Friday, July 2, 2010

Chesterton and Republicanism

I do not particularly object to the pot calling the kettle black. The Party System is made like that. But I do strongly object to the pot calling the kettle white. I do object to the pot taunting the kettle with having no acquaintance with hot water, with being a cool and crystalline silver urn which has never felt the fire. And this is the sort of unjust charge that is brought against great historic beliefs and institutions. Thus there are royalists and reactionaries today who will talk of a Republic as a thing necessarily prosaic and pacifist, incapable of chivalry and the charge. They seem to forget that Republicans have charged further and shown chivalry on a larger scale than almost any other of the children of men; that they were Republicans who rode through Lombardy and broke Berlin.

On Missing the Point, Illustrated London News, February 21, 1914

This is one of those rare occasions when I can't help disagreeing with Chesterton. The point, to me, is not whether Republicans have shown chivalry; the point is whether they were chivalrous as a result of their beliefs, or because of them. After all, communists showed great courage and self-sacrifice during World War Two, especially in the French Resistance. But the impersonal, "scientific" laws of dialectical materialism seem little concerned with such idealism. Similarly, it seems to me that the ethos of republicanism must militate against unconditional bonds of loyalty and an attitude of reverence.

Now that the Queen has been invited to visit Ireland, these questions are in the air again. Chesterton generally showed a preference for republicanism and a lack of enthusiasm for monarchy. It's always seemed strange to me that such a through-and-through romantic as GKC should take such a position.

My own father put the point very well a little while ago-- "The first republican to come to Ireland was Cromwell".

Coming soon: a post that actually agrees with Chesterton on something!

posted by Maolsheachlann

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