Why does G. K. Chesterton say "liberals" are not "liberal" in Orthodoxy?

In chapter VIII of Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton declares that liberals are not actually liberal at all. To be liberal is to be free, but many liberals are actually enslaved to their own presupposed ideas. Chesterton uses the example of miracles to illustrate his point, and he shows that the liberal refusal to believe in miracles is not freedom at all but actually an indication of a rigid mindset imprisoned by materialism.

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In chapter VIII of Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton makes one of his stunning and seemingly paradoxical claims. Liberals, he maintains, are not at all liberal in the true sense of the word. In fact, their ideas are often “definitely illiberal.”

To understand this, we must first define the word...

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In chapter VIII of Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton makes one of his stunning and seemingly paradoxical claims. Liberals, he maintains, are not at all liberal in the true sense of the word. In fact, their ideas are often “definitely illiberal.”

To understand this, we must first define the word “liberal.” To be liberal is to be free. But are liberals and liberal ideas actually free? According to Chesterton, no, they are not. Liberals are, rather, enslaved to their own ideas and perspectives.

Chesterton uses the example of miracles to illustrate his point. Many “liberals” refuse to believe in miracles because miracles do not conform to science. This refusal to believe, however, is also a refusal to examine the evidence for miracles. It is a refusal to think freely about miracles, to look at at them objectively, to inquire about the data and witnesses that support them (or not). The liberal refusal to believe in miracles is actually a slavery to a presupposed “strict materialism,” which does not allow belief in miracles. Does this sound free? Does it not rather indicate a rigid, un-free mindset that denies something simply on the basis that it cannot be true without bothering to investigate? Such predetermined beliefs and attitudes are a mark of illiberalism rather than real liberalism.

Indeed, Chesterton continues, it is far more liberal to believe in miracles than not to. Why? A belief in miracles frees a person to embrace a new reality. It detaches the mind from the boundaries of this world. It provides a kind of “spiritual freedom.” It also lifts the restrictions that human beings like to impose upon God. Can anyone really say that God is not free to do what He pleases, even if that means suspending the laws of nature to work a miracle for the benefit of human beings?

With this example, Chesterton shows how modern liberals are not actually liberal at all, for they are not free in their thinking but rather enslaved by a set of presuppositions that prevents them from embracing the fullness of reality.

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