Traditionalism is the Reductio of Modernity

The tradition of modernity is to repudiate tradition per se. It’s right there in the term: ‘modern’ is from Late Latin modernus, from Latin modo, “just now.” So ‘modern’ means “what is just now.”

Traditionalists take the modern tradition with utmost seriousness, thoroughness, and consistency: they repudiate the tradition of modernity.

Traditionalists are the iconoclasts of iconoclasm. So likewise are they then the true postmodernists. In their hearts and in their minds, and so far as is possible in their acts, they live into whatever it is that shall inevitably ensue, once modernity has finished eating itself, and collapsed; once the people have awakened and shaken it off like a nightmare or Soviet Communism.

Traditionalists are ransacking the cupboards on the morning after Belshazzar’s Feast, looking for the coffee as the sour dregs of the Party lapse into biliary nausea, bitter existential regret, and alcoholic coma, and as the Persians begin to assemble their siege engines.

The Traditionalist critique of modernity and its restoration of coherence to social theory and policy cannot but eventuate in a Restoration of tradition, somehow or other, and of some sort.

That Restoration is a historical inevitability on account of the lethality of the incoherence at the root of modernity. Modernity is autophagous (as the first sentence of this post makes clear). This is why modernist revolutions always devour their children. Even if there were no traditionalists, modernity would turn and rend itself – is doing so, right now, faster and faster. The absurdities weekly amplify and redound; they accelerate and compound, with compounding acceleration.

The governor has been removed from the steam engine, and the engine is whirling itself to bits.

We don’t yet know exactly how the Restoration is likely to be accomplished, only that it must be. We do not therefore need to know, or to try to specify, how to accomplish the Restoration. All we need to do is hold fast to what is Good, True, and Beautiful, and do our best to act righteously in respect to the things that Providence has given under our hands. Providence – and the instability of evil – will see to the rest.

Nor do we yet know much about what the Restored Traditional social order will look like. But we can be pretty sure that it will adhere more or less closely to what all sane men believed before the Enlightenment. In their guts, sane men of every age – even the modern – believe in Truth, Goodness and Beauty (there is in the end no other way to live), so one thing we can be fairly sure of is that the Restored Tradition will preserve science and high technology. Because under a social order that is sane, coherent, and properly ordered to reality, thus much more efficient and so prosperous withal, true science and righteous (i.e., properly careful, as opposed to Faustian) technology are likely to be preserved, and even enhanced, the Restoration is not unlikely to generate a great leap forward for humanity.

It may also of course be accompanied by a massive reduction of human population. If so it must be, God send that it should transpire peacefully – as it would, e.g., if the moderns kept on failing to reproduce. Eliminating lots of Boomers via the prick will not quite do, after all, for that would be a sort of violence, and in the circumstances entirely untoward; my own Boomer sort is done, whatever may come, at least demographically. Thanks be to God. No need then to kill Boomers; just kill their toxic memes. If you can’t do that, what good are you?

Anyway; we may here all be at rest in mind and heart, confident that all the devilry that so bedevils us must be its own comeuppance; the scythe of its own extinction, whatever it cuts and kills in the meantime.

Just hold fast to what is good, abstain from every evil – I Thessalonians 5:13-22 – and you shall be OK in the end. What else is there, anyway? If you are not trying to be a saint, well then, what the Hell – literally – is wrong with you? You are going to end up losing everything, no matter what; so, ought and might as well be virtuous in so doing. That way, you have a shot at gaining it all back, better, and much more, in the Resurrection.

Saintliness is the only truly hedonist move. So much for the spirit of Woodstock.

10 thoughts on “Traditionalism is the Reductio of Modernity

  1. “You are going to end up losing everything, no matter what; so, ought and might as well be virtuous in so doing.”

    Never thought of it quite that way, but you’re right, Kristor.

  2. I saw this article when you posted it and it came on the heels of the latest installment in my exchange with a.morphous, so I’ve been chewing on this idea of what exactly tradition is.

    The clearest analogy I can think of is Tradition:Modernity::Frugality:Prodigality. It’s not an ideology per se, there’s no concept of “following tradition correctly”, but there is “following tradition well”. My paraphrase of a.morphous’ position was that he viewed it almost as an ethnicity or religion unto itself. It wouldn’t be correct to say Tradition = the Magisterium because so much of tradition is praxis. So the analogy to Frugality works because if you want to save money, there are a number of ways to do it and any one or combination of them could be considered frugal, while Prodigality is the complete absence of regard for how one uses ones money. Likewise, if you want to grow your relationship with God, there are a number of ways to do it and any one or combination of them could be considered traditional, while modernity is the complete absence of regard for one’s relationship with God.

    Another analogy might be that Tradition is a stairway to Heaven built by our forefathers. You don’t have to use it, even though repeated trompings by our forebears have proven it sturdy and direct. You can try and use a rickety ladder you build yourself, you can try and build an elevator. You might even do quite well. But you’re just reinventing the wheel (innovating, as you warned about in a previous article)–the stairway will always be there and will always be faster than trying to do it all on your own.

