Quotable: 5 Great “Chestertonisms”

G.K. Chesterton, the great writer, Christian apologist, lay theologian, literary and cultural critic, poet, and more, might be the most “quotable” writer in history. While it is difficult to narrow down a few favorites, I will begin by offering five (a very few) of my favorites:

1 – “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” – from What’s Wrong with the World

2 – “When domesticity, for instance, is called drudgery, all the difficulty arises from a double meaning in the word. If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman drudges in the home, as a man might drudge at the Cathedral of Amiens or drudge behind a gun at Trafalgar. But if it means that the hard work is more heavy because it is trifling, colorless and of small import to the soul, then as I say, I give it up; I do not know what the words mean. To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets cakes. and books, to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.” – from What’s Wrong with the World

– “Always be comic in a tragedy. What the deuce else can you do?” – from The Man Who Was Thursday

– “Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” – from Orthodoxy

– “Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.” – from Alarms and Discursions

So, readers, let me know what you think.  Is there another more “quotable” writer than G.K. Chesterton?  What are some of your favorite “Chestertonisms”?

 

Reprinted from the CiRCE Institute, with permission

The Rulers Are Pigs When the People Are Sheep

In the early to mid twentieth century, several authors produced works that have been labeled as “social prophecy,” science fiction, and “dystopian” novels.  Each of them delivered sober warnings about the direction of culture with particular emphasis directed toward politics, education, medicine, technology, and human relationships.

Perhaps the most influential authors of this genre were Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, and Ray Bradbury.  Huxley’s Brave New World appeared in 1932Orwell’s 1984 were released in 1961, and Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 appeared in its full form in 1953 (being previously published as a short story entitled “The Fireman” in 1950).  Each of these works has proven to be eerily accurate in its own right.

In both Animal Farm and 1984, Orwell portrays the practice of government “redefinition,” where terms are given different meanings that more readily assist them in controlling the public.  The pigs, who were the leaders of the animal rebellion in Animal Farm, engaged in blatant redefinition by making minor changes and additions to the simple rules that first governed the newly taken farm.  At first, the animals were governed by “The Seven Commandments”:

1.      Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.

2.      Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.

3.      No animal shall wear clothes.

4.      No animal shall sleep in a bed.

5.      No animal shall drink alcohol.

6.      No animal shall kill any other animal.

7.      All animals are equal.

As time passed on, however, the commandments changed; subtle in some ways, obvious in others.  The pigs instituted trade with other farms run by humans, but any questioning of the practice was shouted down by the sheep with the mantra “Four legs good, two legs bad!”  Strangely, rather than strengthening the objection, the crowd went along with the new trade agreement.

The pigs were also found sleeping in beds, but they clarified that the intent of the fourth commandment was actually to ban sleeping in beds with sheets.  The “Seven Commandments” was a living document, you see.  Similarly, the fifth commandment changed to “No animal shall drink alcohol in excess” and the seventh became “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”

The pigs murdered those who were no longer useful or resistant, and even began walking on two legs and wearing clothes.  Every commandment was broken, disregarded or redefined.  Even the anthem that united them in their original rebellion was thrown out in favor of “Animal Farm, Animal Farm, never through me shalt thou come to harm!”  So, rather than singing “Beasts of England,” an anthem that united them around the ideas of freedom and equality that started the revolution, they simply chanted blind allegiance to the farm.

Those who did not go along were singled out as traitors, viewed as suspect, slandered, and even assassinated.  Snowball was once held as a hero to Animal Farm, but was later a target: “For we know now – it is all written down in the secret documents that we have found – that in reality he was trying to lure us to our doom.”

Orwell used the story to prove a powerful point: patriotism falsely defined is deadly.  Orwell made an important distinction, in his other writings, between “patriotism” and “nationalism.”  He clarified that patriotism was more defensive in nature, consisting of love for one’s country and way of life, but with no desire to require it of others.  Nationalism, on the other hand, was more aggressive, wanting “to acquire as much power and prestige as possible for his nation, in which he submerges his individuality.”

