Buildings

I do not like the artifice of modern cities. However, there is something quite pleasant about older constructions. Buildings of wood and stone, rather than concrete and brick, have an appeal to them that I don’t find in modern architecture. There is something in old architecture, even in more recent manifestations of the same spirit such as the nineteenth century revival of the Gothic style, that I just can’t see in modern buildings. The Renaissance architects called that style “Gothic” as an insult, for they thought it was crude and barbaric. Perhaps my tastes are vulgar and unsophisticated. Maybe a more refined palate can appreciate the soulless sterility of modernism. I don’t really care. I still want to demolish the chrome skyscrapers and build a sodding great castle in their place.

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Published in: on February 19, 2008 at 12:55 am  Leave a Comment  

Death

“Fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity.” I’ve always quite liked that one. Its vulgarity gives it impact and its concise simplicity drives its point home far more effectively than any elaborate argument could do. However, I don’t really agree with it. I suppose it depends on how you define “peace.” If by peace you just mean a lack of fighting then of course it is true. But are the enslaved really at peace? When I think of peace I think of being free and unthreatened. If my country were conquered and my people enslaved, I don’t think I would consider myself to be at peace. So, despite the clever slogan, not only is it possible to fight for peace but sometimes it is the only way to achieve peace. In a similarly superficially paradoxical manner, I believe death is vital to life.

One of the defining features of modern society is its tendency towards abstraction and sublimation. Living in a modern city, it is possible to be almost completely oblivious to the non-human world. With the exception of a few specially designated and carefully limited areas, the ground is made of concrete and tarmac. I spend most of my time in an office, air-conditioned with blinds covering the windows, or at home in my centrally heated flat. Only the most extreme weather conditions have any impact on my daily life. Neither the weather nor the seasons affect the shrink-wrapped foods that appear in my local supermarket. Everything is artifice. Everything is designed and built by humans. Presumably there is a real world underneath all this but I rarely see it. Not in the city, anyway. It is like being at the top of a large pyramid with no knowledge of the components lower down the structure. Whole sections could be moved, removed and replaced and no-one at the top would ever notice. Of course, this was the intention. The great technological project, born in the Enlightenment and matured in the Industrial Revolution, always hoped to conquer the physical world. Never again would humans be at the whim of chance events. Never again would we have to worry about disease or lack of sustenance. The natural world would be turned into an unlimited resource with which we could construct our own world according to our own design. Through the use of human reason, humanity would be freed from its physical fetters. Clearly, one of the cornerstones of such a project must be freedom from death. Our medicine has not yet reached such heights but, just as we are not yet totally free from the constraints of the natural world but we abstract our lives away from it, freeing ourselves from consciousness of the real world even if we are not yet physically free of it, so modern society tries to free itself from consciousness of death.

For most people in the West today, death is hidden. Despite all the talk about social decline, our society is still much less violent than in ages past. Our streets may not be as safe now as they were fifty years ago but they are considerably safer than they were two hundred and fifty years ago. Traffic accidents are relatively rare, even when they do happen we are unlikely to be at the scene ourselves. Illness is hidden away in hospitals. We even hide old age, shutting away our elderly relatives in “retirement homes” and “nursing homes.” Warfare happens in far away places, mediated by satellite television with neat and tidy graphics and snappy soundbites. Even our meat is slaughtered and butchered far from our sight, by the time it reaches us it is packaged into convenient pre-prepared portions.

Shutting out the non-human world may appear to bring us material benefit but it kills our souls. If we never experience something that is not of us, we begin to lose any real sense of what we are. If we never experience awe and majesty, we never develop a desire for more than our mere comfort. If you give a dog a warm home and a convenient food supply, he will stay there contentedly. If you give me a comfortable house near a supermarket, I will spend my spare time climbing mountains and camping in the snow. I have a desire to connect with the real world, to be a part of the world that has not been designed and shaped by man, that is stronger than my basic desire for material comfort. I do not wish to live in the wild like an animal but equally I do not wish to live at the other extreme, cut off from the wild like a character in a virtual reality simulation. Both extremes are unhealthy.

Similarly, suppressing consciousness of death is not healthy. An understanding of mortality is essential to a meaningful life. No-one thinks it is sensible when a bereaved person refuses to admit that their loved one has died. But that is exactly what modern people do when confronted by their own death. Death is so unfamiliar to them that it terrifies them in a way that it never could early man, surrounded by death every day of his life as he was. I know people who admit that they choose processed food because it doesn’t remind them of an animal. That amazes and horrifies me.

