Gilbert Keith Chesterton

Chesterton Society

Chesterton Works on the Web


"We are convinced that theories do not matter... Never has there been so little discussion about the nature of men as now, when, for the first time, anyone can discuss it...  Good taste, the last and vilest of human superstitions, has succeeded in silencing us where all the rest have failed. Sixty years ago it was bad taste to be an avowed atheist... now it is equally bad taste to be an avowed Christian. But there are some people nevertheless - and I am one of them - who think that the most important thing about man is still his view of the universe... We think the question is not whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether, in the long run, anything else affects them."

'When we stop believing in God, we do not then believe in nothing, we believe in anything.'  (Chesterton paraphrase)

The typical modern man is the insane millionaire who has drudged to get money, and then finds he cannot enjoy even money. There is danger that the social reformer may silently and occultly develop some of the madness of the millionaire whom he denounces. He may find that he has learnt how to build playgrounds but forgotten how to play. He may agitate for peace and quiet, but only propagate his own mental agitation. In his long fight to get a slave a half-holiday he may angrily deny those ancient and natural things, the zest of being, the divinity of man, the sacredness of simple things, the health and humour of the earth, which alone make a half-holiday even half a holiday or a slave even half a man. Chesterton - www.Chesterton.org

There is but an inch of difference between a cushioned chamber and a padded cell.

Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of to-day) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight:  he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also. Thus he believed that children were indeed the kingdom of heaven, but nevertheless ought to be obedient to the kingdom of earth. He admired youth because it was young and age because it was not. It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand... The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious and everything else becomes lucid... A symbol from physical nature will express sufficiently well the real place of mysticism before mankind. The one created thing which we cannot look at is the one thing in the light of which we look at everything.   G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

       The merely rich are not rich enough to rule the modern market. The things that change modern history, the big national and international loans, the big educational and philanthropic foundations, the purchase of numberless newspapers, the big prices paid for peerages, the big expenses often incurred in elections - these are getting too big for everybody except the misers; the men with the largest of earthly fortunes and the smallest of earthly aims.
         There are two other odd and rather important things to be said about them. The first is this: that with this aristocracy we do not have the chance of a lucky variety in types which belongs to larger and looser aristocracies. The moderately rich include all kinds of people even good people. Even priests are sometimes saints; and even soldiers are sometimes heroes. Some doctors have really grown wealthy by curing their patients and not by flattering them; some brewers have been known to sell beer. But among the Very Rich you will never find a really generous man, even by accident. They may give their money away, but they will never give themselves away; they are egoistic, secretive, dry as old bones. To be smart enough to get all that money you must be dull enough to want it.    G. K. Chesterton 

The coming peril is the intellectual, educational, psychological and artistic overproduction, which, equally with economic overproduction, threatens the wellbeing of contemporary civilisation. People are inundated, blinded, deafened, and mentally paralysed by a flood of vulgar and tasteless externals, leaving them no time for leisure, thought, or creation from within themselves.   G. K. Chesterton   Toronto, 1930

"History is not a toboggan slide, but a road to be reconsidered and even retraced This book ("What's Wrong with the World") deals with what is wrong, wrong in our root of argument and effort. This wrong is, I say, that we will go forward because we dare not go Back. Thus the Socialist says that property is already concentrated into Trusts and Stores: the only hope is to concentrate it further in the State. I say the only hope is to unconcentrate it; that is, to repent and return; the only step forward is the step backward." G. K. Chesterton    www.chesterton.org  

Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.

For at present we all tend to one mistake; we tend to make politics too important. We tend to forget how huge a part of a man's life is the same under a Sultan and a Senate, under Nero or St Louis. Daybreak is a never-ending glory, getting out of bed is a never-ending nuisance; food and friends will be welcomed; work and strangers must be accepted and endured; birds will go bedwards and children won't, to the end of the last evening. And the worst peril is that in our just modern revolt against intolerable accidents we may have unsettled those things that alone make daily life tolerable. It will be an ironic tragedy if, when we have toiled to find rest, we find we are incurably restless. It will be sad if, when we have worked for our holiday, we find we have unlearnt everything but work.

When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?

You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.

The work of heaven alone is material; the making of a material world. The work of hell is entirely spiritual.

The trouble with always trying to preserve the health of the body is that it is so difficult to do without destroying the health of the mind.

The way to love anything is to realize that it may be lost. 

"You can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it." .

The true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground.

The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all. GKC

"Man seems to be capable of great virtues but not of small virtues; capable of defying his torturer but not of keeping his temper." G.K.C.

"The chief object of education is not to learn things but to unlearn things."

"It isn't that they can't see the solution. It is that they can't see the problem." 

The purpose of Compulsory Education is to deprive the common people of their commonsense.

Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.

Education is the period during which you are being instructed by somebody you do not know, about something you do not want to know.

Happy is he who still loves something he loved in the nursery: He has not been broken in two by time; he is not two men, but one, and he has saved not only his soul but his life.

Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump; you may be freeing him from being a camel.

The simplification of anything is always sensational.

The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.

The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.  GK

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried. 

Aquinas does lift Faith above Reason; but does not lower reason. He does put the supernatural higher than the natural; but does not lower the natural. He says that the lower thing is in every sense worthy except that compared with the higher it is worthless. This led to a habit of thinking on two levels, or even on three. It was like a medieval theatre...  

The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.

People generally quarrel because they cannot argue.

'My country, right or wrong' is a thing no patriot would ever think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying 'My mother, drunk or sober.' 

No man who worships education has got the best out of education... Without a gentle contempt for education no man's education is complete.

Men feel that cruelty to the poor is a kind of cruelty to animals. They never feel that it is an injustice to equals; nay it is treachery to comrades. GKC

Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.   (This quotation reminds me of Maryknoler Mary Beth Gallagher.)

It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.   (No one jokes about communism, Fidelismo or Danielismo. True Believers just gather statistics to "prove" their superiority.).

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.

Never invoke the gods unless you really want them to appear. It annoys them very much. 

Coincidences are spiritual puns.

A puritan is a person who pours righteous indignation into the wrong things.

A room without books is like a body without a soul.

A stiff apology is a second insult... The injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged; he wants to be healed because he has been hurt. 

All conservatism is based upon the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not. If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. GKC  (Bruce Cockburn paraphrase: 'I used to think I could ignore politics. Now I realize the more you leave it alone, the more it bites you in the ass.')

There are others whose state of mind is still more extraordinary. They not only do not need the landscape to corroborate their history, but they do not care if the landscape contradicts their history If the map marks the place as a waterless desert, they will declare it as dry as a bone, though the whole valley resound with the rushing river. A whole huge rock will be invisible if a little book on geology says it is impossible. This is the opposite extreme to the irrational credulity of the rustic, but it is infinitely more irrational This great delusion of the prior claim of printed matter, as something anterior to experience and capable of contradicting it, is the main weakness of modern urban society. The chief mark of the modern man has been that he has gone through a landscape with his eyes glued to a guidebook, and could actually deny in the one, anything that he could not find in the other. One man, however, happened to look up form the book and see things for himself: he was a man of too impatient a temper, and later he showed too hasty a disposition to tear the book up or toss the book away. But there had been granted to him a strange and high and heroic sort of faith. He could believe his eyes. "William Cobbett," by G. K. Chesterton

Democracy means government by the uneducated, while aristocracy means government by the badly educated.

Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere.

An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.

Journalism is popular, but it is popular mainly as fiction. Life is one world, and life seen in the newspapers is another.

(Chesterton's very good friend George Bernard Shaw said: "Newspapers seem unable to distinguish between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization." Chesterton wrote a biography of Shaw which began with this dedicatory note: "Most people either say that they agree with Bernard Shaw or hat they do not understand him. I am the only person who understands him, and I do not agree with him." For me, this statement represents the moral apogee of people who have learned to argue well because they realize the degradation of quarreling.)

