For as much as I call myself a “Traditionalist,” I’ve never exactly given a very good explanation of what constitutes “being a Traditionalist.” I don’t like saying that “the way we’ve always done it is the way we should always do it,” because replicating past solutions to past problems rarely fixes problems in the present. A person doesn’t even have to believe in traditional practices to do them properly and neither does a true believer need to properly perform traditional practices. This is what makes Traditionalism particularly tricky to nail down. Substance is important and not to be dismissed, but it’s the style that matters more.
You can be a social or cultural shut-in content to live in the shadow of an imagined past and still not be doing any better (possibly worse) than the person who lives in the present but knows nothing of the past. Neither one is particularly “traditional.”
Does Tradition mean dancing around the Maypole or dressing in colourful folkish garb and drinking mead? It sounds like good fun to get around a fire and drink mead (with or without a fire), but– how is it that we “do” Tradition without committing the crime of being culturally, socially, and politically dogmatic?
Julius Evola gives is a starting point from his Men Among the Ruins:
“Tradition, in its essence, is something simultaneously meta-historical and dynamic: it is an overall ordering force, in the service of principles that have the chrism of a superior legitimacy (we may even call them ‘principles from above’). This force acts through the generations, in continuity of spirit and inspiration, through institutions, laws, and social orders that may even display a remarkable variety and diversity. An analogous mistake to the one I have just condemned consists of identifying or in confusing the various formulations of a more or less distant past with the tradition itself.” (Evola, Men Among the Ruins, pp. 116 – 117)
Giving a list of things that I’m for or against and then demonstrating how I work for or against those things doesn’t necessarily make me a Traditionalist, even if it incidentally puts me in the service of such. Were I to take on “various formulations of a more or less distant past” and champion them as exemplar of conditions for my idealized society I would certainly be committing the mistake that Evola roundly condemned in the previous statement. The customs, mores, and standards of the past were designed to explicitly deal with problems associated with the past. New problems, conditions, and constraints arise as our social, political, and religious conditions change. There is not a “one solution fixes all” answer for all problems at all times. Practicing small “t” traditions are a part of performing large “t” Tradition, but I’m still not answering the question.
Let’s give a working definition of Tradition by saying that a person can be a Traditionalist by making protection of religion, family, and the state the first priorities of lifestyle, and then a long list of certain other things being sub-sets of those first three or a distant second set of priorities. The reason we make religion, family, and state strong or powerful is to protect and enable the individuals in society to come nearer of perfection and unity with God. These first three priorities guide us on the Lesser Crusade against the outer barbarian, and also onto the path of winning the Greater Crusade of battling against our inner barbarian.
I’ll play devil’s advocate to myself right now because I’m still begging the question of what those certain precious traditional values are, where they come from, and why those in particular are worth keeping or teaching.
Small “t” traditional activities (apple pies, hoop skirts, square dancing, advent calendars, etc…) are sort of like modesty, because they do something special for ourselves and those around us. We’ve investigated modesty previous of this in a reading discussion, so without going over all of it here I’ll give it to you in a couple of sentences: Modesty is something we do outwardly in dress or manner to show that we revere and respect our divine spaces and places within and without ourselves. Some gestures of modesty are more grand than others, but even some slight gestures of modesty do much for us; so, modesty is something we consciously and intentionally do to protect a divine quality about the Self or our holy places. This idea of modesty relates to small “t” traditions in a similar manner. We make an effort to venerate and revere our past by recreating and re-performing the acts of our ancestors. We do these things without respect to entertainment or difficulty (thought it’s more accessible when it is both fun and easy) because it specifically marks us inward spiritually and outward physically as knowing of whom we came and that we want to teach other members of our community the same.
So, the caveat, again: Suppose I’m a baker for a larger grocery store and can make better apple pies than any of the women at my church. Does this make me more “traditional” than them? No. The simple act of making apple pies, making peach preserves, or keeping a victory garden won’t make me “traditional.” It could just make me a poor sharecropper who is forced to sell baked goods and preserves at church to pay rent.
If you’re still not with me, then let me say this differently yet again: Performing small “t” traditions lets you be large “t” Traditional, but only if it’s for the purpose of communicating something about the past generation to the next generation. So, if Tradition were a radio it needs to have a sender, receiver, and an audience. Small “t” tradition is akin to having an antenna, a receiver, a microphone, and a speaker all sitting on the table in pieces. They don’t do us any good unless we assemble the pieces correctly (enter big-t Tradition) and are using them for the purpose of allowing past generations to speak to the next generation.
A netizen accused me the other day of being an American with mixed up traditions, and that these conditions are creating some kind of confusion by which I don’t (or can’t) know my real traditions. I am, of course, guilty of being an American (no guilt, no apologies!). It’s also an honest charge to say that Americans have a mix of traditions– but everybody does. The knights in the Christian Crusades were running on fumes of what were themselves a carryover from Norse mythology, but then Christianity gassed ’em up again to power through ’til the end (see Evola’s Metaphysics of War). Sociologists would say the same, but they would call it “cultural diffusion” wherein one culture learns or accepts the traditions and habits of another.
And, somehow, I’ve managed to come all the way to the end of this article without saying a thing about what a “traditional” activity is. That’s the most pleasurably puzzling part of what it means to be a Traditionalist: This is entirely dependent upon the history of your people and the manner in which your culture and society have developed. Traditionalism should pick up “a local flavor” and should be different from one place to the next. That being said, not all small “t” traditions are worth keeping, but most small “t” traditions serve a beneficial purpose of teaching the youth how to handle challenges in the here-and-now.
Let’s go back to the last argument comparing bonafide Tradition to a radio. Different cultures and different people each have a different “radio,” but they’re all designed for the same function. This does not, of course, mean that the Traditions and traditional practices of the Russians are going to be a good fit for my own western European identity. What I’m trying to get at is whether or not we’re using that radio (our folk traditions and practices) once it’s assembled, or if we think that we can just sit the parts in near proximity to each other on the table and that the magic will just happen on its own. The whole point of having and keeping a romantic imagination of the past is to create a conduit or pathway for our ancestors to speak to the youngest generation and to give them the tools they need to conquer the barbarian among them and the barbarian within them.