WHAT IS RIGHT WITH THE WORLD – FULL AudioBook | Greatest Audio Books


The above excellent title is not of my own
invention. It was suggested to me by the Editor of this paper (T.P.’s Weekly), and I consented
to fill up the bill, partly because of the pleasure I have always had from the paper
itself, and partly because it gives me an opportunity of telling an egotistical story,
a story which may enlighten the public about the general origin of such titles. I have always heard of the brutality of publishers
and how they crush and obscure the author; but my complaint has always been that they
push him forward far too much. I will not say that, so far from making too little of
the author, they make too much of him; that this phrase is capable of a dark financial
interpretation which I do not intend. But I do say that the prominent personalities
of the literary world are very largely the creations of their publishers, in so far as
they are not solely the creations of their wives. Here is a small incident out of my
own existence. I designed to write a sort of essay, divided into sections, on one particular
point of political error. This fallacy, though small and scholastic at first sight, seemed
to me to be the real mistake in most modern sociological works. It was, briefly, the idea
that things that have been tried have been found wanting. It was my purpose to point
out that in the entanglements of practice this is untrue; that an old expedient may
be the best thing for a new situation; that its principle may be useful though its practice
was abandoned; and so on. Therefore, I claimed, we should look for the best method, the ideal,
whether it is in the future or the past. I imagined this book as a drab-coloured, decorous
little philosophical treatise, with no chapters, but the page occasionally broken by section-headings
at the side. I proposed to call my analysis of a radical error ‘What is wrong’, meaning
where the mistake is in our logical calculation. But I had highly capable and sympathetic publishers,
whose only weakness was that they thought my unhappy monologue much more important than
I did. By some confusion of ecstasy (which entirely through my own fault I failed to
check) the title was changed into the apocalyptic trumpet-blast ‘What’s Wrong With the World’.
It was divided up into three short, fierce chapters, like proclamations in a French riot.
Outside there was an enormous portrait of myself looking like a depressed hairdresser,
and the whole publication had somehow got the violence and instancy of a bombshell.
Let it be understood that I do not blame the publishers in the least for this. I could
have stopped it if I had minded my own affairs, and came out of their beautiful and ardent
souls. I merely mention it as an instance of the error about publishers. They are always
represented as cold and scornful merchants, seeking to keep your writers in the background.
Alas (as Wordsworth so finely says), alas! the enthusiasm of publishers has oftener left
me mourning. Upon the whole, I am rather inclined to approve
of this method of the publisher or editor making up the title, while the author makes
up the remarks about it. Any man with a large mind ought to be able to write about anything.
Any really free man ought to be able to write to order. Some of the greatest books in the
world — Pickwick, for instance — were written to fulfil a scheme partly sketched out by
a publisher. But I only brought together these two cases of title that came to me from outside
because they do illustrate the necessity of some restatement in such a case. For these
two titles are, when it comes to the fulfilment, at once too complex and too simple. I would
never have dreamed of announcing, like some discovery of my own, what is wrong with the
world. What is wrong with the world is the devil, and what is right with it is God; the
human race will travel for a few more million years in all sorts of muddle and reform, and
when it perishes of the last cold or heat it will still be within the limits of that
very simple definition. But in age that has confused itself with such phrases as ‘optimist’
and ‘pessimist’, it is necessary to distinguish along more delicate lines. One of the strangest
things about the use of the word ‘optimist’ is that it is now so constantly used about
the future. The house of man is criticised not as a house, but as a kind of caravan;
not by what it is, but by where it is going. None are more vitally and recklessly otherworldly
than those modern progressives who do not believe in another world. Now, for the matter of that, I do not think
the world is getting much better in very many vital respects. In some of them, I think,
the fact could hardly be disputed. The one perfectly satisfactory element at the present
crisis is that all the prophecies have failed. At least the people who have been clearly
proved to be wrong are the people who were quite sure they were right. That is always
a gratifying circumstance. Now why is it that all these prophecies of the wise have been
confounded and why has the destiny of men taken so decisive and different a course?
It is because of the very simple fact that the human race consists of many millions of
two-legged and tolerably cheerful, reasonably unhappy beings who never read any books at
all and certainly never hear of any scientific predictions. If they act in opposition to
the scheme which science has foreseen for them, they must be excused. They sin in ignorance.
