A man out of time – or ahead of it
“The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice.”
- G.K. Chesterton
After perusing this post, go here: http://www.chesterton.org/acs/quotes.htm
It’s a page of G.K. Chesterton quotes, with source identified for each.
I must confess, I’ve read very little Chesterton, only The Man Who Was Thursday and a collection of his short Father Brown mysteries – and I found the latter almost unreadable.
The former however, was surreal. It’s the story of a man who is simultaneously recruited by a cabal of anarchists and an undercover police branch dedicated to spying on them. I can’t tell you more without giving it away, but it’s surprisingly avant-garde for an author known (if known at all) as a rather stuffy conservative.
For example, consider this:
“The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.”
But now consider this:
“The free man owns himself. He can damage himself with either eating or drinking; he can ruin himself with gambling. If he does he is certainly a damn fool, and he might possibly be a damned soul; but if he may not, he is not a free man any more than a dog.”
Now he sounds like a libertarian. Especially when you consider this:
“All government is an ugly necessity.”
“It is terrible to contemplete how few politicians are hanged.”
Sometimes he sounds like a militarist:
“War is not ‘the best way of settling differences; it is the only way of preventing their being settled for you.”
“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”
But then there’s this:
“The only defensible war is a war of defense.”
Like de Tocqueville and unlike a lot of clever British and European intellectuals, he seems to have seen pretty deeply in America and appreciated what he saw.
“The unconscious democracy of America is a very fine thing. It is a true and deep and instinctive assumption of the equality of citizens, which even voting and elections have not destroyed.”
Chesterton became a Catholic convert – something considered rather cult-like in England at the time, and perhaps still to a large extent. It did not however, make him a joyless prude.
“The first two facts which a healthy boy or girl feels about sex are these: first that it is beautiful and then that it is dangerous.”
“The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Ten Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted: precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden.”
I could go on, but why don’t you head on over their yourselves and have a look. It’s part of a site dedicated to Chesterton studies – there is even a journal, called Gilbert.
They even explain why Chesterton is so little known these days, and why that’s a shame.