"CHARITY is a paradox, like modesty and courage. Stated baldly, charity certainly means one of two things -- pardoning unpardonable acts, or loving unlovable people."

~G.K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy.

"Why have we no great men?"

"WE are then able to answer in some manner the question, "Why have we no great men?" We have no great men chiefly because we are always looking for them. We are connoisseurs of greatness, and connoisseurs can never be great; we are fastidious, that is, we are small. When Diogenes went about with a lantern looking for an honest man, I am afraid he had very little time to be honest himself. And when anybody goes about on his hands and knees looking for a great man to worship, he is making sure that one man at any rate shall not be great. Now, the error of Diogenes is evident. The error of Diogenes lay in the fact that he omitted to notice that every man is both an honest man and a dishonest man. Diogenes looked for his honest man inside every crypt and cavern; but he never thought of looking inside the thief. And that is where the Founder of Christianity found the honest man; He found him on a gibbet and promised him Paradise."

~G.K. Chesterton: Charles Dickens.

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"The gifts of God"

"IT is commonly in a somewhat cynical sense that men have said, "Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed." It was in a wholly happy and enthusiastic sense that St. Francis said, "Blessed is he who expecteth nothing, for he shall enjoy everything." It was by this deliberate idea of starting from zero, from the dark nothingness of his own deserts, that he did come to enjoy even earthly things as few people have enjoyed them; and they are in themselves the best working example of the idea. For there is no way in which a man can earn a star or deserve a sunset. But there is more than this involved, and more indeed than is easily to be expressed in words. It is not only true that the less a man thinks of himself, the more he thinks of his good luck and of all the gifts of God. It is also true that he sees more of the things themselves when he sees more of their origin; for their origin is a part of them and indeed the most important part of them. Thus they become more extraordinary by being explained."

~G.K. Chesterton: Saint Francis of Assisi.

Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy,
by Jusepe de Ribera (1642).


"The monopolists' shops"

"I HAVE begun these notes with a note on the big shops because they are things near to us and familiar to us all. I need not dwell on other and still more entertaining claims made for the colossal combination of departments. One of the funniest is the statement that it is convenient to get everything in the same shop. That is to say, it is convenient to walk the length of the street, so long as you walk indoors, or more frequently underground, instead of walking the same distance in the open air from one little shop to another. The truth is that the monopolists' shops are really very convenient--to the monopolist. They have all the advantage of concentrating business as they concentrate wealth, in fewer and fewer of the citizens. Their wealth sometimes permits them to pay tolerable wages; their wealth also permits them to buy up better businesses and advertise worse goods. But that their own goods are better nobody has ever even begun to show; and most of us know any number of concrete cases where they are definitely worse."

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


"Modern toleration is really a tyranny"

"CREEDS must disagree: it is the whole fun of the thing. If I think the universe is triangular, and you think it is square, there cannot be room for two universes. We may argue politely, we may argue humanely, we may argue with great mutual benefit; but, obviously, we must argue. Modern toleration is really a tyranny. It is a tyranny because it is a silence. To say that I must not deny my opponent's faith is to say I must not discuss it . . . It is absurd to have a discussion on Comparative Religions if you don't compare them."

~G.K. Chesterton: Illustrated London News, Oct. 10, 1908.


"The best business of an age"

"SOMETIMES the best business of an age is to resist some alien invasion; sometimes to preach practical self-control in a world too self-indulgent and diffused; sometimes to prevent the growth in the State of great new private enterprises that would poison or oppress it. Above all it may sometimes happen that the highest task of a thinking citizen may be to do the exact opposite of the work which the Radicals had to do. It may be his highest duty to cling to every scrap of the past that he can find, if he feels that the ground is giving way beneath him and sinking into mere savagery and forgetfulness of all human culture."

~G.K. Chesterton: Introduction to A Child’s History of England.