    This thought of a “Restored Traditional social order” is an interesting one. I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I am a fellow optimist and love to think that one day, even if just for one day, the world will have it’s head on straight and all will be well in the world. But another part of me thinks that the desire for a “Restored Traditional social order” is the shadow of the desire for Heaven and the Resurrection. I don’t think that it is a given that what follows the collapse of modernity (which certainly feels inevitable) will be the golden age of Traditional society. It’s entirely possible that humanity in all our foul ingenuity will find some new poison. The desire to “win” in this life leads–at least in my experience and observation–to disappointment. We have to be content with losing, and losing a lot, until the last “loser” on the last day gets to watch the stars get rolled up like a scroll and the King return to His throne. Anything above and beyond this is bonus.

    • Thanks, Scoot, this is good stuff. Like you, I’m a bit vague on the precise character of Tradition. It varies, and it develops organically, so it is tricky to pin it down. Indeed, pinning it down would seem to be rather beside the point. Like pornography, it is hard to define, but we know it when we see it.

      It is certainly not a given that the Collapse will be followed by any sort of golden age, and you are correct in warning against attachment to the notion of perfecting society. What I expect will happen is something like what followed the death of Sauron: a restoration of sanity that, while it is a great improvement over living in Mordor, or warring against Mordor, is nevertheless not as good as what came before the rise of the Necromancer.

      The war against Sauron permanently marred Middle Earth, and so reduced the resources she could bring to bear in her recovery. Likewise with the struggle against modernity; it has permanently hurt man. At no time will Russia, e.g., ever reach the level of civilization and prosperity she would then have achieved, had Marxism never happened.

  3. So likewise are [Traditionalists] then the true postmodernists.

    Postmodernists are like my parents in that they get smarter as I age.

    • That works except for unrepentant Beat or Hippie parents – those who have not, i.e., yet generalized from their actual experience to their principles: the empirically disabled. Although even such as they manifest a curious disconnect between their avowed abstract principles and their pragmatic practices; the latter are based, because they must be in order to have supported so long a life, while the former remain all somehow (how?) purely fantastic.

      What’s curious to me – speaking as myself an old fogey – is how such parents as those who post a BLM sign in their front yard (e.g.) but would never in a million years send their kids to a public school or live in the ghetto, could have for so long endured the massive unremitting neurological tax of maintaining such a profound cognitive dissonance. Even granting the thrill of cheap virtue signals directed inwardly (Matthew 3:9) as much as outwardly (Matthew 23:27), where’s the net advantage?

      • When I was a rookie faculty member, I was talking to a senior colleague who lived in an OK central city neighborhood which was served by a truly frightening public high school. He sent his kid there and sometimes bragged about it and all the learning about diversity he was getting.

        Once when I was in his office, I asked him whether he was afraid for his children. No, he explained, his child (the one old enough for high school at that point) was in the gifted program. “Huh,” I responded. Well, the gifted program in this school was almost completely separated from the rest of the school—the way scheduling was arranged, being in the gifted program imposed a constraint which resulted in the classes attended by gifted students being nearly 100% gifted students.

        But, you couldn’t know that your kids would make it in at the time you moved to this neighborhood, right? And your too-young-as-yet kid, you don’t know he will make it, right? And similarly for many other parents, right? He rolled his eyes. To get into the gifted program (in this school district), you need any psychologist to fill out a form saying he tested your kid and the kid has an IQ>130. Evidently, there were two psychologists he knew of who would give you such a form for $500 (I think this is the figure). I think he was willing to explain all this to me because he saw me as a clueless neophyte and also because he wanted to avoid me thinking he was a child abuser.

        Even in retrospect, I find this baffling.

        On a related note, my wife has a friend who has a fitness watch thingy—fitbit or apple watch or garmin or whatever. This thing gives you “awards,” which awards consist of an icon perhaps accompanied by a little tune, for achieving exercise goals. In some months, when she thinks she might miss one of the goals, she asks her husband to do things like going for a run in her stead. And then she explains all this to my wife when asked why she isn’t wearing her fitness watch thingy. It’s really hard to explain this behavior (at least for me). She is a reasonably successful professional woman, by the way, who does not come across in normal conversation as at all insane.

      • I, too, was in the gifted college prep program at my vast and integrated and dangerous urban high school in Indianapolis. On account of its academic programs, Shortridge High at the time was the 11th best high school in the country, despite the fact that 60% of the student body was black, and all but for a tiny few totally unprepared for the deep end of the pool, unable therefore to keep the surface, and not at all interested in learning how (indeed, totally interested in not learning how); so that they failed out a lot, and so dragged down the school’s ratings. But that tells you how good the academic program was. It was amazing. About 30% of the school’s faculty were doctors of this or that, you could take Latin and astronomy (the school had its own observatory), there were seminars in creative writing, genetics and existentialism, all sorts of great stuff. And everyone got weekly interviews with an intelligent and deeply sympathetic school counselor, who turned out in practice to be an academic advocate and guide.

