Whitewashing the Old Post

G.K. Chesterton, explicating conservatism, once wrote: “All conservatism is based upon the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not. If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white you must be always painting it again; that is, you must be always having a revolution. Briefly, if you want the old white post you must have a new white post.”

Chesterton, in his discrepant way, begs the question, “why repaint the post?” And it’s a fair question—liberal, conservative, whatnot, for “why” is at the core of situational ethics as all children know.

I’m in mind of Chesterton in part because I’ve a good friend who loves him but also because I believe that in a torrent of change one should know conclusively what one believes and understand precisely why, which means separating pathos from the well spring of an idea, then quizzing that idea half to death. I see very few conservatives or liberals doing this work, which is “the” work of democracy.

When a man or woman is sick and the doctor can’t find the cause she’ll use the term “idiopathic” which sounds like a blue-ribbon diagnosis until the patient learns it means the physician has no clue why the poor soul itches from head to toe. Just so, if we don’t know why we’re repainting the post, or whether the thing should be painted at all, then we’re simply framing positions based on artful shrugs. The Mexicans are the problem. The big banks are the problem. Idiopathic rhetorics.

Within ten years the United States will not be able to grow corn. We know this. Climate models tell us. Our national debt is escalating at alarming levels. Inequality is at its highest levels since 1968. These issues will not be properly discussed during the coming campaign for the presidency. We will hear old idiopathies. Law and order. Strengthening NATO.

Even a gardener who reads no news understands you should choose a post carefully.