G K Chesterton

Ted Keer's picture
Submitted by Ted Keer on Sun, 2007-01-21 04:02

"Chesterton carried a small loaded revolver which he purchased before his wedding to protect his bride. The only use he found for it was to offer to those who complained life was meaningless. He found no takers. He carried a dagger, which he admired because like logic, it cut both ways, and like a good argument, it came to a point." - Dale Ahlquist, from memory.

I came across the work of Gilbert Keith Chesterton as footnotes in my readings on J.R.R. Tolkien & C.S. Lewis, and only heard his thoughts one evening when I saw there was a show about him on EWTN, a Catholic cable network. The man, who flourished from the turn of the last century until just before WWII wrote some 100 books, and at 38 I had never read a single word written by him. I was reading a wonderful book of his, Heretics, on the train between NY & Boston, sitting next to Anna Kournikova's lookalike, a Russian college freshman, and atheist, who said she thought he was the best of English writers. I gave her a copy of The Fountainhead and of Temple Grandin's Animals in Translation. (Her major was in Psychology, and I habitually give away books, with the stipulation that the reader give them away or donate them to a library if they do not find them worth keeping.) I was embarrassed to say that I had only barely even heard of the man, and here was someone half my age who learned English as a foreign tongue (we spoke French when either was at a loss for words, my Russian is very poor and non-standard) and she knew about this amazing man when I myself had only just come across him at twice her age.

Chesterton was an atheist and classical liberal who converted to Catholicism in his middle age. He was a journalist and mystery writer who loved to engage in polemics. His collected works are verbal tours-de-force worth reading even by those who don't hold with his positive beliefs. His critical abilities when trained on relativists, pacifists, agnostics, socialists, materialists, spiritualists, Freudians, Marxists, determinists, racialists, (i.e., Nazis,) pagans, tree-huggers, fascists, and the like are a joy to experience. He equals and often exceeds Rand in the biting and devastating analogy. He rarely bothers to put forth what he himself believes as a positive matter, so his Catholicism is not too hard to deal with for an Objectivist. His two best books are Orthodoxy and Heretics. His works are also available in collected form by Ignatius publishers, Vol.s I-V cover his essays. (Vol. I contains both Heretics and Orthodoxy) One of the volumes is comprised of biographies of Francis of Assisi and Thomas More, that one can be skipped. The rest is simply wonderful to read, a master at work in his medium. His essay defending his use of alliteration in prose (an opponent objected to being disproven by the comic repetition of consonants) is simply one of the funniest things I have ever read.

Chesterton personally knew and wrote about Shaw, H. G. Wells, and many other brilliant minds of the British Golden age like Wilde and so forth. His general anonymity here in the U.S. is a blot on our culture. I have not read his fiction, for which he is nowadays best know. I would be especially interested in hearing from any who have.

Ted Keer, 20 Jan, 2007, NYC

( categories: )

Grow Up Marcus

Ted Keer's picture

That statement about Chesterton is ab out as insightful as calling rand a nietzschean architectual critic. As a brit, I'd think you'd be a little less ignorant of Chesterton than I. And he is a convert to Catholicism, so on that basis, feel free to reject him without evidence. Maiking an ad hominem insult (that I must like paradox) based on some idiot's statement on wikipedia is juvenility of the worst sort.

You may have noticed that I wrote a rather descriptive post extolling why he is fun to read. He is an Ann Coulter without the bile, a George Orwell without the pessimism. I still suggest you simply check him out (not his bios of St's Francis or Thomas More, of course) if you ever find yourself in a bookstore. Otherwise, if you don't have anything civil to say, keep your mouth shut.


The Wikipedia entry starts...

Marcus's picture

"Chesterton has been called the "prince of paradox." He wrote in an off-hand, whimsical prose studded with startling formulations. For example: "Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it."

Prince of paradox? No thank you!

Although I can see that a "prince of paradox" must be appealing to you Ted!

Don't Judge an Author by his Detractors

Ted Keer's picture

Well, actually, I don't know what they said about him in wikipedia. But the man is brilliant, and is a critic. So, like I said, although he mentions his Catholicism, he does not expound on it even when you might expect him to go on and on about mysticism and hocus pocus. Rather, he criticizes trends like relativism mercilessly in a way that makes his writin as fresh today as it was when written. Anyone from Britain should find him especially appealing as he laughs at the prayerbook controversy and so on. He is also critical of capitalism, and advocates ditributivism, by which he means small business ownership. It is clear his real beef was with corporate manipulation of the legal system, to the benefit of large companies. His failure to call this laissez faire, rather than distributivism puts him in a bad light. Likewise, he was fond of pointing out that while the Church had not yet taken a stand on Darwinism, the evolutionists themselves were at each other's throats. This is true. At the time he was writing, orthogenesis, lamarckism and saltationism were at war, and Darwin's theories were considered last place. It wasn't until after Chesterton's death that the modern synthesis was achieved, and Darwin was fully vindicated, with the above theories abandoned. If one prefers not to study the turbulent history of scientific thought, one is entitled to one's illusions.

Had I decided I was not going to read Dawkins because he is a popularizing relativist socialist with marxist methodological tendencies I might have missed out on a lot of good writing. Not knowing your personal tastes in political non-fiction, Marcus, perhaps I should leave the judgement up to you. But anyone who enjoys Rand's style and a quick sharp intelligence that compares with Rand and Orwell should not be entirely disappointed. Heretics and Orthodoxy are the most readily available of his non-fiction collections. The first few pages which can be read in shop will make it clear whether anyone will find him worth reading.

Attended any good book burnings recently, Marcus? Smiling



Ted Keer's picture


The Man Who Was Thursday

Martin G. Walker's picture

I recently purchased The Man Who Was Thursday. I'm only a few pages in, but it reads well.

Also, having read Borges, I know he was fascinated by Chesterton. That's a great recommendation in my book.

It was recommended to me by a guy called John Herman. He's got a project called The Man Who Was Thursday, inspired by the book. (It's a music project that I'm also part of.)

Check out this link: www.johnherman.org/themanwhowasthursday

The premise of the project and the connection to the book was the secrecy surrounding it. No one knew who the other members of the project were. Assignments were received. No questions asked. It was fun...


I have only heard...

Marcus's picture

...of Chesterton with relation to literature.

Reading his Wikipedia entry though, he does not seem like an appealing person to read - so I will give him a miss for now.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.