anything like a personal contempt. I do not feel any  contempt for an atheist, who is often a man limited and constrained by his own logic to a very sad simplification. I do not feel any contempt for a Bolshevist, who is a man driven to the same negative simplification by a revolt against very positive wrongs. But there is one type of person for whom I feel what I can only call contempt. And that is the popular propagandist of what he or she absurdly describes as Birth-Control.

I despise Birth-Control first because it is a weak and wobbly and cowardly word. It is also an entirely meaningless word; and is used so as to curry favour even with those who would at first recoil from its real meaning. The proceeding these quack doctors recommend does not control any birth. It only makes sure that there shall never be any birth to control. It cannot for instance, determine sex, or even make any selection in the style of the pseudo-science of Eugenics. Normal people can only act so as to produce birth; and these people can only act so as to prevent birth. But these people know perfectly well as I do that the very word Birth-Prevention would strike a chill into the public, the instant it was blazoned on headlines, or proclaimed on platforms, or scattered in advertisements like any other quack medicine. They dare not call it by its name, because its name is very bad advertising. Therefore they use a conventional and unmeaning word, which may make the quack medicine sound more innocuous.

Second, I despise Birth-Control because it is a weak and wobbly and cowardly thing. It is not even a step along the muddy road they call Eugenics; it is a flat refusal to take the first and most obvious step along the road of Eugenics. Once grant that their philosophy is right, and their course of action is obvious; and they dare not take it; they dare not even declare it. If there is no authority in things which Christendom has called moral, because their origins were mystical, then they are clearly free to ignore all the difference between animals and men; and treat men as we treat animals. They need not palter with the stale and timid compromise and convention called Birth-Control. Nobody applies it to the cat. The obvious course for Eugenists is to act towards babies as they act towards kittens. Let all the babies be born; and then let us drown those we do not like. I cannot see any objection to it; except the moral or mystical sort of objection that we advance against Birth-Prevention. And that would be real and even reasonable Eugenics; for we could then select the best, or at least the healthiest, and sacrifice what are called the unfit. By the weak compromise of Birth-Prevention, we are very probably sacrificing the fit and only producing the unfit. The births we prevent may be the births of the best and most beautiful children; those we allow, the weakest or worst. Indeed, it is probable; for the habit discourages the early parentage of young and vigorous people; and lets them put off the experience to later years, mostly from mercenary motives. Until I see a real pioneer and progressive leader coming out with a good, bold, scientific programme for drowning babies, I will not join the movement.

But there is a third reason for my contempt, much deeper and therefore more difficult to express; in which is rooted all my reasons for being anything I am or attempt to be; and above all, for being a Distributist. Perhaps the nearest to a description of it is to say this: that my contempt boils over into bad behaviour when I hear the common suggestion that a birth is avoided because people want to be "free" to go to the cinema or buy a gramophone or a loud-speaker. What makes me want to walk over such people like doormats is that they use the word "free." By every act of that sort they chain themselves to the most servile and mechanical system yet tolerated by men. The cinema is a machine for unrolling certain regular patterns called pictures; expressing the most vulgar millionaires' notion of the taste of the most vulgar millions. The gramophone is a machine for recording such tunes as certain shops and other organisations choose to sell. The wireless is better; but even that is marked by the modern mark of all three; the impotence of the receptive party. The amateur cannot challenge the actor; the householder will find it vain to go and shout into the gramophone; the mob cannot pelt the modern speaker, especially when he is a loud-speaker. It is all a central mechanism giving out to men exactly what their masters think they should have.

Now a child is the very sign and sacrament of personal freedom. He is a fresh free will added to the wills of the world; he is something that his parents have freely chosen to produce and which they freely agree to protect. They can feel that any amusement he gives (which is often considerable) really comes from him and from them and from nobody else. He has been born without the intervention of any master or lord. He is a creation and a contribution; he is their own creative contribution to creation. He is also a much more beautiful, wonderful, amusing and astonishing thing than any of the stale stories or jingling jazz tunes turned out by the machines. When men no longer feel that he is so, they have lost the appreciation of primary things, and therefore all sense of proportion about the world. People who prefer the mechanical pleasures, to such a miracle, are jaded and enslaved. They are preferring the very dregs of life to the first fountains of life. They are preferring the last, crooked, indirect, borrowed, repeated and exhausted things of our dying Capitalist civilisation, to the reality which is the only rejuvenation of all civilisation. It is they who are hugging the chains of their old slavery; it is the child who is ready for the new world.

