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?

32 thoughts on “Traditionalism is the Reductio of Modernism

  1. Pingback: Traditionalism is the Reductio of Modernism | Reaction Times

  2. Dear Kristor:

    What nowadays we call Traditionalism, but which not so long ago even contributors to The Orthosphere still called Conservatism, is bound to be modern if only because it began as a reaction to the beginnings of modernism. But there is another way of looking at this matter. The Left uses the term “reactionary” pejoratively to condemn the Right, but it was the Left, in the form of what Burke called the Revolution, which was truly reactionary, and its reaction was against Tradition. I would resist, therefore, a too-facile categorization of Traditionalism as modern because Traditionalism is not essentially modern, but rather modernism is essentially modern. Of course if you answered me that we all belong to our moment, I could hardly disagree. That is always anyone’s contingent situation. Insofar as we are motivated, goal-seeking creatures, however, we take motivation from what we are, by conviction, essentially rather than contingently.



    P.S. On those advertisements. My sense is that their appeal is less to a political idea than to the pervasive narcissism of the prevailing popular culture, where, when you ask a classroom-full of eighteen-year-olds how many of them regard themselves as “unique,” every single one of them raises a hand; and where, indeed, many of them use the phrase “highly unique” without discomfort.

    • I love this commercial:

      Its message is “Don’t be a dull conformist in a large group of dull conformists. Be a dull conformist in a smaller, cooler group of dull conformists. And don’t forget to congratulate yourself on your bold rebellion.”

      It’s a hundred hours of NPR condensed into thirty seconds and administered intravenously. Bracing!

      • A truly poetic takedown of this laughable crap. It is an interesting facet of post-progressive modernity that they try to sell conformism as non-conformism.

        The cry of the modernist college student:

        “I stand for non-conformity! Crush sexism, racism, homophobia, and anti-secularism… all those ideas do not conform to my liberal tolerant utopia!”

        The hypocrisy is tragically obvious, yet pointing it out will see you branded a ‘bigot’… being a bigot is somewhow conformist? Good job the non-conformist government, society, academia, and attached economic structure are here to stop our conformity!

      • As a matter of fact, it was just that advertisement that I was thinking of! You know what they say about great minds…

        Attention Dr. Bill: I think that Monty Python was typically schizophrenic. I’m sure that every member of the group was ultra-liberal in his political persuasions; but most of MP excepting Terry Gilliam came from what was still in some degree a traditional society, and they were capable of seeing the absurdity, at least, if not the wickedness, in aspects of modernity. You could say the same of Saturday Night Live in its original incarnation and later, when Kevin Nealon, Norm MacDonald, Julia Sweeney, and a few others were prominent cast-members in the 1990s. For the last fifteen years, SNL has been totally politicized; it is nothing but the late-night propaganda arm of whatever Democratic administration is currently in office or wants to get into office — so of course it is not funny anymore.

        Another thing: The Life of Brian came out in 1979, or thirty-five years ago. That is how far back we need to reach to find plausible satire of modern life in the movies. (I labor under the delusion of perpetual youth, so that 1979 seems like yesterday to me, but of course it is not.)

        Responding again to Dr. Bill: Roxbury is unknown to me. The actor who played “House” on the tedious hospital drama named after him, Hugh Laurie, previously starred in a British sketch comedy hour that occasionally achieved remarkably poignant mockery of contemporary pieties, but I am not sure how deeply it probed; I assume that Laurie is a card-carrying liberal who rarely if ever thinks a dissenting thought. The comedy team-mates Key and Peele are sometimes rapier-like, too, making fun of political correctness and (remarkably) sending up the new black stereotypes. Key and Peele can get away with it because they are both black, or rather, in the fashion nowadays so chic, half-black and half-white!

        Most of what passes for comedy in 2014 is just a sneering put-down, which is probably best understood in Girardian terms as a recursion to the basest kind of scapegoating.

        Responding to Svar: I have a nineteen-year-old college-student son who lived at home over the summer, so naturally I have seen “the Tosh.” I get it, why college guys find it funny, but as for myself, I cannot bracket the grossness.

      • The hypocrisy is tragically obvious,

        You know the scene in Life of Brian, right:

        To me, it’s a satire on modernism’s essential hypocrisy. Do you think the Monty Python players saw it that way?

      • @Tom


        Agree with everything you say. It’s remarkable to me how un-funny I find comedy, given how funny I used to find it. SNL is fart jokes interspersed with propaganda. Unwatchable.

