Tolstoy and the Cult of Simplicity

From Varied Types. The whole world is certainly heading for a great simplicity, not deliberately, but rather inevitably. It is not a mere fashion of false innocence, like that of the French aristocrats before the Revolution, who built an altar to Pan, and who taxed the peasantry for the enormous expenditure which is needed in [...]

Detective Stories

It strikes some readers as strange that Chesterton, a highly respected literary critic, could take seriously the lowly detective story. But he did take it seriously. Because the plots of the classic detective stories were designed to vindicate good and to rebuke evil, Chesterton saw them as a modern morality tales. He saw the great [...]


Throughout his career, Chesterton was a vigorous enemy of pacifism. What he did believe in was the right, or the duty rather, of self-defense and the defense of others. Chesterton was also a vigorous enemy of militarism. Both ideas, he argued, were really a single idea — that the strong must not be resisted. The militarist, [...]


In our self-indulgent era of self-esteem, self-fulfillment, self-assertion, and self-righteousness, we need Chesterton to remind us of just where the danger lies. In fact, he wrote that if he had just one sermon to preach, it would be a sermon against the sin of pride. Chesterton defined pride as thinking oneself superior—as Satan thought when [...]

Career Women

Just a dozen years ago or so, even Chesterton’s followers considered his views about womankind quaintly outdated. His detractors found his notions about “women’s rights” hopelessly repressive and bigoted. Many accepted the doctrine that women can find fulfillment and happiness only in professional careers. The role of wife, mother, and homemaker was mercilessly attacked and [...]

Hudge and Gudge

Who are Hudge and Gudge, and why are they important to us? Chesterton introduced these two in his 1910 book, What’s Wrong with the World. Both Hudge and Gudge were gentlemen of the governing class. Gudge was described as a plutocrat, a Tory, an individualist, and perhaps a slumlord. Hudge was described as a socialist, [...]

Crime and Punishment

In Chesterton’s day, the leading criminologists believed that criminal behavior was a form of illness. Consequently, they attempted a program of “rehabilitation” of criminals that was analogous to medical treatment. The causes of crime were thought to derive exclusively from heredity and environment. Chesterton’s line of attack was to insist on free will and the [...]

The Common Man

Chesterton’s appreciation of the common man predates his college years. His teenage notebooks are full of a reverence for ordinary people, expressed as a corollary to his reverence for the most ordinary of objects and things. Chesterton’s respect for the common man was basically a respect for free will. He said that the actions of [...]

The Medical Mistake

Chesterton believed that our countless failures in practical politics are due to a very simple logical mistake. He believed that politicians and social commentators begin at the wrong end of the political question or social problem. They begin with the remedy or cure. We can see this today in what passes for political debate. If [...]


The benefits of science are all around us, and the wonders of modern technology give scientists an unfortunate credibility when they speak on subjects that are outside the realm of science. Too often a prominent physicist or biologist is believed when he declares that empirical science has disproved the existence of God or has shown [...]

Scientific Determinism

One of the defining marks of the 20th century has been the triumph, especially in the social sciences, of the theory of determinism. The theory holds that all or most of a man’s life is determined for him by factors beyond his control, be they the environment, heredity, or a host of other external forces [...]


A large portion of the American populace espouses a moral code that can be accurately described as Puritanical. Although this code is wrapped in religious language, it is fundamentally a denial of the goodness of creation, finding the source of evil in material things of pleasure (as tobacco, alcohol, art, and so on) rather than [...]

The Family

It can be argued that the family stands at the center of all the current controversies in politics and morality or what some are calling the Culture Wars. The institution of the family has come under a ferocious attack from a number of quarters and is being stoutly defended by equally vigorous individuals and groups. [...]

The Deadly Sins

In this age of Puritanism and Hedonism, Chesterton’s view of the seven deadly sins seems the ultimate in paradox. Unlike the pleasure-seeking hedonists, Chesterton believed in the reality of sin. Unlike the prohibition-minded Puritans, he believed in enjoying God’s pleasures to the full. Chesterton taught us: to believe wholeheartedly in sex but not to believe [...]

The Cult of Success

The world has always worshipped success, even before Calvinists incorporated the idea into a creed. This “cult” of success teaches that if something succeeds, then it ought to succeed; its success is a proof of its inevitability, even its goodness. Thus, every fashion or fad, every ideology that enjoys triumph over minds or nations, takes [...]


Part of the idea of what people refer to as “The American Way of Life,” is wrapped up in the whole notion of our “Standard of Living.” The “Living Standard” is a measure of consumer spending. It is concerned with how many things we can buy, how expensively we are able to live, what luxuries [...]

