The Modern Revolutionist by G.K. Chesterton; The New Rebel, and the Eternal Skepic

Just yesterday I posted about a type of person that you run into while debating; The person that reverts to using insults, name calling, and accusations to bring everyone down to their level to argue and fight instead of participating on a higher level of intelligent conversation. You can usually spot them by looking at the person who gets loud, rude and using profane language for no reason, (see that article here).

Today I want to introduce you to another “tactician” of debate… the modern revolutionist (or the eternal skeptic).

This is the person that reverts to asking endless questions about your sources, not to verify what you’ve said, but to find a reason to discredit your source. This is also the person, that despite any evidence will not believe anything.

This is also the type of person that will continue to argue on a moot point and bet the proverbial dead horse with the proverbial stick instead of allowing the conversation to progress, and when no one continues to talk about the moot dead horse, will typically start hopping from tangent to tangent before anyone can talk about any one topic in depth, confusing the entire conversation altogether.

The problem I have is not so much with that type of debater, but the eternal skeptic or the modern revolutionist, who doubts everything on principle. For  long time I’ve said that a person who doubts everything, has to doubt their own arguments and, even doubts the logic in which they use; so they don’t really have any solid ground beneath them to argue in the first place. They are essentially trying to build a house in quick sand.

Then I found this excerpt that summed it all up eloquently, (The Modern Revolutionist by G.K. Chesterton).

But the new rebel is a skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it.

Thus he writes one book complaining that imperial oppression insults the purity of women, and then he writes another book in which he insults it himself. He curses the Sultan because Christian girls lose their virginity, and then curses Mrs. Grundy because they keep it. As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time.

A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage as a lie, and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie. He calls a flag a bauble, and then blames the oppressors of Poland or Ireland because they take away that bauble.

The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts.

In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines.

In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt.

By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.

(G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 1909)

The take away here is that in order to debate, at some point you have to stand on something, without guessing yourself and accept the fact there are absolutes, (because by definition, true is an absolute).


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