A blog dedicated to providing quotes by and posts relating to one of the most influential (and quotable!) authors of the twentieth century, G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936). If you do not know much about GKC, I suggest visiting the webpage of the American Chesterton Society as well as this wonderful Chesterton Facebook Page by a fellow Chestertonian

I also have created a list detailing examples of the influence of Chesterton if you are interested, that I work on from time to time.

(Moreover, for a list of short GKC quotes, I have created one here, citing the sources)

"...Stevenson had found that the secret of life lies in laughter and humility."

-Heretics (1905)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"When fishes flew and forests walked, And figs grew upon thorn..."

The Donkey

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

The Wild Night (1900)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"The next great heresy is going to be simply an attack on morality; and especially on sexual morality..."

[Quote found on The American Chesterton Society's blog]

"The next great heresy is going to be simply an attack on morality; and especially on sexual morality. And it is coming, not from a few Socialists surviving from the Fabian Society, but from the living exultant energy of the rich resolved to enjoy themselves at last, with neither Popery nor Puritanism nor Socialism to hold them back... The roots of the new heresy, God knows, are as deep as nature itself, whose flower is the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eye and the pride of life. I say that the man who cannot see this cannot see the signs of the times; cannot see even the skysigns in the street that are the new sort of signs in heaven. The madness of tomorrow is not in Moscow but much more in Manhattan - but most of what was in Broadway is already in Piccadilly.

G. K.’s Weekly, June 19, 1926; quoted in Maycock, The Man Who Was Orthodox, 123]

Pope John Paul 2 quoted Chesterton

I just discovered that in the "General Audience" of January 26, 2000, Pope John Paul II quoted Chesterton:

5. So, in beholding the glory of the Trinity in creation, man must contemplate, sing and rediscover wonder. In contemporary society people become indifferent "not for lack of wonders, but for lack of wonder" (G. K. Chesterton).


The quote is from Chesterton's book Tremendous Trifles (1909). The actual quote is:

The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.

"Tremendous Trifles"

I've seen Pope Benedict XVI quote and praise GKC, and Pope John Paul I even write a "letter" to him (though, needless to say, Chesterton had long been dead at the time; the "letter" was only used as a literary form). And, of course, on the occasion of Chesterton's death, Pope Pius XI had given him the title "Defender of the Faith" (one of only 3 people, and the first in around 400 years, to receive such a title from a Pope, if I remember correctly). But this is the first time I knew that Pope John Paul II had ever quoted him. :-)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

"Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly"

It is one of the hundred answers to the fugitive perversion of modern "force" that the promptest and boldest agencies are also the most fragile or full of sensibility. The swiftest things are the softest things. A bird is active, because a bird is soft. A stone is helpless, because a stone is hard. The stone must by its own nature go downwards, because hardness is weakness. The bird can of its nature go upwards, because fragility is force. In perfect force there is a kind of frivolity, an airiness that can maintain itself in the air. Modern investigators of miraculous history have solemnly admitted that a characteristic of the great saints is their power of "levitation." They might go further; a characteristic of the great saints is their power of levity. Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly. ....The tattered cloak of the beggar will bear him up like the rayed plumes of the angels. But the kings in their heavy gold and the proud in their robes of purple will all of their nature sink downwards, for pride cannot rise to levity or levitation. Pride is the downward drag of all things into an easy solemnity. One "settles down" into a sort of selfish seriousness; but one has to rise to a [happy] self-forgetfulness. A man "falls" into a brown study; he reaches up at a blue sky. Seriousness is not a virtue. It would be a heresy, but a much more sensible heresy, to say that seriousness is a vice. It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one's self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. It is much easier to write a good Times leading article than a good joke in Punch. For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity.

-Orthodoxy (1908)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese"