~G.K. Chesterton: from The Well and the Shallows.

"If it does not make us happier"

“THE AIM of human polity is human happiness. For those holding certain beliefs it is conditioned by the hope of a larger happiness, which it must not imperil. But happiness, the making glad of the heart of man, is the secular test and the only realistic test. So far from this test, by the talisman of the heart, being merely sentimental, it is the only test that is in the least practical. There is no law of logic or nature or anything else forcing us to prefer anything else. There is no obligation on us to be richer, or busier, or more efficient, or more productive, or more progressive, or in any way worldlier or wealthier, if it does not make us happier. Mankind has as much right to scrap its machinery and live on the land, if it really likes it better, as any man has to sell his old bicycle and go for a walk; but he has no duty to be fast. And if it can be shown that machinery has come into the world as a curse, there is no reason whatever for our respecting it because it is a marvelous and practical and productive curse. There is no reason why we should not leave all its powers unused, if we really come to the conclusion that the powers do harm us. There mere fact that we shall be missing a number of interesting things would equally apply to any number of impossible things.”

~G.K. Chesterton: The Outline of Sanity.

A Husbandman with His Herd, by Paulus Potter; Oil on oak, 1648.
Staatliche Museen, Kassel.

Economic theory

“WHEN I say “Capitalism,” I commonly mean something that may be stated thus: “That economic condition in which there is a class of capitalists, roughly recognizable and relatively small, in whose possession so much of the capital is concentrated as to necessitate a very large majority of the citizens serving those capitalists for a wage.” ” — The Outline of Sanity.

“BIG Business and State Socialism are very much alike, especially Big Business.” — G.K.’s Weekly, April 10, 1926.

“OUR SOCIETY is so abnormal that the normal man never dreams of having the normal occupation of looking after his own property. When he chooses a trade, he chooses one of the ten thousand trades that involve looking after other people’s property.” — Commonwealth, Oct. 12, 1932.

“FROM the standpoint of any sane person, the present problem of capitalist concentration is not only a question of law, but of criminal law, not to mention criminal lunacy.” — The Outline of Sanity.

~G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton: Collected Works, Vol. 5, Family, Society, Politics: The Outline of Sanity, The End of the Armistice, The Appetite of Tyranny, Utopia of Usurers--and others.

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"The great truth"

"THERE IS always in the healthy mind an obscure prompting that religion teaches us rather to dig than to climb; that if we could once understand the common clay of earth we should understand everything. Similarly, we have the sentiment that if we could destroy custom at a blow and see the stars as a child sees them, we should need no other apocalypse. This is the great truth which has always lain at the back of baby-worship, and which will support it to the end."

~G.K. Chesterton: A Defence of Baby-Worship (in "The Defendant")


Milky Way Over Ancient Ghost Panel.
 Photo Credit & Copyright: Bret Webster

Purification and austerity

"THE FACT IS that purification and austerity are even more necessary for the appreciation of life and laughter than for anything else. To let no bird fly past unnoticed, to spell patiently the stones and weeds, to have the mind a storehouse of sunsets, requires a discipline in pleasure and an education in gratitude.

~G.K. Chesterton: Twelve Types.

Photo: Equinox Sunset. Explanation: "Often inspiring, or offering a moment for contemplation, a sunset is probably the most commonly photographed celestial event. But this uncommonly beautiful sunset picture was taken on a special day, the Equinox on September 22. Marking the astronomical change of seasons, on that day Earth dwellers experienced nearly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness (an equal night). Reflected in the calm waters of Lake Balaton with a motionless sailboat in silhouette, the Sun is setting due west and heading south across the celestial equator. In the background lies the Benedictine Archabbey of Tihany, Hungary." (NASA). Photo Credit & Copyright: Tamas Ladanyi (TWAN).

