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Stranger than Fiction:

Unexpected Affinities in the Thought of Hannah

Arendt and G. K. Chesterton



This book explores those themes which are common to the work of Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) and Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936). Now, judging from their respective biographies and reputations, one would initially imagine that such a comparative study of the work of the German-Jewish political theorist Arendt and the English-Christian novelist, poet and journalist Chesterton, would be an untenable project. After all, Arendt was educated at the universities of Marburg, Freiburg, and Heidelberg where she received instruction from such leading figures in European philosophy as Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers. After the war, and in exile in America, Arendt rose to public recognition as the somber analyst of the various historical factors which had crystallized into the twentieth century nightmares of Nazism and Stalinism—“the dark lady of American intellectuals,” in Stephen Whitfield’s characterization.[1] Chesterton, by contrast, left the Slade School of Art without a degree, embarked on a career as a novelist, poet and Fleet street journalist where he cut an eccentric and obese figure with his cape, slouch hat and sword-stick—the epitome of absent-mindedness and wine-fuelled joviality. Considering the kind of imagery associated with each writer, it is understandable that for many the central claim of The Wonder of the World may appear as incomprehensibly bizarre. But as we shall see, there really are striking similarities in the thought of these admittedly quite different writers.[2]


To the intellectual skeptic who doubts this claim, it can be pointed out that Arendt had herself read Chesterton and considered him an important figure—a radical whose polemical journalism was unsurpassed. Fortunately, this is a fact which can be confirmed by reading the neglected essay ‘Christianity and Revolution’ (1945), now made easily available by the recent edition of Arendt’s early essays collected by Jerome Kohn.[3] There are indeed other occasional references to Chesterton scattered throughout Arendt’s works, but I suspect that many of those familiar with the political thought of Arendt will not have heard of Chesterton or have become aware that Arendt had read and admired his works. Arendt was in fact familiar with Chesterton’s work in a variety of fields: poetry, fiction, philosophical biography, journalism, even including one of his obscure works of first world war propaganda.[4] Arendt, unfortunately, does not say a great deal about Chesterton, but from what she did write it is clear that she held him in high regard and considered him to have been one of the most significant voices of protest against a world which was retreating from reality and instead manufacturing a fictitious and ideological alternative. 


Yet because Chesterton is now an unknown figure amongst the overwhelming majority of social and political theorists, I suspect that references to him in Arendt’s work remain ‘invisible’.[5] Within the context of this introductory chapter I intend to highlight those references and to suggest that, although indeed written from contrasting perspectives and in an all together dissimilar style, the works of these two thinkers do display a considerable degree of common ground regarding their respective analyses of the human condition and the dilemmas of modernity. It is not my concern within the context of the present study to consider whether Chesterton did or did not significantly and directly influence Arendt’s own thought. Neither do I claim that Arendt and Chesterton’s thinking is the same and that it can be compressed under a single perspective. However, based on the fact that Arendt does refer her readers to Chesterton for illustration of the modern retreat from reality, does quote him for a description of modern subjectivism and does praise him for his recognition of the limits to the human condition[6] I do believe that Arendt would have recognized in her reading of Chesterton descriptions of the very phenomenon—albeit in a pre-totalitarian context—that she was herself attempting to come to terms with. 


Indeed my principal aim in this book is to demonstrate that although developed within very different cultural backgrounds, written in highly contrasting styles, and focussed 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, this book 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 existence of such common ground is quite striking—particularly when viewed against the background of Arendt and Chesterton’s very different personalities, experiences and the contrasting forms and styles of writing.


The exploration of this common ground in the following chapters will, I hope, be of interest to both Arendtians and Chestertonians as well as all those who are today concerned with facing up to the reality of the modern world and who, unable to submit to the dominant options of conformity or escapism, hope to find an alternative way of establishing an enduring home on this earth. That this alternative will have to be much more ‘Green’ in its vision I do not doubt—facing the reality of our situation will entail the need to recognize that on a planet of finite resources and space we must impose limits to economic growth.  But this new ecological vision need not be anti-human—for as both Chesterton and Arendt believed, accepting a framework of limits is the prerequisite to living out our more distinctively human characteristics. Out of the common ground between Arendt and Chesterton I believe we can begin to sketch an ecological politics which avoids the irrationalism and pantheism of the so-called ‘deep ecology’ as well as the conformism of an ‘environmentalism’ which would leave us both cut off from appreciating the objective value in nature as well as living a more humanly satisfying life.[7] Although my main intention in this book is to outline the different ways in which Arendt and Chesterton approached the concerns which they held in common, I will also take the opportunity of suggesting some ecological implications of their thought. This book will therefore conclude 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.



Populism, Anti-Semitism, and Christianity


On closer examination, Arendt’s admiration for Chesterton is not so perplexing as it may initially appear. For obscured by Chesterton’s ‘Toby-jug’ reputation is the fact that he had been one of the leading public intellectuals in Edwardian England who also found a welcome reception for his work in the United States of America. Chesterton was a very prolific author whose major works were translated into a variety of European languages and which gained him an international reputation as a leading commentator on the social and political events of the time. Many today will be surprised to find that this supposedly ‘reactionary’ figure was in fact—as Arendt herself realized—a radical committed to the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. Chesterton had indeed influenced the thought of such leading English socialists as G. D. H. Cole and R. H. Tawney.[8] Chesterton’s radicalism and his religious-philosophical world-view had so impressed the East German Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch that he declared Chesterton to have been “among the most intelligent men who have ever lived.”[9] In a more conservative vein, Chesterton’s exposition and defense of Christianity was so startling and original that no less a figure than C. S. Lewis held him largely responsible for his own final conversion to Christianity.[10] Thus despite his journalistic manner and lack of formal academic qualifications, Chesterton cannot be dismissed as a mere intellectual lightweight.  His influence on both his own and subsequent generations—of various backgrounds and perspectives—had been considerable.


Perhaps we can begin to see that Arendt’s praise for Chesterton is not so odd as it may initially appear. Chesterton had been one of England’s most powerful of ‘radical populist’ writers.[11] Vigorously anti-capitalist, yet believing socialism would lead to tyranny, Chesterton distrusted the rule of elites and experts and favored the common sense of ordinary people who, he believed, ought to possess their own productive property as a guarantee of their political freedom and should no longer remain the servants either of a class of capitalists, political administrators—or, indeed, aristocratic landowners.


