Chesterton (May 29, 1874-June 14, 1936)
“My country, right or wrong” is a thing that no patriot would think of
saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying “My mother, drunk
A dead thing goes with the stream. Only a living thing can go against it.
A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us
the truth about its author.
A man does not know what he is saying until he knows what he is not
A man who has faith must be prepared not only to be a martyr, but to be
A new philosophy generally means in practice the praise of some old vice.
A thing may be too sad to be believed or too wicked to be believed or
too good to be believed; but it cannot be too absurd to be believed in
this planet of frogs and elephants, of crocodiles and cuttle-fish.
A woman uses her intelligence to find reasons to support her intuition.
A yawn is a silent shout.
All men are ordinary men. The extraordinary men are those who know it.
All men can be criminals, if tempted; all men can be heroes, if inspired.
All science, even the divine science, is a sublime detective story. Only
it is not set to detect why a man is dead; but the darker secret of why
he is alive.
All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry.
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.
Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere.
Banking may well be a career from which no man really recovers.
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.
By experts in poverty I do not mean sociologists, but poor men.
Compromise used to mean half a loaf was better than no bread. Among
modern statesmen it really seems to mean that half a loaf is better than
a whole loaf.
Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to
live taking the form of a readiness to die.
Democracy means government by the uneducated, while aristocracy means
government by the badly educated.
Dogma does not mean the absence of thought, but the end of thought.
Fable is more historical than fact, because fact tells us about one man
and fable tells us about a million men.
Fairy-tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons
exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.
Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.
For in all legends men have thought of women as sublime separately but
horrible in a herd.
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.
I may not practice what I preach, but God forbid that I preach what I
I still believe in liberalism today as much as I ever did, but, oh,
there was a happy time when I believed in liberals...
If I did not believe in God, I should still want my doctor, my lawyer
and my banker to do so.
If men will not be governed by the Ten Commandments, they shall be
governed by the ten thousand commandments.
Impartiality is a pompous name for indifference, which is an elegant
name for ignorance.
In a world where everything is ridiculous, nothing can be ridiculed. You
cannot unmask a mask.
In truth, there are only two kinds of people; those who accept dogma and
know it, and those who accept dogma and don't know it.
It is a good exercise to try for once in a way to express any opinion
one holds in words of one syllable.
It is the test of a good religion whether you can make a joke about it.
It isn't that they can't see the solution. It is that they can't see the
Let all the babies be born. Then let us drown those we do not like.
Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.
Materialists and madmen never have doubts.
Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they
differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.
Men invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals. They
look forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back.
Most men now are not so much rushing to extremes as sliding to extremes;
and even reaching the most violent extremes by being almost entirely
Music with dinner is an insult both to the cook and violinist.
Not only does “orthodox” no longer mean being right, it practically
means being wrong.
Of a sane man there is only one safe definition. He is a man who can
have tragedy in his heart and comedy in his head.
One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more
distant than any star.
One of the great disadvantages of hurry is that it takes such a long
One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.
Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.
Reason itself is a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that
our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.
Satan fell by force of gravity.
Silence is the unbearable repartee.
The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies;
probably because they are generally the same people.
The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been
found difficult; and left untried.
The church is the one thing that saves a man from the degrading
servitude of being a child of his time.
The family is a good institution because it is uncongenial.
The historic glory of America lies in the fact that it is the one nation
that was founded like a church. That is, it was founded on a faith that
was not merely summed up after it had existed; it was defined before it
The honest poor can sometimes forget poverty. The honest rich can never
The inner light is the shortest route to the outer darkness.
The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.
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 only sure way of catching a train is to miss the one before it.
The paradox of courage is that a man must be a little careless of his
life even in order to keep it.
The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have
always objected to being governed at all.
The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong
about what is right.
The rich are the scum of the earth in every county.
The successful businessman sometimes makes money by ability and
experience, but he generally makes it by mistake.
The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him,
but because he loves what is behind him.
The ultimate effect of the great science of Fingerprints is this: that
whereas a gentleman was expected to put on gloves to dance with a lady,
he may now be expected to put on gloves in order to strangle her.
The vulgar man is always the most distinguished, for the very desire to
be distinguished is vulgar.
The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost.
The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and
Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes.
The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being
corrected. - G. K. Chesterton, Illustrated Londone News, April 19, 1924
The world is not lacking in wonders, but in a sense of wonder.
There are no wise few. Every aristocracy that has ever existed has
behaved, in all essential points, exactly like a small mob.
There are those who hate Christianity and call their hatred an
all-embracing love for all religions.
There are two kinds of fires. The Bad Fire and the Good Fire. And the
paradox is that the Good Fire is made of bad things, of things that we
do not want; but the Bad Fire is made of good things, of things that we
There cannot be a nation of millionaires, and there never has been a
nation of Utopian comrades; but there have been any number of nations of
tolerably contented peasants.
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.
There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not go through the
There is but an inch of difference between the cushioned chamber and the
There is more simplicity in the man who eats caviar on impulse than in
the man who eats Grape Nuts on principle.
There is nothing that fails like success.
There is nothing the matter with Americans except their ideals. The real
American is all right; it is the ideal American who is all wrong.
To be clever enough to get all that money, one must be stupid enough to
To have a right to do a thing is not all the same as to be right in
Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.
Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few
Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our
ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.
Twenty million young women rose to their feet with the cry “We will not
be dictated to”; and proceeded to become stenographers.
When you break the big laws, you do not get liberty; you do not even get
anarchy. You get the small laws.
When you choose anything, you reject everything else.
Wit is a sword; it is meant to make people feel the point as well as see
Without a gentle contempt for education no man's education is complete.
Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking
educated people seriously.
You can never have a revolution in order to establish a democracy. You
must have a democracy in order to have a revolution.
You can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth
You could compile the worst book in the world entirely out of selected
passages from the best writers in the world
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