Time and again, we see that G. K. Chesterton is every bit as relevant and insightful today as when he wrote 70 to a hundred or more years ago. I've taken a few (usually humorous and anachronistic) liberties in my categories, but I think the reader will see the applicability of the principles to our particular time in history. These citations all come from columns written in The Illustrated London News.
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If the mother and the baby are both independent individuals, the mother must be as independent of the baby as the baby of the mother; and the mother must be free to say, “I do not like this individual,” and throw the baby out of the window. (ILN, “Being Bored With Ideas,” 3-13-26)
Unless we have a moral principle about such delicate matters as marriage and murder, the whole world will become a welter of exceptions with no rules.
There will be so many hard cases that everything will go soft. (ILN, “The New Immoral Philosophy,” 9-21-29)
Everybody has always known about birth-control, even if it took the wild and unthinkable form of self-control. (ILN, “The Friends of Frankness, and Euphemism,” 6-30-28)
It is the business of the agnostic to admit that he knows nothing; and he might the more gracefully admit it touching sciences about which he knows precious little. (ILN, “Mr Mencken and the New Physics,” 6-14-30)
I reject all talk about animals having the same rights as human beings, all talk about our having no moral right to kill or control them, all talk of their being perhaps better than we, all talk of the only division between us and them being the fact that they are “dumb”; which they are not. (ILN, “Undergraduate Ragging,” 12-28-07)
Art and Artists
The good artist is he who can be understood; it is the bad artist who is always “misunderstood.” (ILN, “The Bonds of Love,” 7-2-10)
The dignity of the artist lies in his duty of keeping awake the sense of wonder in the world. (ILN, “The Falling Value of Words,” 5-21-27)
The intellect exercises itself in discovering principles of design or pattern or proportion of some sort, and can find nothing to work on in the only really logical atheist cosmos – the fortuitous concourse of atoms of Lucretius. (ILN, “A Defense of Human Dignity,” 2-22-30)
The general rule is that nothing must be accepted on any ancient or admitted authority, but everything must be accepted on any new or nameless authority, or accepted even more eagerly on no authority at all. (ILN, “Quackery About the Family,” 7-12-30)
But it is unfair to turn round and blame the Bible because of all these legends and jokes and journalistic allusions, which are read into the Bible by people who have not read the Bible. (ILN, “The Bible and the Sceptics,” 4-20-29)
The old bigot said, “I will argue with you because I know you are wrong; I will even kill you because I know you disagree with me.”
The new bigot says, “I will not argue with you because I know you agree with me.” (ILN, “Bigotry in the Modern World,” 4-28-06)
Everybody has always exercised birth-control, even when they were so paradoxical as to permit the process to end in a birth. (ILN, “The Friends of Frankness, and Euphemism,” 6-30-28)
There is no person so narrow as the person who is sure that he is broad; indeed, being quite sure that one is broad is itself a form of narrowness. (ILN, “Bigotry of the Rationalists,” 4-30-10)
The doctrine of Calvinism I take briefly to be this: that the Almighty acts towards mankind as a man acts towards a garden: growing what he chooses, plucking it when he chooses, rooting up what he chooses in the pure irresponsibility of art. (ILN, “The New Theology and Modern Thought,” 3-23-07)
Capitalism; Distributism; Economics
The pirate who grew rich on the high seas at least could not be a coward; the pirate who grows rich on the high prices may be that, as well as everything else that is unworthy. (ILN, “The Real Philosophy of the Abstainer,” 1-7-28)
There is less difference than many suppose between the ideal, Socialist system, in which the big businesses are run by the State, and the present Capitalist system, in which the State is run by the big businesses. (ILN, “The Innocent Conservatism of Youth,” 10-27-28)
Men in mediaeval times tolerated more ruthless punishments; men in modern times tolerate more reckless and irresponsible financial speculation and control. (ILN, “On Fundamental Morality,” 12-1-28)
But Shakspere is possessed through and through with the feeling which is the first and finest idea of Catholicism – that truth exists whether we like it or not, and that it is for us to accommodate ourselves to it. (ILN, “Catholic Shakspere [sic] and Protestant Milton,” 6-8-07)
Civilisation is not to be judged by the rapidity of communication, but by the value of what is communicated. (ILN, “America and Barbarism,” 2-16-07)
If a man tried to regard a woman as a chattel his life would not be worth living for twenty-four hours. (ILN, “How and Why Women Vote,” 4-6-07)
If anybody chooses to say that I have founded all my social philosophy on the antics of a baby, I am quite satisfied to bow and smile. (ILN, “The Game of Self-Limitation,” 2-8-30)
Everything is to be called something that it is not; as in the characteristic example of Companionate Marriage. (ILN, “The Friends of Frankness, and Euphemism,” 6-30-28)
Indeed, we might say that when men boast of common-sense, it generally means a contempt for common people. (ILN, “Spiritualism and Agnosticism,” 1-12-29)
Conformity; "Going With the Flow"
If we want character, in the old unique sense of being “a character,” we are much more likely to find it in Christians who accepted the Imitation of Christ than in all these millions of materialists who are taught to imitate each other. (ILN, “Personality in the Modern world,” 2-25-28)
The sort of snob who sneers at poverty commonly calls himself a Conservative. (ILN, “Certain Incongruities at Christmas,” 12-22-23)
I might inform those humanitarians who have a nightmare of new and needless babies (for some humanitarians have that sort of horror of humanity) that if the recent decline in the birth-rate were continued for a certain time, it might end in there being no babies at all; which would console them very much. (ILN, “The Place of Mysticism,” 5-24-30)
Creation Ex Nihilo
In fact, about the nearest approach to the very latest speculations of the physicists is the ancient formula that it was out of Nothing that God made the world. (ILN, “Religion and the New Science,” 4-12-30)
Critics (Film and Music)
They are separated by a great chasm of “culture” and fastidiousness from the people for whom they write.