Twelve Types: A Collection of Mini-Biographies,
by G. K. Chesterton
• At Amazon


"All sensible women"

"IT is true that all sensible women think all studious men mad. It is true, for the matter of that, all women of any kind think all men of any kind mad. But they do not put it in telegrams any more than they wire to you that grass is green or God all-merciful. These things are truisms and often private ones at that."

~G.K. Chesterton: The Club of Queer Trades.

Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton: The Club of Queer Trades; The
Man Who Was Thursday; The Ball and the Cross;
The Napoleon of Notting Hill.

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The Church

'THE CHURCH is not a thing like the Athenaeum Club,' he cried.' If the Athenaeum Club lost all its members, the Athenaeum Club would dissolve and cease to exist. But when we belong to the Church we belong to something which is outside all of us which is outside everything you talk about, outside the Cardinals and the Pope. They belong to it, but it does not belong to them. If we all fell dead suddenly, the Church would still somehow exist in God.'

~G.K. Chesterton: The Ball and the Cross.

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"AS AN explanation of the world, materialism has a sort of insane simplicity. It has just the quality of the madman’s argument; we have at once the sense of it covering everything and the sense of it leaving everything out. Contemplate some able and sincere materialist, . . . and you will have exactly this unique sensation. He understands everything, and everything does not seem worth understanding. His cosmos may be complete in every rivet and cog-wheel, but still his cosmos is smaller than our world. Somehow his scheme, like the lucid scheme of the madman, seems unconscious of the alien energies and the large indifference of the earth; it is not thinking of the real things of the earth, of fighting peoples or proud mothers, or first love or fear upon the sea. The earth is so very large, and the cosmos is so very small. The cosmos is about the smallest hole that a man can hide his head in."

~G.K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy.
The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, Vol. 1: Heretics, Orthodoxy,
the Blatchford Controversies

"Some splendid moment"

"IF a god does come upon the earth, he will descend at the sight of the brave. Our prostrations and litanies are of no avail our new moons and sabbaths are an abomination. The great man will come when all of us are feeling great, not when all of us are feeling small. He will ride in at some splendid moment when we all feel that we could do without him."

~G.K. Chesterton: Charles Dickens.

"The neglect of philosophy"

"THE temporary decline of theology had involved the neglect of philosophy and all fine thinking, and Bernard Shaw had to find shaky justifications in Schopenhauer for the sons of God shouting for joy. He called it the Will to Live—a phrase invented by Prussian professors who would like to exist but can't."

~G.K. Chesterton: George Bernard Shaw.


"The direction of Distributism"

NOW THIS outline is an outline; in other words, it is a design, and anybody who thinks we can have practical things without theoretical designs can go and quarrel with the nearest engineer or architect for drawing thin lines on thin paper. But there is another and more special sense in which my suggestion is an outline; in the sense that it is deliberately drawn as a large limitation within which there are many varieties. I have long been acquainted, and not a little amused, with the sort of practical man who will certainly say that I generalize because there is no practical plan. The truth is that I generalize because there are so many practical plans. I myself know four or five schemes that have been drawn up, more or less drastically, for the diffusion of capital. The most cautious, from a capitalist standpoint, is the gradual extension of profit-sharing. A more stringently democratic form of the same thing is the management of every business (if it cannot be a small business) by a guild or group clubbing their contributions and dividing their results.

Some Distributists dislike the idea of the workman having shares only where he has work; they think he would be more independent if his little capital were invested elsewhere; but they all agree that he ought to have the capital to invest. Others continue to call themselves Distributists because they would give every citizen a dividend out of much larger national systems of production. I deliberately draw out my general principles so as to cover as many as possible of these alternative business schemes. But I object to being told that I am covering so many because I know there are none. If I tell a man he is too luxurious and extravagant, and that he ought to economize in something, I am not bound to give him a list of his luxuries. The point is that he will be all the better for cutting down any of his luxuries. And my point is that modern society would be all the better for cutting up property by any of these processes. This does not mean that I have not my own favourite form; personally I prefer the second type of division given in the above list of examples. But my main business is to point out that any reversal of the rush to concentrate property will be an improvement on the present state of things. If I tell a man his house is burning down in Putney, he may thank me even if I do not give him a list of all the vehicles which go to Putney, with the numbers of all the taxicabs and the time-table of all the trams. It is enough that I know there are a great many vehicles for him to choose from, before he is reduced to the proverbial adventure of going to Putney on a pig.

