THE PRESENT POSITION of the Bright Young Thing, or Brilliant Young Cynic of a hard and realistic epoch, is so heartrendingly sad and pitiable that aged sentimentalists can only gaze at it through floods of senile tears. The cynics themselves, of course, do not believe in sentiment, but they embody a most poignant example of pathos….
Oddly enough, it is the same people who always teach us, in their Outlines of History and Encyclopaedias of Everything, that everything is always getting better and better, and that even our most miserable contemporaries are more happy than their fathers—it is these same people who always tell us that one slip in modern diplomacy, or one falsehood in modern journalism, may precipitate a towering and toppling horror of torture and panic far worse than anything the world has ever known before. It might well be asked, with a certain abstract curiosity, why our civilization must produce the very worst in the way of war, if it must produce the very best in the way of everything else….
Here, again, the brilliant modern is bringing in as modernity something that was rather like one of the antics of antiquity; he is rushing back to his ascetical grandfather to escape from his romantic father. And the confusion in both cases is due to the same pathetic quality in his whole position. He is staggering about from century to century, because he has no real standing-ground of his own; and he has no standing-ground because he has destroyed anything on which he could stand….
As we should be genuinely sorry for tramps and paupers who are materially homeless, so we should be sorry for those who are morally homeless, and who suffer a philosophical starvation as deadly as physical starvation.
Not only is it true that some of the most modern philosophers are only trying to prove that we cannot have a philosophy; it is even more true that the most modern among the physical scientists are only trying to prove that science is not physical. It would be even truer to say that some of them are trying to prove that science is not science. For science is only an old word for knowledge; and knowledge is exactly what some of the new scientists say we can never obtain. All this, right or wrong, has left that generation in an unprecedented degree unprepared with any axioms on which to act, or any tests on which it could really rely. And it is especially awkward, when the young man who has never learned anything except how to hate his own father and grandfather, is suddenly called upon to love all men like brothers.
-G.K. Chesterton: As I Was Saying, XI.