They should justify to the public its own feelings in the act of justifying their own. (ILN, “Politicians and Their Constitutions,” 11-20-09)
It is an insult to the professors sitting round the dinner-table to suggest that there were ever any heads bigger than their own. (ILN, “Outlines of History,” 1-13-23)
I do not say that I think most of the modern dancing I see is anything likely to be a diabolic distraction from the beatific vision; but that is a matter of particular taste and passing fashion. (ILN, “About Means and Ends,” 12-11-26)
They assume that Danish pirates would all have wanted to join Ethical Societies and attend University Extension lectures, but for deplorable obstacles like St. Dunstan.
It is suggested that Border chieftains would all have been arguing in debating clubs about evolution and ethics, but for the blighting influence of theology. (ILN, “Modern Doubts and Questioning,” 2-13-26)
Claiming to have cast off the superstitions of others, it contrives with astonishing rapidity to create superstitions of its own; as is here shown in the very short period that has turned Charles Darwin from an honest man into an unhuman god. (ILN, “Mr. Archer’s defense of Darwinism,” 12-8-23)
Apparently it is not cheek to say you have lost faith in Deity or immortality, but it is cheek to say you have lost faith in Darwin. (ILN, “Modern Doubts and Questioning,” 2-13-26)
How can a poor father get any real fun out of being divorced if his enjoyment is to be dashed by a morbid memory of the existence of his own son? (ILN, “Living For the Future,” 5-31-30)
Democracy is a very noble thing, and it does not exist – at any rate at present. (ILN, “Quackery About the Family,” 7-12-30)
If married people are to be divorced for incompatibility of temper, I cannot imagine why all married people are not divorced. (ILN, “Incompatibility in Marriage,” 9-19-08)
But the point of divorce is not that people are professing to be reckless, but that people are pretending to be respectable. (ILN, “The Family of the Bright Young Things,” 10-5-29)
It is still supposed by many to be old-fashioned to dogmatise about dogmatic things, such as dogmas; but the new fashion is to dogmatise about undogmatic things, about mere likes and dislikes, about things that cannot be stated as dogmas even by the dogmatists. (ILN, “The Only Rational Wars,” 9-26-31)
Education; Secular State Schools
That is to say, the more doubtful we are about whether we have any truth, the more certain we are (apparently) that we can teach it to children.
Teaching moral instruction means teaching modern London, Birmingham, and Boston ethics, which are not barbaric and rudimentary, but are corrupt, hysterical, and crawling with worms, and which are to a Christian, not unsatisfying, but detestable.
There is no education that is not sectarian education.
(ILN, “Talking About Education,” 1-26-07)
He regards School, not as a normal social institution to be fitted into other social institutions, like Home and Church and State, but as some sort of entirely super-normal and miraculous moral factory in which perfect men and women are made by magic.
But there is something to be said for the idea of teaching everything to somebody, as compared with the modern notion of teaching nothing, and the same sort of nothing, to everybody. (ILN, “Theorising About Human Society,” 10-3-31)
Barbarism means the worship of Nature; and in recent poetry, science, and philosophy there has been too much of the worship of Nature. (ILN, “Europeans and Barbarians,” 8-18-06)
All sane men have assumed that, while a man may be right to feel benevolently towards the jungle, he is also right to treat it as something that may be put to use, and something which he may refuse to assist indefinitely for its own sake at his own expense. (ILN, “About Means and Ends,” 12-11-26)
Euphemisms and Pseudonyms
When someone wishes to wage a social war against what all normal people have regarded as a social decency, the very first thing he does is find some artificial term that shall sound relatively decent.
With the passions which are natural to youth we all sympathise; with the pain that often arises from loyalty and duty we all sympathise still more; but nobody need sympathise with publicity experts picking pleasant expressions for unpleasant things; and I for one prefer the coarse language of our fathers. (ILN, “The Friends of Frankness, and Euphemism,” 6-30-28)
Euthanasia; Assisted Suicide
As for the social justification of murder, that has already begun; and earnest thinkers had better begin at once to think about a nice, inoffensive name for it.
We may call it Life-Control or Free Death, or anything else that has as little to do with the point of it as Companionate Marriage has to do with either marriage or companionship. (ILN, “The Friends of Frankness, and Euphemism,” 6-30-28)
While we are kicking our grandfather downstairs, we must take care to be very polite to our great-great grandson, who is not yet present; and if a more enlightened ethic should ever justify us in painlessly poisoning our mother, it will be well to distract the attention by dreaming of some perfect Woman of the future who may never need to be poisoned. (ILN, “Living For the Future,” 5-31-30)
Anything that is fashionable is on the brink of being old-fashioned. (ILN, “Keeping Old Words New,” 8-28-26)
But I do find it amusing to watch the continual rise of new fashions, which is invariably the return of old fashions. (ILN, “Disputes About Artistic Tastes,” 12-17-27)
It is plain on the face of it, whatever else is doubtful, that human society does permit, and must permit, some noble functions to be confined to one sex.
If there be any unjust sex-privilege, surely this is one, that in the cradle and the nursery one sex is put at a disadvantage.
We let loose hardy and matured females upon helpless and innocent males. (ILN, “Female Suffrage and the New Theology,” 3-16-07)
There is the obvious contradiction that feminism often means the refusal to be feminine. (ILN, “The Narrowness of the New Art,” 8-18-28)
Journalism only tells us what men are doing; it is fiction that tells us what they are thinking, and still more what they are feeling. (ILN, “The Independence of Women,” 4-21-23)
In short, the old literature, both great and trivial, was built on the idea that there is a purpose in life, even if it is not always completed in this life; and it really was interesting to follow ths stages of such a purpose; from the meeting to the wedding, from the wedding to the bells, and from the bells to the church. (ILN, “The Sloppiness of the Modern Novel – and Modern Thought,” 3-8-30)
Fidelity; Marriage Vows
The time when they want the vow is exactly the time when they do not need it. (ILN, “The Bonds of Love,” 7-2-10)
To whom should a man keep his word, if not to his wife? (ILN, “Modern Stories and Modern Morality,” 7-3-26)
It is an obvious canon of justice and commonsense that we have no right to invent an entirely new process and then complain that the civilization to which we belong does not immediately take account of it.