Heidegger had much to say about the importance of considering one’s death. He claimed that an authentic person must “run ahead” to his death. It is only by running ahead, by anticipating one’s death, that one really opens up possibilities for living authentically now. T. Birch elucidated some of Heidegger’s more obtuse language in a 1996 paper. If you are unfamiliar with Heidegger’s terminology, substitute the phrase “human being” for his term “Dasein.”

There is a very brief way of framing how Heidegger approaches an understanding of death: since death is not something we can experience (live through), there is really nothing at all to say about “death itself.” In this sense, death is not — it does not exist for an individual to experience. But since “death,” in the sense of the termination of all possible experience (at least as we presently know it) is inevitable, a given fact of human existence, we can say a great deal about the attitudes we do have, as well as the attitudes we ought to have, about this quintessential aspect of human existence.  We can say that what is important is not “death itself,” but dying, the manner in which the human being lives as it aims toward death.  “Death,” as our being toward it, is the focus of Heidegger’s analysis.  The old saying that as soon as we are born we are old enough to die, Heidegger notes, is not something we can ignore – for how we live in light of this fact makes all the difference (Being and Time, p. 158)…

Anticipation means confronting by actively revealing, disclosing, death as possibility… In Dasein’s disclosing of itself to itself in anticipation, certain phenomenological “results” come to the fore that Heidegger simply describes rather than “proves.” Compressed for brevity, these include the following. (1) Death individualizes Dasein, revealing that being-with others ultimately fails when one’s inmost potentiality of being is at stake. Dasein, in facing death is thereby freed from “the they.” (2) In becoming free from the inauthentic modes of the they, Dasein becomes freed for one’s own death. Further, Dasein comes to understand its own death, as imminent and not to be bypassed, opens up all the possibilities lying before it as possibilities to be taken up freely, apart from the influences of the they. (3) In taking up the certainty of death, Dasein confronts a form of certainty that belongs to something not of the order of objectively present things.  This certainty is in regard to Dasein itself, it understands itself to be of this “other” order of things. (4) Dasein does not ignore either the certainty or the indefiniteness of death. In anticipation, Dasein holds itself “in passionate, anxious, freedom toward death” (BT, p.  173). (5) In being freed from the they, and individualized in death, Dasein is able to understand “the potentialities of being of the others” and existing existentielly “as a whole potentiality of being” (BT, p. 172). In other words, the recognition of individual death does not separate us from each other, but forms the basis for authentic human interaction through mutual regard.

In slightly less convoluted prose, there is quite a nice line in the film The Kingdom:

You know, Westmoreland made all of us officers write our own obituaries during Tet, when we thought The Cong were gonna end it all right there. And, once we clued into the fact that life is finite, the thought of losing it didn’t scare us anymore. The end comes no matter what, the only thing that matters is how do you wanna go out, on your feet or on your knees?

You will die. It is going to happen. You will die. If you understand that, you will achieve a certain freedom that is denied to most by modern Western society. Death is nothing to fear. That doesn’t mean that I want to die any more than my desire to feel a part of the non-human world means that I want to live like a wild animal. There is a healthy, human balance to be found, perhaps rediscovered, between the two extremes.  Acceptance of the inevitability of your death gives you a freedom to do the right thing, rather than merely the safest thing.

I do not think it is coincidence that the only widespread and effective movements to abolish capital punishment arose in the post-Enlightenment era. Since the late eighteenth century, death has become more and more terrifying to the general populace. The more we have tried to suppress our consciousness of it, the more it has restricted and governed our lives. People in the modern West live with a crippling fear of death that would seem disgustingly cowardly to people of earlier times. For a particularly banal but insidious manifestation of this overwhelming fear, you need look no further than recent Health and Safety legislation. But far worse than that, consider the fear with which people limit their own lives. People are scared to walk around the city at night alone. Parents are too scared to let their children roam and play as they used to do. I do not doubt that crime rates are rising but people’s reaction to the danger is absurd and pathetic.

We should bring back public hangings. Not only would this allow true justice to be served (I am always disgusted when some bastard is convicted of the most base and vile murder but is sentenced to only a few years in prison while his victim rots) but also the spectacle would bring death back into modern life. And it should be a spectacle, it should not be hidden away in a prison. It should be simple and physical, not an automated lethal injection or an electric chair. Parents used to take their children to Tyburn to watch the public executions. It used to be family entertainment. Now they just watch television.

