Two Terse Commandments
A dear and respected friend of mine sent me a note to inform me of the awful news that he is now having the hardest time enjoying Chesterton because of how his name is invoked. Feeling myself the call to step up and defend the Master of Paradox I promptly telephoned him to reassure him of GCK’s brilliance and his place in the intellectual sphere, which I can only pray was effective. Dear reader, it seems that GKC is often used by those who misrepresent and even counterfeit his reputation, committing opposite but equally severe sins of either turning off a generation to Chesterton or else making the Great Man Gilbert into an idol that is not the writer many of us have grown to love.
I have decided that there must be a more proactive approach to defending GK Chesterton’s memory, and in that spirit I offer to you the Two Terse Commandments of Modern Chestertonianism:
- Thou shalt not have any Chesterton’s before the real Chesterton.
I write this command only to remind you all that when we approach Chesterton, or any great historical figure for that matter, we are to approach the one that existed and not the one made to fit into our preconceived notions. This seems self evident, but anyone who has read the many biographies out there knows that truth is often made secondary to idealism and it is not long before historical revisionism distorts the true image.
- Thou shalt not use the name of GKC in vain.
The name of Chesterton has been invoked for clever quotations and unique ideas from men as various as Michael Collins, Gandhi, Mussolini, Huckabee, Buckley, CS Lewis, and Dorothy L Sayers, indicating the various effects his thought has had on the modern world. I have often heard it said that Chesterton is the second most-quoted man in the English language—as well he ought to be—and it is not uncommon to see his quotations on bumper stickers for every possible political stance out there.
My command on this one is to ask, “Would Gilbert Keith Chesterton support this cause for which I’m about to invoke his name into?” Chances are if you’re writing a pamphlet for the Acton Institute or the Hemlock Society, the answer is swift and to the negative. I agree that he is quite humorous and has probably made your point better than you would have made it, but make sure that it’s GKC’s point your supporting and not your own.