Author: G. K. Chesterton was a devoutly Catholic journalist, poet and novelist of the early 20th century. His most apt nickname is “The Prince of Paradox.”
Genre: Wartime, propaganda, World War I.
This little pamphlet is ephemeral inasmuch as it addressed a moment that has now passed—the gradual de-escalation of World War I, as Germany’s allies agreed to armistices one by one, and the discussion was open as to what the consequences should be for Germany’s territories. This was a key moment in world history, and Chesterton was concerned that imperialist policies should be at all points discouraged.
Chesterton states frankly here that he stands by two principles: first, that he is for democracy, and second, that he is against imperialism.
As in his previous wartime works (The Appetite of Tyranny, The Crimes of England), Chesterton was writing as a patriot with an eye for justice in English and European policies. He argues, not without irony, that 1918 could be a repeat of 1871, as German aggression might be cowed only temporarily. In particular, he wanted Alsace-Lorraine to be returned to France.
There is only one way to arrest annexation; only one way in which such a stampede of sophistry and spoliation can be stopped. The opportunity for it is now, and will never return; the test case is lit with a limelight of concentrated publicity that will never hold the attention to such a test case hereafter. Rightly or wrongly, Alsace-Lorraine has become this test case, which the whole world is watching. Let it revert to France, and the whole world will know that the rush of annexations has been reversed; that civilisation has determined to return to its boundaries. Let it remain to Germany or under the shadow of Germany, in whatever form, upon whatever pretext, and the whole world will know that such annexations are always ultimately justified and can be safely imitated. (p. 12)
Chesterton’s opinions on this must not have been as rare as he thought, since Alsace-Lorraine ultimately was returned to Germany. (Germany had annexed it in 1871 following the Franco-Prussian War.) On another point, Chesterton was somewhat prophetic—deep-rooted German race theories and perennial imperialism led to the outbreak of World War II, just three years after Chesterton’s death.
Related: The Appetite of Tyranny, The Crimes of England, Lord Kitchener.
In case you’re wondering what this review is doing here, this review is part of an effort to review all of Chesterton’s works in 2020 as an effort to get a full-orbed understanding of his life and thought. Our reviews usually cover sermons, theology, creative essays, biographies, and classic Christian living books.