Thus in his opposition to modern industrial society Chesterton did not take up a Right-wing or romantic irrationalist position, as some may initially assume. Arendt herself wished to drive home the point about Chesterton’s democratic radicalism. In ‘Christianity and Revolution,’ she distinguishes between radical Catholic converts such as Chesterton and those “Catholics without faith” who were not themselves attracted to the Church by any teachings of charity, democracy, or human equality—which they found repugnant—but out of a desire for authoritarian and hierarchical organization. Chesterton in England, with Péguy and Bernanos in France, were quite different from such “dilettantes of fascism” according to Arendt:


For what these men hated in the modern world was not democracy but the lack of it. They saw through the appearances of democracies which might be more accurately described as plutocracies and through the trimmings of a republic which was much more a political machine. What they sought was freedom for the people and reason for the mind. What they started from was a deep hatred of bourgeois society, which they knew was essentially anti-democratic and fundamentally perverted. What they fought against always was the insidious invasion of bourgeois morals and standards into all walks of life and all classes of people. They were indeed struggling against something very ominous, . . . the all-pervading influence of bourgeois mentality in the modern world.[12]


‘Christianity and Revolution’ provides a good example of the radical populist element in Arendt’s early work and which, according to Margaret Canovan, “is clearly visible in [The Origins of] Totalitarianism in which . . . she is not only extremely hostile to the bourgeoisie, but also takes care to distinguish ‘mob’ and ‘masses’ from ‘the people’, ‘the workers’ movements or the working class.”[13] While Canovan believes that Arendt’s later engagement with the work of Marx led her to question such ‘radical pieties’, Richard J. Bernstein in his recent study Hannah Arendt and the Jewish Question stresses the continuity in Arendt’s thought. According to Bernstein: “[T]here is a strong radical populist strand in her thinking about politics. She advocated a politics ‘from below’ in which the Jewish people would organize themselves and fight for their rights as Jews in alliance with other oppressed groups. There is a direct continuity between her earliest summons to the Jewish people to fight for their political rights and her later attempt to recover ‘the lost treasure’ of the revolutionary spirit.”[14] This populism, “the most persistent strand in Arendt’s understanding of politics”, is intimately connected with her adoption of the position of the ‘conscious pariah’. Arendt, writes Bernstein, “was never tempted to ‘belong’ to society; she never wanted to be the ‘exceptional Jew’; she never exhibited any parvenu tendencies. She wrote to Karl Jaspers:  ‘I’m more than ever of the opinion that a decent human existence is possible today only on the fringes of society.’”[15] This populism and the support of the pariah, the marginal figure “who is at once an outsider and yet never completely an outsider,” writes Bernstein, is also reflected in Arendt’s sympathy for the losing side in history:  “She was never afraid of championing the defeated cause—and knew the consequences of doing so.”[16] Against the progressive view of history and against the belief that a cause is vindicated by success, Arendt liked to cite the line from Cato: “victrix causa deis placuit, sed victa Catoni (the victorious cause pleases the gods, but the defeated cause pleases Cato).”[17]


Indeed, Chesterton’s sympathies were also with the defeated side in history and he was constantly ridiculing the ‘worship of success’[18] and all the other ‘fads’ (as he called them) of the privileged classes which, more often than not, represented not only an attack on reason but on the freedoms of ordinary people.  Despite his literary success in a number of fields—including poetry, fiction, drama, biography, literary criticism, history, travel writing, social criticism and Christian apologetics—Chesterton had begun his writing career as a journalist and he always thought of himself in those terms. By the end of his life he had written thousands of essays for countless newspapers and periodicals in which he subjected the fashions of the modernist intelligentsia and the barbarities of industrial capitalism to a withering critique from the standpoint of the ‘perennial philosophy’ which he came to believe was embodied in orthodox Christianity. 


If Arendt does not herself endorse Chesterton’s Christian radical-populist solution to the malaise of modernity, she does seem to have particularly admired such attacks upon the various absurd and fanatically pursued ‘progressive’ doctrines which had become a hallmark of modernity:


It is a remarkable phenomenon, and something to start our progressives thinking, that as far as polemics go these Catholic converts or neo-Catholics have come out as victors. There are no more amusing, or better-written polemics against the host of modern superstitions, from Christian Science to gymnastics as a means to salvation, to teetotalism, and Krishnamurti, than Chesterton’s essays. . . . 

Since the turn of the century these converts, it would seem, have felt that their proper field was politics and their task to become true revolutionaries, that is, more radical than the radicals. And in a sense they were right, right at least as long as they remained in the negative and took the offensive. . . .  When Chesterton describes the rich man who for the pretended sake of humanity has adopted some fancy new vegetarian rule as the man who does not go ‘without gardens and gorgeous rooms which poor men can’t enjoy’ but has ‘abolished meat because poor men like meat,’ or when he denounces the ‘modern philanthropist’ who does not give up ‘petrol or . . . servants’ but rather ‘some simple universal things’ like ‘beef or sleep, because these pleasures remind him that he is only a man’—then Chesterton has better described the fundamental ambitions of the ruling classes than have all the academic discussions of the functions of capitalists.[19]


To Arendt, who herself defied the political Left/Right conventions, Chesterton’s populism, ‘so long as it remained in the negative,’ was far from unappealing. Chesterton’s constant attacks on intellectual stupidity would not have gone amiss with Arendt who had herself witnessed the moral cowardice and political naiveté of academic philosophers who had kow-towed to Nazism—the case of her former teacher Heidegger in 1934 being the primary case.


But what then of Chesterton’s reputation for ‘anti-Semitism’? To those who know little of Chesterton’s actual works beyond his reputation as a ‘reactionary’ and an ‘anti-Semite’, Arendt’s praise for Chesterton must appear as particularly bewildering. Thus when Arendt’s friend, the poet W. H. Auden came to publish his own selection from Chesterton’s non-fictional writings he recounts that although he had always enjoyed reading Chesterton’s novels and poems, it had been quite some time since he had read any of his non-fiction, partly because of this reputation for anti-Semitism.[20] In itself, it must be pointed out, this is a slightly eccentric position to take as it is possible to read through volumes of Chesterton’s essays without ever encountering any references to Jews while it is in his rather cartoon-like fiction that negatively portrayed Jewish characters will sometimes appear.


