“The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.” — G. K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News 10-28-1922 ¹
I’m unclear in what context Chesterton wrote this. This quote mugged my attention, and sticks to the roof of my brain like peanut butter. I don’t believe this is always true, but, I’ve found it to be sufficiently reasonable, as a rubric of sort. It forces my mind to rethink a criticism, usually one that rubs against my confirmation bias, to force me to see my critic’s point of view.
For the reformer Rousseau, institutions can be “corrupting,” but, he was grotesquely wrong on whether man is innately good or whether we, in our “natural state,” were at our most content. Marx correctly ascribes the importance and value of one’s vocation, both individually and communally, but offers murderous madness as remedy.
The bookend-quote to this is Chesterton’s quote on progress;
“Progress [the goal of reform] should mean that we are always walking towards the New Jerusalem. It does mean that the New Jerusalem is always walking away from us. We are not altering the real to suit the ideal. We are altering the ideal: it is easier.” — G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Progress for the sake of progress alone is hubris, leading to folly.
¹ If you know of a source that provides better light on this quote, please let me know.