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What I Saw in America by G. K. Chesterton
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What I Saw in America (1922)

by G. K. Chesterton

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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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...it has long been recognized that America was an asylum. It was only during Prohibition that it looked a little like a lunatic asylum.

We are perpetually being told in the papers that what is wanted is a strong man who will do things. What is wanted is a strong man who will undo things; and that will be a real test of strength.
Americans may go mad when they make laws, but they recover their reason when they disobey them.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0306710099, Hardcover)

Originally published in 1922. This volume from the Cornell University Library's print collections was scanned on an APT BookScan and converted to JPG 2000 format by Kirtas Technologies. All titles scanned cover to cover and pages may include marks notations and other marginalia present in the original volume.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:42:52 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

What is America? Chesterton asks in the opening chapter of this perceptive and high-spirited book, originally published in 1922. In due course, he meditates on the nature of the American hotel, the Broadway theater, and the American businessman. He also touches upon politics, cities, fads, and public opinion, as well as giving an early take on the Prohibition experiment. Finally, he speculates on the future of democracy, compares the spirit of America to that of England, and asks Is the Atlantic Narrowing?… (more)

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Anthem Press

An edition of this book was published by Anthem Press.

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