It is enough that any one of those vehicles is on the whole less uncomfortable than a house on fire or even a heap of ashes. I admit I might be called unpractical if impenetrable forests and destructive floods lay between here and Putney; it might then be as merely idealistic to praise Putney as to praise Paradise. But I do not admit that I am unpractical because I know there are half a dozen practical ways which are more practical than the present state of things. But it does not follow, in fact, that I do not know how to get to Putney.

Here, for instance, are half a dozen things which would help the process of Distributism, apart from those on which I shall have occasion to touch as points of principle. Not all Distributists would agree with all of them; but all would agree that they are in the direction of Distributism.

1. The taxation of contracts so as to discourage the sale of small property to big proprietors and encourage the break-up of big property among small proprietors.

2. Something like the Napoleonic testamentary law and the destruction of primogeniture.

3. The establishment of free law for the poor, so that small property could always be defended against great.

4. The deliberate protection of certain experiments in small property, if necessary by tariffs and even local tariffs.

5. Subsidies to foster the starting of such experiments.

6. A league of voluntary dedication, and any number of other things of the same kind.

But I have inserted this chapter here in order to explain that this is a sketch of the first principles of Distributism and not of the last details, about which even Distributists might dispute. In such a statement, examples are given as examples, and not as exact and exhaustive lists of all the cases covered by the rule. If this elementary principle of exposition be not understood I must be content to be called an unpractical person by that sort of practical man. And indeed in his sense there is something in his accusation. Whether or no I am a practical man, I am not what is called a practical politician, which means a professional politician. I can claim no part in the glory of having brought our country to its present promising and hopeful condition. Harder heads than mine have established the present prosperity of coal. Men of action, of a more rugged energy, have brought us to the comfortable condition of living on our capital. I have had no part in the great industrial revolution which has increased the beauties of nature and reconciled the classes of society; nor must the too enthusiastic reader think of thanking me for this more enlightened England, in which the employee is living on a dole from the State and the employer on an overdraft at the Bank.

~G.K. Chesterton: The Outline of Sanity, Ch. 2.


"In praise of play"

"IT is not only possible to say a great deal in praise of play; it is really possible to say the highest things in praise of it. It might reasonably be maintained that the true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground. To be at last in such secure innocence that one can juggle with the universe and the stars, to be so good that one can treat everything as a joke — that may be, perhaps, the real end and final holiday of human souls."

~G.K. Chesterton: All things Considered.


Women in the Workplace — and at Home

THE RECENT controversy about the professional position of married women was part of a much larger controversy, which is not limited to professional women or even to women. It involves a distinction that controversialists on both sides commonly forget. As it is conducted, it turns largely on the query about whether family life is what is called a “whole-time job” or a “half-time job.” But there is also another distinction between a whole job and a half job, or a hundredth part of a job. It has nothing to do with the time that is occupied, but only with the ground that is covered. An industrial expert once actually boasted that it took twenty men to make a pin; and I hope he sat down on the pin. But the man making the twentieth part of the pin did not only work for the twentieth part of an hour. He might perfectly well be working for twelve hours - indeed, he might have been working for twenty-four hours for all the happy industrial expert generally cared. He might work for the whole of a lifetime, but he never made the whole of a pin.

Now, there are lingering still in the world a number of lunatics, among whom I have the honour to count myself, who think it a good thing to preserve as many whole jobs as possible. We congratulate ourselves, in our crazy fashion, whenever we find anybody personally and completely doing anything. We rejoice when we find remaining in the world any cases in which the individual can see the beginning and the end of his own work. We are well aware that this is often incompatible with modern scientific civilization, and the fact has sometimes moved us to say what we think about modern scientific civilization. But anyhow, whether we are right or wrong, that is an important distinction not always remembered; and that is the important distinction that ought to be most remembered, and is least remembered, in this modern debate about the occupation of women.

