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The Wonder of the World: Hannah Arendt, G. K. Chesterton and Ecological Populism


Richard Gill



The following text is based upon five years of research and writing which culminated in the successful submission for a Ph.D. at Keele University in the UK (awarded 2002).  The Wonder of the World presents a comparative study of the work of the German-American political theorist Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) and the English novelist, poet, and essayist Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936).  I suggest that although developed within very different cultural backgrounds, written in highly contrasting styles, and focused upon often quite different subject matters, the work of these two authors does nevertheless display a considerable degree of common ground.  Revealing that Arendt was both familiar with and appreciative of Chesterton’s work in a number of literary fields, The Wonder of the World explores the most important aspects of such common ground in terms of these writers’ respective interpretations of the philosophical, economic, and political dimensions of modernity.  It aims to show that both Arendt and Chesterton anchor their thought in the experience of wonder and gratitude for existence together with the sense of limits which gratitude implies.  Both maintain that the realm of human affairs should not escape this wondering gaze and so emphasize the unnatural and plural aspects of human beings whose lives are best understood in terms of unexpected actions and stories rather than predictable patterns of behavior.  Economically, both defend genuine privately owned property against either capitalist monopoly or socialist control and offer a critique of the eclipse of both private and public life by an unlimited desire for the accumulation of wealth driven by an ‘unnaturally natural’ dynamism which overruns humanly established boundaries and stable structures.  Politically, both sympathize with revolutionary attempts to break with the present and establish an enduring home, or ‘world’, marked by decentralized institutions of public deliberation.  The Wonder of the World concludes with some possible directions in which an ‘ecological populist’ perspective, taking this Arendtian-Chestertonian common ground as its point of departure, could develop a critical theory of contemporary society.


Click on a link below to begin reading The Wonder of the World:


Introduction: Stranger than Fiction: Unexpected Affinities in the Thought of Hannah Arendt and G. K. Chesterton


Part One

1.                  Wonder and Gratitude in the Thought of Arendt

2.                  Chesterton on Wonder and the Theory of Thanks


Part Two

3.                  Modern Worldlessness and New Beginnings: Arendt’s Critique of the Rise of ‘Society’

4.                  Oikos and Logos: Chesterton’s Vision of Distributism


Part Three

5.         Arendt on ‘Universal Science’, the Holocaust and the Question of Technology

6.         Evolution or Revolution? Chesterton on the Evil of Eugenics and the Restoration of Creation


Conclusion: Toward an Ecological Populism




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I was initially unable to locate a publisher for The Wonder of the World – I have posted it on the web to make it freely available to any interested reader.


Update!  Material from the thesis is now being re-worked into articles and beginning to be published:


‘Chesterton’s Realism,’ Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature Vol. LVII, No. 3 (Spring, 2005): 203-17.


‘Afinidades Inesperadas: Hannah Arendt y G. K. Chesterton,’ Claves de Razón Práctica No. 157 (November, 2005): 72-77.


‘Hannah Arendt: Modern Worldlessness and New Beginnings,’ Southwest Philosophy Review Vol. 22, No. 2 (July, 2006): 35-52.


‘G. K. Chesterton: Social Criticism and the Sense of Wonder,’ Seven: An Anglo-American Literary Review Vol. 23 (2006): 11-30.


Oikos and Logos: Chesterton's Vision of Distributism,’ Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture Vol. 10, No.3 (Summer, 2007): 64-90.


‘Stranger than Fiction: Hannah Arendt and G. K. Chesterton,’ Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature Vol. LXII, No. 4 (Summer, 2010): 279-92.


Also, a Spanish language version should be published at some point as La Maravilla del Mundo: Hannah Arendt y G. K. Chesterton (Madrid: Acuarela Libros, forthcoming).



Copyright ã Richard J. Gill 2001-2003


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