Chronological Snobbery and Contraception

Moments ago, I quoted part of G.K. Chesterton's famous "Democracy of the Dead" in a comment to Erich's "Half-way Position" post, and I was fearful that I might be misunderstood. I hope I wasn't.  So a comment now leads to this post.

I apply Chesterton's brilliant words to all of us, usually to myself, and this fact made me recall an even better term coined by C.S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy: chronological snobbery. 

Wikipedia defines this word like this (italics mine): 
Chronological snobbery (a term coined by friends C. S. Lewis and Owen Barfield) is a logical fallacy describing the erroneous argument that the thinking, art, or science of an earlier time is inherently inferior when compared to that of the present. As Barfield explains it, it is the belief that "intellectually, humanity languished for countless generations in the most childish errors on all sorts of crucial subjects, until it was redeemed by some simple scientific dictum of the last century."[1] The subject came up between them when Barfield had converted to Anthroposophy and was persuading Lewis (an atheist at that time) to join him. One of Lewis's objections was that the religion was simply outdated, and in Surprised by Joy (chapter 13, p. 207-208) he describes how this was fallacious:

“Barfield never made me an Anthroposophist, but his counterattacks destroyed forever two elements in my own thought. In the first place he made short work of what I have called my "chronological snobbery," the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also "a period," and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them." 
I cannot help but think of 20th Century social issues, like contraception, when I read these words.  


1 comment:

Bruce Gee said...

I have commented before on my blog that my least favorite modern clause is "We now know..." As in "We now know that homosexuality is not a psychological disorder." I'll have to start calling that Chronological Snobbery.

Of course, there is also a phenomenon we could call Reverse Chronological Snobbery. It's basic and faulty premise is that there is no wisdom to be found in modern times. Many classicists suffer from this disease.