Ideas and Ideology: An Introduction to Traditionalist Conservatism

Editor’s Note: The following is a rough excerpt from the introduction of a forthcoming book on Traditionalist Conservatism on which the author is working currently. 

When encountered by a typical moderne, the traditionalist conservative causes confusion, for he does not square neatly with popular, post-industrial conceptions of Left and Right. The reason our typical moderne cannot fit the traditionalist conservative into a neat, contemporary ideological box is simple: At his core, the traditionalist conservative rejects all ideologies, for ideologies are simply secular religions which replace Christianity with faith in a political ideal or principle, and the traditionalist conservative in the West, being a Christian, or at the very least accepting the Christian soul of Western civilization, has no need to do so.

Indeed the traditionalist conservative recognizes that all contemporary political, social, and economic ills are rooted firmly in a spiritual sickness. Modernity as we know it is to the traditionalist conservative anti-Christianity established. Politics flows downstream from culture, and culture, as traditionalist minds throughout the ages have observed, derives ultimately from the cult. “Ideology is inverted religion, denying the Christian doctrine of salvation through grace in death, and substituting collective salvation here on earth through violent revolution”, writes Russell Kirk, widely recognized as the intellectual godfather of authentic modern American traditionalist conservatism. “Ideology inherits the fanaticism that sometimes has afflicted religious faith, and applies that intolerant belief to concerns secular”.

This fanaticism of ideology and its fundamental concern with the secular leads at best to the Leftist social engineering that has become commonplace in contemporary times and at worst to the communist mass murder that marked a significant part of the 20th century. The traditionalist conservative seeks to better himself, strengthen his soul, and serve his community, whether in imitation of Christ or pursuit of the heroic ideal. The modern ideologue, however, seeks only to build a perfect utopia, and will happily sweep away long-established customs, communities, and traditions (and at times human lives) in pursuit of that goal. Modernes may have different personal deities — Mammon or Ganymede, fraternité or égalité — but they all believe in the God of inevitable, predestined progress.

Being secular religions, ideologies flourish when real religion dies. Thus it should come as little surprise that the central politico-philosophical point of divergence between the traditionalist conservative and the moderne is of course the Enlightenment, which signaled the birth of secularism and the death of the Ancien Régime and the last remnants of the Christian Imperium, and is the intellectual wellspring whence derives all modern ideologies, of both Left and Right. Which brings us back to the moderne’s inability to comprehend the traditionalist mind; the moderne and the traditionalist conservative not only hold two entirely contradictory worldviews, but are in fact also operating within two fundamentally different and opposing paradigms.

The traditionalist conservative is an authentic reactionary; traditionalist conservatism is no simple fetishization of the past. It is in fact the complete and utter rejection of the Enlightenment and all modern liberal, democratic assumptions about society, politics, and morality in their entirety. The authentic reactionary trusts tradition and is suspicious of innovation and hostile to revolution. He is by inherent nature religious and anti-secular. He cherishes organic community, but despises collectivism. He values private property and a free market but is resistant to Free Trade and opposes predatory super-capitalism. He loves hierarchy and rightful authority, but hates the modern techno-bureaucratic state and is ever watchful for tyranny. He believes in ordered, individual liberty, but loathes the anthropocentric individualism of the libertarian and the liberal. Indeed thoroughly aristocratic, the traditionalist conservative is thoroughly anti-democratic and anti-egalitarian, rejecting mass democracy in all its forms — and yet he would gladly take up arms to protect the common man preserve his traditional way of life.

And to the traditionalist conservative mind there is no greater threat to the common man and his traditional way of life (and actual life, for that matter) than ideology. As Kirk notes: “Ideology, in short, is a political formula that promises mankind an earthly paradise; but in cruel fact what ideology has created is a series of terrestrial hells”. Or, as the title of Richard Weaver’s seminal 1948 book put it, Ideas Have Consequences. The consequences of ideology in just the last century or so alone were never-ending civil wars and revolution, widespread cultural and social decay, and the mass murder of well over 100 million souls.

Rejecting all ideology, the traditionalist conservative has no particular ideological opponent; his true enemy is the Modern age itself. Needless to say he has long been fighting a desperate and losing war. The last traces of tradition continue to vanish as Modernity only strengthens its iron grip on Western man’s soul. Thankfully, there is in our time widespread unhappiness with the current status quo and resistance to the worst aspects of Modernity. Both the Left and Right have seen an explosion of populist anger directed at the destructive economic order, and moderate, everyday folks are growing increasingly uneasy with — and opposed to — mass immigration and radical racial and sexual movements.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of contemporary populists, conservatives, and those on the growing dissident right (Alt-Right, ‘Alt-Lite,’ white nationalists, etc) are still fundamentally operating in a post-Enlightenment paradigm and accept some basic Enlightenment suppositions. This means that their proposed cures for the ills of Modernity are tragically doomed to fail, for they not only seek to fix that which is fundamentally and irreparably broken, but they are also trying to do so with methods and means rooted inherently in Modernity itself. Observed Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Columbian philosopher, political theorist, and one of the most penetrating proponents of traditionalist conservatism to have ever lived: “Leftists and rightists merely argue about who is to have control of industrial society. The reactionary longs for its destruction”.

Those who feel uneasy with Modernity, who recognize that there is something profoundly and fundamentally wrong with the society in which we live, would do well to look to the work of traditionalist conservatives, rich in exposition, prophetic wisdom, and clarifying certainty. In doing so they will realize that they are far from alone, and know, to quote that greatest of traditionalist mythweavers, that there is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s