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Traditionalist social philosophy – a sketch of an idea (Part One)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted January 30, 2012

(The earliest drafts of this essay go back to the early 1980s. – author's note)

This essay will endeavor to offer a short yet cogent definition of Western traditionalism (or conservatism). Surely, persons who are conservative-leaning should try to delineate and define what separates them from Communism, from Nazism and fascism, and from liberalism and left-liberalism in all their myriad forms. A positive step would be to call all those persons who are traditionally-minded back to their first principles.

Left-liberalism, liberalism, Communism, and Nazism can all be seen as materialist, secular ideologies, whereas real conservatism could be construed to be a perennial philosophy at whose core is an assertion of spirit over matter, and, in particular, the recognition of the difficult position of "persons of spirit" versus everyone else, throughout human history, but especially in current late modernity. It can be seen that spirit, mind, intellect, and soul, are related but not identical phenomena, in constant opposition to matter, the body, and the general tendency to entropy. As far as reason and will are concerned, one must recognize the existence of both "conscious-volition", and of the subconscious parts of the mind, from both of which evil and good can originate. At the same time, a traditionalist outlook should not rely too much on the overly-reductionist reason of the physical sciences, but rather on "the higher reason" of the philosophers.

Traditionalist (or conservative) philosophy asserts the belief in a traditional social absolute. Traditional means that it is hallowed by long-time usage. Social means that it is based and rooted in a social context, in relation to society. Different societies can have different absolutes, but the core notion of the absolute (or "bounded horizon of meaning") must, generally-speaking, be upheld in that particular society, when it is a traditional one.

Traditionalist philosophy asserts that these traditional social absolutes can be discerned (at least indirectly) through the human mind -- whereas the secular ideologies of modernity are, generally-speaking, hypocritical in relation to absolutes. On the one hand, one of the apparent "principles" of liberalism is "that there are no principles" -- your "values" are as good as mine. On the other hand, there is a highly ideologically-charged form of prevalent "political correctness" which functions as a kind of absolute, although it can be seen as an anti-traditional, and (a traditionalist would argue) an anti-social one, in the context of the societies in which it operates.

There is also the question of whether or not there is some kind of "absolute beyond absolutes", or the Absolute. Traditionalist philosophy would generally argue that the true "traditional social absolute" participates to some extent in the Absolute (which could be said to be "God", or "Human Nature", or "The Sum-Total of Humankind's World-Historical Experience").

The issue of Natural Law or Natural Right is not as straightforward for traditionalism as it might appear. On the one hand, there is a school of thought which sees the so-called "first wave of modernity" (e.g. Hobbes, Locke, Hume), as preserving some elements of the medieval scholastic Natural Law, which is therefore to be preferred over later waves of modernity (e.g. Rousseau, Marx, Nietzsche) which totally overturned it. On the other hand, the notion of Natural Law can be seen to have become virtually coëval with Lockean philosophy, and the kernel of all later ideas of so-called "universal human rights" (as self-servingly interpreted by liberals), or "abstract universals" (disembodied from living societies), which are rather disliked by traditionalist philosophy.

According to traditionalist philosophy, a human being's natural, uncontrived expression of his or her relation to the Absolute is religion. A straightforward embrace of tradition means standing fast by one's own religious tradition. A straightforward Western traditionalist would believe that the revival of Christian faith in the West is a prerequisite for the survival of Western civilization, although, from a strictly Christian viewpoint, Christianity will endure whether or not the West collapses. A straightforward Western traditionalist would argue for Christianity as the truest and firmest form of religious expression for Western societies, and quite possibly for all humanity. A believing Christian could not really claim otherwise, but would hasten to add that this worldwide conversion obviously could not be forced or hurried. The traditionalist Christian would assert this need for tolerance not because of some abstract liberal "right of dissent", but because Jesus Himself made clear that involuntary conversions were a grievous violation of the notion of human dignity recognized by Him. There is also an enormous difference between a society or a state very mildly promoting a Christian tendency, versus situations of non-Christians (or those considered schismatics or heretics or idolaters within Christianity itself) being summarily kept out or expelled from a Christian society, being persecuted or killed, or being forced to convert on pain of death or torture. It is clear that all these evils done in the name of Christianity were gross violations of the most central Christian teachings – and now are almost totally unthinkable actions for nearly every professing Christian today.

However, it can also be seen that the state-structure of contemporary American and especially Canadian society, effectively banishes Christianity from the public sphere, and in many ways promotes the most extreme and excessive forms of liberalism and left-liberalism. So current-day society may in its own way be as persecutory of Christianity, as it itself has accused Christianity of being in the past. A return to Christian intolerance is today extremely unlikely, and should not be a source of anxiety in politics. Today, one should not look at what religion once was, but what it can be, in the far different context of late modernity, when most of the problems confronting society may be termed as being "of a new type."

If the old persecutions by Christians are to be read into the indictment against today's Christianity and traditionalism in Western democracies -- then it must also be considered how thoroughgoing and vicious the programmatic policies of (to name the most prominent figures) Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot (resulting in tens of millions of deaths) were. All these policies were closely tied to radical left-wing projects of irreligion. Yet, left-liberals are rarely called to task for often tacitly supporting the crimes of these left-wing, atheist despots.

It should also be remembered that the Nazis were, philosophically, neither Christians nor conservatives, and in fact combined a vicious mixture of bloody-minded occultism and scientism. There were in fact curious convergences between the anti-clericalism of the Nazis, Soviets, and left-liberals of the day. Some liberals such as former British Prime Minister Lloyd George initially supported the "modern, progressive" Nazis, but opposed Franco's regime, or even Poland, because they considered the latter "priest-ridden reactionaries." It should be remembered that committed Christians constituted among the few serious centers of resistance to the Nazi regime in Germany itself. In German-occupied Poland, particularly savage persecutions were directed against the Polish Roman Catholic and other Polish Christian clergy. The theorists of Nazi Germany – far from claiming support from what they considered a "Semitic-inspired" Christianity -- understood Christianity as a massive barrier to the full implementation of their horrific agenda.

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.





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