Posts Tagged ‘liberal’

 

australian progressives

As a bit of an ironed-on old radical, I have long despaired of finding a political home in Australia to nestle in, to work for, or even to stand for. The Memsahib and I used to be very involved with the Australian Democrats, but they sadly degenerated into squabbling and ultimately irrelevance, which is a great sorrow. We have happy memories of being a speechwriter and campaign organiser for Janine Haines, the great work done by Sid Spindler and Janet Powell, (all now very sadly deceased) and the consistency, clarity and dignity of Lyn Allison.

Anyhow, I simply can’t join the Liberal Party, even though I have some time for identities on the left-wing of their party, which still includes some old “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” centrist types. Indeed, as recently as a few weeks ago a very senior minister in the Liberal Government in Victoria almost begged me to join. But I am afraid the party is now comprehensively captured at all levels by the hard men of the neo-con Thatcherite Friedmanite right, and we wouldn’t last five minutes in it before being comprehensively squashed or expelled.

The Australian Labor Party is so right wing it could virtually replace the Liberal Party and no one would really notice the difference, except, perhaps for the trade union barony replacing the influence currently wielded by the top end of town, and as anyone who has dined in top restaurants or clubs around the country can attest, away from the confected antagonism of the bear pit of Parliament or the Murdoch press, there is nothing a good Trade Union leader likes as much as a generous and compliant Captain of Industry, and nothing the Captain of Industry likes as much as a supine and properly tamed Union Leader. Plus the sight of Labor seeking to out-do the Coalition on creating ever-more brutish asylum seeker policy, and caving in utterly on environmental protection, makes one throw up in one’s mouth just a little. Or a lot.

The Greens have their moments, but the leadership is weak and faintly ridiculous, and they are far too oppositionally-populist for my liking. They seem obsessed with trying to take over the news cycle with what are often ever more silly statements, and as a result they have undoubtedly plateaued in support, and they also seem very uncertain as to how to broaden their support base from its current inner-urban trendry core plus a few “doctor’s wives” thrown in. I am not passionately opposed to them, but I am not encouraged to join them, either.

As for the Palmer United Party, that is one pup I am not buying. I actually quite like Jackie Lambie’s complete lack of guile – it’s moderately refreshing even when I don’t agree with her views – but Clive Palmer just doesn’t ring true to me, as anything other than a rather maniacal ego for hire with more money than sense. You just can’t make up policy on the run month after month with no clear identification of where you sit on the political scale – somewhere to the right, but where exactly? – and no clearly enunciated suite of policies for the future. Pure populism is all very well – and there is still considerable scope for Palmer to wreak havoc in the next Federal Election, hurting the Liberals and Nationals especially – but it is a waning asset, and I suspect PUP will die out before long, and they won’t be much missed, either.

I am not going to join the Nats, basically because I am not especially interested in country or regional development (I’m not agin it in any way, it’s just not where my interests lie, you understand) and I am not a socially-conservative-agrarian-socialist-protectionist with no real interests other than clinging to relevance in Government and the seats gifted them by their Liberal brethren. No tick there. And I have been impressed with the Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm elected by accident in NSW – he’s been excellent and uncompromising so far on personal liberty – but their laissez faire libertarian-right economic policies belong on the toilet walls of a lunatic asylum. So no tick there, either.

Which is a long way round of saying “A plague on all your houses” and announcing that I am so fed up with both established right and left in Australian politics that I have decided to join a new party as a founding member. That way I avoid just vegging out and leaving it to the idiots, and I get to help form the policies and direction of the new party.

Could turn into nothing. Most new parties do. And if it does fizzle and bust, well, no harm done. But I like the way it talks about working outside the electoral cycle to promote new thinking as well as being an electoral alternative. There are many ways to influence events, and not all of them involve winning overall power at the ballot box.

Or it could turn into something I distrust or dislike, at which time I will leave.

So it’s a punt, but really, Dear Reader, what have we got to lose?

Join me?

https://www.australianprogressives.org.au/

 

progressive values

 

I would welcome comment, positive or negative. And polite.

Stephen Yolland
Melbourne October 2014

 

Heaven

It is a matter of public record, Dear Reader, that I do not deal well with bereavement, or even, for that matter, with simple uncertainty.

