Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘G.K. Chesterton’

In my editorial duties for The Culture Alliance, I have posted a quote from the great and wise Gilbert Keith Chesterton in honor of Pearl Harbor day.

There are some things more important than peace, and one of them is the dignity of human nature. It is a humiliation of humanity that humanity should ever give up war solely through fear, especially through fear of the mere machines that humanity itself has made. We all see the absurdity of modern armaments. It is a grotesque end for the great European story that each of us should keep on stuffing pistols into his pockets until he falls down with the weight of them. But it is still worse that we should only be friends because we are too nervous to stand the noise of a pistol. Let the man stop the pistol by all means. But do not let the pistol stop the man. Civilised man has created a cruel machinery which he now, it may be, finds bad for his soul. Then let civilised man save his soul and abandon his machinery. But the Bloch theory does not really abandon the machinery at all. It hangs the machinery in terrorem over the head of all humanity to frighten them from going to war for any cause, just or unjust. Man is cowed into submission by his own clockwork. I would sooner be ruled by cats and dogs. They, at any rate, are our fellow-creatures, not merely our creatures. I would have any war, however long and horrible, sooner than such a horrible peace. I would run any risk rather than submit to such a spiritual indignity as that man dare not, for the most crying justice or the most urgent chivalry, turn one of his own handles. War is an absolute calamity; so be it. Then let man silence his guns; but, in the name of human honour, do not let his guns silence him.

G.K. Chesterton on War and Peace, 43. originally published in Illustrated London News, April 25, 1908, PDF document of excerpts available here.

I sometimes wonder why Chesterton doesn’t get more attention among the professor types in higher education. Then I read something like this and I stop wondering. If the colleges and universities started teaching Chesterton, their entire world view would crumble. It might be equivalent to presenting Chrysostom, Aquinas, and Kuyper at an Atheist convention.

Read Full Post »

It really boils down to a bit of magical thinking.

I am sitting under tall trees, with a great wind boiling like surf about the tops of them, so that their living load of leaves rocks and roars in something that is at once exultation and agony. I feel, in fact, as if I were actually sitting at the bottom of the sea among mere anchors and ropes, while over my head and over the green twilight of water sounded the everlasting rush of waves and the toil and crash and shipwreck of tremendous ships. The wind tugs at the trees as if it might pluck them root and all out of the earth like tufts of grass. Or, to try another despearate figure of speech for this unspeakable energy, the trees are straining and tearing and lashing as if they were a tribe of dragons each tied by the tail.

As I look at these top-heavy giants tortured by an invisible and violent witchcraft, a phrase comes back into my mind. I remember a little boy of my acquaintance who was once walking in Battersea Park under just such torn skies and tossing trees. He did not like the wind at all; it blew in his face too much; it made him shut his eyes; and it blew off his hat, of which he was very proud. He was, as far as I remember, about four. After complaining repeatedly of the atmospheric unrest he said at last to his mother, “Well, why don’t you take away the trees, and then it wouldn’t wind.”

Nothing could be more intelligent or natural than this mistake. Any one looking for the first time at the trees might fancy that they were indeed vast and titanic fans, which by their mere waving agitated the air around them for miles. Nothing, I say, could be more human and excusable than the belief that it is the trees which make the wind. Indeed, the belief is so human and excusable that is is, as a matter of fact, the belief of about ninety-nine out of a hundred of the philosophers, reformers, sociologists, and politicians of the great age in which we live. My small friend was, in fact, very like the principle modern thinkers; only much nicer. …

The man who represents all thought as an accident of environment is simply smashing and discrediting all his own thoughts – including that one. To treat the human mind as having an ultimate authority is necessary to any kind of thinking, even free thinking. And nothing will ever be reformed in this age or country unless we realise that the moral fact comes first.

For example, most of us, I suppose, have seen in print and heard in debating clubs an endless discussion that goes on between Socialists and total abstainers. The latter say that drink leads to poverty; the former say that poverty leads to drink. I can only wonder at their either of them being content with such simple physical explanations. Surely it is obvious that the thing which among the English proletariat leads to poverty is the same as the thing which leads to drink; the absence of strong civic dignity, the absence of an instinct that resists degradation.

— G.K. Chesterton, “The Wind and the Tree,” Tremendous Trifles, 1909

The man who represents all thought as an accident of environment is simply smashing and discrediting all his own thoughts – including that one. To treat the human mind as having an ultimate authority is necessary to any kind of thinking, even free thinking. And nothing will ever be reformed in this age or country unless we realise that the moral fact comes first.

