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Clearing the Mind of Cant

Clearing the Mind of Cant

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Published by: Saint Benedict Center on Dec 27, 2013
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Dr. Robert Hickson 15 November 2013 Saint Albert the Great 
Clearing the Mind of CantG.K. Chesterton on “False Comparatives”
“Human Sacriice ha! this "reat thou"h allen s#len!our clin"in" about it$ that at least it %as the ver& contrar& o the Survival o the 'ittest. (ike all the !eaths o the )*hristian+ mart&rs an! heroes, it %as the Surren!er o the 'ittest....A hu"e #art o human histor& %ill remain #ermanentl& unintelli"ible to those %ho cannot even entertain this i!ea- the i!ea o "ivin" u# a thin" not because it is  ba!, but because it is "oo! )
, "ivin" u# a lesser "oo! or a "reater "oo!+./G.. *hesterton, “About Sacriice,an essa& rom his 13 Antholo"&,
 As I Was Saying 
, ##. 21, 2212224G.. *hestertons conclu!in" %or!s in his earnest 13essa& “About 6oltaire %ere orceull& com#act an! su!!en an! &et, at irst, a little too com#resse! or m& imme!iate un!erstan!in", even thou"h 7 ha! rea! those %or!s more than once beore- namel&, “
nothing is so anarchical as discipline divorced from authority
$ that is,
from right
Almost t%ent& &ears earlier, soon ater 8orl! 8ar 7 in 11, G... *hesterton ha! also characteristicall& s#oken o “
the stark anarchies and rending negations
 the %orl! a"ain an! a"ain, unceasin"l&. 7n his 13 essa& on 6oltaire, he also oresa%, althou"h he %oul! not live to kno% its ull !esolatin" actualit&, %hat %as all too likel& to come- another %ar in 9uro#e an!  be&on!.8hile relectin" on these themes in li"ht o m& o%n e:#erience o %ar$ an!, more im#ortantl&, tr&in" to un!erstan! the #ro#er meanin" o “authorit& inasmuch as it is relate! to “ri"htin *hestertons un!erstan!in", 7 came across his later essa& in
 As I Was Saying 
, entitle! “About ;a! *om#arisons,
 %hich, in a resh an! une:#ecte! %a&, "reatl& clariie! m& min! an! hel#e! to clear it
1G.. *hesterton, “About 6oltaire, an essa& o seven #a"es /##. 5514 to be oun! in *ha#ter 7< o his antholo"&,
 As I Was Saying 
 /Ne% =ork- Do!!, >ea! ? *om#an&, 134, #. 1.2G.. *hestertons inal #a"e rom his our#a"e 7ntro!uction /##. i::ii4 to the then ne%l& #ublishe! 9n"lish translation  b& *a#tain *harles Scott >oncrie o an @l! 'rench 9#ic oem,
The Song of Roland: Done into English, in the Original Measure
 /(on!on- *ha#man ? Hall, (BD, 120C'irst rinte! in November o 114, #. :ii.3G.. *hesterton, “About ;a! *om#arisons, *ha#ter <<67 /##. 15124 in his aorementione! 13 antholo"&,
 As I Was Saying 
. Henceorth, all reerences to this essa& %ill be #lace! above in #arentheses in the main te:t, %here all
o cant. /Bhe "reat Dr. Samuel Eohnson %as al%a&s recommen!in" that same “clearin" #rocess, es#eciall& to his ot#rovocative Scottish bio"ra#her, Eames ;os%ell- “
ir! clear your mind of cant
F4@ur *hesterton %ill a##roach his to#ic sl&l&, as %ell as bracin"l&, an! thereb& then lea! us to some #rooun! insi"hts, 7 believe- es#eciall& insi"hts about authorit& an! t&rann&$ an! about avarice as !istinct rom thrit. /8e alrea!& likel& kno% o his characteristic lookin" askance at
the "asteful miser
, an! o his %arm %elcome al%a&s "iven to “the romance o thrit.
4*hesterton im#ishl& be"ins his essa& “About ;a! *om#arisons, %ith an unattribute! allusion to one o Shakes#eares comic i"ures, the incom#etentl& oicious *onstable Do"berr& in
 Much Ado about othing 
 /Act 3, Scene 54$ an! es#eciall& to one o Do"berr&s man& inectious “mala#ro#isms- “*om#arisons are
 /%hen the *onstable meant to sa& “o!ious but a!!le#ate!l& mi:e! u# the  #roverb4-7 have never uite un!erstoo! the #hrase that com#arisons are o!ious$ but an&bo!& can see that even the ver& best o com#arisons is onl& com#arativel& com#limentar&. A literal inter#retation coul! turn most com#liments into insults....Bhe line...“Her neck is like the s%an al%a&s su""este! to me a ver& startlin" an! some%hat alarmin" alteration in the human orm....;ut there is another sense o the %or! “com#arative in %hich it is liable to another some%hat #arallel abuse or error. 7t is that