Chesterton’s Marriage Proposal

| QUESTION I heard a talk by Bishop Sheen quoting Chesterton’s marriage proposal. Can you tell me where I can find the original? ANSWER He was quoting from a letter Chesterton wrote to his fiance, Frances Blogg, which is reprinted in Maisie Ward’s 1942 biography, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, “To Frances”: “When we set up a [...]

America Is a Nation with the Soul of a Church

| QUESTION I have heard that the phrase, “America is a nation with the soul of a church,” is from Chesterton, but I can’t find the source. Can you help? ANSWER In the first chapter of his 1922 book What I Saw in America (See The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, Vol. 21), Chesterton says [...]

Birth Control: What did GKC say about it?

| QUESTION What did Chesterton say about Birth Control? ANSWER “What is quaintly called Birth Control… is in fact, of course, a scheme for preventing birth in order to escape control.” (“The Surrender upon Sex,” The Well and the Shallows) “Normal and real birth control is called self control.” (“Social Reform vs. Birth Control”) “Birth [...]

Life From Other Planets

| QUESTION Didn’t Chesterton say something about the possibility that life on earth came from others planets? ANSWER Yeah. He said, “Saying that life on earth came from another planet is like saying that a ghost in a graveyard must have come from some other graveyard. It doesn’t explain anything.” (Illustrated London News, May 3, [...]

Climb Down the Chimney

 | QUESTION In the 1992 film “Peter’s Friends” one of the characters quotes Chesterton. It was something about being dropped down a chimney randomly and trying to get along with the people in the house. I have been looking for the correct wording and the source of this quotation. Can you help? ANSWER “The best [...]

Heaven is a Playground

| QUESTION I saw a movie about basketball called “Heaven is a playground” and the line is supposed to be from Chesterton. Where’s it from, Dude? ANSWER It’s from the essay “Oxford from Without” in the 1908 book, All Things Considered. Chesterton writes, “It might reasonably be maintained that the true object of all human [...]

For All Their Wars Are Merry

| QUESTION We’d like to know which poem contains lines about the Irish and “their wars are all (merry?) and their songs are sad.” ANSWER It’s from Chesterton’s epic poem, “The Ballad of the White Horse”: For the Great Gaels of Ireland Are the men that God made mad, For all their wars are merry And [...]

Taking a Fence Down

| QUESTION I remember reading somewhere that John F. Kennedy quoted Chesterton as saying something about not taking a fence down until you know the reason why it was put it up. I think the idea was if someone says they don’t understand why something is the way it is and wants to destroy or [...]

Where Are the Chesterton Papers?

| QUESTION After more than 50 years in a cottage attic, the Chesterton archive found a permanent home in 1990. Where is the archive housed and what is its history? ANSWER We were wondering why this question was so frequently asked and in almost the same wording every time. Then we discovered that it is [...]

An Open Mind

| QUESTION Didn’t Chesterton compare an open mind with an open mouth? ANSWER Indeed, he did. But only twice. “An open mind is really a mark of foolishness, like an open mouth. Mouths and minds were made to shut; they were made to open only in order to shut.” (Illustrated London News. October 10, 1908) [...]

What’s Wrong with the World?

| QUESTION Is it true that The Times once sent out an inquiry to famous authors, asking the question, “What’s wrong with the world today?” and Chesterton responded simply, “Dear Sir, I am. Yours, G.K. Chesterton.” ANSWER This story has been repeated so often about Chesterton that we suspect it is true. Also, it seems [...]

Origin of 3 Acres and a Cow

| QUESTION Could you let me know the origin of Chesterton’s famous “3 acres and a cow” slogan, please? ANSWER The slogan “three acres and a cow” dates back to the 1880s and was usually associated with Jesse Collings, a Devonshire MP and radical agrarian who promoted small holdings and land allocations. Collings became known [...]

Other Quotations

Quotations which might seem to be from Chesterton, but aren’t. If a man is not a socialist by the time he’s 20, he has no heart. If he’s still a socialist when he’s 40, he has no mind. It’s not from Chesterton. It’s not from Churchill. It’s not from Wendell Wilkie. But we don’t know [...]

Clarence Darrow Debate

| QUESTION I understand that at some time around 1930 G.K. debated Clarence Darrow in New York City and did quite well. Where is this reported at any length? Is a transcript available? What else is known of this debate? How can I find more information about it? Thank You for your response. ANSWER In January [...]

Chesterton on Self Defense

| QUESTION A child’s instinct is almost perfect in the matter of fighting. The child’s hero is always the man or boy who suddenly and splendidly defends himself against aggression. I am a student of martial-arts and came across this excellent quotation that gets to the heart of the ethics of self-defense. I would appreciate [...]

Chesterton on Homeschooling

| QUESTION I would like to use the following Chesterton quote in a book I am co-writing on Catholic Home Education. However I cannot find the original source. I would greatly appreciate any help that you could give me. To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors, and holidays; to be [...]

