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There are good, and not so good, reviews of Orthodoxy already, none for Heretics. So I will deal with the latter, only. I have the John Lane edition, 1905. Heretics is somewhat neglected in Chesterton's oeuvre, possibly because it is an early work (1905), and many of the writers discussed are out of fashion now. Yet, I believe Heretics contains not only his best writing, but it already establishes the main themes of his life's work. Technically, it is a book of literary criticism, but from an unusual point of view, that of his subjects' philosophy. "I am not concerned with Shaw as one of the most brilliant and one of the most honest men alive; I am concerned with him as a heretic--that is to say, a man whose philosophy is solid, quite coherent, and quite wrong." (p. 22) Brilliant though he was, Shaw expected reality to conform to an inhuman ideal: "He has all the time been silently comparing humanity with something that was not human, with a monster from Mars, with the Wise Man of the Stoics, with the Economic Man of the Fabians, with Julius Caesar, with Siegfried, with Superman. Now, to have this inner and merciless standard may be a very good thing, or a very bad one, it may be excellent or unfortunate. but it is not seeing things as they are." (pp. 62-63) This is excellent writing, whether we entirely agree or not. It may be a little unfair to Shaw, but it is fair to life. Chesterton is often called an optimist. But he knew the other side, as anyone reading Alzina Stone Dale's life, The Outline of Sanity, can find out. Joy in living, good beer, conversation, balance, sanity, these were achievements, not just nature. I have never read, or even found, the books of Mr. George Moore who wrote an autobiography.Read more ›
Chesterton, as the last representitive of a certain type of Englishman, is constantly at odds with the mores and assumptions of this modern world. For this reason he is probably more worth reading than any of his contemporaries, even Shaw and Wells, because whereas we have largely inherited their ideas, in Chesterton you find that which would never have occurred to you. His writings on the subject of Democracy should be required reading: our society is almost completely ignorant on that subject, to its tremendous detriment. Nearly every essay in _Heretics_ is a revelation, and _Orthodoxy_ is practically a study in how subtle and surprising good sense can be.
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