Monday, March 3, 2014

"Often said silly things, like Plato"

We have picked up a new book, now that we have put The Republic behind us.  It is a G.K. Chesterton and it is this one:

It cost me $18.00 from, which ships to my house within several days and at no extra cost.  This is a dangerous thing.  One can convince oneself quite quickly to buy another book, and have it in one's lap in no time flat...  But Chesterton has been on my want-to-read-list, for quite some time.  After reading several volumes by Chesterton on the I-Pad while exercising (What I saw in America;  Eugenics and other Evils;  On George Bernhard Shaw) -- I have indulged in a hard copy which one can under-line in, take to sofa or bed, and generally make a decent mess of.  As I have a day time job, I have less time to read.  It will take several weeks to get through the 400 pages. We are already into the chapter on H.G. Wells (after suffering through a very long and boring introduction by a certain David Dooley).

It is a little frightening to find that I know so little about the men Chesterton speaks of, but this is just the point.  I want to know more about what happened intellectually in the 19th century and the turn of the century.  As a culture we seem to have a blind spot there, perhaps because everything before radio or WW I might as well be antiquity.  What is the difference to us between Plato and 400 B.C. or the 19th century?  They are all just various Wikipedia entries.

To make a quick link to Plato, let's begin with a quote that involves Plato and Rudyard Kipling.  Chesterton seems to value courage very highly, as we all do.  To stand against heresy takes courage.  Chesterton makes the point that as Europe has become more militarized, the average citizen has become less brave.  Something in Kipling and his view on military matters prompted this generalization.

"Now, the message of Rudyard Kipling, that upon which he has really concentrated, is the only thing worth worrying about in him or in any other man.  He has often written bad poetry, like Wordsworth.  He has often said silly things, like Plato.  He has often given way to mere political hysteria, like Gladstone.  But no one can reasonably doubt that he means steadily and sincerely to say something, and the only serious question is, what is hat which he has tried to say?  Perhaps the best way of stating this fairly will be to begin with that element which has been most insisted by himself and by his opponents--I mean his interest in militarism.  But when we are seeking for the real merits of a man it is unwise to go to his enemies, and much more foolish to go to himself.

Now, Mr. Kipling is certainly wrong in his worship of militarism, but his opponents are, generally speaking, quite as wrong as he.  The evil of militarism is not that it shows certain men to be fierce and haughty and excessively warlike.  The evil of militarism is that it show most men to be tame and timid and excessively peaceable.  The professional soldier gains more and more power as the general courage of a community declines... All ages and all epics have sung of arms and the man;  but we have effected simultaneously the deterioration of the man and the fantastic perfection of the arms.  Militarism demonstrated the decadence of Rome, and it demonstrated the decadence of Prussia." (p. 57)

--This is so very interesting, but about Rudyard Kipling I only know that he wrote the "Jungle Book".  About Prussia I know a lot more, having descended on one side of the family from Prussians. One of my grandmothers even saw a Kaiser Wilhelm.  I am afraid that the Prussians have not left a good impressions on Chesterton.  It will be interesting to see what else he has to say about them.

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R43302, Kaiser Wilhelm II. und Zar Nikolaus II..jpg

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