My dilemma in paring down G. K. C.: I want to just stick with the one point I thought poignant, and so condense the quote accordingly. The problem is that it is hard to find a point that is not poignant, and not only not poignant, but also not poetic, beautiful and highly enjoyable. And that makes me think deeply about life… My solution? Simply quote more Chesterton. Someone once said that Chesterton quotes are like potato chips, you can never stop at just one. Indeed.
The Eternal Revolution
“We may say broadly that free thought is the best of all the safeguards against freedom. Managed in a modern style the emancipation of the slave’s mind is the best way of preventing the emancipation of the slave. Teach him to worry about whether he wants to be free, and he will not free himself. Again, it may be said that this instance is remote or extreme. But, again, it is exactly true of the men in the streets around us. It is true that the slave, being a debased barbarian, will probably have either a human affection of loyalty, or a human affection for liberty. But the man we see every day–the worker in Mr. Gradgrind’s factory, the little clerk in Mr. Gradgrind’s office–he is too mentally worried to believe in freedom. He is kept quiet with revolutionary literature. He is calmed and kept in his place by a constant succession of wild philosophies. He is a Marxian one day, a Nietzscheite the next day, a Superman (probably) the next day; and a slave every day. The only thing that remains after all the philosophies is the factory. The only man who gains by all the philosophies is Gradgrind. It would be worth his while to keep his commercial helotry supplied with sceptical literature. And now I come to think of it, of course, Gradgrind is famous for giving libraries. He shows his sense. All modern books are on his side. As long as the vision of heaven is always changing, the vision of earth will be exactly the same. No ideal will remain long enough to be realized, or even partly realized. The modern young man will never change his environment; for he will always change his mind.
This, therefore, is our first requirement about the ideal towards which progress is directed; it must be fixed. Whistler used to make many rapid studies of a sitter; it did not matter if he tore up twenty portraits. But it would matter if he looked up twenty times, and each time saw a new person sitting placidly for his portrait. So it does not matter (comparatively speaking) how often humanity fails to imitate its ideal; for then all its old failures are fruitful. But it does frightfully matter how often humanity changes its ideal; for then all its old failures are fruitless.”
– G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy