G. K. Chesterton

Thinking Backward, Looking Forward

Stephen R. L. Clark

G. K. Chesterton, early twentieth-century essayist, poet, novelist, political campaigner, and theologian, philosophized greatly about society and the future. A study of his thinking and selected writings, with particular reference to his status as a precursor of the genre later known as "science fiction," enriches our understanding of how we came to be where we are and how we can advocate a better future.

In this book, Stephen R. L. Clark, a philosopher with a lifelong "addiction" to science fiction, explores Chesterton's ideas and arguments in their historical context and evaluates them philosophically. He addresses Chesterton's sense that the way things are is not how they must have been or need be in the future, and his willingness to face up to the apparent effects of the nihilism he detected in the science and politics of his day.

Clark offers a detailed study of some of Chesterton's works that have been identified by science fiction writers and critics as seminal influences. He attempts to deal with some of Chesterton's theories that have been found offensive or "positively wicked" by later writers and critics, including his arguments against female suffrage and in praise of war, his medievalist leanings, and his contemptuous rejection of Darwinian evolutionary theory.

"Chesterton worked to remind us of the oddity, the wonder, of the world we live in, by pointing up and exaggerating too-familiar features of that world," comments Clark. "It is not necessary to agree with him on every issue to find his work invigorating and enlightening." Chesterton's approach to life and the world might be summarized as that of one who "thinks backward" or "looks at the world upside down," acknowledging the often arbitrary nature of our customs and beliefs and also the underlying virtues of humanity. A philosophical analysis of this view provides insight into our past and the future we can shape.

Preface / ix

Introduction / 3

Part I: What’s Wrong with Science Fiction? / 9

1. The Case against Science Fiction / 11

2. In Defense of Science Fiction / 18

Part II: The Texts / 39

3. The Napoleon of Notting Hill / 41

4. The Man Who Was Thursday / 50

5. The Ball and the Cross / 55

6. The Flying Inn / 65

7. The Distributist Rebellion / 73

8. The Return of Don Quixote / 76

Part III: The Themes / 83

9. Nationalists and Jews / 85

10. Women and Men / 97

11. Medievalism, War, and Men’s Ideals / 104

12. Distributism and Anarchy / 115

13. Darwinism, Scientific and Social / 124

14. Animals and the Royal Animal / 144

15. Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Virtue / 161

16. Miracles and Religion / 174

Conclusion: Thinking Backward / 187

Notes / 201

Index / 241