"There are styles in ideas as well as styles in clothes; as some are snobbish about the latest fashion in wearing apparel, so others are snobbish about the latest fashion in ideas. An assumption is abroad that anything that is modern is necessarily the best; this, in turn, is founded on the assumption that progress in the world is inevitable and necessary, wherefore any philosophy which is popular today must necessarily be wiser than any philosophy of a hundred years ago.
This snobbery of time cannot be justified, because time does not necessarily make everything better; time could conceivably make things worse. For example, a white fence does not become whiter with time; it becomes blacker. Very often, what people call modern is nothing but an old error with a new label. It is very good practice whenever one is absolutely sure that he has a brand new idea and that no one ever thought of it before to go back and see how the Greeks put it. Some things are 'new' to people only because they do not know what is old. It is conceivable that the best ideas may be those that resist the moods and fashions of the time: dead bodies float downstream; it is only live bodies that go against the current.
This snobbery of time manifests itself particularly in the tendency to class everyone as what is called a liberal or a reactionary or to judge everyone by whether he belongs to the 'right' or the 'left.'
It is our present purpose to show that one need not belong to either, because they represent extremes. These concepts of 'right' and 'left' are based on the idea of change. It is important to remember that, in everything that changes, there must be something that is changeless. For example, you meet someone whom you have not seen in twenty years, and you say, 'My, how you have changed! How fat you have gotten.' It may be very true that this person is a 'victim of circumference', but how would you know that there had been a change in the person unless there was also something changeless about the person? The same person had to endure through the change.
Take another example: One woman meets another, and she says, 'I liked you much better as a blonde than as a brunette', then with some degree of sarcasm adds, 'But as a blonde you always had such fine black roots.' If the person had changed, one would never know that there was a change in the color of the hair.
The liberal emphasizes change, the reactionary emphasizes the changeless. A reactionary may be described as a man with two feet in a pair of shoes, but he absolutely refuses to walk. A liberal has been very well described as one who has both feet firmly planted in midair.
A reactionary has a son; the boy wears a green hat at the age of two. The reactionary father says, 'Johnny, you wear a green hat now, you will wear it at twelve, you will wear it at twenty, you will wear it all your life.' The liberal is one who says, 'Let's give Johnny a new head - not a new hat, but a new head.'
A reactionary is a flat tire to the wheels of progress; a liberal is the automobile without a steering gear. He does not know where he is going, but he is certainly on his way.
The liberal emphasizes the pendulum without the clock; the reactionary, the clock without the pendulum. There would be much less acrimony in the dispute between liberals and reactionaries if the historical law were clearly understood that every liberal is a reactionary; he is in reaction to the last form of liberalism.
This can be illustrated by a woman who buys a new gown which may be described as 'daring', 'shocking', and the dernier cri. She causes a sensation at the ball the first time she wears the dress. If there is another ball the following week, will she wear the same gown? She would rather die first. She is already in reactoin to the last form of liberalism.
A modern woman from a liberal point of view, is described as one who drinks coctails, smokes cigarettes, and has her fingernails painted brightr red. Dorothy Parker, referring to the latter, says, 'She looks as if she had gored an ox.' But this liberal in womanhood is in reaction to the last form of liberal, who was the Victorian woman; a teetotaler, wearing a tight collar, loving languid waltz tunes, and keeping an album of quotations from Lord Byron. this Victorian woman, who was liberal in her time, was actually in reaction to the preceding liberal, who was a Puritan who thought that the waltz was a kind of orgy.
In politics, too, every liberal is in reaction to the last form of liberalism. The liberal of the nineteenth century, whose ideas were made by Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill, believed that there should be economic production without state control. The modern liberal, who is in reaction to that old form of liberalism, believes that there should be economic production with state control, even with a form of socialism. The old liberal wanted freedom of the press within the framework of law; the new liberal, who is in reaction to that old form of liberalism, wants freedom of press without the framework of law. In the domain of science, the old liberal believed in the determinism of the laws of nature; the new liberal believes in the indeterminacy of the law of nature.
Every liberal is in revolt against the last revolt. The liberal of today is the reactionary of tomorrow, as everything is decided on the basis of time instead of on the basis of reason. Mules and jackasses have the choice of only going to the right or to the left; man has the higher alternative of going up or down, and that depends upon the way he uses his reason."