Friday, July 04, 2014

Why give up the benefits of traditional community?

I've just returned from a short holiday in the countryside. I spent some time in a couple of smaller towns, where a more settled way of life still prevails. I could feel in these towns that sense of people and place which gives a special charge to the experience of life. Another way to put this is that it gives a more spiritualised experience of life.

And yet there are many people who have chosen to commit themselves instead to an internationalist, multicultural ideal. But why?

Here are some of the possible reasons why some Westerners have chosen such an option:

1. At the top of society there are reasons for wanting to break people apart from one another. If people are allowed to have "sideways loyalties" then there is a possible source of resistance to a complete domination of society by the logic of the market and by the regulation (and remaking) of society by intellectual "expertise."

This is significant because it means that the side of politics which is opposed to traditional communities has both money and intellectual support.

2. Liberals are likely to turn against traditional communities. This is so for a number of reasons. First, liberals are (formally) committed to a pluralistic vision of society, in which society is declared to be a neutral space in which the state regulates the relations between different groups holding an equal status (except that the traditionally dominant group is often not given equal status). This view leads liberals to criticise traditional communities as being too monocultural or "whitebread".

Second, liberals are often committed to an individualistic vision of society. Liberals have rejected the classical view of man being a social creature, with some of our identity and purposes being drawn from the social entities we belong to, and have instead looked upon the abstract, atomised individual (the individual considered apart from his community or family) as being the starting point of philosophy. For this reason, liberals are not as sensitive to the importance of a traditional communal life to the individual (this is the aspect of liberalism that communitarian writers have criticised).

Third, liberals hold to a concept of freedom in which freedom is defined as individual autonomy. We are free, in this view, if we are unimpeded in living a self-determining life. This means that predetermined qualities, such as our sex or our ethny, are thought of, negatively, as restrictions or limitations that the individual should be liberated from. This concept of freedom has ruled out many of the more significant aspects of human identity; what it has left for many liberals is the idea that life is about being self-made in the market. Hence the view of the individual as "economic man" in pursuit of his rational self-interest in the market. The more that this view dominates, the more that people are seen as interchangeable units rather than as members of distinct communities.

3. There are some Christians (not all) who have set themselves against traditional communities. This is despite what I pointed to at the start of this post, namely that the experience of traditional community life is a spiritualising one that is likely to bring the individual closer to, rather than further from, the acceptance of Christian belief.

Why might some Christians promote a shift toward a more mundane internationalism? One reason is that some Christians are reductionist in their world view. They want to distil Christianity into just one principle, and sometimes choose to go with an abstract, indiscriminate love for everyone equally. The value of particular human relationships aren't recognised in this outlook.

There are also some Christians who see particular loves and relationships as competing with, rather than leading people toward (or being aspects of), the relationship with church and with God. Some Christians even claim that the only legitimate community is that of church.

4. Intellectuals often don't share the same interests as others. Growing up they can feel like the odd person out, unappreciated and unrecognised by those around them. As young adults they are likely to seek out others like themselves and to form communities which are defined against the surrounding mainstream culture. Their form of community, in other words, defines status according to how far distant its members are from the ordinary mainstream of society. Intellectual communities have therefore tended to deny that their own society has a worthwhile culture of its own and have instead set out to identify with and enjoy the cultures of others.

5. In modern times, some Westerners may simply never have had the experience of living within a traditional community. In the larger, multicultural cities it is now possible to not know what it is like to be part of a living tradition of one's own.

6. Some people are not spiritually sensitive souls. They are more inclined to understand things materialistically and are therefore less likely to recognise the value of belonging to a settled community.

7. Some people of mixed ancestry, or who belong to minority ethnic groups, don't experience the existence of the (mainstream) living tradition as positively as others, not feeling that they belong to it as closely.

You can see from this the challenge of holding onto traditional community life, no matter what it brings positively to people's lives. Traditions won't go on just by themselves, not when they are up against the forces I have listed above. There has to exist resourced, organised, institutional support for them.

Traditionalists ought to be concerned that the economic structure of a society gives business interests reasons to support community; that the theology of the churches is a sophisticated one that brings the churches into the mainstream of social life, rather than marginalising them as cults; that intellectuals are brought into normal social life rather than forming hostile sub-communities and that they are encouraged to seek status through intellectual and cultural leadership rather than through rejection of the mainstream; and that rank and file traditionalists are given the chance to exert influence through organisations of their own.


  1. Wow, this is an excellent omnibus post of your ideas on the Liberal / Traditional conflict.

    1. Thank you. I should point out that the first point is one suggested by Jim Kalb (though he puts it a bit differently).

  2. Traditionalist societies are based upon 2 principal factors - religion which gives society it's spiritual and moral foundation and a hierarchical class system which provides the social organisation and allows the development of the economy, political system and higher culture. The identity of the individual is rooted in family , class and region of a nation. The economy is rooted in the regions of the nation and business serves the people and not the other way round.

    Values and traditions are passed on in hereditary fashion. The Church is above the nation and not simply part of "social life". Business is family owned and controlled rather than by anonymous shareholders. Intellectuals are constrained by the class system which limits and channels their influence into beneficial means.

