Friday, 1 August 2014

Progress by precedent

Modern Tories have only the dullness of defending situations that they had not the excitement of creating. Revolutionists make a reform, Conservatives only conserve the reform. They never reform the reform, which is often very much wanted. 

Just as the rivalry of armaments is only a sort of sulky plagiarism, so the rivalry of parties is only a sort of sulky inheritance. Men have votes, so women must soon have votes; poor children are taught by force, so they must soon be fed by force; the police shut public houses by twelve o’clock, so soon they must shut them by eleven o’clock; children stop at school till they are fourteen, so soon they will stop till they are forty. 

No gleam of reason, no momentary return to first principles, no abstract asking of any obvious question, can interrupt this mad and monotonous gallop of mere progress by precedent. It is a good way to prevent real revolution. By this logic of events, the Radical gets as much into a rut as the Conservative.

G K Chesterton - What's Wrong with the World (1910)

The most dispiriting thing about such quotes is surely their age. Over a hundred years old and still relevant today. Governments of all hues still fail to reform the reform. As Chesterton pointed out, it is a good way to prevent real revolution and no doubt that's the point. 


Sackerson said...

That's a very interesting quotation. I sometimes feel that an earlier generation thought more clearly than we do.

A K Haart said...

Sackers - I often wonder if our wits have been blunted compared to theirs. By what though?

Sackerson said...

Lack of old-style rigorous teaching - e.g. precis as well as comprehension; and the classics.

James Higham said...

Yes, the conservative's role is very much as a radical too, especially after PCism, which needs dismantling.

A K Haart said...

Sackers - I think there may have been social factors too, lives lived closer to the edge.

James - yet they tend to be anything but radical even though there is much to be done.