Today, I discuss the relationship between individualism and traditionalism.
Table of Contents
- Understanding Traditionalism in a Modern Context
- The Modern Critique: Why Tradition Faces Resistance
- Timeless Insights: What Tradition Offers the Individualist
- Tradition Provides Wisdom About Human Nature
- Family, Communal, and Religious Life as Blueprints for a Good Life
- Traditional Solutions to Modern Issues
- Modern Challenges and Traditional Foundations
- Bridging the Past and Present: Crafting a Virtuous Path Forward
Understanding Traditionalism in a Modern Context
“Conservatism starts from a sentiment that all mature people can readily share: the sentiment that good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created.” – Sir Roger Scruton
Traditionalism is “the upholding or maintaining of tradition, especially to resist change.”
There are many traditional religious, social, and cultural beliefs and customs. Everything from marriage to the proper role of government in day-to-day society has been challenged and redefined in the modern era. Thus, tradition has an overall negative view in contemporary society.
However, traditionalism is on the rise. A desire to “go back” or “return” to the ways of our ancestors is a tempting call. Despite its objective successes, modernity possesses many problems that a more traditionalist approach could fix.
Today, we will delve into the complex relationship between individualism and traditionalism, explore how past wisdom can intersect with the needs of the present, and challenge our preconceived notions of tradition and traditionalism.
Let’s take a moment to investigate the role of tradition in modern society and understand why its perception has changed.
The Modern Critique: Why Tradition Faces Resistance
Overall, modern man has a negative view of tradition and the past. He sees his ancestors as bigoted, stuffy, brutal, and backward. For example, our ancestors were not as accommodating to different lifestyles and choices, such as homosexual and interracial couples.
Furthermore, traditional values and ideals can shun or stunt specific technological or cultural changes. Many traditionalists are Luddites, opposing technology’s negative effect on people. Or, they may criticize cultural changes such as democracy and the value of everyone getting a say in the political sphere.
However, despite people’s negative view of tradition, its relevance today becomes evident when we consider the issues our modern world faces. For example, modern man is overly addicted to his technology. He doesn’t use technology to travel to the stars or improve his health. He uses it for distractions like porn or social media.
Traditionalism, like modernity, is far from perfect. But how should an individualist think about conservatism and the desire many people have to “go back?”
Timeless Insights: What Tradition Offers the Individualist
Tradition opposes and strengthens individualism. A tradition can give an individual a clear purpose and focus, especially if that custom inspires. For example, marriage helps people support and focus on others while creating a stable life for their personal benefit.
Tradition is a net negative when it stands in the way of virtuous behavior or personal freedom. For example, an interracial couple couldn’t legally exist worldwide if you go back far enough. This social and legal opposition to miscegenation is a tradition that doesn’t serve the virtuous ends of individuals.
With all this being said, I still believe tradition has four main things to teach individualists. Through these four items, you’ll earn respect for the past, admiration of the present, and insight into modern man’s unique battles.
1) Tradition Provides Wisdom About Human Nature
“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” – C.S. Lewis
Tradition gives us great wisdom about suffering, conquest, human nature, and more. Our ancestors’ actions, customs, rituals, and trials reveal much about human nature.
The men and women of the past had a deeper connection to how a man is, seeing as he didn’t have toys, trinkets, political correctness, and social media to hide his pitfalls. There are many realities we can’t explore today because we are too busy worrying about the feelings of others. The past had no such concerns.
For example, Lady Macbeth captured the essence of feminine evil in a way that modern man won’t explore. Her character reminds us that women are capable of great evil through their manipulations and relationships.
Furthermore, the rituals and structures of the past give us insight into how we ought to be. For example, the traditional familial system where the man worked, and the woman stayed home had drawbacks. However, the benefits are numerous and reveal more about human nature than most moderns care to admit.
Although the past is incorrect on many things, particularly social issues, they understood many aspects of life more deeply than we did. Therefore, as an individualist, you should take the time to listen to this wisdom and adopt the most virtuous insights.
2) Family, Communal, and Religious Life as Blueprints for a Good Life
One thing modern man cannot wrap his head around is that vice does not elevate him. We are inundated with comfort. Our response to such a reality is to immerse ourselves in excess and hope such addiction will free us from our worries.
Traditionalism shows us that attending church, raising a family, and involving yourself in the community can lead to positive outcomes. You naturally have to forgo your vices and focus on others through these actions. This reshifting pushes you towards more difficult but meaningful ends.