We have no right merely to invent something very fast and then call everything else very slow. (ILN, “Superstition and Modern Justice,” 10-6-06)
Generally speaking, it would be much easier for a pretty woman to bamboozle an ordinary sensible man than for a merely handsome man to bamboozle an ordinary sensible woman. (ILN, “How and Why Women Vote,” 4-6-07)
Gentlemen do tend to be, as Matthew Arnold said, barbarians. (ILN, “The Millionaires’ Freak Dinner,” 3-24-06)
Refinement is not virtue; silence is not virtue (it is almost always vice); being a gentleman is not being a good man, but quite often the reverse. (ILN, “Undergraduate Ragging,” 12-28-07)
If you ask me why ghosts and devils are denied, while bats and shooting stars are reluctantly conceded, I can only answer that it is the not interesting and by no means undignified thing which we have to call Bigotry. (ILN, “Objections to Spiritualism,” 10-30-09)
The important thing in life is not to keep a steady system of pleasure and composure (which can be done quite well by hardening one’s heart or thickening one’s head), but to keep alive in oneself the immortal power of astonishment and laughter, and a kind of young reverence. (ILN, “The Survival of Christmas,” 1-11-08)
A great deal of the current cult of pleasure, of luxury, of liberty in love, and all the rest of it, appears to me to be perfectly childish; and childish in the literal sense that it is greedy without any grasp of consequences. (ILN, “The Sophistication – and Simplicity – of the Young,” 5-18-29)
“Higher Criticism” (of the Bible)
For it is a principle of all truly scientific Higher Criticism that any text you do not happen to like is a later monkish interpolation. (ILN, “The Extension of the Family,” 3-5-27)
Quite apart from miracles, I never could quite understand why a Great Sea Serpent should not be big; or even big enough to swallow a moderate-sized Hebrew prophet. (ILN, “The Bible and the Sceptics,” 4-20-29)
They had no more read Luke than they had read Loisy; they merely took it on trust that Loisy had somehow discredited Luke. (ILN, “’Who Moved the Stone?’,” 4-5-30)
The Higher Culture to which I was referring is a quite fleeting and fundamentally caddish sort of culture, filling up the gap which everyone has felt since we gave up real religion and real politics; since we gave up thinking about God and fighting about man. (ILN, “Women, Worrying, and the Higher Culture,” 5-12-06)
I do not understand why those condemning the past always mention certain facts and not others, and generally in the same form of words. (ILN, “The Abuses of the Past,” 9-17-27)
History and Historians
And before the historian goes on to show that the heroes of history were lacking in this or that, he will do well to admit that not only heroes, but even historians, are human beings, and may possibly be lacking in something.
As it is, heroes are treated as human beings, but historians are treated as superhuman beings. (ILN, “The Need For Historical Humility,” 8-15-25)
For a man without history is almost in the literal sense half-witted. (ILN, “Funerals Are For the Living,” 12-5-25)
The thing that haunts the historical imagination most, I think, is not Atlantis or Utopia, not the Golden Age or the New Jerusalem, not the Good Old Days or the Good Time Coming, but the gold that men missed or rejected and the good time that might have come. (ILN, “On Progress in History,” 4-27-29)
History of Ideas
True history should not be divided into periods, but into principles or influences. (ILN, “Modern Doubts and Questioning,” 2-13-26)
The simple truth, which some people seem to find it so difficult to understand or to believe, is that what a reasonable man believes in is not this or that period, with all its ideas, good or bad, but in certain ideas that may happen to have been present in one period and relatively absent from another period. (ILN, “The Guild Idea,” 1-5-29)
Home, The; Domesticity; Stay-at-Home Moms
The narrowness and dullness of domesticity, as described in so many recent plays and novels, was due not to an old tradition but to a new fashion, and a fashion that was rather peculiar to the suburbs of modern industrial cities. (ILN, “The Extension of the Family,” 3-5-27)
Those who believe in the dignity of the domestic tradition, who happen to be the overwhelming majority of mankind, regard the home as a sphere of vast social importance and supreme spiritual significance; and to talk of being confined to it is like talking of being chained to a throne, or set in the seat of judgment as if it were the stocks,
And we cannot assume, as both sides in this curious controversy so often do assume, that bringing forth and rearing and ruling the living beings of the future is a servile task suited to a silly person. (ILN, “The New Woman,” 11-16-29)
Why the workman should be clever enough to vote a curriculum for everybody else’s children, but not clever enough to choose one for his own children, I cannot for the life of me imagine. (ILN, “Living For the Future,” 5-31-30)
Hustle and Bustle
Upon this very simple fact of human nature – that bustle always means banality – the whole gigantic modern Press, the palladium of our liberties, is built. (ILN, “Socialistic Morality,” 3-26-10)
Hypocrisy (of Christians)
I do believe in Christianity, and my impression is that a system must be divine which has survived so much insane mismanagement. (ILN, “Superstition and Modern Justice,” 10-6-06)
When people impute special vices to the Christian Church, they seem entirely to forget that the world (which is the only other thing there is) has these vices much more.
The Church has been cruel; but the world has been much more cruel. (ILN, “Francis Thompson and Religious Poetry,” 12-14-07)
It is no disgrace to Christianity, it is no disgrace to any great religion, that its counsels of perfection have not made every single person perfect.
