For Chesterton fans

I hope this is the correct forum to ask this quesiton.

I had always thought that G. K. Chesterton was a good, and brilliant Catholic author. In his book WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE WORLD it is clear that he admired the French Revolution. I find this amazing since Catholics were murderer with regularity during that so called enlightenment. This is quite confusing. If you are a Chesterton fan I’d appreciate your “take” on this (what I consider to be a) problem.


please post chapter(s) #'s not clear as to the location

If I can recall from when I read it, my impression was that GKC criticized the French Revolution for failing to reach it’s stated ideals, along the same reasoning as his famous quotation about Christianity having never really been tried, which is somewhere leading up to that section.

He says the Fr. Revol was only half a success (these are not exact quotes, from my memory), and that the only way merciless men “of the people” like Robespierre and Marat could be so revered was because they were poor, meaning not of the aristocracy, not for their ideas alone. GKC admired not the French Revolution, but the idea of republican government, which the revolution did not fully achieve, even though ultimately liberating the peasants.

I will have to go back and look in more detail, but I do recall that upon reading it the impression you have never occurred to me. So…hmm?

Hi April,

Chapter VI “The Enemies of Property” Here is one quote

“The French Revolution, therefore, is the type of all true revolutions, because its ideal is as old as the Old Adam, but its fulfilment almost as fresh, as miraculous, and as new as the New Jerusalem.”


I was in the process of replying to you when the window disappeared. I will attempt to write another. Sorry if my uncompleted one shows up along with this one.

You have a good memory. However I cannot understand why a Catholic, especially a person of the caliber of Chesterton, can think that anything about the French Revolution was good. Even if the goal was good, and I would argue against that. Everything about it was evil. It is Catholic 101 that it is never permissible to do evil to achieve a good result. If you read Belloc’s THE FRENCH REVOLUTION or Warren Carroll’s The GUILLOTINE and the CROSS I think that you will see what I mean.


This sounds like a description rather than an endorsement. There is no statement that a true revolution is either good or bad, just a note that the French revolution may be placed in that category. Context might lend additional perspective.


You are of course correct. I gave only one quote because I wanted to give a “flavor” of what Chesterton wrote since I could not copy the entire chapter but, as I see it, context does not alter the meaning.


The challenge is that the O.P asserts that it is clear that Chesterton admires the French Revolution while the quote used to support that assertion describes the French Revolution as a true revolution but does not seem to suggest either admiration or condemnation.
It may well be just the way I am reading the quote. :o
A few more sentences bracketing the quote might shed additional light.:slight_smile:
May God bless us all.

Another way of dealing with this is to remove some words. First the quote: “The French Revolution, therefore, is the type of all true revolutions, because its ideal is as old as the Old Adam, but its fulfilment almost as fresh, as miraculous, and as new as the New Jerusalem.”
Now for my experiment: “The French Revolution, therefore, is…. as miraculous, and as new as the New Jerusalem (Heaven? Hardly).

But removing the word “almost” has a distorting effect upon the message. “Almost” implies that it fails to be as fresh, as miraculous, or as new as the new Jerusalem. It seems that Chesterton might agree with you that such a case would hardly stand to be equated with heaven.

I think it’s essential to read Chesterton’s comments on Christian paradoxes in ch 6 of Orthodoxy, his several references to Christianity as the key to the “hole” in the world, and his comments that paganism seeks absolute and absurd simplicity, while Christianity has used its orthodoxy, with balance and common sense to contend with the world’s complexity.
Perhaps the greatest paradox is whether we think our primary Christian mission is seeking our own personal salvation through clean charity, celibacy, pacificism, or mysticism–praying for the end of the age and doom to evildoers–or are we charged primarily instead to do our best in the messy charity of assisting and protecting our neighbors?

I just finished reading Will Durant’s The Age of Napoleon last week.

When the French Revolution began, all the intellectuals welcomed it. The goal of the the revolutionists was “liberty, equality, fraternity”. Well! Who could be against that? :smiley:

The eminent British philosopher and political commentator Edmund Burke wrote an essay titled “Reflections on the French Revolution” in which he started off praising the Revolution.
But in time things started going wrong. King Louis XVI and his wife were guillotined. The French Terror followed. Danton, a Revolution leader who had sent many people to the guillotine was himself sent to the guillotine by his political rival Robispierre who later was also sent to the guillotine. As Danton went to his death he said, “Better to be a fisherman than a governor of men”.

Where was liberty? Equality? Fraternity? Forget it. Social order was wrecked. Nobody was safe from criminals anywhere anytime. The constantly evolving government became a dictatorship. There was nobody to stop it until Napoleon came along, and he became a dictator.
The final form of Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the French Revolution” were condemnatory.

The English are well aware of history and know that the French Revolutions showed mob rule is lawlessness. Chesterton apparently saw no need to mention it in that quote.

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