Tradition means giving a vote to that most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
All imaginative writing is to some extent the voice of what is neglected or forbidden, hence its connection to the past in the nostalgic vein, and the future in the revolutionary vein.
Ted Hughes, Poetry in the Making
What, of truth and value, may, in our time, be neglected or forbidden?
We often imagine that we are enlightened as never before—but in fact we are unenlightened in ways we cannot possibly imagine.
We are not, by definition, superior to those who came before us.
One day, many things we take for granted now will be almost impossible for those who come after us to understand, or forgive. One of our keenest limitations as human beings is the historical moment in which we are trapped.
We can forgive ourselves for this, but we should not forget it. Equally, we should forgive the people of the past for the blindness that we, in our own way, share.
Let us not condemn the past. Let us appreciate and give thanks for the changes we believe to be good, while remembering the mote in our own eye that we are not even able to see. And let us feel free to treasure the things of value about the past, and reclaim them if possible.
Just as we should feel at liberty to roam our own past, as individuals, and find perspective and consolation in the places from which we set out, so we ought not to confine ourselves as human beings to our own tiny part of history.
We can strive, perhaps, for a kind of truthful nostalgia. Then, with less chauvinism, we can regard our own time both critically and with historical balance.
And only then will we be able to claim our full human inheritance.
70s nostalgia for the 20s, now itself part of our present day nostalgia for the 70s. Magazine advertisement for Guerlain’s perfume Shalimar, c. 1974