My forthcoming work in five volumes, `The Neglect of Cheese in European Literature,' is a work of such unprecedented and laborious detail that it is doubtful whether I shall live to finish it. Some overflowings from such a fountain of information may therefore be permitted to springle these pages. I cannot yet wholly explain the neglect to which I refer. Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese. Virgil, if I remember right, refers to it several times, but with too much Roman restraint. He does not let himself go on cheese. The only other poet that I can think of just now who seems to have had some sensibility on the point was the nameless author of the nursery rhyme which says: `If all the trees were bread and cheese' - which is indeed a rich and gigantic vision of the higher gluttony. If all the trees were bread and cheese there would be considerable deforestation in any part of England where I was living. Wild and wide woodlands would reel and fade before me as rapidly as they ran after Orpheus. Except Virgil and this anonymous rhymer, I can recall no verse about cheese. Yet it has every quality which we require in an exalted poetry. It is a short, strong word; it rhymes to `breeze' and `seas' (an essential point); that it is emphatic in sound is admitted even by the civilization of the modern cities. For their citizens, with no apparent intention except emphasis, will often say `Cheese it!' or even `Quite the cheese.' The substance itself is imaginative. It is ancient - sometimes in the individual case, always in the type and custom. It is simple, being directly derived from milk, which is one of the ancestral drinks, not lightly to be corrupted with soda-water. You know, I hope (though I myself have only just thought of it), that the four rivers of Eden were milk, water, wine, and ale. Aerated waters only appeared after the Fall.

-Alarms and Discursions (1910)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"For the great Gaels of Ireland.."

For the great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry,
And all their songs are sad

-The Ballad of the White Horse (1911)

Monday, March 15, 2010

"But these things are, after all, consequences , so to speak"

Most of us will be canvassed soon, I suppose; some of us may even canvass. Upon which side, of course, nothing will induce me to state, beyond saying that by a remarkable coincidence it will in every case be the only side in which a high-minded, public-spirited, and patriotic citizen can take even a momentary interest. But the general question of canvassing itself, being a non-party question, is one which we may be permitted to approach. The rules for canvassers are fairly familiar to any one who has ever canvassed. They are printed on the little card which you carry about with you and lose. There is a statement, I think, that you must not offer a voter food or drink. However hospitable you may feel towards him in his own house, you must not carry his lunch about with you. You must not produce a veal cutlet from your tail-coat pocket. You must not conceal poached eggs about your person. You must not, like a kind of conjurer, produce baked potatoes from your hat. In short, the canvasser must not feed the voter in any way. Whether the voter is allowed to feed the canvasser, whether the voter may give the canvasser veal cutlets and baked potatoes, is a point of law on which I have never been able to inform myself. When I found myself canvassing a gentleman, I have sometimes felt tempted to ask him if there was any rule against his giving me food and drink; but the matter seemed a delicate one to approach. His attitude to me also sometimes suggested a doubt as to whether he would, even if he could. But there are voters who might find it worth while to discover if there is any law against bribing a canvasser. They might bribe him to go away.

The second veto for canvassers which was printed on the little card said that you must not persuade any one to personate a voter. I have no idea what it means. To dress up as an average voter seems a little vague. There is no well-recognised uniform, as far as I know, with civic waistcoat and patriotic whiskers. The enterprise resolves itself into one somewhat similar to the enterprise of a rich friend of mine who went to a fancy-dress ball dressed up as a gentleman. Perhaps it means that there is a practice of personating some individual voter. The canvasser creeps to the house of his fellow-conspirator carrying a make-up in a bag. He produces from it a pair of white moustaches and a single eyeglass, which are sufficient to give the most common-place person a startling resemblance to the Colonel at No. 80. Or he hurriedly affixes to his friend that large nose and that bald head which are all that is essential to an illusion of the presence of Professor Budger. I do not undertake to unravel these knots. I can only say that when I was a canvasser I was told by the little card, with every circumstance of seriousness and authority, that I was not to persuade anybody to personate a voter: and I can lay my hand upon my heart and affirm that I never did.

The third injunction on the card was one which seemed to me, if interpreted exactly and according to its words, to undermine the very foundations of our politics. It told me that I must not "threaten a voter with any consequence whatever." No doubt this was intended to apply to threats of a personal and illegitimate character; as, for instance, if a wealthy candidate were to threaten to raise all the rents, or to put up a statue of himself. But as verbally and grammatically expressed, it certainly would cover those general threats of disaster to the whole community which are the main matter of political discussion. When a canvasser says that if the opposition candidate gets in the country will be ruined, he is threatening the voters with certain consequences. When the Free Trader says that if Tariffs are adopted the people in Brompton or Bayswater will crawl about eating grass, he is threatening them with consequences. When the Tariff Reformer says that if Free Trade exists for another year St. Paul's Cathedral will be a ruin and Ludgate Hill as deserted as Stonehenge, he is also threatening. And what is the good of being a Tariff Reformer if you can't say that? What is the use of being a politician or a Parliamentary candidate at all if one cannot tell the people that if the other man gets in, England will be instantly invaded and enslaved, blood be pouring down the Strand, and all the English ladies carried off into harems. But these things are, after all, consequences, so to speak.