(And here's what we're arguing about. Or should be...) "Nothing more strangely indicates an enormous and silent evil of modern society than the extraordinary use which is made nowadays of the word "orthodox." In former days the heretic was proud of not being a heretic. It was kingdoms of the world and the police and the judges who were heretics. He was orthodox... All the tortures torn out of forgotten hells could not make him admit that he was heretical... The word "heresy" not only means no longer "being wrong"; it practically means being clear-headed and courageous. The word "orthodoxy" not only no longer means being right, it practically means being wrong... (This) means that people care less for whether they are philosophically right... The dynamiter, laying a bomb, ought to insist that, whatever else he is, at least he is orthodox... General theories are everywhere contemned... We will have no generalizations... We are more and more to discuss art, politics, literature. A man's opinon on tramcars matters; his opinion on Botticelli matters; his opinon on all things does not matter. He may turn over and explore a million objects, but he must not find that strange object, the universe, for if he does, he will have a religion and be lost. Everything matters, except everything."        G. K. Chesterton 

Journalism largely consists of saying "Lord Jones is Dead" to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive.

I believe in getting into hot water; it keeps you clean.

I regard golf as an expensive way of playing marbles.
The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.

I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.
G. K. Chesterton
Ballad of the White Horse, 1911


Speaking about the instinct that makes people rich, Chesterton remarks--

In the olden days its existence was fully understood. The Greeks enshrined it in the story of Midas, of the 'Golden Touch.' Here was a man who turned everything he laid his hands upon into gold. His life was a progress amidst riches. Out of everything that came in his way he created the precious metal. 'A foolish legend,' said the wiseacres if the Victorian age. 'A truth,' say we of to-day. We all know of such men. We are ever meeting or reading about such persons who turn everything they touch into gold. Success dogs their very footsteps. Their life's pathway leads unerringly upwards. They cannot fail.

Unfortunately, however, Midas could fail; he did. His path did not lead unerringly upward. He starved because whenever he touched a biscuit or a ham sandwich it turned to gold. That was the whole point of the story, though the writer has to suppress it delicately, writing so near to a portrait of Lord Rothschild. The old fables of mankind are, indeed, unfathomably wise; but we must not have them expurgated in the interests of Mr. Vanderbilt. We must not have King Midas represented as an example of success; he was a failure of an unusually painful kind. Also, he had the ears of an ass. Also (like most other prominent and wealthy persons) he endeavoured to conceal the fact. It was his barber (if I remember right) who had to be treated on a confidential footing with regard to this peculiarity; and his barber, instead of behaving like a go-ahead person of the Succeed-at-all-costs school and trying to blackmail King Midas, went away and whispered this splendid piece of society scandal to the reeds, who enjoyed it enormously. It is said that they also whispered it as the winds swayed them to and fro. I look reverently at the portrait of Lord Rothschild; I read reverently about the exploits of Mr. Vanderbilt. I know that I cannot turn everything I touch to gold; but then I also know that I have never tried, having a preference for other substances, such as grass, and good wine. I know that these people have certainly succeeded in something; that they have certainly overcome somebody; I know that they are kings in a sense that no men were ever kings before; that they create markets and bestride continents. Yet it always seems to me that there is some small domestic fact that they are hiding, and I have sometimes thought I heard upon the wind the laughter and whisper of the reeds.

At least, let us hope that we shall all live to see these absurd books about Success covered with a proper derision and neglect. They do not teach people to be successful, but they do teach people to be snobbish; they do spread a sort of evil poetry of worldliness. The Puritans are always denouncing books that inflame lust; what shall we say of books that inflame the viler passions of avarice and pride?   Democracy and Industrialism

"Unfortunately, humanitarianism has been the mark of an inhuman time. And by inhumanity I do not mean merely cruelty; I mean the condition in which even cruelty ceases to be human. I mean the condition in which the rich man, instead of hanging six or seven of his enemies because he hates them, merely beggars and starves to death six or seven thousand people whom he does not hate, and has never seen, because they live at the other side of the world. I mean the condition in which the courtier or pander of the rich man, instead of excitedly mixing a rare, original poison for the Borgias, or carving exquisite ornamental poignard for the political purposes of the Medici, works monotonously in a factory turning out a small type of screw, which will fit into a plate he will never see; to form part of a gun he will never see; to be used in a battle he will never see, and about the merits of which he knows far less than the Renaissance rascal knew about the purposes of the poison and the dagger. In short, what is the matter with industrialism is indirection; the fact that nothing is straightforward; that all its ways are crooked even when they are meant to be straight. Into this most indirect of all systems we tried to fit the most direct of all ideas. Democracy, an ideal which is simple to excess, was vainly applied to a society which was complex to the point of craziness. It is not so very surprising that such a vision has faded in such an environment. Personally, I like the vision; but it takes all sorts to make a world, and there actually are human beings, walking about quite calmly in the daylight, who appear to like the environment."  from All I Survey. The original essay appeared as a column in the Illustrated London News, July 16th 1932. (The last sentence requires that you read "vision" with emphasis and "environment" as the thoughtless philosophical milieu that pertains.)

What's Right with the World

I do not think the world is getting much better in very many vital respects. In some of them, I think, the fact could hardly be disputed. The one perfectly satisfactory element at the present crisis is that all the prophecies have failed. At least the people who have been clearly proved to be wrong are the people who were quite sure they were right. That is always a gratifying circumstance. Now why is it that all these prophecies of the wise have been confounded and why has the destiny of men taken so decisive and different a course? It is because of the very simple fact that the human race consists of many millions of two-legged and tolerably cheerful, reasonably unhappy beings who never read any books at all and certainly never hear of any scientific predictions. If they act in opposition to the scheme which science has foreseen for them, they must be excused. They sin in ignorance. They have no notion that they are avoiding what was really unavoidable. But, indeed, the phrases loosely used of that obscure mass of mankind are a little misleading. To say of the bulk of human beings that they are uneducated is like saying of a Red Indian hunter that he has not yet taken his degree. He has taken many other things. And so, sincerely speaking, there are no uneducated men. They may escape the trivial examinations, but not the tremendous examinations of existence. The dependence of infancy, the enjoyment of animals, the love of woman and the fear of death -- these are more frightful and more fixed than all conceivable forms of the cultivation of the mind. It is idle to complain of schools and colleges being trivial. In no case will a college ever teach the important things. He has learnt them right or wrong, and he has learnt them all alone.

We therefore come back to the primary truth, that what is right with the world has nothing to do with future changes, but is rooted in original realities. If groups or peoples show an unexpected independence or creative power; if they do things no one had dreamed of their doing; if they prove more ferocious or more self-sacrificing than the wisdom of the world had ever given them credit for, then such inexplicable outbursts can always be referred back to some elementary and absolute doctrine about the nature of men. No traditions in this world are so ancient as the traditions that lead to modern upheaval and innovation. Nothing nowadays is so conservative as a revolution. The men who call themselves Republicans are men walking the streets of deserted and tiny city-states, and digging up the great bones of pagans. And when we ask on what republicanism really rests, we come back to that great indemonstrable dogma of the native dignity of man. And when we come back to the lord of creation, we come back of necessity to creation; and we ask ourselves that ultimate question which St Thomas Aquinas (an extreme optimist) answered in the affirmative: Are these things ultimately of value at all?
What is right with the world is the world. In fact, nearly everything else is wrong with it. This is that great truth in the tremendous tale of Creation, a truth that our people must remember or perish. It is at the beginning that things are good, and not (as the more pallid progressives say) only at the end. The primordial things -- existence, energy, fruition -- are good so far as they go. You cannot have evil life, though you can have notorious evil livers. Manhood and womanhood are good things, though men and women are often perfectly pestilent. You can use poppies to drug people, or birch trees to beat them, stone to make an idol, or corn to make a corner; but it remains true that, in the abstract, before you have done anything, each of these four things is in strict truth a glory, a beneficent speciality and variety. We do praise the Lord that there are birch trees growing amongst the rocks and poppies amongst the corn; we do praise the Lord, even if we do not believe in Him. We do admire and applaud the project of a world, just as if we had been called to council in the primal darkness and seen the first starry plan of the skies. We are, as a matter of fact, far more certain that this life of ours is a magnificent and amazing enterprise than we are that it will succeed. These evolutionary optimists who called themselves Meliorists (a patient and poor-spirited lot they are) always talk as if we were certain of the end, though not of the beginning. In other words, they don't know what life is aiming at, but they are quire sure it will get there. Why anybody who has avowedly forgotten where he came from should be quite so certain of where he is going to I have never been able to make out; but Meliorists are like that. They are ready to talk of existence itself as the product of purely evil forces. They never mention animals except as perpetually tearing each other to pieces; but a month in the country would cure that. They have a real giddy horror of stars and seas, as a man has on the edge of a hopelessly high precipice. They sometimes instinctively shrink from clay, fungoids, and the fresh young of animals with a quivering gesture that reveals the fundamental pessimist. Life itself, crude, uncultivated life, is horrible to them. They belong very largely to the same social class and creed as the lady who objected that the milk came to her from a dirty cow, and not from a nice clean shop. But they are sure how everything will end.

