Conservative Colloquium

An Intellectual Forum for All Things Conservative

The Futility of the “Change” Zeitgeist

Posted by Tony Listi on February 8, 2008

By Jonathan Smith, my good Facebook friend

In American politics, almost any politician that promises “change” or “progress” will inevitably, and quite quickly, garner scores of supporters (especially from naive idealistic young people) and will most likely win the office for which they are running. However, there is often more rhetoric than substance in these promises. Americans seem to have made an idol out of progress. Change is no longer a means to an end, but an end in itself. Indeed, an unending end. Nothing is ever good enough. People are not satisfied with a little bit of change. It only satiates their appetite for “progress” temporarily. Soon thereafter they’re asking for more. What they’re asking for, don’t ask them; they don’t know. All they know is they don’t want what they’ve got now. And no matter what you give them, they’ll ask for something else before too long.
Current chief-priest in the cult of progress.
Many of the proponents of this restless mindset of changeless change are constantly preaching the gospel of “thinking for yourselves.” Whatever this means, I do not know; for these individuals seem to let others think for them more than any other breed of humans I’ve ever come across. They promote independence from the past with all of it’s supposedly out-dated and archaic ideas. They see themselves as valiantly struggling against the oppressive traditionalist patriarchy that has a deathgrip on the world. They act as if progressivism is the hip-new-thing. But who are they kidding? Although it is the current zeitgeist, the cult of progress is several hundred years old, coming to a head at the Protestant “Reformation” with its promotion of radical individualism via sola scriptura and “private interpretation.” In reality, progressive rationalists do not think for themselves any more than anyone else. They demand that we “question authority,” but this begs the question: who gave them the authority to tell us to question authority? They tell us not to listen to our parents and priests while insisting that we listen to them instead! And in their circles, the infallible authority of “saints” such as Darwin, Marx, and Freud cannot be questioned.

So, I’ve decided to compile some quotes by the best anti-dote to perpetual “progressivism” to ever live: G.K. Chesterton. Here they are…

“Progress is a comparative of which we have not settled the superlative.”

“Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to fit the vision, instead we are always changing the vision.”

“Nine out of ten of what we call new ideas are simply old mistakes.”

“My attitude toward progress has passed from antagonism to boredom. I have long ceased to argue with people who prefer Thursday to Wednesday because it is Thursday.”

“Men invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals. They look forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back.”

“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 that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.”

“None of the modern machines, none of the modern paraphernalia. . . have any power except over the people who choose to use them.”

“The whole curse of the last century has been what is called the Swing of the Pendulum; that is, the idea that Man must go alternately from one extreme to the other. It is a shameful and even shocking fancy; it is the denial of the whole dignity of the mankind. When Man is alive he stands still. It is only when he is dead that he swings.”

“A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”

“The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice.”

“Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.”

“He is a very shallow critic who cannot see an eternal rebel in the heart of a conservative.”

As Chesterton again rightly points out, a return to Christianity is the only solid cure to this restlessness:

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

“The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.”

Sadly, these people often equate Catholicism with the specter of the “dark ages.” Most people don’t know a lick about this period in history, but for any honest seeker, the truth is clear: The Church wasn’t the center of darkness during these times. Rather, She was rather the only source of light.

“There is something odd in the fact that when we reproduce the Middle Ages it is always some such rough and half-grotesque part of them that we reproduce . . . Why is it that we mainly remember the Middle Ages by absurd things? . . . Few modern people know what a mass of illuminating philosophy, delicate metaphysics, clear and dignified social morality exists in the serious scholastic writers of mediaeval times. But we seem to have grasped somehow that the ruder and more clownish elements in the Middle Ages have a human and poetical interest. We are delighted to know about the ignorance of mediaevalism; we are contented to be ignorant about its knowledge. When we talk of something mediaeval, we mean something quaint. We remember that alchemy was mediaeval, or that heraldry was mediaeval. We forget that Parliaments are mediaeval, that all our Universities are mediaeval, that city corporations are mediaeval, that gunpowder and printing are mediaeval, that half the things by which we now live, and to which we look for progress, are mediaeval.”

“In history I found that Christianity, so far from belonging to the Dark Ages, was the one path across the Dark Ages that was not dark. It was a shining bridge connecting two shining civilizations. If any one says that the faith arose in ignorance and savagery the answer is simple: it didn’t. It arose in the Mediterranean civilization in the full summer of the Roman Empire. The world was swarming with sceptics, and pantheism was as plain as the sun, when Constantine nailed the cross to the mast. It is perfectly true that afterwards the ship sank; but it is far more extraordinary that the ship came up again: repainted and glittering, with the cross still at the top. This is the amazing thing the religion did: it turned a sunken ship into a submarine. The ark lived under the load of waters; after being buried under the debris of dynasties and clans, we arose and remembered Rome. If our faith had been a mere fad of the fading empire, fad would have followed fad in the twilight, and if the civilization ever re-emerged (and many such have never re-emerged) it would have been under some new barbaric flag. But the Christian Church was the last life of the old society and was also the first life of the new. She took the people who were forgetting how to make an arch and she taught them to invent the Gothic arch. In a word, the most absurd thing that could be said of the Church is the thing we have all heard said of it. How can we say that the Church wishes to bring us back into the Dark Ages? The Church was the only thing that ever brought us out of them.”

And lastly, here are two more nuggets, this time on TRUE progress, one from C.S. Lewis and one from Blessed Pope Pius IX…

“We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” -C.S. Lewis

“We should not conclude that religion does not progress in the Church of Christ. There is great progress! But it is truly the progress of faith, which is not change. The intelligence, wisdom, and knowledge of everybody should grow and progress, like that of the whole Church of the ages. In this way we might understand more clearly what we used to believe obscurely; in this way posterity might have joy of understanding what used to be revered without understanding. In this way the precious stones of divine dogma might be worked, adapted exactly and wisely decorated, so that they increase in grace, splendor, and beauty—but always in the same fashion and doctrine, in the same meaning and judgment, so that we can speak of a new manner rather than new substance.” -Bl. Pope Pius IX

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