        OTOH, what about A Night at the Roxbury and the skits it is derived from? Those seem like fairly biting criticism of modernity, or at least of its consequences. The criticism is dressed up as “laugh at the guido proles—look at them taking mindless distractions seriously.” But, um, that hits very close to home for the larger American culture, does it not? Again, Ferrell and what’s-his-face can’t intend the larger criticism, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

      • @ Dr. Bertonneau

        I am pretty sure you have not seen this show but I must ask anyway: have you seen Tosh.0? It is a very politically incorrect show, one that attacks every group that both liberals and conservatives hold dear and close to their hearts. It is from what I see, the televised version of 4chan where Daniel Tosh, the host, strives to mainly shock and offend with some wordplay and wit thrown in, usually after the initial shock.

      • There is also Steve Martin who, in his 1970s comedy shows, would do his Non-Conformists’ Oath.

        Steve Martin: “OK, everybody! Repeat after me: I promise to be different!”
        Audience: “I promise to be different!”
        Steve Martin: “I promise to be unique!”
        Audience: “I promise to be unique!”
        Steve Martin: “I promise to be not to repeat things other people say!”
        Audience: (laughter)

        (from memory, but close enough)

  3. A traditionalist is literally a partisan of tradition. And it’s only in these latter days that tradition needs partisans.

    As with anything else, it’s possible to get lost in traditionalism. That’s why it’s better to emphasize traditionalism as a gospel that ordinary people need to hear, over and against traditionalism as our thing that we ought to study and refine and innovate on and protect against outsiders adulterating our thing. Or traditionalism as turning the enemy’s weapons (deconstruction, organized protest, subversion, etc.) against him.

    [Of course, we do need to understand our thing, and protect it. And sometimes we need to fight. But let’s not love the journey more than the destination.]

    It’s traditionalism as being (what would historically be considered as) a normal person rather than a raging partisan.

  4. There are two views underlying all political theories. Modernism and Traditionalism. One is the true order of man, the other is a short-by-comparison cancer on the world. Don’t fall into the pessimistic trap that Modernity doesn’t have an expiration date. It does, and it barrels towards its own destruction at an ever faster rate.

    The reactionary is the man who, at this stage, sees Modernity’s fate ahead of it and will do his utmost to ensure no trace of it remains after its collapse, that its adherents are converted or eliminated, largely through their inability to survive without the comforts of the Modern World.

    The test is thus, if Modernity were indeed a progression in the objective sense, towards a higher principle, if its logic was sound, if its primacy was inevitable and eternal… then it would be succeeding at building a great society.

    And yet it is not. Western society becomes more technologically advanced with each passing year and yet it becomes less livable as well. I believe it was a recent Sky poll conducted in Britain that found a startling number of teenagers stating emphatically that they had “nothing to live for”. Why do white westerners convert to Islam and plunge themselves into hellholes in the Middle East to die for a cause? Because they have lost all meaning.

    Modernity is at its base shallow and meaningless. Having lost all connection with the transcendent forces around us, it is a quagmire of relativism and consumerism doomed to eventual destruction. We shall triumph.

    • “Modernism and Traditionalism.”

      In the words of Aleksander Dugin, Eternal Carthage and Eternal Rome and even more specifically, Satan and God.

      “Why do white westerners convert to Islam and plunge themselves into hellholes in the Middle East to die for a cause?”

      On a side note, I seriously doubt whites or “westerners” are volunteering en masse to fight for ISIS. Just the Fifth Column of Jihad that our elites recklessly and maliciously allowed to enter into our country.

      • On the contrary there are several whites who have converted to Islam and become raving Jihadists. Prominent examples include the ‘White Widow’ and Al Qaeda’s new bomb maker, Anders Cameroon Ostensvig Dale. Many of Anjem Choudary’s cohorts are white British converts.

        The biggest danger right now the West are these jihadists who do not look Arab.

    • I have a hunch that it does not necessarily have to end in destruction – that at least a subset of Traditonal ideas can be succesfully translated to science or at least sciencey-speech that it can be still sold. I do have some hopes for the Yudkowsky-type Rationalist community, they sometimes grasp certain traditional ideas and express them in a way that sounds really modern and acceptable to moderns. Scott Alexander at least does not hate reactionary ideas, and that is a huge step forward that a smart liberal who can write can disagree with them without being overly horrified, don’t you think?