"If you really read the fairy-tales"

"IF you really read the fairy-tales, you will observe that one idea runs from one end of them to the other—the idea that peace and happiness can only exist on some condition. This idea, which is the core of ethics, is the core of the nursery-tales. The whole happiness of fairyland hangs upon a thread, upon one thread. Cinderella may have a dress woven on supernatural looms and blazing with unearthly brilliance; but she must be back when the clock strikes twelve. The king may invite fairies to the christening, but he must invite all the fairies or frightful results will follow. Bluebeard's wife may open all doors but one. A promise is broken to a cat, and the whole world goes wrong. A promise is broken to a yellow dwarf, and the whole world goes wrong. A girl may be the bride of the God of Love himself if she never tries to see him; she sees him, and he vanishes away. A girl is given a box on condition she does not open it; she opens it, and all the evils of this world rush out at her. A man and woman are put in a garden on condition that they do not eat one fruit: they eat it, and lose their joy in all the fruits of the earth.

"This great idea, then, is the backbone of all folk-lore—the idea that all happiness hangs on one thin veto; all positive joy depends on one negative."

~G.K. Chesterton: Fairy Tales, in "All Things Considered".

• Read the complete essay,

Bedtime Stories, by Richard S. Johnson (1939 - , American).
Source: I Am a Child


"It is easy to be a heretic"

"IT is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one's own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob. To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of Christendom that would indeed have been simple. It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect."

~G.K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy.


It’s Not Gay, and It’s Not Marriage

G. K. Chesterton: It’s Not Gay, and It’s Not Marriage
by Dale Ahlquist
(Originally published in Crisis Magazine, Feb. 21, 2013)

One of the pressing issues of Chesterton’s time was “birth control.” He not only objected to the idea, he objected to the very term because it meant the opposite of what it said. It meant no birth and no control. I can only imagine he would have the same objections about “gay marriage.” The idea is wrong, but so is the name. It is not gay and it is not marriage.

Chesterton was so consistently right in his pronouncements and prophecies because he understood that anything that attacked the family was bad for society. That is why he spoke out against eugenics and contraception, against divorce and “free love” (another term he disliked because of its dishonesty), but also against wage slavery and compulsory state-sponsored education and mothers hiring other people to do what mothers were designed to do themselves. It is safe to say that Chesterton stood up against every trend and fad that plagues us today because every one of those trends and fads undermines the family. Big Government tries to replace the family’s authority, and Big Business tries to replace the family’s autonomy. There is a constant commercial and cultural pressure on father, mother, and child. They are minimized and marginalized and, yes, mocked. But as Chesterton says, “This triangle of truisms, of father, mother and child, cannot be destroyed; it can only destroy those civilizations which disregard it.”

This latest attack on the family is neither the latest nor the worst. But it has a shock value to it, in spite of the process of de-sensitization that the information and entertainment industries have been putting us through the past several years. Those who have tried to speak out against the normalization of the abnormal have been met with “either slanging or silence,” as Chesterton was when he attempted to argue against the faddish philosophies that were promoted by the major newspapers in his day. In 1926, he warned, “The next great heresy will be an attack on morality, especially sexual morality.” His warning has gone unheeded, and sexual morality has decayed progressively. But let us remember that it began with birth control, which is an attempt to create sex for sex’s sake, changing the act of love into an act of selfishness. The promotion and acceptance of lifeless, barren, selfish sex has logically progressed to homosexuality.

Chesterton shows that the problem of homosexuality as an enemy of civilization is quite old. In The Everlasting Man, he describes the nature-worship and “mere mythology” that produced a perversion among the Greeks. “Just as they became unnatural by worshipping nature, so they actually became unmanly by worshipping man.” Any young man, he says, “who has the luck to grow up sane and simple” is naturally repulsed by homosexuality because “it is not true to human nature or to common sense.” He argues that if we attempt to act indifferent about it, we are fooling ourselves. It is “the illusion of familiarity,” when “a perversion become[s] a convention.”

In Heretics, Chesterton almost makes a prophecy of the misuse of the word “gay.” He writes of “the very powerful and very desolate philosophy of Oscar Wilde. It is the carpe diem religion.” Carpe diem means “seize the day,” do whatever you want and don’t think about the consequences, live only for the moment. “But the carpe diem religion is not the religion of happy people, but of very unhappy people.” There is a hopelessness as well as a haplessness to it. When sex is only a momentary pleasure, when it offers nothing beyond itself, it brings no fulfillment. It is literally lifeless. And as Chesterton writes in his book St. Francis of Assisi, the minute sex ceases to be a servant, it becomes a tyrant. This is perhaps the most profound analysis of the problem of homosexuals: they are slaves to sex. They are trying to “pervert the future and unmake the past.” They need to be set free.

