G.K. Chesterton on Race versus Nation

muddle's picture

To my mind, G.K. Chesterton eclipses all other essayists for his elegant wrting style, dry wit (sometimes he is uproariously funny), and penetrating analysis of the issues of his day.

Of course, weighing in at well over 300 lbs, he would eclipse just about anyone if strategically placed.

I've just (re)read his essay, "Celts and Celtophiles," which constitutes chapter 13 of his book of 1905, Heretics.

There, he argues that the theory of race is a piece of dangerous nonsense, and all that matters is one's nation. The Irish are Irish, not Celts. The English are English, not Teutons.

I draw attention to it here as I think the argument of the essay may have some relevance for how we think of our nation today. I leave it as an exercise to the reader to determine what, if any, application there is.

Chesterton was a a staunch English patriot who loved England simply because she was English. He argued elsewhere that places become great because people love them. It is not the case that they are loved because they are great.

Here's a link to the full text of the chapter. (Indeed, you can read the entire book, as well as others by GKC at this website.)

Celts and Celtophiles

For those who for some strange reason do not wish to read an entire chapter from the world's greatest essayist, here are a few choice excerpts.

Of all the forms in which science, or pseudo-science, has come to the rescue of the rich and stupid, there is none so singular as the singular invention of the theory of races.
Nationality exists, and has nothing in the world to do with race. Nationality is a thing like a church or a secret society; it is a product of the human soul and will; it is a spiritual product. And there are men in the modern world who would think anything and do anything rather than admit that anything could be a spiritual product.

[Think about what he means by "spiritual product"]

[I like this next one. If this is true of Ireland, how much more should it be true of us?]

Now, of this great spiritual coherence, independent of external circumstances, or of race, or of any obvious physical thing, Ireland is the most remarkable example. Rome conquered nations, but Ireland has conquered races. The Norman has gone there and become Irish, the Scotchman has gone there and become Irish, the Spaniard has gone there and become Irish, even the bitter soldier of Cromwell has gone there and become Irish. Ireland, which did not exist even politically, has been stronger than all the races that existed scientifically. The purest Germanic blood, the purest Norman blood, the purest blood of the passionate Scotch patriot, has not been so attractive as a nation without a flag. Ireland, unrecognized and oppressed, has easily absorbed races, as such trifles are easily absorbed. She has easily disposed of physical science, as such superstitions are easily disposed of. Nationality in its weakness has been stronger than ethnology in its strength. Five triumphant races have been absorbed, have been defeated by a defeated nationality.

Mr. Timothy Healy, the most serious intellect in the present House of Commons, summed up nationality to perfection when he simply called it something for which people will die, As he excellently said in reply to Lord Hugh Cecil, "No one, not even the noble lord, would die for the meridian of Greenwich."

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Submitted by Davids mom on Tue, 02/26/2008 - 11:57pm.

Thank you for sharing! I'm sure others read it also.

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