Heretics – Chapter 5: Mr. H.G. Wells and the Giants

I am continuing my journey through G.K. Chesterton’s Heretics.

In many of the polices by the Government, studies in academia, and  even in dialog on the internet people will place themselves above what they call the common rabble.  People like to prove their greatness and intelligence by showing how other people are less.  In this method or by the removal of a standard (that makes all mankind equal) one becomes a giant whose power in unopposed except by the giant killers – who are the common man.

Heresy exposed: Not being a common man – not being humble.

Summary of Chapter:

There is a grave confusion that humility is pride.  Where someone says that they are humble or acts unassuming people think that it is false.  If fact people in general have not seen true humility for a very long time – because the humble serve, the humble fight, the humble act for things for great adventure.

“It is the humble man who does the bold things. It is the humble man who has the sensational sights vouchsafed to him, and this for three obvious reasons: first, that he strains his eyes more than any other men to see them; second, that he is more overwhelmed and uplifted with them when they come; third, that he records them more exactly and sincerely and with less adulteration from his more commonplace and more conceited everyday self. Adventures are to those to whom they are most unexpected–that is, most romantic. Adventures are to the shy: in this sense adventures are to the unadventurous.”

It is in this way we can see the pride in those who declare that a person’s health is first and foremost.  Even look at the classic Maslow’s hierarchy, there is not space for the greater needs such as the spiritual needs – just spots for physical wants.  Before a man lives he must know how to fight.  A person is as only free as he binds himself to something greater (like divine law).

“It is the first law of health that our necessities should not be accepted as necessities; they should be accepted as luxuries. Let us, then, be careful about the small things, such as a scratch or a slight illness, or anything that can be managed with care. But in the name of all sanity, let us be careless about the important things, such as marriage, or the fountain of our very life will fail. Mr. Wells, however, is not quite clear enough of the narrower scientific outlook to see that there are some things which actually ought not to be scientific. He is still slightly affected with the great scientific fallacy; I mean the habit of beginning not with the human soul, which is the first thing a man learns about, but with some such thing as protoplasm, which is about the last. The one defect in his splendid mental equipment is that he does not sufficiently allow for the stuff or material of men. In his new Utopia he says, for instance, that a chief point of the Utopia will be a disbelief in original sin. If he had begun with the human soul–that is, if he had begun on himself–he would have found original sin almost the first thing to be believed in. The fact is very simple. Unless you are going deliberately to prevent a thing being good, you cannot prevent it being worth fighting for. It is impossible to prevent a possible conflict of civilizations, because it is impossible to prevent a possible conflict between ideals. If there were no longer our modern strife between nations, there would only be a strife between Utopias. For the highest thing does not tend to union only; the highest thing, tends also to differentiation. You can often get men to fight for the union; but you can never prevent them from fighting also for the differentiation. This variety in the highest thing is the meaning of the fierce patriotism, the fierce nationalism of the great European civilization. It is also, incidentally, the meaning of the doctrine of the Trinity.”

This is the core of the issue: that just because no one can reach moral perfection does not mean that it does not exist.   There is a thing as good, there is a thing as evil – the world is not just one power grab after another, abolishing what it means to be good or evil will not create a race of men that is free but will make them all giants (all evil).

“But certainly the best example of Mr. Wells’s fallacy can be found in the example which he himself chooses. It is quite true that we see a dim light which, compared with a darker thing, is light, but which, compared with a stronger light, is darkness. But the quality of light remains the same thing, or else we should not call it a stronger light or recognize it as such. If the character of light were not fixed in the mind, we should be quite as likely to call a denser shadow a stronger light, or vice versa If the character of light became even for an instant unfixed, if it became even by a hair’s-breadth doubtful, if, for example, there crept into our idea of light some vague idea of blueness, then in that flash we have become doubtful whether the new light has more light or less. In brief, the progress may be as varying as a cloud, but the direction must be as rigid as a French road. North and South are relative in the sense that I am North of Bournemouth and South of Spitzbergen. But if there be any doubt of the position of the North Pole, there is in equal degree a doubt of whether I am South of Spitzbergen at all. The absolute idea of light may be practically unattainable. We may not be able to procure pure light. We may not be able to get to the North Pole. But because the North Pole is unattainable, it does not follow that it is indefinable. And it is only because the North Pole is not indefinable that we can make a satisfactory map of Brighton and Worthing. In other words, Plato turned his face to truth but his back on Mr. H. G. Wells, when he turned to his museum of specified ideals. It is precisely here that Plato shows his sense. It is not true that everything changes; the things that change are all the manifest and material things. There is something that does not change; and that is precisely the abstract quality, the invisible idea.”

What makes someone brave?  A bully is not brave, but the poor soul who gets picked on every day.  The giant is not brave but Jack is.

“The old and correct story of Jack the Giant-Killer is simply the whole story of man; if it were understood we should need no Bibles or histories. But the modern world in particular does not seem to understand it at all. The modern world, like Mr. Wells is on the side of the giants; the safest place, and therefore the meanest and the most prosaic. The modern world, when it praises its little Caesars, talks of being strong and brave: but it does not seem to see the eternal paradox involved in the conjunction of these ideas. The strong cannot be brave. Only the weak can be brave; and yet again, in practice, only those who can be brave can be trusted, in time of doubt, to be strong. The only way in which a giant could really keep himself in training against the inevitable Jack would be by continually fighting other giants ten times as big as himself. That is by ceasing to be a giant and becoming a Jack. […] When men were tough and raw, when they lived amid hard knocks and hard laws, when they knew what fighting really was, they had only two kinds of songs. The first was a rejoicing that the weak had conquered the strong, the second a lamentation that the strong had, for once in a way, conquered the weak. For this defiance of the statu quo, this constant effort to alter the existing balance, this premature challenge to the powerful, is the whole nature and inmost secret of the psychological adventure which is called man. It is his strength to disdain strength. The forlorn hope is not only a real hope, it is the only real hope of mankind.”


Tolstoy wrote a powerful short story, I don’t agree with everything he wrote, but this story is poignant. It is a story of a man who wanted to be a giant and yet found out too late that he was just a man: How Much Land Does a Man Need. When one tries to rise above what it is to be a man, he fails to be a man at all.


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