One of the main functions of tradition is to pass down to successive generations a comprehension of the meanings of the customary and traditional praxes and language. If the Tradition fails at that, then the praxes become meaningless and stupid, and are soon discarded as extraneities worthily subject to Ockham’s Razor: to the first principle of order, which is deletion. That’s when you get iconoclasm, whether intentional or not.
Intentional iconoclasm knows the meanings of the icons it destroys. Unintentional iconoclasm does not. The former is effected by destruction; the latter by desuetude.
Once the meanings of the cultural praxes are gone, the praxes themselves soon follow; for, there is then no longer any reason for them, that anyone knows or remembers. And that’s when the culture decoheres.
Profane kingship is inherently weak, thus always defensive and in fight mode, and so tyrannical. For, a sovereign who rules merely by force of arms, and not by any authority grounded ultimately in the moral lógos of things, is naturally resented by all his subjects, as being nowise legitimate under heaven (unless he be also a good master – but as purely profane it is hard to be good) and his reign is rendered thereby inherently unstable, and vulnerable.
The Revolt of the Masses (1932) by José Ortega y Gasset (1883 – 1955) is a classic diagnosis of the modern condition whose diminished currency in the second decade of the Twenty-First Century fails to correlate with its increased relevance ninety years after its initial publication. Revolt ought to be better known than it is. Man against Mass Society (1951) by Gabriel Marcel (1889 – 1973) – addressing the same topics as Revolt but from a point in time twenty years later in the aftermath of the Second World War and at the onset of the Cold War – enjoys nothing like the reputation of Ortega’s masterpiece, but is equally relevant to contemporaneity and deserves, not so much to be better known, but merely to be known. The two books complement one another. Ortega, an adherent of the classical liberal principle, but with an aristocratic attitude, sees in democratization a decisive break with history and an inevitable dragging-down of inherited institutions to the lowest common denominator of their functionality. Marcel, a Catholic believer allying himself with the conservative faction in politics, sees in the metastasis of bureaucracy and the triumph of the managerial attitude an inhuman faux ordre that threatens the God-endowed dignity of the person. Both books examine the quantitative character of modernity – and the diminution of individuality in a world where millions or even billions dominate the scene. As two trends, the number of people and the pressure of number on the unique, gain in their dynamism, a degrading sameness assimilates the super-majority to a single pattern. For both Ortega and Marcel, the characteristics of that pattern include an overwhelming social orientation, a childish or primitive taking-for-granted of the civilized inheritance, an almost total lack of historical awareness, a concomitant presentism, and a moral vacuity that renders its thralls highly susceptible to fanaticism.
Rule of Law is often cited as one of the distinctive characteristics of the West, and of Western cultures, which has enabled the West and kindred cultures to rise above despotism, corruption, and poverty. And so it is. The keeping of the Law is traditional in the West.
But, the Law is only as good – can do only so much good – as the men who keep it. It is men who by their acts keep to the Law, enforce and adjudicate it honestly and as fiduciaries of the nation, or who do not; who transmit the tradition they have inherited, or who traduce it.
I have noticed that our adversaries often mistake our critique of their notions as ad hominem condemnation of them as persons. They then react defensively, levying just the sort of vicious ad hominem attacks they say they abhor. This mystifies me.
James Chastek’s Just Thomism is one of the sites I read without fail. I like it because he teaches me lots of things. He closed comments a while ago because responding to them took up too much time. So here is what I would have commented at his blog if he still allowed comments, in response to this post:
Many of the books in the “decline of the West” genre – which was already old by the time Weaver published Ideas have Consequences in 1948 but which still sells (Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed) – tell a curious narrative of decline over very large time scales. If Nominalism or Hobbesianism were as harmful as claimed, why is the diseased host still alive a half-millennium later?
Now that’s a good question. I myself have contributed a fair bit to the literature wailing and bemoaning nominalism. How do I answer the question?
Tonlieux have been a topic of discussion lately in libertarian circles. A tonlieu is a fee paid to a sovereign in exchange for safe passage or residence in his domains or for access to the markets thereof, and for the protection of his laws. Tonlieux were common in Medieval Europe. Domains of all sorts – cities, counties and abbeys, and of course duchies, principalities, and kingdoms – charged a fee to travellers who traversed or stayed in their lands or transacted in their markets (or used their bridges, ferries, or roads), no matter how short or long their stay. Payment of the tonlieu was manifest in an insignia – a visa – on a passport, which amounted to a receipt for payment. If you were in country without a current visa, you were not reliably under the sovereign’s protection, and so (in general, and with due allowance for differences in the detail of enforcement from one domain to another) might be fair game for footpads and highwaymen, thieves and burglars, muggers and fraudsters; and might be without recourse in any local court of law (which usually amounted to the throne room of the local sovereign); and might furthermore be subject to immediate deportation upon detection by the cops, if not also taking without compensation (in such cases the cops would take their cut of the expropriated assets and pass them up the hierarchy, with each level taking a cut, and the sovereign fisc last in line, although not least)(“civil forfeiture” has been around for a very long time: ‘cop’ is from the Latin capere, to take).
The recent proposals for tonlieux vary considerably. Since I’ve been talking up the notion for years, I might as well here offer a more detailed explanation of what I would propose. It is of course subject to change as I learn more.
Thanks to InfoGalactic, I learned the other day a bit about Chaos Magic. I had searched on “egregor” – the Greek for “watcher,” a topic of some interest to me – and found out that it is a term of art in that discussion. In Chaos Magic, an egregor is an artificial spirit, created by a magician as at first a heuristic hypostatization, a “thought form,” devised for his own convenient internal usages, of some nexus of impulses within himself – sometimes nice, sometimes not so nice (as, say, a besetting temptation) – so as to identify and, above all, simply *notice it,* and thus address it more aptly; and then at some point publicly promulgated, so that it then engages the interest and attention of other practitioners, who find it useful and adopt it for their own internal operations, so that it then informs their activities. A meme, in other words, but a meme that has some intrinsic characteristics that lend it suasive and informative powers, so that it can seem to take on a life of its own, and become the apparent animating spirit of a whole group of people. Widely disparate people, not communicating with each other at all (so far as we can know), can evoke the response to current events of an egregor that has possessed them without any outward coordination, and in a unison of spirit and even of diction that is truly wonderful, even spooky.
There is much truth in this notion. Consider, e.g., anthropogenic global warming. Or transsexuality. Or Trump Derangement Syndrome. Or Communism. Or for that matter any fad or trend or notion, any ideology, that has little objective correlate or reason outside the merely social world.