I recently came across this brilliant quote from early-20th-century novelist and public intellectual G.K. Chesterton, whilst reading the famous libertarian required reading The Machinery of Freedom by David Friedman, and I enjoyed the quote so much that I felt like sharing it. As is the case whenever I want to share a quote that’s too long for Twitter, I’ve decided to post it here.
I’m not sure how well-worn this quote already is, so perhaps I’m making myself look like an idiot for sharing it as if it’s some exciting new discovery, but I personally found it highly resonant with some of the sorts of modern/future obsessed left-wingers I’ve come across in my own life.
In particular, it made me think of a group of progressive/socialist acquaintances of mine who delight in attacking what they see as the antiquated superstition of religion, and think of themselves as charmingly mischievous and enlightened free-thinkers for doing so, whilst at the same time being so enamoured with the idea of the future for its own sake that I once heard them unironically pointing to the TV show Star Trek as an example of the sort of thing they would be aiming for if they were elected to political power today! I’m not saying all progressives are that dim, obviously, and perhaps this quote won’t strike you as anything special if you haven’t encountered anyone like that. But when I read this it practically jumped off the page at me because of how much it seemed like it was written directly to that sort of person.
“We often read nowadays of the valour or audacity with which some rebel attacks a hoary tyranny or an antiquated superstition. There is not really any courage at all in attacking hoary or antiquated things, any more than in offering to fight one’s grandmother. The really courageous man is he who defies tyrannies young as the morning and superstitions fresh as the first flowers. The only true free-thinker is he whose intellect is as much free from the future as from the past. He cares as little for what will be as for what has been; he cares only for what ought to be.”