We should abolish the inhumane practice of transporting livestock to industrial slaughter machines and instead allow farmers to kill their own animals as they used to do. We should encourage local butchers and the eating of meat that looks like an animal part rather than shrink-wrapped processed food. Even better, go hunting. Let your prey live wild and free before it dies, then stalk it, kill it and prepare it yourself. We should decriminalise duelling and allow men to settle matters of honour by the sword. We should allow civilians to carry arms and to defend themselves and their community rather than abstracting that duty away to an increasingly political police force. At the very least we should bring back into fashion the art of memento mori.

We should not cower before death.

Published in: on February 13, 2008 at 12:56 am  Leave a Comment  

Radical Traditionalism

I believe that the term “Radical Traditionalism” was first used by John Michell, when he published his Radical Traditionalist Papers in the 1970s. A compilation of Michell’s columns for The Oldie magazine was published in 2005 under the title Confessions of a Radical Traditionalist. In 2002, Michael Moynihan, Joshua Buckley and Collin Cleary produced the first issue of a journal that they called Tyr after the Germanic sky god. The phrase “Radical Traditionalism” does not actually appear anywhere inside the journal, but on the back cover there is a paragraph entitled What does it mean to be a Radical Traditionalist?:

It means to reject the modern, materialist reign of “quantity over quality,” the absence of any meaningful spiritual values, environmental devastation, the mechanization and over-specialization of urban life, and the imperialism of corporate mono-culture, with its vulgar “values” of progress and efficiency. It means to yearn for the small, homogenous tribal societies that flourished before Christianity – societies in which every aspect of life was integrated into a holistic system.

The journal has since become the keystone of a movement calling itself Radical Traditionalism and defining itself, to a large extent, by the ideals set out in the pages of Tyr. Aesthetically, Radical Traditionalism appeals to me quite strongly. I have similar feelings about many aspects of the modern world and I feel an emotional resonance with the Radical Traditionalist point of view. However, in practice, I find myself disagreeing with them on a number of points.

Traditionalists of all kinds – Radicals, Perennialists, Conservatives and all the other myriad manifestations of this mentality – share a belief that we are approaching some sort of “end time”. Some refer to the Hindu concept of the Kali Yuga, others refer to the Ragnarök of Norse mythology or the Iron Age of Hesiod and Ovid. But all seem to share an understanding that we are coming to an end. I do not. Civilisations rise and fall, that is obvious, and it is highly likely that Western civilisation as we know it will disappear at some point in the future, but I see no reason to predict cataclysm.

I do not believe we are headed for ecological catastrophe. The Earth may be getting warmer but it has been hotter in the past and no doubt it will be much colder in the future. We will adapt. Even if the sea level rises, it will do so gradually and we will have time to prepare ourselves. I do not believe the hype peddled by Global Warming doom-mongers, most of whom appear have socialist political agendas rather than genuine environmental concerns anyway (but that’s a whole different rant argument.) My scientific skills are limited, although perhaps greater than those of the majority of the Western populace, and I have no knowledge at all of climatology. I must base my opinion on a survey of the opinions of experts, taking into account their possible biases, conscious and unconscious, their ulterior motives, and so on. To be honest, I can’t be bothered to expend much effort doing that. I have been able to deduce that climatologists are almost unanimous (and the dissenting voices provide good reasons to be ignored) in their opinion that the Earth is getting warmer. But there is still no agreement at all on the degree to which human activity is responsible for that warming. I wouldn’t be surprised if we are responsible to some degree – after all, we have produced a lot of carbon dioxide recently and the greenhouse effect is an experimentally proven phenomenon, so it seems logical that our activity might have increased its influence on global temperature – but I have no idea whether or not that degree is significant or whether it is swamped by some other factor. Everything from sunspots to the alignment of the planets has been proposed as a cause of global warming and my cursory research has not uncovered a scientific consensus on any of them. Not that this is particularly important because, as I already said, I believe we will be able to adapt to any environmental changes anyway.

