With every passing chapter, I find myself loving Chesterton more and more.
This chapter, in particular, made me consider what little I know about the political climate and, instead of my usual eyeroll response, gave me words for the response I long for. He describes four classes of people and their response to life, and he then examines what the ideal for determining progress should be.
First, this piece of wisdom:
There is no equality in nature; also there is no inequality in nature.
Maybe this is why I find the PETA-types so unbearable: your dog or your cow is not going to find equality–or inequality–in nature. In fact, I would wager that domestic animals have far different–better, even–lives than they would if subjected to nature.
The support that Chesterton provides for this statement had me nodding and feeling a sort of relief. This chapter, especially, gave me a clear idea of why Chesterton has been named the Apostle of Common Sense.
Continuing on, we learn about the weakness of metaphors. This is something I found particularly interesting, because I love metaphors.
Life seems, after all, to be one big metaphor at times. One thing seems to be a sort of another thing in a big circle that wraps around itself.
So when Chesterton points out that “the whole weakness of Nietzsche, whom some are representing as a bold and strong thinker,” is his use of metaphor, I had to stop myself from shaking my head, because then we get this, which made it all make sense:
Had he faced his thought without metaphors, he would have seen that it was nonsense.
How often do I hide behind a metaphor when I could just speak my thoughts in plain words? And I’m not just talking about my writing…how often in my thinking and in my understanding of the world?
I don’t think Chesterton is saying metaphors have no use, but that, instead, they cannot replace the true thought, the real form, the actual. A metaphor cannot exist without that which it is describing, and I think he’s pointing out to me that I must never forget that idea that preexists the metaphor.
As we continue into discussion of what constitutes progress, Chesterton says this (emphasis mine):
We have said that we must be fond of this world, even in order to change it. We now add that we must be fond of another world (real or imaginary) in order to have something to change it to.
We need not debate about the mere words evolution or progress: personally I prefer to call it reform. For reform implies form. It implies that we are trying to shape the world in a particular image; to make it something that we see already in our minds. Evolution is a metaphor from mere automatic unrolling. Progress is a metaphor from merely walking along a road–very likely the wrong road. But reform is a metaphor for reasonable and determined men: it means that we see a certain thing out of shape and we mean to put it into shape. And we know what shape.
As a sucker for semantics, I just love how he (1) defines the terms and then (2) uses those definitions as an image for why he feels the way he does.
The rest of the chapter examines why, if we don’t base ourselves in an ideal that’s unchanging, our vision of earth will remain the same. We cannot, in other words, effect change because we keep moving our target: our world will not improve, because we keep moving our target.
We are not altering the real to suit the ideal. We are altering the ideal: it is easier.
… Let beliefs fade fast and frequently, if you wish institutions to remain the same. The more the life of the mind is unhinged, the more the machinery of matter will be left to itself.
… As long as the vision of heaven is always changing, the vision of the earth will be exactly the same.
… A strict rule is not only necessary for ruling; it is also necessary for rebelling. This fixed and familiar ideal is necessary to any sort of revolution. Man will sometimes act slowly upon new ideas; but he will only act swiftly upon old ideas.
I picked all of those from the course of a few pages. The way Chesterton expresses it is so…refreshing. And to think, he wrote this book over 100 years ago!
You may alter the place to which you are going, but you cannot alter the place from which you have come. To the orthodox there must always be a case for revolution; for in the hearts of men God has been put under the feet of Satan. … No unchanging custom, no changing evolution can make the original good anything but good.
…if we suppose improvement to be natural, it must be fairly simple. (emphasis mine)
Later on, Chesterton makes the point that I think we all know, but that we ignore:
If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change.
His point: we have our work cut out for us to preserve things as they are. The world naturally changes. Keeping things static–the same–takes a great deal of hard work.
There is much more in this chapter: I am doing a very imperfect glossing, though my point with this chapter-by-chapter discussion of Orthodoxy was never to summarize, but rather to start a discussion about what struck me. And now it’s your turn: what did you find striking in this chapter?