The gulf that spans the two is enormous.  Patriotism is love for a people, an ideal, an identity, and a land.  From the Latin “patria,” meaning fatherland, patriotism focuses on one’s relationships, community, family, and the values that hold them together.  Orwell portrays patriotism early in Animal Farm as the animals unite under the banner of freedom, independence, and the worth of each animal on the farm.

Nationalism dramatically differs.  Just look up the word “nation,” “nationality,” or “nationalism” and see what common themes you find.  Merriam-Webster defines nationality as “a legal relationship involving allegiance of an individual and protection on the part of the state.”  A nation is “a community of people composed of one or more nationalities with its own territory and government.”  And nationalism is defined as “devotion to national interests, unity, and independence.”  Note the connection of these three terms and their definitions – the government or state and its borders.

In other words, nationalism involves dedication to a nation (as distinct from one’s fatherland or country), particularly to its government, while patriotism involves loyalty to a people and the ideas that unite them.

The United States, though certainly imperfect even in her founding, was established upon the idea that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.  That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed, – That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…”

What is important in this section of the Declaration of Independence is that America was founded upon patriotism, the exact enemy of nationalism.  The colonists threw off their tyrannical government (nationalism would have required allegiance to it) and established a new government that would uphold “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” (patriotism).

Yet, after undergoing redefinition of epic proportions, America has now completely reversed these two.  It is now considered “patriotic” to support our government, our military action, and our “national interests” around the globe, no matter how blatantly immoral or unconstitutional it may be.

When the “War on Terror” was launched under President Bush, he plainly said that the rest of the world would either be “for us or against us.”  Ignore that the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were undeclared and unconstitutional (Congress only granted authority to go after those involved in 9/11, not occupy and rebuild two nations).  Ignore the unconstitutional violations of the PATRIOT Act, the TSA, and the Department of Homeland Security.  You’re either for us or against us.

But this attitude, held by many Americans and politicians, could not be more unpatriotic.  Established upon the rule of law, outlined in the Constitution and its Amendments, truly patriotic Americans are not the ones who blindly follow, (bleating out “Animal Farm, Animal Farm, never through me shalt thou come to harm!”) but those who demand that liberty be upheld and the Constitution be followed.

Those who question the government are the true patriots.  Those who realize that life in foreign nations is valuable as well, so we should not be so cavalier with our drones or military aggression, are being patriotic.  The one who simply endorses war and the destruction of civil liberties cannot call himself “patriotic.”  He is a nationalist, cheering on the march of tyranny.  The “us” he stands for is not America.

Patriotic Americans have warned of this throughout the lifespan of America, from the Founders to modern men.

George Washington advised the people to “Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.”

Mark Twain, likely the most influential author in U.S. history, said, “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”

Former presidential candidate George McGovern said, “The highest patriotism is not a blind acceptance of official policy, but a love of one’s country deep enough to call her to a higher plain.”

And more recently, in his book Liberty Defined, current GOP candidate and Texas Representative, Ron Paul wrote:

“To be an American patriot means to love liberty. That’s not the definition used today however. It’s amazing and discouraging to see what is argued for in the name of patriotism. If you do not support funding for undeclared and illegal wars, you’re frequently called unpatriotic. If you do not support a flag-burning amendment to the Constitution, you’re said to be unpatriotic. Not being blindly obedient to the state or simply to challenge the power of the state is considered unpatriotic. It is readily assumed that unquestioned loyalty to the government is synonymous with patriotism. Others, though, believe that a good patriot is one who is willing to stand up to his or her government when the rights of the people are being abused and when the government pursues bad policies. Great danger is imminent when any criticism of the government is considered unpatriotic. Patriotism never demands obedience to the state but rather obedience to the principles of liberty.”

The terms have been redefined, the words have been changed, and the people have bought it, but knowing this is the first step in returning to true patriotism.  If the pigs are ever to leave Washington, the people must first stop acting like sheep.