Monday, June 23, 2008

Chesterton on insults

More than 100 years ago, "the right not to be offended" was already snivelling its way through western society:
I see that Mr. Bernard Shaw has again got into hot water, if indeed he can be said ever to get out of it... Mr. Shaw writes a letter in which he says that he thinks that most amateur theatricals are pretentious and silly. He may be right or he may be wrong; but manifestly he has a right to criticise private theatricals, as much as he has a right to criticise the clouds in the sky. It is perfectly childish to talk (as I see numerous journalists are talking) about "an insult to amateur actors." What is an insult? In one sense, a critic only exists to offer insults; he is a professional insulter. If he is not there to object to the mental or moral condition of certain people, what is he there for? Of all the weak-minded manifestations of the modern cowardice, perhaps the most contemptible is this assumption of a collective sensitiveness, this banding of a class together against its critics. If you think the London drama dull, it is an insult to actors. If you think the London streets ugly, it is an insult to architects. If you suggest that the London streets are dirty, it is an insult to the sacred Guild of Crossing-Sweepers. The whole of our moral indignation is to be reserved, apparently, to those who point out an evil; we are never to insult anybody except when we insult the insulter of wrong. We want to get rid of the whole idea of "insult" in this sense. A state of freedom ought to mean a state in which no man can silence another. As it is, it means a state in which every man must silence himself. It ought to mean that Mr. Shaw can say a thing twenty times, and still not make me believe it. As it is, it means that Mr. Shaw must leave off saying it, because my exquisite nerves will not endure to hear somebody saying something with which I do not agree. Freedom means that we cannot oppress each other. But unless we insult each other we shall never do anything.

G.K. Chesterton, The Illustrated London News March 17, 1906

And the delicious irony is, that Canada proudly hosts a Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake every year. We flatter ourselves that WE appreciate the genius of George Bernard Shaw, when in fact, we're the sort of morons about whom he'd have written caustic plays, and then we'd have dragged him before a Human Rights Commission to justify himself.

4 Comments:

Blogger Phil said...

Nice find, Mabuse. Count on GKC to have an apt thing to say about events in the colonies, a hundred years later.

4:32 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"my exquisite nerves will not endure to hear somebody saying something with which I do not agree"

I always thought Chesterton was brilliant, but for his words to be so apt in such a far-removed age from his own requires nothing short of genius.

This zinger could have been written for the Sock Puppet Three.

Ellie M.

7:09 pm  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

Chesterton is truly amazing - honestly, it seems as if there was NOTHING about which he didn't write. When you think of all the history that has passed between 1906 and 2008, who would imagine that a commentary from that long-ago Edwardian era would sound as fresh as a sentence written yesterday? And this happens again and again, even when you read his journalism. His books on religion, biography and history, that's not so surprising - we can think that he might have been writing "for the ages" (though he always wrote in the same urgent, up-to-the-moment manner). But his newspaper articles!

8:37 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the spirit of Chesterton, I guess I am allowed to print that, in my opinion, you seem to be a flatus-filled windbag douche.

Nyuck, Nyuck, Nyuck...CER-TAIN-LY

10:10 am  

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