8/21/14

"The permanent austerity of the democratic idea"

"DEMOCRACY must always be severe. Without either desire or dread of paradox, we may go even further. Democracy must always be unpopular [...] it asks men to do what they cannot do; to think steadily about the important things [...] it asks men to consider the dark, fugitive, erratic realities, to ignore the gigantic, glaring and overpowering trivialities. It rests upon the fact that the things which men have in common, such as a soul and a stomach, such as the love of children or the fear of death, are to infinity more important than the things in which they differ, such as a landed estate or an ear for music, the capacity to found an empire or to make a bow.[...] Every little variety we have we gossip and boast of eagerly; it is upon uniformity that we preserve the silence of terrified conspirators. [...] It is the nature of man to talk, so to speak, largely and eagerly about every new feather he sticks in his hair, but to conceal like a deformity the fact that he has a head. This is the secret of the permanent austerity of the democratic idea, of its eternal failure and its eternal recurrence, of the fact that it can never be popular and can never be killed. It withers into nothingness in the light of a naked spirituality those special badges and uniforms which we all love so much, since they mark us out as kings or schoolmasters, or gentlemen or philanthropists. It declares with a brutal benignity that all men are brothers just at the very moment that every one feels himself to be the good grandfather of every one else. To our human nature it commonly seems quite a pitiful exchange to cease from being poets or vestrymen, and be put off with being the images of the everlasting. That is the secret, as I say, of the austerity of republicanism, of its continual historic association with the stoical philosophy, of its continual defeat at the hands of heated mobs. It strikes men down from the high places of their human fads and callings, and lays them all level upon a dull plane of the divine."

~G.K. Chesterton: in The Fortnightly Review, Vol. LXXIV., Jul. to Dec., 1903.

h/t Mike Miles

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