The Effect of Humour on Insult Between Chesterton and Shaw

George Bernard Shaw, Hilaire Belloc, and G.K.Chesterton
George Bernard Shaw, Hilaire Belloc, and G.K. Chesterton

G.K Chesterton a Catholic and a Distributist, and George Bernard Shaw, an atheist and a socialist debated often. However, both could joke and to stay on as friends. Their ability to joke produced heated debates. Even some who disagreed with Chesterton well-known for his reasoned apologetics recognized the universal appeal in such works as Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man.

As a political thinker, he denigrated both progressivism and conservatism. In 1924 in the Illustrated London News of April 19th, he wrote: “The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.”

Once Bernard Shaw, Chesterton’s “friendly enemy,” said of him, “He was a man of colossal genius”.

Chesterton often associated with his close friend, the poet and essayist Hilaire Belloc. Chesterton’s friendly enemy, George Bernard Shaw, coined the name “Chesterbelloc” for their partnership.

Chesterton loved to debate. He often engaged in friendly public disputes with such men as George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Bertrand Russell and Clarence Darrow. Whenever Chesterton and Shaw debated it looked like they played cowboys in a never released silent movie.

During a debate between Chesterton and Bernard Shaw chaired by Hillaire Belloc, Shaw defending his wish to abolish private property, said:

If I own a large part of Scotland I can turn the people off the land practically into the sea, or across the sea. I can take women in childbearing and throw them into the snow and leave them there. That has been done. I can do it for no better reason than I think it is better to shoot deer on the land than allow people to live on it. They might frighten the deer.

But now compare that with the ownership of my umbrella. As a matter of fact the umbrella I have tonight belongs to my wife; but I think she will permit me to call it mine for the purpose of the debate. Now I have a very limited legal right to the use of that umbrella. I cannot do as I like with it. For instance, certain passages in Mr. Chesterton’s speech tempted me to get up and smite him over the head with my umbrella. I may presently feel inclined to smite Mr. Belloc. But should I abuse my right to do what I like with my property–with my umbrella–in this way I should soon be made aware– possibly by Mr. Belloc’s fist–that I cannot treat my umbrella as my own property in the way in which a landlord can treat his land. I want to destroy ownership in order that possession and enjoyment may be raised to the highest point in every section of the community. That, I think, is perfectly simple…

To this G.K. Chesterton responded:

Among the bewildering welter of fallacies which Mr. Shaw has just given us, I prefer to deal first with the simplest. When Mr. Shaw refrains from hitting me over the head with his umbrella, the real reason–apart from his real kindness of heart, which makes him tolerant of the humblest of the creatures of God–is not because he does not own his umbrella, but because he does not own my head. As I am still in possession of that imperfect organ, I will proceed to use it to the confutation of some of his other fallacies…

I fully agree with Mr. Shaw, and speak as strongly as he would speak, of the abomination and detestable foulness and sin of landlords who drove poor people from their land in Scotland and elsewhere. It is quite true that men in possession of land have committed these crimes; but I do not see why wicked officials under a socialistic state could not commit these crimes. But that has nothing to do with the principle of ownership of land. In fact these very Highland crofters, these very people thus abominably outraged and oppressed, if you asked them what they want would probably say, “I want to own my own croft; I want to own my own land.”

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