Similarly, I do not believe we are headed for economic meltdown. We might have a recession – they happen sometimes – but I don’t see why that would cause a societal collapse. As is the case with climate change, a lot of people have quite strident opinions about this despite not being even slightly qualified to assess the situation. When the sub-prime mortage debacle first hit the headlines, people knowingly told each other that this was the beginning of the end. They could see this credit crunch getting worse, some of them could even “sense” it, whatever that means. My knowledge of macro-economics is even worse than my knowledge of climatology, but again it is probably better than most people’s, and I haven’t got a clue whether or not the recent financial troubles are significant. I prefer to remain sceptical and open minded. Maybe it will get worse, maybe it won’t. I don’t know. I certainly have no reason to be certain. And, as with global warming, even if there is a major recession I see no reason why that would cause the end of our civilisation. We’ve had recessions before and no doubt we’ll have them again.

I disagree with Traditionalists on a number of other issues as well. I totally reject the mystical crap spouted by the Perennialists. There never was a single, world-wide, universal religion. The fact that there are some similarities between many different religions is easily explained by the fact that all religions were concocted by humans.  Guénon, Schuon and Evola all had interesting things to say, some of which I still find relevant and inspiring, but the universal esoteric religion stuff is just unsubstantiated bullshit. Of all the different Traditionalist currents, I resonate best with Radical Traditionalism.  Radical Traditionalism allows for sound, scholarly, academic study of pre-Christian Indo-European culture. It doesn’t have so much of a religious axe to grind as other forms of Traditionalism. However, although it looks better on paper, I am still unsure to what extent I really agree with them. This article is an attempt to discover how in tune I am with Radical Traditionalist thought. I am not a fan of ‘isms’ in general and I have no desire to give myself a new label, but as co-editor of a new Traditionalist journal I feel a need to sort out whether or not I actually have any affinity for Traditionalist thought.

In the preface to the first issue of Tyr, the editors ennumerate a number of ideological points:

1. Resacralization of the world versus materialism.

This appeals to me. To the extent that I am religious at all, my conception of the sacred manifests itself through the world around me. I feel a sense of awe when standing on the summit of a mountain, or sailing far out to sea, or just gazing up at a clear night sky. On a cloudless night, far enough from civilisation to be free of light pollution, I can spend a long time contentedly watching the stars. I like to see the world as more than just a resource to be used up. I think one of the aspects of Heidegger’s philosophy that appeals to me most is his insistence on the importance of letting things just be.  Heidegger said that modern man is constantly projecting meanings, attributes and significations onto the world around him, when he should instead just allow things to be themselves. Actually, that sounds more like hippy drivel than anything that Heidegger actually said himself, but that’s pretty much how I interpreted his words anyway.

“Resacralization” means appreciating the particular virtues of a place. It means recognising the value of something in itself, rather than solely as a resource for something else or as a commodity to be traded.  That value must be a spiritual, or emotional, value. It is not a value for anything or a value in respect of anything, it is an inherent worth. In this context, I understand “materialism” to be the opposite. To the materialist, nothing has an inherent value but only a usefulness as a resource. I think of the logger who said that when he sees trees he sees stumps with dollar signs on them. When asked about thousand year old Redwoods, he said he saw really big stumps with really big dollar signs on them.

2. Folk/traditional culture versus mass culture.

This also appeals to me. The differences between different peoples are disappearing. I think it is a shame when old folk traditions die out, customs wither away and genuine diversity is lost. However, it is hard to sensibly define “mass culture”. In some sense, folk culture is mass culture – mass culture is the culture of the masses, who are the folk.  Turning one’s nose up at mass culture is dangerously close to being a snob. Then again, I frequently am a snob. I am unashamedly elitist in other areas so I probably shouldn’t be ashamed of cultural snobbery either. However, mass culture in this context is more usefully identified as the “corporate mono-culture” reviled above.

Of all the epiphenomena of capitalism, nothing angers and upsets me more than branding. The replacement of meaningful values by corporate slogans really pisses me off. There are advertisements on the London Underground at the moment exhorting me to “Be more Nokia”. What the hell does that mean? Are they seriously suggesting that I should assimilate my attitude and behaviour, in effect my morals and value system, with that of a mobile telephone company? It seems that there is no longer any place in people’s lives for honour. No-one cares about doing the right thing, they are only interested in the latest thing, the fashionable thing, which is inevitably the most effectively marketed thing. I have no problem with advertising in principle. When advertisements consisted of raising awareness of the existence of a product, comparing that product with its rivals, and disseminating information about that product, they were useful and sensible. But very few advertisements bother with any of that any more. Instead, they are all about branding. They are all about the creation of an association in the mind of the public between a brand and an attitude or ‘lifestyle’. People actually get tattoos of corporate logos! Orend-Cunningham wrote:

In postmodern consumer culture brands have become more than just products. Corporations present products as being representative of certain personalities and lifestyles, consumers fetishize the brand, not the product itself. With brand fetishism, brands represent and become equated with lifestyles as brand awareness and advertising become more important than the product itself (Vanderbilt 1997). In applying the notion of brand fetishism to corporate logo tattoos, the tattoo is an expression of what the brand represents, not necessarily a loyalty to the superiority of the product. Advertising expert Colette Henry argues that logo tattoos represent a way for consumers to proclaim one’s philosophy of life (Henry 2000). She explains, “young Americans with Nike swoosh tattoos have adopted the advertising slogan ‘Just Do It!’ as their personal philosophy of life.”

