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 a nation’s 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 that we have built since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution? Are we merely talking about a return to simpler days of our nostalgia?

Even outside of the outer right, 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 away 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, namely that technology as such is bad and dehumanizing; 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 telecommunication systems that allow them to complain about technology on the Internet. I am not at all saying they’re hypocrites – just that they’re not really defining “tradition” as rigorously as they think they are. Nor do we have to follow that route – the rejection of modern technology – to return to a society with more optimal social technology and tradition.

We don’t have to become Amish to return to the traditions of Western civilization 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. 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 that this notion is false. 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.

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 that is widely considered to be coupled with it.

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. That anti-social trait exists because of complacency of will and of the narrativization surrounding manipulation of the physical world.

Indeed, many of the socio-philosophical pathologies set into motion by the philosophes of the 18th century (progressivism, endless revolution, deism, 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 out of necessity 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 and governance that Western civilization 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, 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 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 in ballistics, astronomy, and other fields within physics. The scientific revolution of the 17th-18th centuries stemmed directly from that sense of mandate.

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 fetishization 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 characterize 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 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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  1. I have often wondered why high technology and secularist philosophy rose at the same time and seem to parallel each other. This may sound insane and delusional but I have wondered if it relates to the Man of Perdition’s signs and wonders and placing himself above all gods. I feel like an ignorant Bible banger for writing that, but it’s something I can’t ignore.

    Great essay.

    1. It is ignorant. Countless times in the Bible man has placed himself above God in some sense without notable technical advance occurring.

  2. So you say “we don’t reject technology and science” only to dump on that later on claiming Industrial Revolution did (sic) “tremendous damage”?! The Industrial Revolution and capitalism made possible the sheer survival of countless millions of people who could not have been integrated into the pre-industrial economy. Industrial capitalism took the outcasts of society, “the excess people”—the beggars, the highwaymen, the rural overpopulated, etc. and gave them the jobs and wages that moved them from destitution to a far higher standard of living and of work. But sure, I suppose it did tremendous damage! Hint: it was dysgenic, the underclass that would’ve starved to death under previous systems, thrived under new one.

  3. Industrial capitalism took the outcasts of society, “the excess people”—the beggars, the highwaymen, the rural overpopulated, etc. and gave them the jobs . . .

    Not outside of Europe and the Anglosphere. Well, not until outsourcing, and then only to China and a few others. And a rich China has created an ecological nightmare. Mercifully, Indians are too poor to do much damage.

    The introduction of penicillin to barbarians allows them to generate all sorts of mischief: gangstas, AIDS, mass migration, eternal “human rights” shakedowns and endless bitter resentment. (Do you know blacks have 8 to 20 times the rate of venereal disease than whites in the US? We never hear about closing THAT gap.)

    Really, the big mistake was human rights when you get down to it. Had the Enlightenment not come up with that monstrosity we’d probably be okay.

  4. Here is a different way to look at Tradition:

    We can change the physical world, like changing lead to gold, with the alchemy of material evolution. That is the only esoteric or arcane symbolism I can approve of, and modern science can be involved in that game. The black (?) arts of the Traditionalist School, the Masons and the Kabbalah, and even Jesuit occult symbolism, are one-sided imagination, words, numbers, symbols, which ultimately reject realism for non-materialism and spiritualism, when both in reality can converge in the evolution of the material world to Godhood.

    The disenchantment of the imaginative world of tradition by the steady growth of science was somewhat needed because both Traditionalism and postmodernism error too much on the side of imagination or idealism. If the real world evolves materially to supermaterial Godhood, as I believe it does, then we can again mingle the worlds of realism and romanticism, the epic and commonplace, poetry and prose, the ideal and the real. Theological materialism can re-enchant the world with the convergence of science and religion in the evolution of the material world to Godhood.

  5. technological progress should be isolated from ‘progress’ as in liberalism; the two need not be interchangeable. The UAE for example combines technology with total rejection of leftist ideals such as democracy and .

    From wiki:

    Progressivism is a philosophy based on the idea of progress, which asserts that advancement in science, technology, economic development, and social organization are vital to improve the human condition. Progressivism became highly significant during the Age of Enlightenment in Europe, out of the belief that Europe was demonstrating that societies could progress in civility from barbaric conditions to civilization through strengthening the basis of empirical knowledge as the foundation of society

    We can keep the science and economic development but reject the other stuff

  6. I’m a liberal, you’d call me a progressive. I heard about this web site and came to laugh at the rubes. I was surprised by the quality and civility of the writing – both the articles and the comments. I disagree fundamentally with most of what this site stands for, but I’ll be back to read it again.

    1. ” I’m a liberal …. came to laugh at the rubes.”

      Well, I’ll be honest, I’m laughing at you for saying let alone think such things. Rubes. Good grief. If you came to laugh the rubes what do call your fellow liberals? Faux royalty?

      “I was surprised by the quality and civility of the writing …. ”

      Rubes can manage to surprise every now and then. You caught the rubes on a good day.

    2. We’ll take that as a complement, T. Piper. Open-minded progressives are welcome here.

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