The real hero

Posted by Tory Historian Tuesday, March 03, 2009 , , ,

G.K.Chesterton is a difficult person to write about or to assess. He was, in that much overused phrase, larger than life, physically and intellectually, though in the latter he often produced small mean-minded ideas.

The Father Brown stories, possibly the best known of his output, are largely so-so as detective stories though immensely enjoyably for other reasons, not least the protagonist's philosophical and theological musings. Those famous paradoxes, on the other hand, do pall after a while.

Chesterton also wrote about the art of detective fiction and many of his ideas are of great interest. In "A Defence of Detective Stories" published in 1901 in a not very well remembered collection, "The Defender" he had this to say:

There is, however, another good work that is don by detective stories. While it is the constant tendency of the Old Adam to rebel against so universal an automatic a thing as civilization, to preach departure and rebellion, the romance of police activiey keeps in some sense before the mind the fact that civilization itself is the most sensational of departurres and the most romantic
of rebellions.

By dealing with the unsleeping sentinesl who guard the outsposts of society, it tends to remind us that we live in an armed camp, making war with a chaotic world, and that criminals, the children of chaos, are nothing but the traitors within our gates.

When the detective in a police romance stands alone, and somewhat fatuously fearless amid the knives and fists of a thieves' kitchen, it does certainly serve to make us remember that it is the agent of social justice who is the original and poetic figure, while the burglars and footpads are merely placid old cosmic conservatives, happy in the immemorial respectability of apes and

The romance of the police force is thus the whole romance of man. It is based on the fact that morality is the most dark and daring of conspiracies. It reminds us that the whole noiseless and unnoticeable police management by which we are ruled and protected is only a successful knight-errantry.
That last sentence might have been said by many people but the notion that it is the policeman who is the real romantic rebel is true Chestertonianism. Then again, it was this blog that pointed out the fact that the protagonist of that essentially conservative film "The Young Mr Pitt" is really a true romantic hero. Romanticism, let us not forget, was, in the first place a conservative rebellion against the all-embracing ideas of Enlightenment that had gone so badly wrong during the French Revolution and the Terror.

1 Responses to The real hero

  1. GK Chesterton the prince of paradox - a colossus.

    Taking on atheist, anarchist and fabian alike.

    From 'The Man Who Was Thursday' - one in the eye for our current liberal elite masters from 100 years ago:

    "We deny the snobbish English assumption that the uneducated are the dangerous criminals. We remember the Roman Emperors. We remember the great poisoning princes of the Renaissance. We say that the most dangerous criminal is the educated criminal. We say that the most dangerous criminal is the entirely lawless modern philosopher. Compared to him, burglars and bigamists are essentially moral people, and my heart goes out to them."

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