One of Christopher Hitchins’ Last Articles Is About G. K. Chesterton

The Reactionary: The charming, sinister G. K. Chesterton” is published in the March 2012 issue of The Atlantic. The occasion of the article is the recent publication of a Chesterton biography by Ian Ker in 2011. You can read a more favorable review (both of the book and its subject) in a recent issue of Touchstone, now available online.

Hitchens’ article is quite long and focuses on some of Chesterton’s more obscure poems and writings. As pointed out in this response to Hitchens’ piece by Robert Royal:

But besides these concessions, only one of which is Hitchens’ own, you’d never know that Chesterton wrote The Everlasting Man (his finest work), “The Ballad of the White Horse,” brilliant studies of Dickens, Chaucer, and the Victorians, Francis of Assisi and Aquinas, and two early, seminal volumes:  Heretics and Orthodoxy. For anyone who values Chesterton, these are the main event, but for Hitchens, apparently they’re a sideshow.

Hitchens seemed intent on digging up something so that he could get in some last swipes at a colossal figure in Christian thought:

The verdict one must pass on GKC, then, is that when he was charming, he was also deeply unserious and frivolous (as with the pub revolution to set off the Distributist revolution); when he was apparently serious, he was really quite sinister (as in calling Nazism a form of Protestant heresy and Jews a species of conspicuous foreigner in England); and when he was posing as a theologian, he was doing little more than ventriloquizing John Henry Newman at his most “dogmatic.” For the time and hour in which he lived, “Chestertonianism” came to represent a minor but still important failure to meet a distinct moral challenge.

So in the end he was happy to call mother Theresa a pious tyrant and Chesterton a sinister reactionary. Not all that surprising coming from the man whose thesis was  “religion poisons everything.”

Hitchens’ article begins as follows: “Professor Ker’s spirited and double-barreled attempt at a rehabilitation of his cherished subject . . ” Replace the words Professor Ker with Christopher Hitchens, rehabilitation with revilement, and cherished with abhorred and you’ve pretty much got the gist of Hitchens’ own article (and with these revisions, the phrase “double-barreled” makes more sense).

Denyse O’Leary recently posted a fitting quote by John Gray: “Religion has caused a lot of harm but so has science. Practically everything of value in human life can be harmful. To insist that religion is peculiarly malignant is fanaticism, or mere stupidity.”

3 thoughts on “One of Christopher Hitchins’ Last Articles Is About G. K. Chesterton

  1. Mr. Hitchens had fine analytical ability…when his anger or prejudices did not get in the way…!

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