Traditionalist social philosophy – a sketch of an idea (Part Four)
By Mark Wegierski
(The earliest drafts of this essay go back to the early 1980s. – Author's note)
The number of persons of culture and virtue will generally be small in almost every society, the question being how far the first principles can be accepted by society as a whole. Thinkers, intellectuals, philosophers (or whatever one calls them) – as well as the poets -- are the ultimate determiners and legislators of whatever form the entire society takes. The Catholic Church, by its near-total intellectual monopoly, presided over the West for close to a thousand years. It was only when its intellectual monopoly was finally broken that modernity erupted forth, with a dizzying succession of ever more serious and intensive dislocations – along with the unquestionable triumphs as well as unmitigated disasters of modern science and technology.
It could be argued that most people, in any society, will be passive, both intellectually and politically, no matter what their economic standard of living is. The majority of the so-called "poor" in North America, who -- from some standpoints -- practically have the economic living standard of medieval knights or barons, most likely do not use their ample spare time (if on welfare, for example) to improve themselves, to study, to think. They usually follow their basest desires and impulses. Many, if not most people, in the middle and upper classes act in a similar fashion, the main difference being in the extravagance of their base pursuits. Thus, in any society, the number of people who are intellectually or politically active is limited. Unfortunately, in current-day society, the traditionalist would argue that a huge proportion of these people are proponents of poorly-based ideas which are misguided or sometimes even outrightly evil, certainly in terms of their social and cultural consequences, if not usually in their stated intent. Thus, no matter how high the standard of living is able to go, the problems of a disordered and disharmonious society will be with us.
Because of the egalitarianism of virtue, the traditionalist thinker can formulate the concept of what could be called the Vital Center (this term, which is borrowed from American liberal thought, takes on a much different meaning for the traditionalist). The "vital center" would consist of all basically decent people, of any class, ethnic background, or religious affiliation, who essentially keep a nation or society together. The stronger a nation's "vital center", the stronger its commitment to culture and virtue, and the closer it draws to the realm of the Spirit. At the same time, a strong "vital center" usually, but not necessarily, gives a nation great power in this world, because a spiritually-based and therefore genuine consensus exists between most of its members.
The "vital center" appears to be under severe attack in our society today. One could easily list a dozen or more "isms" that assault the remnants of traditionalist thinking, and traditionalist society. In the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, the vital center was practically exterminated and displaced. In North America and most of Europe today, the process is carried out through the mass-media and mass-education systems. In all such cases, there is the attempt to construct society entirely on the basis of the various, strictly secular ideologies. The Soviet Union was based philosophically on Marx as interpreted by Lenin and Stalin, two mediocre thinkers, but ruthless politicians. Nazi Germany was based, at least in part, on the ideas of Nietzsche, although these probably appeared in even more disfigured form than those of Marx in the Soviet Union. (There is in fact a huge debate on whether Nietzsche was the most consistently anti-modern thinker, or the capstone of modernity.)
In the Soviet Union, entire classes of culture-bearing individuals were liquidated -- the aristocracy, the nationalist intelligentsia, and the more industrious peasants. While the Nazis seemed to use traditionalist slogans when it suited them, their attachment to traditionalist principles was about as deep as the Soviet attachment to democracy. Real traditionalism understands that one cannot promote an apparently integral and holistic view of the lifeworld while at the same time encouraging people to give free reign to their darkest impulses. Every national entity must try to recognize the existence in the world of other national entities, by entering into a spirit of reflection about the nature of nationalism. The popularity of the Nazis also shows just how susceptible the German masses were to what was essentially a nihilistic secular ideology, combining occultism and scientism, for which the ground had been partially prepared by the anarchy and depravity of the Weimar period. Hitler, it should also be remembered, came to power by using the most "modern", "popular" and "democratic" means.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.