Traditionalism is the Reductio of Modernism

Walking through the Oakland Airport this evening I spotted another one of those dreary advertisements that all schools of business everywhere throw up, showing some brave person who is not a businessman striding bravely into the brave new world she has dreamed up, and exhorting the reader (and prospective applicant) to “think outside the box,” “do well, but do good,” and most importantly, “challenge the status quo.”

Creativity in business is all well and good, of course, in due proportion, and where there is a better way to do things. But that is not what these ads are about. They are appealing to people who consider themselves “agents of change,” and who want to get into businesses and shake them up so that they are less, you know, businessy and more like NGOs. Not seeking those yucky profits, you see; not selling. Ew!

Dragging myself along the concourse, I reflected on the relentless chorus of “change!” to which we have all been more and more subjected these last 50 years now, and considered (not for the first time) that neo-reaction and traditionalism are the last gasp of the modernist critique of all established authority, with the ironic difference that the established authority they call into question is modernism itself.

Traditionalism is a quintessentially modern phenomenon. It is an artifact of a shattered, rudderless society. In a traditional society, there could be no such thing as traditionalism; for, in a traditional society, any suggestion that perhaps things ought to be done differently than they have been done would be met with horror, and outrage; so that, far from calling for their defense, their traditions would seem to them not even traditional, but rather just, and simply, the way that things must of course be done.

What does it indicate, that modernism has in these latter days elaborated a withering modernist critique of modernism? Is the phenomenon of historically self-conscious traditionalism in fact modernism’s last gasp?

How to Become an American—or Non-American—Traditionalist, Part Three: Wisdom Through Intuition

[Part One is here. Part Two is here.]

Recall from the previous parts that traditionalism reconnects man with the true order of being and the wisdom of his ancestors, so that his life will be neither futile nor (like the leaders of liberalism) dedicated to evil. Recall also that the most important item of wisdom is the existence of the God of the Bible, a truth that has consequences for all reality.

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This series emphasizes how a non-traditionalist can make the life-giving change to traditionalism. Instead of laying out a description of the content of traditionalism and then asking the reader to decide if he agrees, we speak in general terms about the need for traditionalism. Most details will come later. And although we have used the phrase “American traditionalist,” non-Americans can also make this change.

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How is the understanding of the order of being cultivated? Fundamentally through intuition.

Intuition is the faculty of knowing something immediately, without engaging in a formal process of logical reasoning from premises to conclusions. Intuitive knowledge is something you just know, and it therefore develops naturally unless it is actively opposed. Most people, for example, have, when they are young, an intuitive understanding that sex is holy and therefore not to be desecrated. But today people often become jaded and cynical as they internalize the false liberal view of sex that surrounds us. For such people the beginning of sexual wisdom is to start to reclaim their earlier, more innocent and more correct view of sex. And the way to awaken this sense is to pay attention to one’s deep intuitions. Continue reading

How to Become an American Traditionalist, Part Two: The Wisdom of the Ages

[Part One is here.]

Recall from Part One that traditionalism reconnects man with the true order of being, an order that is systematically denied by modernity. To become an American traditionalist, you must begin to know the elements of traditionalism so that you can begin to see their value and be nourished by them. How is this to be done?

Start at the beginning. You cannot begin to seek the ways of tradition unless you know you need them to counteract the lies of the modern age. And you cannot know that lies are lies unless you know the truths that correct them.

But even if you don’t know the truth, you can often sense that lies are lies. So your traditionalism begins with a sense of discontent of the contemporary world in which you have been immersed. If you have been blessed with the gift of discontentment with the status quo, read on. Traditionalism has what you need.

[But let the buyer beware: Many charlatans know you are discontented. Learn to avoid their snake oil.]

Traditionalism is not simply following tradition, although the ways of our ancestors are an important part of it. Traditions can be corrupted, so you must know the truth behind the tradition. Traditionalism has value not because it is good to follow the ways of our ancestors (although it usually is), but because we Americans have become collectively foolish under the influence of modernity. We need to reconnect with the wisdom of the ages that our ancestors understood better than we. Traditionalism supplies this life-giving connection. Continue reading

How to Become an American Traditionalist, Part One

[I plan for this to be a nine-part series, rather than, as has been my custom, one lengthy post.]

Previously I argued that you need to be a traditionalist conservative.  But how does a non-traditionalist become a traditionalist? This essay addresses the question.

Of course, this not a fully rational process. There is no tight recipe for repentance. But we need to talk about it.

In the previous essay I observed that contemporary thinking is fundamentally wrongheaded. As a result, contemporary societies are fundamentally unravelling and contemporary people (aside from those filled with the demonic energy of the liberal jihad) are spiritually and intellectually demoralized. What is the way out of the madness? Continue reading

An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Cooperative

An eye for an eye makes the whole world circumspect. But, also, an eye for an eye makes the whole world cooperative, as Robert Axelrod showed with his study of tit for tat and competing strategies using iterated rounds of contests among genetic algorithms (described in his book The Evolution of Cooperation). Tit for tat beat all the alternative strategies, again and again; and as rounds of the contest were iterated, with winning strategies favored by the reproductive mechanism of the iteration, it more and more perfused the population of competing algorithms. As tit for tat increased in frequency, so did the total value generated by all competitors in each round: fewer and fewer defections occurred, and responses to defections were more and more often optimal.

