DALE AHLQUIST, president of the American Chesterton Society, writes:
...Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) cannot be summed up in one sentence. Nor in one paragraph. In fact, in spite of the fine biographies that have been written of him, he has never been captured between the covers of one book. But rather than waiting to separate the goats from the sheep, let’s just come right out and say it: G.K. Chesterton was the best writer of the 20th century. He said something about everything and he said it better than anybody else. But he was no mere wordsmith. He was very good at expressing himself, but more importantly, he had something very good to express. The reason he was the greatest writer of the 20th century was because he was also the greatest thinker of the 20th century...I would expect that most of my regular readers are familiar with Chesterton, but if you are not, click here for some of his famous writings. Unlike many of his contemporaries, whose works are now horribly dated, Chesterton's writings remain readable today. His language is simultaneously simple and complex; funny and serious; and he constantly drives towards what is true rather than what is fashionable opinion.
Chesterton debated many of the celebrated intellectuals of his time: George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, Clarence Darrow. According to contemporary accounts, Chesterton usually emerged as the winner of these contests, however, the world has immortalized his opponents and forgotten Chesterton, and now we hear only one side of the argument, and we are enduring the legacies of socialism, relativism, materialism, and skepticism. Ironically, all of his opponents regarded Chesterton with the greatest affection. And George Bernard Shaw said: “The world is not thankful enough for Chesterton.”...
Modern thinkers and commentators and critics have found it much more convenient to ignore Chesterton rather than to engage him in an argument, because to argue with Chesterton is to lose....
However, I've heard that recent college students lack the vocabulary to really get him, for he loved word play. The dumbing-down of our compulsory public education means that most youth have little knowledge outside of popular culture, a trend that even contemporary journalists note. However, Chesterton the journalist predicted this a century ago, and many of the trends we find today; he simply took the assumptions of the reformers and intellectuals of his day and noted the consequences.
Contemporary intellectuals think that Chesterton — who became Catholic — was a reactionary conservative, but Chesterton inspired at least two successful popular revolutions, in Ireland and India. Rather, he would say that moral relativism is in fact a kind of status quo conservatism, designed to keep the masses docile to the revolution being imposed upon us from above by the elite.
Although Chesterton was called an anti-Semite, he strongly opposed the Nazis — while many of the fashionable intellectuals of his day embraced Hitler until it was too late to avoid war and the Holocaust. Chesterton did criticize the Jews, but he also severely criticized Muslims, Americans, and himself; most of all he criticized usury as a great evil in the world. The Zionists who created the modern state of Israel considered him a friend, for Chesterton thought that all peoples — including European Jews — ought to have a sense of national patriotism: but he also predicted that a Jewish homeland in Palestine would be permanently divisive, as we see today. His book on this topic, The New Jerusalem, is said to be his grimmest writing.
Were I even lazier than I am already, I could do blogging merely by clipping sections of Chesterton's writing and adding a few lines of commentary at most. I find Chesterton to be easily quotable; his words are notable, clever, funny, and get to the point quickly.
The 30th Annual American Chesterton Society Conference will be held on August 4th—6th, at the Sheraton Westport hotel, in the suburban Saint Louis County municipality of Maryland Heights. Discounted admission can be had until July 15th.
Registration and a list of events can be found here.
If you are planning on coming to Saint Louis, I would suggest you rent a car. While Westport is a nice little entertainment district, it is remote from the bulk of the fun and touristy parts of town, and it is rather far from most local Catholic churches and pilgrimage sites. There is a lot to see around Saint Louis, so I would recommend taking a day or two outside of the conference to do some sightseeing.