“The Democracy of the Dead” (G.K. Chesterton)

Proverbs 11:14 is noted for its adage: “In abundance of counselors there is victory.”  But there is a source of counsel that many in our proud age, which generally adheres to the credo that “newer is better”, neglect.  Our generation is apt to toss aside tradition in favor of novelty, when actually the opposite is most likely the wisest course.  Some of the best advice available comes not from any of our contemporaries, but from those who have already gone before us.  Blessedly, through sermons, books, and, as G.K. Chesterton points out, tradition, we are able to enter into the accumulated counsel of a score of generations, and thus benefit from a perspective much more balanced, enduring, and less prone to passing modern fancies than our own.  Let’s determine not to foolishly and egotistically despise that wisdom, but share in what Chesterton calls “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. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father. I, at any rate, cannot separate the two ideas of democracy and tradition; it seems evident to me that they are the same idea. We will have the dead at our councils. The ancient Greeks voted by stones; these shall vote by tombstones. It is all quite regular and official, for most tombstones, like most ballot papers, are marked with a cross.” (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy)

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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2 Responses to “The Democracy of the Dead” (G.K. Chesterton)

  1. oloryn says:

    Reading through “Orthodoxy”, I presume. That’s one of my favorite Chesterton books. His idea in chapter 6(“The Paradoxes of Christianity”) of Christian balance as ‘the collision of two passions apparently opposite’ has long stuck with me, and been a great help.

    • Shawn Thomas says:

      You presume correctly! (In fact I just now came across the quote you referenced!) I don’t agree with all of his logic, but there is SO much good in his book. Some of his allusions are dated, but even without knowing the individuals/situations he is talking about you get the point from the context. Some of it I had to wade through, but the portions where he shares his personal journey to faith were particularly compelling reading to me. And there were several literal “laugh out loud” moments. I will probably be posting a set of Chesterton quotes on various topics from the book (including the LOL moments!) some time later this week. Thanks for reading!

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