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What I Saw in America (1922)

de G. K. Chesterton

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An enduring portrait of America?s virtues and vices as seen by one of England?s greatest thinkers After losing his brother in the Great War, a troubled and depressed G. K. Chesterton accepts an invitation to join a lecture tour that will take him across the United States for the first time. Part travelogue, part exploration of the American experiment, What I Saw in America begins with a man of letters trying to reconcile his faith with the atrocities and moral dilemmas of war and expands into an illuminating consideration of the limitations of capitalism, the concept of American exceptionalism, and the future of the democratic system. This ebook has been professionally proofread to ensure accuracy and readability on all devices.… (mais)
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Published in 1922, Chesterton records his observations from a lecture tour of America in 1921. The book is all Chesterton, so it contains philosophy, politics, humor, and wisdom all mixed in a free-for-all of reporting and humorist style. He makes the expected remarks (two peoples separated by a common language for example), but some of his observations are profound and seldom found elsewhere.

He gives America a unique position in the world as the only nation founded on the rights of men established by God and the accompanying brotherhood of man. He notes that “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature.” He continues by telling us that every credo has a dogma, and discusses the metaphor comparing it to a melting pot: “…the pot itself is of a certain shape… the melting-pot must not melt. The original shape was traced on the lines of Jeffersonian democracy; and it will remain in that shape until it becomes shapeless.… But the point is not that nothing exists in America except this idea, it is that nothing like this idea exists anywhere except America…. What is unique is not America, but what is called Americanization.”

In his chapter on “A New Martin Chuzzlewitt” he makes an excellent, but somewhat complex to describe point, about humor. An American and an Englishman can be friends and yet find humor in each other. The source of the humor may actually lie in their nature, that the American finds the Englishman funny precisely because he is an Englishman, and vice versa. Both today and in Chesterton’s day some internationalists (his example was H. G. Wells) hold this to be intolerable, they view it as looking down on the other. He goes on to point out the catastrophic effect if this view is true. We must either compress all nationalities until there is no difference, or make enemies of them. His conclusion is that “There is no hope in the pompous impersonalities of internationalism.” He applies the same check to thoughts on our views of faults. “A man treats his own faults as original sin and supposes them scattered everywhere with the seed of Adam…The Englishman takes it for granted that a Frenchman will have all the English faults.…goes on to be angry” at him for complicating them with French Faults. “The notion that a Frenchman has the French faults and not the English faults is a paradox to wild to cross his mind.”

Most of the book is insightful and humorous, but added to this the observations related to the nature of America as compared to England or France make this an important work to aid in understanding the world. ( )
1 vote ServusLibri | Jul 9, 2009 |
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An enduring portrait of America?s virtues and vices as seen by one of England?s greatest thinkers After losing his brother in the Great War, a troubled and depressed G. K. Chesterton accepts an invitation to join a lecture tour that will take him across the United States for the first time. Part travelogue, part exploration of the American experiment, What I Saw in America begins with a man of letters trying to reconcile his faith with the atrocities and moral dilemmas of war and expands into an illuminating consideration of the limitations of capitalism, the concept of American exceptionalism, and the future of the democratic system. This ebook has been professionally proofread to ensure accuracy and readability on all devices.

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