G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) is an artist of common sense and his medium is the English language. His words flow like beautiful music. They catch you, hold you, and satisfy you. Dale Ahlquist allows one to tour the magnitude of Chesterton’s works while keeping both feet on the ground in The Complete Thinker: The Marvelous Mind of G.K. Chesterton. The reader will hear Chesterton skillfully proclaim the truth that resonates in mind and heart. Ahlquist reveals this brilliant, pithy, and timeless author.
Ahlquist explains that Chesterton’s “ideas are woven tightly together so that his art does not contradict his religion, his politics do not contradict his philosophy, and his economics do not contradict his morality…” He follows thoughts to their logical end, so everything is fair game. He considers evil and sin, rights and politics, happiness and suicide, health insurance and religious liberty, the East and the West, and tolerance and love. He also discusses Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Charles Darwin, and Aleister Crowley.
Why is Chesterton so satisfying to read? Ahlquist points out that unlike most writers, he doesn’t just ask questions, but he answers them. He delivers truth simply yet profoundly. “Though we are all liars, we all love the truth.” He challenges conventional wisdom and flips it on his head. “Those who talk of ‘tolerating all opinions’ are provincial bigots who are only familiar with one opinion.” Chesterton’s brilliance flows from his mastery of the subject and his command of language. Ahlquist says Chesterton could have his own dictionary and provides a few sample selections, such as absent-mindedness: present-mindedness on something else.
Ahlquist examines the seven deadly sins via Chesterton. The problem is not that we don’t recognize evil, but that we excuse it. Sloth is still a problem, but lies hidden in our age of technology, “The real laziness is the cause of our apparent bustle.” Meaning depends on leisure, “it is the happy man who does useless things.” We’re over-sexed because we have lost the virtue of restraint and have lost the distinction “between sexual passion and sexual perversion.” Yet, we cannot speak of sin because it offends today’s pervasive relativism. Ahlquist explains that pride is the “sin that denies sin.” It is one thing to actually sin; it is another to deny sin’s existence. Chesteron says if he had one sermon to preach, it would be one against pride. How do we combat these deadly sins? Repentance.
Chesterton also warns against hedonism, “A nation that has nothing but its amusements will not be amused for very long.” Politically, he criticizes those on the left and the right. “There is now a false idealism of turning Government into God, by a vague notion that it gives everything to everybody; to the denial of the liberty given by God, which is called life…” Our issues are his issues, “Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion. In practice it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it.”
The National Health Care Act proposed in 1912 drew Chesterton’s attention “The mere pursuit of health always leads to something unhealthy.” Ahlquist explains that we worship the body, which is unhealthy. The conversation about health focuses on freedom. “The principle of Compulsory Insurance is that the rich man is forced to buy medicine, but the poor man is forced to take it. This is literal slavery; and it begins the claim for entire support on one side and entire obedience on the other. Slavery is scientific, it is workable, it is comfortable; and…it is intolerable.” We need God if we want to defend humanity because, “Every right is a divine right.” We must recognize the Creator if we want to defend creation.
Ahlquist calls Chesterton the, “Apostle of Common Sense.” We need his profound words because common sense is no longer common, and what is common is not sense, but nonsense. Chesterton says we need not the average, but the normal. He is a champion of normal. Ahlquist shows that Chesterton is accessible and enjoyable because he is a poet and a prophet. He is eloquent yet precise, strong yet gentle, honest yet subtle, serious yet humorous.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.