I am in precisely the opposite position. I am much more sure that everything is good at the beginning than I am that everything will be good at the end. That all this frame of things, this flesh, these stones, are good things, of that I am more brutally certain than I can say. But as for what will happen to them, that is to take a step into dogma and prophecy. I speak here, of course, solely of my personal feelings, not even of my reasoned creed. But on my instincts alone I should have no notion what would ultimately happen to this material world I think so magnificent. For all I know it may be literally and not figuratively true that the tares are tied into bundles for burning, and that as the tree falleth so shall it lie. I am an agnostic, like most people with a positive theology. But I do affirm, with the full weight of sincerity, that trees and flowers are good at the beginning, whatever happens to them at the end; that human lives were good at the beginning, whatever happens to them in the end. The ordinary modern progressive position is that this is a bad universe, but will certainly get better. I say it is certainly a good universe, even if it gets worse. I say that these trees and flowers, stars and sexes, are primarily, not merely ultimately, good. In the Beginning the power beyond words created heaven and earth. In the Beginning He looked on them and saw that they were good.

All this unavoidable theory (for theory is always unavoidable) may be popularly pulled together thus. We are to regard existence as a raid or great adventure; it is to be judged, therefore, not by what calamities it encounters, but by what flag it follows and what high town it assaults. The most dangerous thing in the world is to be alive; one is always in danger of one's life. But anyone who shrinks from this is a traitor to the great scheme and experiment of being. The pessimist of the ordinary type, the pessimist who thinks he would be better dead, is blasted with the crime of Iscariot. Spiritually speaking, we should be justified in punishing him with death. Only, out of polite deference to his own philosophy, we punish him with life.

But this faith (that existence was fundamentally and purposely good) is not attacked only by the black, consistent pessimist. The man who says that he would sooner die is best answered by a sudden blow with the poker, for the reply is rightly logical, as well as physically very effective. But there has crept through the culture of modern Europe another notion that is equally in its own way an attack on the essential rightness of the world. It is not avowedly pessimistic, though the source from which it comes (which is Buddhism) is pessimistic for those who really understand it. It can offer itself -- as it does among some of the high-minded and distinguished Theosophists -- with an air of something highly optimistic. But this disguised pessimism is what is really wrong with the world -- at least, especially with the modern world. It is essential to arrest and to examine it.

There has crept into our thoughts, through a thousand small openings, a curious and unnatural idea. I mean the idea that unity is itself a good thing; that there is something high and spiritual about things being blended and absorbed into each other. That all rivers should run into one river, that all vegetables should go into one pot -- that is spoken of as the last and best fulfilment of being. Boys are to be 'at one' with girls; all sects are to be 'at one' in the New Theology; beasts fade into men and men fade into God; union in itself is a noble thing. Now union in itself is not a noble thing. Love is a noble thing; but love is not union. Nay, it is rather a vivid sense of separation and identity. Maudlin, inferior love poetry does, indeed, talk of lovers being 'one soul', just as maudlin, inferior religious poetry talks of being lost in God; but the best poetry does not. When Dante meets Beatrice, he feels his distance from her, not his proximity; and all the greatest saints have felt their lowness, not their highness, in the moment of ecstasy. And what is true of these grave and heroic matters (I do not say, of course, that saints and lovers have never used the language of union too, true enough in its own place and proper limitation of meaning) -- what is true of these is equally true of all the lighter and less essential forms of appreciation of surprise. Division and variety are essential to praise; division and variety are what is right with the world. There is nothing specially right about mere contact and coalescence.

In short, this vast, vague idea of unity is the one 'reactionary' thing in the world. It is perhaps the only connection in which that foolish word 'reactionary' can be used with significance and truth. For this blending of men and women, nations and nations, is truly a return to the chaos and unconsciousness that were before the world was made. There is of course, another kind of unity of which I do not speak here; unity in the possession of truth and the perception of the need for these varieties. But the varieties themselves; the reflection of man and woman in each other, as in two distinct mirrors; the wonder of man at nature as a strange thing at once above and below him; the quaint and solitary kingdom of childhood; the local affections and the colour of certain landscapes -- these actually are the things that are the grace and honour of the earth; these are the things that make life worth living and the whole framework of things well worthy to be sustained. And the best thing remains; that this view, whether conscious or not, always has been and still is the view of the living and labouring millions. While a few prigs on platforms are talking about 'oneness' and absorption in 'The All', the folk that dwell in all the valleys of this ancient earth are renewing the varieties for ever. With them a woman is loved for being unmanly, and a man loved for being un-womanly. With them the church and the home are both beautiful, because they are both different; with them fields are personal and flags are sacred; they are the virtue of existence, for they are not mankind but men.

The rooted hope of the modern world is that all these dim democracies do still believe in that romance of life, that variation of man, woman and child upon which all poetry has hitherto been built. The danger of the modern world is that these dim democracies are so very dim, and that they are especially dim where they are right. The danger is that the world may fall under a new oligarchy -- the oligarchy of prigs. And if anyone should promptly ask (in the manner of the debating clubs) for the definition of a prig, I can only reply that a prig is an oligarch who does not even know he is an oligarch. A circle of small pedants sit on an upper platform, and pass unanimously (in a meeting of none) that there is no difference between the social duties of men and of women, the social instruction of men or of children. Below them boils that multitudinous sea of millions that think differently, that have always thought differently, that will always think differently. In spite of the overwhelming majority that maintains the old theory of life, I am in some real doubt about which will win. Owing to the decay of theology and all the other clear systems of thought, men have been thrown back very much upon their instincts, as with animals. As with animals, their instincts are right; but, as with animals, they can be cowed. Between the agile scholars and the stagnant mob, I am really doubtful about which will be triumphant. I have no doubt at all about which ought to be.

Europe at present exhibits a concentration upon politics which is partly the unfortunate result of our loss of religion, partly the just and needful result of our loss of our social inequality and iniquity. These causes, however, will not remain in operation for ever. Religion is returning from her exile; it is more likely that the future will be crazily and corruptly superstitious than that it will be merely rationalist.

On the other hand, our attempts to right the extreme ill-balance of wealth must soon have some issue; something will be done to lessen the perpetual torture of incompetent compassion; some scheme will be substituted for our malevolent anarchy, if it be only one of benevolent servitude. And as these two special unrests about the universe and the State settle down into more silent and enduring system, there will emerge more and more those primary and archaic truths which the dust of these two conflicts has veiled. The secondary questions relatively solved, we shall find ourselves all the more in the presence of the primary questions of Man.

