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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What's Wrong with the World by G.K. Chesterton

Written in 1910, still relevant a century later.

G.K. Chesterton's What's Wrong With the World is not a bit of light reading. There are heady thoughts throughout and the reader is invited to do some of the heavy lifting as well. I don't agree with all of Chesterton's conclusions either but he does have a wonderful way with words. Have you ever had an argument with someone in which you thoroughly disagreed with some of their points but admired the way they laid them out and their turns of the phrase? That is my experience with G.K. Chesterton in a nutshell.

I only picked up this volume because I read somewhere that C.S. Lewis was a devoted fan of Chesterton.

G.K. Chesterton
Be prepared, there is no one thing that is wrong with the world - it is a collection of things. Of course, any thinking person knows that there are always a collection of problems that are inter-related and cause all sorts of things to be wrong in the world.

Chesterton is strongly pro-Catholic church so be prepared that one of the things wrong with the world is that the world is not Catholic. Being a Lutheran myself, I smiled and moved on. Women working outside of the home is a problem Chesterton identifies as well. Not because women are inferior (he reveres the housewife and acknowledges it is draining) but because the home is a special place if well-tended by an extraordinary women - a place where the family can actually be free of the demands of society and work. Plus, a homemaker is, by the very nature of the job, a skilled amateur that knows a little about "a hundred trades." Homemakers are not specialized and that is good in Chesterton's eyes.

Why is specialization a problem? People become experts in just one thing and don't learn about the rest of the world. Think of our modern college system. Someone can get an MBA in business but never have taken an art class. Doctorates of art in all likelihood have never taken an econ class. Are those people well educated?

Probably his biggest thing that is wrong with the world is its habit of "altering the human soul to fit its conditions, instead of altering human conditions to fit the human soul." In other words, we conform to the arbitrary demands of society rather than making sure that society conforms to the needs of the human soul.

Tired of the "Think of the Children" mantra? So was Chesterton 100 years ago: "There has arisen...a foolish and wicked try typical of the confusion. I mean the cry, "Save the children." It is, of course, part of that modern morbidity that insists on treating the state (which is the home of man) as a sort of desperate expedient in time of panic. This terrified opportunism is also the origin of the Socialist and other schemes."

Chesterton also has several comments on education that to this 20 year veteran teacher sound grumpy, fuddy-duddy and exactly 100% right.

I rate this essay 5 stars out of 5 stars. It can be found on Amazon.com here: What's Wrong with the World.

Reviewed on October 24, 2009.

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