I despise this. I hate the fact that these artificial brands have replaced social values. You only have to look at Sir Ian Blair to see that honour no longer has any place in public life (and he was knighted!) In this respect, I am entirely in favour of “traditional culture” rather than “mass culture”.

However, this corporate mono-culture is not the same thing as capitalism. Clearly, corporate branding is a capitalist phenomenon but it does not differ significantly from the subversion of values performed by the state under socialist governments. I really don’t see much difference between the propaganda posters of the Soviet Union and the posters in Nokia’s current advertising campaign. I am not sure whether these brands are pushing out traditional values or whether they are merely moving into the empty space left by the disappearance of old values. I suspect that the corporate mono-culture is a symptom rather than the cause of moral decline.

When every person is considered the same as every other person it is inevitable that their culture will reach a lowest common denominator. A universal culture, what the editors of Tyr call a mono-culture, is unlikely to ever rise above materialistic hedonism. Libertarians often bemoan the fact that the masses care so little about Liberty, despite Libertarianism being their best route to material well-being. But it seems that no universal culture can support any ideology, even one as exemplarily modernist as Libertarianism. What hope then for old-fashioned ideologies that emphasise duty, honour and loyalty? It is in this respect that I support “folk culture”. Individual customs and traditions serve to differentiate between different peoples and cultures. My preference could be described as particularist rather than universalist. I would prefer the continued existence of many diverse traditions, each one particular and different, such that each culture might rise to the highest level it can, rather than a single universal culture that drags everyone down to the same level.

However, where I differ from typical Traditionalists is that I see no reason why traditional folk culture couldn’t co-exist with capitalism. There is only one ideological aspect to capitalism and that is the principle of private property. It is the legal guarantee that my property will remain mine that allows me to save and it is my saving, in association with other savers, that provides the large capital accumulation that funds entrepreneurship. No-one even vaguely conversant with the theory of economics can doubt that capitalism is by far the best system to ensure material prosperity. Some people, even Traditionalists who in other contexts ridicule the “Myth of Progress”, seem to have a bizarre faith in the inevitability of technological progress. There’s nothing inevitable about it. The technological achievements that allow modern medicine, transport, communications and food production to exist – in short, the technology that allows six billion people to live on this planet without starving and nearly a billion of them to live in previously unimaginable luxury in the West – is the result of a relatively short period of capitalism. Furthermore, I see no real alternative. A command economy, besides failing dismally at its primary goal, wouldn’t help to restore traditional culture. I find the idea that a government bureaucracy could restore traditional folk values completely laughable. If anything, we need less state interference in our lives, not more. So although I despise “corporate mono-culture”, I am thoroughly in favour of free market capitalism.

While writing the above I was acutely aware that the real reason I like traditional folk culture doesn’t really have much to do with the arguments I was espousing. Truthfully, I just like it. I emotionally resonate with traditional culture in a way that I just don’t with modern culture. I find modern culture quite alien and unpleasant. I get depressed just walking into a supermarket with its shiny floors, fluorescent lights and shrink-wrapped produce. I don’t believe supermarket food is worse for me than locally produced food, I don’t believe it is worse for the environment (all that hype about “food miles” is utter nonsense) nor do I think it necessarily tastes worse (although freshly grown vegetables from the garden do usually taste better than bought ones) it’s just that I really don’t like modern aesthetics. Glass and steel office blocks look ugly. Concrete saddens me. There’s just something about industrialised life that really doesn’t appeal. Everything that I wrote above is true, but to be perfectly honest I would be happier living in a pre-modern world with worse healthcare, poor communications and fewer people. The achievements of modern technology are impressive but I don’t really want them. So, actually, “just because” might be a more honest reason for my preference for “folk/traditional culture”. Nevertheless, I stand by my justifications and rationalisations.