For at present we all tend to one mistake; we tend to make politics too important. We tend to forget how huge a part of a man's life is the same under a Sultan and a Senate, under Nero or St Louis. Daybreak is a never-ending glory, getting out of bed is a never-ending nuisance; food and friends will be welcomed; work and strangers must be accepted and endured; birds will go bedwards and children won't, to the end of the last evening. And the worst peril is that in our just modern revolt against intolerable accidents we may have unsettled those things that alone make daily life tolerable. It will be an ironic tragedy if, when we have toiled to find rest, we find we are incurably restless. It will be sad if, when we have worked for our holiday, we find we have unlearnt everything but work. The typical modern man is the insane millionaire who has drudged to get money, and then finds he cannot enjoy even money. There is danger that the social reformer may silently and occultly develop some of the madness of the millionaire whom he denounces. He may find that he has learnt how to build playgrounds but forgotten how to play. He may agitate for peace and quiet, but only propagate his own mental agitation. In his long fight to get a slave a half-holiday he may angrily deny those ancient and natural things, the zest of being, the divinity of man, the sacredness of simple things, the health and humour of the earth, which alone make a half-holiday even half a holiday or a slave even half a man.
There is danger in that modern phrase 'divine discontent'. There is truth in it also, of course; but it is only truth of a special and secondary kind. Much of the quarrel between Christianity and the world has been due to this fact; that there are generally two truths, as it were, at any given moment of revolt or reaction, and the ancient underlying truism which is nevertheless true all the time. It is sometimes worth while to point out that black is not so black as it is painted; but black is still black, and not white. So with the merits of content and discontent. It is true that in certain acute and painful crises of oppression or disgrace, discontent is a duty and shame could call us like a trumpet. But it is not true that man should look at life with an eye of discontent, however high-minded. It is not true that in his primary, naked relation to the world, in his relation to sex, to pain, to comradeship, to the grave or to the weather, man ought to make discontent his ideal; it is black lunacy. Half his poor little hopes of happiness hang on his thinking a small house pretty, a plain wife charming, a lame foot not unbearable, and bad cards not so bad. The voice of the special rebels and prophets, recommending discontent, should, as I have said, sound now and then suddenly, like a trumpet. But the voices of the saints and sages, recommending, contentment, should sound unceasingly, like the sea.
Christmas and the First Games: http://www.dur.ac.uk/martin.ward/gkc/books/christmas-games.html

He comes to scoff and does not remain to pray, but rather to excommunicate A man is perfectly entitled to laugh at a thing because he happens to find it incomprehensible. What he has no right to do is to laugh at it as incomprehensible, and then criticise it as if he comprehended it. The very fact of its unfamiliarity and mystery ought to set him thinking about the deeper causes that make people so different from himself, and that without merely assuming that they must be inferior to himselfIt would be easy enough to suggest that in this America has introduced a quite abnormal spirit of inquisition; an interference with liberty unknown among all the ancient despotisms and aristocracies. About that there will be something to be said later; but superficially it is true that this degree of officialism is comparatively unique. In a journey which I took only the year before I had occasion to have my papers passed by governments which many worthy people in the West would vaguely identify with corsairs and assassins; I have stood on the other side of Jordan, in the land ruled by a rude Arab chief, where the police looked so like brigands that one wondered what the brigands looked like. But they did not ask me whether I had come to subvert the power of the Shereef; and they did not exhibit the faintest curiosity about my personal views on the ethical basis of civil authority. These ministers of ancient Moslem despotism did not care about whether I was an anarchist; and naturally would not have minded if I had been a polygamist. The Arab chief was probably a polygamist himself. These slaves of Asiatic autocracy were content, in the old liberal fashion, to judge me by my actions; they did not inquire into my thoughts. They held their power as limited to the limitation of practice; they did not forbid me to hold a theory. It would be easy to argue here that Western democracy persecutes where even Eastern despotism tolerates or emancipates. It would be easy to develop the fancy that, as compared with the sultans of Turkey or Egypt, the American Constitution is a thing like the Spanish Inquisition
What is America (from What I Saw in America) http://www.dur.ac.uk/martin.ward/gkc/books/christmas-games.html

A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.

An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.

Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere.

Don't ever take a fence down until you know the reason it was put up.

Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.

It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.

Journalism largely consists of saying 'Lord Jones is Dead' to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive.

Music with dinner is an insult both to the cook and the violinist.

The thing I hate about an argument is that it always interrupts a discussion.

To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.

There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.
   G. K. Chesterton, Heretics (1905)

Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.
   G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.
   G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy; p. 14

It isn't that they can't see the solution. It is that they can't see the problem.
   G. K. Chesterton, Scandal of Father Brown (1935)

He may be mad, but there's method in his madness. There nearly always is method in madness. It's what drives men mad, being methodical.
   G. K. Chesterton, The Fad of the Fisherman (1922)

     One of the deepest and strangest of all human moods is the mood which will suddenly strike us perhaps in a garden at night, or deep in sloping meadows, the feeling that every flower and leaf has just uttered something stupendously direct and important, and that we have by a prodigy of imbecility not heard or understood it. There is a certain poetic value, and that a genuine one, in this sense of having missed the full meaning of things. There is beauty, not only in wisdom, but in this dazed and dramatic ignorance.
         o Source: the biography Robert Browning. (1903)

    The truth is that Tolstoy, with his immense genius, with his colossal faith, with his vast fearlessness and vast knowledge of life, is deficient in one faculty and one faculty alone. He is not a mystic; and therefore he has a tendency to go mad. Men talk of the extravagances and frenzies that have been produced by mysticism; they are a mere drop in the bucket. In the main, and from the beginning of time, mysticism has kept men sane. The thing that has driven them mad was logic. ...The only thing that has kept the race of men from the mad extremes of the convent and the pirate-galley, the night-club and the lethal chamber, has been mysticism— the belief that logic is misleading, and that things are not what they seem.
         o Tolstoy (1903)

    Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it.
         o Twelve Types (1903) Charles II

    The word 'orthodoxy' not only no longer means being right; it practically means being wrong.
         o Heretics (1905)

    Carlyle said that men were mostly fools. Christianity, with a surer and more reverent realism, says that they are all fools. This doctrine is sometimes called the doctrine of original sin. It may also be described as the doctrine of the equality of men.
         o Heretics (1905)

    Man can hardly be defined ... as an animal who makes tools; ants and beavers and many other animals make tools, in the sense that they make an apparatus. Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas.
         o Heretics (1905)

    There is a great man who makes every man feel small. But the real great man is the man who makes every man feel great.
         o Charles Dickens (1906)

    Moderate strength is shown in violence, supreme strength is shown in levity.
         o The Man Who was Thursday (1908)

    And it is always the humble man who talks too much; the proud man watches himself too closely.
          The Man Who was Thursday (1908)

    What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon. Tremendous Trifles (1909)

    The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.
          What's Wrong With The World (1910)

    It is the one great weakness of journalism as a picture of our modern existence, that it must be a picture made up entirely of exceptions. We announce on flaring posters that a man has fallen off a scaffolding. We do not announce on flaring posters that a man has not fallen off a scaffolding. Yet this latter fact is fundamentally more exciting, as indicating that that moving tower of terror and mystery, a man, is still abroad upon the earth. That the man has not fallen off a scaffolding is really more sensational; and it is also some thousand times more common. But journalism cannot reasonably be expected thus to insist upon the permanent miracles. Busy editors cannot be expected to put on their posters, “Mr. Wilkinson Still Safe,” or “Mr. Jones, of Worthing, Not Dead Yet.” They cannot announce the happiness of mankind at all. They cannot describe all the forks that are not stolen, or all the marriages that are not judiciously dissolved. Hence the complex picture they give of life is of necessity fallacious; they can only represent what is unusual. However democratic they may be, they are only concerned with the minority.  The Ball and the Cross (1910)

   The rich are the scum of the earth in every country.
          The Flying Inn (1914)

    To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.
          A Short History of England (1917)

    All government is an ugly necessity.
          A Short History of England (1917)

    It is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged.
         o The Cleveland Press (3/1/21)

    A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.
          Everlasting Man (1925)

    These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own.
          Illustrated London News (8-11-28)

    Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.
          Illustrated London News (4/19/30)

    The modern world seems to have no notion of preserving different things side by side, of allowing its proper and proportionate place to each, of saving the whole varied heritage of culture. It has no notion except that of simplifying something by destroying nearly everything.
          On Love

    It isn't that they can't see the solution. It is that they can't see the problem.
          The Point of a Pin

Orthodoxy (1909)

   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.

    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 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.

    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.