Apparently I was alone with my dead father for a couple of hours after he collapsed with a heart attack when I was just two years old. I am told by people who should know that such experiences can leave traumatic psychological scars that therapy can help us understand, but not necessarily “cure”.

Such is life. In many other ways my time thus far has been rich and varied, and I am not going to rail against the less wonderful moments. Into each life a little rain will fall. It was ever thus, and my ledger has far more weight in the pluses column than the minuses, for which I give thanks.

But it is, nevertheless, the very nature of human existence that we are cursed as well as blessed by self-awareness. The remnant of my childhood sadness is that I seem acutely aware of the possibility of death, not just for me, but for those around me that I care about, and I am more anxious than I need to be as a result.

Yet such fear is surely not erroneous. Media Vita In Morte Sumus: in the midst of life we are in death, as the famous quotation that plays its part of the Latin funeral rite solemnly reminds us. Awareness of death is rational. It happens.

What matters for our peace of mind is how we deal with its ever-present imminence.

It was my birthday yesterday: nowadays, an event that feeds inexorably into my deepening contemplation that less of my life is ahead of me than is behind me, and that how I live and what I achieve with my life, and what I leave behind me as a legacy, is now a matter of some pressing concern.

Simon

Simon

I flicked open my emails expecting to enjoy the usual (and very welcome) crop of messages from the worldwide diaspora of friends and family who always so kindly send me a brief note on the day.

Instead, I saw a torrent of emails informing me that one of my oldest and dearest friends, Simon Titley, had been rushed to hospital having collapsed at a family lunch, that he has a massive and inoperable brain tumour, and not long to live. Worse, that he is currently suffering, with the dreadful combination of poor communication abilities and obvious fear at what is happening to him.

Simon was and for a while still is one of those individuals who enter our lives and fill it with things we wish we could say about ourselves.

He was hilariously funny. His humour ran the entire gamut of the things we call “funny”. As a consummately political animal his grasp of satire was complete and un-yieldingly courageous. He understood that to be effective satire must combine genuine wit with social insight, and time and again his wry, askance view of the universe infused his writing with piercingly accurate observations that changed the lives of others, in line with his fiercely held beliefs, all the while making them laugh uproariously.

“Words? He could almost make them talk”, as Roger McGough once memorably remarked about someone.

The same presence of mind infused his dialectical invective, so often seen in the pages of Liberator magazine, the radical street-sheet of which he was a collective owner and editor, which enlivened and informed the politics of the United Kingdom, Europe, and the Liberal tradition especially, for 40 years. Of this, more in a moment.

He was also a consummate master of silly, scatalogical humour, searching it out in the byways and alleys of human existence and gleefully circulating it to his friends. With roguish good nature he thoroughly enjoyed “bottom jokes”, well aware of how ludicrously sensitive the British are to anything remotely to do with bodily excrescence or functions. He reveled in the laughter and embarrassment he unearthed, knowing full well that every silly gag was just one more brick in the wall of sniffy fussiness removed. Indeed, I still have a small plastic toilet of sweets he mailed me from one of his peripatetic travels around the Continent he loved so much, chortling no doubt as he popped it in the envelope, now many years ago. It will remain unopened.

Simon and co-conspirators Mark Smulian and Peter Johnson man the Liberator stall at a Party Assembly - for a generation it was a hotbed of ideas, humour and occasional insurrection. Simon is on the left.

Simon and co-conspirators Mark Smulian and Peter Johnson man the Liberator stall at a Party Assembly – for a generation it was a hotbed of gossip, ideas, humour and occasional insurrection. Simon is on the left.

In his serious writings, in Liberator and many other outlets, he was nothing more nor less than the most cerebral yet coherent and intensely relevant commentator that the Liberal side of politics has produced in my lifetime. A PR professional of some reputation, he could have devoted his life to simply piling up gold, yet he could never drag himself away from the pressing need to inform the body politic long enough to end up a mere careerist.