3. Natural social hierarchy versus an artifical hierarchy based on wealth.

Unlike the second point above, this one appeals to me but I cannot so easily rationalise it. In previous ages, the rich and powerful always had some justification for their position in society. Sometimes they claimed a divine right to rule, sometimes they claimed that the social hierarchy on Earth should mirror the hierarchy that they said existed in heaven, sometimes they referred to their birthright as members of a traditionally ruling family, but always they had some non-material justification, some “higher” meaning to their privileged position. Thus a person who did not occupy such an elevated position was less likely to feel unlucky or envious since he knew there was a good reason for it. In contrast, rich capitalists claim no such justifications. They are rich because they are successful entrepreneurs, because they have a highly paid job or because they just got lucky. Thus other people can no longer explain away their relative poverty except by admitting that they don’t have the willpower or the brains to be an entrepreneur, which nobody wants to admit. Instead of admitting something so unpalatable they prefer to subscribe to the politics of envy and join the ranks of the socialists. Traditionalists are not all so bad but I often suspect that a similar envy lies behind their hatred of a “hierarchy based on wealth”. The important thing about capitalism is that the rich do not become rich at the expense of the poor. Rich capitalists are not rich because others are poor, they are rich because they have successfully provided a product for which people are willing to pay. That product may not actually be something that the people need – more often than not it’s something that they had never heard of until the marketing campaign convinced them that they needed it – but they still bought it of their own free will. In general, rich capitalists are rich because they have improved the material well-being of their customers, even if the improvement is often trivial in the bigger picture. In purely material terms, capitalism is good for the poor as well as for the rich.

The Radical Traditionalist argument centres on the idea that a hierarchy based on wealth is in some sense artificial, whereas pre-modern social hierarchies were in some sense natural. To be honest, I think that’s bollocks. The whole “natural versus unnatural” thing has always been a crap rhetorical device used to justify all sorts of different prejudices and neuroses. But I can see what they mean. If I ignore their emphasis on wealth and instead compare pre-modern hierarchies with modern government then I find myself much happier to agree with them. I do not like the state. I am not a fan of democratic government. In a purely practical sense democracy appears tolerable. It does provide us with a convenient escape hatch. If we find ourselves with an oppressive leader we can simply vote him out at the next election. However, in practice it doesn’t really work like that. Just as a universal culture drags everyone down to a lowest common denominator, so universal suffrage drags politics down to a homogenous mass. There are really no significant differences between any of the major political parties in the modern West. Come election day we have the right to choose between a bunch of identical faces. It’s actually only one manifestation of a general characteristic of our modern “freedom”: we always have the freedom to choose, we have a right to make our own choices of our own free will, but we seem to have fewer and fewer options to choose between. So even democracy’s single practical virtue is actually an illusion. Even more annoying are those that claim some sort of moral superiority for democracy. They rail against the inequality of aristocratic rule, for why should someone get to rule over me merely because they happened to be born into a particular family? But why the hell should someone get to rule over me just because a bunch of strangers put a tick next to his name on a ballot? What’s so special about a ballot? Whence comes the great spiritual authority of the democratic vote?

The thing is, I just can’t feel any loyalty towards a leader who achieved his position by playing the political game. How can I feel a sense of duty towards a man who became leader by virtue of back-stabbing, conniving and deception? Furthermore, how can we expect him to feel any responsibility towards us? He got there by dint of his own efforts, so now he feels justified in enjoying the results of those efforts. It’s rather like the Norman conquest. Before William the Bastard won at Hastings, the English people lived under the law of their thanes, as expressed by the shire-moots and the Witenagemot. As members of the same society, the thanes understood and respected the balance between folk-right and privilege. But when the Normans conquered England they did away with the old thanes and created their own feudal nobility.  You should not expect to find the same relationship between a Norman lord and his serfs as was found between an Anglo-Saxon lord and his people. Over time such a relationship may build up again, such that even the aristocrats of a century ago understood their responsibilities better than a modern elected politician.

Incidentally, the historical facts presented in the previous paragraph should be taken with a pinch of salt because I made them all up. They might be true but I suspect they are, at the very least, still debated by medievalists. However, my point remains. There is a sense in which the pre-modern ordering of society was more natural than the modern relationship between citizen and state. Rather than ‘natural’, I prefer the word ‘organic’. I hope it avoids the empty juxtaposition of natural versus unnatural and instead emphasises the gradual, bottom-up development of a social order as opposed to the top-down imposition of an abstract modern state.

