Saturday, October 03, 2015
The [New] Reform Club, past and present
(L to R) George Bernard Shaw, Hilaire Belloc, GK Chesterton, 1928.
It will not do to paper over the fundamentals.
Every society reaches a point where it must examine its principles and choose whether to recommit to them or toss 'em out for new ones. Although in 2015 it gets clearer every day that Western Civilization has reached that point, the question of the Crisis of the West was brought into exquisite focus 100 years ago by a group of British gentlemen who called themselves The Reform Club.
Orthodoxy or modernity? That's the tension lying behind almost every issue of our times, and to recognize that is the first step to understanding not only our times, but our society, our own lives, and the human condition.
In 1928, that great champion of orthodoxy GK Chesterton debated his existential enemy, the modernist George Bernard Shaw (with Hilaire Belloc as moderator), on how our society should order itself economically. It took me half an hour to relocate the transcript, which can be found here. The discussion was playfully and wisely entitled "Do We Agree?" To understand what they were after, the presentation of unique and foundational views peppered with not a little bit of wit so that the proceedings are not just substantive but downright fun, is to understand our aspirations for this blog.
(Aristotle called wit "educated insolence." The original Reform Club basked in it. Insolence is invaluable, but without education, it's only insolence and it isn't the least bit fun.)
One concession Shaw made to orthodoxy and classicism is that we must leave our rhetorical barbarism at the door. Civility is essential, but is the merest of requirements to get where we can go. To parrot the prevailing arguments elsewhere serves no purpose either: it is a waste of time and cyberink (yes, the latter can be wasted because it consumes the former). Quality over quantity, inquiry over debate, original voices over echo chambers,The New Reform Club, rhetorically at least, recommits itself to its principles, and this is non-negotiable. We will not and cannot gear ourselves to the lowest common denominator.
The rest of our principles we shall leave open to examination, as honest inquirers and seekers of truth are honor-bound to do. We leave the doors of our modest club open to those of like mind and spirit, and rely on them to help us preserve what we are, and to help us toward what we aspire to be.