“Discuss in the dark”

Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something, let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, “Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light. If Light be in itself good–” At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality. But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light; some because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash something. And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes. So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, to-morrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.

Heretics (1905).

Published in: on February 13, 2008 at 8:37 pm  Comments (6)  

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Wow! That’s an amazing quote. I have been intending to read Heretics, and now my intention is renewed.

  2. Truly one of my favorite pieces by Chesterton. How deep are his pithy selections! Light truly is a necessary phenomenon, including at the transcendental-human level. And Chesterton wonderfully shows the rather meaningless and illogical way of approaching problems by over-educated “(un)enlightened men”.

  3. Along with the venerable JRR Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories,” this is the most enjoyable, and most joyfully true piece of writing I have read in the last few months, worthy to be called immortal. And it is, because truth is, in fact, immortal.

  4. […] happily, G. K. Chesterton foresaw the abolition of journals in favour of blogs, and commented thus: Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about […]

  5. […] “Discuss in the dark” […]

  6. extraordinary. I couldn’t fit the exclamation points I need to emphasize it.

    This is also a great analogy for the human soul itself. The monk is the light of reason amidst the passions: easily knocked down, eventually missed. And so he says: let us consider light.

    But then what is the lamppost?

    perhaps, tradition?

    (this one’s a beaut)

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