Letter: Chesterton’s Fence

Dear Editor,

General observations of the current political climate have made something very obvious to me. There’s a severe lack of responsible civics coming from one side, I won’t say which. It seems the default when deciding policy is to cherry pick some perceived moral error – arbitrary or not – within an established system, and call for the immediate change or outright dismantling of said system on the basis that it will immediately bring about progress. I am reminded of an old heuristic favored by John F. Kennedy called “Chesterton’s Fence.” In this short tale from G.K. Chesterton’s 1929 book, “The Thing,” two men walking down a path meet a fence. The young reformer says they should tear down the fence so they can continue on their path, but the older of the two disagrees. He reasons that they should not remove the fence without first learning why it was constructed in the first place. The fence may in fact need to be taken down, but it is important that we make sure we are right in doing so, lest we cause more harm than good. You can apply this to any law, but where practicing responsible civics is most important is in the Constitution itself, as it is the base for all other laws, and is subject to being amended. The First Amendment is constantly put to task. Certain groups call for censorship and the establishment of “Ministries of Truth” in the name of arbitrary and self-serving ends, but fail to see how infringing on free speech negatively affects everyone in the long run. If and when the tides turn, and they no longer hold the majority of power, they’ll lament their decisions as their opponents run roughshod over them thanks to the dismantled fence no longer keeping bad actors at bay.

Kent Willmeth

Manhattan

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