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.
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