Probably there must be a certain number of people doing work which they do not complete. Perhaps there must be some people doing work which they do not comprehend. But we do not want to multiply those people indefinitely, and then cover it all by shouting about emancipation and equality. It may be emancipation to allow a woman to make part of a pin, if she really wants to make part of a pin. It may be equality if she is really filled with a furious jealousy of her husband, who has the privilege of making part of a pin. But we question whether it is really a more human achievement to make part of a pin than to make the whole of a pinafore. And we even go further, and question whether it is more human to make the whole of a pinafore than to look after the whole of a child. The point about the “half-time job” of motherhood is that it is at least one of the jobs that can be regarded as a whole, and almost as an end in itself. A human being is in some sense an end in himself. Anything that makes him happy or high-minded is, under God, a thing directed to an ultimate end. It is not, like nearly all the trades and professions, merely a machinery and a means to an end. And it is a thing which can, by the constitution of human nature, be pursued with positive and unpurchased enthusiasm. Whether or no it is a half-time job, it need not be a half-hearted job.

Now, as a matter of fact, there are not so many jobs which normal and ordinary people can pursue with enthusiasm for their own sakes. The position is generally falsified by quoting the exceptional cases of specialists who achieve success. There may be a woman who is so very fond of swimming the Channel that she can go on doing it until she breaks a record. There may be, for that matter, a woman who is so fond of discovering the North Pole that she goes on doing it long after it has been discovered. Such sensational successes naturally bulk big in the newspapers, because they are sensational cases. But they are not the question of whether women are more free in professional or domestic life. To answer that question, we must assume all the sailors on the Channel boats to be women, all the fishermen in the herring fleet to be women, all the whalers in the North Sea to be women, and then consider whether the worst paid and hardest worked of all those workers were really having a happier or a harder life. It will be at once apparent that the vast majority of them must be under orders; and that perhaps a considerable minority of them would be under orders which they did not entirely understand. There could not be a community in which the average woman was in command of a ship. But there can be a community in which the average woman is in command of a house.

To take a hundred women out of a hundred houses and give them a hundred ships would be obviously impossible, unless all the ships were canoes. And that would be carrying to rather fanatical lengths the individualist ideal of people paddling their own canoe. To take the hundred women out of the hundred houses and put them on ten ships, or more probably on two ships, is obviously to increase vastly the number of servants and diminish the number of mistresses. The only ship I remember that was so manned (or perhaps we should say womanned) was the ship in the Bab Ballad commanded by Lieutenant Bellaye: [Note: The lieutenant is the hero of Gilbert’s “The Bumboat Woman’s Story”. He is so loved that numbers of young women disguised as sailors stow away on his ship.] even there it might be said that the young ladies who sailed with him had ultimately rather a domestic than a professional ideal. But that naval commander was not very professional himself, and it will be remembered, excused his sailors from most of their duties and amused himself by firing off his one big gun.

I fear that the experience of most subordinate women in shops and factories is a little more strenuous. I have taken an extremely elementary and crude example, but I am not the first rhetorician who has found it convenient to discuss the State under the bright and original similitude of a ship. But the principle does apply quite as much to a shop as to a ship. It applies with especial exactitude to the modern shop, which is almost larger than the modern ship. A shop or a factory must consist of a very large majority of servants; and one of the few human institutions in which there need be no such enormous majority of servants is the human household. I still think, therefore, that for the lady interested in ships the most supreme and symbolical moment is the moment when her ships come home. And I think there are some sort of symbolical ships that had much better come home and stay there.

I know all about the necessary modifications and compromises produced by the accidental conditions of to-day. I am not unreasonable about them. But what we are discussing is not the suggestion that the ideal should be modified. It is the suggestion that the ideal should be abolished. It is the suggestion that a new test or method of judgment should be applied to the affair, which is not the test of whether the thing is a whole job, in the sense of a self-sufficing and satisfactory job, but of whether it is what is called a half-time job - that is, a thing to be measured by the mechanical calculation of modern employment.

There have been household gods and household saints and household fairies. I am not sure that there have yet been any factory gods or factory saints or factory fairies. I may be wrong, as I am no commercial expert, but I have not heard of them as yet. And we think that the reason lies in the distinction which I made at the beginning of these remarks. The imagination and the religious instinct and the human sense of humour have free play when people are dealing with something which, however small, is rounded and complete like a cosmos.

