The Corner

A Disagreement with TSE on Chesterton


In that same work, by the way, Eliot does get off a memorable zinger at the expense of G. K. Chesterton: “Mr. Chesterton’s brain swarms with ideas; I see no evidence that it thinks.” I must object that Eliot’s definition here of what constitutes thinking is rather too narrow for practical purposes. It’s true that Chesterton’s writing is not of the kind that syllogistically “proves” important conclusions; but neither, for that matter, are the works of most of the apologists (atheist, Christian, or other) who pride themselves on their mastery of logic. The most important truths are not often vivified in the mind by syllogism; they are made present, much more often, by insight. And the flashes of insight in Chesterton are frequently brilliant: They have helped illuminate the minds of hundreds of thousands — if not, by now, millions — of people. I am not an uncritical admirer of Chesterton — he was, in religion, something of what in sports broadcasting would be called a “homer” — but he was not only a great stylist, he also communicated some very important truths. He used his intellect in the service of truth, as best he could discern what the truth was; and that’s “thinking,” by any reasonable definition.

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