 o a thin" in three !e"rees o #ositive, com#arative, an! su#erlative$ as illustrate! in the bri"ht little bo& )Gilbert himselI+ %ho "ave the
 o an a!verb )sic+ in the orm o “7ll$ %orse$ an! !ea!. 7t %ill be note! that this, thou"h oun!e! on hi"hl& #ractical e:#erience, is not e:act as an e:am#le o
grammatical logic
. /1515J4;uil!in" u#on this insi"ht o the (ittle ;o& an! makin" an! illustratin" some #rooun! an! real !istinctions, our *hesterton thereb& #ro#oses to hel# us to be more alert an! clearthinkin"- No% there are a "reat man& #hrases )
., man& other e:am#les o “
the false comparative
 /154+ use! in #ractice as com#aratives %hich are not nearl& so com#arative as the tria! o the little bo&. 7 mean that man& #eo#le su##ose one
 to be an
 o another thin" or an
 o another thin" %hen it is reall& a totall&
 thin"$ an! sometimes almost a
 thin". 'or
em#hases are a!!e!, an! are not to be oun! in *hesterton himsel, unless other%ise s#eciicall& in!icate!.7n his 110 book,
What!s Wrong "ith the World 
, G.. *hesterton even entitles one o his "racious cha#ters “Bhe Romance o Bhrit, as a #ortion o his o%n "enerosit& o consi!erin" “Bhe >istake about 8oman /art 777, *ha#ter ,  ##. 101104. See his
What!s Wrong "ith the World 
 /Ne% =ork- Shee! ? 8ar!, 152Can e:act transcri#tion an!  #a"ination o the ori"inal 110 irst e!ition4.
instance, some #eo#le have
an instinctive itch of irritation
 a"ainst the %or! “authorit&.
 the& su##ose that authorit& is
a pompous name for mere $ullying
or else
, at the best, the& think that mere bull&in" is an
 o authorit&. ;ut bull&in" is
 the o##osite o authorit&. B&rann& is
the opposite
 o authorit&. /15J4 No% he ma& hel# us to un!erstan! the relation bet%een “authorit& an! “ri"htCthe latter conce#t bein"Cin m& o%n %or!s no%Cat least “a claim in Kustice i not al%a&s “the actualit& o  Kustice in this im#erect %orl! /the %orl! o “stark anarchies an! “ren!in" ne"ations mentione! b& *hesterton above4. *hesterton tries to e:#lain his meanin" urther-'or authorit& means ri"ht$ an! nothin" is authoritative e:ce#t %hat somebo!& has a ri"ht to !o, an! thereore is ri"ht in !oin". );ut %e !o not have a ri"ht to !o %hat is %ron".+ 7t oten ha##ens in this im#erect %orl! that he has
the right
 to !o it )
., to “!o the truth or “to !o the "oo!+
and not the po"er
 to !o it.
%ut he cannot have a shred of authority if he merely has the po"er to do it and has not the right to do it
. 7 &ou think an& orm o master& unKust, it is
 to sa& that &ou !o not like inKustice$ but there is
no need to say
 that &ou !o not like authorit&.
For in&ustice! as such! cannot have any authority at all
. /15J4A!!itionall&, as *hestertons belove! rien! H. ;elloc oten em#haticall& sai!-
Sine  Auctoritate, ulla #ita
. /8ithout authorit& there is no lie.4*hesterton no% %ants to make urther !istinctions->oreover,
a man can only have authority $y admitting something $etter than himself 
$ an! the bull& !oes not "et his claim rom an&bo!& but himsel. )Nor !oes the essential Anarchist %ho sa&sCas a sort o >ottoCNo authorit& rom above$ no authorit& rom belo%.+ 7t is
 a uestion, thereore, o there  bein" authorit&, an!
 t&rann& %hich is )#utativel&+
too much
'yranny means too little authority
$ or thou"h, o course, an! in!ivi!ual ma& use %ron"l& the #o%er that ma& "o %ith it )the la%ul authorit&+, he is in that )%ron"ul+ act
disloyal to the la" of right
, %hich
 be his o%n authorit&.
'o a$use authority is to attack authority
. )=es, even, it seems, in the case o a o#eF+ A #oliceman is no lon"er a #oliceman %hen he is bribe!
 )or covertl&+ to arrest an innocent man$ he is a
private criminal
. He is
not e#aggerating authority
$ he is )b& his abuses+
reducing it to nothing
. /15J154@F ho% much *hesterton !oes "ive us here to #on!er in our hearts, an! then to act u#on, but onl& ater a better an! more !ierentiate! ormation o our o%n moral consciences, authoritativel& an! 3

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