The Myth of Tradition 2

The Myth of Tradition 2

On Friday we saw that Tradition cannot possibly be a fundamental value in a democratic society, because people are generally mistaken in assuming that Tradition is the repository of “what works” from all of human history.

Today we will see that some aspects of Tradition are foolish, unjust, and irrational.


Tradition contains much folly, injustice, and irrationality

Anyone who takes an unbiased look as Tradition has to admit that it holds not just wisdom, but also a great deal of foolishness. Ancient resentments, outdated notions, hardened prejudices, and a plethora of undesirable opinions find a comfortable home in Tradition. Take, for example, the millennia-long tradition of slavery. It certainly was a tradition, handed down from time immemorial. And it certainly “worked.” Most of civilization was built on the backs of slaves, going back as far a history records.

But it had to be eliminated, regardless of the circumstances in which is was practiced, because it was fundamentally unjust. No human being ever deserved to be enslaved, even though millions of them lived and perished as the property of others. Justice trumps Tradition.

This one example proves that Tradition is not only a source of wisdom, sound principles, and lasting values, but also a source of injustice, unethical principles, and deviant behavior. Yes, there are ennobling, aspirational, and life-affirming traditions. But there are also debasing, soul-crushing, and life-negating traditions.

And because of that, the mere identification of some particular belief as a tradition says nothing whatsoever about whether that belief ought to be respected or rejected.

Thus, “conservatives” who try to justify their beliefs by linking them to Tradition are not demonstrating anything about the acceptability of their beliefs. What they really need to do is show that their belief is just, beneficial, and inspired by good will. Tradition cannot justify a belief.


In our next post, we will consider to what extent Tradition should be respected.

Until tomorrow then.

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