The "Father Brown" Mystery Series

    An artist will betray himself by some sort of sincerity.
          The Incredulity of Father Brown (1926) The Dagger with Wings

    If you convey to a woman that something ought to be done, there is always a dreadful danger that she will suddenly do it.
          The Secret of Father Brown (1927) The Song of the Flying Fish

The Dagger with Wings (1926)

    'You do believe it,' he said. ‘You do believe everything. We all believe everything, even when we deny everything. The denyers believe. The unbelievers believe. Don’t you feel in your heart that these contradictions do not really contradict: that there is a cosmos that contains them all? The soul goes round upon a wheel of stars and all things return; perhaps Strake and I have striven in many shapes, beast against beast and bird against bird, and perhaps we shall strive for ever. But since we seek and need each other, even that eternal hatred is an eternal love. Good and evil go round in a wheel that is one thing and not many. Do you not realize in your heart, do you not believe behind all your beliefs, that there is but one reality and we are its shadows; and that all things are but aspects of one thing: a centre where men melt into Man and Man into God?’
     ‘No,’ said Father Brown.

    All things are from God; and above all, reason and imagination and the great gifts of the mind. They are good in themselves; and we must not altogether forget their origin even in their perversion.

    ‘I’m afraid I’m a practical man,’ said the doctor with gruff humour, ‘and I don’t bother much about religion and philosophy.’
     ‘You’ll never be a practical man till you do,’ said Father Brown. ‘Look here, doctor; you know me pretty well; I think you know I’m not a bigot. You know I know there are all sorts in all religions; good men in bad ones and bad men in good ones.

A Song of Defeat

     Our chiefs said 'Done,' and I did not deem it;
     Our seers said 'Peace,' and it was not peace;
     Earth will grow worse till men redeem it,
     And wars more evil, ere all wars cease.


  Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate.

   Don't ever take a fence down until you know the reason why it was put up.

   Happiness is a mystery like religion, and should never be rationalised.

   He is a very shallow critic who cannot see an eternal rebel in the heart of a conservative.

   Honour is a luxury for aristocrats, but it is a necessity for hall-porters.

   If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.

    Many clever men like you have trusted to civilisation. Many clever Babylonians, many clever Egyptians, many clever men at the end of Rome. Can you tell me, in a world that is flagrant with the failures of civilisation, what there is particularly immortal about yours?

   Science in the modern world has many uses; its chief use, however, is to provide long words to cover the errors of the rich. The word 'kleptomania' is a vulgar example of what I mean.

   The oligarchic character of the modern English commonwealth does not rest, like many oligarchies, on the cruelty of the rich to the poor. It does not even rest on the kindness of the rich to the poor. It rests on the perennial and unfailing kindness of the poor to the rich.

   The reason angels can fly is that they take themselves so lightly.

   There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.

   There is something to be said for every error; but, whatever may be said for it, the most important thing to be said about it is that it is erroneous.

   Thrift is the really romantic thing; economy is more romantic than extravagance...thrift is poetic because it is creative; waste is unpoetic because it is waste...If a man could undertake to make use of all the things in his dustbin, he would be a broader genius than than Shakespeare.

   Tolerance is the virtue of a man without convictions.

   Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.

   Fairy tales are more than true - not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.

From time to time, as we all know, a sect appears in our midst announcing that the world will very soon come to an end. Generally, by some slight confusion or miscalculation, it is the sect that comes to an end. 9/24/1927

Is one religion as good as another? Is one horse in the Derby as good as another?

There is something odd in the fact that when we reproduce the Middle Ages it is always some such rough and half-grotesque part of them that we reproduce . . . Why is it that we mainly remember the Middle Ages by absurd things? . . . Few modern people know what a mass of illuminating philosophy, delicate metaphysics, clear and dignified social morality exists in the serious scholastic writers of mediaeval times. But we seem to have grasped somehow that the ruder and more clownish elements in the Middle Ages have a human and poetical interest. We are delighted to know about the ignorance of mediaevalism; we are contented to be ignorant about its knowledge. When we talk of something mediaeval, we mean something quaint. We remember that alchemy was mediaeval, or that heraldry was mediaeval. We forget that Parliaments are mediaeval, that all our Universities are mediaeval, that city corporations are mediaeval, that gunpowder and printing are mediaeval, that half the things by which we now live, and to which we look for progress, are mediaeval."
{"The True Middle Ages," The Illustrated London News, 14 July 1906}

Unfortunately, 19th-century scientists were just as ready to jump to the conclusion that any guess about nature was an obvious fact, as were 17th-century sectarians to jump to the conclusion that any guess about Scripture was the obvious explanation . . . . and this clumsy collision of two very impatient forms of ignorance was known as the quarrel of Science and Religion.
{Saint Thomas Aquinas, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1933, p. 88}

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.
{"The History of Religions," The Illustrated London News, 10 October 1908}

Very nearly everybody, in the ordinary literary and journalistic world, began by taking it for granted that my faith in the Christian creed was a pose or a paradox. The more cynical supposed that it was only a stunt. The more generous and loyal warmly maintained that it was only a joke. It was not until long afterwards that the full horror of the truth burst upon them; the disgraceful truth that I really thought the thing was true. And I have found, as I say, that this represents a real transition or border-line in the life of apologists. Critics were almost entirely complimentary to what they were pleased to call my brilliant paradoxes; until they discovered that I really meant what I said. Since then they have been more combative; and I do not blame them.
{Autobiography, NY: Sheed & Ward, 1936, p. 180; referring to the period in which Orthodoxy was written (1908) }

Nobody can understand the greatness of the 13th century, who does not realise that it was a great growth of new things produced by a living thing. In that sense it was really bolder and freer than what we call the Renaissance, which was a resurrection of old things discovered in a dead thing.
{Saint Thomas Aquinas, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1933, p. 41}

Any number of people assume that the Bible says that Eve ate an apple, or that Jonah was swallowed by a whale. Yet the Bible never says a word about whales or apples. In the former case it refers to a fish, which might imply any sort of sea-monster; and in the second, to the essential experience of fruition, or tasting the fruit of the tree, which is obviously more general and even more mystical . . . The things that look silly now are the first rationalistic explanations rather than the first religious or primitive outlines. If those original images had been left in their own natural mystery of dark fruition or dim monsters of the deep, nobody would have quarrelled with them half so much . . . But it is unfair to turn round and blame the Bible because of all these legends and jokes and journalistic allusions, which are read into the Bible by people who have not read the Bible.
{"The Bible and the Sceptics," The Illustrated London News, 20 April 1929}

It is absurd for the Evolutionist to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing, and then pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into anything.
{Saint Thomas Aquinas, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1933, p. 174}

Impartiality is a pompous name for indifference, which is an elegant name for ignorance." - The Speaker, 12/15/00

To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it." - A Short History of England, Ch.10

A thing may be too sad to be believed or too wicked to be believed or too good to be believed; but it cannot be too absurd to be believed in this planet of frogs and elephants, of crocodiles and cuttle-fish." - Maycock, The Man Who Was Orthodox

Men invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals. They look forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back." - What's Wrong With The World, 1910

A detective story generally describes six living men discussing how it is that a man is dead. A modern philosophic story generally describes six dead men discussing how any man can possible be alive." - A Miscellany of Men

"[Marxism will] in a generation or so [go] into the limbo of most heresies, but meanwhile it will have poisoned the Russian Revolution." - ILN, 7/19/19

War is not 'the best way of settling differences; it is the only way of preventing their being settled for you." - ILN, 7/24/15

There is a corollary to the conception of being too proud to fight. It is that the humble have to do most of the fighting." - Everlasting Man, 1925

"The only defensible war is a war of defence."  Autobiography, 1937

"The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him." - ILN, 1/14/11

If you attempt an actual argument with a modern paper of opposite politics, you will have no answer except slanging or silence." - Chapter 3, What's Wrong With The World, 1910

When a politician is in opposition he is an expert on the means to some end; and when he is in office he is an expert on the obstacles to it." - ILN, 4/6/18

The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected." - ILN, 4/19/24

I never could see anything wrong in sensationalism; and I am sure our society is suffering more from secrecy than from flamboyant revelations." - ILN, 10/4/19

Women are the only realists; their whole object in life is to pit their realism against the extravagant, excessive, and occasionally drunken idealism of men." - A Handful of Authors

It has been often said, very truly, that religion is the thing that makes the ordinary man feel extraordinary; it is an equally important truth that religion is the thing that makes the extraordinary man feel ordinary." - Charles Dickens (the biography)

