There are some people, styles, and ideas in this world which fall under the category of Chestertonian, but who and what are they and what does it mean ‘Chestertonian’?
Chesterton + -ian
Chestertonian (plural Chestertonians)
- A person who is fond of G.K. Chesterton.
- A person who follows the ideas of Chesterton in philosophy, theology, economics, or any other area in which he wrote.
Chestertonian (comparative more Chestertonian, superlative most Chestertonian)
- Of or relating to G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936).
- Exemplifying an idea advanced by Chesterton.
For the uninitiated, G.K. Chesterton was an influential English figure during the early 20th Century. Eminently quotable and often referred to as the ‘prince of paradox’ and the ‘apostle of common sense’, Chesterton was a prolific writer and a mountainous intellect with an uncanny knack for turning a phrase. As Dale Ahlquist put it “He said something about everything and he said it better than anybody else… He was very good at expressing himself, but more importantly, he had something very good to express.”1
While primarily a journalist writing for the Daily News, the Illustrated London News, and his own G.K.’s Weekly, Chesterton was also a novelist, lay theologian, poet, philosopher, dramatist, orator, literary and art critic, biographer, and Christian apologist.
It is perhaps proper to say that Chesterton was for Great Britain in the early 20th Century what C.S. Lewis would be in the mid-20th Century, and what George MacDonald was in the late 19th Century. This is all the more proper because – along with those of MacDonald – it was the writings of Chesterton (specifically The Everlasting Man) which Lewis credits as being pivotal in his coming to the faith.
Chestertonian, then, first of all means one who is fond of G.K. Chesterton and his works, or who follows his ideas or ideals.
More often, Chestertonian is used to refer to a personality type, an idea, or a style of writing and/or argumentation.
Chesterton as a person was gregarious with a strong delight in humor, somebody who always enjoyed not only a good discussion or a good adventure but also a good debate. While Chesterton debated the likes of H.G. Wells and Bertrand Russell, his greatest debate partner was perhaps George Bernard Shaw, who despite being an atheist and a socialist was also one of Chesterton’s greatest friends. Chesterton imbued his debate style with large sums of humor, and his ability to stay friends with those whom he disagreed about the most important matters was one of the great virtues of his character.
In the realm of ideas Chesterton was one of the most prolific and at the same time deepest thinkers of his time, even if he often rushed his writing out the door. If there is any one system which is most identified with Chesterton is that of Distributism, an economic theory that he promoted along with his friend Hilaire Belloc. Perhaps more indicative of Chesterton are those ideas of his such as Chesterton’s fence, the idea that you should never remove a fence (or an institution, or a law) until you first understand why it was put there in the first place, his adamant opposition to both militarism and pacifism, or his defense of Christianity through the use of the common sense to point out that skepticism stops thought while pantheism stops love.
Finally Chestertonian can refer to a certain manner of writing that delights in paradox and humor as a style of argumentation. Chesterton referred to pardox as “truth standing on its head to get our attention.” Thus Chesterton will argue that orthodoxy is actually freeing, that the logical rationalist is the one who is truly insane, and that “Thieves respect property; they merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it.”2 A style of writing that employs this whimsical use of paradox might rightly be called Chestertonian.
So if you work to embrace the fact that merely being alive is something to be exhilarated about, that “the object of the artistic and spiritual life was to dig for this submerged sunrise of wonder; so that a man sitting in a chair might suddenly understand that he was actually alive, and be happy,”3 if you follow a paradoxically common-sense approach to philosophy and apologetics, if you’re an exponent of Distributism or if you find that militarism and pacifism are two sides of the same rotten coin, if you neither find a home as a conservative or as a liberal, and if you find that the act of defending the cardinal virtues has all the exhilaration of a vice, you might be a Chestertonian.