-All Things Considered (1908)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

"...but unwanted by whom?

The curious point is that the hopeful one concludes by saying, "When people have large families and small wages, not only is there a high infantile death-rate, but often those who do live to grow up are stunted and weakened by having had to share the family income for a time with those who died early. There would be less unhappiness if there were no unwanted children." You will observe that he tacitly takes it for granted that the small wages and the income, desperately shared, are the fixed points, like day and night, the conditions of human life. Compared with them marriage and maternity are luxuries, things to be modified to suit the wage market. There are unwanted children; but unwanted by whom?...He means that the employers do not want to pay [the parents] properly. Doubtless, if you said to him directly, "Are you in favour of low wages?" he would say, "No." But I am not, in this chapter, talking about the effect on such modern minds of a cross-examination to which they do not subject themselves. I am talking about the way their minds work, the instinctive trick and turn of their thoughts, the things they assume before argument, and the way they faintly feel that the world is going. And, frankly, the turn of their mind is to tell the child he is not wanted, as the turn of my mind is to tell the profiteer he is not wanted. Motherhood, they feel, and a full childhood, and the beauty of brothers and sisters, are good things in their way, but not so good as a bad wage. About the mutilation of womanhood and the massacre of men unborn, he signs himself "Hopeful." He is hopeful of female indignity, hopeful of human annihilation. But about improving the small bad wage he signs himself "Hopeless."

-Eugenics and Other Evils (1922)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dave Armstrong Interview

Interview with Dave Armstrong on His Book of Chesterton Quotes

A very good one at that. :-)

"The wisest thing in the world is to cry out before you are hurt..."

The wisest thing in the world is to cry out before you are hurt. It is no good to cry out after you are hurt; especially after you are mortally hurt. People talk about the impatience of the populace; but sound historians know that most tyrannies have been possible because men moved too late. It is often essential to resist a tyranny before it exists. It is no answer to say, with a distant optimism, that the scheme is only in the air. A blow from a hatchet can only be parried while it is in the air.

-Eugenics and Other Evils (1922)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"...the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth..."

They took the body down from the cross and one of the few rich men among the first Christians obtained permission to bury it in a rock tomb in his garden; the Romans setting a military guard lest there should be some riot and attempt to recover the body. There was once more a natural symbolism in these natural proceedings; it was well that the tomb should be sealed with all the secrecy of ancient eastern sepulture and guarded by the authority of the Caesars. For in that second cavern the whole of that great and glorious humanity which we call antiquity was gathered up and covered over; and in that place it was buried. It was the end of a very great thing called human history; the history that was merely human. The mythologies and the philosophies were buried there, the gods and the heroes and the sages. In the great Roman phrase, they had lived. But as they could only live, so they could only die; and they were dead.

On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realised the new wonder; but even they hardly realised that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.

-The Everlasting Man (1925)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"The work of hell is entirely spiritual"

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

-St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox (1933)

Two anecdotes with H.G. Wells! :-)

[From G.K. Chesterton by Maisie Ward]:
In the early days of their acquintance [H.G.] Wells remembers meeting the whole Chesterton family in the street of a French town and inviting them to lunch. His own youngest son, a small boy, had left the room for a moment when Wells exclaimed: "Where's Frank? Good God, Gilbert, you're sitting on him."

[From The Invisible Man by Michael Coren, and quoted on Chesterton and Friends]

[H.G.] Wells was disarmed by Chesterton's good nature, disturbed by his inability to pigeon-hole the man. On a summers day in 1907, for example, Wells and Chesterton went to Oxford to attend a lecture. Walking together after the address Wells began to harangue his friend about the "bloody hand of Christianity." The diatribe lasted for over 35 minutes, without Chesterton making the slightest objection. At the end of it he turned to Wells, smiled and said, "Yes, you do have a point."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"We shall have real Democracy when the problem depends upon the people"

The real evil of our Party System is commonly stated wrong. It was stated wrong by Lord Rosebery, when he said that it prevented the best men from devoting themselves to politics, and that it encouraged a fanatical conflict. I doubt whether the best men ever would devote themselves to politics. The best men devote themselves to pigs and babies and things like that. And as for the fanatical conflict in party politics, I wish there was more of it. The real danger of the two parties with their two policies is that they unduly limit the outlook of the ordinary citizen. They make him barren instead of creative, because he is never allowed to do anything except prefer one existing policy to another. We have not got real Democracy when the decision depends upon the people. We shall have real Democracy when the problem depends upon the people. The ordinary man will decide not only how he will vote, but what he is going to vote about....