        I got a terrific education; meaning I learned how to teach myself, how to criticize myself and my work, what “good enough for Shortridge” meant (pretty doggone good), and formed lifelong habits and interests (birds, e.g., thanks to the bio teacher who required us to ID 100 species each migratory season; and brooding Scandinavian nature mysticism).

        All the white parents in town who thought of themselves as smart or educated wanted their kids to go to Shortridge. So there were lots of really smart white kids in the school. And, quite a few really smart black kids.

        The school was also nationally famous for being so well and so peacefully – indeed (and I say this honestly) happily – integrated so far ahead of that curve. Shortridge was a happy place. We all had fun there. It was a complete success at what all high schools tried hard to be in those days.

        So naturally the school board closed down Shortridge altogether about 20 years after I graduated, because reasons: the academic program was always almost entirely white, and that problem persisted no matter how the administration tilted the field against it. Which couldn’t be tolerated. So, rather than take the heat for destroying the academic program, which was both their system’s proudest plum and their target in fact, they just shut down the whole shooting match. This was an incalculable loss to education in Indianapolis, for the facility is simply perfect for its purpose, and irreplaceable.

        So they renovated it as a middle school. A few years later they started adding back high school programs, and these grew, until eventually they shut down the middle school and made Shortridge again an academically oriented school. How good it is now, I have no idea.

        It is Harrison Bergeron in real life. Kurt Vonnegut’s enormous childhood home, built on the fortune of his father’s successful Indianapolitan Vonnegut Hardware chain, was around the corner from my own; I used to play in its back yard with Ian, the son of Indiana’s most famous architect – a dear, gentle, brilliant, liberal man, and one of my father’s parishioners (the son is himself now a successful novelist). Vonnegut too went to Shortridge, and like me worked on its paper the Daily Echo – the only daily newspaper published by any high school in the nation (I there learnt typesetting, from the grim ink stained terrifying ancient typesetter himself, ensconced in his gloomy subterranean warren of type tables, rolls of newsprint, and the din of his press: the crushing labor thereof, and so the crucial importance of sending only the final perfect absolutely last draft down to the typesetting cellar)(that’s where I learnt editing, too (but not well enough), from a journalism teacher who had himself been several times reamed out by the typesetter for his manifold sins and wickedness).

        The kids all naturally segregated by race in the cafeteria, but otherwise rubbed elbows in halls, gym, playing fields, labs, and classrooms; there was no school within a school for the academic track kids, the way that Berkeley High (another justly famous school of that type) did it. Everyone had to take English 1, for example, and everyone took it together. Only in the higher reaches of academic prep did the classes begin to turn mostly white. But they never were entirely white.

        Because in a state of nature people do mostly tend to get along with each other, I was therefore on friendly terms with about 1,000 black kids, and got to be close friends with a few black girls. It really did teach me a lot. I learned how to play the dozens, for example. It is crazy how hard 20 or 30 black and white kids can laugh together while two of the boys insult each other, ritually, weeping with hilarity.

        I was also attacked 3 times on account only of my skin. So I learned street sense, too. Which taught me that I had better get into good shape and learn how to fight, so that I could walk down the street in a smooth, credibly menacing fashion; which in turn eventually made me enough of an athlete that I could qualify as a whitewater guide, and then surmount that world. So I count the experience over all a great benison, and shall forever love dear old Shortridge.

        Anyway – sorry for that long nostalgic tangent – to return to your topic, the parents who sent their kids to Shortridge got real value: both experience of diversity and excellent education. Sure, it was more dangerous than the white schools on the north side of town, but it was so good that almost everybody – including the kids both white and black – was pretty happy to be part of Shortridge.

        So, they were not nuts.

        But the professor and woman you describe are deeply, badly nuts. They are *not even whiting the sepulchre.* They are, rather, telling themselves *really hard* that they are whiting the sepulchre, but without ever picking up the brush and the bucket of wash. Pretty pathetic. It’s like a 1st Century Jew paying someone to go up to Jerusalem for him and make sacrifice on his behalf at the Temple on Yom Kippur, and telling himself that he has thereby met his duty to perform those acts himself.

        And these anodyne lunatics are successful people; these are the sorts that our society rewards, and so cultivates, and propagates. God help us.

        Everything is fake. Even the Pope is fake. God help us.

  4. Yeah, the open, not-even-pro-forma aspect of the fakery is what made the impression. I mean, if you are going to explain the cleverness of your fakery to the exact people you are presumably trying to fool, then what is the point?

    And I also agree it is a signifier of a broader trend.

    Thanks for the reminiscence. Your integrated high school seems to have been a good deal better than mine was.

    • Because they tell you the nature of their fakery, even their fakery is fake. That they feel comfortable disclosing their fakery indicates that they understand fakery as unexceptionable; as normal, and so nothing to be ashamed of. The corruption runs deep.


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