G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy is an accurate and digestible depiction of a way of looking at the world.
Perhaps better known for the idea of Chesterton’s fence, Orthodoxy explains why Chesterton is a Christian.
The work is not persuasive as an argument, but often shows good judgment. There are some exceptions to both of these points, Chesterton has good arguments against extreme skepticism, relativism, and existentialism. Consider his take on glorifying insanity for creative reasons:
It is true that some speak lightly and loosely of insanity as in itself attractive. But a moment’s thought will show that if disease is beautiful, it is generally some one else’s disease. A blind man may be picturesque; but it requires two eyes to see the picture.
Like the rest of us, he also displays poor judgment. Argument is made a servant of style.
He describes his task as:
This at least seems to me the main problem for philosophers, and is in a manner the main problem of this book. How can we contrive to be at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it?
Chesterton is a literary, humanist, and imaginative character. Instead of seeing the world as a machine, he sees it as magic. Christianity captures this feeling best:
I felt in my bones; first, that this world does not explain itself. It may be a miracle with a supernatural explanation; it may be a conjuring trick, with a natural explanation. But the explanation of the conjuring trick, if it is to satisfy me, will have to be better than the natural explanations I have heard. The thing is magic, true or false. Second, I came to feel as if magic must have a meaning, and meaning must have some one to mean it. There was something personal in the world, as in a work of art; whatever it meant it meant violently. Third, I thought this purpose beautiful in its old design, in spite of its defects, such as dragons. Fourth, that the proper form of thanks to it is some form of humility and restraint: we should thank God for beer and Burgundy by not drinking too much of them. We owed, also, an obedience to whatever made us. And last, and strangest, there had come into my mind a vague and vast impression that in some way all good was a remnant to be stored and held sacred out of some primordial ruin.
The book contains many diversions. Some are exceptionally fruitful.
Consider Chesterton on loyalty:
A man belongs to this world before he begins to ask if it is nice to belong to it. He has fought for the flag, and often won heroic victories for the flag long before he has ever enlisted. To put shortly what seems the essential matter, he has a loyalty long before he has any admiration.
And on action:
Every act of will is an act of self-limitation. To desire action is to desire limitation. In that sense every act is an act of self-sacrifice. When you choose anything, you reject everything else.
At times, Chesterton is frustratingly vague or flippant. Consider his take on Marcus Aurelius:
Marcus Aurelius is the most intolerable of human types. He is an unselfish egoist. An unselfish egoist is a man who has pride without the excuse of passion.
Shrill hyperbole and sloppy reasoning. Shortly afterward, however, he says:
That Jones shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones.
This is a fine critique of certain kinds of spiritualism.
The two passages capture reasonably well what it’s like to read Orthodoxy. When it misses it's superficial and supercilious, when it’s on target, witty and incisive.