What's Wrong With The World

By G. K. Chesterton

If someone is going to pick apart your faults, let it be God or G.K. Chesterton; God because he is always right, Chesterton because he will deliver his grievance with with a genial thoughtfulness and wit. 

In What's Wrong with the World Chesterton is philosophical, practical and tactical. He is addressing English society, in a broader sense issues that are wrong with the world, particularly Socialism. 

Chesterton writes, "This book deals with what is wrong, wrong in our root of argument and effort. The wrong is, I say, that we will go froward because we dare not go back." (page 136)

His book is divided into five parts:

Part 1, The Homelessness of Man. Chesterton attacks aristocracy, which has forced common men out of homes and into factories. Contemporary aristocratic man does not look back to customs and traditions, but marches to the fad of fashion. Contemporary man is "always looking at the future with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back." (page 20). "If I am to discuss what is wrong, one of the first things that are wrong is this: the deep and silent modern assumption that past things have become impossible." (page 22) "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried." (page 26)

Part 2, Imperialism, Or The Mistake About Man.

The idea of private property universal but private, the idea of families free but still families, of domesticity democratic but still domestic, of one man one house – this remains the real vision and magnet of mankind. The world may accept something more official and general, less human and intimate. But the world will be like a broken–hearted woman who makes a hum drum marriage because she may not make a happy one; Socialism may be the world’s deliverance, but it is not the worlds desire. (page 43)

Part 3, Feminism, Or The Mistake About Woman. Here Chesterton addresses women's suffrage in Great Britain, examining both his superficial objections (women are not militant enough in their efforts) and the more subtle questions he sees behind the movement. Chesterton argues that women's suffrage is, at least in part, a consequence of a woman's desire to "get out of the home." He contends life at home is no less "drudgery" (dreadfully hard work) than in the marketplace. Woman's work in the home is not small work:

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? . . . No; a woman's function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute.

Part of his point rests on the fact that many women did not want the vote, and to force it upon them is actually undemocratic.

Part 4, Education: Or The Mistake About The Child. Chesterton argues that a "Socialist" idea of general education which puts the choices for what is taught in a "little oligarchy" is wrongheaded, "The trouble in too many of our modern schools is that the State, being controlled so specially by the few, allows cranks and experiments to go straight to the schoolroom when they have never passed through the Parliament, the public house, the private house, the church, or the marketplace." (page 98). He adds so much more, including this gem:

The word must keep one great amateur, lest we all become artists and perish. Somebody must renounce all specialist conquests, that she may conquer all the conquerors That she may be a queen of life, she must not be a private soldier in it.

Part 5, The Home Of Man:The problem in England is that of the common man who lacks a free family (it is shaped by education) and his own home/land. Christendom stands for all humanity, "for the essential and distinctive idea that one good and happy man is an end in himself, that a soul is worth saving." (page 126) This is over against the evolutionary idea of the "Soul of the Hive," that the nation must live for the common good as bees presumably do for their hive.

One of the delights of reading Chesterton, a Catholic, is the Catholic's take on the difference between Puritanism and Catholicism, the difference "not about whether some priestly word or gesture is significant and sacred. It is about whether any word or gesture is significant and sacred."

As with many books, I own both paper and Audible versions. My paper copy is considerably marked, but many of those markings are with the additional background information supplied in brief running asides on the many individuals or subjects Chesterton introduces in his pages which are explained in the Audible version.

You can't (well, I can't anyway) read Chesterton quickly. You must sit with him as he has sat with his thoughts, thoughts percolating in stew of ideas from his day and before. The man was amazingly well read.