I’m just finishing this book for the third or fourth time. Chesterton blows my little mind. He has such wonderful insight into what it is to be human. I think of him as a humanist that was a Christian. One of my favorite lines in this book is that “what is valuable and lovable in our eyes is man–the old beer-drinking, creed-making, fighting, failing, sensual, respectable man.” For Chesterton, man is incurably an idealist, a romantic, a thinking, feeling, paradoxical being. However, what is most human about humanity, what makes man man is that he’s a dogmatist. Man is the only created being that is necessarily drawn to generate a philosophy of life.
In this book Chesterton attacks those who either deny that such a philosophy exists or can exist and/or offer a philosophy that is inadequate. One of the difficulties of this book (and the reason I give it four stars) is how intimately tied it is to late 19th- and early 20th-century people and ideas. Thus, if one is really interested in understanding Chesterton’s criticisms in this book, one will likely end up doing some remedial work on men like George Bernard Shaw, H.G Wells, George Moore, and others, and on such movements as Aestheticism, Neopaganism, and a host of other unsavory isms. However, with a little Google research or simply an open window to Wikipedia, most of these things can be adequately pieced together, and, thus, Chesterton’s judgments will be understood more fully. All of this work will pay off handsomely, as many of these ideas are still flying around today (especially on university campuses!).
One final word about Chesterton’s style: it’s like totally rad. It is just downright pleasing to read his words. It is not just that he has a powerful command of humor and paradox, it is that he knows how to turn a phrase. He knows how to make words dance and sing. He is worth reading simply for his style. This book is full of deep insight which is communicated in glorious prose.