It is, in fact, quite tempting and easy to discourse on what is wrong with the world. Let me have a go right now. (I apologise in advance for spoiling anyone's day.)
Around the globe our democratic political systems are either corrupt, or if not corrupt then blinkered by short-termism, since many of our politicians are only interested in the next term of office, and so can’t deal with profound long-term or systemic problems. The alternatives to democracy, however, are far worse.
Our economic system is inherently unstable, being based on an ideal of unlimited growth fuelled by ever-increasing production and consumption, financed by a vast Ponzi scheme in which tomorrow’s money is spent on today’s problems.
Our natural environment is being destroyed by unsustainable economic policies. The accelerating destruction of species, increasing likelihood of man-made disasters (oil spills, reactor melt-downs, new plagues), and scarcity of vital resources (including fresh water) threaten massive social conflicts and the degradation of quality of life in the years ahead.
There is a population crisis that has two aspects – the ageing population in the West will not be sustained by the declining number of workers, while the growth of poor urban populations especially in the third world and Asia increases pressure on the environment and also contributes to the likelihood of social unrest and terrorism.
The evolution of technology is leading to the inevitable spread of increasingly deadly nuclear and biological weaponry to unstable political regimes and terrorist groups around the world.
So far, so depressing. But there is also something very wrong with talking about what is wrong with the world, or at least with the way we tend to do it, and this is how Chesterton ended his first chapter:
I maintain, therefore, that the common sociological method is quite useless: that of first dissecting abject poverty or cataloguing prostitution. We all dislike abject poverty; but it might be another business if we began to discuss independent and dignified poverty. We all disapprove of prostitution; but we do not all approve of purity. The only way to discuss the social evil is to get at once to the social ideal. We can all see the national madness; but what is national sanity? I have called this book "What Is Wrong with the World?" and the upshot of the title can be easily and clearly stated. What is wrong is that we do not ask what is right.
We can argue about what is wrong, but it is more important to decide what is right. What is the ideal? What is the real? In fact, a lot of what is wrong with the world comes from having lost the sense of what is right. And that is what Chesterton’s book is really about. The negative always depends upon a positive. “For the present chaos is due to a sort of general oblivion of all that men were originally aiming at. No man demands what he desires; each man demands what he fancies he can get. Soon people forget what the man really wanted first; and after a successful and vigorous political life, he forgets it himself.”