Sunday, September 15, 2013

Traditionalism & progress

We usually associate the term "progressive" with leftism. I don't think we should allow this association to stand unchallenged. There are certain ways in which traditionalism better serves the cause of progress than does leftism.

It's true that there are reasons why leftism is more associated with an ideal of progress than traditionalism. Leftists assume that the past represents an injustice that is to be remedied in the present and future. Traditionalists, on the other hand, recognise values that are enduring across the ages. There are masculine ideals, for instance, which were as valid hundreds of years ago as they are today.

But leftism, even though it is oriented to progress as a form of moral improvement in society, does not always bring about progress. Sometimes it is clearly responsible for forms of social regress.

Look at what has happened to the West culturally. The Western middle-classes once read the poems of Wordsworth and listened to the music of Elgar. Nowadays we are trying to figure out ways to limit the exposure of our children to Miley Cyrus.

Or consider that men's real wages have stalled and, for those without university degrees, have even gone backwards since in the early 1970s. At the same time, the cost of housing (here in Australia at least) has soared, retirement ages are being pushed higher, and the length of the working week is gradually increasing.

Poor white women in the U.S. live on average 5 years less than similarly placed women in previous generations.

For some generations now, there has been a dysgenic pattern of childbearing; university educated women have had poor rates of reproduction (43% of university educated women who recently completed their childbearing years ended up childless). There is research suggesting that Western populations have dropped 14 points in I.Q. since the Victorian era.

What is more, the Western populations have been left without borders, so there is no longer a guarantee that there will continue to exist particular Western communities determined to uphold a heritage of achievement in the arts and sciences.

And that is one way in which traditionalists are better able to serve real progress in society. Because we do identify with particular communities, we are determined to take these communities forward, and to preserve the best that these communities have achieved, whether in terms of moral standards, material conditions of life, scientific and technological innovations or cultural achievements.

Furthermore, we are not as reductive as leftists when it comes to the principles on which a community is founded. We are focused on coming to the best understanding of a complex order of being, one which incorporates the natural, social and spiritual dimensions of existence. For us, it is important to balance a range of goods in society, in a way that allows the framework of society to fit together and for that society to be carried forward into the future.

In contrast, leftists tend to look to more simple and abstracted principles of justice, which are gradually implemented in society regardless of the negative effects on the standards of that society or its long-term viability.

Traditionalists are also more oriented than leftists to the idea that we embody essences that connect us to a larger good and which provide a path of self-development through which we achieve excellence in character and conduct. We are oriented, in other words, to a positive vision of self-development and achievement in the world, rather than to the idea that our choices don't matter or have no higher significance.

Similarly, there is moral status attached in a leftist society to being the most oppressed or victimised. This can have the effect of encouraging people to search out ways in which they are weak or incapable, rather than focusing on building strength. Traditionalists, in contrast, admire those who have expressed their essential natures in the finest and fullest way.

Why pursue this argument about progress? It seems to me that in a liberal society many aspects of human nature have been shut off. But the one aspect of human nature that is left to people is what you might call our creative spirit. So that is what liberals fall back on - the instinct to shape the world and to make something of ourselves.

But for liberals "making something of ourselves" often amounts to little more than working at a job. That leaves leftists/liberals with the idea that they are bringing about human progress through their efforts to reshape the world.

Why should we allow leftists to believe that they are creating progress when in so many ways they are responsible for socially destructive trends? Nor should we allow them to have an unchallenged claim over such a significant aspect of human nature, namely the creative spirit. We should make a strong push to attract those for whom the creative spirit is a core experience in life.

4 comments:

  1. Great post, lots for me to think about. Thanks Mark.

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  2. Seconded. Very good post.

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  3. "And that is one way in which traditionalists are better able to serve real progress in society. Because we do identify with particular communities, we are determined to take these communities forward, and to preserve the best that these communities have achieved, whether in terms of moral standards, material conditions of life, scientific and technological innovations or cultural achievements."

    But which traditions are you talking about? Traditionalism is not a generic concept. The world consists of many societies, each with their own forms of traditions, cultures and religions. Within the White societies of European origin, different Established Churches and local cultures create societies and institutions which are hugely different from each other in social, economic and political terms.

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  4. Simon, Titus, thank you.

    Anon, I'm not talking about an undifferentiated Western tradition. Let's take France as an example. If you were a French traditionalist you might want to carry forward a regional identity/community followed by a national one followed by a larger European one. Personally I think the national one is the core one, but that's for French traditionalists to decide.

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