One does not have to pursue the traditionalist approach wholeheartedly to benefit from its inherent challenges and values. We can find struggles unique to ourselves, and we will improve the world around us by seeking these challenges.
But the traditionalist approach provides a solid blueprint for overcoming your comforts through serving others. Furthermore, such a blueprint is universal and applies to nearly every prosperous and functioning society. You don’t have to be a genius or an elite to have a family, serve them reasonably, and die knowing you’ve done well.
You may reject the means, but a core lesson of traditionalism is key: you can only achieve happiness by overcoming your vices and pursuing your most virtuous self to benefit yourself and others.
3) Traditional Solutions to Modern Issues
Traditionalism helps us recognize the universals of humanity: people desire stability, stability is difficult to build and maintain, family is essential, religion plays a significant role in people’s lives, and so forth.
Once again, an individual can choose his path. He must. But traditionalism helps us see what people have always wanted and why those things are net benefits, even if we can’t understand those benefits in the modern era.
These universals are lost in our atomized world. People don’t have families; people are mired in addictions such as pornography that our ancestors understood as intrinsically evil; and our skeptic world is depressed, lost, and scared without God.
Therefore, people can resolve many of their mental, physical, and social issues through more traditional ideals: community, family, God, and hard work. The more modern values of tolerance, acceptance, fun, and comfort are not solving the malaises that torment most people.
We have too many problems in the modern era that excess comfort has not resolved. We must be humble and acknowledge traditionalism’s wisdom and solutions to our social and personal ills.
4) Modern Challenges and Traditional Foundations
“Top-down government breeds irresponsible individuals, and the confiscation of civil society by the state leads to a widespread refusal among the citizens to act for themselves.” – Sir Roger Scruton
The main drawback of traditionalism is the inability to grasp why our ancestors acted the way they did.
They were not disciplined, virtuous, and hard because they chose to be. They had to be disciplined. Life offered no alternatives. Either you worked hard, or you died. There was no Wal-Mart or massive welfare state.
The wisdom of the past is entirely unequipped to deal with our present-day struggles. Indeed, what can the sages say about excess resources? What can the Stoics say about mountains of food or the Bible about technology and AI?
We are facing challenges on scales no one could have predicted. Our ancestors were forged when there were natural consequences that squelched their appetites. We have no such limitations.
For example, the ancients warned against gluttony. But they spoke of gluttony during scarcity. At what point are we being too greedy? When we’ve had three meals instead of two? When we eat poorly made, cheap food or invest too much in expensive but healthy food? Is it gluttony to take too much time preparing food to save a little money? Tradition defines the foundation: gluttony is bad. But we must determine where the line is, as our ancestors could never imagine we would have so much choice with so little effort.
Thus, remember that you will need a modern mindset to tackle contemporary problems. While tradition offers much more wisdom than we care to admit, it is vital to forge a new path to deal with the more recent issues.
Bridging the Past and Present: Crafting a Virtuous Path Forward
As an individual, you can learn great wisdom from the cultural actions of the past and the stories they impart.
Modernity is confusing. Social and cultural changes are moving rapidly, making navigating the vast waters of our modern society difficult. Tradition offers accumulated wisdom that serves as a lighthouse, not an anchor.
While not all traditions elevate the individual, you can still gain great wisdom from the past. As individuals striving for a virtuous life, we should blend the lessons of the past with the demands of the present.
Only through such rigorous adaptation will we craft a unique life that respects the wisdom of our ancestors while embracing the challenges and opportunities of our era.
- Have you ever read any traditionalist literature? What did you think of it? Did you find it helpful? Irrelevant? Wise but misguided in certain areas?
- Do you feel that you’ve become more conservative or more interested in conservative things as you’ve aged? Has your perspective on social issues or how you view the world changed?
- Where do you feel modernity is wiser than the past and vice versa? What can you adopt from either era and use to your advantage?
- How to be a Conservative by Roger Scruton – A great starting point in reading traditionalist or conservative work would have to be Sir Roger Scruton. He deeply understood the need for traditionalism and wrote about conservatism in an accessible way. Additionally, I believe he made his case respectfully, and even if you disagree, you can easily see the reasoning behind his beliefs.
Please remember it’s important to do the actionables. You’re not on this earth to simply read but to do. To become an individual, you must act more than you consume.
*Image credit to Unsplash.