Friday, June 06, 2008

Tradition, Democracy, and Madmen

G K Chesterton sums it up for you.

I HAVE never been able to understand where people got the idea that democracy was in some way opposed to tradition. It is obvious that tradition is only democracy extended through time. It is trusting to a consensus of common human voices rather than to some isolated or arbitrary record.

The man who quotes some German historian against the tradition of the Catholic Church, for instance, is strictly appealing to aristocracy. He is appealing to the superiority of one expert against the awful authority of a mob.

It is quite easy to see why a legend is treated, and ought to be treated, more respectfully than a book of history. The legend is generally made by the majority of people in the village, who are sane. The book is generally written by the one man in the village, who is mad.

Those who urge against tradition -- that men in the past were ignorant -- may go and urge it at the Canton Club, along with the statement that voters in the slums are ignorant. It will not do for us. If we attach great importance to the opinion of ordinary men in great unanimity when we are dealing with daily matters, there is no reason why we should disregard it when we are dealing with history or fable.

Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes -- our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. [Hint: Legal Postivists such as those who occupy SCOCA or SCOUSA.]

All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth: tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our groom. Tradition asks us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our father.

So if there is a flaw in 'republican' government, it is the implicit aristocracy of the elected representatives--who, after all, are more dangerous when walking around than when at room temperature.

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