“Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking around. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death.”
▪ Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Hendrickson, 2006; originally 1908) p. 43.
It might only be a quibble, but I’ve always found this quote a bit lacking. When I first read this snippet in ‘Orthodoxy’ I pleasantly assented and that was that. However, one day (I remember the exact moment: walking out of the market in Foggy Bottom, Washington, DC) I realised that in, say, two thousand years, the majority of folks who have lived since the inception of Christendom would have easily been born in the postmodern world.
Again, it seems small, but I see Chesterton quite missing his own point here. Of course I agree that there’s great wisdom in the trials faced and overcome by our ancestors, but at the same time the ‘democracy of the dead’ does not address any questions of legitimacy and righteousness of the law or institutions; it only puts forward a twisted kind of mob rule. If I remember correctly, Chesterton was a member of the Liberal Party (or that his political sympathies weren’t quite ‘High Tory’) which might exclude those questions entirely. I’m not so well-versed in that area. But if, as Traditionalists, we take a more-than-utilitarian view of tradition, this quote seems too slight-right for our uses. ‘Minimal monarchy’, ‘It works why fix it?’ sort of rhetoric.
Again, this is merely my layman’s opinion. Better minds than my own have praised this quote for decades, and no doubt they will in the future.