Arendt had certainly read Chesterton’s The New Jerusalem (1920)—which contains his longest statement on the Jewish question—and it is noteworthy that she actually quotes from this book in the ‘Antisemitism’ section of The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), not as a means of criticizing Chesterton, but in order to illustrate her own critique of what she refers to as the element of “Jewish chauvinism” to be found in certain assimilationist characters such as Disraeli, “if by chauvinism we understand  the perverted nationalism in which (in the words of Chesterton) ‘the individual is himself the thing to be worshipped; the individual is his own ideal and even his own idol.’”[21]


With these words, Chesterton was in fact referring to all ideologies which base themselves on the concept of race—racial theories were quite fashionable at the time and were precisely the kind of ‘quack’ beliefs against which he unleashed his wit and anger. Furthermore, eugenics—the (pseudo) scientific concern with ‘purifying’ the genetic stock of a given society—was another abstracted form of materialistic thinking against which, and in defiance of much fashionable and ‘progressive’ opinion, Chesterton summoned all his powers of wit and insight, exposing both the ludicrous nature of its assumptions and the tyrannical implications of its practice.[22] Chesterton’s thoughtless remarks about Jews thus appear within a framework quite distinct from that which is normally associated with anti-Semitism. What prompted Chesterton’s negative portrayal of Jewish characters was his deep antipathy to the dominance of international finance and governmental corruption rather than any identification with the kind of racial theories associated with such people as Houston Stewart Chamberlain or the Comte de Gobineau. Chesterton regarded such racial theories as “piece[s] of stupid materialism,” a shabby product of the “ethnological professors”[23]: “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.”[24]


Chesterton’s early thought was distinctly pro-Jewish and he did have close friendships with Jews, notably the writer Israel Zangwill and a number of leading Zionists, but this in itself, of course, is not enough to exonerate him. It is important to remember, however, that this admiration was mutual—which one could hardly expect if he had indeed been anti-Semitic. Chesterton always denied the charge of anti-Semitism,[25] whilst his own pro-Zionist views on the Jewish Question were offered as serious and sympathetic contributions—invitations to speak before meetings of Jewish groups were warmly accepted and he would be received as a stimulating and interesting speaker.[26] 


Arendt, as we have seen, hoped to distinguish Chesterton from fascist fellow travelers—the “Catholics without faith”—and she does not herself (at least not in print) level the accusation of anti-Semitism. But she does note that genuine Christian humanist radicals such as Chesterton had “sometimes stumbled into unhappy alliances with the ‘Catholics without faith,’ alliances in which they were destined to play the role of suckers. Witness Jacques Maritain’s relations with the Action Français, or the strange friendship between G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc.”[27] Arendt quite rightly distinguishes Chesterton from Belloc, with whom his views are often conflated into a single common perspective, the ‘Chesterbelloc’ in the popular term coined by George Bernard Shaw—originally coined, incidentally, to illustrate the unlikeliness of such a combination.[28] Indeed, Belloc’s own views were more in accord with Gilbert Chesterton’s brother Cecil Chesterton, with whom Belloc wrote The Party System[29] and neither of whom can easily be exonerated from the charge of anti-Semitism. Auden, like many, placed the blame on Belloc and Cecil Chesterton for encouraging Gilbert’s insensitivity to the realities of prejudice against Jews.


Like Chesterton himself, Arendt liked to make distinctions and it is at least possible that she would have thought that failing to distinguish between Chesterton and genuinely anti-Semitic writers would obscure the true nature of each. Thus while Chesterton was not infallible, I think it inaccurate to describe him as an anti-Semitic author—not least because linking someone who was by all contemporary personal testimony one of the most genuinely warm and spiritually generous of twentieth century intellectuals[30] and a tireless campaigner against injustice with anti-Semitism would represent a gross whitewash of the nature of the latter. It would also obscure Chesterton’s real admiration for Jewish history, culture and faith, together with his genuine hope for the future of the Jewish people.


To be sure, Chesterton failed to display sufficient sensitivity in his portrayal of Jews, something which is all the more striking because he had possessed, as Arendt casually remarks in The Origins of Totalitarianism, “one of the most sensitive minds” in Europe.[31] It ought to be recognized that when the Nazis did rise to power, Chesterton reacted immediately: within the pages of his own paper G. K.’s Weekly as well as in an anti-Nazi pamphlet he denounced the persecution of Jews—long before many other intellectuals recognized what was happening or perceived the reality of the threat posed by Nazism. According to a statement made by the Wiener Library, London’s archive on the holocaust and anti-Semitism which had investigated the case of Chesterton: “he was not an enemy, and when the real testing time came along he showed what side he was on.”[32]  


Chesterton’s populism and his reputation for ‘anti-Semitism’ would not have been barriers to Arendt’s admiration. This leaves the question of his Christianity.  Arendt’s criticism of the ‘unworldly’ character of Christianity in The Human Condition (1958) is well-known among students of her thought. Yet Arendt also recognized that it was Christ who had discovered the meaning of action and in particular the power of forgiveness to allow for a new beginning in human affairs. Christ’s insights, according to Arendt, are unprecedented in their originality and he is considered as a paradigm man of action: “The only activity Jesus of Nazareth recommends in his preachings is action, and the only human capacity he stresses is the capacity ‘to perform miracles.’”[33] Arendt also notes that Chesterton’s religiosity was not defined by a preoccupation with the salvation of his own soul but was embraced as “a fighting faith” which, if not the acceptable ideal of a philosopher, was perfectly understandable “in the day-by-day fight.”[34]  


Amongst students of Arendt’s work, this issue of the relationship of her thought towards religion is a contentious one. Philip Rieff once remarked that he could discern a ‘covert theology’ in Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, and, as Richard H. King has commented, whatever the changing meanings between Arendt’s notion of ‘radical evil’ in Origins and ‘the banality of evil’ in Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963) one would have to search very hard indeed to find a contemporary researcher willing to consider the concept of evil a relevant tool for political and historical analysis.[35] The dominant tone, however, amongst Arendtian researchers has been to downplay the religious elements which have crystallized into Arendt’s thought and which she admittedly casts within a secular framework. This should not come as too much of a surprise within academic cultures which are themselves overwhelmingly secular, if not actively hostile to those who still maintain traditional religious beliefs.


