“Is either a little liberal, or else a little con-ser-va-tive.”

Posted: August 19, 2011 in Business Management, Political musings, Popular Culture et al
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

G K Chesterton

Neither "progressive" nor "conservative" ... Chesterton was a thinker.

As we contemplate the future of Western society … well, I am, even if you aren’t … then it is worth pondering, I think, what GK Chesterton once wrote in a piece which has become known as “Chesterton’s Fallacy”.

Read one way, it is the most cogent argument for conservatism I have ever come across – and I am not wildly in favour of conservatism, as anyone can tell you. Nevertheless, whether we are debating the way we deal with society’s rioting miscreants, how to refocus our businesses’ activity, what do do about the global financial system, or how to respond to matters as diverse as global climate change or the apparently inexorable rise of Asian economies, we would do well to dwell on these comments. As I get older, I find myself, for example, instinctively lending additional weight to the arguments of those who have “been there, done that”, rather than the arguments of those who argue merely from first principles, with the delightful arrogance of youth,  unwashed and ungrimed by the messy waters of practical experience. (I never thought I would write such a sentence, and I stand ready to be shot down in flames for premature fogeyism, but there it is.)

So to my eyes, this is not an argument for resisting change, but it is an argument for not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, until we have checked the baby for signs of life. Anyway, what do you think?

“In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox.

There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road.

The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense.

The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable.

It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious.

There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.”

Time magazine, in a review of a biography of Chesterton, observed of his writing style: “Whenever possible Chesterton made his points with popular sayings, proverbs, allegories — first carefully turning them inside out.” For example, Chesterton wrote “Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it.”

Chesterton, as a political thinker, cast aspersions on both progressive and conservative styles of thought, saying, “The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.” Writer and philosopher George Bernard Shaw, Chesterton’s “friendly enemy”, said of him, “He was a man of colossal genius”.

How we need such thinkers today. Food for thought, huh? Comments welcome.

  1. Richard Ember says:

    Like the Arab Spring, I smell revolution in the air in the UK and as such I don’t think the old ways and solutions are that relevent. More so, the ‘old answers’

    I am still amazed how many politicians are still screaming that social media is to blame for the various reactions to the society they created. From welfare addicts who decided they weren’t get enough danegeld and needed to loot shops to the Chinese State cutting off Facebook and Twitter to stop their citizens talking to each other.

    Of course, our own harpy Louise Mensch MP is demanding that she should control when we are allowed to speak to each other via mobile phones and the general consensus from those who would rule us is, “You may talk to each other, when WE allow it. It is not a right, it is a privilege.”

    With the original invention of the printing press, the matrix rippled. Our media is still “licenced” by those who impose their laws upon us. Huge state quangos exist to make sure we are not talking too much, saying too much, criticising too much and whilst we pretend to have the freedom of speech, our citizens are now jailed for posting on Facebook.

    I’m currently planning to flee the UK and set up shop in a country where Politicians are accepted as corrupt, make no bones about being corrupt and in return leave the public alone. Nothing is expected from them and duly, very little is given to them.

    There is no “welfare” system to speak of, and in return, people make their own arrangements for healthcare. Family bonds are strong because the State is weak. People are left alone, to live their lives in peace, as they see fit.

    In all honesty, most people won’t even know I’ve gone. Most of my friendships these days are online. Long gone are the days where I tolerated going to boring “dinner parties” where I was forced to listen to some consumerist bragging about his golf skills or his BMW because his wife worked in the same office as my wife. The only real person to person association I have these days is around Football, watching Rob & Shep trying to maximise their alcohol intake whilst minimising their own expenditure. Nope, I talk and converse and consume my information from my “networks”.

    I read my news where I choose to read my news, regardless of whether OFCOM thinks I should. I watch TV from the country of my choice via the Internet. I chat with people I find interesting or engaging, 24 hours a day, regardless of their location. All I need is a phone and an internet connection.

    The control of media by the State meant something when the State meant something. Put simply, it doesn’t anymore. If I don’t like your rules and regulations, I can move. I can take my wealth, my assets, my business anywhere I choose. I am no longer bound by “locality” because I no longer “live” locally. I live on the Internet. I buy from the internet, not Globalist out of town shopping centres. I source what I require from those who supply what I require, not what a Corporation that dictates what I may purchase. I am not beholden to fashion or marketing or upgrades. I am not enslaved to banks because I OWN my properties. My dependence on “credit” is zero because I do not crave shiny things.

