does a traditionalist conservative do when he becomes convinced that public life is proceeding on fundamentally bad principles? The usual resources of the extremist are unavailable to him, because traditionalism is adverse to dogmatism, conspiracy theories and cure-alls. On the other hand, he can no longer participate in what passes for the mainstream. The following, extracted from a
So what is to be done? Basic matters like following traditional morality in
daily life are clear enough. More and more the world enforces other demands as
the price of integrity. The situation of traditionalists is becoming that of
religious minorities in Europe before 19th century emancipation. Technocracy
makes traditional beliefs on matters such as relations between the sexes and
the place of the transcendent in social life hopelessly opposed to the
understandings now demanded. Official insistence on commitment to
antitraditional views has begun to make it difficult for a traditionalist to
accept a responsible job in a mainstream institution, or permit his children
to be educated by the public system. In the coming years such difficulties are
likely to affect more and more of life.
A radical traditionalist movement has thus become necessary. The immediate
function of such a movement would be to make life as a traditionalist easier
for those so inclined; the ultimate function to restore tradition to public
life. The first goal can be pursued piecemeal and as occasion offers; the
second is mostly a matter of maintaining principle. Pragmatic success on any
large scale is likely to be slow, because the traditionalist outlook is so
deeply at odds with modern public understandings. Nonetheless, the views of
even a tiny minority can be influential, especially if they express durable
aspects of human life that established views ignore, because they change the
setting in which men act.
That effect can be cumulative; if the public outlook has gone radically astray
steady maintenance of an alternative can eventually transform what views seem
plausible. The traditionalist outlook has great long-term advantages. To say
values are human creations, as technocrats do, is to reduce morality to a
statement of what others want and make it utterly ineffectual. Rational
hedonism can motivate only what is self-serving, and formal liberal principles
like utility or the categorical imperative are insufficient for the concrete
demands of life. Effective common action requires faith in something that
encompasses and transcends us, so lasting success goes to those who care about
something more substantive than winning. Traditionalism connects morality to
the nature and tendencies of things, and so grounds the trust in the world
needed to motivate a comprehensive system of action.
In any event, grand public success is ultimately not the point. Honesty and
maintenance of principle is itself victory. Traditionalism means that politics
depends on things more important than itself, that our purpose in life is not
pragmatic success but living in accordance with spiritual and moral order. We
must give our lives a footing in what is real; from that all else follows. At
a time when good and evil are proclaimed the offspring of desire, and all the
means of publicity and tricks of rhetoric are used to foreclose discussion, it
requires thought, effort and independence of mind to do so.
Independence does not mean denial of our surroundings and connections; the
world would have ended long ago if good were not more pervasive and enduring
than evil. The point of tradition is not to fabricate anything but to secure
and foster the good everywhere implicit. The means are at hand, since we learn
to live well in attempting to do so. Natural feelings lead us toward right
patterns and understandings. Living memory and recent history tell us of a way
of life, much of it still available to us, that is far more explicitly at odds
with technocracy than the one that now prevails. Formal study also helps: the
history of modernism shows how we got where we are, and the classics put us in
touch with what preceded. Discussions with others, those sympathetic and those
opposed, help clarify and broaden our thoughts and provoke thought in others.
The current situation demands something different from each of us. The
traditionalist movement is an alliance of traditions, each with its own
doctrines and authorities, working together against a pervasive common enemy
that would destroy humanity as such. Such a movement has its strains and
paradoxes, since traditions oppose each other, but its necessity is clear. As
it evolves it will come to have its own standards, although each tradition
will see what is needed somewhat differently.
On some points unified action is called for. We are social beings, and as such
must confront the new order together and publicly. Its nature tells us what
weapons to use against it. The power of technocracy comes from an unquestioned
acceptance that is not well-founded and in some ways is difficult to maintain.
Nonetheless, the language and habitual assumptions of public discussion make
it hard for those sympathetic to traditionalism even to articulate a position
different from the one dominant. Objections stutter and fall silent before the
confidence and seeming coherence of the technocrats.
The political battle today is therefore in men’s minds rather than the
legislative chamber, the polls, or the streets. Men naturally revert to
tradition unless it is continually disrupted and suppressed. What is necessary
is less to enforce particular traditions than to weaken antitraditionalism.
Those who are not against us are for us; our job is not to overcome our fellow
citizens but to bring them to realize where their fundamental sympathies lie.
The overwhelming public success of the technocratic outlook makes it an easy
target. The ability to break its spell by forceful and repeated questioning
and by providing an articulate alternative is an enormous power, one possessed
by traditionalists right now if they would only use it. In spite of New Class
dominance, Western polities allow anyone to participate in public discussion.
There are ways of suppressing discussion , but also a thousand forums —
dinner table conversations, local meetings, letters to editors and public
officials, Internet discussions, little magazines, campaigns of minor
political parties — that permit any of us to present almost any view he
thinks right. A few intelligent and forthright voices in each forum arguing
against the new order and for traditional ways would have a powerful effect on
the balance of intellectual forces and eventually the social order itself.
The language of public discussion must therefore be contested. Technocratic
rhetoric must be deflated, modernism deprived of the appearance of moderation
and its brutal implications displayed. The possibility of social technology
must be disputed, the failures of the new order driven home, and traditional
understandings justified. Man must be shown to be a creature that lives by
blood loyalties and transcendent goods, human life a compound not only of
impulse and appetite but of essences — man and woman, Confucian and
Christian, Turk and Jew.
Confronting technocracy, of course, is only preparatory. As men our main goal
must be to put our own lives in order, and for that something more definite is
necessary than clearing obstacles and indicating general directions. Truth
exists for us in concrete forms, one of which each of us must accept as
authoritative. To establish a life better than the one offered by
individualistic liberal choice — in practice, by experts, advertisers and
popular entertainers — it is necessary to accept and submit to a specific
community and its traditions. That is not easy when social practice is too
diffuse to make the authority of any tradition a given, but in times of
dissolution each of us has no choice but to find his way to something to which
he can give himself wholly.
At bottom, the answer to today’s confusions lies in faith, the realization
that we do not make the world, that we recognize rather than create the Good,
Beautiful, and True, and that to do so adequately we must draw on a wisdom
greater than our own. Our acts can be fruitful only as part of an order for
good founded in the nature of things. In spite of its apparent strength
technocracy is based on fear of anything greater than ourselves and refusal to
face obvious human limitations. It must fail because it has no way to deal
with realities. Success is far more likely than appears. The world is ours: we
need only throw off the chains of illusion.