Ok, better late than never…
The last speaker from the IHM Homeschooler Conference that I’m going to comment on was Dale Ahlquist, the president of the American Chesterton Society. (For those of you who are encountering Chesterton for the first time, there’s a very helpful (and funny) tab at their website labelled “Who is this guy and why haven’t I heard of him?”)
If you haven’t discovered G.K. Chesterton yet, well, it’s about time you make his aquaintance.
As I previously mentioned, Chesterton was key in the conversion of one particularly wretched anti-Catholic, racist atheist, Joseph Pearce, who now is a professor at Ave Maria University. Chesterton inspired Michael Collins to fight for Irish independence. Chesterton wrote an essay that inspired Ghandi to begin his movement in India. One of Chesterton’s books was key in the conversion of another atheist you may have heard of: C.S. Lewis, the great Christian apologist and philosopher.
During his lifetime, Gilbert Keith Chesterton was required reading in almost all of the English-speaking universities of the world. He wrote about a hundred books, but considered himself primarily a journalist. He wrote more than 5,000 essays (before you try to figure out how long that took, Ahlquist also explained that Chesterton could write one essay while dictating an entirely different essay to his secretary).
Now, mostly I just enjoyed Ahlquist’s talk, and, looking back over my notes, I find mostly short, pithy quotes. As Ahlquist said, Chesterton is nothing if not quotable, “He is the Shakespeare of the aphorism.”
So, here is a sampling:
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
“It’s a shame to contemplate how few politicians are hanged.”
“Being educated means reading the newspapers. Being properly educated means not believing them after you’ve read them.”
“We’re learning to do a great many clever things. The next thing to learn is not to do them.” (written in 1902)
“The moment sex ceases to be a servant, it becomes a tyrant.” (discussing birth control)
“A dead thing can go with a stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” (from Everlasting Man)
“When you break the big laws, you do not get freedom; you do not even get anarchy. You get the small laws.”
In 1910, Chesterton wrote What’s Wrong With the World. The problems he saw?
- Big government
- Big business
- Public education
Well, yeah, that would still about sum things up. The more things change, the more they stay the same. (I’m coming to the growing conclusion that big government and big business always naturally wind up in bed, since they have both crowded out the rightful decision makers in their respective spheres, local government and small business. Being in favor of one means, de facto, that you are in favor of the other. Which is why, I suspect, the Democrats and Republicans look suspiciously similar on so many issues.)
In 1922, Chesterton converted to Catholicism. In a United Kingdom that had only allowed Catholics the right to own property again in 1787 and given them nearly equal rights in 1829, this was not a minor thing. Writing to his mother to explain, Chesterton explained he could not do other than convert, because, “It is true.” He would also later write:
The Catholic Church is the only thing that saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.”
Although Chesterton has so many wonderful, insightful, short quotes, they are only the soundbites of a larger body of thought and writing. He is well worth exploring. As Joseph Pearce (also a convert heavily influenced by Chesterton) commented, those dead, white, European males have a lot of worthwhile stuff to say.
“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.” – Orthodoxy, 1908