Chesterton once said, speaking of those who accommodate themselves to the trend of the times, that “at its worst it consists of many millions of frightened creatures all accommodating themselves to a trend that is not there.” It is not that hard to spook a herd. The trend is that things are trending. The buffalo set up a self-authenticating feedback loop, and the plan of action seems obvious to them all, and remains such, right over the cliff.
But there are contrarians who don’t think matters through any more than the stampeders do — and it doesn’t much matter what the fad in question is. It might be iPhones, or N.T. Wright fan clubs, or the election of a welterweight like Obama, or a Taylor Swift concert. There are contrarians who are accidentially right when the herd is accidentally wrong, or accidentally wrong when the herd is accidentally right. That’s no good either. We need thoughtful contrarians — when the house of immovability is built on the foundation of pigheadedness, that house is filled with endless quarrels. When the house is built on the foundation of well-spoken conviction, the home is filled with laughter and joy — though storms may rage outside.
In that same place, when Chesterton spoke of those sociologists who spoke of the great need we have to accommodate ourselves to the trend of time, he noted that, in any given time, the trend of the time at its best consists of those who will not accommodate themselves to anything. Athanasius had to stand contra mundum, and it is he who is the representative man from that era, and not the whole world he had to contend against. Transit gloria mundi, with the exception of that courageous glory which was willing to stand up against the glory of all the regnant poobahs.
Take Chesterton himself . . .