1) It cannot be too often repeated that all real democracy is an attempt (like that of a jolly hostess) to bring the shy people out. For every practical purpose of a political state, for every practical purpose of a tea-party, he that abseth himself must be exalted. At a tea-party it is equally obvious that he that exalteth himself must be abased, if possible without bodily violence. Now people talk of democracy as being coarse and turbulent; it is a self-evident error in mere history. Aristocracy is the thing that is always coarse and turbulent; for it means appealing to the self-confident people. Democracy means appealing to the diffident people. Democracy means getting those people to vote who would never have the cheek to govern; and (according to Christian ethics) the precise people who ought to govern are the people who have not the cheek to do it.
– Tremendous Trifles
2) A new philosophy generally means in practice the praise of some old vice.
-Illustrated London News 1906
3 ) Men talk of philosophy and theology as if they were something specialistic and arid and academic. But philosophy and theology are not only the only democratic things, they are democratic to the point of being vulgar, I was going to say, of being rowdy. They alone admit all matters; they alone lie open to all attacks.
– G.F. Watts
4) It is one of the journalist’s tragedies that whenever he introduces a thing purely as an impossibility, someone writes to say that it really occured. If I use a foolish metaphor at random I generally receive two letters – one complaining that the thing is too violent and absurd, the other saying that it happened to the writer’s aunt.
– Illustrated London News, 1906
5) Reason itself is a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thougths have any relation to reality at all.
6) The quicker goes the journalist the slower go his thoughts. The result is the newspaper of our time, which every day can be delivered earlier and earlier, and which every day is less worth delivering at all.
– Eugenics and Other Evils
7) Obedience. The most thrilling word in the world; a very thunderclap of a word. Why do these fools fancy that the soul is only free when it disagrees with the common command? Even the mobs who rise to burn and destroy owe all their granduer and terror, and a sort of authority, not to their anger, but to their agreement. Why should mere disagreement make us feel free?
– The Surprise
8 ) Pride is a weakness in the character; it dries up laughter, it dries up wonder, it dries up chivalry and energy.
9) When you choose anything, you reject everything else.
10 ) How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe?
– What’s Wrong With the World
11) Our fathers did not talk about psychology; they talked about a knowledge of Human Nature. But they had it, and we have not. They knew by instinct all that we have ignored by the help of information. For it is exactly the first facts about human nature that are now being ignored by humanity.
12) Take away the supernatural, and what remains is the unnatural.
13) We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. What we want is a religion that is right where we are wrong.
– The Church and Conversion
14) Right is right, even if nobody does it. Wrong is wrong, even if everybody is wrong about it.
– All Things Considered
15) I have a notion that the real advice I could give to a young journalist is simply this: to write an article for the Sporting Times and one for the Church Times and put them in the wrong envelopes…what is really the matter with almost every paper is that it is much too full of things suitable to the paper.
16) The new school of art and thought does indeed wear an air of audacity, and breaks out everywhere into blasphemies, as if it required any courage to say a blasphemy. There is only one thing that requires real courage to say, and that is a truism.
17) A woman cooking may not always cook artistically; still she can cook artistically. She can introduce a personal and imperceptible variation into the composition of a soup. The clerk is not encouraged to introduce a personal and impercetible variation into the figures in a ledger.
– All Things Considered
18 ) It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.
19) The self is more distant than any star.
20) When men have come to the edge of a precipice, it is the lover of life who has the spirit to leap backwards, and only the pessimist who continues to believe in progress.
21) What is education? Properly speaking, there is no such thing as education. Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another. … What we need is to have a culture before we hand it down. In other words, it is a truth, however sad and strange, that we cannot give what we have not got, and cannot teach to other people what we do not know ourselves.
22) The purpose of Compulsory Education is to deprive the common people of their commonsense.
23) Many clever men like you have trusted to civilisation. Many clever Babylonians, many clever Egyptians, many clever men at the end of Rome. Can you tell me, in a world that is flagrant with the failures of civilisation, what there is particularly immortal about yours?
24) The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.
25) It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It is that they can’t see the problem.