If after centuries a disparity is still found between its ideal and its followers, it only means that the religion still maintains the ideal, and the followers still need it. (ILN, “Buddhism and Christianity,” 3-2-29)
For there cannot be anything less imaginative than mere unreason. (ILN, “The Millionaires’ Freak Dinner,” 3-24-06)
First, I disagree with them when they treat the infantile imagination as a sort of dream; whereas I remember it rather as a man dreaming might remember the world where he was awake. (ILN, “The Game of Self-Limitation,” 2-8-30)
The Spanish Inquisition was not an institution that I specially admire, but it did act on some intelligible principles; I know what the principles were and I agree with a great many of them. (ILN, “The Modern Censor,” 3-23-29)
It is the beginning of all true criticism of our time to realize that it has really nothing to say, at the very moment, when it has invented so tremendous a trumpet for saying it. (ILN, “A Proper View of Machines,” 2-10-23)
There are a hundred improved means of communication, and there is nothing to communicate. (ILN, “The Meaning of Travel,” 10-2-26)
Internet Argument and Political Discourse
It is an almost invariable rule that the man with whom I don’t agree thinks I am making a fool of myself, and the man with whom I do agree thinks I am making a fool of him. (ILN, “Spiritualism and Frivolity,” 6-9-06)
Personally, I fear that this same decadence which treats men as dogs in argument will treat them like dogs in practice. (ILN, “Socialistic Morality,” 3-26-10)
Only, as is commonly the case today, hardly anybody makes any attempt at defining the thing he is always denouncing, finding it much easier to denounce than to define. (ILN, “On Sentimentalism,” 8-20-27)
But as a fact, men for the most part vastly prefer to dispute about taste, because they do not want their disputes settled. (ILN, “Disputes About Artistic Tastes,” 12-17-27)
People generally quarrel because they cannot argue.
Debate is now a thing of personalities, sometimes of very agreeable personalities; but if it were less personal and more impersonal it would be more practical and to the point. (ILN, “The New Generations and Morality,” 3-9-29)
What I object to is one of the debaters coolly announcing at the start that everybody in the world thinks as he does, or that anybody in the world who thinks differently does not think at all. (ILN, “On Assuming Too Much in Debate,” 8-22-31)
Jargon; Propaganda; Slogans; “Catchwords”
And never before, I should imagine, in the intellectual history of the world have words been used with so idiotic an indifference to their actual meaning. (ILN, “New Religion and New Irreligion,” 4-4-08)
We cannot all play like Paderewski or think like Plato, but we should be a great deal nearer to it if we could forget these little tags of talk from the daily papers and the debating clubs, and start afresh, thinking for ourselves. (ILN, “Thought Versus Slogans,” 2-18-28)
I mean by trash something much more essential and psychological; I mean the tendency to get the mind itself stuffed with rubbish, in the sense of wordy expositions of anything or nothing; or phrases that are only the fragments of philosophies; of dead words used like talismans, like the dead hand.
That is, I mean a man (or a woman) talking unconsciously and mechanically, but at the same time pompously and with the pride of being in the mode. (ILN, “The Swamp of Trash,” 7-6-29)
There are any number of phrases which everybody speaks and nobody hears.
There are any number of phrases which when they were used the first time may have meant something, and which are now used for the millionth time because they mean nothing. (ILN, “The Art of Thinking,” 8-31-29)
Language and Grammar
Some of the most enormous and idiotic developments of our modern thought and speech arise simply from not knowing the parts of speech and principles of language, which we once knew when we were children.
For most fundamental falsehoods are errors in language as well as in philosophy.
Most statements that are unreasonable are really ungrammatical. (ILN, “Adjectives, Nouns, and the Truth,” 10-16-09)
By far the most humane and genial part of any legal proceedings are the oaths and the ritual phrases. (ILN, “Solemnity and Ritual in the Law,” 2-23-07)
No one suggests that we should examine the Judge as to his private life, his politics, and, above all, his enormous income. (ILN, “Miracles and Scientific Method,” 4-17-09)
We are always near the breaking-point when we care only for what is legal and nothing for what is lawful. (ILN, “The New Immoral Philosophy,” 9-21-29)
The sort of prig who sneers at patriotism commonly calls himself a Liberal. (ILN, “Certain Incongruities at Christmas,” 12-22-23)
In point of fact, they have kept some of the words and terminology, words like Peace and Righteousness and Love; but they make these words stand for an atmosphere utterly alien to Christendom; they keep the letter and lose the spirit. (ILN, “Keeping the Spirit of Christmas,” 12-26-25)
But the idea is that men should lose their old notions while retaining their old names; that they should lose them and not know what they had lost. (ILN, “A New Statement of Religion?,” 6-9-28)
To tell the priest to throw away any theology and impress us with his personality, is exactly like telling the doctor to throw away physiology and merely hypnotise us with his glittering eye. (ILN, “If I Were a Preacher,” 1-19-29)
The peculiarity of the position is not that Claude has proclaimed himself an Infidel; but that Claude has proclaimed himself a Christian with a higher and more purely spiritual religion, which is too exalted to believe in any creeds or sacraments, but which does permit him to remain an ordinary respectable Anglican parson – or possibly even an Anglican bishop. (ILN, “The Family of the Bright Young Things,” 10-5-29)
But I cannot understand why something which is unpopular because of what it means should become frightfully popular because it no longer means anything.
Nor would most people, indifferent to the Christian origin of Christian churches, waste their time in churches merely because they had ceased to be Christian.
And surely those who are so innocently confident of the attraction of merely negative religion might realize that a broad-minded parson can be as much of a bore about nothing as anybody can be about anything. (ILN, “On Abolishing the Churches,” 10-4-30)
Life, Origin Of
The original rising of life from the lifeless is as strange as a rising from the dead. (ILN, “Mr Edison’s New Argument From Design,” 5-3-24)
If he is not the image of God, then he is a disease of the dust.
If it is not true that a divine being fell, then we can only say that one of the animals went entirely off its head.
Man is always something worse or something better than the animal; and a mere argument from animal perfection never touches him at all. (ILN, “Alcohol, Drunkenness, and Drinking,” 4-20-07)
All that talk about the divinity and dignity of the human body is stolen from theology, and is quite meaningless without theology. (ILN, “The Trouble With Our Pagans,” 9-13-30)
I know that most modern writers (especially revolutionary writers) maintain that the populace is always wrong.
