I'm always trying to promote Chesterton. This is an article I wrote last month for my workplace's staff bulletin. (I work in University College Dublin library.) I wasn't sure if they would carry it, since Chesterton is a Catholic writer and it might be seen as controversial. But, fair play to them, they did.
Why You Should Read G.K. Chesterton
By Maolsheachlann O’Ceallaigh
(Published in the Social Bulletin of University College Dublin Library, April 2014)
In 2010, I started the G.K. Chesterton Society of Ireland, along with UCD philosophy tutor Angelo Bottone. I had becoming hooked on the works of Chesterton a few years before, and as there were Chesterton Societies in many other countries, but not in Ireland, I decided I would take matters into my own hands.
Who was G.K. Chesterton? Well, most of you know already, I’m sure. He was an English author who died in 1936. He was a novelist, a journalist, an essayist, a poet, a wit, a religious writer, and a social activist. He advocated the social and economic philosophy Distributism, which was intended as a ‘third way’ between communism and capitalism. It promoted small farms, small businesses and self-employment, and has often been reduced to the slogan ‘three acres and a cow’.
Considering the nature of this bulletin, I will not emphasise his role as a religious writer. But I will say that I truly believe Chesterton is an author who can appeal to people of every religious belief and none. He has many atheist and agnostic fans. He is also a writer who can appeal to people across the whole political spectrum. If you think he is a harrumphing reactionary, I appeal to you to dip in and see if this is really the case. At the very least, you will find that Chesterton is willing to argue everything, to go down to brass tacks and first principles in every matter. Although, with characteristic wit, he insisted: “The purpose of opening the mind, as with opening the mouth, is to close it again on something solid.”
So that’s why you shouldn’t not read him. Why should you read him?
Because he is one of the funniest writers who ever wrote, for a start. Here was a man who, on a lecture tour of America, quipped that the Americans had a holiday to celebrate the arrival of the Pilgim Fathers, and that the English should have a holiday celebrating their departure. He described the Irish spirit of egalitarianism as: “One man is just as good as another, and a good deal better besides.” He called marriage a duel to the death which no man of honour should decline. He is up there with Oscar Wilde, G.B. Shaw (his friend and sparring partner) and Mark Twain when it comes to the production of quotable witticisms.
You should read him because reading Chesterton is an intellectual adventure. He jumped into every debate that was current during his long years a writer—many of which are still relevant, many of which are timeless. Even if you furiously disagree with him, you will certainly find your brain being taken for a spin. And you should read him for ninety -eight other reasons I don’t have room for.