Given that Arendt kept her own religious views very private this issue is likely to remain ultimately unresolved. It is true that Arendt herself dismissed the promotion of religion for political purposes—but then so would a genuinely religious person, for their concern would be the intrinsic value and truth of a religion and not its instrumental and pragmatic value. In fact Arendt often criticized the ‘functionalisation’ of religion and the incapacity of social scientists to consider it for the truths relating to the human spirit that it may contain but instead as merely reflecting and fulfilling certain social needs.[36] It does seem certain that Arendt was not herself an atheist. Alfred Kazin has reported that in conversation with Arendt she informed him that “I have never, since a child, doubted that God exists.”[37] Whatever Arendt’s religious views were, she certainly believed that religion was not just ‘interesting’ as a mere object of study but was in itself of value for the truths about the human condition that it may contain.  


Arendt had indeed studied Christian theology and had begun her serious academic studies by writing a doctoral thesis under the supervision of Karl Jaspers which explored the tensions between the unworldly Christianity of Augustine and her own concern for maintaining an enduring community, a home on this world.[38] Nevertheless, in the most extensive existing account of Arendt’s life, Elisabeth Young-Bruehl contends that Arendt’s mature “concern with the founding of public realms was rooted not in any Christian philosophy, but in Greek and Roman thought.”[39] This is a claim which has been explicitly rejected by the editors of the recently published translation of Arendt’s doctoral dissertation as well as by Ronald Beiner and Gillian Rose.[40] Certainly, there are writers who believe that they can detect the presence of Christian themes and concepts in Arendt’s later work.[41] It is not my intention in this book to join that debate; I certainly lack the theological credentials to undertake such a task. However, it is obvious that in a thesis which explores the common ground between Arendt and Chesterton—one of the twentieth century’s most prominent defenders of Christian orthodoxy—those elements in her thought which have a more religious tone will be emphasized at the expense of other more widely discussed aspects.


Premier amongst these is Arendt’s capacity for wonder and gratitude—a theme, that while recognized, has hitherto not received much attention amongst her commentators.[42] Even those who characterize Arendt’s political thought as “adamantly untheological” (Kateb) or “intensely secular” (Canovan) concede that the wonder and gratitude for existence which she contrasts to modernity’s resentment towards that which we have not made for ourselves does indeed possess a religious quality.[43] Canovan even accepts that Arendt’s sense of gratitude for that which has been given emerges as “the central theme of her mature political thought.”[44]



The Wonder of the World


Reading Arendt within the context of Chesterton’s writings brings to the forefront of our attention the fact that her vision was indeed suffused with this sense of wonder and gratitude. By wonder, we mean the existential amazement at the fact of Being.  Fundamental to this experience of wonder is the awareness of the reality of a world independent of our own selves. As the philosopher Mary Midgley puts it: “It is an essential element in wonder that we recognise what we see as something we did not make, cannot fully understand, and acknowledge as containing something greater than ourselves.”[45] Wonder accepts the mystery of Being; it represents the experience of being brought back to an awareness of the actuality of existence, of a reality independent of our selves and our own designs. In the view of Arendt and Chesterton, because the source of reality is recognized to originate from outside ourselves it comes to us as a gift and, like all gifts, demands the response of gratitude. Out of this sense of wonder emerges a way of knowing which is a form of appreciation—a love for that which is contemplated. Midgley again: “Knowledge here is not just power; it is a loving union, and what is loved cannot just be the information gained; it has to be the real thing which the information tells us about.”[46] And so for both Arendt and Chesterton, who directed their wondering gaze into the affairs of the human world, their works are informed by a sense of amor mundi (‘love of the world’). Arendt had intended this phrase as the original title of her book The Human Condition,[47] while Chesterton had summed up his own attitude in some lines he wrote as a young man in his notebook: 


If the arms of a man could be a fiery circle

     embracing the round world,

I think I should be that man.[48]


To be possessed of this appreciation formed through a fundamental sense of the actuality of reality yields a perspective which, I believe, is quite at odds with the contemporary ‘postmodernist’ (or ‘poststructuralist’) worldview which in recent years has proved to be so irresistible for scholars in the humanities, and more lately in the social sciences. Postmodern theory emphasizes the ‘social construction’ of reality, and is less concerned with objective qualities in reality as with how concepts of reality are constructed through discourse. The postmodernist will emphasize the ‘contested’ nature of reality and claim that reality is open to a multiplicity of meanings—each of which reflects the particular stand-point of the claimant, with these various interpretations therefore being considered incommensurable and of equal value. All claims to truth are thus conceived as mere assertions of power. In its most theoretically extreme form—which is by no means uncommon—postmodernism takes the form of an explicit denial of philosophical realism (the claim that objects have an existence independent of our thoughts and theories about them) together with the assertion that there is no reality beyond discourse, i.e. words only refer to other words and not to things as such.[49]


In contrast to this still fashionable position, a continual theme throughout the whole of Arendt’s work had been the concern to face up to reality, a task she believed required courage and the ability to find a home in the world by avoiding the easy options of conformism or escapism. As we shall see, both Arendt and Chesterton believed that it was precisely a sense of realism which was the prerequisite to the resistance of injustice. Both believed that the dominant alternatives of optimism and pessimism were mere ‘superstitions’—forms of subjectivism which would not lead to active resistance to reality. Arendt and Chesterton’s perspectives, furthermore, are not motivated by a case of Hellenic or Medieval nostalgia, but emerge from the tensions of locating their own wonder at the world between the subjectivist conventions of optimism and pessimism.[50]


This concern, common to Arendt and Chesterton, could serve today as a challenge to many of the social and political theorists who have undergone the ‘postmodernist turn’.[51] Although there are those who consider Arendt a precursor of such postmodernism/poststructuralism, it is unlikely that she would herself welcome the comparison. The postmodernist disinterest in ‘reality’ as such together with the concomitant belief that reality is nothing other than our ‘social construction’, a perspective which encourages us to impose upon that reality any conceptualization we chose, seems to be totally at odds with the whole thrust of her work. As Richard H. King has pointed out:


