Friday, December 14, 2007

Readings: Chesterton's HERETICS

It had not been my intention to put up any more posts on G.K. Chesterton in the near future, even though I borrowed Heretics from the library immediately upon having finished Orthodoxy. But when I came upon the passage below, from the chapter in Heretics entitled “On Mr. Rudyard Kipling”, it seemed so appropriate to our current national dilemma that I was forced to modify my game plan:

The truth is that exploration and enlargement make the world smaller. The telegraph and the steamboat make the world smaller. The telescope makes the world smaller; it is only the microscope that makes it larger. Before long the world will be cloven with a war between the telescopists and the microscopists. The first study large things and live in a small world; the second study small things and live in a large world. It is inspiriting without a doubt to whizz in a motor-car round the earth, to feel Arabia as a whirl of sand or China as a flash of rice-fields. But Arabia is not a whirl of sand and China is not a flash of rice-fields. They are ancient civilizations with strange virtues buried like treasures. If we wish to understand them it must not be as tourists or inquirers, it must be with the loyalty of children and the great patience of poets. To conquer these places is to lose them. [emphasis mine]


Readers might find it interesting to compare the above to Kyle R. Cupp’s take on Interpreting Nations on his blog, Postmodern Papist.


brandon field said...

I have oodles of quotes from Heretics that I collected while reading. I even made one into a .signature quote: "Mr. McCabe thinks that I am not serious but only funny, because Mr. McCabe thinks that funny is the opposite of serious. Funny is the opposite of not funny, and of nothing else."

I haven't made it to Orthodoxy yet, but that's on my short-list.

Rodak said...

Hi, Brandon--
Chesterton supplies gems like that on nearly every page. He has to be one of the most quotable writers of all time--seriously.

EdMcGon said...

One thing Chesterton misses is there are some cultural ideas we (as the human race) need to lose. Would anyone really be worse off without the overt sexism inherent in Arabian Islam? Would anyone really miss the government-controlled society in China?

We can still find what is good and worthy in these cultures and incorporate it into the human culture. But don't assume we have to keep the bathwater with the baby.

Rodak said...

Cultures are organisms. You can't just by main force rip out their constituent parts without killing them.
The way to go is to set an example and see if the other culture evolves gradually in that direction.
You only need to look at sub-Saharan Africa to see that this is true. Or at the Native Americans. Or at the Haitians, or the Polynesians.

An Interested Party said...

Hmm...let's see if this drifts a bit further and someone makes the claim that our culture is far superior to any other (where's John Derbyshire when you need him?)...

Rodak said...

Right. It's not our fault if the rest of them just don't measure up, eh?

EdMcGon said...

You need to look at the culture and ask, "is it evolving?"

In the case of China, I would say yes. In the case of Arab cultures, I would say no.

At some point, we have to look at the culture and say it needs to be fixed.

Rodak said...

Think back to Chesterton's concept of conservatism from the earlier post. What you are saying about Islam (which is a very conservative "philosophy") is exactly what he was saying about conservatism in general: the "white post" of Islam needs to be repainted, right? The "communism" of the Chinese, has been repainted. Get it?