Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Tradition – the only true democracy

“Tradition is the only true democracy because it means giving a vote to your ancestors” G.K Chesterton

This quote was used in Eugene Peterson’s book, “Working the Angles”. It is an interesting quote in the light of contemporary notions of tradition and forebears. It is not fashionable today to listen to those who went before us. We are far better at challenging the verity of our ancestors in the light of enlightened, technologically advanced and scientific viewpoints. But when it comes to matters of the soul, matters of ministry to broken hearts do we short change ourselves if we are reliant solely upon psychological analysis and better understanding of social behaviour? As Peterson points out we ought to be careful to uproot what Christian’s throughout the ages have regarded as fundamentals and the bedrock of our faith. Why? Simply, we are responding to God’s Creation from our analysis and viewpoint and not responding to the way and manner the Creator has shared life with us from the beginning.


Steve Hayes said...

Is that all he quoted?

You might be interested in a bit more context:

"I have never been able to understand where people got the idea that democracy was in some way opposed to tradition. It is obvious that tradition is only
democracy extended through time. It is trusting to a consensus of common human voices rather than to some isolated or arbitrary record. The man who quotes some German historian against the tradition of the Catholic Church, for instance, is strictly appealing to aristocracy. He is appealing to the superiority of one expert against the awful authority of a mob. [I think he is referring to people like Von Harnack here]

"It is quite easy to see why a legend is treated, and ought to be treated, more respectfully than a book of history. The legend is generally made by the majority of people in the village, who are sane. The book is generally written by the one man in the village who is mad. Those who urge against tradition that men in the past were ignorant may go and urge it at the Carlton Club, along with the statement that voters in the slums are ignorant. It will not do for us. If we attach great mportance to the opinion of ordinary men in great unanimity when we are dealing with daily matters, there is no reason why we should disregard it when we are dealing with history or fable. Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. 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.

All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our father. I, at any rate, cannot separate the two ideas of democracy and tradition; it seems evident to me that they are the same idea. We will have the dead at our councils. The ancient Greeks voted by stones; these shall vote by tombstones. It is all quite regular and official, for most tombstones, like most ballot papers, are marked with a cross."

David Barbour said...

Thanks Steve,
It really helps one against "collective amnesia".

I experienced it a little this weekend on a Leaders retreat. There was one leader from the older group who are long in 'power'. You could see the threatened look in his face as he did his best to bring their vote to the table. The younger leaders quick to forget the way of the past.