26) We have remarked that one reason offered for being a progressive is that things naturally tend to grow better. But the only real reason for being a progressive is that things naturally tend to grow worse. The corruption in things is not only the best argument for being progressive; it is also the only argument against being conservative. The conservative theory would really be quite sweeping and unanswerable if it were not for this one fact. But all conservatism is based upon the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not. If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white you must be always painting it again; that is, you must be always having a revolution. Briefly, if you want the old white post you must have a new white post.
27) Is one religion as good as another? Is one horse in the Derby as good as another?
28 ) Posting a letter and getting married [sic] are among the few things left that are entirely romantic; for to be entirely romantic, a thing must be irrevocable.
29) It is of the new things that men tire – of fashions and proposals and improvements and change. It is the old things that startle and intoxicate. It is the old things that are young.
30) If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.
31) To each man one soul only is given; to each soul only is given a little power – the power at some moments to outgrow and swallow up the stars. If age after age that power comes upon men, whatever gives it to them is great. Whatever makes men feel old is mean – an empire or a skin-flint shop. Whatever makes men feel young is great – a great war or a love story.
32) “The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice.” – A Defense of Humilities, The Defendant, 1901
33) “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” – Everlasting Man, 1925
34) “Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.” – ILN, 4/19/30
35) “Impartiality is a pompous name for indifference, which is an elegant name for ignorance.” – The Speaker, 12/15/00
36) “An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.” – On Running After Ones Hat, All Things Considered, 1908
37) “He is a [sane] man who can have tragedy in his heart and comedy in his head.” – Tremendous Trifles, 1909
38 ) “Moderate strength is shown in violence, supreme strength is shown in levity.” – The Man Who was Thursday, 1908
39) “The simplification of anything is always sensational.” – Varied Types
40) “Complaint always comes back in an echo from the ends of the world; but silence strengthens us.” – The Father Brown Omnibus
41) “Customs are generally unselfish. Habits are nearly always selfish.” – ILN 1-11-08
42) “I believe what really happens in history is this: the old man is always wrong; and the young people are always wrong about what is wrong with him. The practical form it takes is this: that, while the old man may stand by some stupid custom, the young man always attacks it with some theory that turns out to be equally stupid.” – ILN 6-3-22
43) “The center of every man’s existence is a dream. Death, disease, insanity, are merely material accidents, like a toothache or a twisted ankle. That these brutal forces always besiege and often capture the citadel does not prove that they are the citadel.” – “Sir Walter Scott,” Twelve Types
44) “To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.” – A Short History of England, Ch.10
45) “The comedy of man survives the tragedy of man.” – ILN 2-10-06
46) “When learned men begin to use their reason, then I generally discover that they haven’t got any.” – ILN 11-7-08
47) “When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family we step into a fairy-tale.” – Heretics, CW, I, p.143
48 ) “Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to fit the vision, instead we are always changing the vision.” – Orthodoxy, 1908
49) “Men invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals. They look forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back.” – What’s Wrong With The World, 1910
50) “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.” – Orthodoxy, 1908
51) “The whole curse of the last century has been what is called the Swing of the Pendulum; that is, the idea that Man must go alternately from one extreme to the other. It is a shameful and even shocking fancy; it is the denial of the whole dignity of the mankind. When Man is alive he stands still. It is only when he is dead that he swings.” – “The New House” Alarms and Discursions
52) “To hurry through one’s leisure is the most unbusiness-like of actions.” – “A Somewhat Improbable Story.” Tremendous Trifles
War and Politics
53) “War is not ‘the best way of settling differences; it is the only way of preventing their being settled for you.” – ILN, 7/24/15
54) “There is a corollary to the conception of being too proud to fight. It is that the humble have to do most of the fighting.” – Everlasting Man, 1925
