“The rights of men”

The thing behind Bolshevism and many other modern things is a new doubt. It is not merely a doubt about God; it is rather specially a doubt about Man.  The old morality, the Christian religion, the Catholic Church, differed from all this new mentality because it really believed in the rights of men.  That is, it believed that ordinary men were clothed with powers and privileges and a kind of authority. Thus the ordinary man had a right to deal with dead matter, up to a given point; that is the right of property.  Thus the ordinary man had a right to rule the other animals within reason; that is the objection to vegetarianism and many other things. The ordinary man had a right to judge about his own health, and what risks he would take with the ordinary things of his environment; that is the objection to Prohibition and many other things. The ordinary man had a right to judge of his children’s health, and generally to bring up children to the best of his ability; that is the objection to many interpretations of modern State education. Now in these primary things in which the old religion trusted a man, the new philosophy utterly distrusts a man.  It insists that he must be a very rare sort of man to have any rights in these matters; and when he is the rare sort, he has the right to rule others even more than himself.

The Outline of Sanity (1926).

The thing behind Bolshevism and many other modern things is a new doubt.
It is not merely a doubt about God; it is rather specially a doubt
about Man.  The old morality, the Christian religion, the Catholic Church,
differed from all this new mentality because it really believed
in the rights of men.  That is, it believed that ordinary men
were clothed with powers and privileges and a kind of authority.
Thus the ordinary man had a right to deal with dead matter,
up to a given point; that is the right of property.  Thus the
ordinary man had a right to rule the other animals within reason;
that is the objection to vegetarianism and many other things.
The ordinary man had a right to judge about his own health, and what
risks he would take with the ordinary things of his environment;
that is the objection to Prohibition and many other things.
The ordinary man had a right to judge of his children's health,
and generally to bring up children to the best of his ability;
that is the objection to many interpretations of modern State education.
Now in these primary things in which the old religion trusted a man,
the new philosophy utterly distrusts a man.  It insists that he must be a
very rare sort of man to have any rights in these matters; and when he is
the rare sort, he has the right to rule others even more than himself.
Published in: on April 7, 2010 at 7:53 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. I don’t suppose that Chesterton is really to blame for the oversight here. The problem with this mentality is that it is so easily exploited by institutions – political, corporate, etc. – who would make us purr with talk of our rights and competencies in order to keep exploiting us. In a great many things, collective action is required but the illusion of independence and self-sufficiency is used to keep us from acting collectively. Is the right of a man to defend himself therefore an argument against the police and the military? Is the right of a man to the quality of his own labour therefore an argument against building inspectors and the fire department? It wasn’t all that long ago, in fact, that fire departments became socialized. It was too serious of a problem to allow it to stay private and for-profit. Because, of course, when we are kept from acting collectively, somebody is making money off it.


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