      My hunch is that it is going to happen through

      1) a better understanding of short and long run, that, for example, hanging out with people only as long as they are fun works in the short run, but makes people lonely in the long run, trying to build meaningful human relationships can be annoying in the short run but is better in the long run

      2) something like a red-piller science of sexuality, sort of a triangle, free women + unmasculine men = bored women, free women + masuline men = hot action but civilizational collapse, not-so-free women and moderately masculine men = things sort of work

      3) the fiscal event horizon

      To sum it up, it can be, that people understand that living as if the state has endless money to spend, that you are always young, hot and popular, and you don’t need to care about people who are not fun, is not a stable long-term strategy. Commited relationships, self-reliance, and lasting alliances with other people, and always keeping old age, sickness and death in sight, work better.

      Maybe this is too optimistic but I am tired of being a pessimist. This could work, the way it could work is a getting smart and popular people, who were sort of raised liberal and accept it purely as a default position but not out of conviction, acquainted with traditional ideas and using them as opinion leadeers.

  5. Kristor, obviously Traditionalism would not exist in a traditional world but many movements from Romanticism, Nationalism, and even socialism and fascism were created in opposition of the Modern World while ironically still carrying modernist baggage.

    We, just like all men, have to work within the context they were born into. Our context is the Modern World. We have to work within that frame and at the same time, I do not think that wholesale Traditionalism(as a political and social strategy, not as a worldview) can work in a post-Industrial world. Archeofuturism, Conservative Revolution, and the economic Third Position is our best bet. We need to bring ethics and morality into the realm of technology and apply new and current technologies with human limitations and nature in mind. We need to have a radical and vast overall of all American institutions(the courts, the unions, the police forces, the military, academia, and even the Church/churches. If the Pope and pastors will not clean up the Church, we shall) and the dissolution and purging of 90% of both the Republican and Democratic Parties(the 10% is for elements in each party which are sympathetic to us or atleast convertable). We also need to implement a nation, community, and tradition-centered economic system, a system that acknowledges human realities as opposed to vague and abstract economic theories that are based on false premises.

    • I think these best bet are way too ethnicist and proto-fascist, in the sense that there is not so subtle worship of evil and cruelty in them, sort of the cult of the ultra-macho Viking pagan raider. See Jack Donovan. I mean, what is missing from them is that central humanism, which includes Christian and Libertarian humanism, that violence is basically not “cool” – it is necessary, for defeding yourself and others, but it is not great, that in most cases the initiation of it is deeply wrong, that war is not glorious but tragic, and anything that even remotely smells like mass murder is not something a gentleman should have any association with.

      This is my issue with it. I admit that the sense of pagan machismo behind them all appeals to me, too. I love Turisas, especially their clips. Still, my rational mind knows that attacking, killing and conquering others just for the sake of loot and glory and power is wrong, wrong, wrong, that every morality ever worthy of its name considered it pretty much the essence of evil. And I think many of these movements and ideas have this secret conviction that violence is glorious and cool. It is rarely openly communicated, but becomes clear in the use of visual and metaphorical imagery. For example any kind of people who like to refer to themselves as wolves have pretty much given up on this kind of rational, anti-violence, civilized morality that is the essence of Greek and Roman philosophy and Christianity and Christian and secular humanism, so the essence of Western civilization.

      • Example: Carl Schmitt. Carl Schmitt said politics meaning defining who is the enemy. Now the issue is, the difference between liberals and conservatives ought to be that conservatives are more realistic and say perpetual pacifism is sadly not possible, because there are evil people who attack you. But saying that basically peace is not even desirable, that it is entirely normal to have enemies all the time – why, that makes Schmitt not a conservative, but simply evil!

        So yeah, that is my issue with this Counter-Currents type of romantic ethno-proto-fascist thinking.

      • Carl Schmidt is a renowned political theorist and I do not see any thing evil about his proclamation that in politics one needs to know who his enemies are. That seems like common sense.

        I am not a pacifist but I am not a war-hawk either. I consider myself a non-interventionist and isolationist but if a war is to be fought then it will and glory and honor will be had by all who risked and lost their lives. That is how war is. No one wants it and no one definitely wants wars like the ones that America has, the ones fought for the benefit of special interests. Sometimes violence is necessary.

        Also, I am not a neo-pagan, I am Roman Catholic. I don’t give a damn about libertarianism and its so-called humanism (as if Ayn Rand knew anything about being human) and I do not consider myself to be a strict ethno-nationalist or a fascist. I am a romanticist and I am a right-wing authoritarian and I do acknowledge certain realities about race but in general I am influenced by Spengler not Darwin when it comes to race.

