Many reactionaries complain that capitalism is eo ipso inimical to tradition. I disagree about that: it is liberal or deranged capitalism that is the problem; so that the problem is not with capitalism per se – which is really nothing other than the natural and basic form of human economic coordination, rooted at bottom in the exchange of gifts and favors, in the love we bear for each other as friends, neighbours and relatives, and so is the default to which all societies recur (and must recur, or else falter and dwindle) – but with its derangement. Latter day capitalism is sick, to be sure. But so is our whole society, beset in all her members and organs by the maladies and diseases by which we infect and corrupt her, a wounded animal struggling ever to heal herself, again and again deformed and crippled by our manifold political foolishness and iterated moral and intellectual insanities.
It’s not economics that is intrinsically inimical to tradition, but philosophy. In a traditional society, there would be no such thing. In a traditional society, no one would wonder how to be a good man, or what the meaning and purpose of life might be, or how and by what agencies the world is ordered. In a healthy traditional society, such questions would not even occur to anyone, because from earliest childhood everyone would have understood the ancient answers handed down by their forefathers from the very beginnings of time. No other answers would be even conceivable. Contrary doctrines would be greeted with outrage, horror and disgust.
But philosophy *just is* intellectual contrariety. The niggle at the basis of all philosophical deliberation is the sudden thought – the rather disquieting thought – “um, maybe we’ve gotten this rather important and fundamental bit wrong.” And the essential work of philosophy is to test propositions, and discover their weaknesses. Everything is grist for its mill.
It is often suggested that philosophy makes no progress. I think this is an exaggeration; for one thing, natural science is a department of philosophy, properly speaking. Yet it must be admitted that progress in philosophy is slow and halting at best. But this is no more than we should expect from a discipline that is intended first to the discovery and demolition of erroneous thoughts, so to find what survives the winnowing process. We are still talking about Plato because after almost 2,500 years of attacks, he has not yet been completely demolished, not at all. Plato’s doctrines are evidently robust, and so it seems very likely to be somehow true. That we are still talking about his stuff means, not that no progress has been made, but that he made a lot of progress early on.
Because it is in the business of testing propositions of all sorts, philosophy cannot but get around to testing the essential ideas of any society in which it operates, that make it what it is, shape its notions of what is proper and desirable, and so enable its members to live together amicably and efficaciously. So, philosophy sets itself root and branch against the Tree of Life that sustains any traditional society, and that connects its members to their earliest ancestors by living integral flux of familiar inheritance; it plucks off the apple, and tastes. And then, it takes up an axe.
The Athenians saw this clearly: that’s why they executed Socrates. The teachings of the sophists were false – incomplete, and inadequate to reality – but they were the traditional teachings of the Athenians, all of whom had from boyhood been taught by sophists. To them, the radical innovations of Socrates were horrifying, outrageous, not just a heresy but an apostasy from the patrimonial cult, and a radical betrayal of the polis. Once it had been determined in trial that he stood by his doctrines unapologetically, and indeed patriotically, the only possible response was the death sentence.
As Socrates was to the prevailing sophist wisdom of Periclean Athens, so today are we traditionalists and reactionaries to the sophism of the pervasive liberal order. Sophistical liberalism is now the prevalent received tradition of the West. This is why traditionalists – all of us heirs of the countercultural tradition of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and of their philosophical protest against the traditions of Athens – are so reviled by the politically correct. Our ideas make them feel physically sick, and they would rub us all out if they could.
The only sort of philosophy that is not inimical to tradition is philosophy baptized: i.e., theology. When the philosophy of the Greeks and their heirs is itself the received tradition of a people, implicated in the intellectual bases of all their sacred theological doctrines, then only can it operate socially as the foundation and buttress of the social order. Then science and religion may be integrated by a Grand Metaphysical Synthesis, anointed by mystical experience, and all the rites and rituals, the customs and social forms of the culture sanctified and enchanted.
In all other circumstances, philosophy – whether classical or not – is skeptical acid thrown at the foundations of a weak and somehow vicious patrimonial cult; for philosophy destroys as it corrects.