Thursday, June 13, 2024

“Go away and think”

Reading an opinion column, I was pleased to find a summation of G.K. Chesterton's views about tradition:
In his spiritual autobiography, Orthodoxy (1908), G.K. Chesterton observed that tradition is “democracy extended through time.” It means “giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors,” and resisting “the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.” People die, but their ideas live on. Particularly in a constitutional republic, we should avail ourselves of the wisdom of the past and heed what Chesterton called “the democracy of the dead.”

Later and with no less panache, he demonstrated why. In The Thing (1929), Chesterton introduced the parable of the fence, in which a reformer finds a fence across a roadway and calls for its removal because he doesn’t see the use of it. Chesterton contrasts him with “a more intelligent type of reformer,” to whom ignorance of the past—of why the fence was built in the first place—justified not removing but preserving it, at least until the fence’s reason for being was understood. “Go away and think,” was the second reformer’s wise counsel to the first. ....

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