Friday, September 16, 2005

Chesterton on discipline.

Continuing through What's Wrong with the World with my with Uncle Gilbert (page 76 in my Ignatius edition):
Thus, if an army actually consisted of nothing but Hanibals and Napoleons, it would still be better in the case of a surprise that they should not all give orders together. Nay, it would be better if the stupidest of them all gave the orders. Thus, we see that merely military subordination, so far from resting on the inequality of men, actually rests on the equality of men. Discipline does not involve the Carlylean notion that somebody is always right when everybody is wrong, and that we must discover and crown that somebody. On the contrary, displine means that in certain frightfully rapid circumstances, one can trust anybody so long as he is not everybody. The military spirit does not mean (as Carlyle fancied) obeying the strongest and wisest man. On the contrary, the military spirit means, if anything, obeying the weakest and stupidest man, obeying him merely because he is a man, and not a thousand men. Submission to a weak man is discipline. Submission to a strong man is only servility.

The beauty of Chesterton isn't his originality. Rarely does he say anything that hasn't been said a thousand times before or since. It's that he says those commonsense things so pithily. And not everything Uncle Gilbert writes is easy to swallow. I, for one, have a disinclination for follow the weakest and stupidest men simply because they wear the crown.

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