Sin has consequences. Yet Chesterton always maintains that we must condemn the sin and not the sinner. And no one shows more compassion for the fallen than G.K. Chesterton. Of Oscar Wilde, whom he calls “the Chief of the Decadents,” he says that Wilde committed “a monstrous wrong” but also suffered monstrously for it, going to an awful prison, where he was forgotten by all the people who had earlier toasted his cavalier rebelliousness. “His was a complete life, in that awful sense in which your life and mine are incomplete; since we have not yet paid for our sins. In that sense one might call it a perfect life, as one speaks of a perfect equation; it cancels out. On the one hand we have the healthy horror of the evil; on the other the healthy horror of the punishment.”

Chesterton referred to Wilde’s homosexual behavior as a “highly civilized” sin, something that was a worse affliction among the wealthy and cultured classes. It was a sin that was never a temptation for Chesterton, and he says that it is no great virtue for us never to commit a sin for which we are not tempted. That is another reason we must treat our homosexual brothers and sisters with compassion. We know our own sins and weaknesses well enough. Philo of Alexandria said, “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a terrible battle.” But compassion must never compromise with evil. Chesterton points out that balance that our truth must not be pitiless, but neither can our pity be untruthful.

Homosexuality is a disorder. It is contrary to order. Homosexual acts are sinful, that is, they are contrary to God’s order. They can never be normal. And worse yet, they can never even be even. As Chesterton’s great detective Father Brown says:  “Men may keep a sort of level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level of evil. That road goes down and down.”

Marriage is between a man and a woman. That is the order. And the Catholic Church teaches that it is a sacramental order, with divine implications. The world has made a mockery of marriage that has now culminated with homosexual unions. But it was heterosexual men and women who paved the way to this decay. Divorce, which is an abnormal thing, is now treated as normal. Contraception, another abnormal thing, is now treated as normal. Abortion is still not normal, but it is legal. Making homosexual “marriage” legal will not make it normal, but it will add to the confusion of the times. And it will add to the downward spiral of our civilization. But Chesterton’s prophecy remains: We will not be able to destroy the family. We will merely destroy ourselves by disregarding the family.

+ + +
Dale Ahlquist is the president and co-founder of the American Chesterton Society

He is the creator and host of the Eternal Word Television Network series, "G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense." Dale is the author of G.K. Chesterton: Apostle of Common Sense and the recently published The Complete Thinker. He is also the publisher of Gilbert Magazine, and associate editor of the Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton (Ignatius). He lives near Minneapolis with his wife and six children.

"There is poetry in nearly everything"

“THEN, of course, there is the larger and more philosophical riddle of why the vegetarians, or fruitarians, try to make their dishes sound, or even seem, like meat dishes? Why do they talk non-sense about nut-cutlets or tomato toad-in-the-hole? Why do they make nutton rhyme to mutton, and nutter rhyme to butter? It seems a futile poetical exercise. It cannot be supposed to take anyone in. We meat-eaters might as well pretend that cutlets grow on trees. We might as well talk about picking sausages in the hedgerows, or growing fish-cakes in our garden. But while it is not deceptive, it is degrading. It is beneath the dignity of men who (though a trifle mad) are manifestly sincere believers in their cause, that they should elaborately mimic the shapes and titles of the systems which they seek to dethrone.

"We expect Food Reformers to be prigs; but they need not be snobs too. If they really think it wrong to eat meat, if they honestly consider it a kind of cannibalism, why should they introduce reminders of the revolting habit that they renounced? When the South Sea Islanders are reclaimed from cannibalism, I never heard that their dishes were called “Smith Sauté” or “Brown à la Maître d’Hôtel.”

"Moreover, these disguises are artistically very inappropriate to the cause in question. There is poetry in nearly everything, even in a fruit diet. But the poetry depends wholly on the simplicity; there is a certain human and traditional beauty about the idea of a man living on wild fruits in a wood or on rich fruits in a garden; but not about a man eating mashed and mis-named fruit along with a cup of Brunak. These fruitarian gourmets and epicures take away from a fruit diet the one real attraction that it has ever had for human imagination—its directness, its coolness and cleanliness, its scent of Eden. I will eat nuts with any man—or any monkey. But they must be nuts—not nutton, or nutter, or nusco, or nutrogen, or nuttolene, or nuttose, or nutarian Cashew.”

