What’s Wrong With The World, by G.K. Chesterton
Having commented about my fondness for the wit and wisdom of G.K. Chesterton before , it was enjoyable to read a copy of his classic early 20th century work for free on my kindle. This book is full of witty comments, but even more than this, it is filled with a genuine love for people, for their dignity, and for their wisdom, against the forces of homogenization coming from both business and government. Indeed, this book, with all of its twists and turns, manages to find a great deal of what is wrong with British society (which, all the more intriguingly, is precisely what is wrong with contemporary American society), in the collusion between plutocrats and socialists and in the denial and hostility of both of these forces to decent and upright Christianity, a strong concern for truth, the worth of the family (and of women as women), as well as the right of the ordinary citizen to the property that ought to result from honest labor. Indeed, there is very little in this book I found to disagree with–the author is a profoundly individualistic and manly sort of man, manly in the way that he is egalitarian and enjoys fine and pointed and wide-ranging conversations over good food, which would have made him a sure friend of mine, at least.
The organization of this book is straightforward, but certainly intriguing. The first, and longest, part, deals with the homelessness of man, that is, the lack of property possessed by poor people in England. If this was true in the early 1900’s, it is certainly just as true now. The second part is a short discussion of the error of imperialism, namely that Britain’s taste for gaining land through colonial adventures and romanticizing its colonies suggested a form of weakness as much as a form of strength. The third part, a critique on feminism, shows a fine appreciation for what we would consider the multi-tasking abilities of women as opposed to the more focused attention of men. Before this became a topic of brain studies, Chesterton viewed it as the difference between specialist man and generalist woman, and did so soundly. The fourth and final part, on the education of children, has an especially touching ode to the importance of the beauty of poor girls, which the author then takes around to demonstrate what would be required to preserve that beauty, namely parents who are not overworked and harried, and who possessed at least some modest property and a decent standard of living.
This book criticizes socialism for not being revolutionary enough, for being too much like the grim sort of big box businesses that were even in the early 1900’s showing themselves in the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, this book is no mere partisan attack, for it is critical of the lack of ideals and imagination and biblical focus of the Tories as well. It is immensely critical of the ruling aristocratic class, in part for its lack of interest in history, many of them being parvenus who merely went to good schools and had class inculcated into them. The book is especially scathing at the active suppression of honesty and moral courage among upper class “public” schools. It is the book’s combination of harsh criticism of moral failing and its charitable attitude towards people in general, and its grudging approval of others where credit is given that accounts for the humanity of the author, and for the worthiness of this book. More surprising than just about anything else that could be imagined is that a book originally written by an eccentric man about current events should still be au currant more than a century later, just as painfully relevant, and with lessons just as frequently unheeded. As is true of so much else in this book, this saying still holds: Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried.
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