December 11, 2013


Chesterton and the Meaning of Progress (Joseph Pearce, 12/11/13, Imaginative Conservative)

 "Progress", wrote Chesterton, "is a useless word; for progress takes for granted an already defined direction: and it is exactly about the direction that we disagree."[1] As usual, Chesterton cuts through the cant and cuts to the chase. Since progress is the means by which an end is achieved we cannot meaningfully talk about progress until we have decided upon the end towards which we wish to progress. Thereafter progress must be judged in relation to the end it serves. Against this vision of progress, Chesterton laments the fatalistic determinism of the "progressive" thinker whose vision of progress is amorphously goalless: "The typical modern man...has no positive picture at all of what he is aiming at, but only a vague (and erroneous) sensation of progress."[2] It is to this typical modern man that Barack Obama was appealing when he reiterated ad nauseam the mantra of "change" during his successful election campaign. A populace bewitched by the god of progress will always be seduced by the magical charm of "change" because the progressive god promises that "change" is always for the better. The irony inherent in these calls for "change" is that they play on the discontentment of those who are the beneficiaries of centuries of "change". If "change" is beneficially progressive why are we always discontented regardless of the numerous "changes" that we have experienced?

Ultimately progress must be measured against the ideal, the goal, to which we as individuals or as a society are striving. If the ideal to which we are striving is holiness, we can be said to be progressing towards the ideal to the degree that we live more virtuously. Thus we can speak of making progress in our spiritual life. If we forsake such an ideal in the interests of self-gratification, we have to radically change our understanding of progress; it is no longer connected to a growth in virtue but to the gratification of selfish desire. Any progress made in the direction of the first ideal will ipso facto be an act of regression with regard to the other, and vice versa.

...was economics.  Of course, Chesterton didn't understand it either.  While we can all appreciate the "holiness" involved in giving away everything you have to the poor and living as an ascetic, an economy based on this model would obviously be a disaster for all concerned.  In reality, the capitalist economic system and social welfare systems we've developed have not only elminated poverty for the former have-nots but made life easier for the haves.  

God/Christ was not unconcerned with lessening the hardship and suffering of the poor.  Has the progress we've made in doing so really not been holy? not been progress?  It seems an asinine argument to make.

Posted by at December 11, 2013 3:12 PM

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