The Case for GK Chesterton

Ross Douthat and Michael Brendan Dougherty make it.


Bramwell is looking for an exposition of Christian ideas over and against modern novelties. But Chesterton is rather a publicist and a polemicist on behalf of those ideals. He is not joining some great conversation with Don Scotus, Aristotle, and Nietszche. Rather he is in a constant scrum with Bertrand Russell, Benjamin Kidd, Cecil Rhodes, H.G. Wells, Sidney Webb, Edward Carpenter, W.T. Stead, etc... Notably, only half those names live on and most are dimmer than Chesterton's. Judged in that company he is sterling. When was the last time you saw an H.G. Wells insight applied to anything? If Chesterton were alive today a similar list would be something like, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Karen Armstrong ... Marty Peretz, Stephen Hawking, and Jonathan Chait. If I were going to produce a polemic against Karen Armstrong's book The History of God - and I dearly would like to - you might be satisfied with a clever review. You wouldn't chastise me for failing to produce the Summa Theologica. To criticize Chesterton in this regard seems unfair. Besides The Everlasting Man, his books are mostly recycled newspaper material. Next to a considered book of philosophy, Chesterton seems a little smug. Next to a cartoon and letters to the editor and in response to his actual opponents, he's not only a genius, but a delightful one.
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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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