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." - ILN 1-3-20

"These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own." - ILN 8-11-28

Any one thinking of the Holy Child as born in December would mean by it exactly what we mean by it; that Christ is not merely a summer sun of the prosperous but a winter fire for the unfortunate." - The New Jerusalem, Ch. 5

The great majority of people will go on observing forms that cannot be explained; they will keep Christmas Day with Christmas gifts and Christmas benedictions; they will continue to do it; and some day suddenly wake up and discover why." - "On Christmas," Generally Speaking

The whole truth is generally the ally of virtue; a half-truth is always the ally of some vice." - ILN, 6/11/10

All men thirst to confess their crimes more than tired beasts thirst for water; but they naturally object to confessing them while other people, who have also committed the same crimes, sit by and laugh at them." - ILN 3/14/08

The voice of the special rebels and prophets, recommending discontent, should, as I have said, sound now and then suddenly, like a trumpet. But the voices of the saints and sages, recommending contentment, should sound unceasingly, like the sea." - T.P.'s Weekly, Christmas Number, 1910

There are some desires that are not desirable." - Orthodoxy

The artistic temperament is a disease that afflicts amateurs." - Chapter 16, Heretics, 1905

"Properly speaking, of course, there is no such thing as a return to nature, because there is no such thing as a departure from it. The phrase reminds one of the slightly intoxicated gentleman who gets up in his own dining room and declares firmly that he must be getting home." - Chesterton Review, August, 1993

Only poor men get hanged." - ILN, 7/17/09

"Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion. In practice it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it." - Autobiography, 1937

"Some people leave money for the improvement of public buildings. I can leave dynamite for the improvement of public buildings." Ð ILN 3-17-06


Gilbert Keith Chesterton was born in London, England on the 29th of May, 1874. Though he considered himself a mere "rollicking journalist," he was actually a prolific and gifted writer in virtually every area of literature. A man of strong opinions and enormously talented at defending them, his exuberant personality nevertheless allowed him to maintain warm friendships with people--such as George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells--with whom he vehemently disagreed.

Chesterton had no difficulty standing up for what he believed. He was one of the few journalists to oppose the Boer War. His 1922 "Eugenics and Other Evils" attacked what was at that time the most progressive of all ideas, the idea that the human race could and should breed a superior version of itself. In the Nazi experience, history demonstrated the wisdom of his once "reactionary" views.

His poetry runs the gamut from the comic 1908 "On Running After One's Hat" to dark and serious ballads. During the dark days of 1940, when Britain stood virtually alone against the armed might of Nazi Germany, these lines from his 1911 Ballad of the White Horse were often quoted:

   I tell you naught for your comfort,
   Yea, naught for your desire,
   Save that the sky grows darker yet
   And the sea rises higher.

Though not written for a scholarly audience, his biographies of authors and historical figures like Charles Dickens and St. Francis of Assisi often contain brilliant insights into their subjects. His Father Brown mystery stories, written between 1911 and 1936, are still being read and adapted for television.

His politics fitted with his deep distrust of concentrated wealth and power of any sort. Along with his friend Hilaire Belloc and in books like the 1910 "What's Wrong with the World" he advocated a view called "Distributionism" that was best summed up by his expression that every man ought to be allowed to own "three acres and a cow." Though not know as a political thinker, his political influence has circled the world. Some see in him the father of the "small is beautiful" movement and a newspaper article by him is credited with provoking Gandhi to seek a "genuine" nationalism for India rather than one that imitated the British.

Heretics belongs to yet another area of literature at which Chesterton excelled. A fun-loving and gregarious man, he was nevertheless troubled in his adolescence by thoughts of suicide. In Christianity he found the answers to the dilemmas and paradoxes he saw in life. Other books in that same series include his 1908 Orthodoxy (written in response to attacks on this book) and his 1925 The Everlasting Man. Orthodoxy is also available as electronic text.

Chesterton died on the 14th of June, 1936 in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England. During his life he published 69 books and at least another ten based on his writings have been published after his death. Many of those books are still in print. Ignatius Press is systematically publishing his collected writings.

Extracts, mainly from Chesterton books "What’s Wrong with the World Today" and Heretics:

Let me, however, take a random instance. At any innocent tea-table

we may easily hear a man say, "Life is not worth living."

We regard it as we regard the statement that it is a fine day;

nobody thinks that it can possibly have any serious effect on the man

or on the world. And yet if that utterance were really believed,

the world would stand on its head. Murderers would be given

medals for saving men from life; firemen would be denounced

for keeping men from death; poisons would be used as medicines;

doctors would be called in when people were well; the Royal

Humane Society would be rooted out like a horde of assassins.

Yet we never speculate as to whether the conversational pessimist

will strengthen or disorganise society; for we are convinced

that theories do not matter.

Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something,

let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to

pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages,

is approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner

of the Schoolmen, "Let us first of all consider, my brethren,

the value of Light. If Light be in itself good--" At this point

he is somewhat excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush

for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go

about congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality.

But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people

have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light;

some because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted darkness,

because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a

lamp-post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash

municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash something.

And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes.

So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, to-morrow, or the next day,

there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all,

and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light.

Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must

discuss in the dark.

Mr. J. A. Kensit, for example, is under the impression that he is not a ritualist.

But the daily life of Mr. J. A. Kensit, like that of any ordinary

modern man, is, as a matter of fact, one continual and compressed

catalogue of mystical mummery and flummery. To take one instance

out of an inevitable hundred: I imagine that Mr. Kensit takes

off his hat to a lady; and what can be more solemn and absurd,

considered in the abstract, than, symbolising the existence of the other

sex by taking off a portion of your clothing and waving it in the air?

This, I repeat, is not a natural and primitive symbol, like fire or food.

A man might just as well have to take off his waistcoat to a lady;

and if a man, by the social ritual of his civilisation, had to take off

his waistcoat to a lady, every chivalrous and sensible man would take

off his waistcoat to a lady. In short, Mr. Kensit, and those who agree

with him, may think, and quite sincerely think, that men give too

much incense and ceremonial to their adoration of the other world.

But nobody thinks that he can give too much incense and ceremonial

to the adoration of this world. All men, then, are ritualists, but are

either conscious or unconscious ritualists. The conscious ritualists

are generally satisfied with a few very simple and elementary signs;

the unconscious ritualists are not satisfied with anything short

of the whole of human life, being almost insanely ritualistic.

It is highly typical of the rabid plagiarism which now passes

everywhere for emancipation, that a little while ago it was common

for an "advanced" woman to claim the right to wear trousers;

a right about as grotesque as the right to wear a false nose.

Whether female liberty is much advanced by the act of wearing

a skirt on each leg I do not know; perhaps Turkish women might

offer some information on the point. But if the western woman

walks about (as it were) trailing the curtains of the harem

with her, it is quite certain that the woven mansion is meant

for a perambulating palace, not for a perambulating prison.

It is quite certain that the skirt means female dignity,

not female submission; it can be proved by the simplest of all tests.

No ruler would deliberately dress up in the recognised fetters

of a slave; no judge would appear covered with broad arrows.

But when men wish to be safely impressive, as judges,

priests or kings, they do wear skirts, the long, trailing robes

of female dignity The whole world is under petticoat government;

for even men wear petticoats when they wish to govern.

From the nature of the case it is obviously impossible

to decide whether any of the peculiarities of civilised

man have been strictly necessary to his civilisation.

It is not self-evident (for instance), that even the habit

of standing upright was the only path of human progress.

There might have been a quadrupedal civilisation, in which a city

gentleman put on four boots to go to the city every morning.

Or there might have been a reptilian civilisation, in which

he rolled up to the office on his stomach; it is impossible to say

that intelligence might not have developed in such creatures.

All we can say is that man as he is walks upright;.

The truant is being taught all day. If the children

do not look at the large letters in the spelling-book, they need

only walk outside and look at the large letters on the poster.

If they do not care for the coloured maps provided by the school,

they can gape at the coloured maps provided by the Daily Mail.

A person with a taste for paradox (if any such shameless creature

could exist) might with some plausibility maintain concerning

all our expansion since the failure of Luther's frank paganism

and its replacement by Calvin's Puritanism, that all this expansion

has not been an expansion, but the closing in of a prison, so that

less and less beautiful and humane things have been permitted.

