Long before we can change it…


In 1930, six years before his death, Chesterton wrote of his long association with the Illustrated London News that “the proof-readers and other readers of the Illustrated London News [were]  equipped with nerves of steel. That the editor and the clientele of that paper [had] borne up under my writing for them every week, for twenty-five years…”  Fondly and with admiration, he paid tribute to this readership by calling them “sons of the bulldog breed” because of their steadfast devotion.   That same ILN gave him permission to collect some of those writings for a publication called “Come To Think Of It.”

In his introduction to “Come To Think Of It“, Chesterton, explains that his writing has had to take on a more general and “scrappy” style as he called it because the public had begun to take seriously the fight of ideas that were taking place. Reading had become an activity meant no longer just for art and leisure, but to address a battle of ideologies:

Thus in the more open and general public dispute we have both of us had to fall back on a some what different style, more simple and serious, and possibly more didactic and heavy. Mr. Shaw writes in educational form his Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism; having apparently despaired in his search for an Intelligent Man. And I have been driven desperately to something almost resembling a rational arrangement of ideas in the little book called The Outline of Sanity; though not (the reader will be relieved to hear) in the little book that now lies before him. Here everything is haphazard; but it is in a sense the hazard of war, since so many of these ragged fragments are fragments of larger controversies. Here everything is scrappy; but they are the scraps of a scrap. And the reason is, as I have said, that here and on higher planes, and for myself and more important people, the battle is joined; and it is not a fine preliminary flourish, but a fight to a finish. It was enough for our youth to show that our ideas were suggestive it is the task of our senility and second childhood to show that they are conclusive. But this is no more than a note of apology in the matter; and in such a place, and on so slight an occasion, the most conclusive thing I can do is to conclude. (G. K. Chesterton, Introduction)

In his essay “On Boys“from “Come To Think Of It“,  Chesterton examines what real change is from the perspectives of both the Socialist and the Conservative…and he concludes that the world would change more, possibly strangely enough, under conservatism, if, it were allowed to really change even from what the average conservative thinks.

“ONE of the old sayings repeated eternally by everybody, and rather especially by those who pride themselves on novelty and originality, is the statement that old people tend to be conservative, and that it is only the young who can really believe in change. And yet this saying seems to me to be rather less than a half-truth; so much less as to be very nearly two-thirds of a lie.

My own experience is this: that I was really much more conservative when I was a boy; though I admit that I was too conservative to be even conscious of how conservative I was. I mean that I was conservative in this sense, that I did not really believe that the fashion of this world could pass away. I had certain ideals of reforming it; and to a great extent I have the same ideals still. In so far as they have changed, it is not in the direction of being any more content with the corruption and oppression of the world. I was once what I called a Socialist; I am now what I call a Distributist. But the ideal of simplicity and small property is rather more unlike the existing condition than the ideal of Communism. It would change the world more, to turn it into what I want, than to turn it into what Mr. Philip Snowden wants. There is less difference than many suppose between the ideal Socialist system, in which the big businesses are run by the State, and the present Capitalist system, in which the State is run by the big businesses. They are much nearer to each other than either is to my own ideal; of breaking up the big businesses into a multitude of small businesses. That would be really a change; but I am still ready for that change; and I see no reason to doubt that, when I am tottering on crutches at the age of ninety, I shall still be ready for that change. What I was not ready for, in my youth, was something quite real and entirely different. I did not know that the world itself changes, long before we can change it.”

-G. K. Chesterton, On Boys, Come to think of it, 1930

Read the essay: On Boys


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