Some Truths Are Timeless and Timely

Addressing the Suicide of Thought, G.K. Chesterton cites the French Revolution as an example of modern man’s inability to truly be revolutionary (in a good way), because of his self-imposed prison of “objectivity” and open-mindedness — euphemisms for an unhealthy and paralyzing skepticism. This degradation of thought, weaving its way through the 20th century and terminating in 2007, may explain why so many Americans (and cloistered, postmodern epicurean, hedonistic European socialists) will trouble themselves (and, the rest of us) over the genocide in, say, Darfur, while villainizing the liberation, in process, of vast numbers of victims of a large, totalitarian regime. I suppose if a genocide is taking place in relatively close proximity and you are not profiting economically from the status quo and the fighting could spill over and threaten your personal peace and affluence (say, in Bosnia), then that’s a genocide we (meaning a small contingent from our countries and a substantially large contribution from the United States) need to shed blood over. Now, if there’s another genocide in a distant land, which the UN, Germans and French are profiting from and has little chance of upsetting their domestic peace, well that is not a genocide, but a civil war and that nation’s domestic problem. And, if the dictator of that faraway place can keep a lid on things through torture, murder, biological agents and other brutal means, while the skeptics are enriched through their relationship with him, well, they won’t be troubled by that, as long as the press doesn’t publish any disturbing images. Here’s the quote that explains the history behind that sort of odd, self-serving, short-sighted logic:

…an historic example may illustrate it. The French Revolution was really an heroic and decisive thing… But since then the revolutionary or speculative mind of Europe has been weakened by shrinking from any proposal because of the limits of that proposal. Liberalism has been degraded into liberality. Men have tried to turn “revolutionise” from a transitive to an intransitive verb. The Jacobin could tell you not only the system he would rebel against, but (what was more important) the system he would not rebel against, the system he would trust. The new rebel is a skeptic and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore, he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. Thus, he writes one book complaining that imperial oppression insults the purity of women, and then writes another book, a novel, in which he insults it himself. He curses the Sultan because Christian girls lose their virginity, and then curses Mrs. Grundy because they keep it. As a politician he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then as a philosopher that all life is a waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage as a lie and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie. He calls a flag a bauble and then blames the oppressors of Poland or Ireland because they take away that bauble. The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts. Then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality, and in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy


  1. Levi said:

    Bo, have you been reading Orthodoxy? It’s one of my favorites. G.K. Chesterton is mind-blowing.

    February 6, 2007
  2. Bo Salisbury said:

    Yes, he is Levi. Orthodoxy is a classic and you can read it online, here.

    February 6, 2007
  3. Levi said:

    Ahhh, nothing like a little conservative theology to brighten your day. 🙂

    February 6, 2007

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