The bulk of a people always has a fairly sane and honourable philosophy. (ILN, “On Punishing the Rich,” 8-22-08)
Man, “Smallness” Of
No; that argument about man looking mean and trivial in the face of the physical universe has never terrified me at all, because it is a merely sentimental argument, and not a rational one in any sense or degree.
But if we are seriously debating whether a man is the moral center of this world, then he is no more morally dwarfed by the fact that his is not the largest star than by the fact that he is not the largest mammal.
Unless it can be maintained a priori that Providence must put the largest soul in the largest body, and must make the physical and moral center the same, “the vertigo of the infinite” has no more spiritual value than the vertigo of a ladder or the vertigo of a balloon. (ILN, “Man in the Cosmos,” 2-19-10)
As long as a marriage is founded on a good solid incompatibility, that marriage has a fair chance of continuing to be a happy marriage, and even a romance. (ILN, “Incompatibility in Marriage,” 9-19-08)
Why in the world did Marx tell men they were mechanical dolls at the very moment when he wanted them to behave like martyrs or like murderers? (ILN, “The Modern Longing For Slavery,” 9-15-23)
Materialism (Scientific and Philosophical)
It was the materialists who destroyed materialism, merely by studying matter.
We have been accused of hostility to the scientist, when we are merely hostile to the materialist. (ILN, “Old Science and New Science,” 5-9-31)
At present, it is not we that silence the Press; it is the Press that silences us.
It is not a case of the Commonwealth settling how much the editors shall say; it is a case of the editors settling how much the Commonwealth shall know. (ILN, “Censoring the Press,” 10-19-07)
But the modern editor regards himself far too much as a kind of original artist, who can select and suppress facts with the arbitrary ease of a poet or a caricaturist. (ILN, “The Faults of the Press,” 10-26-07)
The frivolous chatter is now all in public journalism. (ILN, “Gossip and Public Journalism,” 2-1-08)
It is by this time practically quite impossible to get the truth out of newspapers, even the honest newspapers. (ILN, “Truth in the Newspapers,” 1-23-09)
The new method of journalism is to offer so many comments or, at least, secondary circumstances that there is actually no room left for the original facts. (ILN, “Distortions in the Press,” 11-6-09)
And the papers are shouting louder and louder like demagogues, merely because their hearers are growing more and more deaf. (ILN, “On Reading, and Not Being Able To,” 12-8-28)
What I protest against is the prevailing fashion, in the Press and elsewhere, of parading all this perfectly natural indifference and ignorance as if it were a sort of impartiality. (ILN, “Religion and the New Science,” 4-12-30)
The argument used by professional men of science that what they call quack remedies are superstitions is really an argument in a circle.
It amounts to this, that the herbs used by an old woman are untrustworthy because she is superstitious; and she is superstitious because she believes in such herbs.
Her method is bad because she is stupid; but the main proof of her stupidity is that she pursues her own method. (ILN, “Charlatans and Quacks,” 2-15-08)
The reason is that a Free Thinker does not mean a man who thinks freely; a Free Thinker means a man who is not allowed to think that miracles happen. (ILN, “The Proper Idea of Property,” 11-14-08)
It seems to me that the mass of men do agree on the mass of morality, but differ disastrously about the proportions of it.
The difference between men is not in what merits they confess, but what merits they emphasise.
Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.
What men fight each other about is the question of which are the venial and which are the mortal sins. (ILN, “The Proper Emphasis in Morality,” 10-23-09)
To take another aspect of the same thing, it is infinitely more likely at this moment that wars will be waged for the possession of oil-fields than it ever was that they would be waged for the possession of hop-fields. (ILN, “Mr. Ford and Prohibition,” 5-22-26)
Mouths and minds were made to shut; they were made to open only in order to shut. (ILN, “The History of Religions,” 10-10-08)
Surely there is something quite repulsively mean in saying that force must not be used against a conqueror from abroad, but force may be used against a poor, tired tramp who steals chickens. (ILN, “Boyhood and Militarism,” 10-20-06)
The old Jew who says you must fight only for your tribe is inadequate; but the modern prig who says you must not ever fight for anything is substantially and specifically immoral. (ILN, “Talking About Education,” 1-26-07)
Paganism (and Christianity)
They regret the Pagan quality in the Christian festival; which is simply regretting that Christianity satisfied the previous cravings of mankind. (ILN, “The Neglect of Christmas,” 1-13-06)
Neo-pagans have sometimes forgotten, when they set out to do everything that the old pagans did, that the final thing the old pagans did was to get christened. (ILN, “The Return of the Pagan Gods,” 3-20-26)
Philanthropy, as far as I can see, is rapidly becoming the recognizable mark of a wicked man.
We have often sneered at the superstition and cowardice of the mediaeval barons who thought that giving lands to the Church would wipe out the memory of their raids or robberies; but modern capitalists seem to have exactly the same notion; with this not unimportant addition, that in the case of the capitalists the memory of the robberies is really wiped out. (ILN, “Whitewashing the Philanthropists,” 5-29-09)
Photographic Propaganda; Television; Power of Images
Hence the responsibility of those giving truth through popular histories must be specially judged by whether their pictures are really meant to help the history or only to help the sale. (ILN, “Truth and Lies in Popular Histories,” 11-9-07)
At this moment the material hypotheses are mystical ideas.
They are incredibly and unthinkably mystical; they are much too mystical to be called material.
The truth is that, according to the latest science, it is impossible for Physics to go any further without fading into Metaphysics.
The Electron is rather a mathematical idea than a material object; it is a principle of energy acting, in the normal sense, upon nothing, or nothing that can be expressed in terms of anything.
Now, that sort of science is not going to pursue so calculable a course that anybody can say it will destroy religion in a century. (ILN, “Religion and the New Science,” 4-12-30)
Out of Parliament the politician persuades the people that he really wants what they want.
Inside Parliament the politician persuades the people that they really want what he wants.
