Friday, July 04, 2008

Chesterton on American Independence

Collected Works Volume 21: What I Saw in America; The Resurrection of Rome; Sidelights
I have never managed to lose my old conviction that travel narrows the mind. At least a man must make a double effort of moral humility and imaginative energy to prevent it from narrowing his mind. Indeed there is something touching and even tragic about the thought of the thoughtless tourist, who might have stayed at home loving Laplanders, embracing Chinamen, and clasping Patagonians to his heart in Hampstead or Surbiton, but for his blind and suicidal impulse to go and see what they looked like. This is not meant for nonsense; still less is it meant for the silliest sort of nonsense, which is cynicism. The human bond that he feels at home is not an illusion. On the contrary, it is rather an inner reality. Man is inside all men. In a real sense any man may be inside any men. But to travel is to leave the inside and draw dangerously near the outside. So long as he thought of men in the abstract, like naked toiling figures in some classic frieze, merely as those who labour and love their children and die, he was thinking the fundamental truth about them. By going to look at their unfamiliar manners and customs he is inviting them to disguise themselves in fantastic masks and costumes. Many modern internationalists talk as if men of different nationalities had only to meet and mix and understand each other. In reality that is the moment of supreme danger - the moment when they meet. We might shiver, as at the old euphemism by which a meeting meant a duel.
How can one not love a man who starts by turning the old "travel broadens the mind" phrase on its head, and ends with a duel?

This weekend, I invite you to sit back, relax, enjoy your freedom and independence, watch the fireworks, and read Chesterton. The perfect choice, shown above as a teaser, is What I Saw in America available in Collected Works 21. Happy 4th of July!

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