G. K. Chesterton on Peace and Love

I came across a quote from G. K. Chesterton the other day, and ever since have been hunting for its source, but unfortunately cannot find one. The gist of what Chesterton has to say here though, runs counter to the modern appeal for everyone to embrace ‘peace and love’ – an appeal often invoked with the background assumption that if only we were to give love (however that may be defined – it rarely is in these cases) a try, then world peace would just fall into place. Chesterton though, contends that it is actually the case that peace and love, true love that is, cannot really co-exist at all:

But not even fighting itself could be further removed from quiescence and resignation than that love for all men which lies at the core of Christmas. Love is not a mild thing at all; love is not a peacable thing at all, as is proved by the enormous amount of trouble which it creates by coming into the world. Love is fierce by the very first elements of its nature; it is a violent affirmation that a certain thing is beautiful, or that a certain thing should be ours. In private life to be a lover is to be a nuisance; and to love all the families of the earth is in this sense to be a nuisance in all the houses. That is why it has so often happened, on Calvary and elsewhere, that when a man loved everybody, everybody made a rush at him and killed him. No two things are further apart than peace and love.

What Chesterton says here assumes several things – firstly that the true nature of love is to ‘will the good of the other’ as Aquinas put it; secondly that love and truth are not only reconcilable but inseparable; and thirdly that to love something or someone is not to tolerate any forces that would try to diminish or harm the thing or person loved. All three of these assumptions are well summed up in another Chestertonian saying, that ‘tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions’ – i.e.; whilst toleration of others is a virtue, toleration of principles is not only a weakness but tantamount to vice; where, under the guise of tolerance, nothing is held dear, all things will eventually be lost.

Basically, what Chesterton is getting at here is that if we love things (or people) – if we really care about them, to the extent that their welfare means more to us than our own, and are willing to sacrifice all else for them – we will not settle for a situation that is peaceful (insofar as there is no overt conflict of any kind) but that leaves the object of our love subject to harm. If we love a person, a country, an idea, whatever, we will go to all lengths to ensure that it is protected, and this may sometimes, may often, mean conflict of some kind. In a free world, where a.) there are people with conflicting interests, and b.) some people just plain choose to do bad things, peace is very often not an option.

Unless what we mean by peace is indifference and inaction however, in which case it is an option very often endorsed, albeit selectively, by our political leaders in the West, who, when faced with a situation such as the one that exists in Iraq at the moment, choose to pretend that nothing is happening. In this case, either they have no love in them for their fellow man, or they have a misguided concept of peace, or they are just a bunch of pusillanimous hypocrites. Personally, I’d go for all of the above.

Maybe it serves the purposes of those with a secular, multiculturalist agenda to ignore the fact that Islamists are either murdering Christians or exiling from their native lands, or maybe there are just not enough votes in an intervention – but their lack of action, indeed their lack of comment even, is an utter disgrace, and any talk of peace or love that comes out of their mouths cannot be henceforth (if it ever could be) treated as credible.

The way in which this connects with what Chesterton was saying though is this – that peace is by far from our default state as human beings, and that rather than providing us with empty platitudes about it, assuming that the way to achieve peace is to not believe in or care about any particular thing, and just merge our ideals into one great big melting pot of toleration (or more accurately, indifference), our leaders would be much better advised to find themselves something that they do really care about, really love, and to fight for it.

It used to be that Christian nations cared for Christian principles, and would fight on the side of others who did so too. Now we believe in nothing, and thus choose our fights on the basis of how many votes it will generate (or rather, how few it will lose), and how much power each individual State can get for itself, both domestically and internationally. Our leaders can talk about peace all they like at conferences and summits, but unless they are willing to fight for something, and in the process enter into a decidedly un-peaceful situation or two, they will not find anything like it in the long term.

And the truth of the matter is this – we will never find lasting peace on earth; there will always be those who want to destroy or take away what we hold dear, and as long as we do love people, nations, and ideas, we must be aware that peace is in this sense irreconcilable with love. The only lasting peace we will find is in our true end, in God, who alone will finally turn swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks. This is not to say that we must not fight for peaceful situations in the particular – in fact, we must do so because of the things we love.

But, if we are people of principle, who love what certain ideas are and what they stand for, we cannot rest whilst they are under attack. Unfortunately our leaders no longer seem to love anything but power and their own place within the halls of power – an extreme example of what was always partially the case, and great testimony to the evils that come when man believes in nothing more than himself, which is, as is becoming harder and harder to ignore, is the essence of the secular ‘humanist’ project; a worldview which has created no saints, a fair number of sinners, and plenty of Laodiceans.

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