Chesterton and his interlocutors: dialogical style and ethical debate on eugenics.
Access RightsBaylor University access only
Shipley, Don M.
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Before Nazi Germany’s eugenic practices had been completely exposed and denounced, G. K. Chesterton, a British writer best known for his fiction and Roman Catholic apologetics, published Eugenics and Other Evils in 1922. Therein he fiercely opposed eugenics and state sponsored eugenic practices; but his was not an isolated text offered in monologic argument to some vague social menace. In fact, Chesterton never wrote monologically but always in an intrinsically dialogical manner. As this dissertation attempts to demonstrate, this dialogical style, epitomized in the eugenics debate, energized Chesterton’s fiction, most notably his novel The Man Who Was Thursday and serves as a way of reading all of Chesterton, his fiction and non-fiction alike. This dissertation will attempt to demonstrate the historical and dialogical context of that conflict, explicate the exact arguments of both Inge and Chesterton, provide commentary on the dialogical style inherent in Chesterton’s literary works specifically The Man Who Was Thursday, The Ball and the Cross, and The Napoleon of Notting Hill, and Manalive and demonstrate both the prophetic nature and the literary excellence of Chesterton’s dialogical discourse. The importance of this dissertation is, at least, three-fold: first, to recover the historical context of Chesterton’s writings concerning eugenics, particularly his Eugenics and Other Evils, by returning him to conversation with his sparring partner on the subject, Dean Inge; secondly, to explicate Chesterton’s argument against eugenics by showing its relationship to Chesterton’s other writing, more particularly to those texts which are intrinsically dialogical. Nothing to date has been written concerning Chesterton’s dialogical style, and only a handful of articles attempt to explicate Chesterton’s position against eugenics. It is my hope that the explication of Chesterton’s dialogical style will serve as a new way of reading all of Chesterton’s works. The dissertation is important furthermore because it will attempt to uncover an important theological development in Christian ethical practice, even as it will also offer an example about how such monumentally important moral questions might be engaged dialogically rather than polemically and thus monologically. Obviously the work of the Russian literary philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin will figure prominently in this effort.