One of the things I found coming into the Catholic faith is that there had seemed to be a conspiracy against me. Large swaths of history involving the Church were edited out of my education. There was also a bit of self-censorship in the books I choose to read. One of those “conspiracies” against me was keeping G.K. Chesterton from me. I had never heard of him until I kept running into mentions of him while investigating the Catholic faith. There is just so much that is wonderful about now being Catholic and a bonus was thrown in – the writings of G.K. Chesterton. Over the years I have read thousands of articles on the internet and yet I recollect fully the time and place I first read a chapter from Chesterton. It was “The God in the Cave” on PetersNet (now CatholicCulture.org) from “The Everlasting Man.”
Now this conspiracy to deprive me of G.K. Chesterton seems to have been a general conspiracy by academia and the cultural elite to ignore the man. That is why the work of Dale Ahlquist the great Chesterton popularizer and president of the American Chesterton Society is so important. His previous book was In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton which I much liked. Reading about G.K. Chesterton is enjoyable, but actually reading Chesterton is more so.
Mr. Ahlquist’s new book is The Complete Thinker: The Marvelous Mind of G.K. Chesterton. While actually reading Chesterton is better Dale Ahlquist strikes a nice balance by including a lot of Chesterton while applying Chesterton-like analysis. There is the old joke about owners becoming like their pets and I keep finding that Dale Ahlquist is a lot like Chesterton and has a bit of a “marvelous mind” himself.
The book goes on to demonstrate just why G.K. Chesterton was the complete thinker. In this day of over-specialization we come to expect people to have only expertise in one area. It is no surprise that the modern man will refer to someone whose knowledge spans numerous topics as a renaissance man and not a modern man. This concept is one reason I was always attracted to the character of Sherlock Holmes’ brother Mycroft in that he gathered information from multiple disciplines and could see as a whole what the specialists were missing. Chesterton could see the underlying truth in all things and thus was able to talk about all things. Not only have we become accustomed to not seeing the forrest for the trees, but we don’t even see the trees that well. When all truth is relative it is not relative to see the truth.
The chapters of the book cover many areas from the problem of evil, war and peace, sickness and health, abandoning hopelessness, law and lawyers, and many other contrasts. The structure of the topics build on each other and demonstrate all the areas in which Chesterton was more than competent. People are often amazed at how prescient Chesterton was in seeing the roots of problems and where they would lead. The gist of what he says applies equally today because the problems that were evident to Chesterton in his day have only continued.
What this book demonstrated to me is how much to the root of things Chesterton’s vision was. After the recent election and reading again Chesterton’s thoughts on birth control we can see how much the debate has shifted or just plain deconstructed. I was especially intrigued by Chesterton criticism of national health as it was starting in England in his day. His arguments had nothing to do with slippery slope arguments about how such policies can go awry, but cut to the quick about the whole concept in the first place. It is amazing how Chesterton can get you to re-look at something you believed you already understood even when you already agreed with his conclusions.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and there is also an appendix dealing with the Chesterton/Clarence Darrow debate. While sadly a transcript of the debate does not exists there is some information from those who attended and I thought this appendix was quite worthwhile in itself. It is of interest to note that one of Clarence Darrow’s relatives Leah Darrow now works for Catholic Answers.
Now let me get back to my dog-eared copy of Orthodoxy. I wonder what the equivalent is for ebooks – pixel worn?