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Quote of the Day: Reformers, Right and Wrong

 

“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.

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There are 15 comments.

  1. Member

    I’ve said something similar about Karl Marx. He was sometimes (but not always) insightful about what was wrong. His ideas about what was right were terrible. 

    • #1
    • June 10, 2018 at 3:16 pm
    • 7 likes
  2. Coolidge

    If a person was creating an outline, would “The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.”
    by G. K. Chesterton Illustrated London News 10-28-1922 ¹

    be under the heading “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” or vice versa?

    • #2
    • June 10, 2018 at 3:34 pm
    • 6 likes
  3. Coolidge

    The Chesterton quote is especially apt in our modern culture, wherein any reform has its specifications determined by committee, legislated and regulated by an agency, and produced by a corporation or agency run by some “good buddy” to some corrupt politician.

    • #3
    • June 10, 2018 at 3:38 pm
    • 5 likes
  4. Contributor

    This is the story of progressivism. We can often agree across belief systems about what is wrong, but when it comes to solutions, progressives are unrealistic and foolish. Of course, I’m always right in my problem-solving!

    • #4
    • June 10, 2018 at 3:44 pm
    • 12 likes
  5. Thatcher

    Fred Houstan: “The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.”

    Whenever I see the word always in regards to human behavior, I question the veracity. My take would be “The reformer is almost always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.”


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    • #5
    • June 10, 2018 at 5:29 pm
    • 6 likes
  6. Member
    Fred Houstan Post author

    CarolJoy (View Comment):
    be under the heading “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” or vice versa?

    I’d say yes. This talks to some of what I removed from my post. We’re heading to New Jerusalem, or Hell, a.k.a., New Man. So much leftist litany supports the “new man” goal.

    • #6
    • June 10, 2018 at 5:58 pm
    • 7 likes
  7. Member

    Vectorman (View Comment):
    Vectorman  

    Fred Houstan: “The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.”

    Whenever I see the word always in regards to human behavior, I question the veracity. My take would be “The reformer is almost always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.”

    I just now read a long article that proves Chesterton’s point (as modified by @vectorman):

    It’s at The Atlantic: The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy: The class divide is already toxic, and is fast becoming unbridgeable. You’re probably part of the problem.

     

    • #7
    • June 10, 2018 at 9:05 pm
    • 3 likes
  8. Member

    When I was starting engineering school and Mr. C was already on the job, he said to me, “Don’t bring the boss problems; bring him solutions.” Progressives are all about the easy part, and lack all humility when it comes to the hard part.

     

    • #8
    • June 11, 2018 at 6:18 am
    • 3 likes
  9. Contributor

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    When I was starting engineering school and Mr. C was already on the job, he said to me, “Don’t bring the boss problems; bring him solutions.” Progressives are all about the easy part, and lack all humility when it comes to the hard part.

    Or they bring solutions that are outrageous and impractical.

     

    • #9
    • June 11, 2018 at 6:39 am
    • 3 likes
  10. Thatcher

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    When I was starting engineering school and Mr. C was already on the job, he said to me, “Don’t bring the boss problems; bring him solutions.”

    Reminds me of what Captain Picard says after a discussion of solutions on Star Trek – The Next Generation: “Make it so.”

    • #10
    • June 11, 2018 at 7:31 am
    • 2 likes
  11. Coolidge

    Fred Houstan (View Comment):

    CarolJoy (View Comment):
    be under the heading “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” or vice versa?

    I’d say yes. This talks to some of what I removed from my post. We’re heading to New Jerusalem, or Hell, a.k.a., New Man. So much leftist litany supports the “new man” goal.

    I’d agree, except that it is really a “new woman” goal. Or so it seems when I have to spend more than a minute with lib female friends.

    Men are very very bad, don’cha know?

    • #11
    • June 11, 2018 at 11:26 am
    • 1 like
  12. Coolidge

    Fred Houstan: “The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.”
    by G. K. Chesterton Illustrated London News 10-28-1922 ¹

    Reforming things are very difficult. Because of the great difficulty in reforming things people tend to polarize over it. When this happens people have a hard time in dealing with nuance or trade offs of any kind. When you do deal with nuance and tradeoffs you feel as if you are handing something to your enemies. 

    For a reform movement something usually has to actually be wrong to get people worked up enough to change it. So if reformers of any kind get your attention the most likely reason they have identified a real problem. That is the easy part.

    What is very rare is for a reformer to identify a real problem but appreciate the things that are going right and zealous attempt to guard what is right while still changing what is wrong.

    The American Revolution is a great example. The Founders did not need to find a new “American” way of doing things. They did not seek to reinvent culture. The English culture of liberty was working great for them. What they did was identify what was going wrong and preserved what was going write. That is why they gained legitimacy to run the nation of America but the early French revolutionaries who followed the Founders model almost exactly gained no legitimacy and lost the country first to terror, then to corruption and finally to dictatorship. In fact the crisis of legitimacy marred France from 1789 to 1945. 

    The American Founders knew what to preserve and what to change that talent is very rare in this world…

    • #12
    • June 11, 2018 at 1:43 pm
    • 3 likes
  13. Member
    Fred Houstan Post author

    CarolJoy (View Comment):
    I’d agree, except that it is really a “new woman” goal.

    I get your point, but, what the left is busy deconstructing humanity towards is this hideous hybrid that represents the merging of worst traits of masculinity and femininity into this androgynous and furiously self-loathing monster that can only destroy itself.

    Which is fine with them, since “old types” are destroying the earth, anyhow.

    If a beautiful planet is uninhabited, is it still beautiful?

     

    • #13
    • June 12, 2018 at 5:10 am
    • Like
  14. Coolidge

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    This is the story of progressivism. We can often agree across belief systems about what is wrong, but when it comes to solutions, progressives are unrealistic and foolish. Of course, I’m always right in my problem-solving!

    It’s not just a left vs. right problem, it’s also happening internally on the left (liberals vs. progressives) and the right (usually using a particular individual, whose name I’ll leave out of this, as a proxy.)

    “Just because I don’t agree with your solution doesn’t mean I don’t see/don’t care about the problem.” There’d be a lot less rancor on all sides if more people could accept this of their opponents.

    • #14
    • June 12, 2018 at 5:12 am
    • 5 likes
  15. Member

    Recently, reformers have even been getting the “what is wrong” part umm wrong.

    • #15
    • June 12, 2018 at 6:02 am
    • 5 likes