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Now Blogging Afresh at Ad Orientem 西儒 - The Western Confucian

Saturday, September 13, 2003


The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

I won't attempt a review of this book I just finished. It's the third I've read by Chesterton, the others being Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man, and the first piece of fiction. My appreciation for him is growing.

The quote on the back of the cover, by novelist Kingsley Amis, does much to summarize the book:

...not quite a political bad dream, nor a metaphysical thriller, nor a cosmic joke in the form of a spy novel, but it has something of all three...

The novel tells the tale of a poet-detective trying to infiltrate the "Central Anarchist Council," which is not all that it seems to be. In fact, nothing is all that it seems to be in this novel that deals with the questions of order and chaos, of theodicy, and of free will. In fact, once you finish the novel and think you have it all figured out, reading the note at the end (written a day before the author's death) will show you how completely wrong your understanding was for not really reading the two-word subtitle.

A few parts really caught my attention. At the beginning, the protagonist, a self-described "poet of law, poet of order," counters a poet-anarchist's assertion that "an artist is identical with an anarchist" by saying:

...what is there poetical about being in revolt? You might as well say that it is poetical to be sea-sick. Being sick is being in revolt. Both being sick and being rebellious may be the wholesome thing on certain desperate occasions; but I'm hanged if I can see why they are poetical. Revolt in the abstract is - revolting. It's mere vomiting.

On another occasion, our heroes are pursued by a mob of presumed anarchists presumed to be from the lower classes. A character counters:

You've got that eternal idiotic idea that if anarchy came it would come from the poor. Why should it? The poor have been rebels, but they have never been anarchists; they have more interest than anyone else in there being some decent government. The poor man has a stake in the country. The rich man hasn't; he can go away to New Guinea in a yacht. The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all. Aristocrats were always anarchists, as you see from the barons' war.

Chesterton is usually decribed as a conservative, and that he is, just not in the sense that the word is used in modern American politics. He was a Quixote, a knight of a bygone era of chivalry and honor. He was strictly orthodox, and like all orthodoxy, radically opposed to the false god named "progress." He stood for true human liberation as only the orthodox truly can.