Traditionalist social philosophy – a sketch of an idea (Part Two)
By Mark Wegierski
(The earliest drafts of this essay go back to the early 1980s. – author’s note)
The straightforward traditionalist would argue that the spiritual side of the human person is best fulfilled in religion. If a person lacks the anchor of traditional religion, he or she will typically try to find the fulfillment of religion in ersatz, surrogate, pseudo-religions, precisely the secular ideologies. Thus, the straightforward Western traditionalist will say, instead of worshipping the God of Light and Love, such a person will worship the Savage God of ideology, the dark idols that demand human sacrifices and sexual debasement. At the same time, such a person might deny the existence of these idols (and their hold on him or her) in an act of self-delusion. Modern psychology (with its dozens, if not hundreds, of rival therapies) and modern science have also moved in the direction of substitute religions. Or someone who loses faith will find satisfaction in such things as cults, rock music, illicit drugs, promiscuity, or generally aimless "rebellion".
However, straightforward traditionalism offers little to persons who could be called ethical nonreligious individuals, or those who have had religious roots, but fallen away from them. Here is where traditionalist philosophy (and the appreciation of "the persons of spirit") may be called on to buttress religion. Indeed, philosophy and religion may be seen as two different modes of drawing closer to the Absolute.
Does the strictly religious viewpoint preclude philosophy or cultivation of the arts? There have been many philosophers who embraced the central idea of the megapsychlos, "the great-souled man". These would include Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, and Hegel -- to name but a few. If we look at those philosophers who insist on the existence of absolutes, we find many of the first-rank thinkers -- including Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Kant, and Hegel -- to name but a few. The non-absolutist philosophers exist mainly as a counterpoint to the absolutists. However, it may be argued that a more critical question is the philosophers' attitude to "the great-souled man"; as well as what practical effect a philosopher's thought has on the flourishing or undermining of such a person. For example, the practical effects of much of Kant's thought, working itself out in the world, have been to subvert the possibilities for the emergence of "great-souled men" in late modernity. On the other hand, Nietzsche's radical perspectivism could be interpreted as an attempt to redeem and re-nourish a transformed idea of the megapsychlos -- transmogrified in response to, and in order to confront, the extraordinarily harsh terrain (for the nurturing and flourishing of the megapsychlos) of late modernity.
In any case, philosophy does not necessarily progress historically, i.e., the later philosophers are not necessarily the better philosophers, nor is the thought of earlier philosophers necessarily outdated by new developments. One can, for example, still read Plato for incisive criticisms of phenomena similar to current-day democracy and liberalism.
It may be argued that virtually all the truly great works of literature, art, and music are conservative in the sense that they assert the triumph of Spirit (the Idea) over Matter, and that in these works we find some intimation of transcendent truths. Thus, in the Bible, in the great books of philosophy, and in the great works of art, music, and literature, we find portions of the overwhelming Truth of the realm of the Spirit. Even modern science, which, according to diehard traditionalist thinkers, only holds a candle to the sun in terms of explaining reality, relative to religion and philosophy, is tentatively edging towards the recognition of the importance of the spirit-centered viewpoint (as in the works of C. G. Jung, or Fritjof Capra in The Tao of Physics, 1975).
However, one of the advantages of sensible religion over pure philosophy, is that religion is accessible to everyone, regardless of native intelligence and other accidental characteristics. It is that part of traditionalism, at least in the Christian worldview, which proclaims the equality of the souls of all men and women before God. In the Christian belief, God does not allow for any special categories of persons exempt from his moral laws. This does not mean, however, that He estimates a person’s moral worth as the same, regardless of their lifelong moral qualities and behavior. He is quite willing to "divide the sheep from the goats". And it may be seen as one of the aims of organized human societies to reflect, however dimly and imperfectly, that kind of so-called "judgmental" outlook.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.