55) “The only defensible war is a war of defense.” – Autobiography, 1937
56) “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” – ILN, 1/14/11
Government and Politics
57) “Once abolish the God, and the government becomes the God.” – Christendom in Dublin, 1933
58 ) “America is the only country ever founded on a creed.” – What I Saw In America, 1922
59) “Men are ruled, at this minute by the clock, by liars who refuse them news, and by fools who cannot govern.” – The New Name, Utopia of Usurers and Other Essays, 1917
60) “If you attempt an actual argument with a modern paper of opposite politics, you will have no answer except slanging or silence.” – Chapter 3, What’s Wrong With The World, 1910
61) “He is a very shallow critic who cannot see an eternal rebel in the heart of a conservative.” – Varied Types
62) “I have formed a very clear conception of patriotism. I have generally found it thrust into the foreground by some fellow who has something to hide in the background. I have seen a great deal of patriotism; and I have generally found it the last refuge of the scoundrel.” – The Judgement of Dr. Johnson, Act III
63) “It is terrible to contemplete how few politicians are hanged.” – The Cleveland Press, 3/1/21
64) “All government is an ugly necessity.” Ð A Short History of England. 63
65) “It is true that I am of an older fashion; much that I love has been destroyed or sent into exile.” – The Judgement of Dr. Johnson, Act III
66) “I think the oddest thing about the advanced people is that, while they are always talking about things as problems, they have hardly any notion of what a real problem is.” – Uses of Diversity
67) “Over-civilization and barbarism are within an inch of each other. And a mark of both is the power of medicine-men.” – ILN 9-11-09
68 ) “The modern city is ugly not because it is a city but because it is not enough of a city, because it is a jungle, because it is confused and anarchic, and surging with selfish and materialistic energies.” – “The Way to the Stars” Lunacy and Letters
69) “Self-denial is the test and definition of self-government.” – “The Field of Blood” Alarms and Discursions
Love and Marriage
70) “Love means loving the unlovable – or it is no virtue at all.” – Heretics, 1905
71) “A man imagines a happy marriage as a marriage of love; even if he makes fun of marriages that are without love, or feels sorry for lovers who are without marriage.” – Chaucer
72) “Women are the only realists; their whole object in life is to pit their realism against the extravagant, excessive, and occasionally drunken idealism of men.” – A Handful of Authors
73) “The whole pleasure of marriage is that it is a perpetual crisis.” – “David Copperfield,” Chesterton on Dickens, 1911
74) “A good man’s work is effected by doing what he does, a woman’s by being what she is.” – Robert Browning
75) “Women have a thirst for order and beauty as for something physical; there is a strange female power of hating ugliness and waste as good men can only hate sin and bad men virtue.” – Chesterton on Dickens
76) “Marriage is a duel to the death which no man of honour should decline.” – Manalive
Religion and Faith
77) “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.” – ILN, 7/16/10
78 ) “If there were no God, there would be no atheists.” – Where All Roads Lead, 1922
79) “There are those who hate Christianity and call their hatred an all-embracing love for all religions.” – ILN, 1/13/06
80) “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” – Chapter 5, What’s Wrong With The World, 1910
81) “The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Ten Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted: precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden.” – ILN 1-3-20
82) “These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own.” – ILN 8-11-28
83) “The more we are proud that the Bethlehem story is plain enough to be understood by the shepherds, and almost by the sheep, the more do we let ourselves go, in dark and gorgeous imaginative frescoes or pageants about the mystery and majesty of the Three Magian Kings.” – Christendom in Dublin, Ch.3
84) “The great majority of people will go on observing forms that cannot be explained; they will keep Christmas Day with Christmas gifts and Christmas benedictions; they will continue to do it; and some day suddenly wake up and discover why.” – “On Christmas,” Generally Speaking
85) “Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.” – ILN, 10/23/09
86) “It’s not that we don’t have enough scoundrels to curse; it’s that we don’t have enough good men to curse them.” – ILN, 3/14/08
87) “The whole truth is generally the ally of virtue; a half-truth is always the ally of some vice.” – ILN, 6/11/10
88 ) “Truth is sacred; and if you tell the truth too often nobody will believe it.” – ILN, 2/24/06
89) “Civilization has run on ahead of the soul of man, and is producing faster than he can think and give thanks.” – Daily News, 2/21/02
