What traditionalism is about

The following is excerpted from a 2007 VFR entry, “At the deepest level, Islam is incompatible with our self-understanding and with our very existence.” In the exchange, reader Bruce B. and I argue that just as man has a natural right to life, liberty, and property, he also has a natural right to live in a culturally specific community. Among other things, the discussion shows how the conflict between universalism and particularism (such as we see in the current debate with John Press) can be resolved. It is resolved by the understanding that particularity is universal and is part of the universal.

Bruce B. writes:

You wrote:

“John Locke wrote that since man’s nature is created by God, and since God wants man, his creature, to live, man has a God-given right to life, as well as to what is required for a human life, namely liberty and property.”

I’m sure Locke took things like culture, shared heritage/history, ethnicity, etc. for granted. Those things are also required for a decent life (every bit as much as liberty and property and maybe more so). So what we need is for someone to extend Locke’s argument (limited to private property and liberty) to these traditional concepts/institutions, while referencing Locke and using his arguments as the model. We need to argue that we have a God given right to these things and multiculturalism and mass immigration take these God-given rights away from us. I think this might be one of the best ways to get our message across.

LA replies:

I agree. I have done this several times, though not in a full-length treatment. For example, see my reply to a critic at American Renaissance in 1991 in which I take Leo Strauss’s discussion of the classic philosophic idea of natural right (meaning, that which is intrinsically right) as the basis for good order in the soul and society, and I add onto it the notion of cultural and racial particularity.

Here is the key passage:

The inner form of our common Western culture—the very basis of liberty under law—is the love of transcendent values higher than race or state. According to the Western philosophical tradition, it is the hierarchic order of man’s natural constitution—of his natural wants and inclinations—that supplies the basis for natural right. (Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History, p. 127.) I would argue that man’s natural need for membership in a cohesive and continuing community is one level of that hierarchy; and relative racial homogeneity is undeniably a factor in such cohesiveness. There is thus a universal right, proceeding from nature, to preserve one’s own particular society.

But the racial/national aspect is not the highest aspect of the constitution of man’s being. The potential danger of racialist thinking, evident in its more extreme manifestations, such as Nazism and Afrocentrism, is that, by making an idol of race, it cuts man off from the transcendent—from God, from universal moral principles, from our common humanity. Moreover, as I just indicated, it is only within the larger constitution of being that man’s more particular needs and values, such as the national, can find their true meaning and justification.

Now, the same sort of ethnocultural enhancement I’ve done here with Platonic and Straussian thought could be done with Lockean thought as well. Instead of accepting as the final word on the matter the culture-less, abstract, rights-bearing individual of Locke’s Second Essay on Government, who only requires life, liberty and property and thus has a natural right to those things, we can add on to Locke’s spare picture of human nature the self-evident truth that a basic requirement of human nature, and thus a natural right, is man’s belonging in a culturally specific society.

This is a central project of American traditionalism: to go back to the Founding documents and fill in the key dimensions of spiritual and social reality that they left unsaid.

[end of 2007 entry]

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 17, 2010 11:20 AM | Send

Email entry

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):