Orthodoxy - Chapter IV: The Ethics of Elfland Summary & Analysis

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Chapter IV: The Ethics of Elfland Summary and Analysis

It is often thought that as men age they stop caring about lofty ideals and concern themselves instead with practical realities. However, as one ages one really starts to lose faith in the practical world: Politicians, regulators, and laws wind up disappointing, but ideas remain forever the same. One idea that the author has always been attached to is his devotion to democracy. The principles of democracy can be summarized briefly: The most important thing about humans are those things which they hold in common and, further, that one thing they all hold in common is the desire to be in charge of government. Unlike other activities, like medicine or law, in which it is preferable only that experts be allowed to practice, the running of government is something which all individuals should be allowed to do, regardless of qualification, much like blowing one's nose. Democracy is simply this: that system of government in which men rule themselves.

Many people think that tradition and democracy are opposed to one another, since democracies often overturn long-standing traditions. However, this opposition is not real; in fact, revering tradition is simply taking democracy to its logical conclusion by including not only the living in the running of society, but also the dead. The wisdom of the dead is often more valuable than the wisdom of those living today, since it is the wisdom of many; whereas, often the wisdom of those living today is only that of a single person or a few people.

It is not surprising, then, that the most valuable lessons to be learned are those which come from tradition—specifically, fairy tales. Fairy tales are characterized by two patterns which serve as useful antidotes to modern thought. First, strange things frequently occur in fairy tales, such as bean-stalks growing up into the heavens and pumpkins turning into carriages. It is often thought today that everything that happens, happens by some scientific necessity; the universe is simply an enormous piece of machinery which proceeds with clockwork inevitability. But fairy tales are a reminder that not everything happens in such a rigid fashion. While logical laws are necessary (for example, it is logically necessary that, if Joe is the son of Mike that Mike is the father of Joe), yet modern thinkers are wrong to suppose that the fact that leaves are green is totally necessary; in fairy tales, leaves can be blue or purple. The fact that they are green (and not blue or purple) indicates that there is a reason that they are green, and this shows that behind the universe there is something or someone making a choice.

The second theme found in fairy tales is that characters often have strange and seemingly arbitrary rules laid upon them—Cinderella must leave the ball before midnight, for example. While such a rule might, at first, seem unjust, one must remember that there is no reason why Cinderella should be able to go to the ball at all, and so it would not make sense for her to complain that she should have to leave after a certain time. The same reasoning can be applied to those who rail against morality in the modern age. Just as Cinderella would be ungrateful to complain about having to leave by midnight, those who complain about having to stay faithful inside a marriage are ungrateful for the ability to marry and fall in love at all. If one truly recognized how great such a thing is, one would not complain that there is a limit on it.

This section contains 614 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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