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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Prophetic words

'The worst form of slavery is that which is called Caesarism, or the choice of some bold or brilliant man as despot because he is suitable. For that means that men choose a representative, not because he represents them, but because he does not. Men trust an ordinary man like George III or William IV. because they are themselves ordinary men and understand him. Men trust an ordinary man because they trust themselves. But men trust a great man because they do not trust themselves. And hence the worship of great men always appears in times of weakness and cowardice; we never hear of great men until the time when all other men are small.'

The century of the totalitarian Caesars foreshadowed when it was still in its infancy. I came across this in G K Chesterton's book Heretics, first published in 1905. Not that the crowned 'ordinary men' who still ruled most of Europe exactly covered themselves with glory in 1914, but Chesterton was all too correct in his intuition that this was not as bad as it gets.

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