That tit for tat wins the evolutionary game does not mean that its superiority is merely adventitious, an artifact of this or that sequence of random events that might have been quite different, and so generated quite a different sort of winner. On the contrary: provided the game goes on long enough, tit for tat wins every time, sooner or later, and no matter how the sequence of outcomes varies. The utile superiority of tit for tat is a truth of game theory, so that like any other mathematical truth it is from before any and all worlds, and holds true in every world. The metaphysical superiority of tit for tat, then, is the source and reason of its practical evolutionary success, and not vice versa (this is true of all perdurant evolutionary success). Tit for tat is the optimal strategy in evolutionary practice because it is the best in metaphysical fact. As metaphysically best it is the most moral policy of all (these are two ways to say the same thing).

Continue reading

One God, many peoples IV: “neither Jew nor Gentile”

This is part 4 of a 6 part series.  (Yes, the planned length has increased.)

Among those who accuse Christianity of universalism, much is made of its Great Commission to spread the faith and convert all peoples.  (I will make no distinction below between “proselytizing” and “evangelizing” because there isn’t any.  Since this is a historical-theological study, I will also ignore the current Bishop of Rome’s emphatic rejection of the Savior’s command, which, assuming he has the authority to do such a thing, presumably satisfies anyone concerned with Rome’s universalism.)  Undeniably, a conversion of the whole world to Christianity would mean the end of a certain kind of diversity.  However, proselytism is not unique to Christianity or monotheism.  Every person has some idea of truths that it is important for everyone else to know, meaning naturally that as great a unanimity in favor of such truths should be achieved as possible.  Which beliefs should inspire evangelical fervor can be surprising, at least to me.  I can understand the practical reason why the believers of anthropogenic global warming should think it important that others believe as they do, but I cannot fathom why evolution by natural selection should be such an aggressively proselytizing faith, while no one feels the same zeal to eliminate unbelief in Kirchhoff’s circuit laws or the theory of plate tectonics.

However, this doesn’t make AGW or Darwinism universalist faiths, in that they don’t necessarily undermine loyalty to non-universal groups.  They may accidentally undermine a group if it has a contradictory ideological component, but particular group identity and loyalty is not ruled out in principle.  To be a Darwinist doesn’t necessarily mean one is allowed loyalty only to “mankind” or a universal Darwinist Church.  That is, AGW and Darwinism are proselytizing but not homogenizing faiths.

Liberalism is an interesting case, with its claim to represent ideological neutrality, and thus be acceptable to peoples of all different beliefs and loyalties.  As we have often argued, this neutrality claim is a sham.  To reduce religions and communal identities to private hobbies allowed no influence on public life is to destroy them.  Liberalism’s demands for freedom, tolerance, and inclusiveness, which ultimately mean the delegitimation of anything other than itself, make it the ultimate homogenizing faith.

What about Christianity?

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An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Circumspect

It would be better for everyone if moral hazard were eliminated from the social order as much as possible. But it will be hard to root it out, because it is institutionalized deep in our laws. How deep? As deep as the rejection at the beginning of the 19th century of the old Mesopotamian notion of proper compensation for torts, memorialized both in the Law of Hammurabi and in the OT: an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. The moment we reduced the penalties for torts from the time-honored “like for like” to financial compensation or time served, we reduced the net cost of hurting each other. Reducing the net cost of any sort of act does not generate more such acts immediately – you need agents for the mediation – but it does decrease the disinclination of agents to enact them, which they then more often proceed to do. So we are losing a lot more eyes and teeth than we might have been, had the penalties remained as they were.

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The Secular Utility of the Cloistered Contemplative

What are monks good for, anyway? Why do we allocate scarce resources to their activities of prayer, liturgy, and the odd bit of gardening, or apiculture, or brewing?

We could ask the same question about priests, and about church buildings. Sure, they do lots of good and valuable work – teaching, nursing, and so forth – but their strictly religious activities would seem to be a complete waste.

But not so. People do better – are braver, more resilient, and happier in the face of life’s ineliminable vicissitudes both small and great – when they can see that their personal struggles signify in the larger struggle of good with evil for the redemption of the whole world. They do better when they can see how their small efforts to be good contribute weal to the side of the angels in the Wars of Heaven. If earthly life is throughly pointed toward some utterly transcendent and wonderful Good, then it can all be worthwhile. Otherwise, it just can’t, and is utterly vain and meaningless, so that despair is the  only apposite response to life’s utter futility.

As for people, so for their families, their enterprises of all sorts, their tribes and nations. If these are formed by a shared understanding of their important roles in the wider struggle of God with his enemies, they are more likely to prosper and prevail. Otherwise, they are more likely to dwindle and fail. The demographic collapse of our merely secular society – more and more obviously nihilist – shows how irreligion plays out.

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Real Tradition Must Be Sacred Tradition

We can jaw till the cows come home about how to reform the social order so that it works better, and in so doing improve our own understandings, and those of our fellows, so that we jointly decide matters in such a way as to restore a more humane, realistic and successful social order. Such discourse is not only edifying, but can nerve us to action. We could even implement a lot of quite sensible reforms – indeed, it is within the realm of possibility that all the outward forms of an ideal traditional society could be implemented, sometime after the Collapse of the Liberal Order, when men are casting about for a better way. That would be good!

Political acts can truly make the world a bit better, at the margin, than it would otherwise be.

But in the absence of a fairly widespread metanoia, a spiritual awakening and change of heart, all the clever and salutary reforms in the world will not secure for us a robust and durable traditional society, that reliably supports true human flourishing. They might slow the rot, but cannot heal it; cannot procure for us a healthy body politic.

A merely secular order, that does not consciously refer its ends, forms, and significations to the ultimate source of all order and meaning, has severed itself from the root of all things, and must therefore soon err, and stray, and perish.

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