The place where babies are born, where men die, where the drama of mortal life is acted, is not an office or a shop or a bureau. It is something much smaller in size and much larger in scope. And while nobody would be such a fool as to pretend that it is the only place where people should work, or even the only place where women should work, it has a character of unity and universality that is not found in any of the fragmentary experiences of the division of labour.

~G.K. Chesterton: Illustrated London News, Dec. 18, 1926.

On Music

"MUSIC is mere beauty; it is beauty in the abstract, beauty in isolation. It is a shapeless and liquid element of beauty, in which a man may really float, not indeed affirming the truth, but not denying it."

~G.K. Chesterton, George Bernard Shaw.

Woman Playing a Lute, by Bartolomeo Veneto; Oil on panel, 1520.
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

The World State

OH, how I love Humanity,
With love so pure and pringlish,
And how I hate the horrid French,
Who never will be English!

The International Idea,
The largest and the clearest,
Is welding all the nations now,
Except the one that’s nearest.

This compromise has long been known,
This scheme of partial pardons,
In ethical societies
And small suburban gardens –

The villas and the chapels where
I learned with little labour
The way to love my fellow-man
And hate my next-door neighbour.

~G.K. Chesterton


Priestcraft & Mariolatry

"I AM very proud of what people call priestcraft; since even that accidental term of abuse preserves the mediaeval truth that a priest, like every other man, ought to be a craftsman. I am very proud of what people call Mariolatry; because it introduced into religion in the darkest ages that element of chivalry which is now being belatedly and badly understood in the form of feminism."

~G.K. Chesterton: Autobiography.

Coronation of the Virgin, by Domenico Ghirlandaio. Fresco, 1486-90;
Cappella Tornabuoni, Santa Maria Novella, Florence.

"I am very proud of my religion"

“AS an apologist I am the reverse of apologetic. So far as a man may be proud of a religion rooted in humility, I am very proud of my religion; I am especially proud of those parts of it that are most commonly called superstition. I am proud of being fettered by antiquated dogmas and enslaved by dead creeds (as my journalistic friends repeat with so much tenacity), for I know very well that it is the heretical creeds that are dead, and that it is only the reasonable dogma that lives long enough to be called antiquated.”

~G.K. Chesterton: Autobiography.

Disputation of the Holy Sacrament (La Disputa), by Raffaello Sanzio.
Fresco, 1510-11; Stanza della Segnatura, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican.

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"The Blessed Virgin"

"I DO NOT want to be in a religion in which I am allowed to have a crucifix. I feel the same about the much more controversial question of the honour paid to the Blessed Virgin. If people do not like that cult, they are quite right not to be Catholics. But in people who are Catholics, or call themselves Catholics, I want the idea not only liked but loved and loved ardently, and above all proudly proclaimed. I want it to be what the Protestants are perfectly right in calling it; the badge and sign of a Papist. I want to be allowed to be enthusiastic about the existence of the enthusiasm; not to have my chief enthusiasm coldly tolerated as an eccentricity of myself."

~G.K. Chesterton: Autobiography.

Coronation of the Virgin (Cell 9), by Fra Angelico.
Fresco, 1440-42; Convento di San Marco, Florence.

"The very stones cry out"

“CHRIST prophesied the whole of Gothic architecture in that hour when nervous and respectable people (such as now object to barrel-organs) objected to the gutter-snipes of Jerusalem. He said, “If these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” Under the impulse of His spirit arose a clamorous like chorus the facades of the medieval cathedrals, thronged with shouting faces and open mouths. The prophecy has fulfilled itself: the very stones cry out.”

~G.K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy.

Detail of sculptures on the west front, Reims Cathedral.

"Free speech"

"IT is not by any means self-evident upon the face of it that an institution like the liberty of speech is right or just. It is not natural or obvious to let a man utter follies and abominations which you believe to be bad for mankind any more than it is natural or obvious to let a man dig up a part of the public road, or infect half a town with typhoid fever. The theory of free speech, that truth is so much larger and stranger and more many-sided than we know of, that it is very much better at all costs to hear every one's account of it, is a theory which has been justified upon the whole by experiment, but which remains a very daring and even a very surprising theory. It is really one of the great discoveries of the modern time but once admitted, it is a principle that does not merely affect politics, but philosophy, ethics, and finally, poetry."

~G.K. Chesterton: Robert Browning.