Post Author: Bill Pratt
We’ve been talking recently about how conservatives tend to stand more firmly on tradition, whereas progressives and libertarians tend to be more willing to toss aside tradition. It is obvious that not all traditions should be maintained because the original circumstance for which the tradition was established no longer exists.
For example, if there was a tradition established that all roads should be at least 8 horse widths wide to accommodate horse-driven wagons moving in opposite directions, then we could safely drop this tradition when the time came that very few horse driven wagons were on the roads any more.
For those of us who think that a particular tradition should be undone, G. K. Chesterton has some very sound advice from his book The Thing:
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.
Before you advocate the undoing of a long-held tradition, you had better be sure that you understand why the tradition exists. Don’t tear a fence down when you don’t even know why it’s there. I don’t think this is too much to ask. If you can clearly articulate why the tradition is in place, you can make your case for why circumstances have changed and why the tradition is no longer needed.