[Arendt would] have rejected the systematic suspicion of language’s capacity to refer, so central to post-structuralist thinking. To those such as Arendt, who had witnessed the bewildering power of totalitarian speech to foreclose reality and create a mind-numbing alternative universe, it would have seemed politically indulgent, even foolish, to question the possibility or desirability of some sort of common reality, against which ideological assertions (‘Jews are vermin’ or ‘Bukharin is a class traitor’) could be tested.[52]


Indeed, far from viewing the collapse of objectivity as a cause for celebration in the manner of postmodern theorists such as Derrida, Lyotard and Rorty, both Arendt and Chesterton were deeply concerned with the loss of the sense of reality in modernity and of the concomitant tendency to prefer a more comfortable yet fictitious alternative. Chesterton summed up the modern world’s retreat from an inexplicable reality with aphoristic succintness. “Truth, of course, must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for we have made fiction to suit ourselves.”[53] This assertion that reality is stranger than fiction is one of the really startling ideas that these writers share in common. Arendt herself makes a comparable point in terms of the “miraculous” aspect of reality: “what we call real in ordinary experience has mostly come into existence through coincidences which are stranger than fiction.”[54] Both Arendt and Chesterton see that the ruthless logicality of modernity which drives its unreal and fictitious nature is not due to reason itself but to the absence of the limits of common sense—what is required is the use of reason within world sustaining limits and not the abandonment of reason in the name of a new postmodern irrationalism. Arendt, recall, had praised Chesterton for demanding “freedom for the people and reason for the mind.”[55]


Arendt would surely have noticed that Chesterton was himself deeply concerned about the modern preference for a comforting world of illusion against the bewildering fact of reality. We have already seen that in ‘Christianity and Revolution’ she praised Chesterton for exposing the host of superstitions which raced through modernity like wild-fire. Indeed Chesterton is referred to by Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism—in a passage which recalls this earlier essay—as having been one of the very few people who had seen through the ideology of imperialism which had dominated pre-war European thought: “Péguy in France and Chesterton in England knew instinctively that they lived in a world of hollow pretense and that its stability was the greatest pretense of all.”[56] Arendt also refers appreciatively to Chesterton’s novel The Return of Don Quixote (1927) for its “wonderful description” of the turning away from serious political questioning in the two decades prior to the first world war quoting his “penetrating words” to the effect that “everything is prolonging its existence by denying that it exists.”[57] 


In fact, Arendt recognized that it was the realism entailed in Christian thought that enabled its possessors—she gives the examples of Chesterton himself as well as her own friends W. H. Auden and Waldemar Gurian—the capacity to see through the ideological fictions and superstitions which typified modernity.[58] Related to this is the sense of limits which pervades Chesterton’s thought and which is indeed reflected in his opposition to the boundary-defying logic of imperialism alluded to above.[59] While an emphasis on limits is generally taken to be a defining character of conservative thought, it can also be regarded as central to the populist perspective, as Christopher Lasch has recently maintained.[60] It is in such terms of a respect for the limits of the human condition which Arendt praised Chesterton in ‘Christianity and Revolution’ and which she says allowed him to be a genuine revolutionary thinker and a powerful social critic “more radical than the radicals”[61]:


The insistence of the Christian doctrine on man’s limited condition was somehow enough of a philosophy to allow its adherents a very deep insight into the essential inhumanity of all those modern attempts—psychological, technical, biological—to change man into the monster of a superman. They realized that a pursuit of happiness which actually means to wipe away all tears will pretty quickly end by wiping out all laughter. It was again Christianity which taught them that nothing human can exist beyond tears and laughter, except the silence of despair. This is the reason why Chesterton, having once and for all accepted the tears, could put real laughter into his most violent attacks.[62]


Although Arendt only mentions Chesterton in the closing sentence, it is fairly clear that she has him in mind from the beginning of the section. Arendt again does not give away any specific reference but it is obvious through her allusion to the effect that only despair can exist ‘beyond tears and laughter’ that she has in mind again Chesterton’s novel The Flying Inn (1914)—the details of which need not detain us here.[63] The passage which Arendt is referring to occurs in the context of an exhibition of ‘post-futurist’ art. Lord Ivywood, the villain of the novel, declares in the manner of a Nietzschean Superman his contempt for the limits placed on human life:


‘I deny that any limit is set upon living things. . . . I would walk where no man has walked; and find something beyond tears and laughter. . . . And my adventures shall not be in the hedges and the gutters; but in the borders of the ever-advancing brain. . . . I will be as lonely as the first man. . . . He discovered good and evil. So are these artists trying to discover some distinction that is still dark in us. . . . I see the breaking of the barriers . . . beyond that I see nothing.’[64]


As we shall see, both Arendt and Chesterton believed that the transgression rather than grateful acceptance of our limited condition would prove to be ultimately self-defeating as we will only imprison ourselves in a narcissistic universe which we mistake as our own creation. 


All readings of an author’s work are selective and the present study of Arendt and Chesterton’s social and political thought is no exception. My reading of these two authors is greatly indebted to the work of the American historian and psychoanalytically informed social critic Christopher Lasch. Consequently, my focus will be on these authors as critics of a ‘culture of narcissism’, of society in retreat from the recognition of a reality independent of our own subjective phantasies.[65] Modern culture’s collective retreat from what Freud termed the ‘reality principle’[66] seems to me to be directly related to Lasch’s subsequent turn away from psychoanalysis to the ‘populist’ sense of wonder, gratitude, and limits as a means to express his concerns[67] and which I hope to show is a sensibility shared by both Arendt and Chesterton. The approach taken in this book admittedly goes against the grain when relativist and anti-realist assumptions are taken for granted amongst many researchers today. I will endeavor to address some of the issues raised by this in the concluding chapter.


