02 May 2008

The Desk Chair Review of Books

by Gilbert Keith Chesterton

After reading this cover-to-cover for the first time since high school, I was struck not only by Chesterton's delightful rhetoric but by just how relevant his insights are to contemporary discourse. I take this as a clear indication as to just how far off the mark our contemporary discourse has wandered, since so little progress has been made. There is very little outright philosophy in this book, or what we nowadays would call philosophy. (One might argue that this book is an instance of what contemporary philosophy has lost to its own demise.) Nonetheless, it is a systematic overview of decades of imaginative reverie thoroughly conditioned by a philosophical worldview. Strangely enough, it happens to be in direct contradiction to the prevailing attitudes among the educated in his time ... as well as in ours. While postmodernity can lack the sort of earnest optimism so prevalent among Chesterton's opponents, I sense a kinship between them that demands a real familiarity with the framework of his arguments, if not their rococo embellishments.

Remarkably, the Church finds itself doing precisely the opposite of what GK sets out to do in his chapter on the Maniac. Whereas Chesterton finds it necessary to undermine the rationalism of his era, our own age needs to hear the Church's defense and affirmation of reason (so felicitously articulated by the Holy Father at Regensburg. It is a testimony to Chesterton's trustworthiness that he himself takes up that defense in the very next chapter (the Suicide of Thought) and proceeds over the course of the book to explain, by way of his own intellectual journey, just what this nuanced reverence for rationality looks like.

Do yourself a favor and give this one a hoist.

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