Who is GK Chesterton? Giorgia Meloni's 'fires will be kindled' quote in full

Alexandra Ciufudean September 26, 2022
Who is GK Chesterton? Giorgia Meloni's 'fires will be kindled' quote in full
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As Italy is on course to elect its most far-right prime minister since Mussolini, a quote by GK Chesterton from Giorgia Meloni’s speech has stood out.

A proponent of Catholicism, Zionism and distributism, Chesterton’s writing encompassed literary and social criticism, plays, mysteries and novels.

While some commenters see her quoting Chesterton proof of Meloni’s relatability, others point out the late author’s controversial views.

Here is what to know about Chesterton, Meloni’s quote and the text where it came from.

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Who was GK Chesterton? Meloni is a fan

Gilbert Keith Chesterton was an English writer, philosopher, lay theologian and literary and art critic. He was dubbed the “prince of paradox” by Christianity Today. Some of his most widely recognized works include Orthodoxy, the Everlasting Man and the fictional priest-detective, Father Brown.

He identified as an “orthodox” Christian, though over time his views aligned more with traditional Catholicism.

Born in London in May 1874, Chesterton studied to become an illustrator. After starting his career, he branched out into journalism. He wrote a number of weekly opinion columns for publications such as the Daily News and The Illustrated London News.

From there, he went on to write around 80 books, several hundred poems, some 200 short stories, 4,000 essays (mostly published in newspapers) and several plays. He also had his own paper, GK’s Weekly, and his best-known novel is arguably The Man Who Was Thursday.

In 1931, the BBC invited Chesterton to give a series of talks, and he initially reluctantly agreed. He ended up giving more than 40 talks per year between 1932 until his death in 1936. He became so popular with listeners that “in another year or so, he would have become the dominating voice from Broadcasting House,” according to a BBC official.

The passage quoted by Giorgia Meloni – “fires will be kindled…” – is from Chesterton’s Heretics, a collection of essays on an array of topics ranging from cosmology to complaining against the “vague modernism” he sensed in his time.

GK Chesterton’s views on antisemitism

Chesterton often faced accusations of antisemitism throughout his life, which he went to great lengths to deny – unsuccessfully.

In his work The New Jerusalem, Chesterton writes about his belief that Jewish people were a distinct people without a homeland of their own, who were living as foreigners in other countries. He was widely accused of antisemitism for this view, which he defended by calling it Zionism, or “Semitism”.

“Jews should be represented by Jews, should live in a society of Jews, should be judged by Jews and ruled by Jews,” he wrote. “I am an Anti-Semite if that is Anti-Semitism.”

He was vocally anti-Hitler as the latter rose to power. Although, Chesterton openly believed Jewish people to be not only culturally, but racially distinct from so-called westerners. In his 1920 work, The Feud Of The Foreigner, he wrote the Jew “is a foreigner far more remote from us than is a Bavarian from a Frenchman; he is divided by the same type of division as that between us and a Chinaman or a Hindoo. He not only is not, but never was, of the same race.”

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He was also skeptic about modernism

Indeed, Chesterton’s skepticism of modernism expanded to include topics such as immigration. His 1908 poem, The Secret People, paints an enduring image of an eternal English people, immovable by successive waves of migration, war and newfangled ideas. It includes the passage: “a few men talked of freedom, while England talked of ale.”

It should be noted, however, that while Chesterton may have held questionable views on race and immigration, he was a staunch opponent of eugenics. He mocked the idea as founded on nonsense. He said: “as if one had a right to dragoon and enslave one’s fellow citizens as a kind of chemical experiment.”

As for modernity – especially women’s suffrage and progress for progress’ sake – Chesterton believed it a cause of wholesale unhappiness among his contemporaries. He believed: “Progress is the mother of problems.”

Meloni’s ‘fires will be kindled’ quote by Chesterton in full

At the end of a rousing speech yesterday, Italy’s new prime minister elect and leader of radical right-wing party the Brothers of Italy Giorgia Meloni quoted GK Chesterton.

“Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer. We shall be left defending, not only the incredible virtues and sanities of human life, but something more incredible”

As some lit-savvy Twitter users have pointed out, the full passage by Chesterton, from which Meloni extracted her quote, sheds more light on what the writer meant:

If you have been affected by this story, the Department of Psychology at the University of Georgia offers advice on racial trauma. The Counseling Center at the University of Illinois also offers counseling on coping with race-related stress.

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Alexandra is Head of Entertainment at The Focus, managing a growing team of outstanding graduate and experienced writers. She has worked previously as an editor, writer and content specialist across web, video and social platforms and has a bachelor's in English Linguistics and a master's in Comparative Literature.