Read and discuss Chesterton with others in your community. Introducing the Apostolate of Common Sense. A lay apostolate dedicated to Catholic education and evangelization. The explanation, or excuse, for this essay is to be found in a certain notion, which seems to me very obvious, but which I have never, as it happens, seen stated by anybody else. It happens rather to cut across the common frontiers of current controversy. It can be used for or against Democracy, according to whether that swear-word is or is not printed with a big D.
It can be connected, like most things, with religion; but only rather indirectly with my own religion. It is primarily the recognition of a fact, quite apart from the approval or disapproval of the fact. But it does involve the assertion that what has really happened, in the modern world, is practically the precise contrary of what is supposed to have happened there.
The thesis is this: that modern emancipation has really been a new persecution of the Common Man. If it has emancipated anybody, it has in rather special and narrow ways emancipated the Uncommon Man. It has given an eccentric sort of liberty to some of the hobbies of the wealthy, and occasionally to some of the more humane lunacies of the cultured.
The only thing that it has forbidden is common sense, as it would have been understood by the common people. Thus, if we begin with the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, we find that a man really has become more free to found a sect. But the Common Man does not in the least want to found a sect.
He is much more likely, for instance, to want to found a family.
And it is exactly there that the modern emancipators are quite likely to begin to frustrate him; in the name of Malthusianism or Eugenics or Sterilisation or at a more advanced stage of progress, probably, Infanticide. And, as a matter of historical fact, the sects which enjoyed this sectarian freedom, in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, were generally founded by merchants or manufacturers of the comfortable, and sometimes of the luxurious classes. On the other hand, it is strictly to the lower classes, to use the liberal modern title for the poor, that such schemes as Sterilisation are commonly directed and applied.
It is the same when we pass from the Protestant world of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to the Progressive world of the nineteenth and twentieth. Here the form of freedom mostly claimed, as a boast and a dogma, is the freedom of the Press. It is no longer merely a freedom of pamphlets but a freedom of papers; or rather, it is less and less a freedom at all, and more and more a monopoly. But the important point is that the process, the test and the comparison are the same as in the first example. Modern emancipation means this: that anybody who can afford it can publish a newspaper.
But the Common Man would not want to publish a newspaper, even if he could afford it. He might want, for instance, to go on talking politics in a pothouse or the parlour of an inn. And that is exactly the sort of really popular talk about politics which modern movements have often abolished: the old democracies by forbidding the pothouse, the new dictatorships by forbidding the politics.
Or again, it is the boast of recent emancipated ethics and politics not to put any great restraints upon anybody who wants to publish a book, especially a scientific book, full of psychology or sociology; and perhaps unavoidably full of perversions and polite pornography.
As that modern tendency increased, it was less and less likely that the police would interfere very much with a man publishing the sort of book that only the wealthy could publish with sumptuous artistic plates or scientific diagrams. Yet there is a great deal to be said for song, or even speech, of the old ribald sort, as compared with writing of the new sort, when it is at once analytic and anarchic. The old obscenity bad a gusto and a great virility even in its violence, which is not easily rendered in a diagram or a table of statistics; and the old was always normal and never had any of the horrors of abnormality.
The point is that, here again, the Common Man does not generally want to write a book, whereas he may occasionally want to sing a song. He certainly does not want to write a book on psychology or sociology — or to read, it. But he does want to talk, to sing, to shout, to yell and howl on due and suitable occasions; and, rightly or wrongly, it is when he is thus engaged that he is much more likely to fall foul of a policeman than when he is as he never is writing a scientific study of a new theory of sex.
The upshot of uplift, in the modern sense, is the same in practice as in the previous examples. In the actual atmosphere of the age, men will still be arrested for using a certain kind of language, long after they cannot be arrested for writing a certain kind of literature. It would be easy to give other examples; but these contemporary examples are already too continuous to be a coincidence.
It is equally true, for instance, that the liberating movement of the eighteenth century, the life in the American and French Revolutions, while it did really vindicate many virtues of republican simplicity and civic liberty, also accepted as virtues several things that were obviously vices: that had been recognised as vices long before, and are now again beginning to be recognised as vices so long afterwards. Where even ambition had once been a pardonable vice, avarice became an utterly unpardonable virtue. Liberal economics too often meant merely giving to those already rich the liberty to grow richer, and magnificently granting to the poor the permission to remain rather poorer than before.
It was much more certain that the usurer was released to practise usury than that the peasant was released from the practices of the usurer. It was much more certain that the Wheat Pit was as big as the Bottomless Pit, than that the man who grew wheat would ever be found anywhere except at the bottom.
George Bernard Shaw, by G. K. Chesterton : chapter4
It is a quality of character, a freshness, a power of pleasure, a power of faith. A silly person may delight in reading masterpieces just as a silly person may delight in picking flowers. A fool may be in love with a poet as he may be in love with a woman. It is the one great weakness of journalism as a picture of our modern existence, that it must be a picture made up entirely of exceptions.
We announce on flaring posters that a man has fallen off a scaffolding. We do not announce on flaring posters that a man has not fallen off a scaffolding. Yet this latter fact is fundamentally more exciting, as indicating that that moving tower of terror and mystery, a man, is still abroad upon the earth.
That the man has not fallen off a scaffolding is really more sensational; and it is also some thousand times more common.
God’s Sense of Humor and the Divine Laugh
But journalism cannot reasonably be expected thus to insist upon the permanent miracles. I have investigated the dust-heaps of humanity, and found a treasure in all of them. I have found that humanity is not incidentally engaged, but eternally and systematically engaged, in throwing gold into the gutter and diamonds into the sea. Always be comic in a tragedy. What the deuce else can you do? The philosophy of this world may be founded on facts, but its business is run on spiritual impressions and atmospheres. Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable.
The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people. Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. A man must be orthodox upon most things, or he will never even have time to preach his own heresy.
The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen. Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate.
I believe what really happens in history is this: the old man is always wrong; and the young people are always wrong about what is wrong with him. The practical form it takes is this: that, while the old man may stand by some stupid custom, the young man always attacks it with some theory that turns out to be equally stupid.
By G. K. Chesterton
An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered. There are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds. Browse G. Chesterton Quotes II.
Chesterton Poems - a collection of his poetry. Chesterton Bibliography - a bibliography, including list of critical resources. Life Quotes. This charming book proved so engrossing that while reading it I accidentally drank two bottles of wine without realising.
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Eierlegende-wollmilchsau: The Perfect Animal.
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Just a brief post as I'm running round the country giving talks Booka Books in Oswestry tonight. I met a German-speaking lady in Edin American Clothes. I've been staying in the flat of an American friend and found amongst his books an American-English dictionary.