Arendt and Chesterton’s shared concern with the experience of wonder, together with the sense of limits which such a recognition of reality implies, is therefore the red thread which runs through the present study. In Part One I consider how both these thinkers aim to steer a course between the subjectivist poles of optimism and pessimism and instead orient themselves towards reality. In Chapter One I will consider Arendt’s comments on the thaumadzein, or wonder, of the ancients, and her call for political philosophy to direct this wonder into the realm of human affairs itself. I will consider how modernity in her view is marked by a resentment of reality through the figure of the social climbing ‘parvenu’; the ‘fictitious world’ of the totalitarian; and the technological urge to escape the limits of the earth and the human body. By contrast to this resentment of reality and its limits I show how, in Arendt’s view, gratitude for the gift of life implies a balance between the activities of labor, work, and action. Like Arendt, Chesterton believed that reason untempered by the limits of common sense would lead to tyranny. Chapter Two examines Chesterton’s own direction of wonder into the realm of human affairs and his attempt to avoid the poles of optimism and pessimism in relation to his radical populist defense of the common life. We shall examine his response to those modernist ‘heresies’—such as abstracted forms of materialism and idealism—which had lost touch with both reality and common sense and undermined the possibility for expressing any gratitude for the gift of Creation. In contrast to these views, I examine Chesterton’s philosophical realism—which he ultimately comes to understand in terms of the thought of St Thomas Aquinas—and his assent to Being through gratitude.


Part Two considers the theme of limits in terms of a critique of unlimited economic growth. In Chapter Three I examine Arendt’s distinctions between the private and public realms together with her account of the rise of a third ‘social realm’. Associated with this third realm is a ‘liberation of the life-process’ which, according to Arendt, has unleashed natural processes from the confines and limits of the household to undermine more distinctly human endeavors while unleashing a consumerism which devours the stability and durability of the human world. After considering Arendt’s thoughts on the possibilities for revolutionary action we shall also consider her concomitant preference for property which is privately owned.  While Arendt clearly favors privately owned property, Chesterton positively calls for its restoration. In Chapter Four I consider Chesterton’s ‘distributist’ views centered on the revival of small-scale property and show that his vision was centrally concerned with placing limits on the ‘life-process’ in both its economic and sexual dimensions such that mere natural desire would be transfigured according to the will of the Creator and the needs of a stable human community.


Part Three is concerned with the transgression of limits in the realm of science and technology. Chapter Five examines Arendt’s understanding of modern ‘universal’ science in terms of a turn away from an interest in objective qualities of nature towards an agenda of initiating new and irreversible processes from the perspective of an imagined ‘Archimedean point’. Arendt believed that one example of such ‘acting into nature’ was nuclear weaponry and I will consider Arendt’s fears that the Nazi holocaust may be followed up by an even more destructive nuclear holocaust. Chesterton also saw the solipsistic direction of a modernity which viewed nature as a mere projection of human phantasies and designs. I examine in Chapter Six Chesterton’s fears over the reduction of humans to a mere means in an evolutionary process and elaborate his objections to a eugenics which was itself a manifestation of the refusal to accept limits and which would seek to re-engineer a more profitable and efficient populace. I will relate Chesterton’s critique of eugenics to his interpretation of pantheism and consider the possibility that we may now face a similar dilemma to that which is addressed by Chesterton in his study of St. Francis of Assisi—that the purification of the human perversions which have been projected into nature demands an ‘unearthly’ perspective. In other words, the recovery of nature may demand a return to our Creator. 


Following recent accounts that the old Left-Right distinction has become replaced by new divisions, in the Conclusion to this book I will draw together the various threads and suggest some possibilities for a philosophically realist and politically populist ecological theory. Against the dominant trends of solipsism, commodification and the rule of exchange, I suggest some outlines for a philosophically realist ecologism grounded in wonder and the appreciation of the inexchangeable value of person, place, and creature.  Against the subjectivism and short-term contracts of self-interest which typify the free-market economy and free-market sexuality now endorsed by the ‘new class’ elites, this ecological populism would stand for durability, long term commitment, and the preservation of local community. This populism would insist on the centrality of accepting limits to the human condition and maintain that nature is not a mere ‘social construction’ which we can endlessly remake according to nothing but our own desires, and that the recognition of Creation’s origins as lying outside ourselves is the prerequisite to establishing an enduring home on earth.



[1] Stephen J. Whitfield, Into the Dark: Hannah Arendt and Totalitarianism (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980), p. 7.

[2] I am not the first to notice this as some of the common ground was outlined in a short article by Margaret Canovan, ‘Chesterton and Hannah Arendt,’ The Chesterton Review Vol. VII No. 2 (Spring, 1981), pp. 139-53.

[3] Hannah Arendt, ‘Christianity and Revolution [1945],’ Essays in Understanding 1930-1954, edited and introduced by Jerome Kohn (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1994), pp. 151-55.

[4] Arendt’s published work contains references to or quotes from the following books by Chesterton: The Flying Inn; The Return of Don Quixote; The Man Who Was Thursday (novels); The New Jerusalem (travel writing/religion); St. Thomas Aquinas (philosophical biography/religion); and The Crimes of England (war propaganda). See Arendt, ‘Christianity and Revolution,’ pp. 153-5; The Origins of Totalitarianism (San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1979 [1951]), p. 51; p. 74; p. 127; p. 128; Men in Dark Times (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973 [1970]), p. 252. In addition it is also highly likely that Arendt had read Chesterton’s Sidelights on New London and Newer York (travel writing/social criticism). I offer this suggestion because Arendt cites an unreferenced source to describe advertising as being based on the “maxim that ‘self-praise is the highest recommendation.’” See Hannah Arendt, ‘Understanding and Politics (The Difficulties of Understanding) [1954],’ Essays in Understanding, p. 314. The quote is almost identical to Chesterton’s characterization of the essence underlying advertising as “the theory that self-praise is the only recommendation,” in ‘The American Ideal,’ Sidelights on New York and Newer London (London: Sheed and Ward, 1932), p. 91. I am fairly certain that Arendt is thinking of Chesterton because her quote is followed by an allusion to a modern “topsy-turvy” world bereft of common sense—Chestertonian phraseology, and of its similarity to the unreferenced quote Arendt takes from Chesterton’s The New Jerusalem concerning the dangers when “the individual is his own ideal and even his own idol.” See below, p. 11.

