May

28

2012

Trevin Wax|3:05 am CT

Chesterton on Filling Out Paperwork Upon Entering the U.S.

One of the questions on the paper was, ‘Are you an anarchist?’

To which a detached philosopher would naturally feel inclined to answer, ‘What the devil has that to do with you? Are you an atheist?’ along with some playful efforts to cross-examine the official about what constitutes an arche.

Then there was the question, ‘Are you in favour of subverting the government of the United States by force?’

Against this I should write, ‘I prefer to answer that question at the end of my tour and not the beginning.’

The inquisitor, in his more than morbid curiosity, had then written down, ‘Are you a polygamist?’

The answer to this is, ‘No such luck’ or ‘Not such a fool,’ according to our experience of the other sex. But perhaps a better answer would be that given to W. T. Stead when he circulated the rhetorical question, ‘Shall I slay my brother Boer?’—the answer that ran, ‘Never interfere in family matters.’

But among many things that amused me almost to the point of treating the form thus disrespectfully, the most amusing was the thought of the ruthless outlaw who should feel compelled to treat it respectfully. I like to think of the foreign desperado, seeking to slip into America with official papers under official protection, and sitting down to write with a beautiful gravity, ‘I am an anarchist. I hate you all and wish to destroy you.’

Or, ‘I intend to subvert by force the government of the United States as soon as possible, sticking the long sheath-knife in my left trouser-pocket into President Harding at the earliest opportunity.’

Or again, ‘Yes, I am a polygamist all right, and my forty-seven wives are accompanying me on the voyage disguised as secretaries.’

There seems to be a certain simplicity of mind about these answers; and it is reassuring to know that anarchists and polygamists are so pure and good that the police have only to ask them questions and they are certain to tell no lies.

- G. K. Chesterton, What I Saw in America (4-5).

Categories: Quotes of the Week

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2 Comments

  1. You tell the story Chesterton told while missing the point for which he told it: that, as Chesterton goes on in a further quote from the book, “A man is perfectly entitled to laugh at a thing because he finds it incomprehensible. What he has no right to do is to laugh at it as incomprehensible, and then criticise it as if he comprehended it.”

  2. Gotta love Chesterton!

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