Riddle of the Earth

| QUESTION I would really appreciate any information you can offer with regard to my search for details on the following G.K. Chesterton quote which begins: We all feel the riddle of the earth without anyone to point it out. The mystery of life is the plainest part of it. The above was quoted in [...]

Tolerance Is the Attitude of Those Who Do Not Believe in Anything

| QUESTION In his book, The True and Only Heaven: Progress and its Critics, Christopher Lasch writes: Niebuhr endorsed G.K.Chesterton’s observation that tolerance is the attitude of those who do not believe in anything. Could you reconstruct the original quote? ANSWER Lasch was using the word “tolerance” for what Chesterton generally termed “impartiality.” Chesterton deplored impartiality, [...]

You Get the Small Laws

| QUESTION In the Tuesday, August 6, 1997 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle I read the following letter to the editor in regard to a recent demonstration calling itself Critical Mass which became a disturbance of the peace by a few thousand bicyclists in downtown San Francisco. It seems they wanted bike lanes and [...]

Some Things Are Too Big to Be Seen

| QUESTION Over recent months I have seen, in four separate and unrelated journals, Chesterton’s “Some things are too big to be seen.” Did he say it? Do you know where he said it? ANSWER This is a paradox Chesterton returned to a number of times: “Men can always be blind to a thing so [...]

My Country Right or Wrong

| QUESTION I am looking for the origin of or Chesterton reference to the idea that someone saying “My Country, right or wrong,” is like saying “My mother, drunk or sober.” ANSWER The line is from Chesterton’s first book of essays, The Defendant (1901) from the chapter, “A Defence of Patriotism”: “‘My country, right or [...]

Tradition Is the Democracy of the Dead

| QUESTION Okay, I’ve heard this line quoted all the time: “Tradition is the democracy of the dead. It means giving a vote to the most obscure of all classes: our ancestors.” It’s a great line. Where does it come from? ANSWER It comes from Chesterton’s book, Orthodoxy, Chapter 4, “The Ethics of Elfland.” And [...]

The Christian Ideal

| QUESTION Where did Chesterton say, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”? ANSWER The line comes from Chesterton’s must-read book, What’s Wrong with the World, which we never get tired of saying, seems like it was written ten minutes ago, rather than 88 [...]

A Thing Worth Doing

| QUESTION I keep hearing people quote Chesterton as saying, “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” Where did he say that? And what on earth did he mean by it? ANSWER To answer your first question first, he said it in his wonderful and timely book, What’s Wrong with the [...]

When Man Ceases to Worship God

| QUESTION When Man ceases to worship God he does not worship nothing but worships everything. What is the correct quote and where (which GKC work) does it come from? ANSWER This maxim may be the single most quoted line from Chesterton’s prolific pen. It has also been the source of a protracted search by [...]

Angels Fly

| QUESTION Was it Chesterton who said, “Angels fly because they take themselves lightly”? ANSWER A resounding Yes! The line, which has shown up on posters, cards, needlepoints, and calendars everywhere, actually reads “Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.” It comes from the chapter entitled “The Eternal Revolution,” in Chesterton’s great book, [...]

Who Was Father Brown Modeled After?

| QUESTION I am trying to find out if Father Brown was partially modeled after a real priest and, if so, who? ANSWER Chesterton’s idea for a detective character along the lines of Father Brown had been fermenting for a period of years before the first Father Brown story published in 1910. He was a [...]

On Turnpikes and Medievalism

Opening my newspaper the other day, I saw a short but emphatic leaderette entitled ‘A Relic of Medievalism’. It expressed a profound indignation upon the fact that somewhere or other, in some fairly remote corner of this country, there is a turnpike-gate, with a toll. It insisted that this antiquated tyranny is insupportable, because it [...]

The Twelve Men

From an essay in Tremendous Trifles, 1909 The other day, while I was meditating on morality and Mr. H. Pitt, I was, so to speak, snatched up and put into a jury box to try people. The snatching took some weeks, but to me it seemed something sudden and arbitrary. I was put into this [...]

Lecture 86: The Apostle and the Wild Ducks

In 1974, the centenary of G.K. Chesterton’s birth, there was a small but spirited attempt to create a Chesterton revival. Two or three books about Chesterton were published, The G.K. Chesterton Society was founded in England, The Chesterton Review was started, and, well, nothing else. As we all know, the 1970’s were The Dark Ages, [...]

Lecture 85: Chesterton on Shakespeare

With this collection of his essays on Shakespeare, we get a glimpse of what might have been, namely, G.K. Chesterton’s greatest book, which unfortunately he never wrote. He was commissioned to do a book on Shakespeare, but he died before the first page was ever written. However, he had already written enough on the subject [...]