The Puritans destroyed images; the Rationalists forbade fairy tales.

Count Tostoi practically issued one of his papal encyclicals

against music; and I have heard of modern educationists who forbid

children to play with tin soldiers. I remember a meek little madman

who came up to me at some Socialist soiree or other, and asked me to use

my influence (have I any influence?) against adventure stories for boys.

It seems they breed an appetite for blood. But never mind that;

one must keep one's temper in this madhouse.

But there is one feature in the past which more than all

the rest defies and depresses the moderns and drives them

towards this featureless future. I mean the presence in

the past of huge ideals, unfulfilled and sometimes abandoned.

The sight of these splendid failures is melancholy to a restless

and rather morbid generation; and they maintain a strange silence

about them--sometimes amounting to an unscrupulous silence.

They keep them entirely out of their newspapers and almost entirely

out of their history books. For example, they will often tell you

(in their praises of the coming age) that we are moving on towards

a United States of Europe. But they carefully omit to tell

you that we are moving away from a United States of Europe,

that such a thing existed literally in Roman and essentially in

mediaeval times. They never admit that the international hatreds

(which they call barbaric) are really very recent, the mere

breakdown of the ideal of the Holy Roman Empire. Or again,

they will tell you that there is going to be a social revolution,

a great rising of the poor against the rich; but they never rub it

in that France made that magnificent attempt, unaided, and that we

and all the world allowed it to be trampled out and forgotten.

I say decisively that nothing is so marked in modern writing

as the prediction of such ideals in the future combined with the

ignoring of them in the past. Anyone can test this for himself.

Read any thirty or forty pages of pamphlets advocating peace

in Europe and see how many of them praise the old Popes or Emperors

for keeping the peace in Europe. Read any armful of essays

and poems in praise of social democracy, and see how many of them

praise the old Jacobins who created democracy and died for it.

These colossal ruins are to the modern only enormous eyesores.

He looks back along the valley of the past and sees a perspective

of splendid but unfinished cities. They are unfinished,

not always through enmity or accident, but often through fickleness,

mental fatigue, and the lust for alien philosophies.

We have not only left undone those things that we ought to have done,

but we have even left undone those things that we wanted to do

If I am to discuss what is wrong, one of the first things

that are wrong is this: the deep and silent modern assumption

that past things have become impossible. There is one metaphor

of which the moderns are very fond; they are always saying,

"You can't put the clock back." The simple and obvious answer

is "You can." A clock, being a piece of human construction,

can be restored by the human finger to any figure or hour.

In the same way society, being a piece of human construction,

can be reconstructed upon any plan that has ever existed.

There is another proverb, "As you have made your bed,

so you must lie on it"; which again is simply a lie.

If I have made my bed uncomfortable, please God I will make it again.

We could restore the Heptarchy or the stage coaches if we chose.

It might take some time to do, and it might be very inadvisable to do it;

but certainly it is not impossible as bringing back last Friday

is impossible. This is, as I say, the first freedom that I claim:

the freedom to restore. I claim a right to propose as a solution

the old patriarchal system of a Highland clan, if that should seem

to eliminate the largest number of evils. It certainly would

eliminate some evils; for instance, the unnatural sense of obeying

cold and harsh strangers, mere bureaucrats and policemen.

I claim the right to propose the complete independence of the small

Greek or Italian towns, a sovereign city of Brixton or Brompton,

if that seems the best way out of our troubles. It would be a way

out of some of our troubles; we could not have in a small state,

for instance, those enormous illusions about men or measures which

are nourished by the great national or international newspapers...

Nevertheless, I do not as a fact propose that the Browns and the Smiths should

be collected under separate tartans. Nor do I even propose that Clapham should

declare its independence. I merely declare my independence.

I merely claim my choice of all the tools in the universe;

and I shall not admit that any of them are blunted merely because

they have been used.

My point is that the world did not tire of the church's ideal,

but of its reality. Monasteries were impugned not for

the chastity of monks, but for the unchastity of monks.

Christianity was unpopular not because of the humility,

but of the arrogance of Christians. Certainly, if the

church failed it was largely through the churchmen.

Now, of this great spiritual coherence, independent of external

circumstances, or of race, or of any obvious physical thing, Ireland is

the most remarkable example. Rome conquered nations, but Ireland

has conquered races. The Norman has gone there and become Irish,

the Scotchman has gone there and become Irish, the Spaniard has gone

there and become Irish, even the bitter soldier of Cromwell has gone

there and become Irish. Ireland, which did not exist even politically,

has been stronger than all the races that existed scientifically.

The purest Germanic blood, the purest Norman blood, the purest

blood of the passionate Scotch patriot, has not been so attractive

as a nation without a flag. Ireland, unrecognized and oppressed,

has easily absorbed races, as such trifles are easily absorbed...

Five triumphant races have been absorbed, have been defeated by a defeated nationality.

But the Christian Church was the last life of the old society and was also the first life of

the new. She took the people who were forgetting how to make an

arch and she taught them to invent the Gothic arch. In a word, the

most absurd thing that could be said of the Church is the thing we

have all heard said of it. How can we say that the Church wishes

to bring us back into the Dark Ages? The Church was the only thing

that ever brought us out of them. 

(A.A. I'm reminded of a quotation by Carl Jung: "At a time when a large part of mankind is beginning to discard Christianity, it is worth while to understand clearly why it was originally accepted. It was accepted in order to escape at last from the brutality of antiquity. As soon as we discard it, licentiousness returns, as is impressively exemplified by life in modern cities.)

But everywhere the religious dance came before the religious hymn,

and man was a ritualist before he could speak.

The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages

are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and

umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that

they practically are beasts.

As we have taken the circle as the symbol of reason and madness, we

may very well take the cross as the symbol at once of mystery and

of health. Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is

centrifugal: it breaks out. For the circle is perfect and infinite

in its nature; but it is fixed for ever in its size; it can never

be larger or smaller. But the cross, though it has at its heart a

collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever

without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox in its centre

it can grow without changing. The circle returns upon itself and

is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a

signpost for free travellers.

It is surely quite clear that this modern notion that woman is a mere

"pretty clinging parasite," "a plaything," etc., arose through the sombre

contemplation of some rich banking family, in which the banker, at least,

went to the city and pretended to do something, while the banker's

wife went to the Park and did not pretend to do anything at all.

A poor man and his wife are a business partnership. If one partner

in a firm of publishers interviews the authors while the other

interviews the clerks, is one of them economically dependent?

Was Hodder a pretty parasite clinging to Stoughton? Was Marshall

a mere plaything for Snelgrove?

For the truth is, that to the moderately poor the home is the only

place of liberty. Nay, it is the only place of anarchy.

It is the only spot on the earth where a man can alter

arrangements suddenly, make an experiment or indulge in a whim.

Everywhere else he goes he must accept the strict rules

of the shop, inn, club, or museum that he happens to enter.

He can eat his meals on the floor in his own house if he likes.

I often do it myself; it gives a curious, childish, poetic,

picnic feeling. There would be considerable trouble if I tried

to do it in an A.B.C. tea-shop. A man can wear a dressing gown

and slippers in his house; while I am sure that this would not be

permitted at the Savoy, though I never actually tested the point.

If you go to a restaurant you must drink some of the wines on

the wine list, all of them if you insist, but certainly some of them.

But if you have a house and garden you can try to make hollyhock

tea or convolvulus wine if you like. For a plain, hard-working man

the home is not the one tame place in the world of adventure.

It is the one wild place in the world of rules and set tasks.

The home is the one place where he can put the carpet

on the ceiling or the slates on the floor if he wants to.

When a man spends every night staggering from bar to bar or from

music-hall to music-hall, we say that he is living an irregular life.

But he is not; he is living a highly regular life,

under the dull, and often oppressive, laws of such places.

Some times he is not allowed even to sit down in the bars;

and frequently he is not allowed to sing in the music-halls.

Hotels may be defined as places where you are forced to dress;

and theaters may be defined as places where you are forbidden

to smoke. A man can only picnic at home.

Now I take, as I have said, this small human omnipotence,

this possession of a definite cell or chamber of liberty,

as the working model for the present inquiry.

