“Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.” G.K. Chesterton
I love this quote from Chesterton, and it highlights the obligations we have to the dead and the benefits we can gain from listening to them. The “march of progress” has included much extension of the franchise (voting rights) further outward, but I think now more than ever we would benefit from seeing our job as extending them backward.
Like the extension of the franchise outward, “giving a voice” to the forgotten dead must be an ongoing task. Even if we try to observe this “democracy of the dead,” giving heed to the ways of our ancestors when we come to a decision, we’re not likely being as “inclusive” as we should be.
Yes, it’s good to remember how your grandparents and great-grandparents might have viewed things, but what about people who lived thousands of years before you? There are many layers to tradition, and many “disenfranchised dead” to hear.
We should hear what the 1850s Utah Mormon settlers have to say about honesty – and also what the ancient imperial Persians have to say about it – and also what Cavaliers in 1650s England had to say about it. Or, if you like to follow only your own direct heritage, what your grandfather had to say about relationships as well as what your great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather would say.
There is an astonishing variety (as well as an astonishing consistency) of wisdom we forget when we only poll our living peers. This would become clearer if we kept extending the franchise back in time.