Traditionalism is an oxymoron. If something is traditional then it cannot be an ism.

Some people, in particular myself and some of my friends, have a fondness for traditional culture, which we contrast with life and society in the modern, industrialised world. This somewhat irrational and romantic attachment to an idealised past may be called “traditionalism”.

I suppose I am a traditionalist, although I don’t really like the term much. I don’t like isms in general and would rather not think of myself as an ist, but as a label for the sake of convenience I will grudgingly accept it.

The problem for a traditionalist is that he yearns for something unobtainable. To be in a situation in which one can yearn for a different way of life, to have the ability to deliberately choose to live one’s life in a different way, is to be modern. (Even worse, it may be the dreaded “post-modern”.)

My good friend Reynard, in his Chemical Theatre, recently wrote, “A lifestyle choice does not a traditionalist make!” He is absolutely right. However, assuming we follow Dot Wordsworth and interpret the loathsome “lifestyle” as “way of life”, then it is clear that choosing our way of life is all that we can do.

A person would not be a traditionalist if he was already a part of a traditional culture. Fish noticing water and all that. One is a traditionalist because one feels disconnected from one’s culture and wants to reconnect. That is a very modern sensibility.

Traditionalism really is a silly idea. It makes no sense at all to attempt to construct an ideology, that great modern vice, from tradition, which has historically been our defence against ideologies. It was the collapse of traditional culture that left us prey to the ideologies of the last two centuries. I cannot think of anything more absurdly post-modern than an ideology of tradition.

And yet it is probably the best we can do. Having been born and bred in a modern world, the closest I or anyone else can get to being a part of a traditional culture is to choose an appropriate way of life. The very modern opportunity to consciously decide one’s way of life is all that we have. We must fight fire with fire if we wish to fight at all.

This is, in fact, exactly what my friends and I have spent the last few years attempting to do. We made “lifestyle choices”, in the sense derided by both Reynard and Dot Wordsworth, but we may have made the right choice in the end.

As far as I am concerned, I just like old stuff. I feel more at home in old buildings than I do in modern buildings. I find the aesthetic of Anglo-Saxon poetry to be deeply wholesome and emotionally satisfying, while I find the aesthetic of Tesco rather unpleasant and insidious. It is an irrational, emotional response, which is only sullied by attempts to rationalise or justify it.

I will accept the label “traditionalist”, on the condition that it is primarily understood to be an aesthetic category rather than an ideology. I believe in the virtues of friends and family, frith and honour, and associate these things with the pre-modern culture of Europe. But all this really means is that I am bound to my friends and I have a tendency to wander around the countryside with a pipe, reading Tolkien and peering at castles.

“Conservatism is the negation of ideology.”
Russell Kirk

“Lifestyle is what those who are too trendy to achieve a settled way of life settle for.”
Dot Wordsworth

Published in: on July 21, 2008 at 2:04 pm  Comments (1)