104 Years Ago – G.K. Chesterton on Ideas and Ideals


Christopher Houseman

A wonderful answer to all the proud pragmatists who dismiss the power of ideas – including libertarianism.

Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are least dangerous is the man of ideas. He is acquainted with ideas, and moves among them like a lion-tamer. Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are most dangerous is the man of no ideas. The man of no ideas will find the first idea fly to his head like wine to the head of a teetotaller. It is a common error, I think, among the Radical idealists of my own party and period to suggest that financiers and business men are a danger to the empire because they are so sordid or so materialistic. The truth is that financiers and business men are a danger to the empire because they can be sentimental about any sentiment, and idealistic about any ideal, any ideal that they find lying about. Just as a boy who has not known much of women is apt too easily to take a woman for the woman, so these practical men, unaccustomed to causes, are always inclined to think that if a thing is proved to be an ideal it is proved to be the ideal. Many, for example, avowedly followed Cecil Rhodes because he had a vision. They might as well have followed him because he had a nose; a man without some kind of dream of perfection is quite as much of a monstrosity as a noseless man.

Chesterton, G. K. (2010). Heretics (297–298). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Stay Here, There’s Something to See…


Christopher Houseman

… but it’s precious little cause for comfort at the moment. PC Simon Harwood will face a disciplinary hearing relating to his fatal attack on the late Ian Tomlinson in April 2009.

The most extreme sanction available to the panel is reportedly dismissal from the Metropolitan police. I can’t help thinking that:

1) If Mr. Tomlinson had struck down PC Harwood in a similar manner (rather than vice versa), he would have faced a judge and jury on a murder/manslaughter charge in rather less than 16 months.

2) PC Harwood would have faced more serious criminal charges more quickly (courtesy of the RSPCA and/or other animal welfare groups) if he’d similarly attacked a defenceless animal instead of a British citizen.

I therefore conclude that:
1) The nature of legal/judicial “business as usual” in the British state is plain to see. G.K. Chesterton’s criticism that the British governing class invariably omits itself from the laws it passes remains at least as true today as it was when Chesterton pointed it out no later than 1909. Nostalgic supporters of the rule of law here in the UK are badly in need of a large pinch of salt.

2) It would be advisable for libertarians to cease and desist from referring to the British populace colloquially as “sheeple”, if only because the lives of animals are now arguably worth more to the British state/media complex than the lives of British citizens.

Still, at least Attorney General Dominic Grieve has said he “understands” why people are upset, even as the Government and the MSM profess bewilderment at some people’s efforts to turn the late Raoul Moat into a folk hero after he shot PC David Rathband in the face.

101 Years Ago – G.K. Chesterton on Great Powers


Christopher Houseman

By 1909, Chesterton was contemplating the prospect of the decline of the United States, especially in light of its war against Spain over the Philippines. The decline of the British Empire after the Second Boer War of 1899-1902 was a given.

It may be said with rough accuracy that there are three stages in the life of a strong people. First, it is a small power, and fights small powers. Then it is a great power, and fights great powers. Then it is a great power, and fights small powers, but pretends that they are great powers, in order to rekindle the ashes of its ancient emotion and vanity. After that, the next step is to become a small power itself.
Chesterton, G. K. (2010). Heretics (265). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Says it all really, doesn’t it?

101 Years Ago – G.K. Chesterton on Home Rule


Christopher Houseman

Although he wrote the following passage in 1909 about the United Kingdom and the question of Irish Home Rule, G.K. Chesterton might just as well have written it about the EU and UKIP. Enjoy:

union is no more a good thing in itself than separation is a good thing in itself. To have a party in favour of union and a party in favour of separation, is as absurd as to have a party in favour of going upstairs and a party in favour of going downstairs. The question is not whether we go up or down stairs, but where we are going to, and what we are going for? Union is strength; union is also weakness. It is a good thing to harness two horses to a cart; but it is not a good thing to try and turn two hansom cabs into one four-wheeler. Turning ten nations into one empire may happen to be as feasible as turning ten shillings into one half-sovereign. Also it may happen to be as preposterous as turning ten terriers into one mastiff. The question in all cases is not a question of union or absence of union, but of identity or absence of identity.
Chesterton, G. K. (2010). Heretics (255). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Chesterton wrote the above in the context of correcting the idea that older politicians like Gladstone were idealists whereas newer ones like Joseph Chamberlain were materialists. In fact, he noted, the real difference between them was that Gladstone thought of his ideals as things he would like to change reality to resemble, whereas Chamberlain thought his ideals simply described the way things were in any case.

Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.