        People are too quick to call someone evil without knowing the implications of the word. All I know is that Carl Schmidt died in 1985 long after the Nuremberg Trials. If he was so evil why didn’t the Americans execute him?

        Same could be said for Martin Heidegger.

      • Svar – Evola’s theory on race is very interesting, that the racial-focus of his day was misguided in rooting itself in biology and science. According to Evola, the race of the ‘spirit’ was far more important.

        On the subject of violence and war, the Reactionary should embrace a policy that is not out to seek dragons or nation build in foreign lands, but to defend the nation’s people and spiritual honor. Any war should be conducted with full faith in the soldiers of the nation who are unbound by rules of engagement, waging war for God, Sovereign, and Nation. In the spirit of the Crusaders, these men would be the recipients of divine heroic glory.

  6. Traditionalism is a quintessentially modern phenomenon.

    An incisive albeit in some ways chilling post, Kristor. I think the problem we face is that, depending on background, location, age and other circumstances, most of us here are more or less completely unmoored from the traditional way of life that characterized Christendom.

    Consider the Catholic liturgy. So much of the traditional Catholic liturgical life directly correlated with the agrarian way of life. In a very real sense Catholicism “baptized” the agrarian routine. What happens when the West morphs from an agrarian based to an urban-industrial based society? Well, a lot of things are lost, a lot of things become simply unintelligible. Feast days give way to 12 hour 365 work days in some factory hellhole. The family goes from and economic and social unit to a unit increasingly based only on sentimentality. The Church in some ways was able to accommodate and begin the process of conversion in the industrial order with the rise of labor-unionism and the urban “Catholic village” yet this order too came to pass as our society morphed from an urban industrialist to suburban-service-knowledge economy.

    • Modernity was made by technological change and ideological change both happening at the same time and it is hard to separate their effects. Still, to me the technological one seems smaller.

      I mean there are neat old fashioned family farms in Germany who harvest electricity, from windmills.

      Medieval Venice had something sort of a ship factory with some kind of a modern style division of labor, it is said that it was so efficient that in wartime they could pop out a warship every day. Which means that I figure at least 50-100 ones have been in there continuously, in various stages of WIP.

      I wonder what happens when tech meets traditionalism. My hunch would be that industry creates its own demand i.e. modern people need cars or subways to commute to a job, while medieval shopkeepers just lived above their shops.

    • What happens when the West morphs from an agrarian based to an urban-industrial based society?

      I think the answer should lie somewhere in the Church archives covering the time when the Roman Empire as it concerned Christianity morphed from an urban- (though not industrial) based society into an agrarian-based society. It does appear to be a problem, however, that no one important in the Church appears to be interested in this sort of an answer.

  7. A response to all the comments so far on this thread:

    I didn’t mean to imply that Traditionalism is in any way wrong or deficient on account of the fact that it is a feature of the late-stage modernist culture of skepticism, only that it is indeed a feature of the late-stage modernist culture of skepticism; that it would not exist, or need to exist, except in the context of such a culture; and that it is at once the ultimate retortion of that culture upon itself, and its absurd reduction to its diametric opposite. When you push the modern rejection of order and knowledge to its logical limit, you get the modern rejection of the modern rejection: i.e., tradition.

    It’s not a new notion. Another way of saying it: Traditionalism is the counterculture of the counterculture, the new radicalism. In the land of the tattooed, the man with unblemished skin is the rebel.

    • He’s an MRA guy. He thinks discrimination between the sexes is unjust. This might be so if it weren’t for the fact that the sexes are in fact really different, so that to treat them as if they were not is to put yourself at war with reality. It makes sense to treat two sorts of thing the same only if they really are only one sort of thing, period full stop.

      As between the sexes, that doesn’t work, either logically or practically. Why? Because men and women really are different. To see this, all you have to do is look at them, for crying out loud. This isn’t rocket science: men have no breasts. Almost everything of the traditional order of the sexes flows from that fundamental difference.

      Carried to its logical conclusion, their sexual antinomianism should lead MRA guys to a position of indifference whether they have sex with men or women.

      The more fundamental error he makes is in thinking that traditionalism is only about sex. It is not (so, he is tilting at windmills). It is about the Good. For the traditionalist, sex and the relations of the sexes are not paramount. They are, in fact, rather an afterthought; ditto for relations between the races, for economic arrangements, for the details of the political order, and so forth. For the Traditionalist, everything flows from the Logos; the Logos, then, is his paramount consideration; he is convinced that social errors all stem from the error of idolatry.