But what is really intolerable, what is really atrocious, is certainly this – that politicians should venture not merely to deceive the people about the things that the people do care about, but should insolently attempt to oppress the people in the things that the people do care about.
The greatest miracle is the fact that politicians are tolerated. (ILN, “Politicians and Miracles,” 12-22-06)
A modern thinker not only will not state his own opinion in clear, straightforward English, but he is hideously affronted if you do it for him. (ILN, “Being True to Oneself,” 8-14-09)
The notion that, because language can change, therefore life and love can change, is one of the many muddles of a thoroughly muddled mind. (ILN, “The Modern Censor,” 3-23-29)
They move about in a mesmerized and mechanical condition, talking and thinking merely on the authority of somebody who is not an authority. (ILN, “Twilight Sleep and the Breakdown of Reason,” 11-2-29)
It starts by believing in nothing, and it ends by getting nowhere. (ILN, “The Modern Recoil From the Modern,” 11-9-29)
The fact that stupidity has become stale to the readers does not seem to prevent its being eternally fresh to the writers. (ILN, “The Guilt of the Churches,” 7-26-30)
We talk, by a sort of habit, about Modern Thought, forgetting the familiar fact that moderns do not think.
They only feel, and that is why they are so much stronger in fiction than in facts; why their novels are so much better than their newspapers. (ILN, “The Trouble With Our Pagans,” 9-13-30)
Reason was self-evident before Pragmatism. (ILN, “On Modern Controversy,” 8-14-26)
The definition of a prig, I suppose, is this: one who has pride in the possession of his brain rather than joy in the use of it.
And the difference is exactly this, that a very small brain is enough to be proud of, even when it is not big enough either to enjoy with recklessness or to use with effect.
And there is this further fact, that people with large intellects know the limits of intellect; while to people of small intellects, intellect seems unlimited and therefore divine. (ILN, “Modern Jargon,” 6-12-09)
Private Judgment (Protestant Outlook)
Milton is possessed with what is, I suppose, the first and finest idea of Protestantism – the idea of the individual soul actually testing and tasting all the truth there is, and calling that truth which it has not tested or tasted truth of a less valuable and vivid kind. (ILN, “Catholic Shakspere and Protestant Milton,” 6-8-07)
I do not know anything about psycho-analysis, except that it demands a great deal more than the Confessional was always abused for demanding. (ILN, “Dr. Freud and Ancient Myth,” 10-26-29)
It means merely flattering private enterprises in the interests of private persons.
It means paying compliments in public, but not offering criticisms in public.
Publicity must be praise and praise must to some extent be euphemism. (ILN, “The Friends of Frankness, and Euphemism,” 6-30-28)
Religion, Comparative; False Ecumenism
To say that I must not deny my opponent's faith is to say I must not discuss it; I may not say that Buddhism is false, and that is all I want to say about Buddhism.
It is absurd to have a discussion on Comparative Religions if you don't compare them. (ILN, “The History of Religions,” 10-10-08)
We do not (at least I do not) respect any sect, church, or group because of its sincerity.
In other words, an honest man must always respect other religions, because they contain parts of his religion – that is, of his largest vision of truth.
But I will not admire Chinese tortures because they are performed with ardour; nor enjoy Hindoo pessimism because it is sincere, and therefore hopeless, pessimism; nor respect the Turk for despising women merely because he despises them very heartily. (ILN, “Respecting Other Peoples’ Opinions,” 10-29-10)
We have practically come to a condition in which Christianity is the only religion which Christians do not study. (ILN, “Where Are the Dead?,” 7-7-28)
I have never been able to understand why men of science, or men of any sort, should have such a special affection for Disorganised Religion.
They would hardly utter cries of hope and joy over the prospect of Disorganised Biology or Disorganised Botany.
They would hardly wish to see the whole universe of astronomy disorganised, with no relations, no records, no responsibilities for the fulfillment of this or that function, no reliance on the regularity of this or that law. (ILN, “Religion and the New Science,” 4-12-30)
As for the third form of leisure, the most precious, the most consoling, the most pure and holy, the noble habit of doing nothing at all – that is being neglected in a degree which seems to me to threaten the degeneration of the whole race. (ILN, “Leisure in Our Culture,” 7-23-27)
But most normal persons are now taught to neglect far too much the sort of excitement which the mind itself manufactures out of unexciting things. (ILN, “The Joy of Dullness,” 5-3-30)
For in a world where everything is ridiculous, nothing can be ridiculed.
If life is really so formless that you cannot make head or tail of it, you cannot pull its tail. (ILN, “On Unmoral Comedy,” 12-10-27)
Scholars; the Learned; Academics; Intelligentsia
But when learned men begin to use their reason, then I generally discover that they haven’t got any. (ILN, “Arguing With Erudition,” 10-31-08)
One does not need to be an astronomer to say that a star fell from heaven; or a botanist to say that a fig tree withered; or a chemist to say that one had seen water turned to wine; or a surgeon to say that one has seen wounds in the hands of St. Francis. (ILN, “Miracles and Scientific Method,” 4-17-09)
Why is it that for the last two or three centuries the educated have been generally wrong and the uneducated relatively right?
What the educated man has generally done was to ram down everybody’s throat some premature and priggish theory which he himself afterwards discovered to be wrong; so wrong that he himself generally recoiled from it and went staggering to the opposite extreme. (ILN, “The Wisdom of the Ignorant,” 8-9-24)
And those who have been there will know what I mean when I say that, while there are stupid people everywhere, there is a particular minute and miocrocephalous idiocy which is only found in an intelligentsia.