His was, above all, the polemic of personal responsibility, and he was as hard on himself as anyone. Where he saw cant and obfuscation instead of candour he exposed it consistently and ruthlessly. He continually advanced new and exciting ideas on how to construct a society where all were participants, where opportunity was available to all, and where the deadening hand of conservatism was lifted off the levers of power when it was serving no remaining purpose. He fought for innovation both within the party he loved and without, but always, especially, within it, infused with the passion of the ironed-on supporter, the pick and stick determination that is born of the deepest convictions.  One only has to pop the words “Simon Titley Lib Dem” into your preferred search engine to gain an insight into the breadth and depth of his influence.

With Simon gone, as another of my closest friends remarked yesterday, we shall simply have to learn to think for ourselves. I genuinely fear we will struggle to reach both his levels of perspicacity and expository skill, and the world will be a poorer and less hopeful place as a result. That he leaves us at a time when his beloved party is in an unprecedented state of internal flux and focus on its future direction is a bitterly cruel irony.

Yesterday, as I say, was my birthday. I am somewhat sidelined at the moment, as my daughter has galloping glandular fever, and we are yet to ascertain whether my wife and I are also going down with the annoyingly infectious and ubiquitous Epstein-Barr virus, or whether we are immune. The next seat to mine at the office has an expectant very-soon-to-be-father in it, and I am not taking any risk of spreading the bug there, so discretion is the better part of valour and I am working at home this week.

Thus, as I wasn’t chained to my desk, my family prevailed upon me to take a short drive to the nearby Yarra Valley for a couple of hours to both celebrate my birthday and lift my spirits. Which is how we came to be sat in a newly-opened chocolate factory, enjoying the delights of their highly inventive production line, and gazing over the patchwork of green, lilac and grey fields and trees fortified by an excellent coffee, observing the whirling clouds of sulphur-crested cockatoos perfectly reflected in the glass-still dams and lakes.

blackAs I sat there, I reflected on the side of Simon that was always the most accessible and, ultimately, memorable. His was a life that was lived joyously and with celebratory appreciation of all things gastronomic. Just up the road, he and I had enjoyed a memorable lunch at the De Bortoli winery some fifteen years previously (I realised the passage of time with some shock) and with a quiet smile I recalled how he had marveled at both the inventiveness of their menu and the unique, luscious quality of their “sticky” dessert wine, the “Black Noble”.

Unique. Like their fan.

Unique. Like their fan.

A true connoisseur of not just wine but beer and food – especially his much-beloved Lincolnshire sausages, about whose pork and sage recipe he could wax lyrical, and for which he typically launched a campaign for EU recognition of their special and unique status – and as many will attest a massive fry-up organised by Simon after a night on the tiles was an experience never forgotten – the Black Noble was unlike anything he had experienced to date in his rich and full life.

When the botrytised Semillon grapes are being harvested for the famous De Bortoli legend “Noble One”, a discrete parcel of fruit at about 20-22 baume is selected to produce the dessert wine’s intense and ripe botrytis flavours. Very little fermentation occurs before fortification with a neutral grape spirit, which is added to inhibit any further fermentation. Black Noble is then clarified, a touch of brandy added for further complexity before being transferred into used Noble One barriques. The winery suggest enjoying its astounding toffee, raisins and mandarin-peel complexity with Christmas pudding or sticky date pudding, or poured over vanilla ice cream.  Never slaves to convention, we sat on the balcony and toasted each other over a sideplate laden with a fine local blue cheese, and just gazed over the vineyards. Afterwards, he pressed the winemaker at the cellar door for more and more detail, before buying as many bottles as he could fit in the trunk of my car. “How are you going to get all those back to England?” I asked, concerned. “Oh, we’ll find a way,” he smiled.

“We’ll find a way” seemed such a Simon-like thing to say that I didn’t give it any more thought. When he left, he took a bottle or two with him, and left the rest secreted in our spare room for later discovery.

To understand the measure of the man, know that he once drove the length of France to pick up the right ingredients for a Christmas lunch he was cooking for my family, and various friends. In a world where a hundred celebrity chefs had not yet made cooking roast potatoes in duck fat a commonplace thing, he insisted it was the only possible medium in which to burnish the unusual species in which he had especially invested because of their world-beating crispness when par-boiled then roasted. And not just any duck fat. This particular duck fat.

