Thursday, August 15, 2013

Chesterton on Carlyle

         If you do not yet know either G. K. Chesterton or Thomas Carlyle, you should.  Between the two, Carlyle is more difficult to understand, which is why Chesterton wrote a short but very good book trying to explain him, especially his view of human nature, his mental habits, and his writing of history.  On each topic, Chesterton is spot on.

         I admit it:  I don't normally appreciate Chesterton as much as do many others.  He has a host of devoted followers. I am not among them.  For me, he's too much like Bill Maher, who cannot distinguish between being smart and being a smartass.  Both Chesterton and Maher too easily mistake a clever turn of phrase for wisdom or for insight, which is a deep error.  Nevertheless, when it comes to understanding and explaining a difficult man like Carlyle, Chesterton scores a direct hit.  Among other things, he says this:

         "The supreme glory of Carlyle was that he heard the voices of the Cosmos. He left it to others to attune them into [a choir]. Sometimes the truth he heard was the truth that some men are to be commanded and others obeyed; sometimes that deeper and more democratic truth that all men are above all things to be pitied."

         To these comments Chesterton adds this about Carlyle:

"He was something of a Tory, something of a Sans-culotte, something of an Imperialist, something of a Socialist; but he was never, even for a single moment, a Liberal."

       All of which raises these questions.  Ask yourself:
Can YOU hear the Cosmos humming?
Can YOU tell who should and should not be obeyed?
And what thing will YOU never be, even for a moment?

These questions are worth asking and, even more so, worth answering. 

Finally, if you do not know what a Sans-culotte or a 19th century Liberal believed, you should look it up.
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