It is true that the modern state is to a large extent predicated on wealth but I think all hierarchies have been. To claim otherwise, at least without evidence, suggests the use of rose-tinted binoculars. This isn’t really about hierarchies based on wealth, it’s about hierarchies based on wealth and nothing else. It’s about a lack of duty, responsibility, loyalty and everything else that elevates culture beyond the mechanical.

Again, this really all comes down to emotional resonance. I just don’t like modern society. It doesn’t make sense to me, it offends my sensibilities, it all seems wrong. On the other hand, when I read Anglo-Saxon poetry, or Tolkien’s re-creation of that world, I feel right at home. In an ultimately irrational manner, it just feels right in a way that modern society never can. The modern state in all of its forms – democratic, socialist, fascist or any other reorganisation of the same thing – is anathema to me.

4. The tribal community versus the nation-state.

Given what I have said above, it should come as no surprise that I am not a fan of the nation-state. However, I have reservations about the idea of a “tribal community”. I don’t like many aspects of tribalism.  The most egregious of these is the phenomenon of honour killings. In a tribal society, held together by honour more than by law, the maintenance of honour frequently requires violent action. In itself, this does not bother me. In fact, in many ways I prefer honour to law.  However, recently the newspapers have been full of stories of Islamic men killing their sisters and daughters in order to restore their family’s honour. Refusal of an arranged marriage is apparently enough of an affront to a family’s honour that the daughter must be murdered. To some extent this is the fault of Islam but really Islam has done no more than preserve older tribal customs. We have plenty of literary evidence that Germanic tribes killed their daughters for similar reasons. Not so long ago a young British girl who dared to have a relationship outside marriage might find herself committed to an asylum. I think when the authors of that point wrote “tribal community” they were thinking of honourable Saxon warriors, or something romantic like that. But when I look at contemporary tribal societies I don’t see much that I like. I see debased warfare between thugs in Africa, I see abuse and murder within families in the Middle East, I see unemployed alcoholics in Australia. Some of this, maybe even most of this, might be attributed to modernist corruption or some other perversion of the previously noble savage. But, really, a lot of this is just the reality of tribal life, seen without the romantic blinkers of Traditionalism. I have an affinity for such a romantic outlook but part of me prefers to acknowledge the darker side of pre-modern life. In some ways, the dark side is also appealing – it’s just that I could never bring myself to condone the stoning of women for adultery.

There are definitely aspects of tribal communities that I don’t like. My dislike almost certainly stems from the fact that I grew up in a post-Enlightenment culture, exactly the sort of culture that I consider so alien now. I hope it is not too hypocritical of me to keep those aspects of Enlightenment thinking, such as the equality of women, that I like and to throw away the rest in favour of pre-Christian tribalism.  This exercise in sophistry is certainly made easier by the fact that we don’t really know much about pre-Christian society anyway. It gives me a largely blank slate onto which I can project all my ideals then pretend that it all really existed. Hypocritical and sophistic it may be but it is certainly in keeping with Traditionalist thought, a large part of which consists of yearning for a Golden Age that probably never really existed.

5. Stewardship of the earth versus the “maximization of resources.”

To the extent that this is a repeat of the first point, I wholeheartedly agree. To the extent that it is a mask for anti-capitalism, I disagree. Anti-capitalism, although appealing in its potential to oppose the corporate mono-culture, always means in practice the empowering of the state. I cannot support anything that strengthens the modern state, nor do I think any such thing could really further the cause of Traditionalism. The only option open to a Radical Traditionalist is to retreat from modern society, to live his life according to his own design as much as he can. In fact, the preface to Tyr 1 contains much the same advice:

Paradoxically, perhaps, one of the advantages of living in the modern period is the tremendous number of options available to us should we choose to follow an anti-modern “script” within our own lives.  Although these freedoms are increasingly imperiled as the Machine strives to consolidate its power, they remain for those with the strength to take advantage of them. To some extent, one can inoculate oneself from the popular culture. It is still possible to live a life in accord with tradition. It is still possible to practice a spiritual discipline, and to be an honourable human being – to be a whole man or woman in a world of automata. These may be the only truly revolutionary options left.

Their language may be somewhat melodramatic but I agree with their point. However, I do sometimes wonder what they would like to do if there were other “revolutionary options” available.

