Among the books I have fallen in with recently is a fairly slim volume written by Cecil Edward Chesterton (brother of Gilbert Keith) in 1916, the ‘Perils of Peace’. Its main theme is that the Prussian Empire must be thoroughly punished after the war to prevent it doing the same thing again. It is eerie to read someone innocently advocating something that we know in hindsight turned out really badly. He outlines a policy that sounds very like the policy that was eventually imposed at Versailles, but this is only his Plan B, and he recognises in a caveat that it can only be successful if the rest of Europe retains the will to enforce it and will be dangerous if they grow slack. His Plan A is for a thoroughgoing partition of the Germany more along the lines of what was done (temporarily) after World War Two. He presciently recognises the dangers in dismembering the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but not Germany: “For if the war leaves the Prussian Empire in being, even though reduced, while the Austrian Empire is dismembered, Prussia will certainly seek compensation by laying hands, sooner or later, on the German provinces of Austria (she would swallow Mr Shaw’s Austrian Republic at a gulp) and might ultimately emerge stronger in resources and more of a menace to European civilisation than ever.”
C. E. never got to write any second thoughts about any of this, since he went back to the Western front and was killed there.
I also re-read Erewhon. There is a little bit of good sense in the Erewhonian attitude to crime and disease. I am sure we would all look after ourselves much better if illness was seen as something disreputable and worthy of punishment. Conversely, I have always thought it is dreadful that our priests and sages can only say ‘well, don’t do that’ as guidance for dealing with temptation, rather than ‘take these drugs.’
I had forgotten that the narrator suggested the Erewhonians be induced to work on Queensland sugar plantations as the best way to effect their conversion to Christianity.
Oh, and how could I forget? The other day in Devil Bunny City I saw what appeared to be a scholarly work about the Cathars on the discount table of a bookstore and snapped it up eagerly. The first chapter seemed more favourable towards the Cathars than in other books I had read, but this was much as I expected, as those others were pretty much all written by the ideological descendants of the crusaders who wiped the Cathars out. Feeling the treatment of Cathar philosophy was a bit vague, I flipped idly ahead to get a feel for what the rest would be like, and found this on page 119: ‘In the preceding chapters I have dealt with Catharism as it is known to historians, theologians, and philosophers. In this section of the book I am concerned with what has been revealed to me of its deeper teachings. These have been communicated by a group of discarnate entities.’