~G.K. Chesterton: from Illustrated London News, Dec. 4, 1909.


"The Holy Family"

"WE can say that the family is the unit of the state; that it is the cell that makes up the formation. Round the family do indeed gather the sanctities that separate men from ants and bees. Decency is the curtain of that tent; liberty is the wall of that city; property is but the family farm; honour is but the family flag. In the practical proportions of human history, we come back to that fundamental of the father and the mother and the child. It has been said already that if this story cannot start with religious assumptions, it must none the less start with some moral or metaphysical assumptions, or no sense can be made of the story of man. And this is a very good instance of that alternative necessity. If we are not of those who begin by invoking a divine Trinity, we must none the less invoke a human Trinity; and see that triangle repeated everywhere in the pattern of the world. For the highest event in history, to which all history looks forward and leads up, is only something that is at once the reversal and the renewal of that triangle. Or rather it is the one triangle superimposed so as to intersect the other, making a sacred pentacle of which, in a mightier sense than that of the magicians, the fiends are afraid. The old Trinity was of father and mother and child and is called the human family. The new is of child and mother and father and has the name of the Holy Family. It is in no way altered except in being entirely reversed; just as the world which is transformed was not in the least different, except in being turned upside-down."

~G.K. Chesterton: The Everlasting Man.

The Two Trinities, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.
Oil on canvas, 1675-82; National Gallery, London.


"Seeing all and seeing nothing"

"UNDER all this vast illusion of the cosmopolitan planet, with its empires and its Reuter's Agency, the real life of man goes on concerned with this tree or that temple, with this harvest or that drinking-song, totally uncomprehended, totally untouched. And it watches from its splendid parochialism, possibly with a smile of amusement, motor-car civilization going its triumphant way, outstripping time, consuming space, seeing all and seeing nothing, roaring on at last to the capture of the solar system, only to find the sun cockney and the stars suburban."

~G.K. Chesterton: Heretics.

"Religion still maintains the ideal"

“IT is no disgrace to Christianity, it is no disgrace to any great religion, that its counsels of perfection have not made every single person perfect. If after centuries a disparity is still found between its ideal and its followers, it only means that the religion still maintains the ideal, and the followers still need it."

~G.K. Chesterton: Illustrated London News, March 2, 1929.


'Albertus Magnus'

"Albert, the Swabian, rightly called the Great, was the founder of modern science. He did more than any other man to prepare that process, which has turned the alchemist into the chemist, and the astrologer into the astronomer. It is odd that, having been in his time, in this sense almost the first astronomer, he now lingers in legend almost as the last astrologer. Serious historians are abandoning the absurd notion that the mediaeval Church persecuted all scientists as wizards. It is very nearly the opposite of the truth. The world sometimes persecuted them as wizards, and sometimes ran after them as wizards; the sort of pursuing that is the reverse of persecuting. The Church alone regarded them really and solely as scientists. Many an enquiring cleric was charged with mere magic in making his lenses and mirrors; he was charged by his rude and rustic neighbours; and would probably have been charged in exactly the same way if they had been Pagan neighbours or Puritan neighbours or Seventh-Day Adventist neighbours. But even then he stood a better chance when judged by the Papacy, than if he had been merely lynched by the laity. The Catholic Pontiff did not denounce Albertus Magnus as a magician. It was the half-heathen tribes of the north who admired him as a magician. It is the half-heathen tribes of the industrial towns today, the readers of cheap dream-books, and quack pamphlets, and newspaper prophets, who still admire him as an astrologer. It is admitted that the range of his recorded knowledge, of strictly material and mechanical facts, was amazing in a man of his time. It is true that, in most other cases, there was a certain limitation to the data of medieval science; but this certainly had nothing to do with medieval religion. For the data of Aristotle, and the great Greek civilisation, were in many ways more limited still. But it is not really so much a question of access to the facts, as of attitude to the facts. Most of the Schoolmen, if informed by the only informants they had that a unicorn has one horn or a salamander lives in the fire, still used it more as an illustration of logic than an incident of life. What they really said was, "If a Unicorn has one horn, two unicorns have as many horns as one cow." And that has not one inch the less a fact because the unicorn is a fable. But with Albertus in medieval times, as with Aristotle in ancient times, there did begin something like the idea of emphasising the question: "But does the unicorn only have one horn or the salamander a fire instead of a fireside?" Doubtless when the social and geographical limits of medieval life began to allow them to search the fire for salamanders or the desert for unicorns, they had to modify many of their scientific ideas. A fact which will expose them to the very proper scorn of a generation of scientists which has just discovered that Newton is nonsense, that space is limited, and that there is no such thing as an atom.

