Thursday, August 12, 2010

Chesterton Goldmine

From Do We Agree?, a transcript (not verbatim, apparently) of a debate between George Bernard Shaw and GK Chesterton:

SHAW: If I own a large part of Scotland I can turn the people off the land practically into the sea, or across the sea. I can take women in child-bearing and throw them into the snow and leave them there. That has been done.
I can do it for no better reason than I think it is better to shoot deer on the land than allow people to live on it. They might frighten the deer.

But now compare that with the ownership of my umbrella. As a matter
of fact the umbrella I have to-night belongs to my wife; but I think
she will permit me to call it mine for the purpose of the debate.
Now I have a very limited legal right to the use of that umbrella.
I cannot do as I like with it. For instance, certain passages
in Mr. Chesterton's speech tempted me to get up and smite him over
the head with my umbrella. I may presently feel inclined to smite
Mr. Belloc. But should I abuse my right to do what I like with
my property--with my umbrella--in this way I should soon be made aware--
possibly by Mr. Belloc's fist--that I cannot treat my umbrella as my
own property in the way in which a landlord can treat his land.
I want to destroy ownership in order that possession and enjoyment
may be raised to the highest point in every section of the community.
That, I think, is perfectly simple.

MR. CHESTERTON: Among the bewildering welter of fallacies which
Mr. Shaw has just given us, I prefer to deal first with the simplest.
When Mr. Shaw refrains from hitting me over the head with his umbrella,
the real reason--apart from his real kindness of heart, which makes
him tolerant of the humblest of the creatures of God--is not because
he does not own his umbrella, but because he does not own my head.
As I am still in possession of that imperfect organ, I will proceed
to use it to the confutation of some of his other fallacies.

I read the above exchange, which gave me a chuckle, through a wonderful site called G.K. Chesterton's Works on the Web, a one-stop shop for all Chesterton's works available as e-texts. (And that's an awful lot of them.) Check it out!

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