They have no notion that they are avoiding what was really unavoidable. But, indeed,
the phrases loosely used of that obscure mass of mankind are a little misleading. To say
of the bulk of human beings that they are uneducated is like saying of a Red Indian
hunter that he has not yet taken his degree. He has taken many other things. And so, sincerely
speaking, there are no uneducated men. They may escape the trivial examinations, but not
the tremendous examinations of existence. The dependence of infancy, the enjoyment of
animals, the love of woman and the fear of death — these are more frightful and more
fixed than all conceivable forms of the cultivation of the mind. It is idle to complain of schools
and colleges being trivial. In no case will a college ever teach the important things.
He has learnt them right or wrong, and he has learnt them all alone. We therefore come back to the primary truth,
that what is right with the world has nothing to do with future changes, but is rooted in
original realities. If groups or peoples show an unexpected independence or creative power;
if they do things no one had dreamed of their doing; if they prove more ferocious or more
self-sacrificing than the wisdom of the world had ever given them credit for, then such
inexplicable outbursts can always be referred back to some elementary and absolute doctrine
about the nature of men. No traditions in this world are so ancient as the traditions
that lead to modern upheaval and innovation. Nothing nowadays is so conservative as a revolution.
The men who call themselves Republicans are men walking the streets of deserted and tiny
city-states, and digging up the great bones of pagans. And when we ask on what republicanism
really rests, we come back to that great indemonstrable dogma of the native dignity of man. And when
we come back to the lord of creation, we come back of necessity to creation; and we ask
ourselves that ultimate question which St Thomas Aquinas (an extreme optimist) answered
in the affirmative: Are these things ultimately of value at all? What is right with the world is the world.
In fact, nearly everything else is wrong with it. This is that great truth in the tremendous
tale of Creation, a truth that our people must remember or perish. It is at the beginning
that things are good, and not (as the more pallid progressives say) only at the end.
The primordial things — existence, energy, fruition — are good so far as they go. You
cannot have evil life, though you can have notorious evil livers. Manhood and womanhood
are good things, though men and women are often perfectly pestilent. You can use poppies
to drug people, or birch trees to beat them, stone to make an idol, or corn to make a corner;
but it remains true that, in the abstract, before you have done anything, each of these
four things is in strict truth a glory, a beneficent speciality and variety. We do praise
the Lord that there are birch trees growing amongst the rocks and poppies amongst the
corn; we do praise the Lord, even if we do not believe in Him. We do admire and applaud
the project of a world, just as if we had been called to council in the primal darkness
and seen the first starry plan of the skies. We are, as a matter of fact, far more certain
that this life of ours is a magnificent and amazing enterprise than we are that it will
succeed. These evolutionary optimists who called themselves Meliorists (a patient and
poor-spirited lot they are) always talk as if we were certain of the end, though not
of the beginning. In other words, they don’t know what life is aiming at, but they are
quire sure it will get there. Why anybody who has avowedly forgotten where he came from
should be quite so certain of where he is going to I have never been able to make out;
but Meliorists are like that. They are ready to talk of existence itself as the product
of purely evil forces. They never mention animals except as perpetually tearing each
other to pieces; but a month in the country would cure that. They have a real giddy horror
of stars and seas, as a man has on the edge of a hopelessly high precipice. They sometimes
instinctively shrink from clay, fungoids, and the fresh young of animals with a quivering
gesture that reveals the fundamental pessimist. Life itself, crude, uncultivated life, is
horrible to them. They belong very largely to the same social class and creed as the
lady who objected that the milk came to her from a dirty cow, and not from a nice clean
shop. But they are sure how everything will end. I am in precisely the opposite position. I
am much more sure that everything is good at the beginning than I am that everything
will be good at the end. That all this frame of things, this flesh, these stones, are good
things, of that I am more brutally certain than I can say. But as for what will happen
to them, that is to take a step into dogma and prophecy. I speak here, of course, solely
of my personal feelings, not even of my reasoned creed. But on my instincts alone I should
have no notion what would ultimately happen to this material world I think so magnificent.
For all I know it may be literally and not figuratively true that the tares are tied
into bundles for burning, and that as the tree falleth so shall it lie. I am an agnostic,
like most people with a positive theology. But I do affirm, with the full weight of sincerity,
that trees and flowers are good at the beginning, whatever happens to them at the end; that
human lives were good at the beginning, whatever happens to them in the end. The ordinary modern