Witness, also, as he whisks my ailing mother away into Paris for the longest of long lunches so our little troupe can enjoy a trip to Euro-Disney, creating a lifetime of memories for a tiny daughter who remembers to this day the frozen waterfall of the Disney castle. It was minus 4 degrees. Simon knew that my mother attending would have, of necessity, have led to our visit being curtailed, so he stepped into the breach. Over breakfast: “There’s this little place I know off the Champs Elysee, Betty,” he grinned. “Fancy a trip?”

My mother loved Simon and not just because he shared her adoration of chilled chardonnay and langoustines. He was “an old style gentleman”, she said. Yes. Yes, he was, indeed.

In a kinder universe, Simon would have been some Georgian grandee, dispensing largesse to the peasants with the same enthusiasm with which he consumed it. Or an avuncular and reforming Minister of the Crown, leaving yet a deeper mark on the lives of many.

As it is, he was what he was, and we are bereft. Our friend and brother is on a journey we can’t take with him, and we are suddenly all – again – more alone than we ever realised we could be. And yes, the pain will dull, given time, to be sure, but it is currently very intense. And it will never quite go away: there will always be a space. A gap. A hole. That only Simon can fill, that only Simon could fill, indeed, because the space in our lives he created was huge and unexpected and unparalleled and bright and blinding and warm and funny and above all ineffably kind and meaningful.

And sometimes, without warning, we will sense that gap, and weep silently inside ourselves.

Despite professing faith, and meaning it, I am never quite entirely sure whether we are reunited with those we lose along the way. I hope so. I would like to meet my Dad.

And I would like to share another thick, luscious pint of real ale with Simon, or an anis in a little bar somewhere in some heavenly Brussels.

They do that in Heaven, right? Please tell me they do. I do hope so.

Further reading:

http://liberator-magazine.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/simon-titley-living-obituary.html

 

UPDATE

An operation to remove at least some of Simon’s brain tumour took place a few days after this blog was written offering him some respite, and the opportunity to say his goodbyes to those who loved him, and some time to come to terms with his predicament.

Simon Titley died peacefully on August 31st 2014, mourned by innumerable friends and his family, to all of whom we send our heartfelt condolences.

paul_keating

Somehow the wagging finger rarely irritated. The brain behind it was so impressive.

Ex Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating is a fascinating man.

Uncompromising, arrogant – and even aloof – certain of his own intellectual superiority, frequently hilariously funny, master of Despatch Box wit, he was responsible for some of the most major reforms in Australian political history, including opening the country to free trade, and ensuring all Australians have some sort of superannuation to fall back on in retirement.

When "intellectual" wasn't a dirty word. Whitlam and Keating share a joke.

When “intellectual” wasn’t a dirty word. Whitlam and Keating share a joke.

Not for nothing was one of his mentors former Labour hero Gough Whitlam.

They shared a love of fine things, were both uber-brainy dandys, and neither brooked much opposition.

They controlled their caucuses by diktat, but they were so patently the most impressive guys around that no one really minded all that much.

Keating once memorable christened John Howard "His Oiliness"

Keating once memorably christened Liberal Party leader John Howard “His Oiliness”

To remember how good Keating was, one really only has to admire the strong, internationally-engaged economic state of the nation that John Howard inherited from him.

And one only has to trawl some of his more famous quotations – usually insulting put-downs – that framed the debate for year after year.

It would be easy to dismiss them as mere vitriol, but they were much more than that. Keating had an ear for what ordinary “little” people thought, and the imagination to wrestle that into pithy quotes.

Try these:

On Opposition Leader and then Prime Minister John Howard:

  • “The little desiccated coconut is under pressure and he is attacking anything he can get his hands on”
  • “What we have got is a dead carcass, swinging in the breeze, but nobody will cut it down to replace him.”
  • “He’s wound up like a thousand day clock.”
  • (Of his 1986 leadership contest) “From this day onwards, Howard will wear his leadership like a crown of thorns, and in the parliament I’ll do everything to crucify him.”
  • “He is the greatest job and investment destroyer since the bubonic plague.”
  • “But I will never get to the stage of wanting to lead the nation standing in front of the mirror each morning clipping the eyebrows here and clipping the eyebrows there with Janette and the kids: It’s like ‘Spot the eyebrows’.”
  • “I am not like the Leader of the Opposition. I did not slither out of the Cabinet room like a mangy maggot.”
  • “He has more hide than a team of elephants.”
  • “Come in sucker.”
Keating believed Peter Costello essentially "lacked ticker". He was right.