"This great German, known in his most famous period as a professor in Paris, was previously for some time professor at Cologne. In that beautiful Roman city, there gathered round him in thousands the lovers of that extraordinary life; the student life of the Middle Ages. They came together in great groups called Nations; and the fact illustrates very well the difference between medieval nationalism and modern nationalism. For although there might any morning be a brawl between the Spanish students and the Scottish students, or between the Flemish and the French, and swords flash or stones fly on the most purely patriotic principles, the fact remains that they had all come to the same school to learn the same philosophy. And though that might not prevent the starting of a quarrel, it might have a great deal to do with the ending of it. Before these motley groups of men from the ends of the earth, the father of science unrolled his scroll of strange wisdom; of sun and comet, of fish and bird. He was an Aristotelian developing, as it were, the one experimental hint of Aristotle; and in this he was entirely original. He cared less to be original about the deeper matters of men and morals; about which he was content to hand on a decent and Christianised Aristotelianism; he was even in a sense ready to compromise upon the merely metaphysical issue of the Nominalists and the Realists. He would never have maintained alone the great war that was coming, for a balanced and humanised Christianity; but when it came, he was entirely on its side. He was called the Universal Doctor, because of the range of his scientific studies; yet he was in truth a specialist. The popular legend is never quite wrong; if a man of science is a magician, he was a magician. And the man of science has always been much more of a magician than the priest; since he would "control the elements" rather than submit to the Spirit who is more elementary than the elements."

~G.K. Chesterton: St. Thomas Aquinas, Chap. III, 'The Aristotelian Revolution.'

St. Albert the Great, by Tommaso da Modena.
Fresco, 1352; Church of San Nicolò, Treviso, Italy.


"The human house is a paradox"

“WE cannot insist that the first years of infancy are of supreme importance, and that mothers are not of supreme importance; or that motherhood is a topic of sufficient interest for men, but not of sufficient interest for mothers. Every word that is said about the tremendous importance of trivial nursery habits goes to prove that being a nurse is not trivial. All tends to the return of the simple truth that the private work is the great one and the public work the small. The human house is a paradox, for it is larger inside than out.”

~G.K. Chesterton: ‘Turning Inside Out’ (Fancies vs. Fad)

Motherhood, by Antoni Piotrowski (1853 – 1924, Polish);
I AM A CHILD, children in art history

"The vulgarisation of modern life has come from the governing class"

"THERE IS the notion that the Press is flashy or trivial "because" it is popular. In other words, an attempt is made to discredit democracy by representing journalism as the natural literature of democracy. All this is cold rubbish. The democracy has no more to do with the papers than it has with the peerages. The millionaire newspapers are vulgar and silly because the millionaires are vulgar and silly. It is the proprietor, not the editor, not the sub-editor, least of all the reader, who is pleased with this monotonous prairie of printed words. The same slander on democracy can be noticed in the case of advertisements. There is many a tender old Tory imagination that vaguely feels that our streets would be hung with escutcheons and tapestries, if only the profane vulgar had not hung them with advertisements of Sapolio and Sunlight Soap. But advertisement does not come from the unlettered many. It comes from the refined few. Did you ever hear of a mob rising to placard the Town Hall with proclamations in favour of Sapolio? Did you ever see a poor, ragged man laboriously drawing and painting a picture on the wall in favour of Sunlight Soap—simply as a labour of love? It is nonsense; those who hang our public walls with ugly pictures are the same select few who hang their private walls with exquisite and expensive pictures. The vulgarisation of modern life has come from the governing class; from the highly educated class. Most of the people who have posters in Camberwell have peerages at Westminster. But the strongest instance of all is that which has been unbroken until lately, and still largely prevails; the ghastly monotony of the Press."

