The Apostolate of Common Sense
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Month: April 2012

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.


“The horror of war,” Chesterton wrote, “is the sentiment of a Christian and even of a saint.”


Chesterton wrote that if he had just one sermon to preach, it would be a sermon against the sin of pride.

Career Women

It was quite clear to Chesterton that having a job might make a woman independent of husbands and families, but it also made them dependent on employers, dependent on wage-earning, and servants to a business as most men already were.

Hudge and Gudge

Hudge and Gudge, Big Government and Big Business (and sometimes Sludge–Big Science) overstep their bounds and interfere with the average family, whom Chesterton calls the Jones family.

Crime and Punishment

If heredity and environment account for all crimes, Chesterton argued, then law enforcement would become focused on certain types of people (perhaps the poor) and in certain neighborhoods (perhaps the slums). Chesterton was opposed to such views.

The Common Man

Chesterton called plain folks “the million masks of God” and praised them for their common sense, common decency, and their humble institutions: hearth and home, the family, the church, and the pub.

The Medical Mistake

Each politician has a portfolio of solutions to major problems as if he were a physician with a black bag full of pills.


If there is a spiritual presence in the material world, physical science will not discover it; and if we discover it, physical science will have no idea of what it means.

Scientific Determinism

Chesterton argues against the theory of scientific determinism: that 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 that play upon him.


Puritans argue against the goodness of creation, finding the source of evil in material things of pleasure (as tobacco, alcohol, art, and so on) rather than in the disordered human will to misuse the good things nature affords us.

The Family

Liberty, Chesterton argued, is merely the right to choose between one set of limitations and another. It is limitations, he wrote, that create “all the poetry and variety of life.”

The Deadly Sins

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.

The Cult of Success

Chesterton urges people to judge the world and themselves not by the way things are, but by the way they ought to be.


Chesterton reminds us that the end purpose of work is a product, not a wage, and that all the exchanges in which people exploit one another, both socially and financially, are also opportunities for people to dignify one another.

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 house, darling …

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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 Control is …

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Life From Other Planets

QUESTION: Didn’t Chesterton say something about the possibility that life on earth came from others planets? ANSWER: Yes. 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, 1924)

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 way that …

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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? 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 life is play. …

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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 all their songs …

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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 change it, …

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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 exercise …

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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) “The object …

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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 it is …

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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 derisively as …

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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 …

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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 of 1931, …

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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 it …

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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 Whitely within …

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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 a book …

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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, which he …

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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 perhaps desired …

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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 long as …

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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 wrong,’ is …

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Tradition Is the Democracy of the Dead

QUESTION: I’ve heard this line quoted: “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 line is usually quoted backwards, …

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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. The line comes from Part …

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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 World, which …

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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 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 curious fans of Chesterton …

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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, Orthodoxy.

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 voracious, life-long reader …

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The Twelve Men

An incomparable explanation of juries