Christopher Hitchens devoted a few of his final days reckoning with G.K. Chesterton. Whether or not Hitch managed a Chestertonian take-down is largely in the eye of the beholder. Surely Chesterton’s anti-Semitism complicates any bent toward admiration. But then my admiration of Hitchens is complicated by his call-to-arms against Islamo-Facism. He may have articulated the threat, as he saw it, persuasively enough; however, his support (very public, and deeply appreciated by the War Party) of a full-out military response, a la Iraq, remains debatable, to put it mildly.
Hoping to contrast the two thinkers, I was all set to post the popular canard that Chesterton, in response to the London Times’ question, “What is wrong with the world?” promptly wrote,
Sincerely yours, G.K. Chesterton
And yet it seems likely that this exchange occurred not at all. Once again we have an apocryphal distillation of Chestertonian insight that is more finely attuned than the bloat of his writings. The fabled letter is true enough, in other words. Chesterton admitted he had faults, chief among them his incapacity to acknowledge the worst of them — “The unknown unknowns” as the bard of a later, wiser age put it.
Credit where it's due: Hitchens gave Chesterton a much closer read than I ever will. I’ve taken several runs at Orthodoxy, a slim book I’ve yet to finish. I’ve done better with On Lying In Bed & Other Essays, edited by Alberto Manguel (A). I’ve hopped all over its pages, and discovered many of Chesterton’s most famous quotations.* Can’t say as I’ve finished it, though. The only book of his that I’ve read from cover to cover is The Man Called Thursday, a grotesque farce which penetrated my consciousness to an unsettling and even creepy degree.
About which . . .
*Including one my daughters have grown sick of me parroting: “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered; an inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”