~G.K. Chesterton: Utopia of Usurers / 'The Tyranny of Bad Journalism.'


"He has truly turned men into sheep"

Unbusinesslike Business

"BAD government, like good government, is a spiritual thing. Even the tyrant never rules by force alone; but mostly by fairy tales. And so it is with the modern tyrant, the great employer. The sight of a millionaire
is seldom, in the ordinary sense, an enchanting sight: nevertheless, he is in his way an enchanter. As they say in the gushing articles about him in the magazines, he is a fascinating personality. So is a snake. At least he is fascinating to rabbits; and so is the millionaire to the rabbit-witted sort of people that ladies and gentlemen have allowed themselves to become. He does, in a manner, cast a spell, such as that which imprisoned princes and princesses under the shapes of falcons or stags. He has truly turned men into sheep, as Circe turned them into swine."

~G.K. Chesterton:  Utopia of Usurers and Other Essays.

"The madness of the government"

“GOVERNMENT has become ungovernable; that is, it cannot leave off governing. Law has become lawless; that is, it cannot see where laws should stop. The chief feature of our time is the meekness of the mob and the madness of the government.”

~G.K Chesterton:  Eugenics and Other Evils.


"You would run away from him"

"SOME priggish little clerk will say, 'I have reason to congratulate myself that I am a civilized person, and not so bloodthirsty as the Mad Mullah.' Somebody ought to say to him, 'A really good man would be less bloodthirsty than the Mullah. But you are less bloodthirsty, not because you are more of a good man, but because you are a great deal less of a man. You are not bloodthirsty, not because you would spare your enemy, but because you would run away from him.'"

~G.K. Chesterton:  All Things Considered.


Bigotry of the Rationalists

"THERE is no person so narrow as the person who is sure that he is broad; indeed, being quite sure that one is broad is itself a form of narrowness."

~G.K. Chesterton:  Illustrated London News, Apr. 30, 1910.


"Seriousness is a vice"

"SERIOUSNESS is not a virtue. It would be a heresy, but a much more sensible heresy, to say that seriousness is a vice.  It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one's self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. It is much easier to write a good TIMES leading article than a good joke in PUNCH.  For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity."

~G.K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy, VII.


"What we offer is proportion"

"WE do not offer perfection; what we offer is proportion. We wish to correct the proportions of the modern state; but proportion is between varied things; and a proportion is hardly ever a pattern. It is as if we were drawing the picture of a living man and they thought we were drawing a diagram of wheels and rods for the construction of a Robot. We do not propose that in a healthy society all land should be held in the same way; or that all property should be owned on the same conditions; or that all citizens should have the same relation to the city. It is our whole point that the central power needs lesser powers to balance and check it, and that these must be of many kinds: some individual, some communal, some official, and so on. Some of them will probably abuse their privilege; but we prefer the risk to that of the State or of the Trust, which abuses its omnipotence."

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

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"THE truth is that what we call Capitalism ought to be called Proletarianism. The point of it is not that some people have capital, but that most people only have wages because they do not have capital."

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


On the Intellect of Yesterday

IS the present generation better educated than the last generation? Is it more intelligent than any one of any number of past generations? Most of those writing on the subject say ‘Yes’. Most of them, by a curious coincidence, belong to the present generation, or some very recent generation. I have no axe to grind in the matter; neither the ancestral axe of Brutus, red with the blood of his sons, nor the latest pattern of guillotine on which a revolutionary son can enthusiastically execute his father. There are some matters in which the world has lately veered towards my own opinions; some matters in which it has turned away from them. But I have enough intellectual curiosity to have doubts, and certainly enough to make distinctions.

I think there would be a case for maintaining this: that the world has improved in everything except intellect. In artistic sensibilities, and even in social sympathies (at least, of a certain kind), I think there has been a quickening and a response. I think it probable that the number of people who can rapidly get used to a foreign fashion or style of ornament, who can guess what an eccentric artist is driving at, who can feel the emotions evoked by unusual music, is larger than it was in mid-Victorian times. But these things do not appeal to the intellect. And I think they appeal to the modern mood because they do not appeal to the intellect. They make signals to the sentimental part of human nature, and the code of those signals is learned more quickly than it would once have been. But when it comes to anything like a strain on the intellect as such, I think that most modern people are much stupider than those in the age of my father, and probably very much stupider than those in the age of my grandfather. I have reasons for my belief, but it illustrates my point that the modern reader would hardly listen to a long process of reasoning. I believe I could even prove it, if people now were patient enough to listen to proof.

