GK Chesterton’s plan for urban renewal

I’ve been reading GK Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. It is obviously brilliant, if, perhaps, a little hard on those who desire revolution or to overthrow unjust socio-political orthodoxies. But I came across this passage, which I just had to share.

PimlicoObviously, lines like “then it would remain Pimlico, which would be awful,” amuse me because of what Pimlico is today. But, as Chesterton wrote, apparently, it was a poor neighbourhood, and what he says about loving a place into renewal rather than waiting for it to be renewed before loving it is beautiful and profound. The last three passages, in which he points out the central (or at least important) role of faith in the socio-political creation of a better world. Not only is it okay for Christians to be political, it is important that they are ‘fully Christian’ while being ‘fully political’, never assuming that all they have to offer is body, without Spirit.

It’s all very incarnation:

GK Chesterton

GK Chesterton

Let us suppose we are confronted with a desperate thing — say Pimlico. If we think what is really best for Pimlico we shall find the thread of thought leads to the throne or the mystic and the arbitrary. It is not enough for a man to disapprove of Pimlico: in that case he will merely cut his throat or move to Chelsea. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of Pimlico: for then it will remain Pimlico, which would be awful.

The only way out of it seems to be for somebody to love Pimlico: to love it with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason. If there arose a man who loved Pimlico, then Pimlico would rise into ivory towers and golden pinnacles; Pimlico would attire herself as a woman does when she is loved. For decoration is not given to hide horrible things: but to decorate things already adorable.

A mother does not give her child a blue bow because he is so ugly without it. A lover does not give a girl a necklace to hide her neck. If men loved Pimlico as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is theirs, Pimlico in a year or two might be fairer than Florence. Some readers will say that this is a mere fantasy. I answer that this is the actual history of mankind. This, as a fact, is how cities did grow great. Go back to the darkest roots of civilization and you will find them knotted round some sacred stone or encircling some sacred well. People first paid honour to a spot and afterwards gained glory for it. Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.

The eighteenth-century theories of the social contract have been exposed to much clumsy criticism in our time; in so far as they meant that there is at the back of all historic government an idea of content and co-operation, they were demonstrably right. But they really were wrong in so far as they suggested that men had ever aimed at order or ethics directly by a conscious exchange of interests.

From the blog of the American Chesterton Society

From the blog of the American Chesterton Society

Morality did not begin by one man saying to another, “I will not hit you if you do not hit me”; there is no trace of such a transaction. There is a trace of both men having said, “We must not hit each other in the holy place.” They gained their morality by guarding their religion. They did not cultivate courage. They fought for the shrine, and found they had become courageous. They did not cultivate cleanliness. They purified themselves for the altar, and found that they were clean.

The history of the Jews is the only early document known to most Englishmen, and the facts can be judged sufficiently from that. The Ten Commandments which have been found substantially common to mankind were merely military commands; a code of regimental orders, issued to protect a certain ark across a certain desert. Anarchy was evil because it endangered the sanctity. And only when they made a holy day for God did they find they had made a holiday for men.

Anyway, you should read Orthodoxy. It’s rather good.

And this is a clip of an adaptation of Father Brown, his most famous creation. The stories fit into the Detective genre, but they are really great religious and sociological essays, dramatised with much humour.

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