We begin a weekly tradition of the democracy of the dead, on this blog mainly consisting of quoting from - and paraphrasing - his articles in the Illustrated London News one hundred years ago.
This time about Suffragette Demonstrations.
The incident of the Suffragettes who chained themselves with iron chains to the railings of Downing Street is a good ironical allegory of most modern martyrdom. It generally consists of a man chaining himself and then complaining that he is not free.
GKC is not impressed. He doesn't think it will matter much. For true martyrdom was about something different. To change the world it helps little to make pretences of suffering. Or to use violence, like fighting in the streets or making bombs like the anarchists or modern days terrorists.
You have to suffer, and sing praises while you do,
if men smiled and sang (as they did) while they were being boiled or torn in pieces, the spectators felt the presence of something more than mere mental honesty; they felt the presence of some new and unintelligible kind of pleasure, which, presumably, came from somewhere. It might be a strength of madness, or a lying spirit from Hell; but it was something quite positive and extraordinary; as positive as brandy and as extraordinaory as conjuring.
And it led to different effects.
The Pagan said to himself: "If Christianity makes a man happy while his legs are being eaten by a lion, might it not make me happy while my legs are still attached to me and walking down the street?"
Naturally the skeptic is as always not quite satisfied.
The Secularists laboriously explain that martyrdoms do not prove a faith to be true, as if anybody was ever such a fool as to suppose that they did. What they did prove, or, rather, strongly suggest, was that something had entered human psychology which was stronger than strong pain.
One conclusion, then, is to
strongly advice modern agitators, therefore, to give up this particular method: the method of making very big efforts to get a very small punishment.
Greenpeace and others may not quite take heed, still it is a rather good advice.
Of course, what Chesterton was writing about was womens' right to vote. In 1908 this was still a rather radical idea. Chesterton did not accept it, as his impression was that most women didn't want it. And he thought even less about the suffragettes' methods.
As a matter of fact, Miss Pankhurst is quite in earnest about votes for women. But she does not prove it by being chucked out of meetings. A person might be chucked out of meetings just as young men are chucked out of music-halls - for fun. But no man has himelf eaten by a lion as a personal advertisement.
Still, it is hard to avoid the fact that the suffragettes won. Women now are as powerless as men when it comes to complaining about the government's decisions. They can't even excuse themselves with not having the right to vote. And as long as they don't sing in joy about it, nothing will change.
Next Saturday the topic is Charlatans and Quacks. In short counterknowledge.