Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Chesterton for the day

I'm rereading bits of What's Wrong with the World in between my other books (and work and family). I should spend it proofreading previous or current posts. However, I'm not. Here's one of the many great quotes I underlined with my pencil the second time through with links to a couple of relevant sources imbedded.

I am quite ready to respect another man's faith; but it is too much to ask that I should respect his doubt, his worldly hesitations and fictions, his political bargain and make-believe.

(pg 24 in the Ignatius edition). Today nary a person would blink (not even those of us who would disagree) if someone were to write in a newspaper column (or a Supreme Court opinion) the following:

While we should all be hesitant to accept at face value another man's, er . . . person's, faith, we must always respect his, er . . . their, doubts, their worldly hesitations and fictions, er . . . dreams, their political bargain, er . . . social conscience, and make-believe, er . . . right to define one's own the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.
We sometimes say "if so-and-so were alive today, he'd be shocked." One has to think that Chesterton would not be surprised at all. Throughout this great little 95-year-old book we see Chesterton pointing out the seedling problems of his day (which germinated in the 16th century) that will become the great tangled moral jungle of our day.

Another couple grand ones from a few pages later (pg 33 in the Ignatius edition):

We often read nowadays of the valor or audacity with which some rebel attacks a hoary tyranny or an antiquated superstition. There is not really any courage at all in attacking hoary or antiquated things, any more than offering to fight one's grandmother. The really courageous man is he who defies tyrannies young as the morning and superstitions fresh as the first flowers.


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 . . .

Indeed, these last line could be the basis of a reactionary motto, Libertem reddere vindico (anyone with better Latin is invited to revise before we go putting it on tombstones or letterhead or anything).

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