[5] In recent years a small number of academic scholars have endeavored to give the various aspects of Chesterton’s work the serious attention they deserve. See Margaret Canovan, G. K. Chesterton: Radical Populist (New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977); Stephen R. L. Clark, ‘Substance: or Chesterton’s Abyss of Light,’ Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume LXIX (1995), pp. 1-14 and ‘How Chesterton Read History,’ Inquiry Vol. 39 Nos. 3/4 (December, 1996), pp. 343-58; John D. Coates, Chesterton and The Edwardian Cultural Crisis (Hull: Hull University Press, 1984); Lynette Hunter, G. K. Chesterton: Explorations in Allegory (London: Macmillan, 1979); Stanley L. Jaki, Chesterton, A Seer of Science  (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1986); and Quentin Lauer S. J., G. K. Chesterton: Philosopher Without Portfolio (New York: Fordham University Press, 1988).

[6] See Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, pp. 52, 74; ‘Christianity and Revolution,’ p. 154.

[7] On the distinctions between ‘ecologism’ and ‘environmentalism’ see Andrew Dobson, Green Political Thought, third edition (London: Routledge, 2000), pp. 1-12.

[8] See J. A Hall, ‘Chesterton’s Contribution to English Sociology,’ The Chesterton Review Vol. III No. 2 (Spring/Summer, 1977), pp. 260-82. Note that Tawney felt it necessary to point out that his vision of the ‘functional state’ (guild socialism in all but name) as an alternative to the ‘acquisitive society’ was compatible with the ‘distributive state’ called for by Chesterton’s followers. See Richard H. Tawney, The Acquisitive Society (London: Fontana, 1961 [1921]), p. 83.

[9] As quoted in John Haldane, ‘Chesterton’s Philosophy of Education,’ Philosophy 65 (1990), p. 68.

[10] See C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (London: Fontana, 1975 [1955]), pp. 153-4, 178.

[11] See Canovan, G. K. Chesterton, passim.

[12] Arendt, ‘Christianity and Revolution,’ p. 152.

[13] Margaret Canovan, Hannah Arendt: A Reinterpretation of Her Political Thought, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994 [1992]), p. 65.

[14] Richard J. Bernstein, Hannah Arendt and the Jewish Question (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1996), pp. 10-11.

[15] Arendt quoted in ibid., p. 180.

[16] Ibid., p. 183

[17] Ibid., p. 105. Interestingly, this same line from Cato appears in the conversation between Rosamund Hunt and Michael Moon in Chesterton’s novel Manalive (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1947 [1912]), pp. 46-7.

[18] See for example G. K. Chesterton, ‘The Fallacy of Success,’ All Things Considered (London: Methuen and Co., 1908), pp. 21-31. Chesterton wrote A Short History of England (London: Chatto and Windus, 1917) to counter the ‘Whiggish view’ of history as the necessary enlargement of progress.

[19] Arendt, ‘Christianity and Revolution,’ pp. 152-153. Arendt does not refer to her source but she is in fact quoting from a conversation between the Irish Radical Patrick Dalroyd and the Tory land-owner Humphrey Pump, the two heroes in Chesterton’s novel The Flying Inn (London: Methuen and Co., 1927 [1914]), pp.157-8.

[20] W. H. Auden, ‘Foreword,’ to G. K. Chesterton: A Selection from his Non-Fictional Prose, selected by W. H. Auden (London: Faber and Faber, 1970), p. 11. In contrast to Arendt herself, Auden seems to have regretted the fact that Chesterton had devoted so much time to his journalistic efforts.

[21] Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 74.  Arendt does not herself cite the source of these words or list it in her bibliography. The full sentence from which Arendt quotes runs as follows: “It is the vice of any patriotism or religion depending on race that the individual is himself the thing to be worshipped; the

individual is his own ideal, and even his own idol.” See G. K. Chesterton, The New Jerusalem (London:  Hodder and Stoughton, 1920), p. 29.

[22] G. K. Chesterton, Eugenics and Other Evils (London: Cassell and Co., 1922).

[23] G. K. Chesterton, George Bernard Shaw (London: The Bodley Head, 1910), pp. 165, 166.

[24] G. K. Chesterton, ‘Celts and Celtophiles,’ Heretics (London: The Bodley Head, 1928 [1905]), p. 171.

[25] See for example G. K. Chesterton, Autobiography (London: Hutchinson and Co., 1937 [1936]), pp. 74-77.

[26] Leo A. Hetzler, ‘Chesterton’s Political Views, 1892-1914, with comments on Chesterton and Anti-Semitism,’ The Chesterton Review Vol. VII No. 2 (Spring, 1981), p.136.

[27] Arendt, ‘Christianity and Revolution,’ p. 152.

[28] George Bernard Shaw, ‘The Chesterbelloc: A Lampoon [1908],’ in Denis  J. Conlon (ed.), G. K. Chesterton: The Critical Judgements, Part I: 1900-1937 (Antwerp: Antwerp Studies in English Literature, 1976), pp. 135-143. Shaw, who revered Chesterton and greatly admired his potential as a playwright lamented the influence of Belloc.

[29] Which Arendt in fact lists in the bibliography of Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 492.

[30] Auden, ‘Foreword,’ p. 12.

[31] Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, p, 147.

[32] Quoted in Ian Boyd, C.S.D., Stratford Caldecott, and Aidan Mackey, ‘Chesterton and Anti-Semitism,’ (accessed 15/10/00). Note also the posthumous praise bestowed upon Chesterton in 1937 by the American Jewish leader, the Rabbi Stephen Wise: “When Hitlerism came, he was one of the first to speak out with all the directness and frankness of a great and unabashed spirit.  Blessing to his memory!” As quoted in Maisie Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton (London: Sheed and Ward, 1945 [1944]), p. 228.

[33] Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989 [1958]), p. 318. Compare G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1947 [1925]), p. 240:  “[T]he life of Jesus . . . was above all things dramatic; it did above all things consist in doing something that had to be done. It emphatically would not have been done if Jesus had walked about the world for ever doing nothing except tell the truth.”

[34] Arendt, ‘Christianity and Revolution,’ p. 155. Chesterton had indeed written to his mother to justify his conversion to Catholicism, explaining that “the fight for the family and the free citizen and everything decent must now be waged by [the] one fighting form of Christianity.” See Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, p. 397.

[35] Richard H. King, ‘Hannah Arendt,’ in David Murray (ed.), American Cultural Critics (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1995), pp. 210-11.