I have sometimes fancied that, as chilly people like a warm room, silly people sometimes like a diffused atmosphere of intellectualism and long words. (ILN, “The Defense of the Unconventional,” 10-17-25)
But if I say that one workman is capable of deciding about the education of one child, that he has the right to select a certain school or resist a certain system, I shall have all those progressive papers roaring at me as a rotten reactionary. (ILN, “Living For the Future,” 5-31-30)
Science, Scientists, and Popular Science
The trouble with nearly all these scientific theorists is quite simple: it is that they have cultivated the art of learning while they have entirely neglected the art of thinking. (ILN, “Miracles and Scientific Method,” 4-17-09)
Science must not impose any philosophy, any more than the telephone must tell us what to say. (ILN, “Science: Pro and Con,” 10-9-09)
The extreme doctrine of Science for Science’s Sake has proved just as impossible as Art for Art’s Sake. (ILN, “Evolution and Ethics,” 9-10-27)
They had no right to insist on men accepting the latest word of science as the last word of science. (ILN, “The Bible and the Sceptics,” 4-20-29)
Quackery is false science; it is everywhere apparent in cheap and popular science; and the chief mark of it is that men who begin by boasting that they have cast away all dogma go on to be incessantly, impudently, and quite irrationally dogmatic. (ILN, “Quackery About the Family,” 7-12-30)
Science (and Religion)
The truths of religion are unprovable; the facts of science are unproved. (ILN, “Faith Healing and Medicine,” 11-5-10)
The problem of Religion and Science is still presented in the narrow Victorian version of a quarrel between Darwin and Moses. (ILN, “The Younger Pagans,” 8-21-26)
The Electron, as now expounded, is much more of a mystery than the Trinity.
There were, indeed, venerable Victorians, of the agnostic sort, who would have been very much surprised to learn that science had not destroyed religion by A.D. 2030. (ILN, “Religion and the New Science,” 4-12-30)
Separation of Church and State (Abuses of)
It is obviously most unjust that the old believer should be forbidden to teach his old beliefs, while the new believer is free to teach his new beliefs.
It is obviously unfair and unreasonable that secular education should forbid one man to say a religion is true and allow another man to say it is untrue.
It is obviously essential to justice that unsectarian education should cut both ways; and that if the orthodox must cut out the statement that man has a Divine origin, the materialist must cut out the statement that he has a wholly and exclusively bestial origin. (ILN, “Compulsory Education and the Monkey Trial,” 8-8-25)
Never until the nineteenth century was it supposed that the Church or Temple was a sort of side-show that had nothing to do with the State. (ILN, “The Guilt of the Churches,” 7-26-30)
Mankind declares this with one deafening voice: that sex may be ecstatic so long as it is also restricted.
In other words, the creation of conditions for love, or even for flirting, is the first common-sense of Society. (ILN, “The Wrong Books at Christmas,” 1-9-09)
Skepticism (Religious); “Freethinkers”
Opponents of Christianity would believe anything except Christianity. (ILN, “The Neglect of Christmas,” 1-13-06)
Nobody supposes that the best critic of music is the man who talks coldly about music.
But there is an idea that a man is a correct judge of religion because he looks down on religions. (ILN, “The History of Religions,” 10-10-08)
Instead of trying to break up new fields with its plough, it simply tries to break up the plough. (ILN, “Hangmen and Capital Punishment,” 2-6-09)
I will not engage in verbal controversy with the sceptic, because long experience has taught me that the sceptic’s ultimate skepticism is about the use of his own words and the reliability of his own intelligence. (ILN, “Objections to Spiritualism,” 10-30-09)
Moreover, while it is rare for a great legend to grow out of nothing, it is much easier for a skeptical theory to be woven out of nothing, or next to nothing. (ILN, “The Legends of Merlin,” 9-8-23)
But the people now calling themselves freethinkers are of all thinkers the least free. (ILN, “The Reason For Fear,” 2-27-26)
The person whose position is perpetually growing shaky, shifting, sliding, and breaking away from under him, is the advanced sceptic who is attacking the tradition of orthodoxy. (ILN, “The Crumbling of the Creeds,” 11-26-27)
To begin with, we can hardly be surprised if the Bible-Smasher had never read the Bible, because the Bible-Reader had never read the Bible either. (ILN, “The Bible and the Sceptics,” 4-20-29)
The sceptic, like the schoolboy with a penknife, is always ready to start making a small crack in some of the planks of the platform of civilization; but he has not really the courage to split it from end to end. (ILN, “Mr. Darrow on Divorce,” 10-19-29)
For what strikes me most about the skeptics, who are praised as daring and audacious, is that they dare not carry out any of their own acts of audacity. (ILN, “The Modern Recoil From the Modern,” 11-9-29)
In short, there came to be an entirely false association between intelligence and skepticism. (ILN, “A Defense of Human Dignity,” 2-22-30)
How much longer are we expected to put up with people who have no arguments whatever, beyond the assertion that religion requires them to believe “what no intelligent man can accept,” or “what thinking people can non longer regard as rational”?
But what are we to say of the superior philosophical sceptic, who can only begin the controversy by calling the other controversialist a fool, and in the same moment end the controversy because he need not controvert with fools? (ILN, “The Creeds and the Modernist,” 5-17-30)
Soap Operas and Modern Novels
Novels are the great monument of the amazing credulity of the modern mind; for people believe them quite seriously, even though they do not pretend to be true.
People are minutely described as experiencing one idiotic passion after another, passions which they themselves recognise as idiotic, and which even their own wretched philosophy forbids them to regard as steps towards any end.
But the modern serious novel seriously denies that there is any goal.
They are driven back entirely on the microscopic description of these aimless appetites in themselves. (ILN, “The Sloppiness of the Modern Novel – and Modern Thought,” 3-8-30)
Cheap and pedantic prophesying is the curse and the characteristic weakness of the whole of modern sociology.
It is all based on the assumption that man’s future can be calculated like the action of a machine; whereas to be incalculable is the definition of being human; it is only because a man cannot be made a subject of science that there is any fun in being a man. (ILN, “The Impossibility of Altering the ‘System’,” 2-9-07)
Spirits are not worth all this fuss; I know that, for I am one myself. (ILN, “Scepticism About Spiritualism,” 4-14-06)
They entertain angels unawares – fallen angels. (ILN, “Objections to Spiritualism,” 10-30-09)
I doubt if any one century is much more superstitious than any other century.
