The New Jerusalem

by G. K. Chesterton. New York: George H. Doran Company. 1921. 8vo, x+307 pp. $3.00.
THIS is the book of a traveler who visited Palestine and ruminated as he went. The reader finds himself asking why a book on so fascinating a topic, by so lively a writer, should be dull, as this book unmistakably is.
The answer apparently is to be found in the fact that the traveler ruminated as he went. If he had stood still, he might have finished the argument; or if he had stopped thinking, he might have arrived somewhere and taken the reader with him. As it is, he does neither. We catch fleeting glimpses of battlemented walls, of a striped landscape, of a snow-storm, of a pageant of colors, creeds, and races; but before the picture is formed, it fades into a symbol or a text, and Mr. Chesterton is launched upon his argument.
Needless to say, there are brilliant passages, such, for example, as the description of Godfrey
de Bouillon’s scaling of the walls of Jerusalem in the First Crusade. There are flights of wit and fancy, such as only Mr. Chesterton has the talent and the courage to perpetrate. He takes his essential self and his lamp-post with him where he goes; and the reader delights in meeting and recognizing him at every turn. But as a newspaper correspondent following an itinerary, he is not free. The compromise between the rôles of sightseer and of prophet is not a happy one.
He brings us, for example, to the steep slopes verging on the Dead Sea, which we approach in ’a little rocking Ford car.’ But just as we hope to catch a glimpse of that natural wonder, the author is reminded of the miracle of the swine, who rushed down a ‘steep place’ into the sea. That reminds him of the controversy over miracles between Huxley and Gladstone, which leads to a general review of the modern revival of supernaturalism. And so we never reach the Dead Sea. The argument is very illuminating, but it bores us because we had our minds prepared for something else.
This revival of supernaturalism is one of the main themes of the book, on its philosophical side. The author uses the ancient method of the obscurantist, which is to exploit and aggravate the dissensions and mutations of science. He points to Einstein and Freud, to multiple per sonality, psychical research, and the election theory, as evidence that the traditional scientific orthodoxy is breaking down. It is the old erroneous and vicious idea on which was based the war of science and religion in the last century: the idea that the change and growth of science are signs of weakness, and that religion can hope thus to prevail over her enemy.
Mr. Chesterton’s own philosophical creed, as set forth in the present book, consists of obscurantism and supernaturalism as aforesaid, of mediævalism, of nationalism, and of the gospel of work. He feels the present age to signify the total failure of capitalism, and of all its remedies. The only hope of getting on the right track is to go back to the thirteenth century, and there resume again that age of chivalry which the failure of the Crusades made abortive. The only redeeming features of the present age are love of country and love of manual labor.
The under-side of these latter tenets is antiSemitism, the Jew being unpatriotic and disinclined to become a peasant. Mr. Chesterton would therefore encourage him to go to Palestine, or ‘enclave’ him at home.
As for Mr. Chesterton himself, it must be hoped, for his salvation, that his travels East and West will not denationalize him, for it is already too late to hope that he will become a peasant.
R. B. P.