90) “It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.” – The Catholic Church and Conversion
91) “All men thirst to confess their crimes more than tired beasts thirst for water; but they naturally object to confessing them while other people, who have also committed the same crimes, sit by and laugh at them.” – ILN 3/14/08
92) “Idolatry is committed, not merely by setting up false gods, but also by setting up false devils; by making men afraid of war or alcohol, or economic law, when they should be afraid of spiritual corruption and cowardice.” – ILN 9/11/09
93) “I say that a man must be certain of his morality for the simple reason that he has to suffer for it.” – ILN 8/4/06
94) “To the humble man, and to the humble man alone, the sun is really a sun; to the humble man, and to the humble man alone, the sea is really a sea.” – Heretics, CW I, p128
95) Great truths can only be forgotten and can never be falsified.” – ILN 9-30-33
96) “The voice of the special rebels and prophets, recommending discontent, should, as I have said, sound now and then suddenly, like a trumpet. But the voices of the saints and sages, recommending contentment, should sound unceasingly, like the sea.” – T.P.’s Weekly, Christmas Number, 1910
97) “Most modern freedom is at root fear. It is not so much that we are too bold to endure rules; it is rather that we are too timid to endure responsibilities.” – What’s Wrong With the World
98 ) “The world will very soon be divided, unless I am mistaken, into those who still go on explaining our success, and those somewhat more intelligent who are trying to explain our failure.” – Speech to Anglo-Catholic Congress 6-29-20
99) “There are some desires that are not desirable.” – Orthodoxy
100) “In the struggle for existence, it is only on those who hang on for ten minutes after all is hopeless, that hope begins to dawn.” – The Speaker 2-2-01
101) “It is the main earthly business of a human being to make his home, and the immediate surroundings of his home, as symbolic and significant to his own imagination as he can.” – The Coloured Lands
102) “[No society can survive the socialist] fallacy that there is an absolutely unlimited number of inspired officials and an absolutely unlimited amount of money to pay them.” – The Debate with Bertrand Russell, BBC Magazine, 11/27/35
103) “A citizen can hardly distinguish between a tax and a fine, except that the fine is generally much lighter.” – ILN, 5/25/31
104) “Price is a crazy and incalculable thing, while Value is an intrinsic and indestructible thing.” – Reflections on a Rotten Apple, The Well and the Shallows, 1935
105) “Business, especially big business, is now organized like an army. It is, as some would say, a sort of mild militarism without bloodshed; as I say, a militarism without the military virtues.” – The Thing
106) “Our society is so abnormal that the normal man never dreams of having the normal occupation of looking after his own property. When he chooses a trade, he chooses one of the ten thousand trades that involve looking after other people’s property.” – Commonwealth10-12-32
107) “The real argument against aristocracy is that it always means the rule of the ignorant. For the most dangerous of all forms of ignorance is ignorance of work.” – NY Sun 11-3-18
108 ) “Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere.” – ILN, 5/5/28
109) “The decay of society is praised by artists as the decay of a corpse is praised by worms.” – Shaw, 1909
110) “By a curious confusion, many modern critics have passed from the proposition that a masterpiece may be unpopular to the other proposition that unless it is unpopular it cannot be a masterpiece.” – “On Detective Novels,” Generally Speaking
111) “And all over the world, the old literature, the popular literature, is the same. It consists of very dignified sorrow and very undignified fun. Its sad tales are of broken hearts; its happy tales are of broken heads.” – Charles Dickens
112) “The aim of good prose words is to mean what they say. The aim of good poetical words is to mean what they do not say.” – Daily News.4-22-05
“Anyone who is not an anarchist agrees with having a policeman at the corner of the street; but the danger at present is that of finding the policeman half-way down the chimney or even under the bed.” – What I Saw In America, 1922
“Psychoanalysis is a science conducted by lunatics for lunatics. They are generally concerned with proving that people are irresponsible; and they certainly succeed in proving that some people are.” – ILN, 6/23/28
Separation of Church and State
“Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion. In practice it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it.” – Autobiography, 1937
“Some people leave money for the improvement of public buildings. I can leave dynamite for the improvement of public buildings.” Ð ILN 3-17-06
More Chesterton Quotes ~ 1926-1928