    1. Anon, there are some good things in your comment, but I'd point out that religion has not for the past forty or fifty years given society its spiritual and moral foundation. Instead it has been the opposite - a dissolving force. In part, that's because the churches are no longer attuned to the idea of a greater, coherent order, but instead see themselves as just one sectional interest amongst many. If you don't take responsibility for the whole, then it's easy to become irresponsible in your beliefs, as you expect someone else to do the heavy lifting of repairing the damage, or making the sacrifices, or keeping things realistic.

  3. I can relate to item 7. Having parents from nations A and B and living in nation C was thrust upon me by the turmoil of the 20th century: despite a conservative bent and the best will in the world, I can't avoid being an unsettled internationalist (rootless cosmopolitan, anyone?)

  4. All conservatives and liberals ever seem to do is argue about who's a better collectivist.

    1. Dave, you cannot support the individual by giving up on natural forms of human community. Individual life suffers when we are left atomised and rootless. The connection between our identity, our social roles, our link to the past and future and our social commitments will inevitably suffer. It becomes a worse life for the individual, not a better one.

      As for the issue of collectivism, I expect that you are bringing in the debate between left and right liberals over statism. It is typical for right-liberals to prefer a smaller state, alongside a philosophy of the individual being self-made, whereas left-liberals more usually look favourably on a redistributionist, welfare state, as they argue that the state should intervene to give everyone an equal opportunity to overcome disadvantage etc.

      One thing I should point out is that if right-liberals push the individualistic line to the point that natural forms of community (family, ethny) are rejected, then it is likely that there will be even less resistance to the role of the state in the lives of individuals. If the family is not there to care for its members, then the individual is likely to look to the state for this support. If the family breaks down and wounds individual children, then the state is likely to send in the "experts" to repair the damage.

      To put this another way, if there are not "sideways" connections between people via a commitment to family and nation then there is likely to be an "up down" connection between the individual and the state.

      You need those natural forms of community if you want a small and non-intrusive state.

  5. The distinction between right and left liberals is artificial and in practice irrelevant. All forms of liberal individualism eventually lead to political tyranny and social collapse. The only way this can be resisted is by strong families. And I mean, not the nuclear family of liberal societies, but the extended family with clearly defined bloodlines and attachment to specific regions of specific countries and its clearly defined duties and functions. The nuclear family, itself a liberal construct, is too weak an institution to resist liberal tyranny.

  6. Mark, on point no. 4 it describes what Voegelin wrote on the topic of political religions and scientific gnosticism. He presciently articulated in the early 1950's how minority elites, hostile to their own people would soon take power and lead them to catastrophe by attempting to realize an immanent vision they possess of a world perfected in their image. Except for the fact that their act of abstract creation results in the destruction of real breathing people.

    The fatal flaw is always the misinterpretation of any current order as a cosmic fact, rather than a mere temporal arrangement by the will of men. This mistake allows their resentments to become the principles of existence, so for example wealth is the cause of poverty - not a default state that must be abridged by effort and ingenuity and likely attained by those gifted enough to concentrate capital.

    The world as the gnostic sees it is contaminated, inefficient requiring purification and therapeutic purging of a benighted majority who's ignorance only inflames those blessed enough to in-vision the second reality of the perfected world. This gives them license to not just kill but revel as moral sadists who would slaughter entire peoples as witnessed in Russia,China and Cambodia. The masses who stand in the way of the vision are to be swept aside like refuse, with all the attendant disdain one holds for taking out the trash.

    We are in great danger, they will not be persuaded out the dream world.

  7. Some Christians try to accept and apply the teaching of Christ even when those teachings go against things we cherish. And these Christians are willing to sacrifice particular cherished things if necessary because as a Christian one other particular thing comes first.

    1. But they talk themselves into a theology which requires them, as part of following Christianity, to give up Christianity itself. In other words, they convince themselves that to be a good Christian they have to help the world become Muslim. It's part of that fatal flaw within the Western mindset to follow beliefs to the point of oblivion.

      Anon, what matters is not whether or not we cherish something. A young man might cherish his porn collection, that doesn't make it a thing of significance.

      But if we look on something as an important good, because it is experienced as a transcendent love that has inherent meaning and that draws us toward God, and because it provides the context within which we express part of our divinely created being, then it is highly unlikely that the "one other particular thing that comes first" will be set against such a good.

  8. "to be a good Christian they have to help the world become Muslim."
    I have no idea what you are talking about here.

    "to follow beliefs to the point of oblivion."
    If by oblivion you mean sacrificing the accepted convention of this world even unto martyrdom, then yes. If by oblivion you mean irrelevance or even non-existence, then I would submit that for true Christians such a notion isn't even a consideration. We have the Lord. Through him and with him we are forever.

    "A young man might cherish his porn collection, that doesn't make it a thing of significance. "
    the same can be said about a family member or some traditions.