First, it must be realized that liveliness in the preacher does not mean liveliness in the congregation. On the contrary, the extreme liveliness in the preacher is produced by dullness in the congregation. I am ready to believe, for instance, that Mr. Lloyd George is a more purely entertaining speaker than Cobden. But that is because Mr. Lloyd George speaks to men who want to be entertained. Cobden spoke to men who wanted to be convinced. The listeners provided something of the liveliness needed to carry them through a purely logical process. When there was a congregation of logicians, as there was in some of the old Scottish Calvinist kirks, the preacher could reckon on being followed when his discourse was a pure demonstration in logic. It is when the congregation is dull that it wants to be amused. Cobden stood for various views which I do not myself find convincing; but his audience was convinced, it was not merely amused. Now, a man cannot be convinced by an argument without following the argument. He can be amused, even if he goes to sleep in the middle of the argument and wakes up just in time to hear a joke about Tories drinking beer or Bolshevists sharing boots. I believe there is infinitely less of this intellectual attention to an argument than there used to be.

It is illustrated, for instance, in the great modern change in the Press. I am not now arguing about whether Lord Northcliffe’s revolution in journalistic methods was morally or socially good. I only say it may well stand for something which is intellectually very much to the bad. When I was a boy, the papers printed long and detailed reports of speeches by Gladstone or Goschen or Asquith, on complex controversies of economies and finance. Perhaps they were not worth printing; perhaps they were not worth reading; but they were read. Now, it may be very bright and pleasant to have all Gladstone’s subtle and searching logical distinctions swept away in favour of the fixed and unfailing headline of ‘What Did Mr. Gladstone Say in 1885?’ It may be very comfortable to forget all the luminous legal distinctions of Asquith, and agree that that statesman never said anything in this life except ‘Wait and See’. But it is not a proof of increased intellectual activity that we are satisfied with the simple and soothing quotations. The minds of our fathers may have been occupied in futile and pedantic hair-splitting, but their minds were really capable of splitting a hair. It may be more cosy to be stunned with a blow on the head by a club than to have one of your hairs split by a needle, but it is not any better tribute to the quality of your head, or of anybody else’s.

Or take another test from another type of inquiry. When all the drawing-rooms began to buzz suddenly with the name of Einstein, some of us were enabled to guess that they must once have buzzed quite as abruptly with the name of Darwin. Some of us are inclined to guess that Darwinism became a fashion long before anybody really thought it was a fact. Doubtless any number of society ladies went about saying that Professor Darwin was really too wonderful, just as they afterwards went about saying that Professor Einstein was really too wonderful. But, when all is said, there is no comparison between the two cases. Any number of people did really attack the study of biology, in order to agree or disagree with Darwin. Hardly one person in a thousand thought of attacking the higher mathematics in order to agree with Einstein. People did talk about Darwinism as well as about Darwin. Most of those who talk about Einstein talk about Einstein. They know nothing but the name and the notion that something very important has happened in connexion with the name. The talk about Darwin may have been popular science, but it was science, and it was popular. The talk about Einstein may rather be called popular nescience. He has not made astronomy really popular, as the other made biology really popular. And I believe that the reason is a certain increased laziness of the intellect; that fewer people are ready for a long, sustained logical demonstration, quite apart from whether we think that the demonstration really demonstrates. In my boyhood there were any number of funny little atheists running about ready and eager to prove what they had learned from the work of Darwin. So there were any number of fanatical little Free-Traders eager to  prove what they had learned from the speeches of Cobden. I do not find men now so eager to prove things; but, at the most, to assure me that they have been proved.

