Russell and Duenes

G.K. Chesterton and a World of Limits

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g-k-chesterton1My wife was telling me about an book she was reading recently where the author thought we had to get outside the limits and categories of previous thought. In essence, we need to recognize that the “old rules” don’t apply any longer. Yet I am continually amazed to see how clear G.K. Chesterton’s eye was on such things.  He was able to take so many of these different perceptions and connect them all to a few larger themes.  He saw that much of modern thought was a sustained attack on reason, even though it claimed to be the opposite.  Modern thought, like the author my wife was reading, often attacks “standards” and “limits” because it thinks of them as constricting, narrow, discriminating, and preventing creativity.  Chesterton had this to say,

We often hear it said, “What is right in one age is wrong in another.”  This is quite reasonable if it means that there is a fixed aim, and that certain methods attain at certain times and not at other times…[but] if the standard changes, how can there be improvement, which implies a standard?  Nietzsche started a nonsensical idea that men had once sought as good what we now call evil; if it were so, we could not talk of surpassing or even falling short of them.  How can you overtake Jones if you walk in the other direction?  You cannot discuss whether one people has succeeded more in being miserable than another succeeded in being happy.  It would be like discussing whether Milton was more puritanical than a pig is fat…it is impossible to be an artist and not care for laws and limits.  Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame.  If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck.  If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe.  The moment you step into a world of facts, you step into a world of limits…Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump: you may be freeing him from being a camel.  (Orthodoxy, “The Suicide of Thought”)



Written by Michael Duenes

February 5, 2013 at 4:36 am

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