    So, my views are similar to millions of people I have never and will never meet in “the real world”, yet I can freely mix them, converse with them, cooperate with them, buy and sell from them, and interact with them, in real time. We have similar beliefs and similar values, similar outlooks on life, similar goals and similar minds.


    The Political Party is dead – no longer needed.
    The State is dying – petty borders mean nothing to my life anymore
    The digital individual is taking control of his life – “not who is going to let me, but who is going to stop me?”

    Whilst our elites believe they built and control the Matrix, and for a while, they did – with licences, D notices, censorship. All of us, just by being online and talking to each other have proved they are no longer in control of any of us. And I have no need to talk or listen to the opinions of those who assume they know better than me how to live my life. Like town criers bellowing in the market place, they are no longer relevant to any of us.

    The real revolution begins when you stop listening to them.


    • I hear your pain, Richard, and you express it eloquently, but I would be genuinely interested to know, though, Richard, how you view the prospect of living in a welfare-less state (well, pretty much so, anyway) when I know you are an admirer of the National Health system, for all it’s flaws, failings and bureacracy? Isn’t the point about welfare not that it is intrinsically wrong, but that HOW a state does welfare determines whether it is useful or not?


  2. Richard Ember says:

    Ah, and as such this will be my last contribution to the Blog as I note my comments ‘await moderation’. I do not find that acceptable any more than you would, Yolly. If you want some big state Fabian Blog where you all sit in it and smell each other’s farts and giggle, then so be it. I thought you wanted an alternative opinion – to challenge and be challenged.

    I’ll leave you and your Guardian readers alone.


    • Don’t you dare, Richard. A blog comment would have to be defamatory or downright evil for me not approve it, that’s not what this blog is about. You should know better 🙂 All your comments have thus far been moderated as an automatic acceptance. I trust you will continue to post your fascinating views with all of your customary forcefulness.


    • Actually, for reasons I do not understand, some of your comments have required moderation and some haven’t. I have only been doing this for five days, so please be reasonable lol!

      You (and everyone) can rest assured that any moderation I apply to this blog will have nothing to do with trenchantly expressed opinions, whether or not I agree with them.


  3. Richard Ember says:

    LOL – you know I am only joshing. As if I would let you write all these wrong things without coming to correct them. 🙂


  4. Richard Ember says:

    You are correct, Stephen, in that one of my real beliefs was that a country that was rich enough to go and kill people all over the world should have a basic provision of Healthcare for all of its own citizens. One of the things that Blair said that has actually stood the test of time with me was, ‘Healthcare in this country should be based on need and not ability to pay’.

    But that has gone to far. We have people coming from all over the Eu and the Commonwealth asking for gastric bands because the cannot stop eating. Then sterilisations because they cannot stop breeding, terminations cos they were too thick to think about birth control and then fertilisation treatment because they cannot get on the sterilisation or termination programme. We have cosmetic surgery on the NHS because some lump says she is stressed because she does not look good in a bikini. And all the time my deductions soar and soar. I am now paying in deductions what I used to dream of earning.

    Housing is now so expensive that the only way a kid can see of getting a property of their own is to get pregnant and get social housing. And to live off of benefits because having a job will not let them have their flat. And the children I refer to now think that is the way to live and perpetuate it.

    Then we have the Labour Party and I am afraid to say the Lib Dems who encourage this poverty as poverty equates to votes for them.

    So I am totally disillusioned where it has all ended up. From a promising start where I thought we would have fiscal conservatism and liberal social policies, the Coalition has gone flat. I believe that Cameron & Co know Clegg is under pressure from Hughes & Co (and the Party in general) and know if they become too radical, Clegg and the Coalition will fall. Result – one sticky mess.

    The entire system is finished, Steve. The masses with brains are getting fed up. They have a multi-racial society that they never asked for but are expected to pay for. They have huge areas of the country that will never work created by Labour to keep their vote up. But at last they have the internet which allows them to find each other.

    Convert your assets into silver and gold; buy tins of baked beans and bottled water. This is going to get a lot worse.


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