One way of putting it is that this is a psychological age, which is the opposite of an intellectual age. It is not a question of persuading men, but of suggesting how they are persuaded. It is an age of Suggestion; that is, of appeal to the irrational part of man. Men discussed whether Free Trade was false or true; they do not so much discuss whether Empire Free Trade is false or true, as whether it is booming or slumping; whether it is based on an understanding of Mass Psychology, or whether its opponents or supporters have what Americans call Personality. It is all great fun, and there is doubtless a truth in it, as in other things. But, whatever else it is, it is not a mark of stronger mentality, and any old Scotch Calvinist farmer, who could follow his minister’s desolate and appalling sermon to Seventeenthly and Lastly, had an immeasurably better brain.

~G.K. Chesterton:  All is Grist, V.

"Guy Fawkes' Day"

"GUY FAWKES' Day is not only in some rude sense a festival, and in some rude sense a religious festival; it is also, what is supremely symbolic and important, a winter religious festival. Here the 5th of November, which celebrates a paltry Christian quarrel, has a touch of the splendour of the 25th of December, which celebrates Christianity itself. Dickens and all the jolly English giants who write of the red firelight are grossly misunderstood in this matter. Prigs call them coarse and materialistic because they write about the punch and plum pudding of winter festivals. The prigs do not see that if these writers were really coarse and materialistic they would not write about winter feasts at all. Mere materialists would write about summer and the sun. The whole point of winter pleasure is that it is a defiant pleasure, a pleasure armed and at bay. The whole point is in the fierce contrast between the fire and wine within and the roaring rains outside. And some part of the sacredness of firelight we may allow to fireworks."

~G.K. Chesterton in The Observer.

[Guy Fawkes (1570-1606) was a convert to Catholicism who joined a conspiracy to blow up Parliament to protest the persecution of Catholics. He was caught and executed before the plot could be carried out. November 5 is celebrated with fireworks and the burning of effigies of him.]  


A Hymn

O GOD of earth and altar,
Bow down and hear our cry,
Our earthly rulers falter,
Our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us,
The swords of scorn divide,
Take not thy thunder from us,
But take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches,
From lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches
That comfort cruel men,
From sale and profanation
Of honour and the sword,
From sleep and from damnation,
Deliver us, good Lord.

Tie in a living tether
The prince and priest and thrall,
Bind all our lives together,
Smite us and save us all;
In ire and exultation
Aflame with faith, and free,
Lift up a living nation,
A single sword to thee.

~G.K. Chesterton


"But this is a spiritual certainty"

"THERE are two things in which all men are manifestly and unmistakably equal. They are not equally clever or equally muscular or equally fat, as the sages of the modern reaction (with piercing insight) perceive. But this is a spiritual certainty, that all men are tragic. And this, again, is an equally sublime spiritual certainty, that all men are comic."

~G.K. Chesterton: Charles Dickens, Chap. X.


"The Catholic Saint will remain"

"WHO talked of such folly?" asked MacIan disdainfully. "Do you suppose that the Catholic Church ever held that Christians were the only good men? Why, the Catholics of the Catholic Middle Ages talked about the virtues of all the virtuous Pagans until humanity was sick of the subject. No, if you really want to know what we mean when we say that Christianity has a special power of virtue, I will tell you. The Church is the only thing on earth that can perpetuate a type of virtue and make it something more than a fashion. The thing is so plain and historical that I hardly think you will ever deny it. You cannot deny that it is perfectly possible that tomorrow morning, in Ireland or in Italy, there might appear a man not only as good but good in exactly the same way as St. Francis of Assisi. Very well, now take the other types of human virtue; many of them splendid. The English gentleman of Elizabeth was chivalrous and idealistic. But can you stand still here in this meadow and be an English gentleman of Elizabeth? The austere republican of the eighteenth century, with his stern patriotism and his simple life, was a fine fellow. But have you ever seen him? have you ever seen an austere republican? Only a hundred years have passed and that volcano of revolutionary truth and valour is as cold as the mountains of the moon. And so it is and so it will be with the ethics which are buzzing down Fleet Street at this instant as I speak. What phrase would inspire the London clerk or workman just now? Perhaps that he is a son of the British Empire on which the sun never sets; perhaps that he is a prop of his Trades Union, or a class-conscious proletarian something or other; perhaps merely that he is a gentleman when he obviously is not. Those names and notions are all honourable; but how long will they last? Empires break; industrial conditions change; the suburbs will not last for ever. What will remain? I will tell you. The Catholic Saint will remain."

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

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