My thanks to Aaron D. Wolf for his article “The Discarded Image.” It reminded me of G.K. Chesterton’s “The Age of America,” published in The Illustrated London News, December 14, 1929 (The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, Vol. 35).
Chesterton saw the Civil War as a real clash of civilizations, with good and great men on both sides. (He wrote specifically of his admiration for Lincoln and Lee in separate articles elsewhere.) In his view, America became a different place after the War, and he couldn’t quite understand why, to his fellow English, America before the Civil War was much less interesting than America after the Great War. He states that many things that follow on wars are tragic, and suggests that his readers pick up The Tragic Era, a book on the Civil War written by Claude Bowers.
“This is rather specially the Age of America,” Chesterton writes, “but, inevitably and unfortunately, rather the America of the Northern merchants and industrialists.” He says that “the whole world is crying out for the spirit of the Old South,” for “what is most lacking in modern psychology . . . Honour; the sentiment to which personal independence is vital and to which wealth is incommensurate.”
Chesterton was concerned about the disappearance of honor. “The world will need, and need desperately, the particular spirit of the landowner who will not sell his land, of the shopkeeper who will not sell his shop, of the private man who will not be bullied or bribed into being part of a public combination; of what our fathers meant by the free man.”
Chesterton concludes that “the aristocrat of Old Dixie, with all his faults and inconsistencies, did understand what the gentlemen of Old Europe generally did not . . . the Republican ideal, the notion of the Citizen as it was understood among the noblest of the pagans. That combination of ideal democracy with real chivalry was a particular blend for which the world was immeasurably the better; and for the loss of which it is immeasurably the worse. It may never be recovered; but it will certainly be missed.”
S. Milwaukee, WI