The Myth of Tradition 8

The Myth of Tradition 8

Yesterday, we saw that the conservative traditionalist’s claim that “Tradition works” needs to be taken with a grain of salt, and that arguing in favor of something merely because it is a tradition has no force whatsoever, since that says nothing at all about whether the thing being defended is good or bad.

Today, we will show why all the difficulties associated with using Tradition as a defense for one’s beliefs make it impossible to grant Tradition any exalted rank among the possible justifications for one’s principles.


Tradition not to be trusted implicitly


Over the past seven posts we have seen that Tradition, as beautiful as it can be, nevertheless has many difficulties associated with it if one tries to use it as a foundation for one’s beliefs.

First, we saw that, although it is beloved by its supporters for the truth and wisdom it holds, Tradition also contains much falsehood, foolishness, and irrationality.

Second, we saw that Tradition cannot justify injustice in any way, and that arguments seeking to uphold old injustices on the grounds that they are traditional can only be countenanced insofar as the injustices are not very detrimental to society. Otherwise, the traditions must be replaced, because justice trumps Tradition.

Third, we saw that the connection between Religion and Tradition tends to lead to a very toxic combination of ideas—unexamined faith and status-quo thinking.

Fourth, we saw that arguments in support of Tradition on the basis of societal stability can only be countenanced, again, if the particular traditions are not very harmful to society. If they are, justice trumps stability.

Fifth, we saw that over-reliance on Tradition leads to a serious disconnect with reality as time goes on, because change is more prevalent that stasis. Hence, the consequence of relying too much on Tradition is tragedy—which is always the result of holding a world view that is out of touch with reality.

And finally, we saw that “Tradition works” is shallow defense used by conservative traditionalists to mask their unwillingness to change anything they don’t like. This notion is highly relative, and tends to cover up a mere desire to protect one’s privileges.

When you sum up all the difficulties with Tradition, it is easy to see that it should not be given any special status among the sources of principles for living. While some traditions are wise, others are foolish. While the social stability provided by Tradition is a good, it is not the highest good. While any given tradition may seem to “work” from one perspective, it may also be an unmitigated disaster from another perspective.

None of this means that Tradition is worthless, or that it should be entirely disregarded. It only means that Tradition should not be accorded any higher status than any other decent source of principles—like experience, philosophy, law, art, science, or common sense. We can usefully draw on all these sources for help with living. There is certainly no reason to prefer Tradition just because it is Tradition.


This concludes our consideration of the Myth of Tradition.

Ordinarily, we would now move on to expose the next, and final, Major Myth of conservative thinking—the Myth of Capitalism.

But over the past several weeks we have shown that neither Religion nor Tradition can provide the firm basis for decency and morality that society needs if living together with others is to be superior to anarchy. Since we have shown that neither Religion nor Tradition should be accorded any special status in providing principles for, and guarantees of, good behavior in society, we are now faced with an important question that is left once the Myth of Religion and the Myth of Tradition have been exposed as the fictions they actually are: “How can we be moral without Religion and Tradition?”

Rather than pass on immediately to the last of the Major Myths, we shall devote the next post to answering this important question.

Until tomorrow, then.

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