Keating believed Peter Costello essentially “lacked ticker”. He was right.

On Federal Treasurer, Peter Costello:

  • “The thing about poor old Costello is he is all tip and no iceberg.He can throw a punch across the parliament but the bloke he should be throwing a punch to is Howard, but of course he doesn’t have the ticker for it.”
  • “He has now been treasurer for 11 years. The old coconut (John Howard) is still there araldited to the seat.The Treasurer works on the smart quips but when it comes to staring down the prime minister in his office he always leaves disappointed.He never gets the sword out.”

Just because you were in the same party as Keating, that was never protection from his wrath.

Keating’s passions were French antique clocks, opera and piano concertos. The sports mad Labor cabinet didn’t stand a chance.

He could dish it to his own side, too.

Like this stoush with John Browne and Bob Hawke (who he memorably named “Old Jellyback” because of Keating’s perception of his preparedness to compromise on principle) when he was Treasurer:

  • “Now listen mate,” [to John Browne, Minister of Sport, who was proposing a 110 per cent tax deduction for contributions to a Sports Foundation] “you’re not getting 110 per cent. You can forget it.This is a fucking Boulevard Hotel special, this is.The trouble is we are dealing with a sports junkie here [gesturing towards Bob Hawke].I go out for a piss and they pull this one on me.Well that’s the last time I leave you two alone.From now on, I’m sticking to you two like shit to a blanket.”
Hewson famously lost "the unloseable election" to Keating with the schemozzle over their "Fightback" plan. The Liberal Party ever since is chary of releasing its polices for scrutiny, including in this election.

Hewson famously lost “the unloseable election” to Keating with the schemozzle over the “Fightback” plan. The Liberal Party has ever since been chary of releasing its polices for scrutiny, including in this election.

To then Leader of the Opposition John Hewson:

  • Hewson: [if you’re so sure of yourself] why don’t you call an election?Keating: Oh no, Hewson, don’t think you’re going to get out of it that easily mate. I’m going to do you slowly, son …” The relish with which Keating delivered the word “slowly” has passed into Australian political history …

And about him:

  • “Captain Zero”
  • “I did not insult the Honorable Member for Wentworth. I merely implied that he was like a lizard on a rock – not dead yet, but looking it.”
  • “[His performance] is like being flogged with a warm lettuce.”
WIlson "Iron Bar" Tuckey only had to poke his head above the parapet to set Keating off.

WIlson “Iron Bar” Tuckey only had to poke his head above the parapet to set Keating off.

Most memorably, Keating would fire up whenever confronted with the teasing of extreme right-wing MP Wilson Tuckey from the seat of O’Connor in WA.

Unparliamentary language? For sure. But rather wonderful nevertheless.

  • “You stupid foul-mouthed grub.”
  • “Shut up! Sit down and shut up, you pig!”
  • “You boxhead you wouldn’t know. You are flat out counting past ten.”
  • “You filthy, disgusting piece of criminal garbage!”

Anyhow, without demonstrating quite the same level of vituperative humour, Mr Keating has made a memorable intervention in the 2013 Federal Election to opine that Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard had steered the country through the “valley of economic death” in 2008-09 to be what no other country in the world has been.

“No recession, no great dip in employment,” Mr Keating said, launching the campaign of Labor minister Bill Shorten in his Melbourne seat of Maribyrnong on Friday, to rousing applause from party faithful.

“This is not like Europe. This is not like the United States. We’ve kept people in employment and given them real wages growth.”

Since 1991, real wages had increased 36 per cent and disposable incomes by 40 per cent, he said.

“This is the only country that has done this. It came from the policies of the Labor government. It didn’t come from the Tories. They know what they’re against. They never know what they’re for.”

