Reverse Chronological Snobbery

C.S. Lewis points out the error in assuming past ages were inferior to the present. He calls “chronological snobbery” the habit of using past age labels as insults, for example, “That’s medieval!”

He is completely correct that there is nothing inherently inferior about past beliefs or practices. And it cuts in the other direction as well.

We’re in a cultural moment where the past is becoming more appreciated, which is refreshing. Alternate histories (e.g. more perspectives than the state-dominated ones) and renewed and serious looks at the past are some of my favorite things. But in our frustration at the present, we mustn’t fall into the reverse chronological snobbery trap.

Just because it’s old, or was practiced for centuries, does not make it good or true. We have to employ logic and give a fair assessment to all things, regardless of their age.

Perhaps, like Chesterton’s fence, a very old thing deserves a bit more careful of an examination than a very new thing, due to the weight of all the minds who saw fit to maintain it. Some humility is in order. But this does not mean we need to romanticize everything, and turn every past idea that runs contrary to the present into something praiseworthy.

In most cases, humanity has subpar beliefs and practices across the board. The weakness in present ideas don’t make you more likely to find strength in past ones. There’s usually a bit of good and much amiss in both.