"The jolly mass of mankind"

Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton and an unknown man.

"He makes the sign of the cross with the match before lighting the cigar.  'My muse', he says, taking a puff.  'Some men write with a pencil, others with a typewriter.  I write with my cigar.'  As if sensing our disapproval, he laughs and he answers our objections before we can list them.  'It is true that tobacco, though not an intoxicant, is in some sense a drug: but so is tea.  It is true that tobacco, taken out of season and reason, spoils your appetite: but so do sweets. . . It is true that it is a luxury, a mere keen and passing titillation or pungency: but so are pepper and salt and mustard and a hundred other blameless gifts. . . It is true that it ends in smoke: but so do all worldly powers and pleasures.  It is true that it falls into ashes: but so do we.'

He explains there is nothing immoral about smoking a cigar.  To regard smoking as immoral shows not merely a lack of clear thinking but a lack of clear standards.  Lumping the wrong things together as evils blurs the line between right and wrong and leads to chaos.  It also leads to legal and practical confusion.  'The lack of clear standards among those who vaguely think of [smoking] as a vice may yet be the beginning of much peril and oppression.'

He defends smoking and drinking not as habits ('All habits are bad habits.') but as simple, traditional pleasures that have been enjoyed by normal people for centuries.  He points out that what society calls 'progress' usually serves to punish all the things the common man enjoys.  'There is no normal thing that cannot now be taken from the normal man.  Modern 'emancipation' has really been a new persecution of the Common Man and common sense.'  If he is proud of anything, he is proud of defending the common man and common sense.  'I represent the jolly mass of mankind.  I am the happy and reckless Christian.'  The puritanical assault on smoking is an example of 'the exaltation of very small and secondary matters of conduct at the expense of very great and primary ones.  If there is one thing worse than the modern weakening of major morals it is the modern strengthening of minor morals.  Thus it is considered more withering to accuse a man of bad taste than of bad ethics.  Cleanliness is not next to godliness nowadays, for cleanliness is made essential and godliness is regarded as an offence.'"

Dale Ahlquist
Common Sense 101: Lessons from G.K. Chesterton

Thanks to Ray for the referral.


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