For example, most of us, I suppose, have seen in print and heard  in debating clubs an endless discussion that goes on between Socialists and total abstainers. The latter say that drink leads to poverty; the former say that poverty leads to drink. I can only wonder at their either of them being content with such simple physical explanations. Surely it is obvious that the thing which among the English proletariat leads to poverty is the same as the thing which leads to drink; the absence of strong civic dignity, the absence of an instinct that resists degradation.

Read Full Post »

Read Full Post »

Part 1

Part 2

Read Full Post »

If he really loves his kind, he will, as far as he can, and in the great mass of things, play the parts given him. He will preserve this gay and impetuous conservatism; he will throw himself into the competitive sports of nationality; he will walk with relish in the ancient theatricals of religion.

Because the modern intellectuals who disapprove of patriotism do not do this, a strange coldness and unreality hangs about their love for men. If you ask them whether they love humanity, they will say, doubtless sincerely, that they do. But if you ask them, touching any of the classes that go to make up humanity, you will find that they hate them all. They hate kings, they hate priests, they hate soldiers, they hate sailors. They distrust men of science, they denounce the middle classes, they despair of working men, but they adore humanity. Only they always speak of humanity as if it were a curious foreign nation. They are dividing themselves more and more from men to exalt the strange race of mankind. They are ceasing to be human in the effort to be humane.

— G.K. Chesterton, “The Patriotic Idea,” Reprinted in The Chesterton Review, Fall/Winter 2004

Originally published in England: A Nation, 1904

If he really loves his kind, he will, as far as he can, and in the great mass of things, play the parts given him. He will preserve this gay and impetuous conservatism; he will throw himself into the competitive sports of nationality; he will walk with relish in the ancient theatricals of religion.

Because the modern intellectuals who disapprove of patriotism do not do this, a strange coldness and unreality hangs about their love for men. If you ask them whether they love humanity, they will say, doubtless sincerely, that they do. But if you ask them, touching any of the classes that go to make up humanity, you will find that they hate them all. They hate kings, they hate priests, they hate soldiers, they hate sailors. They distrust men of science, they denounce the middle classes, they despair of working men, but they adore humanity. Only they always speak of humanity as if it were a curious foreign nation. They are dividing themselves more and more from men to exalt the strange race of mankind. They are ceasing to be human in the effort to be humane.

— G.K. Chesterton, “The Patriotic Idea,” Reprinted in The Chesterton Review, Fall/Winter 2004, originally published in England: A Nation, 1904

Read Full Post »

The secret simplicities of the old and central civilizations of Paris or Rome … have puzzled us more than the subtleties. (Introduction to The New World of the Theatre)

True Culture, like true Charity, begins at home, and generally stays at home. With Civilization there appears something that is not only purely public, but a little homeless. Culture is growing such flowering trees as you prefer in your own front garden, and planting them where you like. Civilization is having a law-suit with the next-door neighbour about whether your trees overshadow his garden, or calling in the policeman to throw him out if he becomes violent upon the question. (Illustrated London News, March 24, 1934)

Just as in high civilizations democracy tends too much to mean politicians, so in high civilizations despotism tends merely to mean policemen. (Daily News, April 22, 1911)

The whole art of life is to stand rightly with one’s surrounding, and it cannot be denied that mere civilization, mere accumulation of knowledge and convenience can sometimes put men so utterly wrong with their surroundings that the only logical outcome of all their culture is some frantic an dehumanized suicide, or lunacy. (Daily News, Jan. 6, 1903)

That touch of over-civilization is always the first touch of returning barbarism. (Illustrated London News, March 9, 1912)

— G.K. Chesterton, on Civilization, preprinted in Gilbert Magazine, July/August 2009

Read Full Post »

There are times when refom may be necessary and times when reform is destruction. GKC offers advice on discerning necessity from destruction.

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate of fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped  lunatic who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason as reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by humans being like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But that truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purpose it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, or that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which no longer served. But if he simply stares that the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has some who sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.

— “The Drift from Domesticity,” The Thing

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate of fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatic who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason as reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by humans being like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But that truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purpose it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, or that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which no longer served. But if he simply stares that the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has some who sprung up in hi path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.

Read Full Post »