    "But if we look on something as an important good, because it is experienced as a transcendent love that has inherent meaning and that draws us toward God, and because it provides the context within which we express part of our divinely created being, then it is highly unlikely that the "one other particular thing that comes first" will be set against such a good."

    Someone supporting homosexual marriage might have written those exact same words.

    Please understand that I mean no disrespect. I do not know your heart and sometimes things get lost in translation. However, my one gripe with you and many traditional "Christians" is the othering of fellow Christians around ethnic and national lines. The bible teaches that isn't the Christian thing to do. It is just that simple. There are real world practical reasons for boundaries, but as Christians those boundaries should never be exclusionary. Rather a sometimes unfortunate necessary "evil" of living in a limited world. Many traditional "Christians" seem to be arguing for exclusion and that is anti-Christ-ian.

    1. "as Christians those boundaries should never be exclusionary"

      Never? Really?

      That's what I mean by Christians who are setting things up for a future Muslim dominance. The Muslims are happy to dominate their part of the world, whilst the Christians insist that formerly Christian lands should be opened up to mass immigration from the Muslim areas. You don't have to be a genius to figure out what the end result will be.

      You are interpreting Christianity in a way that makes Christianity non-viable in the future. I don't see the point of it.

      "the same can be said about a family member"

      You've talked yourself into the idea that our own children have no significance.

      Anon, we're really going to have to agree to disagree on all this. I understand that there do exist Christians like yourself, I wish you well at a personal level. But I'd prefer that the orthodox forms of Christianity from previous centuries would reassert themselves in the West.

    2. I am not sure where you are getting the Muslim thing. I have said my concern is for the othering and exclusion of fellow CHRISTIANS along ethnic and national lines.

      "You've talked yourself into the idea that our own children have no significance."

      I haven't, Christ did: Matthew 10:34-36
      Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to turn“ ‘a man against his father,a daughter against her mother,a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—36a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.

      All I have said, based on the bible, is that Christianity comes before the divisions that you would impose.

    3. Anon, I don't know what you expect to happen. Do you think that you can attack national traditions as exclusive, but then have the government uphold religious ones? In other words, do you think that people who play fast and loose with the larger traditions they belong to will make an exception for Christianity? They won't. Christianity will be tossed aside along with the rest of the tradition. As a practical matter, the West is not going to stay Christian in culture or identity if current patterns continue.

      As for the quote you made regarding family, there's another one you didn't mention about people having to hate their family to be a follower of Christ. That's where the Bible becomes difficult. If you take it literally, it contradicts other parts of the Bible, for instance, the injunction to honour our parents. It seems to be related to parts of the Old Testament in which the messianic period would be characterised by family strife. There is evidence, too, from quotes elsewhere in the Gospels that the idea is that we are to prefer this relationship (as an order of priority) to the family ones.

      Anon, your reading of the Bible has led you to take some odd positions. You have come to talk about the human family as a subjectively imposed division. If that really were what Christianity is about it would end up as a strange cult at the fringes of society.

  9. As a young man I find point 5 the most pertinent. I walk around the city and my university and sincerely long to know what it would be like to be amongst my own people in the city they built. I am the foreigner in my own city. I have had classes at university where I was literally the only non-Chinese in the room, including the tutor.

    It often occurs to me that for the immigrants that come here it is possible to go home and feel that sense of belonging and being amongst ones own people, but for me and my fellow Australians that is no longer possible. Even if we were to include our ancestral homes in Europe we still can never have that experience because they too have been so thoroughly colonised by non-Europeans. I don't dwell on it but it is sad.

    I think that the mass immigration of the last 20 or 30 years and the propaganda that has accompanied it has created a vicious cycle whereby people of my generation now find themselves hard-pressed to recognise any uniquely Australian culture worth preserving (traditional Australian stereotypes are appreciated but I don't think anyone really believes they are at all a reflection of present day Australia). This lack of definable culture causes most young Australians to feel uninterested in the need to preserve any particular aspect of our culture, leading to a "who cares" kind of acceptance of large-scale immigration. As more immigrants arrive and a uniquely Australian culture becomes progressively less discernible the resistance to immigration diminishes further.

    1. It often occurs to me that for the immigrants that come here it is possible to go home and feel that sense of belonging and being amongst ones own people, but for me and my fellow Australians that is no longer possible.

      Exactly. And then we get called privileged.

      a vicious cycle whereby people of my generation now find themselves hard-pressed to recognise any uniquely Australian culture worth preserving

      Yes, that's a problem. It's what the liberal elite have wanted to happen.

      sincerely long to know what it would be like to be amongst my own people in the city they built

      Things have changed so quickly. Even in the 1970s and 80s, when I was in my formative years, that sense of a national culture was still there. As I hinted at in my post, it didn't just affect one thing, but gave an extra charge to many things, for instance, in the way nature was experienced, or urban heritage, or the arts, or even love and family life.

      Anon, what I'd ask is that you at least stay open to the desire to live within a tradition of your own. The problem right now is that we trads are too few and we don't have immediate access to resources to get big projects under way. But political situations can change (e.g. France). If you don't give yourself a chance, then you rule out positive change.