When We Talk About Tradition, What Do We Really Mean?

Tradition is one of those terms that’s easy to use, but hard to define.  Everyone has their own particular idea of what it suggests, and then, of course, there is the fact that one nation’s general set of traditions may be vastly different from another’s.  So in my discussion below, I’m going to implicitly use the term to mean “Western” traditions.  When we talk about the traditions of the West, what do we really mean?  Are we longing for a turn away from the sort of technological society which we have built since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution?  Are we merely talking about a return to simpler days of our nostalgia?  What is being said?

I believe we can say that even outside of the realm of Neoreaction and Tradition, there is an increasing sense of dissatisfaction among many Westerners with the direction in which our societies are going – a dissatisfaction that is arising from a rightward direction.  For many, this sense may be inchoate and inarticulable, but it’s there.  Others may be able to give voice to their complaints, but only inadequately, or in the wrong directions, mistaking symptoms for causes.   It’s fine to discuss the symptoms, but let us not mistake them for the root origins of the many sicknesses that afflict the West which result from turning from our traditions.

There is a strong strain among those who long for a return to the “good ol’ days” to equate modernity (for that is really what we’re condemning) with technology and/or science.  In many ways it is similar to the “noble savage” mythology that has persisted for centuries in Western thought.  Technology itself is bad and dehumanising; primitivism is good and natural and in line with the human spirit.  In many ways, then, the Amish and other pietistic sects who reject modern technologies are the most authentically Western among us.

However, I doubt that many of these folks would truly be willing to give up the modern medicine that protects them from disease and early death, or even the telecommunications which allow them to complain about technology on the internet.  I am not at all saying that they’re hypocrites – just that they’re not really defining “tradition” as rigourously as they think they are.  Nor do we have to follow that route – the rejection of modern technology – to return to a traditional society.  We don’t have to become Amish to return to the traditions of Western civilisation that laid the foundations for Western success.

When we talk about tradition versus modernity, we need to understand that we’re talking about a dichotomy that lies essentially in the realm of worldview.  Tradition holds to one set of general preconceptions, while modernity holds to a different set.  Modernity arose as a result of philosophical rejections of many basic truths – Christianity, the innate sinfulness of man, the essentially communitarian nature of man’s sociability, and a recurring view of temporality – and their replacement with a new set of ideological preconceptions – rationalism, the innate goodness of man, radical individualism, and a “progressive” view of temporality.  This sea change in worldview was largely the result of the Enlightenment, though the argument can be (and has been) made that the seeds for this were sown earlier in the Reformation.

It is for this reason that the “noble savage” interpretation with its view that the ills of the modern world are caused by the corruption of man by machines and technology is so inadequate from a neoreactionary and traditionalist standpoint.  This viewpoint arose out of the Enlightenment and rests on essentially modernist premises.  Man in his “natural” state is essentially good.  He’s a “noble” savage.  Of course, a look at the genuine savages still present the world over shows the falsity of this notion.  Man in his natural state is an evil savage, regardless of the trinkets with which he is surrounded.

Yet, many mistakenly attribute the corruptions of the modern world to science and technology because of the close correlation that is thought to exist between the two.  Because the rises of modernistic worldview and high technology occurred more or less contemporaneously, it is widely believed that the two necessitate each other.  This is the logical fallacy of cum hoc ergo propter hoc, “with this, therefore because of this.”

The one does not necessarily follow from the other, however.  There is nothing about scientific knowledge that intrinsically demands, or even preponderantly suggests, the sort of atheistic rationalism which is coupled with it in the minds of so many people.  Likewise, technological innovation neither makes any philosophical argument for the adoption of modernistic philosophies, nor does it necessarily create the many pathologies of modern society that are often associated with it.  In other words, the existence of smart phones in no wise demands that people lose themselves into an atomised cyberworld of self-absorption.  That anti-social trait exists because of the philosophical endpoints of Enlightenment thinking, not because of our manipulation of the physical world around us.  Indeed, many of the socio-philosophical pathologies set into motion by the philosophes of the 18th century (progressivism, endless revolution, deism and atheism, etc.) were already well in place while Europeans were still living as the Amish do now, and substantially as their ancestors had for centuries previous.

The ills of our modern world stem from these philosophies, not from our technology.  A tool will only be employed in the way that the mind directs it to be used.  The horrors of the 20th century – death camps, gulags, mass graves, and the rest – arose from Enlightenment philosophies that essentially rejected the traditions which Western civilisation had held for centuries.  The tremendous damage done to society by the Industrial Revolution, consumerism, and materialism arose from the anti-traditional tendencies of radical individualism, capitalism, and commercialism which went increasingly unchecked by Christian morality, not from the mere fact that man figured out how to apply steam power to a spinning jenny.

As a result, when we desire to return to something which is at least similar to the older and better ways (which is essentially what neoreaction wants to do), our drive should not be to reject science, technology, and the essentially Christian mandate to subdue the physical world around us (c.f. Genesis 1:28).  Indeed, that mandate was what drove the thinking of the medieval technologists who actually made a surprising number of advances during this period (which is incorrectly called “The Dark Ages”), as well as performing groundbreaking work in ballistics, astronomy, and other fields within physics.  The scientific revolution of the 17th-18th centuries stemmed directly from that sense of mandate – not from any rationalistic or atheistic impulses.

Instead, our efforts should focus on the rejection of Enlightenment philosophy and the fundamental assumptions that come with it.  One of the primary errors of modernistic thinking is its fetishisation of “progress,” in which “change” is wrongly viewed as always and at all times leading upward and higher.  This false belief is what leads people to believe that any number of foolish notions – homosexualism, transgenderism, feminism, and much more – are “progress,” and therefore “better” than what came before.  It’s merely an updated version of the thinking that made “progress” out of the French Revolution, sadism, atheism, democracy, socialism, and Communism, and all of the inhuman evils that have stemmed from these.  Neoreaction rejects this progressive temporality and seeks a return to the recurring in illo tempore, the sacralised view of time and the rhythms of life that characterise the traditional mode of existence which is not always looking for something new, exciting, and “progressive.”

We can reject progressivism without rejecting objective, intrinsic progress in the mechanical and scientific arts.  The philosophy is not necessary for the reality.  We can reject the rejection of Christianity and the fall of man into original sin without stumbling into the trap of wrongly thinking that irreligion was the font of the science and technology, and therefore these are also to be cast aside.  We can have modern science and technology without having modernism, because our philosophy is dependent upon what we choose to believe and adhere to, not what is somehow forced upon us from the external sources of machinery or the laboratory.

In short, we can have sanctified time and traditional cycles of life, no matter how much our technology may change.



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