Flickers of Resistance

“In the twentieth century you could not see the ground for clever men. . . . And all these clever men were at work giving accounts of what would happen in the next age.”  The discussion of prophetic literature with which Chesterton begins The Napoleon of Notting Hill is itself an accurate piece of prophecy.  As he points out, most of the books devoted to the ever-receding horizon of the future are really descriptions of the present carried one step further:

Tolstoy and the Humanitarians said that the world was growing more merciful, and therefore no one would ever desire to kill.  And Mr. Mick not only became a vegetarian, but at length declared vegetarianism doomed (“shedding,” as he called it finely, “the green blood of the silent animals”), and predicted that men in a better age would live on nothing but salt.  And then came the pamphlet from Oregon . . . called, “Why should Salt suffer?”

In their extrapolated predictions, such would-be prophets as H.G. Wells and George Orwell were both myopic enough to have hailed from Oregon.  World wars have turned out to be too costly to sustain; continental federations, too unwieldy to keep together.  Successful empires require subtler, less dramatic methods than Wells or Orwell, Hitler or Stalin could project from their experience of World War I and its aftershocks.  Aldous...

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