G.K. Chesterton on The Dislocation of Humility

If a man would make his world large, he must be always making himself small.

–G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton

In Orthodoxy, Chesterton has a section which he calls “the remarkable case of the dislocation of humility.” Humility is intended to have a restraining effect upon the pride and arrogance of man and his appetites. Without this virtue, man is left with an insatiable appetite that robs him of his chief pleasure.

Humility allows a man to experience genuine joy. Chesterton argues that man has maintained humility, but has moved it from its appropriate location. It should be seated in the organ of ambition. Instead we have placed it in the organ of conviction.

Instead of humility about self, we have humility about truth. This is a reversal of the proper order. We should be firmly convinced of truth and questionable about our own selves. Not the other way around.

Chesterton illustrates this reversal of humility’s location by comparing a spur and a nail in relation to a boot. Humility of self is like a spur that prevents a man from stopping. He works harder because he has doubts about his own ability.

Humility of truth is like a nail in the boot. If one is unsure of a bedrock foundation of truth, he will stop work like a man with a nail in his boot. He has no sure direction or aim. His only certainty is with self and the nail hurts, so he stops.

The quote at the top of this page sounds like it could have been written by John the Baptist. John said of his connection with Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30).”

It also echoes the words of Jesus when he taught, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he (Matthew 11:11).”

What Chesterton is trying to communicate that if we desire to have a view so grand and glorious, it will be so when we do not overshadow the globe with our own exaggerated shadows.