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Gilbert K. Chesterton
1874 - 1936

English novelist, essayist, poet, biographer, and Catholic writer

Books by Gilbert K. Chesterton
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Orthodoxy Heretics
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What's Wrong With the World
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Click here for essays by Gilbert K. Chesterton
Large organization is loose organization. Nay, it would be almost as true to say that organization is always disorganization.

1926 - from Outline of Sanity
I tell you naught for your comfort / Yea, naught for your desire / Save that the sky grows darker yet / And the sea rises higher.

1911 - from Ballad of the White Horse
There cannot be a nation of millionaires, and there never has been a nation of Utopian comrades; but there have been any number of nations of tolerably contented peasants.

from "Outline of Sanity" in Collected Works
When you break the big laws, you do not get freedom; you do not even get anarchy. You get the small laws.

Jul. 29, 1905 - from a column in the London Daily News
The unconscious democracy of America is a very fine thing. It is a true and deep and instinctive assumption of the equality of citizens, which even voting and elections have not destroyed.

1922 - from What I Saw In America
The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.

Jan. 14, 1911 - from a column in the Illustrated London News
War is not the best way of settling differences; it is the only way of preventing their being settled for you.

Jul. 24, 1915 - from a column in the Illustrated London News
The past is not what it was.

1917 - from A Short History of England
This is the age in which thin and theoretic minorities can cover and conquer unconscious and untheoretic majorities.

Dec. 20, 1919 - from a column in the Illustrated London News
The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.

Oct. 28, 1922 - from a column in the Illustrated London News
The free man owns himself. He can damage himself with either eating or drinking; he can ruin himself with gambling. If he does he is certainly a damn fool, and he might possibly be a damned soul; but if he may not, he is not a free man any more than a dog.

Jun. 11, 1935 - from a radio broadcast
The comedy of man survives the tragedy of man.

Feb. 10, 1906 - from a column in the Illustrated London News
The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected.

Apr. 19, 1924 - from a column in the Illustrated London News
What we need is to have a culture before we hand it down. In other words, it is a truth, however sad and strange, that we cannot give what we have not got, and cannot teach to other people what we do not know ourselves.

Jul. 5, 1924
The cheapest and most childish of all the taunts of the Pacifists is, I think, the sneer at belligerents for appealing to the God of Battles. It is ludicrously illogical, for we obviously have no right to kill for victory save when we have a right to pray for it. If a war is not a holy war, it is an unholy one - a massacre.

Oct. 23, 1915
Virtue is not the absence of vices or the avoidance of moral dangers; virtue is a vivid and separate thing, like pain or a particular smell.

1909 - from Tremendous Trifles
At least five times faith has, to all appearances, gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases, it was the dog that died.

quoted by Cal Thomas in "The Sixties Are Dead: Long Live the Nineties", a presentation at Hillsdale College
A Puritan's a person who pours righteous indignation into the wrong things.

I did try to found a heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy.

It is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged.

Mar. 01, 1921 - from a column in The Cleveland Press
The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice.

1901 - from A Defense of the Humilities, The Defendant
Modern man is staggering and losing his balance because he is being pelted with little pieces of alleged fact which are native to the newspapers; and, if they turn out not to be facts, that is still more native to newspapers.

Although I believe in liberalism, I find it difficult to believe in liberals.

Whenever we see things done wildly, but taken tamely, then the State is growing insane.

1911 - from "The Mad Official", published in the London Daily News
A progressive is always a conservative; he conserves the direction of progress. A reactionary is always a rebel.

from his introduction to Thomas Carlysle's Past and Present
Once abolish the God, and the government becomes the God.

1933 - from Christendom in Dublin
Children are innocent and love justice, while most adults are wicked and prefer mercy.

... the most dangerous of all forms of ignorance is ignorance of work.

Nov. 03, 1918 - from a column in the New York Sun
You can never have a revolution in order to establish a democracy. You must have a democracy in order to have a revolution.

1909 - from Tremendous Trifles
Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists.

1921 - from The Uses of Diversity
The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits.

1908 - from Orthodoxy
What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism.

from Sidelights on New London and Newer New York
He is a very shallow critic who cannot see an eternal rebel in the heart of a conservative.

from Varied Types
Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.

Apr. 19, 1930 - from a column in the Illustrated London News
I believe in getting into hot water; it keeps you clean.

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.

1910 - from What's Wrong With The World
Idolatry is committed, not merely by setting up false gods, but also by setting up false devils; by making men afraid of war or alcohol, or economic law, when they should be afraid of spiritual corruption and cowardice.

Progress is a comparative of which we have not settled the superlative.

1905 - from Heretics
Don't ever take a fence down until you know the reason it was put up.

To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.

1917 - from A Short History of England
A large section of the intelligentsia seems wholly devoid of intelligence.

Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death.

1908 - from Orthodoxy
The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost.

Men invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals. They look forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back.

1910 - from What's Wrong With the World
The world will very soon be divided, unless I am mistaken, into those who still go on explaining our success, and those somewhat more intelligent who are trying to explain our failure.

1920 - from a speech to the Anglo-Catholic Congress
Many clever men like you have trusted to civilization. Many clever Babylonians, clever Egyptians, many clever men at the end of Rome. Can you tell me, in a world that is flagrant with the failures of civilization, what there is particularly immortal about yours?

Most modern freedom is at root fear. It is not so much that we are too bold to endure rules; it is rather that we are too timid to endure responsibilities.

1910 - from What's Wrong With the World
Bigotry is an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.

from Lunacy and Letters
... it is often necessary to walk backwards, as a man on the wrong road goes back to a signpost to find the right road. The modern man is more like a traveller who has forgotten the name of his destination, and has to go back whence he came, even to find out where he is going.

When a politician is in opposition he is an expert on the means to some end; and when he is in office he is an expert on the obstacles to it.

Apr. 6, 1918 - from a column in the Illustrated London News
Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to fit the vision, instead we are always changing the vision.

1908 - from Orthodoxy
It is a good sign in a nation when things are done badly. It shows that all the people are doing them. And it is bad sign in a nation when such things are done very well, for it shows that only a few experts and eccentrics are doing them, and that the nation is merely looking on.

from All Things Considered
A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.

1925 - from Everlasting Man
The simplification of anything is always sensational.

from Varied Types
Impartiality is a pompous name for indifference, which is an elegant name for ignorance.

1900 - from The Speaker
In short, the democratic faith is this: that the most terribly important things must be left to ordinary men themselves -- the mating of the sexes, the rearing of the young, the laws of the state.

1908 - from Orthodoxy
For fear of the newspapers politicians are dull, and at last they are too dull even for the newspapers.

1908 - from All Things Considered
Compromise used to mean that half a loaf was better than no bread. Among modern statesmen it really seems to mean that half a loaf is better than a whole loaf.

1910 - from What's Wrong With The World, Chapter 3, The New Hypocrite
There are commonwealths, plainly to be distinguished here and there in history, which pass from prosperity to squalor, or from glory to insignificance, or from freedom to slavery, not only in silence, but with serenity.

1911 - from his essay The Mad Official
The modern world is filled with men who hold dogmas so strongly that they do not even know they are dogmas.

1905 - from Heretics, XX Concluding Remarks on the Importance of Orthodoxy
I say that a man must be certain of his morality for the simple reason that he has to suffer for it.

It's not that we don't have enough scoundrels to curse; it's that we don't have enough good men to curse them.