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)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

"I have not the rudiment of anything resembling a conscience (I mean in this respect)..."

In a leading article in a leading paper, insisting on the need of vaccination in face of the small-pox scare or menace, the writer observes, "Is it really worth while being obsolete and retrograde by resisting vaccination when, at regularly recurrent intervals, that resistance brings such penalties?"- referring to the quarantine of Gloucester. I select this subject because it is one of the very few subjects on which I have no opinion whatever. I know nothing against vaccination. I know nothing about vaccination. I have not the rudiment of anything resembling a conscience (I mean in this respect), far less a conscientious objection calculated to impress a magistrate. I should certainly be vaccinated every other month or so, if any really responsible authority insists on it; for where conviction makes no express objection, civic obedience is the rule. I am therefore taking a case in which I have no controversial bias one way or the other, so that I can protest on impartial intellectual grounds against a certain controversial method. I protest against one bad argument which makes a botheration about a hundred different questions, but which is best represented by calling the anti-vaccinationst's position "obsolete and retrograde."

Now, what is wrong with this argument is that it always means a refusal to discuss a question on its merits. I do not propose to discuss anti-vaccination on its merits. I do not know whether anti-vaccination has any merits to discuss. I do not propose to discuss it at all. But I am quite certain that people ought to discuss it on its merits, if they do discuss it at all. If I were called upon to consider the subject I should try to consider the subject itself, and not these rhetorical recriminations about whether a thing is old or new. I should not ask whether the anti-vaccinationist was retrograde, but whether he was right. I should not ask whether the neglect of vaccination was obsolete, but whether it was wrong. The case of the word "obsolete" especially gives the argument away, for it is obvious that if a sufficient number of people did wrong it would cease to be obsolete, however clearly it was wrong. It is obvious that the controversialist is not really convinced that anti-vaccination is obsolete; on the contrary, he is fighting against some alleged danger that vaccination  will be obsolete. If he were not fighting against that, it would not be worth his while to fight at all.

And it is obvious that if a new theory appears later than vaccination, the latter does become relatively obsolete, or at least relatively retrograde. But it remains exactly as right or wrong as it was before...

I have taken this very elementary example to illustrate a very elementary truism, because it is exactly this obvious truth that needs to be repeated to the point of tedium in answer to half-a-hundred heresies today. This talk about progress and retrogression is to be resisted, not because progress is never to be achieved, not because retrogression is never to be deplored, but because the talk about these two abstractions always hampers the discussion of the intrinsic truth involved....What we want to know is whether vaccination does, in fact, prevent small-pox. We may not be in a position to know; we may not have the training to know; it may not lie in our own line of business or duty to know; we may not even very much want to know; but that is the only thing that is worth knowing. To be told in a vague way about the chronological order in which the two things happened to appear in history, or to be told that each of them is called by its enemies retrogressive and by its friends progressive is to get no nearer to that nucleus of the matter at all...The questions we really want to ask are in any case difficult enough to answer. When they are questions of scientific evidence, they would in any case put an ordinary person to a great deal of trouble in order to collect the evidence. But his only intelligent course is either to collect it or leave it alone, as I leave vaccination alone. To discuss whether one thing is really more old-fashioned than another, or more new-fangled than another, is a sheer waste of his time. And to throw himself thoughtlessly on to the side of whatever he has heard is new-fangled against anything he has heard is old-fashioned will be something worse than a waste of his life; it is very likely to be the positive poisoning of his life with all sorts of sophistry and insanity.

This very simple fallacy, which I have here once more indicated in equally simple language, is indeed applied not only to question like vaccination, about which I have the lofty impartiality of ignorance, but to many questions on which I have the strong partisanship which commonly comes with a certain amount of knowledge. But I am more interested for the moment in the fallacy itself than in even the most important problems to which it is applied. It seems to me that if we could get this one drivelling digression out of the way, we should establish something like a short cut to the heart of every problem. Let us not discuss whether it is best to go back or best to go forward, but what is really the best place to go to. Let us not discuss whether it is best to stay wherever we are, but whether we have really found the best place to stay in. The infantile simplicity of this distinction does not seem even yet to be made clear to many critics discussing matters in which I happen to be more interested than I am in anti-vaccinationists, and about which I happen even to know a little more than I know about small-pox....

Anyhow, the first step to sanity and stability of action is this step of considering institutions and proposals intrinsically and on their merits. If the Chinese invented fireworks, we need not ask in what Chinese dynasty it was done before we consent to send up a rocket to save a sinking ship. If the ancient Egyptians had surgical instruments, we need not verify the exact date of Tutankhamen before we cut off a man's leg to save his life. It may be sentimental always to regret the past; it is even more sentimental always to regret any regret of the past. What we want is to be free to take our pick of the past for the necessities of the present.
-July 28, 1923, Illustrated London News

Friday, February 6, 2015

The critic of the Crusade talks as if it had sought out some inoffensive tribe or temple in the interior of Thibet, which was never discovered until it was invaded. They seem entirely to forget that long before the Crusaders had dreamed of riding to Jerusalem, the Moslems had almost ridden into Paris. They seem to forget that if the Crusaders nearly conquered Palestine, it was but a return upon the Moslems who had nearly conquered Europe [...] The Crusade was the counter-attack. It was the defensive army taking the offensive in its turn, and driving back the enemy to his base.
-The New Jerusalem (1920)