G.K. Chesterton, Collected Works, Volume XXXVI
G.K. Chesterton wrote a weekly column for The Illustrated London News from the mid-1900s to the mid-1930s. Ignatius Press has assembled his essays into several volumes, as part of its massive Collected Works compilation. Despite being a century old, Chesterton’s insights are just as pertinent today as they were then — in fact, even more so.
Because Chesterton’s ideas are so important, I thought I’d share some of my favorite passages from each volume. With luck they will spark your interest in reading more. The passages below are a mere taste; Chesterton’s most engaging ideas are too involved and too amazing to be boiled down into a short excerpt.
I found this volume a depressing accurate description of the mood and conditions in which we are mired at this very moment. Here, Chesterton talks a great deal about Hitler, conditions in Germany and Europe, and his chillingly accurate predictions of where events are leading. It is a looming conflict between a brute, single-minded force pitted against a culture mired in a hopeless tangle of ideas and feelings. But history need not repeat itself. Chesterton supplies a way out of the mess. It’s a pity more people did not listen in the early 1930s.
I think it’s fair to say that Chesterton attributes much of the grim problems of his day to a lack of critical thinking — not only among average people like us, who have other things to do besides think, but also among thinkers and educators and politicians and scientists whose very job it is to think. And this art of thinking is exactly what a careful and thorough of Chesterton teaches us to do. Get the book here.
“The world does not ask whether propositions are proved, but only whether people are persuaded.” (02-13-1932)
“For though to-day is always to-day and the moment is always modern, we are the only men in all history who fell back upon bragging about the mere fact that to-day is not yesterday. I fear that some in the future will explain it by saying that we had precious little else to brag about.” (03-12-1932)
“I do not doubt that the despotism of Darius or Xerxes over the Persians would have presented much more internal unity and rapid efficiency. And yet … and yet, I could never quite bring myself to wish that Europe had lost the Battle of Marathon.” (04-23-1932)
“I have been accused of being an enemy of the Jews, though I do not admit that I am. ” (06-11-1932)
“It grows plainer, every day, that those of us who cling to crumbling creeds and dogmas, and defend the dying traditions of the Dark Ages, will soon be left alone defending the most obviously decaying of all those ancient dogmas: the idea called Democracy.” (07-16-1932)
“The vague Liberals of the nineteenth century cut away the Divine ground from under Democracy, and Democracy was left to stand by itself. In other words, it is left to fall by itself. Jefferson said that men were given equal rights by their Creator. Ingersoll said they had no Creator, but had received equal rights from nowhere. Even in the democratic atmosphere of America, it began to dawn on a great many people that it is very difficult to prove that men ever received the equal rights at all.” (09-03-1932)
“We are already drifting horribly near to a New War, which will probably start on the Polish border.” (09-24-1932)
“If I hold different views from those of my countrymen, it is my business to convert my countrymen, if possible, by direct and straightforward arguments addressed to them and addressed to the question. … I do not like this method of educational propaganda very much.” (10-29-1932)
“There is a certain type of Modernist who manages to accept a thing at the same time as fashionable and as final.” (11-12-1932)
“There is so much that is nonsensical in the daily news-sheet, and so little that is new in the daily life, that there may be a dangerous breach between the unreal and the real. It is not the most commonly discussed of the problems of the Press; but it is one of the most vital, or deadly.” (01-14-1933)
“The whole is pervaded by a queer prejudice; to the effect that we gain liberty or enlargement merely by losing the habit of respect for this or that idea that humanity has respected. But we are not enlarged by that loss, any more than by the loss of any other sensibility to anything that is large.” (1-21-1933)
“That, it seems to me, is the trouble just now; not that so many people have found reasons for discontent, as there are always reasons for discontent, but that so many people wish to be discontented. So many people are discontented unless they can be discontented.” (02-18-1933)
“… the new philosophies and new religions and new social systems cannot draw up their own plans for emancipating mankind without still further enslaving mankind.” (03-11-1933)
“And there is always a misunderstanding between the two types of thinkers, those who live on two planes of thought; the people who think of human beings as humanity, and the people who think of humanity as human beings.” (07-01-1933)
“It is the new orthodoxy that a man may be uncertain of everything; so long as he is not certain of anything.” (08-19-1933)
“It is amusing to reflect that in a few years, perhaps, all our political and ethical titles and labels will mean the exact opposite of what they say.” (09-30-1933)
“The trouble with the modern disputant is not that he does not understand the case for his opponent’s convictions. It is that he does not understand the case for his own convictions.” (11-04-1933)
“On the whole, Mythology is a much better thing than Propaganda. Mythology is simply believing whatever you can imagine. Propaganda is, more often, believing that other people will believe whatever you can invent.” (05-26-1934)
“The men who started, a few hundred years ago, weaving the modern philosophy from a few primary ideas, which were mostly primary truths, have managed since that time to get all human thought into an endless and hopeless tangle. And that is a more cruel sort of constriction even than the old coils of bondage. For they at least had been tied with a deliberate purpose, and could be untied with a deliberate purpose. But even those who have tied us up in a tangle do not know how to untie it.” (06-16-1934)
“One very odd fact, for instance, is that the anti-traditionalist never asks the traditionalist why he follows a tradition. He will gather impressions about the idea from anyone in the world, except the man who happens to hold it.” (06-30-1934)