101 Years Ago – G.K. Chesterton on Home Rule


Christopher Houseman

Although he wrote the following passage in 1909 about the United Kingdom and the question of Irish Home Rule, G.K. Chesterton might just as well have written it about the EU and UKIP. Enjoy:

union is no more a good thing in itself than separation is a good thing in itself. To have a party in favour of union and a party in favour of separation, is as absurd as to have a party in favour of going upstairs and a party in favour of going downstairs. The question is not whether we go up or down stairs, but where we are going to, and what we are going for? Union is strength; union is also weakness. It is a good thing to harness two horses to a cart; but it is not a good thing to try and turn two hansom cabs into one four-wheeler. Turning ten nations into one empire may happen to be as feasible as turning ten shillings into one half-sovereign. Also it may happen to be as preposterous as turning ten terriers into one mastiff. The question in all cases is not a question of union or absence of union, but of identity or absence of identity.
Chesterton, G. K. (2010). Heretics (255). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Chesterton wrote the above in the context of correcting the idea that older politicians like Gladstone were idealists whereas newer ones like Joseph Chamberlain were materialists. In fact, he noted, the real difference between them was that Gladstone thought of his ideals as things he would like to change reality to resemble, whereas Chamberlain thought his ideals simply described the way things were in any case.

Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.

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