[extropy-chat] Re: Chesterton (was EP)

David Lubkin extropy at unreasonable.com
Mon Apr 11 03:42:53 UTC 2005

Keith wrote:

>That an interesting quote, do you have a source for it?

The best source I've seen for what Chesterton actually wrote is


which says his actual remark was

>In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there 
>is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be 
>called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or 
>law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected 
>across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and 
>says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the 
>more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't 
>see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and 
>think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of 
>it, I may allow you to destroy it.

Apparently JFK paraphrased it to roughly the form I gave and the Internet's 
echo chamber of inaccuracy propagation spread variants of the paraphrase 
and credited them to Chesterton. (And occasionally to Robert Frost. It's 
awfully hard to track down authoritative sources and text for quotations.)

>Weird that you would mention Chesterton because about a year ago on a 
>thread in alt.quotations, "Ideas have a life of their own" (which neatly 
>encapsulates the meme meme), I wrote:

He does seem to be worth knowing. I love these other observations 
attributed to him --

Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.
A room without books is like a body without a soul.

-- David.

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