Teddy Roosevelt and G. K. Chesterton...

Interesting exchange about Teddy Roosevelt over at First Things that's generating as much light as heat. Again, my dear friend Bob Patterson is holding up TR as a paragon of conservative virtue. (Yup, Joe Sobran's turning over in his grave.) The teaser below caught my eye because in the car I've been listening to Libravox recordings of Chesterton non-stop the past six months. He's unbelievably helpful—unbelievably!

And yes, he never stops attacking Calvinism, but he's wrong... in that regard. Hilariously wrong, so it doesn't bother me. Listening to Chesterton on Calvinism is like listening to John Piper (or worse, John MacArthur) on infant baptism. It's a reminder that the best men are howlingly mistaken out there in public so that everyman must face the fact that God is true though all men are liars.

If you'd like to start listening to Chesterton, download What's Wrong with the World, listen beginning around chapter 16 or so, and have fun.

Anyhow, here's the teaser from Bob's defense of TR:

Social conservatives have two choices. They can cozy up to the libertarians and accept the financialization and globalization agenda that has largely co-opted the GOP in the post-Reagan era. In doing so, of course, they must overlook that the Koch brothers, the bankrollers of this shift, delivered for the Democrats a huge victory in New York State on same-sex marriage two years ago. Like many in the Republican donor class, these billionaires support the legal shenanigans aimed at fully deconstructing the vital institution of marriage nationwide. By making this pact with the devil, social conservatives continue to relegate themselves to the back of the bus, where we have sat since the 1980s.

The second option is to appreciate TR as he really was: a promising model of both economic and social policy. This American statesman was neither a socialist nor a liberal, neither a friend of elites nor an internationalist. He was pro-middle class, pro-family, pro-marriage, pro-life, pro-fertility, pro-worker, pro-industry, and pro-growth. His passion to protect motherhood, children, and the average working stiff from the ravages of industrialization and the emergence of the national corporation came right out of Catholic social teaching and from G.K. Chesterton, as well as the Dutch Protestant Abraham Kuyper, the progressive-conservative prime minister of Holland whose tenure paralleled TR’s first term in the White House.

Not only was TR conversant with Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, but he also corresponded — and exchanged books — with the Pope, Chesterton, and Kuyper. Indeed, the Colonel was so taken with Chesterton that he insisted on having dinner with the British journalist when in London during his post-presidential European tour, an event that did not go unnoticed in the press. A visit to Sagamore Hill will confirm that TR prominently displayed Chesterton’s Orthodoxy on his desk in the library.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and fifteen grandchildren.


"If you'd like to start listening to Chesterton, download What's Wrong with the World,"

Do you have a top ten list of Chesterton works recommendations?  Or perhaps a list of must listen to works of any size?

curious.  Thanks!

Dear Andy,

I'd start with this page of Chesterton's works available free on LibriVox. Chesterton is an acquired taste that assumes some ability on the part of the reader or listener. If you haven't listened to him before, maybe I'd start with What's Wrong with the World around chapter 15 or so because his wisdom on the sexes is, for postmoderns such as you and me, cataclysmic. But also Orthodoxy and Heresies and The Thing (not on LibriVox yet!) and Everlasting Man (not on LibriVox yet!) and The Appetite of Tyranny (the last six minutes are stunning) and Eugenics and Other Evils and Alarms and Discursions and All Things Considered and What I Saw in America.

Maybe Hillaire Belloc.

Keep in mind that these are Roman Catholic authors so don't believe a word they say about Protestantism or (especially) what they mistakenly understand as "Calvinism."

For fun, Jerome Jerome's Three Men in a Boat or anything by P. G. Wodehouse.

Samuel Johnson's Plan and Preface to a Dictionary of English is fascinating.

Gregory the Great's Pastoral Care (not Librivox, but the Internet Archive) is very helpful, spiritually—and not just for pastors.

Ocassionally you'll run into chapters read by annoying people, but remember they don't get paid. Today, though, I wrote the LibriVox people asking them to replace chapters 35 and 37 of What's Wrong with the World because the reader has rendered them unintelligible.

Too, get the copy of Pilgrim's Progress and listen to it. (Most anything by Bunyan would be good.) Also Spurgeon's All of Grace. I could go on, but that's a start. If you're married, for your wife, Elizabeth Prentiss Stepping Heavenward.

Finally, for some time now I've made it a habit to listen the New Testament book of Romans as recorded by Dale McConachie (available here). Listen to Scripture first, and Romans is an excellent place to hover for a long, long time. If I cut my grass and Heather and Doug's grass, I get through Romans two or three times. When you listen to Chesterton, you listen to Chesterton, but when you listen to Romans, you listen to God.


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