... So that the situation comes to this: The democracy has a right to answer questions, but it has no right to ask them. It is still the political aristocracy that asks the questions. And we shall not be unreasonably cynical if we suppose that the political aristocracy will always be rather careful what questions it asks. And if the dangerous comfort and self-flattery of modern England continues much longer there will be less democratic value in an English election than in a Roman saturnalia of slaves. For the powerful class will choose two courses of action, both of them safe for itself, and then give the democracy the gratification of taking one course or the other. The lord will take two things so much alike that he would not mind choosing from them blindfold—and then for a great jest he will allow the slaves to choose.

-A Miscellany of Men (1912)

Monday, March 8, 2010

"Tyranny over a man is not tyranny, it is rebellion, for man is royal"

[Charles Dickens'] triumph is a religious triumph; it rests upon his perpetual assertion of the value of the human soul and of human daily life. It rests upon his assertion that human life is enjoyable because it is human. And he will never admit, like so many compassionate pessimists, that human life ever ceases to be human. He does not merely pity the lowness of men; he feels an insult to their elevation. Brute pity should be given only to brutes. Cruelty to animals is cruelty and a vile thing; but cruelty to a man is not cruelty, it is treason. Tyranny over a man is not tyranny, it is rebellion, for man is royal. Now, the practical weakness of the vast mass of modern pity for the poor and the oppressed is precisely that it is merely pity; the pity is pitiful, but not respectful. Men feel that the cruelty to the poor is a kind of cruelty to animals. They never feel that it is injustice to equals; nay, it is treachery to comrades. This dark scientific pity, this brutal pity, has an elemental sincerity of its own; but it is entirely useless for all ends of social reform. Democracy swept Europe with the sabre when it was founded upon the Rights of Man. It has done literally nothing at all since it has been founded only upon the wrongs of man. Or, more strictly speaking, its recent failure has been due to its not admitting the existence of any rights, or wrongs, or indeed of any humanity. Evolution (the sinister enemy of revolution) does not especially deny the existence of God; what it does deny is the existence of man. And all the despair about the poor, and the cold and repugnant pity for them, has been largely due to the vague sense that they have literally relapsed into the state of the lower animals.

-Charles Dickens (1906)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

"Perhaps that piece of rope was really a dubious-looking compliment"

I see somewhere in the papers that a man has exercised his testamentary rights by leaving his wife a rope to hang herself. Over this bequest, it is not surprising to learn, has arisen a certain discussion about the reasonable limits of the legal fulfillment of wills. It certainly seems a little odd that the legal officers should be called upon to convey to a person the instrument of a legal crime. It opens a vista of possibilities. I may leave to some large and powerful acquaintance of mine a heavy axe or club to which a label shall be attached with the words "To kill Lord Northcliff." The legal officers are duly to carry this simple tribute to the legatee and to leave it in his hands. On my deathbed I may bequeath to my sorrowing relations the whole of my outfit as a criminal; bequeathing my jemmy to this nephew, my revolver to that, to another my dark lantern, to another a skeleton-key fitting all the front doors in the street. I may leave to my family a row of little bottles of poison, each correctly labeled with the name of the literary rival to whom I wish it to be administered. Some people die and leave a cellar of champagne to be divided among all the hospitals. I may die and leave my little cellar of arsenic to be divided among the hospitals. Some people leave money for the improvement of public buildings. I can leave dynamite for the improvement of public buildings. All these things, perhaps, the law will gravely and respectfully carry out. Perhaps it will publicly and politely present my heir with the large dagger ultimately designed for my oldest creditor. Perhaps, on the other hand, it won't.

I do not know how the law stands about the gentleman who left a rope for his wife. Perhaps, like religious orders in the eyes of some theologians, it depends upon the intention. One is, perhaps, too prompt in supposing that the legacy implied a hostile and malignant feeling towards the surviving partner. Perhaps the husband merely meant to convey the hope that his beloved wife would soon rejoin him in the spirit world. Perhaps that piece of rope was really a dubious-looking compliment. Or again, there is another hypothesis. Perhaps he felt that his wife was too much disposed to a superficial and insincere pessimism, and that the sudden suggestion of death would remind her of the essential happiness of living. I can remember that in my ardent youth I carried about in my pocket a large but harmless revolver, and whenever anyone said, "Life is not worth living," I produced it, and always with the most satisfactory results.