      • Equality in the eyes of the law, in the face of actual inequality, is folly.

        This is not to imply the Modernist boogeyman of ‘sex-based oppression’ and ‘women turned into second class citizens’. Instead, it is to recognize that in a Traditional society, men and women would occupy radically different social roles both in terms of comparison to eachother and also in contrast to the ever-metastisizing blur between the sexes present in today’s Western world.

        When there is such a gulf between the roles played by each sex, the law will necessarily be very different as it interacts with the individual, the most striking examples including laws that would only apply to one sex and not the other. I am sure you have heard the old ddage “women and children first” used to make clear the order upon which individuals would be prioritized for rescue aboard a sinking vessel.
        In a Traditional society, it may be criminal for a man in this situation to attempt to prioritize his life over women or children for it would be seen dishonorable for him to do so. While men may enjoy certain privileges they also carry great responsibility in the area of self-sacrifice for their country and family (only men can be drafted). In a Traditional society, the man is seen as a fundamentally different unit in society, his sex is no superficial construct.
        Most of the legal limitation on women would occur in a general deferment of authority to husbands. Women would simply not be expected to have legal recourse in a situation in which a court would expect the husband to bring some charge on behalf of his family.

        But ‘before the law’ would seem to extend beyond the courtroom, and reflect a broader sense of ‘political rights’. While various political models exist in the Reactosphere, the ones that do involve a system of popular vote (typically for local authorities or just one of the government’s branches) usually exclude women from being able to vote. This is prefectly correct and again reflects back on the roles of each sex. An unmarried woman is like a man without property. They have a smaller stake in the society, a women’s place in the society being brought out through her union to a man.
        If a man votes, it is expected he is voting in the interests of his household, including his children and his wife. The wife does not need a vote.

        Ecclesiastic courts would definitely view women differently, through the lens of Holy Scripture, as once again the woman has different roles and duties she must perform.

        Getting into further specifics would be largely speculative at this point, but as a general rule, the answer to your question is no. Equality before the law does not mesh with sexual dimorphism.

  8. Not only that – have you guys noticed how incredibly progressive in many things premodern socities were? In the sense of finding it entirely normal to keep up with quickly changing fashions, even more than today? While we today we have almost a stillstand of fashions?

    For example, while historians, museum curators and HEMA practictioners classify many kinds of Italian swords from 1300 to 1800, people who lived there just called them all “sword” (spada) and terms like spada da lato were invented much later by museum curators. Because, to them, a sword meant “the kind of sword fashionable today”. And if you show them another kind of sword from 50 years ago, they would just say “That one? I would just call that an outdated sword.” No further categories were needed, precisely because they believed in change that much, progress that much, that anything outdated was no longer too interesting.

    Or for example how male fashion slowed down. Once the idea of simplified military uniforms as civilian suits were accepted in the 19th century Britain – we basically still wear them. Suits got ossified.

    Haircuts, anyone? Is there even fashion anymore, at least for men? Or do we just stick to the low maintenance buzz cut forever (I do, woe me, I am lazy).

    Does classical music even change anymore, aside from the helicopter sonata type bad jokes?

    It seems to me, that for some reason, a traditional society could be a whirlwind of creative change, while ours generally just changes only when either ideology or a clear technological benefit demands it, but mere fashion no longer replaces the 1913 type guns (over a century, old still in use) or the suits that are not that different from the ones worn in 1914.

    • In all honesty, I don’t see the point of upgrading the suit. The only reason why the suit has been so popular for all of these years is due to its aesthetic appeal. As for haircuts, I can say for certain that today’s hair styles for both men and women don’t look stupid like the hairstyles from the 60s-80s.

      It is sort of faggy to care about fashion. All I care about is being clean and presentable to the hot little coeds I see running around on campus. Anything more is gay and anything less is slobbish.

      As for guns, the reason why certain gun types (like Mauser bolt actions, breech-loading double barrel rifles and shotguns, and falling-block single-shots) are still in use is because these guns have an elegance, a beauty and an overall aura which has lead to their popularity. They are also extremely reliable and accurate – something you won’t find in a semi-automatic hunting rifle. They are also lighter and well-balanced.

      You do have a point about classical music.

    • Once while wandering around the inexhaustibly fascinating Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, I saw an imposingly bulky object on display under the enormous port-side wing of the B-36. This object was cylindrical, about thirty feet in length, and about seven or eight feet in diameter. “Ah,” I said quietly to myself, “it’s one of those 1950s nukes…”


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