A merry dance of Catholic social doctrine, permaculture, distributism, and other odd answers to pressing questions

Vol. I, No. 10

Chesterton: Pacifism and the Right Kind of War

2008 Jul 28, 18:25 Mon tags: , ,


Greetings! In our last issue, we heard Chesterton talk about the building up of modern armaments from fear, and the relationship between patriotism and critcizing one's government. In this issue, we continue to hear from Chesterton on war, again in the context of the Boer war. Chesterton belonged to the minority of "pro-Boers", who held that the British attempt to conquer the Boer republics in South Africa was unjust. Yet he was even a "minority within a minority", for unlike most of his fellow pro-Boers, he was no pacifist; he simply thought this particular war was wrong.

Thanks for reading! I hope you find these quotes thought-provoking, as I have. Do let me know what you think.

Bill Powell, Editor

SELECTION: Chesterton

A Pro-Boer, Not a Pacifist

I was called a Pro-Boer and, unlike some Pro-Boers, I was very proud of the title. It expressed exactly what I meant much better than its idealistic synonyms. Some intellectuals indignantly repudiated the term, and said they were not Pro-Boers but only lovers of peace or pacifists. But I emphatically was a Pro-Boer, and I emphatically was not a pacifist. My point was that the Boers were right in fighting; not that anybody must be wrong in fighting. I thought that their farmers were perfectly entitled to take to horse and rifle in defence of their farms, and their little farming commonwealth, when it was invaded by a more cosmopolitan empire at the command of very cosmopolitan financiers. As no less an authority than Mr. Discobolus says in Lear's Nonsense Rhymes, I thought so then and I think so still. But this sort of militant sympathy naturally separated those who thought as I did from our colleagues who were mere anti-militarists. The consequence was not unimportant to me personally. It was that I found I belonged to a minority of a minority. Most of those who not unnaturally sympathised with the British, disapproved of us for sympathising with the Boers. Most of those who sympathised with the Boers disapproved of us for sympathising with them for the wrong reasons. Indeed, I do not know whether the Jingo or the Pacifist found us the more offensive and objectionable.

The Right Kind of War

As compared with Belloc or myself, Bernard Shaw was definitely in favour of the South African War. At any rate, he was very definitely in favour of the South African Peace, the particular Pax Britannica that was aimed at by the South African War. It was the same, for that matter, with Mr. H. G. Wells; then a sort of semi-detached Fabian. He went out of his way to scoff at the indignation of the Pro-Boers against the Concentration Camps. Indeed he still maintains, while holding all wars indefensible, that this is the only sort of war to be defended. He says that great wars between great powers are absurd, but that it might be necessary, in policing the planet, to force backward peoples to open their resources to cosmopolitan commerce. In other words, he defends the only sort of war I thoroughly despise, the bullying of small states for their oil or gold; and he despises the only sort of war that I really defend, a war of civilisations and religions, to determine the moral destiny of mankind.



Chesterton's Autobiography is available for free at: G. K. Chesterton's Works on the Web

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

« Chesterton: On Fighting from Fear and Patriotic Criticism  •  Chesterton: A real vote or a lord's jest? »
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