Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Empty Bragging

“Opening my newspaper the other day, I saw a short but emphatic leaderette entitled ‘A Relic of Medievalism’. It expressed a profound indignation upon the fact that somewhere or other, in some fairly remote corner of this country, there is a turnpike-gate, with a toll. It insisted that this antiquated tyranny is insupportable, because it is supremely important that our road traffic should go very fast; presumably a little faster than it does. So it described the momentary delay in this place as a relic of medievalism. I fear the future will look at that sentence, somewhat sadly and a little contemptuously, as a very typical relic of modernism. I mean it will be a melancholy relic of the only period in all human history when people were proud of being modern. For though to-day is always to-day and the moment is always modern, we are the only men in all history who fell back upon bragging about the mere fact that to-day is not yesterday. I fear that some in the future will explain it by saying that we had precious little else to brag about. For, whatever the medieval faults, they went with one merit. Medieval people never worried about being medieval; and modern people do worry horribly about being modern.”

G.K. Chesterton, “On Turnpikes and Medievalism”, in All I Survey (London: Methuen & Co., 1934), p.11.


dearieme said...

How I sneered when little Blair told us that he had invented "New Labour" and that it was going to "Modernise" everything. When I was a nipper in the 50s, "modern" was the sales pitch made condescendingly to ill-educated housewives; "New" was advertising man's drivel. And now we live with Blair's legacy, the Rotten Parliament. Rope!

Jason Fisher said...

Brilliant. Thanks for sharing this excerpt.

Deogolwulf said...


As you suggest, it is quite remarkable how greatly marketing has affected language and thought, especially as to persuading the masses to keep up-to-date and in line with the latest thing, whether that be soap-powder or a shiny new stupid idea. (One must suppose that it is business and political-economic concerns which beat these drums to which we march.)

Mr Fisher,

My pleasure.

Honorius Monkeymember said...

But, the really frightening thing, for me at least, is that in some way technology enables many contemporary people to speak, and think this way. Say what you will, but the moon landing and the atomic bomb are almost democratic in their nature (or at least the way they are utilized) The brave new world spits in your face as you try to denounce it, and then demonstrates its axioms experimentally. I almost want to become a Christian (with a capital C)

James Higham said...

modern people do worry horribly about being modern

At least they should.

Sky Captain said...

Actually I wsa thinking about Modern English Man the other day, the yob. They always refer to a history they have already betrayed when attempting to locate something in which to take pride; every boast they make is from the past, because they and their cohorts have done nothing worthwhile since people first started to say 'we' and 'our' about the achievements of individuals.
This country has gone rotten from the top down.

Bill Haydon said...

Hmmm. The toll bridge at Swinford near Oxford is a pretty good example of this. I am afraid that though I like an evenly paced life, I do like not to be stuck in massive traffic jams caused entirely by needing to hand over 5p.