-March 17, 1906, Illustrated London News

Saturday, March 6, 2010

"That is the paradox..."

Divinity is great enough to be divine; it is great enough to call itself divine. But as humanity grows greater, it grows less and less likely to do so. God is God, as the Moslems say; but a great man knows he is not God, and the greater he is the better he knows it. That is the paradox; everything that is merely approaching to that point is merely receding from it. Socrates, the wisest man, knows that he knows nothing. A lunatic may think he is omniscience, and a fool may talk as if he were omniscient. But Christ is in another sense omniscient if he not only knows, but knows that he knows.

-The Everlasting Man (1925)

Friday, March 5, 2010

"...this age of wireless telegraphy and aerial swine..."

There are three ways in which a statement, especially a disputable statement, can be placed before mankind. The first is to assert it by avowed authority; this is done by deities, the priests of deities, oracles, minor poets, parents and guardians, and men who have "a message to their age." The second way is to prove it by reason; this was done by the mediavel schoolmen, and by some of the early and comparitively forgotten men of science. It is now quite abandoned. The third method is this: when you have neither the courage to assert a thing nor the capacity to prove it, you allude to it in a light and airy style, as if somebody else had asserted and proved it already. Thus, the first method is to say, "Pigs do fly in heaven; I have had a vision of heaven, and you have not." The second method is to say, "Come down to my little place in Essex, and I will show you pigs flying about like finches and building nests in the elms. " Both these positions require a certain valour to sustain them, and are now, therefore, generally dropped. The third method, which is usually adopted, is to say, "Professor Gubbins belongs to the old school of scientific criticism, and cannot but strike us as limited in this age of wireless telegraphy and aerial swine."; or "Doubtless we should be as much surprised at the deeds of our descendants as would an Ancient Briton at a motor-car or a flying pig, or any such common sight in our streets." In short, this third method consists in referring to the very thing that is in dispute as if it were now beyond dispute. This is known as the Restrained or Gentlemanly method; it is used by company promoters, by professors of hair-dressing and the other progressive arts, and especially by journalists like myself"

-August 7, 1909, Illustrated London News

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"...man lives in something else besides a private house..."

But the gentleman who wanted to keep the Lords out of Public Houses committed an unconscious irony when he wished to achieve that end by keeping them in the House of Lords. For the House of Lords is a Public House. So is the House of Commons. That is the one really agreeable thing about them. I do not refer to the mere fact that they are, I believe, both licensed to sell stimulants, like any ordinary Public House. Nor do I allude to the fact that its occupants are sometimes chucked out. I mean that behind the existence of these things is the same idea that is behind the old inns of the world: the idea that man lives in something else besides a private house, that in the words of Aristotle (the Greek of which you have on the tip of your tongue), "man is by nature political." And if the taverns and the drinking-shops do not look very much as if they lived up to their sublime destiny- well, there are some churlish people who think that the Houses of Parliament...but perhaps we had not better go into that. Suffice it to repeat, for the benefit of the philanthropist who wished to keep the Lords out of public houses, that the House of Lords is itself a Public House. And that there are some people who would like to keep the Lords out of that one.

-December 9, 1905, Illustrated London News

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Wisdom of Mr. Chesterton

A book I would highly recommend purchasing, filled with great GKC quotes!

The Wisdom of Mr. Chesterton by Dave Armstrong.

"...we are not generous enough to write great satire."

Political and social satire is a lost art, like pottery and stained glass. It may be worth while to make some attempt to point out a reason for this.

It may seem a singular observation to say that we are not generous enough to write great satire. This, however, is approximately a very accurate way of describing the case. To write great satire, to attack a man so that he feels the attack and half acknowledges its justice, it is necessary to have a certain intellectual magnanimity which realises the merits of the opponent as well as his defects. This is, indeed, only another way of putting the simple truth that in order to attack an army we must know not only its weak points, but also its strong points. England in the present season and spirit fails in satire for the same simple reason that it fails in war: it despises the enemy. In matters of battle and conquest we have got firmly rooted in our minds the idea (an idea fit for the philosophers of Bedlam) that we can best trample on a people by ignoring all the particular merits which give them a chance of trampling upon us. It has become a breach of etiquette to praise the enemy; whereas when the enemy is strong every honest scout ought to praise the enemy. It is impossible to vanquish an army without having a full account of its strength. It is impossible to satirise a man without having a full account of his virtues. It is too much the custom in politics to describe a political opponent as utterly inhumane, as utterly careless of his country, as utterly cynical, which no man ever was since the beginning of the world. This kind of invective may often have a great superficial success: it may hit the mood of the moment; it may raise excitement and applause; it may impress millions. But there is one man among all those millions whom it does not impress, whom it hardly even touches; that is the man against whom it is directed. The one person for whom the whole satire has been written in vain is the man whom it is the whole object of the institution of satire to reach. He knows that such a description of him is not true. He knows that he is not utterly unpatriotic, or utterly self-seeking, or utterly barbarous and revengeful. He knows that he is an ordinary man, and that he can count as many kindly memories, as many humane instincts, as many hours of decent work and responsibility as any other ordinary man. But behind all this he has his real weaknesses, the real ironies of his soul: behind all these ordinary merits lie the mean compromises, the craven silences, the sullen vanities, the secret brutalities, the unmanly visions of revenge. It is to these that satire should reach if it is to touch the man at whom it is aimed. And to reach these it must pass and salute a whole army of virtues…

…And here we have the cause of the failure of contemporary satire, that it has no magnanimity, that is to say, no patience. It cannot endure to be told that its opponent has his strong points…It can be content with nothing except persuading itself that its opponent is utterly bad or utterly stupid--that is, that he is what he is not and what nobody else is….We might be angry at the libel, but not at the satire; for a man is angry at a libel because it is false, but at a satire because it is true.

-Twelve Types (1902)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"I am concerned with him as a Heretic-- that is to say, a man whose view of things has the hardihood to differ from mine."

I am not concerned with Mr. Rudyard Kipling as a vivid artist or a vigorous personality; I am concerned with him as a Heretic-- that is to say, a man whose view of things has the hardihood to differ from mine. I am not concerned with Mr. Bernard Shaw as one of the most brilliant and one of the most honest men alive; I am concerned with him as a Heretic--that is to say, a man whose philosophy is quite solid, quite coherent, and quite wrong.

-Heretics (1905)

Monday, March 1, 2010

"Freethinkers are occasionally thoughtful, though never free..."

Freethinkers are occasionally thoughtful, though never free. In the modern world of the West, at any rate, they seem always to be tied to the treadmill of a materialist and monist cosmos. The universal sceptic, in Asia or in Antiquity, has probably been a bolder thinker, though very probably a more unhappy man. But what we have to deal with as scepticism is not scepticism; but a fixed faith in monism. The freethinker is not free to question monism. He is forbidden, for instance, in the only intelligible modern sense, to believe in a miracle. He is forbidden, in exactly the same sense in which he would say that we are forbidden to believe in a heresy. Both are forbidden by first principles and not by force. The Rationalist Press Association will not actually kidnap, gag or strangle Sir Arthur Keith if he admits the evidence for a cure at Lourdes. Neither will the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster have me hanged, drawn and quartered if I announce that I am an agnostic tomorrow. But of both cases it is true to say that a man cannot root up his first principles without a terrible rending and revolutionising of his very self. As a matter of fact, we are the freer of the two; as there is scarcely any evidence, natural or preternatural, that cannot be accepted as fitting into our system somewhere; whereas the materialist cannot fit the most minute miracle into his system anywhere. But let us leave that on one side as a separate question; and agree, if only for the sake of argument, that both the Catholic and the materialist are limited only by their fundamental conviction about the cosmic system; in both thought is in that sense forbidden and in that sense free. Consequently, when I see in some newspaper symposium, like that on Spiritualism, a leading materialist like Mr. John M. Robertson discussing the evidence for spiritualism, I feel exactly as I imagine him to feel when he hears a bishop in a mitre or a Jesuit in a cassock discussing the evidence for materialism. I know that Mr. Robertson cannot accept the evidence without becoming somebody quite different from Mr. Robertson; which also is within the power of the grace of God. But I know quite well he is not a freethinker; except in the sense in which I am a freethinker. He has long ago come to a conclusion which controls all his other conclusions. He is not driven by scientific evidence to accept Materialism. He is forbidden by Materialism to accept scientific evidence.

The Thing: Why I am a Catholic (1929)