Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Crimes of England

I read this book because it was free, by G. K. Chesterton and I was in England at the time. Free is always a good price point for me, Chesterton is a great writer and my conscience couldn't turn down a free book of his, and I thought I could understand my immediate context better in England if I read about what they have done wrong.

It turns out that this book isn't so much about the crimes of England, but rather an argument how what is wrong with England is really because of the Germans. Chesterton wrote this book defending criticism about the English by a German writer who's name he didn't bother to spell. He said that their criticisms were not sustainable and that every good Englishman can see through their propaganda. Instead Chesterton sets out to help this critics by stating what the crimes of England are, and as it turns out, after you scratch the surface it really is all the Germans fault.

Chesterton traces the sordid history of the links between England and Germany right up to World War 1, where England went to war against them. In his introduction he states that:
The English may be snobs, they may be plutocrats, they may be hypocrites, but they are not, as a fact, plotters; and I gravely doubt whether they could be if they wanted to. The mass of the people are perfectly incapable of plotting at all, and if the small ring of rich people who finance our politics were plotting for anything, it was for peace at almost any price. Any Londoner who knows the London streets and newspapers as he knows the Nelson column or the Inner Circle, knows that there were men in the governing class and in the Cabinet who were literally thirsting to defend Germany until Germany, by her own act, became indefensible. If they said nothing in support of the tearing up of the promise of peace to Belgium, it is simply because there was nothing to be said.
Here is just a brief overview of three of his arguments that go on in the rest of the book: On the protestant influence of the English: "In this loose and negative sense only it may be said that the great modern mistakes of England can be traced to Luther." (Chapter 2). Not only were they united in reformation but also "What really clinched the unlucky companionship of England and Germany was the first and second alliance with Prussia" and that "Germany was not merely present in the spirit: Germany was present in the flesh ". He states: " The practice of using German soldiers, and even whole German regiments, in the make-up of the British army, came in with our German princes, and reappeared on many important occasions in our eighteenth-century history." (Chapter 4). On the German's form of governance: "Within the iron framework of the fixed State, the German has not only liberty but anarchy. Anything can be said although, or rather because, nothing can be done. Philosophy is really free. But this practically means only that the prisoner's cell has become the madman's cell... The Marxian Socialist will not strike till the clock strikes; and the clock is made in Germany, and never strikes" (Chapter 8).

Some (much?) of what was said in this was lost on me, as I do not know much of the detailed history Chesterton cites. For that reason I have no idea how accurate or honest Chesterton was towards the Germans. I have a feeling he was probably quite unfair and cherry picked his historical examples. Nevertheless, I still found Chesterton a good read, as even though I may not have been able to follow his whole argument, his prose and logic, as expected, kept me entertained.

You can read this book free online, although I would probably recommend any of the other books of his I have read over this one.

Other books by Chesterton I have read
The Everlasting Man
The Man Who Was Thursday


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