Mr Keating credited Labor for creating equity in health, superannuation, education and now disability care.

“The others never do these things. They’re always mean. Mean little people,” he said.

“No imagination, no bigness and no heart. Just the natural cycle means every now and then they get another go.”

Mr Keating said Opposition Leader Tony Abbott had to do more than offer slogans.

“Stop the boats, he says, we’ll get rid of the mining tax, and we’ll get rid of the carbon tax,” he said. “These slogans can never be an organising principle for the nation.”

Mr Keating accused the Liberals of walking away from accountability standards, saying they ignored former Liberal treasurer Peter Costello’s decision that treasury publish public accounts before an election.

“This is a very bad thing which is happening. Bad for the core integrity of the financial system, the way the country operates, bad for trust in the system.

“We’re facing a sort of flimflam opposition, one without standards.

“Even the previous conservative government accepted that standard but they’ve walked away from that.

“Cynical Joe Hockey says, ‘oh people are bored with numbers’. Really, Joe? They’re not bored with you are they?”

Except for his obligatory defence of Rudd, Gillard and, er, Rudd, Keating has nailed the Liberal’s essential intellectual vacuity, and he should be listened to. Sadly, the problem is that the alternative to Paul Keating is Kevin Rudd, and there is no cure for that.

Is there any doubt that Labor could win this election with Keating at the helm, instead of the Milky Bar Kid?

What as shame he seems to be thoroughly enjoying his retirement.

I am often criticised (in 99% of cases by ironed-on conservatives or Republicans) for being too critical about the quality of American politics, (which I freely admit fascinates me), and the performance of the right in particular. So I was pleased to see today’s report that the most popular politician (by opinion poll) in Australia appears to completely agree with my point of view.

Malcolm Turnbull says American politics is becoming 'profoundly dysfuntional'.

As reported in The Age, re-reporting an interview with The Monthly, published today, Malcolm Turnbull says American politics is becoming ‘profoundly dysfunctional’. 

He has sharply criticised the corrupting power of money in the US and described America as looking ”like a country that is barely governed”.

The former Liberal leader and member of  Tony Abbott’s shadow cabinet (note, “Liberal” in Australian political terms means the main Conservative party, and current Official Opposition, and not the “progressive” position it means in America, nor the centrist position it means in the UK), says American politics is becoming ”profoundly dysfunctional”.

He attacks the Republican idea that the budgetary situation can be improved by cutting the taxes of the wealthy as ”just bizarre”, and describes the right-wing Tea Party as extreme, reactionary and radical.

Author of the interview article Robert Manne writes: ”He thinks that American voluntary voting encourages Republican extremism and the search for ‘hot-button issues’, like abortion or guns or gay marriage or Obama as a secret Muslim.

”He is concerned about the fragmentation of opinion and collapse of the rational centre. He is profoundly concerned about the ‘self-evident’ corrupting influence of ‘the power of money’.”

Mr Turnbull is also very critical of the Iraq war – in which Australia was an enthusiastic US ally under the previous conservative Howard government.

”The argument for saying it was a mistake and misconceived is a very powerful one … There are plenty of people on both sides of politics in the US who take that view.’

I am delighted to hear a conservative politician break ranks on this, which is surely now one of the most accepted facts in international conflict studies. The Iraq war was launched on lies, conducted without adequate legal authority, with no exit strategy, managed appallingly badly by Rumsfeld and others, and has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Hardly a family in Iraq has been untouched.

Mr Turnbull, who agreed to the interview on condition he would not be asked about his leader Mr Abbott, says climate change denialism is ”contrary to the views of, I think, just about everybody in the Coalition party room”. Manne however notes Mr Abbott once described as ”absolute crap” the view that climate scientists had a consensus position.

The interesting thing for me is how much more mainstream Turnbull is than the current leadership of his party. I have little doubt that were they to dump Abbott for him, (Abbott having only defeated him by one vote in the party room, remember, after a well-organised right-wing coup), that they would be elected in the largest landslide in Australian political history, regardless of how well the Government does in the next 18 months.

Almost unthinkably by current received wisdom, as things stand, I firmly believe Abbott is on track to lose the un-loseable election.

We will see.

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.