In so far as there is a slight difference, the twentieth century is more superstitious than the nineteenth century; and the twenty-first century (to all appearance) will be more superstitious than the twentieth. (ILN, “Superstition and Modern Justice,” 10-6-06)
The Church has been superstitious: but it has never been so superstitious as the world is when left to itself. (ILN, “Francis Thompson and Religious Poetry,” 12-14-07)
To have a theology is our only protection against the wicked restlessness of theologians. (ILN, “The Need of Doctrine in the Church,” 10-27-06)
Tradition is not a dry and dusty and antiquated affair.
The tradition, as a matter of fact, has come down through numberless generations; but each person remembers it by the person who had it last.
He does not think of it as a thing connected with his first forefathers; but as a thing connected with his father. (ILN, “The Age of Antiquities,” 11-19-10)
The great social reform of the Prohibition of Petrol would certainly relieve the congestion very much; and for that and many other reasons I look confidently to Mr. Ford to give it his eager and enthusiastic support. (ILN, “Mr. Ford and Prohibition,” 5-22-26)
But the general spirit of travel, the desire to see new folk or new customs, all that has been ruined by the commercial concentration of modern times. (ILN, “The Meaning of Travel,” 10-2-26)
The skeptical theorist is allowed to throw off Utopia after Utopia, and is never reproached when they are contradicted by the facts, or contradicted by each other. (ILN, “Buddhism and Christianity,” 3-2-29)
I can see the value of “values,” but I wish we had proved ourselves more worthy of a strong and sound word like “worth.” (ILN, “Keeping Old Words New,” 8-28-26)
What we want just now more than anything else is people who really can exhibit old truths in new form. (ILN, “The New Theology and Modern Thought,” 3-23-07)
Meat-eating is either not wrong at all (as I think), or it is very wrong. (ILN, “Bigotry in the Modern World,” 4-28-06)
If they really think it wrong to eat meat, if they honestly consider it a kind of cannibalism, why should they introduce reminders of the revolting habit they have renounced? (ILN, “Honesty in Vegetarianism,” 12-4-09)
It is a dogma imposed on all, buy the dogmatic secularism of the modern system, that Youth needs, must have, and cannot possibly be happy without, a riot of dances, plays, or entertainments.
And from what I remember of being young, and what I have read of the real reminiscences of youth, I incline to think that youth never shows its glorious vividness and vitality so much as when transfiguring what might be called monotony.
Youth is much more capable of amusing itself than is now supposed, and in much less mortal need of being amused. (ILN, “The Joy of Dullness,” 5-3-30)
But voting ought not to mean this: voting ought to mean arguing for hours and hours in a public-house and interrupting people and hitting the table. (ILN, “Female Suffrage and the New Theology,” 3-16-07)
To begin with, if there were no petrol traffic, there is always the possibility that Americans might learn to walk. (ILN, “Mr. Ford and Prohibition,” 5-22-26)
War (and Christianity)
I do not know whether Martin Luther invented mustard gas, or George Fox manufactured tear-shells, or St. Thomas Aquinas devised a stink-bomb producing suffocation.
If wars are the horrid fruits of a thing called Christianity, they are also the horrid fruits of everything called citizenship and democracy and liberty and national independence, and are we to judge all these and condemn them by their fruits?
Anyhow such a modern war is much greater than any of the wars that can be referred to religious motives, or even religious epochs.
The broad truth about the matter is that wars have become more organised, and more ghastly in the particular period of Materialism. (ILN, “The Guilt of the Churches,” 7-26-30)
Properly speaking, the only rational wars are the religious wars.
If a man may be asked to die for anything, it may well be for his whole reason for living, his whole conception of the object of life and death. (ILN, “The Only Rational Wars,” 9-26-31)
Wealth and Wealthy Men
Wealth has a distinctly barbarising tendency.
But when the bodies of six rich men sit side by side, their souls do not sit side by side at all. (ILN, “The Millionaires’ Freak Dinner,” 3-24-06)
But the rich are not content with changing their creeds as often as their bonnets; they always want to preach each one of these vanishing visions to the people under their control. (ILN, “The Mad Philanthropist, Again,” 12-22-06)
I should say that no rich man in the past ever had anything like the power over humanity possessed by a millionaire or financier to-day.
But some of us think there are still evidences of that evil power of Mammon which called for the challenge of St. Francis. (ILN, “Power, Mediaeval and Modern,” 5-29-26)
I never met a wife who did not know all the weaknesses of her husband and count on them as calmly as she counted on sunrise or the spring.
I really think that the man who has tamed a wife is more exceptional than the man who has tamed a tiger or a chimpanzee; and also much more unpleasant.
The normal man is much more afraid of his wife than his wife is afraid of him. (ILN, “Listening to Modernist Arguments,” 8-29-08)
I have never understood myself how this superstition arose: the notion that a woman plays a lowly part in the home and a loftier part outside the home. (ILN, “The New Woman,” 11-16-29)
The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton: Volume XXVII: The Illustrated London News: 1905-1907 (edited by Lawrence J. Clipper; San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986)
The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton: Volume XXVIII: The Illustrated London News: 1908-1910 (edited by Lawrence J. Clipper; general editors: George J. Marlin, Richard P. Rabatin, and John L. Swan; San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987)
The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton: Volume XXXIII: The Illustrated London News: 1923-1925 (edited by Lawrence J. Clipper; general editors: George J. Marlin, Richard P. Rabatin, and John L. Swan; San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990)
The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton: Volume XXXIV: The Illustrated London News: 1926-1928 (edited by Lawrence J. Clipper; general editors: George J. Marlin, Richard P. Rabatin, and John L. Swan; San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991)
The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton: Volume XXXV: The Illustrated London News: 1929-1931 (edited by Lawrence J. Clipper; general editors: George J. Marlin, Richard P. Rabatin, and John L. Swan; San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991)