Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874–1936) was a British writer and leading conservative intellectual, who never graduated from college but became an immensely popular and witty author. Some consider him to have been "the best writer of the 20th century. He said something about everything and he said it better than anybody else." His pro-life The Babe Unborn is considered one of the finest short poems ever.
He is known for his fictional works such as the Father Brown stories, as well as for his non-fiction writings offering an intellectual defense of the Christian faith. Along with his friend Hilaire Belloc he is best known as an exponent of a British variety of conservatism known as distributism, which opposed both socialism and large-scale capitalism, and supported a decentralized economy of small property owners and small-scale entrepreneurs. He was a leader in the fight against socialism.
A prolific writer, he penned the equivalent of perhaps 100 books. He has been criticized for approaching nearly 100% of his use of masculine pronouns as opposed to feminine ones in some of his works.
His most influential Christian books include Orthodoxy, and What's Wrong With the World, which criticize modernist trends such as feminism and uphold the traditional Christian faith.
Chesterton was well known for his philosophical debates with renowned contemporaries such as Clarence Darrow, Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw, and H.G. Wells. Of Shaw, with whom Chesterton could be said to have had a friendly rivalry and battle of wits, Chesterton once said:
"After belabouring a great many people for a great many years for being unprogressive, Mr. Shaw has discovered, with characteristic sense, that it is very doubtful whether any existing human being with two legs can be progressive at all. Having come to doubt whether humanity can be combined with progress, most people, easily pleased, would have elected to abandon progress and remain with humanity. Mr. Shaw, not being easily pleased, decides to throw over humanity with all its limitations and go in for progress for its own sake. If man, as we know him, is incapable of the philosophy of progress, Mr. Shaw asks, not for a new kind of philosophy, but for a new kind of man. It is rather as if a nurse had tried a rather bitter food for some years on a baby, and on discovering that it was not suitable, should not throw away the food and ask for a new food, but throw the baby out of window, and ask for a new baby." - Heretics, G.K.C.
- "The one doctrine of Christianity which is empirically verifiable is the fallenness of man."
- "A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it."
- "Nothing is more common, for instance, than to find such a modem critic writing something like this: 'Christianity was above all a movement of ascetics, a rush into the desert, a refuge in the cloister, a renunciation of all life and happiness; and this was a part of a gloomy and inhuman reaction against nature itself, a hatred of the body, a horror of the material universe, a sort of universal suicide of the senses and even of the self. It came from an eastern fanaticism like that of the fakirs and was ultimately founded on an eastern pessimism, which seems to feel existence itself as an evil.' Now the most extraordinary thing about this is that it is all quite true; it is true in every, detail except that it happens to be attributed entirely to the wrong person. It is not true of the Church; but it is true of the heretics condemned by the Church."
- "In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it."
- "Christendom has had a series of revolutions and in each one of them Christianity has died. Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave."
- “For the next great heresy is going to be simply an attack on morality; and especially on sexual morality. And it is coming, not from a few Socialists surviving from the Fabian Society, but from the living exultant energy of the rich resolved to enjoy themselves at last, with neither Popery nor Puritanism nor Socialism to hold them back … The madness of tomorrow is not in Moscow, but much more in Manhattan.”
- "Tolerance is the virtue of people who do not believe in anything."
Quote often falsely attributed to G.K. Chesterton
- G.K. Chesterton (1994). Orthodoxy 11. Harold Shaw Publishers.
- Taking a Fence Down
- G.K. Chesterton, "The Next Heresy," in G.K.’s Weekly, June 19, 1926.
- When Man Ceases to Worship God. The Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton website)