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Vol. I, No. 10

Chesterton: On Fighting from Fear and Patriotic Criticism

2008 Jul 08, 16:11 Tue tags: , ,


Greetings! Again I apologize for another missed issue. I've been doing some research on the Iraq war, but rather than continue to delay Penny Justice until I can report my findings, I'd like to share a couple quotes from Chesterton on the Boer war. The two wars are quite different in many respects, of course, but some of his thoughts may illuminate our considerations of our own situation.

Thanks for reading!

Bill Powell, Editor

View this issue online: http://pennyjustice.com/gkc-fighting-in-fear

SELECTION: Chesterton

On Fighting from Fear

The reason why modern armaments do not inflame the imagination like the arms and emblazonments of the Crusades is a reason quite apart from optical ugliness or beauty. Some battleships are as beautiful as the sea; and many Norman nosepieces were as ugly as Norman noses. The atmospheric ugliness that surrounds our scientific war is an emanation from that evil panic which is at the heart of it. The charge of the Crusades was a charge; it was charging towards God, the wild consolation of the braver. The charge of the modern armaments is not a charge at all. It is a rout, a retreat, a flight from the devil, who will catch the hindmost. It is impossible to imagine a mediaeval knight talking of longer and longer French lances, with precisely the quivering employed about larger and larger German ships....Even the two-power standard,[1] if it be a necessity, is in a sense a degrading necessity. Nothing has more alienated many magnanimous minds from Imperial enterprises than the fact that they are always exhibited as stealthy or sudden defenses against a world of cold rapacity and fear. The Boer War, for instance, was colored not so much by the creed that we were doing something right, as by the creed that Boers and Germans were probably doing something wrong; driving us (as it was said) to the sea. Mr. Chamberlain, I think, said that the war was a feather in his cap and so it was: a white feather.

What's Wrong With the World

[1] The "two-power standard" was the British policy in the late 19th century that the British navy had to be equal to the "combined forces of the next two biggest navies in the world".

On Patriotic Criticism

I will have nothing to do with the fatuous front-bench [parliamentary] pretensions that our governors always govern well, that our statesmen are never whitewashed and never in need of whitewash. The only moral superiority I claim is that of not defending the indefensible. I most earnestly urge my countrymen not to hide behind thin official excuses, which the sister kingdoms and the subject races can easily see through. We can confess that our crimes have been as mountains, and still not be afraid of the present comparison. There may be, in the eyes of some, a risk in dwelling in this dark hour on our failures in the past: I believe profoundly that the risk is all the other way. I believe that the most deadly danger to our arms to-day lies in any whiff of that self-praise, any flavour of that moral cowardice, any glimpse of that impudent and ultimate impenitence, that may make one Boer or Scot or Welshman or Irishman or Indian feel that he is only smoothing the path for a second Prussia. I have passed the great part of my life in criticising and condemning the existing rulers and institutions of my country: I think it is infinitely the most patriotic thing that a man can do. I have no illusions either about our past or our present.

Crimes of England


Both these titles are available free at:
G. K. Chesterton's Works on the Web

The prosaic headings are my own, not Chesterton's.

« Changelog  •  Chesterton: Pacifism and the Right Kind of War »
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