6. A harmonious relationship between men and women versus the “war between the sexes.”

I’ve never been entirely sure what this point means. Which war are they talking about? I suspect it comes from a dislike of feminism, which they see as another subversive modern invention, but I’m not certain. There are definitely aspects of feminism that I don’t particularly support.  The most extreme feminists are completely crazy but then the most extreme members of any movement are often somewhat detached from reality. Feminism did contribute to the decline of twentieth century social hierarchies but I don’t see that as a particularly bad thing. The stereotypical 1950s American household had nothing to do with traditional society. I don’t think I’ve experienced the “war between the sexes” and, with the exception of the zealots who think every man is inherently an evil rapist and the Queen of England is unfairly oppressed, I think I agree with most feminists. I know there are, or were, some offensive feminists (my grandfather was once spat at for holding a door open for a woman) but I don’t really know what the editors of Tyr are getting at here.

7. Handicrafts and artisanship versus industrial mass-production.

Without industrial mass-production we would be without many of the material comforts that we now take for granted. On the other hand, most of them we probably don’t really need and I don’t want. One of the great things about mass production is that things can be produced very cheaply so that many people can afford to buy them, rather than their being limited to a wealthy few. But, at the same time, the mass produced item is almost always of an inferior quality to the hand-crafted item. The notable exception being things in souvenir shops, which are always awful however they were made.

In general, I agree with this point as well. It certainly has an aesthetic appeal. In practice, mass production is not something that could be scrapped tomorrow without causing great pain and suffering. For a start, most of the planet’s population would starve without industrialised agriculture. I would like a planet with fewer people on it so the end result of that process wouldn’t be such a bad thing but I might feel a little guilty while the starving was actually going on.  Especially if I had to watch. Happily, an end to mass production would also mean an end to long distance communications so, as long as most of the starving occurred in Africa, Asia and other far away places, I should be able to relax in the English countryside and pretend it wasn’t happening.

Exactly how mass production should be scrapped is another matter though.  In practice it could only be stopped by an oppressive state, which would be even worse than cheap plastic goods. Perhaps this is why Traditionalists are so keen on the idea of societal collapse. If our modern society were to implode as a result of ecological or economic catastrophe then many of our goals would be met without the need to force anyone to do anything. I’m just not so optimistic about our chances of worldwide disaster.

I am a fan of the Arts and Crafts movement (incidentally, one of my ancestors, Sir Emery Walker, was a key member of the movement in Britain) and I strongly prefer the work of artisans to the work of assembly lines. However, I do not share the dislike of new technology exhibited by the editors of Tyr. They seem to have a particular hatred, bordering on fear, of genetic engineering and biotechnology in general. I suspect this has something to do with their dubious animosity towards “unnatural” things. They praise radical environmentalist groups such as Earth First! and tend to be hostile towards scientific endeavour. I presume they associate science with the insipid atheism of Richard Dawkins and his ilk but there is no inherent link between the two (and, for that matter, atheism need not be so militant and sterile as the version espoused by Dawkins.) There is plenty of room for craftsmanship in the digital age. Technology is not the same as science and neither are the same as mass production. I think Radical Traditionalists fail to distinguish between the social impact of industrialisation, the process of mass production itself, and the science and technology that allowed industrialisation in the first place. They lump everything together into a rather crude and uninspiring Luddism with which I cannot agree. But, on the specific issue of handicrafts versus mass production, I do agree.

Well, it appears that I am more of a Radical Traditionalist than I thought when I began this article. However, the most important thing is that my affinity or otherwise for this movement doesn’t really have much to do with rational argument. I have not analysed modern society, found it wanting and come up with a list of improvements. It is far more irrational than that. It’s a matter of resonance. The pre-modern world, which I will never really know, feels right to me in a way that the modern world does not. Many aspects of the modern world – rational, practical and sensible though they may be – make me angry or depressed.  The modern world lacks a certain quality, I hesitate to use the word ‘spirituality’ but I can’t really think of a better one, that I find in the world of Anglo-Saxon poetry, Norse sagas and Tolkien. I know that my idealised Golden Age probably never really existed. I think that maybe if it didn’t live up to my ideals it was still probably closer to them than the modern world. I think the key phrase in Tyr‘s description of a Radical Traditionalist is “to yearn for”. Whether they existed or not, whether they could ever exist again or not, I yearn for those better days. More importantly, within my own life, they most certainly can exist again. I can try to live my life according to my own script and I can surround myself with like-minded people. We can build our own little community and hope the real world leaves us alone.

Published in: on February 4, 2008 at 1:02 am  Comments (2)