Meet us on:
 
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "A prose writer gets tired of writing prose, and wants to be a poet. So he begins every line with a capital letter, and keeps on writing prose."
     

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    The Red Reactionary

    by Gilbert Keith Chesterton
    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode
    The one case for Revolution is that it is the only quite clean and
    complete road to anything--even to restoration. Revolution alone can be
    not merely a revolt of the living, but also a resurrection of the dead.

    A friend of mine (one, in fact, who writes prominently on this paper) was
    once walking down the street in a town of Western France, situated in that
    area that used to be called La Vendee; which in that great creative crisis
    about 1790 formed a separate and mystical soul of its own, and made a
    revolution against a revolution. As my friend went down this street he
    whistled an old French air which he had found, like Mr. Gandish, "in his
    researches into 'istry," and which had somehow taken his fancy; the song
    to which those last sincere loyalists went into battle. I think the
    words ran:

    Monsieur de Charette.
    Dit au gens d'ici.
    Le roi va remettre.
    Le fleur de lys.

    My friend was (and is) a Radical, but he was (and is) an Englishman, and
    it never occurred to him that there could be any harm in singing archaic
    lyrics out of remote centuries; that one had to be a Catholic to enjoy the
    "Dies Irae," or a Protestant to remember "Lillibullero." Yet he was
    stopped and gravely warned that things so politically provocative might
    get him at least into temporary trouble.

    A little time after I was helping King George V to get crowned, by walking
    round a local bonfire and listening to a local band. Just as a bonfire
    cannot be too big, so (by my theory of music) a band cannot be too loud,
    and this band was so loud, emphatic, and obvious, that I actually
    recognised one or two of the tunes. And I noticed that quite a formidable
    proportion of them were Jacobite tunes; that is, tunes that had been
    primarily meant to keep George V out of his throne for ever. Some of the
    real airs of the old Scottish rebellion were played, such as "Charlie is
    My Darling," or "What's a' the steer, kimmer?" songs that men had sung
    while marching to destroy and drive out the monarchy under which we live.
    They were songs in which the very kinsmen of the present King were swept
    aside as usurpers. They were songs in which the actual words "King
    George" occurred as a curse and a derision. Yet they were played to
    celebrate his very Coronation; played as promptly and innocently as if
    they had been "Grandfather's Clock" or "Rule Britannia" or "The
    Honeysuckle and the Bee."

    That contrast is the measure, not only between two nations, but between
    two modes of historical construction and development. For there is not
    really very much difference, as European history goes, in the time that
    has elapsed between us and the Jacobite and between us and the Jacobin.
    When George III was crowned the gauntlet of the King's Champion was picked
    up by a partisan of the Stuarts. When George III was still on the throne
    the Bourbons were driven out of France as the Stuarts had been driven out
    of England. Yet the French are just sufficiently aware that the Bourbons
    might possibly return that they will take a little trouble to discourage
    it; whereas we are so certain that the Stuarts will never return that we
    actually play their most passionate tunes as a compliment to their rivals.
    And we do not even do it tauntingly. I examined the faces of all the
    bandsmen; and I am sure they were devoid of irony: indeed, it is difficult
    to blow a wind instrument ironically. We do it quite unconsciously;
    because we have a huge fundamental dogma, which the French have not. We
    really believe that the past is past. It is a very doubtful point.

    Now the great gift of a revolution (as in France) is that it makes men
    free in the past as well as free in the future. Those who have cleared
    away everything could, if they liked, put back everything. But we who
    have preserved everything--we cannot restore anything. Take, for the sake
    of argument, the complex and many coloured ritual of the Coronation
    recently completed. That rite is stratified with the separate centuries;
    from the first rude need of discipline to the last fine shade of culture
    or corruption, there is nothing that cannot be detected or even dated.
    The fierce and childish vow of the lords to serve their lord "against all
    manner of folk" obviously comes from the real Dark Ages; no longer
    confused, even by the ignorant, with the Middle Ages. It comes from some
    chaos of Europe, when there was one old Roman road across four of our
    counties; and when hostile "folk" might live in the next village. The
    sacramental separation of one man to be the friend of the fatherless and
    the nameless belongs to the true Middle Ages; with their great attempt to
    make a moral and invisible Roman Empire; or (as the Coronation Service
    says) to set the cross for ever above the ball. Elaborate local
    tomfooleries, such as that by which the Lord of the Manor of Work-sop is
    alone allowed to do something or other, these probably belong to the decay
    of the Middle Ages, when that great civilisation died out in grotesque
    literalism and entangled heraldry. Things like the presentation of the
    Bible bear witness to the intellectual outburst at the Reformation; things
    like the Declaration against the Mass bear witness to the great wars of
    the Puritans; and things like the allegiance of the Bishops bear witness
    to the wordy and parenthetical political compromises which (to my deep
    regret) ended the wars of religion.

    But my purpose here is only to point out one particular thing. In all
    that long list of variations there must be, and there are, things which
    energetic modern minds would really wish, with the reasonable modification,
    to restore. Dr. Clifford would probably be glad to see again the great
    Puritan idealism that forced the Bible into an antique and almost frozen
    formality. Dr. Horton probably really regrets the old passion that
    excommunicated Rome. In the same way Mr. Belloc would really prefer the
    Middle Ages; as Lord Rosebery would prefer the Erastian oligarchy of the
    eighteenth century. The Dark Ages would probably be disputed (from widely
    different motives) by Mr. Rudyard Kipling and Mr. Cunninghame Graham.
    But Mr. Cunninghame Graham would win.

    But the black case against Conservative (or Evolutionary) politics is that
    none of these sincere men can win. Dr. Clifford cannot get back to the
    Puritans; Mr. Belloc cannot get back to the mediaevals; because (alas)
    there has been no Revolution to leave them a clear space for building or
    rebuilding. Frenchmen have all the ages behind them, and can wander back
    and pick and choose. But Englishmen have all the ages on top of them, and
    can only lie groaning under that imposing tower, without being able to
    take so much as a brick out of it. If the French decide that their
    Republic is bad they can get rid of it; but if we decide that a Republic
    was good, we should have much more difficulty. If the French democracy
    actually desired every detail of the mediaeval monarchy, they could have
    it. I do not think they will or should, but they could. If another
    Dauphin were actually crowned at Rheims; if another Joan of Arc actually
    bore a miraculous banner before him; if mediaeval swords shook and.
    blazed in every gauntlet; if the golden lilies glowed from every tapestry;
    if this were really proved to be the will of France and the purpose of
    Providence--such a scene would still be the lasting and final
    justification of the French Revolution.

    For no such scene could conceivably have happened under Louis XVI.
    If you're writing a The Red Reactionary essay and need some advice, post your Gilbert Keith Chesterton essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Finished
    Want to read
    Abandoned

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?