Chesterton has a lot to teach us about liberty and tyranny:
It is no secret that the English writer G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) may be my favourite author of all time. Given how many fave authors I have, that is saying something. I have two shelves filled with his works, and I by no means have all of his volumes. However, if there is someone who regularly visits this site who still does not know who he is, have a look at this piece for starters: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2011/01/24/notable-christians-g-k-chesterton/
One thing we do know about Chesterton is this: he sure wrote a lot. And he wrote about a lot of different things. He could just as easily write about religion, or literature, or history, as he could about politics, or spirituality, or art. He always had something to say, and he is always eminently quotable.
And when we live at a time when some very important things are now upon us, you can expect to see that Chesterton had written about them. Some of the key things I see shaping up in the West right now is the war on freedom and basic human rights, and the onset of Big Brother repression and ever-expanding statism.
Indeed, I happen to believe that this statism and tyranny that we have witnessed over the past two years is among the greatest evil of our time. And I happen to believe that things like the Canadian truckers freedom convoy and the Canberra freedom rallies are some of the most hopeful signs of much-needed resistance.
If the past two years have taught us anything, they have taught us that the State is never satisfied: it always wants more power and more control. And a crisis or an emergency is a perfect way of getting even more such powers. Feed the masses on fear and panic porn, and you can get away with just about anything.
And it has worked like a charm. For the most part the masses have bought right into it. They have fully downed the Kool-Aid. They have fallen for the narrative. Things are now so bad that I am willing to say this: if most westerners in mid-1989 sided with the solitary man defying the column of approaching tanks in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, today I am not so sure.
One wonders if most folks today would in fact side with the tanks and the government, and accuse this man of being a trouble-maker, a rebel, and a danger to public health and safety. They would argue that the State knows best, that it only has our own best interests at heart, and we should just fully submit. And yes, I have actually had people say things like this to me.
So we need the wisdom and insight of others to help us think straight and to see clearly. I have penned a number of pieces quoting others on the vital importance of freedom, and the very real dangers of statism. Here I will share twenty gems by Chesterton on such things as politics and politicians, the state and statism, tyrants and tyranny, and freedom and free men.
“It is the State which changes; it is the State which destroys; it is nearly always the State which persecutes. The Totalitarian State is now making a clean sweep of all our old notions of liberty, even more than the French Revolution made a clean sweep of all the old ideas of loyalty. It is the Church that excommunicates; but in that very word implies that a communion stands open for a restored communicant. It is the State that exterminates; it is the State that abolishes absolutely and altogether; whether it is the American State abolishing beer, or the Fascist State abolishing parties; or the Hitlerite State abolishing almost everything but itself.”
“There is not really any courage at all in attacking hoary or antiquated things, any more than in offering to fight one’s grandmother. The really courageous man is he who defies tyrannies young as the morning and superstitions fresh as the first flowers. The only true free-thinker is he whose intellect is as much free from the future as from the past.”
“In most modern politics, unfortunately, it may truly be said that those who make history never know history.”
“Just as it was the mark of the old tyranny to stretch the law, so it will be the mark of new tyranny to make a law that can be stretched.”
“Liberty is the very last idea that seems to occur to anybody, in considering any political or social proposal. It is only necessary for anybody for any reason to allege any evidence of any evil in any human practice, for people instantly to suggest that the practice should be suppressed by the police.”
“The man of the true religious tradition understands two things: liberty and obedience. The first means knowing what you really want. The second means knowing what you really trust.”
“Liberty is traditional and conservative; it remembers its legends and its heroes. But tyranny is always young and seemingly innocent, and asks us to forget the past.”
“Government has become ungovernable; that is, it cannot leave off governing. Law has become lawless; that is, it cannot see where laws should stop. The chief feature of our time is the meekness of the mob and the madness of the government.”
“It seemed somehow that politicians were very important. And yet, anything seemed important about them except their politics.”
“You Politicians are such ingrained demagogues that even when you have a despotism you think of nothing but public opinion.”
“You do not know a tyranny until it is on top of you; until it has you in a trap. The tyrant is not present until he is omnipresent.”
“If there is one fact we really can prove, from the history that we really do know, it is that despotism can be a development, often a late development and very often indeed the end of societies that have been highly democratic. A despotism may almost be defined as a tired democracy. As fatigue falls on a community, the citizens are less inclined for that eternal vigilance which has truly been called the price of liberty; and they prefer to arm only one single sentinel to watch the city while they sleep.”
“Loyalty is the heart of the commonwealth; but liberty is its lungs. You find out the necessity of liberty as you find out the necessity of air — by not having enough of it and gasping.”
“Once abolish the God, and the government becomes the God.”
“…what is really intolerable, what is really atrocious, is certainly this – that politicians should venture not merely to deceive the people about the things that the people do care about, but should insolently attempt to oppress the people in the things that the people do care about.”
“The wisest thing in the world is to cry out before you are hurt. It is no good to cry out after you are hurt; especially after you are mortally hurt. People talk about the impatience of the populace; but sound historians know that most tyrannies have been possible because men moved too late. It is often essential to resist a tyranny before it exists.”
“We may say that the successful demagogue must denounce demagogy. We may say that the tyrant must despise popularity in order to be popular. The real question is that of the effect on freedom. Now we all agree about freedom. We all agree that we must not take liberty, except from people who take liberties. Unfortunately, it is those systems, which boast of not taking liberty, that do take liberties.”
“What’s worthwhile to point out, first and last, is that Socialism is a tyranny; that it is inevitably, even avowedly and almost justifiably, a tyranny. It’s the pretense that government can prevent all injustice by being directly responsible for practically anything that happens.”
“Those of us who study the papers and the parliamentary speeches with proper attention must have by this time a fairly precise idea of the nature of the evil of Socialism. It is a remote Utopian dream impossible of fulfilment and also an overwhelming practical danger that threatens us at every moment.”
“This is the essential mark of tyranny: that it is always new. Tyranny always enters by the unguarded gate. The tyrant is always shy and unobtrusive. The tyrant is always a traitor. He has always come there on the pretence that he was protecting something which the people really wanted protected — religion, or public justice, or patriotic glory.”