Friday, March 05, 2010

Preparatory Chesterton Quotes

When writing to persuade, I try to anticipate possible objections to my statements, and either word them carefully or include indications that I have at least considered same. Trying to assemble a post "Chesterton on the Treatment of Enemies," it kept running longer and longer, and I still had not even introduced some important points. The trouble with his paradoxical, counterintuitive style is that virtually everything looks assailable, even easily assailable, at first glance. Yet when I attempt some small down payment of a comment to illustrate that he has discussed possible objections elsewhere, I find that those quotes need explanation in their turn.

And - rather obviously - Chesterton explains his own ideas more clearly and entertainingly than I do. I have several times tried introducing the bare bones of an idea for your contemplation a day or so before posting on it myself. I don't know if it works, but I'm going to try it again. Here are three Chesterton quotes around which I am going to build a soon-upcoming post.
These people are always telling us to make a larger morality and a more universal creed that shall take in all sorts of and conditions of men. But the truth is that they themselves are the chief obstacle and exception to such universal agreement. There really are some things upon which humanity is practically agreed, but unfortunately these are exactly the things with which the humanitarians do not agree. In short, there is sympathy between all men, with the exception of these apostles of sympathy. For instance, all men, savage and civilised, feel that they are in some spiritual way different from the beasts. When Europeans kill a man they do it with a ceremonial which would be absurd in killing a beast. When South Sea Islanders eat a man they do it with a ceremonial quite absent from their ordinary meals. Both peoples feel that the act, however traditional or necessary, is still possibly wicked and certainly dreadful. But the only men who do not feel this special sanctity of humanity are the humanitarians. They are the very people who tell us that it is cannibalism to eat a veal cutlet. So there goes one plank of the platform on which all men might stand together. "Humanitarian Hate" 1909
The vices of the Superman might easily be pardoned. It is his virtues that are unpardonable. "Prussian Pride" 1914
On the one side, the Pacifist congratulates himself on avoiding the 'militarism" when he turns the whole world over to be trampled by the Prussian Guard. On the other side, the Jingo congratulates himself on avoiding sentimentalism so long as he is allowed to butcher and blunder out of pure sentiment...
If a European State, at war with other States, suddenly began to eat its prisoners, the other States would be justified in breaking off all intercourse and international discussion, and destroying it without further speech. But if the other States began, however reluctantly, to eat a prisoner here and there, they might still maintain much of their logical case, and even something of a rather relative superior morality. But obviously there is one thing they could not maintain, and that is the innocent and instantaneous disgust at the mere sight of a cannibal. Yet it would be precisely upon that innocent disgust that they would place their whole claim to crush a mere nest of cannibals. Even if they only on rare occasions took a bite of a man, even if they were found cautiously and considerately nibbling at a man, they would be biting holes in their own case: they would be nibbling away the natural instincts which were their chief ally in the whole war.
"Averting The Peril" 1916

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