Here are two quotations from Chesterton. The first is from Orthodoxy:
As an explanation of the world, materialism has a sort of insane simplicity. It has just the quality of the madman's argument; we have at once the sense of it covering everything and the sense of it leaving everything out. Contemplate some able and sincere materialist, as, for instance, Mr. McCabe, and you will have exactly this unique sensation. He understands everything, and everything does not seem worth understanding. His cosmos may be complete in every rivet and cog-wheel, but still his cosmos is smaller than our world. Somehow his scheme, like the lucid scheme of the madman, seems unconscious of the alien energies and the large indifference of the earth; it is not thinking of the real things of the earth, of fighting peoples or proud mothers, or first love or fear upon the sea. The earth is so very large, and the cosmos is so very small. The cosmos is about the smallest hole that a man can hide his head in.
And this one, from St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox:
The most familiar example is the English boasting that they are practical because they are not logical. To an ancient Greek or a Chinaman this would seem exactly like saying that London clerks excel in adding up their ledgers, because they are not accurate in their arithmetic. But the point is not that it is a paradox; it is that parodoxy has become orthodoxy; that men repose in a paradox as placidly as in a platitude. It is not that the practical man stands on his head, which may sometimes be a stimulating if startling gymnastic; it is that he rests on his head; and even sleeps on his head. This is an important point, because the use of paradox is to awaken the mind. Take a good paradox, like that of Oliver Wendell Holmes: "Give us the luxuries of life and we will dispense with the necessities." It is amusing and therefore arresting; it has a fine air of defiance; it contains a real if romantic truth. It is all part of the fun that it is stated almost in the form of a contradiction in terms. But most people would agree that there would be considerable danger in basing the whole social system on the notion that necessities are not necessary; as some have based the whole British Constitution on the notion that nonsense will always work out as common sense. Yet even here, it might be said that the invidious example has spread, and that the modern industrial system does really say, "Give us luxuries like coal-tar soap, and we will dispense with necessities like corn."
This is far from the only place where Chesterton complains about what I might call English anti-rationalism. He often attacks the English constitution for being an unwritten constitution, and the House of Commons for not having enough space to contain all MPs, should they choose to attend at the same moment. (I don't know if that is still the case.) It has always been the contention of English conservatives in the tradition of Edmund Burke that abstractions are a danger to society; that the delicate ecology of social and national life is best served by irrational-seeming institutions such as monarchy and aristocracy and all the other traditions that have grown up, hugger-mugger and accidentally, through the generations. They believed that tradition was a better guide than reason. Chesterton had far more sympathy than the ordinary Englishman for the rationalism of Rousseau and the French Revolution.
I see Chesterton's point. The disaster of the Reformation would never have happened if the English people had rejected as nonsensical, as they certainly should have, the idea that the English king could be the head of the church. The primacy of the Pope and the sanctity of the Creed was a subject on which theoretical clarity was of paramount importance. The Elizabethan Compromise was a cataclycm, because there can be no compromise when it comes to sacred things.
But politics is not sacred. Even law is not sacred. I think there is a great deal to be said for the theory that Britain never fell sway to totalitarian governments, or suffered brutal civil wars after the time of the Cromwell, because the national temperament was so suspicious of abstract ideas, and of a priori systems applied to the social fabric. Even the radical left preferred Fabianism to communism. Chesterton's hostility to English empiricism and the English people's love of the makeshift and improvised is an attitude I cannot share with him, and I think the quotation from Orthodoxy suggests he should have been more sympathetic to that temperament, and to have appreciated its potential wisdom.