Wednesday, February 01, 2006

That democracy of the dead

Chesterton's remark about a "democracy of the dead" is hardly news, but since this is a journal of thoughts I've found it interesting to encounter, here it is again:

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.

I love this, because it's a slap in the face to the pride that's peculiar to our times: that the people of the past were ignorant loons because they didn't know certain things (usually technological) discovered in our lifetime. Why study Socrates or Aquinas, we say. Why read Utopia or The Consolation of Philosophy? So boring! After all, Boethius and More and all those other dead people had no computers, no internet! They never downloaded anything! They didn't know about DNA or even electricity! How could they have anything useful to say to us, who are so much better informed?

As if, after sixteen years of oh-so-modern schooling, the average college graduate today could put together two coherent sentences about any of those technological developments.