Monday, March 28, 2016

The Democracy of the Dead

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.
- GK Chesterton

Do not move the ancient boundary which your fathers have set.
- Solomon

Has there ever been a generation of Americans more ahistorical and anti-tradition than ours? We live and make our decisions as if history began with our generation and us. We pay no heed to the wisdom and traditions, i.e., a body of beliefs, handed down from age to age: the understanding that comes from experience winnowed down through the ages means zip to us. We believe that we are fully capable of sorting out the major crises of our day without any guidance from the past. Consequently, we have become a nation of pigmies who are cannibalizing the inheritance passed on to us by giants.

Much of the wisdom we need for successfully navigating through life is found in “the democracy of the dead.” Back in the day (before John Dewy, the father of modern education here in the US), this was one of the great goals of education: to immerse the student in the collective wisdom of ages past as to what constituted a fully functioning human being, a strong family, a harmonious society, a prosperous nation. Western Civilization itself grew out of and sustained itself by this very mindset. In studying theologians, philosophers, artists, societies, and cultures where human dignity, liberty, and equality before constituted law were espoused, each generation sought to conserve and add to this wisdom, so as to pass on the beliefs that secure the pillars of civilization.

Some of the pillars of American civilization are:

God creates humans and ordains government

Belief in a transcendent moral order that is based in religious faith

Belief that individual virtue is essential to societal harmony

Religious liberty

Individual liberty under law

Equality before the law

The right to own what you produce: a critical component of all our freedoms

The most effective governments are localized not centralized

Society is a spiritual community with responsibilities to both past and future generations

Does this mean that we are to accept every espousal of wisdom and tradition (beliefs) passed on by past generations as if it were Holy Writ? Of course not. But if an ancient boundary has been set - if there are generations of customs, mores, and beliefs that have been established – we are fools worthy of destruction, if we treat such as minor inconveniences of no consequence. There is a reason why generations of people adhered to this boundary, why they believed as they did.  At the very least we should find out why this was so, before we throw it into the dustbin of history.

Ignoring the wisdom and traditions of our forbearers while tackling the crises that are threatening civilization with anarchy or tyranny with only our limited reason and experience is hubris of the highest degree. If we want to leave our grandchildren a nation that supports “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” then we ought to discover what body of beliefs from the past created such a culture in the first place.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson.2016

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