The Dodge

A great silent collapse, an enormous unspoken disappointment, has in our time fallen on our Northern civilization. All previous ages have sweated and been crucified in an attempt to realize what is really the right life, what was really the good man. A definite part of the modern world has come beyond question to the conclusion that there is no answer to these questions, that the most that we can do is to set up a few notice-boards at places of obvious danger, to warn men, for instance, against drinking themselves to death, or ignoring the mere existence of their neighbours. Ibsen is the first to return from the baffled hunt to bring us the tidings of great failure.

Every one of the popular modern phrases and ideals is a dodge in order to shirk the problem of what is good. We are fond of talking about “liberty”; that, as we talk of it, is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about “progress”; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about “education”; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. The modern man says, “Let us leave all these arbitrary standards and embrace liberty.” This is, logically rendered, “Let us not decide what is good, but let it be considered good not to decide it.” He says, “Away with your old moral formulae; I am for progress.” This, logically stated, means, “Let us not settle what is good; but let us settle whether we are getting more of it.” He says, “Neither in religion nor morality, my friend, lie the hopes of the race, but in education.” This, clearly expressed, means, “We cannot decide what is good, but let us give it to our children.”

G. K. Chesterton, Heretics

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What Thou Hast Done

“The world looks like a multiplication-table or a mathematical equation which, turn it how you will, balances itself… You cannot do wrong without suffering wrong… A man can not speak but he judges himself… Every secret is told, every wrong redressed, in silence and certainty… The thief steals from himself. The swindler swindles himself… Men suffer all their life long, under the foolish superstition that they can be cheated. But it is… Impossible for a man to be cheated by anyone but himself… What will you have? Quoth God; pay for it and take it… Thou shalt be paid exactly for what thou hast done, no more, no less.”

— Ralph Waldo Emmerson