progressive position is that this is a bad universe, but will certainly get better. I
say it is certainly a good universe, even if it gets worse. I say that these trees and
flowers, stars and sexes, are primarily, not merely ultimately, good. In the Beginning
the power beyond words created heaven and earth. In the Beginning He looked on them
and saw that they were good. All this unavoidable theory (for theory is
always unavoidable) may be popularly pulled together thus. We are to regard existence
as a raid or great adventure; it is to be judged, therefore, not by what calamities
it encounters, but by what flag it follows and what high town it assaults. The most dangerous
thing in the world is to be alive; one is always in danger of one’s life. But anyone
who shrinks from this is a traitor to the great scheme and experiment of being. The
pessimist of the ordinary type, the pessimist who thinks he would be better dead, is blasted
with the crime of Iscariot. Spiritually speaking, we should be justified in punishing him with
death. Only, out of polite deference to his own philosophy, we punish him with life. But this faith (that existence was fundamentally
and purposely good) is not attacked only by the black, consistent pessimist. The man who
says that he would sooner die is best answered by a sudden blow with the poker, for the reply
is rightly logical, as well as physically very effective. But there has crept through
the culture of modern Europe another notion that is equally in its own way an attack on
the essential rightness of the world. It is not avowedly pessimistic, though the source
from which it comes (which is Buddhism) is pessimistic for those who really understand
it. It can offer itself — as it does among some of the high-minded and distinguished
Theosophists — with an air of something highly optimistic. But this disguised pessimism is
what is really wrong with the world — at least, especially with the modern world. It
is essential to arrest and to examine it. There has crept into our thoughts, through
a thousand small openings, a curious and unnatural idea. I mean the idea that unity is itself
a good thing; that there is something high and spiritual about things being blended and
absorbed into each other. That all rivers should run into one river, that all vegetables
should go into one pot — that is spoken of as the last and best fulfilment of being.
Boys are to be ‘at one’ with girls; all sects are to be ‘at one’ in the New Theology; beasts
fade into men and men fade into God; union in itself is a noble thing. Now union in itself
is not a noble thing. Love is a noble thing; but love is not union. Nay, it is rather a
vivid sense of separation and identity. Maudlin, inferior love poetry does, indeed, talk of
lovers being ‘one soul’, just as maudlin, inferior religious poetry talks of being lost
in God; but the best poetry does not. When Dante meets Beatrice, he feels his distance
from her, not his proximity; and all the greatest saints have felt their lowness, not their
highness, in the moment of ecstasy. And what is true of these grave and heroic matters
(I do not say, of course, that saints and lovers have never used the language of union
too, true enough in its own place and proper limitation of meaning) — what is true of
these is equally true of all the lighter and less essential forms of appreciation of surprise.
Division and variety are essential to praise; division and variety are what is right with
the world. There is nothing specially right about mere contact and coalescence. In short, this vast, vague idea of unity is
the one ‘reactionary’ thing in the world. It is perhaps the only connection in which
that foolish word ‘reactionary’ can be used with significance and truth. For this blending
of men and women, nations and nations, is truly a return to the chaos and unconsciousness
that were before the world was made. There is of course, another kind of unity of which
I do not speak here; unity in the possession of truth and the perception of the need for
these varieties. But the varieties themselves; the reflection of man and woman in each other,
as in two distinct mirrors; the wonder of man at nature as a strange thing at once above
and below him; the quaint and solitary kingdom of childhood; the local affections and the
colour of certain landscapes — these actually are the things that are the grace and honour
of the earth; these are the things that make life worth living and the whole framework
of things well worthy to be sustained. And the best thing remains; that this view, whether
conscious or not, always has been and still is the view of the living and labouring millions.
While a few prigs on platforms are talking about ‘oneness’ and absorption in ‘The All’,
the folk that dwell in all the valleys of this ancient earth are renewing the varieties
for ever. With them a woman is loved for being unmanly, and a man loved for being un-womanly.
With them the church and the home are both beautiful, because they are both different;
with them fields are personal and flags are sacred; they are the virtue of existence,
for they are not mankind but men. The rooted hope of the modern world is that
all these dim democracies do still believe in that romance of life, that variation of
man, woman and child upon which all poetry has hitherto been built. The danger of the
modern world is that these dim democracies are so very dim, and that they are especially
dim where they are right. The danger is that the world may fall under a new oligarchy — the
oligarchy of prigs. And if anyone should promptly ask (in the manner of the debating clubs)
for the definition of a prig, I can only reply that a prig is an oligarch who does not even
know he is an oligarch. A circle of small pedants sit on an upper platform, and pass
unanimously (in a meeting of none) that there is no difference between the social duties
of men and of women, the social instruction of men or of children. Below them boils that
multitudinous sea of millions that think differently, that have always thought differently, that
will always think differently. In spite of the overwhelming majority that maintains the
old theory of life, I am in some real doubt about which will win. Owing to the decay of
theology and all the other clear systems of thought, men have been thrown back very much
upon their instincts, as with animals. As with animals, their instincts are right; but,
as with animals, they can be cowed. Between the agile scholars and the stagnant mob, I
am really doubtful about which will be triumphant. I have no doubt at all about which ought to
be. Europe at present exhibits a concentration
upon politics which is partly the unfortunate result of our loss of religion, partly the
just and needful result of our loss of our social inequality and iniquity. These causes,
however, will not remain in operation for ever. Religion is returning from her exile;
it is more likely that the future will be crazily and corruptly superstitious than that
it will be merely rationalist. On the other hand, our attempts to right the
extreme ill-balance of wealth must soon have some issue; something will be done to lessen
the perpetual torture of incompetent compassion; some scheme will be substituted for our malevolent
anarchy, if it be only one of benevolent servitude. And as these two special unrests about the
universe and the State settle down into more silent and enduring system, there will emerge
more and more those primary and archaic truths which the dust of these two conflicts has
veiled. The secondary questions relatively solved, we shall find ourselves all the more
in the presence of the primary questions of Man. For at present we all tend to one mistake;
we tend to make politics too important. We tend to forget how huge a part of a man’s
life is the same under a Sultan and a Senate, under Nero or St Louis. Daybreak is a never-ending
glory, getting out of bed is a never-ending nuisance; food and friends will be welcomed;
work and strangers must be accepted and endured; birds will go bedwards and children won’t,
to the end of the last evening. And the worst peril is that in our just modern revolt against
intolerable accidents we may have unsettled those things that alone make daily life tolerable.
It will be an ironic tragedy if, when we have toiled to find rest, we find we are incurably
restless. It will be sad if, when we have worked for our holiday, we find we have unlearnt
everything but work. The typical modern man is the insane millionaire who has drudged
to get money, and then finds he cannot enjoy even money. There is danger that the social
reformer may silently and occultly develop some of the madness of the millionaire whom
he denounces. He may find that he has learnt how to build playgrounds but forgotten how
to play. He may agitate for peace and quiet, but only propagate his own mental agitation.
In his long fight to get a slave a half-holiday he may angrily deny those ancient and natural
things, the zest of being, the divinity of man, the sacredness of simple things, the
health and humour of the earth, which alone make a half-holiday even half a holiday or
a slave even half a man. There is danger in that modern phrase ‘divine
discontent’. There is truth in it also, of course; but it is only truth of a special
and secondary kind. Much of the quarrel between Christianity and the world has been due to
this fact; that there are generally two truths, as it were, at any given moment of revolt
or reaction, and the ancient underlying truism which is nevertheless true all the time. It
is sometimes worth while to point out that black is not so black as it is painted; but
black is still black, and not white. So with the merits of content and discontent. It is
true that in certain acute and painful crises of oppression or disgrace, discontent is a
duty and shame could call us like a trumpet. But it is not true that man should look at
life with an eye of discontent, however high-minded. It is not true that in his primary, naked
relation to the world, in his relation to sex, to pain, to comradeship, to the grave
or to the weather, man ought to make discontent his ideal; it is black lunacy. Half his poor
little hopes of happiness hang on his thinking a small house pretty, a plain wife charming,
a lame foot not unbearable, and bad cards not so bad. The voice of the special rebels
and prophets, recommending discontent, should, as I have said, sound now and then suddenly,
like a trumpet. But the voices of the saints and sages, recommending, contentment, should
sound unceasingly, like the sea. –Gilbert Keith Chesterton

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2 thoughts on “WHAT IS RIGHT WITH THE WORLD – FULL AudioBook | Greatest Audio Books”

  1. Daniel Caron says:

    "He builds playgrounds but doesn't play."


  2. Juliette Oliver says:

    Thank you for doing this! Interesting treatise. Much of this is out of date today, as we know a lot more about the world. But very interesting.

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