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the future of traditionalism

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Does traditionalism have a future? Can any movement based on the past have a future? A recent post at Oz Conservative offers some food for thought.

An idea that has become quite popular is that traditionalists should form small localised communities, largely self-sufficient and isolated from the rest of society. These would be like safe harbours in which traditionalists can pursue their lifestyle and practise their beefs sheltered from the storms of the outside world.

But as Mark points out, “Such communities won’t survive the larger trends within society without clarity of principle, i.e. without firmly establishing an alternative ethos or ‘metanarrative’ that can be embedded within its culture.”

A point with which I heartily agree. My post today is largely an expanded version of a comment I left there.

One problem that is often overlooked is that that alternative ethos needs to be something that will attract genuine voluntary support from the members of such communities. The ethos has to be something that will engender genuine enthusiasm. It must capture people’s imaginations. It cannot be imposed by force – this point cannot be emphasised too strongly. The members of those local communities have to want to embrace that ethos.

This applies particularly the young. If young people are not excited by it then they will abandon it. For a very long time young people have in fact done just that – they have voted with their feet and they have voted against traditional communities.

The Amish are a good example. They appear to be a success story but in fact a very large proportion of their children turn their backs on the Amish lifestyle, the Amish beliefs, the Amish ethos if you like. The only reason the Amish continue to increase in numbers is because they have such enormous numbers of children. You can afford to lose a third or even a half of each new generation if every couple has at least six kids. But how many traditionalist communities can sustain such birth rates in the long term?

And that alternative ethos also has to be something that enthuses women.

That’s why liberalism has been so successful – it’s something that is so very appealing to young people. To young people traditionalism seems boring and oppressive. To women traditionalism seems stifling. Somehow a way has to be found to change those perceptions.

The weakness of the “traditionalist local communities” concept is that I just do not think they will easily be able to offer a vision of society that is going to maintain the allegiance of the young, or the allegiance of women. And they will not be able to command the allegiance of the young and of women unless women and the young can be persuaded to offer that allegiance willingly and with enthusiasm.

All traditionalist societies in the modern world (including even Islamic communities) face this problem – a large proportion of their young people cannot wait to escape from such communities. They just cannot compete with the appeal of liberalism.

I think it needs to be accepted that you cannot recreate the past. You cannot go back to the way society was in the Middle Ages, or the 17th century, or the 19th century or even the 1950s. Too many irreversible changes have happened since those times. Urbanisation is an obvious example – traditionalism works for small rural communities but how is it going to work in an increasingly urbanised world? How is it going to adapt to the technological changes that we have seen? A traditionalist society that turns its back on technology is going to run into problems. How can traditionalism work in an age of mass education and mass media, and social media? Can traditionalism co-exist with capitalism? Or democracy?

There have also been social changes that are probably irreversible. Are people today, especially young people and women, going to accept a complete return to the Christian sexual morality of the past?

Traditional societies were and are heavily based on religion. Which means you need a religion that will command people’s enthusiasm. Is Christianity up to the job?

I’m not suggesting that traditionalists should give up. We can learn from the past and we can learn from traditional societies but we have to adapt traditionalist beliefs to a changed world. We have to take from traditionalism those things that will still work. And perhaps abandon those elements which clearly will not work.

It may sound perverse but perhaps we need a forward-looking traditionalism?


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