Contributor Post Created with Sketch. This Chaos Without Tradition

 

New “traditions” are entrenching themselves in America. Spontaneous one-man Civil Rights movements and the desecration of historical monuments have become authoritative expressions of the character and legacy of our society. Of course, these are not real “traditions.” They are the product of the fiery passion of democracy, the ardor of Jacobin fiends who have redefined what it means to be American. This is the chaos of a country without Tradition.

Tradition is a gift–an inheritance handed down over generations and not particular to any one person, family, or nation. It includes the mores of ancestors, and their heroes and holidays (as we had in this week’s Columbus Day) that express shared historical foundations. Tradition addresses the little things, like the proper attire at an evening party, even as it maintains great institutions, like the family, marriage, and religion. Though it cannot be explained by pure reason and logic, Tradition is in harmony with Nature, allowing us to better understand man’s origins and the world around us.

Today, however, Tradition is deemed senseless superstition — an arbitrary and expendable personal preference to be rejected at every turn. One cause of this has been Americans’ shared overreaction to the tumult of the Civil Rights Era. Generations formed in the ’60s and ’70s were riveted by the great courageous heroes of this movement and, of course, the natural justice of its cause. But after relentless revisions of history, future generations have failed to learn many other aspects of our culture’s past that are worthy of reverence — historical virtues without which the Civil Rights Movement would not have been possible. Thus, when we welcome immigrants now, we seem so ashamed of our past that we prefer that they bring their own identity, heroes, language, and mores with them rather than share ours as their common inheritance.

In reaction to this upheaval, sensible conservatives have tried to appeal to a priori natural law theories and legalistic platforms like “Originalism.” These are fine developments, in part intended to achieve dialogue and compromise with the Jacobins (particularly those who are intellectuals and lawyers) among us. But they are not enough.

As Edmund Burke observed in his criticism of the French Revolution, “the science of constructing a commonwealth, or renovating it, or reforming it, is, like every other experimental science, not to be taught a priori. Nor is it a short experience that can instruct us in that practical science, because the real effects of moral causes are not always immediate.” Nevertheless, in its most radical rejection of Nature and Tradition, our society redefined marriage and now encourages young children to redefine their own gender. In other words, nothing is owed respect beyond what the ego wants here and now — the individual’s “right” falsely is interpreted as a good.

Meanwhile, conservatives have allowed Tradition to be relegated to a tribe of “traditionalists,” which signifies a small subset of “devout” religious people. It is forgotten that Christianity and Judaism — fundamentally, Tradition passed down for centuries — are also the foundation of an ordered liberty in secular matters that makes peace and prosperity possible. Indeed, upholding Tradition is for the common good, even the good of those who do not believe in God.

Alarmingly, religious leaders have become afraid to talk of Tradition as an intrinsic good, as they sheepishly refer to diverse “faith traditions” to downplay claims of Truth. They allow religion to slide into mere “religious liberty” — negative, privatized, and protected by the cold legalism of Constitutional safeguards.

We should not be afraid to defend Tradition in our daily lives. It is a privileged inheritance of civilization to have something to preserve for the next generation. As you find yourself trying to avoid the convulsions of our time, an appeal to Tradition — if it is genuine — can be more effective than so-called rational argument or empty dialogue. There is consolation in this inheritance, which we can maintain in our families and churches in a bond with previous generations, even as today’s society dismantles what they have given us.

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  1. I Walton Member

    Good article. Indeed civilization is an emergent system, we call all the stuff (dark matter?) whether we can identify and understand it or not, tradition, but it’s civilization itself, the glue that emerged to combat entropy. Chaos always threatens because that’s where it all began, so when civilization starts to erode it tends to disintegrate. We call them Jacobins but they don’t rise to that they’re just free floating atoms divorced from anything human. Their passions? on a good day they can rise to become part of a mob.

    • #1
    • October 12, 2017, at 3:58 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  2. Sandy Member

    I suppose it’s a traditional thing (sorry) but the older I get (and I’m quite old) the more I find tradition to be important. I do find, happily, that even people taught to disdain tradition seem to give some weight to old practices, and almost everyone complains from time to time about some change or other that is supposed to be good for us. Thank you for reminding us of why it is important to revere traditional ways, especially as we may sometimes see a need to modify them. Now if only we might bring back the King James translation, and a few other things I have on my list.

    • #2
    • October 12, 2017, at 6:12 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  3. Hang On Member
    Hang On Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Image result for tevye fiddler on the roof movie

    • #3
    • October 12, 2017, at 6:42 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  4. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Louis Beckett: Tradition is in harmony with Nature, allowing us to better understand man’s origins and the world around us.

    […] Alarmingly, religious leaders have become afraid to talk of Tradition as an intrinsic good, as they sheepishly refer to diverse “faith traditions” to downplay claims of Truth.

    Though I like the general direction you’re heading, this is a few steps too far.

    If a practice has survived long-enough to become a tradition, then it’s all but certain that it has some intrinsic value or provides some sort of benefit. It does not follow, however, that the tradition itself is intrinsically good or even that it’s good-on-the-whole.

    Chesterton’s point wasn’t that every fence post deserved to stay up indefinitely, but that we should 1) Assume they were put in place for a reason and that 2) We make sure we understand that reason before tearing it down.

    • #4
    • October 12, 2017, at 12:38 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  5. Louis Beckett Contributor
    Louis Beckett

    Tom Meyer, Common Citizen (View Comment):

    Louis Beckett: Tradition is in harmony with Nature, allowing us to better understand man’s origins and the world around us.

    […] Alarmingly, religious leaders have become afraid to talk of Tradition as an intrinsic good, as they sheepishly refer to diverse “faith traditions” to downplay claims of Truth.

    Though I like the general direction you’re heading, this is a few steps too far.

    If a practice has survived long-enough to become a tradition, then it’s all but certain that it has some intrinsic value or provides some sort of benefit. It does not follow, however, that the tradition itself is intrinsically good or even that it’s good-on-the-whole.

    Chesterton’s point wasn’t that every fence post deserved to stay up indefinitely, but that we should 1) Assume they were put in place for a reason and that 2) We make sure we understand that reason before tearing it down.

    Fair points, Tom. I agree that a purely reflexive attachment to what has come before us can be problematic. That said, a consequentialist view of tradition – i.e., that tradition has value if it provides value – misses its primary purpose as an intrinsic good that binds us to past generations (the benefits are important, but byproducts).

    Chesterton called Tradition the “democracy of the dead.” While some gradual moderation of older ways is healthy as it occurs over time – and certainly Chesterton was opposed to modern reformers tearing things down for no reason – if we go too far in relying on our own personal judgment to revise what we inherit, we too proudly deny our ancestors that ‘vote.’

    This kind of individualistic approach to tradition ultimately has corroded its role in society. Columbus Day meaning one thing to an entrepreneur and another to an Italian and another to a Navajo is perfectly rational – but it is not the kind of collective deference to a transcendent, unifying culture that tradition calls for. Hence its (and our) breakdown. Or, in a mundane example, consider the big eye-roll one might get when insisting on a dress code. Even if one insists with social science studies that, over time, dress codes tend to conduce to virtues of temperance and humility (or a modern value: “professionalism”), exceptions will be presented and a consequentialist rule will break down in favor of individual preference. Someone can be perfectly humble without tucked-in shirts, but that is not the point of such a collective commitment.

    At the very least, consider this: whatever the right balance of rational scrutiny and deference to tradition, at this time we are radically too far committed to the former to the point where our “tyranny of reason” is hurting us as a society.

    • #5
    • October 14, 2017, at 12:04 AM PDT
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