You don’t ever really become a Traditionalist, or at least nobody I know has. It more dawns on you that you’ve been one all along.
Ever notice that something about the world we live in feels subtly wrong? Ever stand in a cheering crowd and suddenly wonder why everyone is cheering? Have you ever been slightly discomforted by the fact that what was “good” a decade ago is now bad, and that nobody knows what will be “good” tomorrow and that nobody seems to be able to adequately explain why?
People from across the political spectrum frequently point out in frustrated tones that all politicians are the same. Such people are usually (rather accurately) describing the sorts of sycophantic personalities that tend to be attracted to the modern political process, but a few wiser souls tend to sense something deeper is going on.
Something is just not right about the modern world.
If you’ve been educated in any university humanities department you’ve probably been taught some variation of the Marxist explanation on the subject; that is that all politicians seem the same because they ultimately serve the financial interests of the Capitalist ruling class. This analysis has sunk so deeply into the bloodstream of academia that even most of those thinkers who would never consider themselves Marxian and even those who furiously proclaim their antagonism to that tradition often still use the same general concepts as a jumping off point for their own ideas.
This worldview seems to satisfy a great many young minds. Yet to myself and many others something about it seems rather lacking. Without exhaustively poking holes in this brand of analysis it is sufficient to point out that the basic materialist assumptions about the world and the faith in the ultimate perfectibility of human beings held by Marxists and their witting (or unwitting) fellow travellers don’t actually explain why the nice Marxists and the evil Capitalists seem so united in their fundamental assumptions about how the world works.
Both the Left and Right in our society seem to take it as a given that any characteristic one is born with must in some fashion be made not to matter, either by removing barriers to entry based on such characteristics or by the fundamental transformation of all of society to force them into irrelevance. Both Left and Right accept some formulation of the blank slate theory and deny that humans have any inherent nature at all.
Both Left and Right are convinced that autonomy of the individual is the highest of all possible goods. The only division between them is whether absolute equality or absolute liberty is the best manner of achieving it.
In short, regardless of whether you are the most Right wing of libertarians or the most Leftist of Communists your basic argument is about means not ends.
The Right winger mocks the Leftists playing at identity politics, certain that only a focus on society as a collection of individuals equal before the law interacting freely in the marketplace can allow each person to reach their true potential. The Left winger mocks what he sees as the Right winger’s naiveté that any true autonomy can exist in a society while one man is the son of a billionaire and the other the daughter of a single mother on welfare.
Neither ever questions whether human society could ever be based on something other than the pursuit of autonomy. All of them seem committed to the struggle to make a world in which humans are free to truly create themselves for themselves from the ground up.
In this debate the Right winger points to the obvious superiority of the market in promoting the economic growth that allows all people within a society the freedom from deprivation and access to material comforts that allow them to better define themselves as a person (are you Apple or Android? Coke or Pepsi? Nike or New Balance?).
The Leftist screams back that such comfort is only possible through the subjugation and drudgery of others, and that the poor of a society can never enjoy the same political or social autonomy as the rich no matter how high the tide has raised all boats.
The entire Cold War that ravaged so much of the world and perched humanity at the edge of nuclear conflict for decades was based almost entirely on the competition between these two very similar worldviews with their very similar assumptions about humanity. The thirty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall have been a triumphal parade of the Right side of this argument on the economic front and a vengeful, furious, destructive rampage through the cultural institutions of the West by the Left.
The result, especially in the West but as time goes on across the rest of the world as well, has been the development of increasingly atomised societies filled with ever rising numbers of individuals utterly cut off from those around them. The steadfast institutions that once bound communities together be they churches, unions, social clubs or nations have increasingly been pulverised between the efforts of the Right to create a world of free markets and the Left’s attempts to “deconstruct” all the institutions they blame for creating inequality.
Because the fundamental things that make us who we are; our gender, our ethnicity, our family and even our biology are not chosen by us they are seen by both sides not as a basis of our being and the foundation of our identity but rather as illegitimate restrictions on we as people becoming who we “really” are.
From the Left the result is terrifying. Gender, ethnicity, family and even science itself must be “deconstructed” through social pressure, mob violence or the power of the state if they fail to reflect the “true” reality of a blank slate humanity. From the Right the result is better described as disgusting, a worldview where your heritage matters less than your choice of fast food restaurant or favourite video game in defining who you really are.
Traditionalism is the recognition that human nature exists, that all men are not created equal, that gender, ethnicity, heritage and family are not abstractions to be nullified but the basic foundation stones of who we are. Traditionalism is recognising that not being able to choose something about ourselves doesn’t make that characteristic less important, but more.
After all most people change their political opinions over the course of their lives, most societies evolve (or devolve) in their value systems over time. Is the University Marxist who becomes a crusty old conservative a different person simply because they chose to believe different things at different points of their life? Is an Englishman any less an Englishman for living before or after the abolition of slavery?
The things we choose can be unchosen. They are by their very nature temporary and impermanent. The idea that the choices we make form a more important basis for who we are than those characteristics with which we are born is absurd. So absurd in fact that only a group of very intelligent people working furiously across centuries could possibly have convinced themselves of it.