[36] See for example Arendt’s outburst against those who believe that Cathedrals were built merely to fulfil a social purpose and not to the glory of God in ‘The Crisis in Culture: Its Social and Political Significance,’ Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1993 [1968]), p. 208.

[37] As quoted in George Kateb, Hannah Arendt: Politics, Conscience, Evil (Oxford: Martin Robertson, 1984), p. 158.

[38] Hannah Arendt, Love and Saint Augustine, edited and with an interpretative essay by Joanna Vecchiarelli and Judith Chelius Stark (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1996). This is a revised version of Arendt’s original doctoral dissertation which was first published in German in 1929.

[39] Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, ‘Appendix 3: Arendt’s Doctoral Dissertation: A Synopsis,’ Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World (New Haven and London: Yale University Press), p. 498. For another statement of this ‘standard’ view which situates Arendt’s thought in relation to her reaction to the rise of Nazism rather than her own earlier philosophical investigations see Canovan, Hannah Arendt: A Reinterpretation, passim.

[40] Joanna Vecchiarelli and Judith Chelius Stark, ‘Preface: Rediscovering Love and Saint Augustine,’ in Arendt, Love and Saint Augustine, pp. vii-xx; Ronald Beiner, ‘Love and Worldliness: Hannah Arendt’s Reading of Saint Augustine,’ in Larry May and Jerome Kohn (eds.), Hannah Arendt: Twenty Years Later (London: MIT Press, 1996), pp. 269-84; and Gillian Rose, The Broken Middle: Out of our Ancient Society (Oxford: Blackwell), p. 228. I do not however claim to understand Rose’s book—one of the most dense and opaque works I have ever come across.

[41] See the collection of essays in James Bernauer, S. J. (ed.), Amor Mundi: Explorations in the Thought of Hannah Arendt (Boston: Martinus Nijhoff, 1987). Those who look to find Christian themes in Arendt are generally sympathetic.  However, Judith Shklar—in an article which makes no attempt to hide her animus towards Arendt—digs for signs of a covert Catholicism as a means of abuse.  See Judith N. Shklar, ‘Hannah Arendt as Pariah,’ Partisan Review Vol. 50 No. 1 (1983), p. 72.

[42] But see Kateb, Hannah Arendt, pp. 165-6.

[43] See Canovan, Hannah Arendt: A Reinterpretation, p. 104; Kateb, Hannah Arendt, p. 158; and Bernauer, ‘The Faith of Hannah Arendt,’ p. 10.

[44] Canovan, Hannah Arendt: A Reinterpretation, p. 104.

[45] Mary Midgley, Wisdom, Information, and Wonder: What is Knowledge For? (London: Routledge, 1989), p. 41.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Young-Bruehl, Hannah Arendt, p.324.

[48] From Chesterton’s Notebook, begun in 1894 and in which for a period of 4-5 years he would sketch out his ideas. As quoted in Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, p. 57.

[49] In the conclusion of this thesis we will consider the extreme form of social constructionism by which any objectivity of nature independent of linguistic constructions appears to evaporate.

[50] As Canovan correctly points out in the case of Arendt, Hannah Arendt: A Reinterpretation, p. 67.  For such an accusation against Arendt, see Noel O’Sullivan, ‘Hannah Arendt: Hellenic Nostalgia and Industrial Society,’ in Anthony de Crespigny and Kenneth Minogue (eds.), Contemporary Political Philosophers (London: Methuen and Co., 1976), pp. 228-51.  

[51] Indeed some see this postmodernist turn as representing a retreat from the critique of capitalism into a celebration of consumerism combined with and a conformist politics of self-indulgence. For an example of such a critique see Alex Callinicos, Against Postmodernism: A Marxist Critique (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989).

[52] King, ‘Hannah Arendt,’ p. 214.

[53] G. K. Chesterton, ‘Mr. Bernard Shaw,’ Heretics, pp. 53-4.

[54] Hannah Arendt, ‘What Is Freedom?,’ Between Past and Future, p. 170.

[55] Arendt, ‘Christianity and Revolution,’ p. 152.

[56] Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 147.

[57] As quoted in ibid., p. 51.

[58] See Arendt, ‘Christianity and Revolution,’ pp. 152-4; ‘Waldemar Gurian: 1903-1954 [1955],’ Men in Dark Times, p. 257; ‘Remembering Wystan H. Auden [1974],’ in Stephen Spender (ed.), W. H. Auden: A Tribute (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1974/5), p. 185.

[59] Chesterton’s love of small well-defined territory against the limit-defying logic of imperialism was expressed in his very first novel, The Napoleon of Notting Hill (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1946 [1904]).

[60] Christopher Lasch, The True and Only Heaven: Progress and its Critics (New York & London: W. W. Norton and Co., 1991), p. 17.

[61] Arendt, ‘Christianity and Revolution,’ p. 153.

[62] Ibid., p. 154.

[63] See Chesterton, The Flying Inn, pp. 224-5.

[64] As quoted in Stephen Medcalf ‘The Achievement of G. K. Chesterton,’ in John Sullivan (ed.), G. K. Chesterton: A Centenary Appraisal (London: Paul Elek, 1974), p. 118.

[65] See Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (New York: Norton and Co., 1991 [1979]); The Minimal Self: Psychic Survival in Troubled Times (London: Pan, 1985). Also important in this regard is the psychoanalytic theory of narcissism developed by Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel, The Ego Ideal: A Psychoanalytic Essay on the Malady of the Ideal (London: Free Association Books, 1985 [1975]). Of particular importance is Chasseguet-Smirgel’s understanding that the mature solution to our narcissistic longing for the state of primary fusion involves the acceptance of reality in the specific terms of the double recognition of the differences between the sexes and between the generations. Regressive narcissism or perversion, by contrast, involves the denial of those differences and the retreat from a universe in which desire is for a particular object toward a universe in which all objects are interchangeable.

[66] See Sigmund Freud, ‘Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning [1911],’ The Essentials of Psycho-analysis, selected, with an introduction and commentaries, by Anna Freud (London: Penguin, 1991 [1986]), pp.  509-16.

[67] See Christopher Lasch, The True and Only Heaven: Progress and its Critics (New York and London: W. W. Norton and Co., 1991).




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