Whether we can give every English man a free home of his own

or not, at least we should desire it; and he desires it.

For the moment we speak of what he wants, not of what he

expects to get. He wants, far instance, a separate house;

he does not want a semi-detached house. He may be forced

in the commercial race to share one wall with another man.

Similarly he might be forced in a three-legged race to share

one leg with another man; but it is not so that he pictures

himself in his dreams of elegance and liberty. Again, he does

not desire a flat. He can eat and sleep and praise God in a flat;

he can eat and sleep and praise God in a railway train.

But a railway train is not a house, because it is a house on wheels.

And a flat is not a house, because it is a house on stilts.

An idea of earthy contact and foundation, as well as an

idea of separation and independence, is a part of this

instructive human picture.

I take, then, this one institution as a test. As every

normal man desires a woman, and children born of a woman,

every normal man desires a house of his own to put them into.

He does not merely want a roof above him and a chair

below him; he wants an objective and visible kingdom;

a fire at which he can cook what food he likes, a door

he can open to what friends he chooses. This is the normal

appetite of men; I do not say there are not exceptions.

There may be saints above the need and philanthropists below it.

Opalstein, now he is a duke, may have got used to more than this;

and when he was a convict may have got used to less.

But the normality of the thing is enormous. To give nearly

everybody ordinary houses would please nearly everybody;

that is what I assert without apology. Now in modern England

(as you eagerly point out) it is very difficult to give nearly

everybody houses. Quite so; I merely set up the desideratum;

and ask the reader to leave it standing there while he turns

with me to a consideration of what really happens in the social

wars of our time.

Suffice it to say here that when I say

that we should instruct our children, I mean that we should do it,

not that Mr. Sully or Professor Earl Barnes should do it.

The trouble in too many of our modern schools is that the State,

being controlled so specially by the few, allows cranks and

experiments to go straight to the schoolroom when they have never

passed through the Parliament, the public house, the private house,

the church, or the marketplace. Obviously, it ought to be

the oldest things that are taught to the youngest people;

the assured and experienced truths that are put first to the baby.

But in a school today the baby has to submit to a system

that is younger than himself. The flopping infant of four

actually has more experience, and has weathered the world longer,

than the dogma to which he is made to submit. Many a school

boasts of having the last ideas in education, when it has not

even the first idea; for the first idea is that even innocence,

divine as it is, may learn something from experience.

But this, as I say, is all due to the mere fact that we are

managed by a little oligarchy; my system presupposes that men

who govern themselves will govern their children. To-day we

all use Popular Education as meaning education of the people.

I wish I could use it as meaning education by the people.

A little while ago certain doctors and other persons permitted

by modern law to dictate to their shabbier fellow-citizens, sent

out an order that all little girls should have their hair cut short.

I mean, of course, all little girls whose parents were poor.

Many very unhealthy habits are common among rich little girls,

but it will be long before any doctors interfere forcibly with them.

Now, the case for this particular interference was this,

that the poor are pressed down from above into such stinking

and suffocating underworlds of squalor, that poor people must not

be allowed to have hair, because in their case it must mean lice

in the hair. Therefore, the doctors propose to abolish the hair.

It never seems to have occurred to them to abolish the lice.

Yet it could be done. As is common in most modern discussions

the unmentionable thing is the pivot of the whole discussion.

It is obvious to any Christian man (that is, to any man with a

free soul) that any coercion applied to a cabman's daughter ought,

if possible, to be applied to a Cabinet Minister's daughter.

I will not ask why the doctors do not, as a matter of fact

apply their rule to a Cabinet Minister's daughter.

I will not ask, because I know. They do not because they dare not.

I do not propose (like some

of my revolutionary friends) that we should abolish the public schools.

I propose the much more lurid and desperate experiment that we should make

them public. I do not wish to make Parliament stop working, but rather

to make it work; not to shut up churches, but rather to open them;

not to put out the lamp of learning or destroy the hedge of property,

but only to make some rude effort to make universities fairly universal

and property decently proper.

When Lord Morley said that the House of Lords must be either

mended or ended, he used a phrase which has caused some confusion;

because it might seem to suggest that mending and ending are somewhat

similar things. I wish specially to insist on the fact that mending

and ending are opposite things. You mend a thing because you like it;

you end a thing because you don't. To mend is to strengthen.

I, for instance, disbelieve in oligarchy; so l would no more mend

the House of Lords than I would mend a thumbscrew. On the other hand,

I do believe in the family; therefore I would mend the family

as I would mend a chair; and I will never deny for a moment that

the modern family is a chair that wants mending.

In the quarrel earlier alluded to between the energetic Progressive

and the obstinate Conservative (or, to talk a tenderer language,

between Hudge and Gudge), the state of cross-purposes is at the present

moment acute. The Tory says he wants to preserve family life

in Cindertown; the Socialist very reasonably points out to him that

in Cindertown at present there isn't any family life to preserve.

But Hudge, the Socialist, in his turn, is highly vague and mysterious

about whether he would preserve the family life if there were any;

or whether he will try to restore it where it has disappeared.

It is all very confusing. The Tory sometimes talks as if he wanted

to tighten the domestic bonds that do not exist; the Socialist

as if he wanted to loosen the bonds that do not bind anybody.

The question we all want to ask of both of them is the original

ideal question, "Do you want to keep the family at all?" If Hudge,

the Socialist, does want the family he must be prepared for the

natural restraints, distinctions and divisions of labour in the family.

He must brace himself up to bear the idea of the woman having

a preference for the private house and a man for the public house.

He must manage to endure somehow the idea of a woman being womanly,

which does not mean soft and yielding, but handy, thrifty, rather hard,

and very humorous. He must confront without a quiver the notion

of a child who shall be childish, that is, full of energy,

but without an idea of independence; fundamentally as eager for

authority as for information and butter-scotch. If a man, a woman

and a child live together any more in free and sovereign households,

these ancient relations will recur; and Hudge must put up with it.

(Answer on a different subject but can be used to explain why choose Christianity over other religions):

It is like asking why a man

falls in love with one woman and not with another.

Among the many things that Leave me doubtful about the modern

habit of fixing eyes on the future, none is stronger than this:

that all the men in history who have really done anything

with the future have had their eyes fixed upon the past.

I need not mention the Renaissance, the very word proves my case.

The originality of Michael Angelo and Shakespeare began with

the digging up of old vases and manuscripts. The mildness

of poets absolutely arose out of the mildness of antiquaries.

So the great mediaeval revival was a memory of the Roman Empire.

So the Reformation looked back to the Bible and Bible times.

The coming of Islam would only have been the coming of Unitarianism

a thousand years before its time.

John Grubby, who was short and stout

And troubled with religious doubt,

Refused about the age of three

To sit upon the curate’s knee.

Poems (1915) New Freethinker

It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It is that they can’t see the problem.

Scandal of Father Brown (1935) Point of a Pin

And Noah he often said to his wife when he sat down to dine,

I don’t care where the water goes if it doesn’t get into the wine.

Wine and Water (1914)

Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.

The Defendant (1901) A Defence of Penny Dreadfuls

All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry.

The Defendant (1901) Defence of Slang

The rich are the scum of the earth in every country.

The Flying Inn (1914) ch. 15

Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it.

The Man who was Thursday (1908) ch. 4

Hardy went down to botanize in the swamp, while Meredith climbed towards the sun. Meredith became, at his best, a sort of daintily dressed Walt Whitman: Hardy became a sort of village atheist brooding and blaspheming over the village idiot.

The Victorian Age in Literature (1912) ch. 2

The object of opening the mind as of opening the mouth is to close it again on something solid.
- G. K. Chesterton

Am in Birmingham. Where ought I to be?

Telegram to his wife during a lecture tour. Portrait of Barrie (C. Asquith)

I want to reassure you I am not this size, really – dear me no, I’m being amplified by the mike.

At a lecture in Pittsburgh. The Outline of Sanity: A Life of G. K. Chesterton (S. D. Dale)

Just the other day in the Underground I enjoyed the pleasure of offering my seat to three ladies.

Suggesting that fatness had its consolations. Das Buch des Lachens (W. Scholz)