Why You Need Traditionalism


The American Traditionalist Society is being developed. Part of its mission is to evangelize modern people with the good news of the wisdom of the ages, so that they can tune in (to their sense that something is wrong), turn on (to the life-giving traditionalism) and drop out (of the liberal, modernist establishment.)

To this end, I offer the following essay, designed to catch the eye of potential recruits. Subsequent essays will develop the theme further.

Why You Need Traditionalism

“Traditional” sounds old-fashioned. It sounds like the discredited—or at least unfashionable—ways of the past. That was then; this is now. Why do I need traditionalism?

“Traditional” also sounds like bondage. It sounds like people forced to do their duty, like it or not. Forced to honor kings, priests, and other non-democratically-chosen authorities. In the modern world we’re free. Why do I need traditionalism? Because if you follow contemporary ways then you do not—and cannot—have what you need most in order to honor God and live well. Only through traditionalism can you get what you need.

So what is traditionalism? The word usually denotes a way based on a tradition, but we mean something richer and deeper. Traditionalism is a way that connects man to the true order of the world. Because man is man, and not animal, he must live within an order. And if this order deeply violates the true order of the world, as the orders of the Western nations currently do, then man cannot live well, in either his personal life or his society. In order for man to live well he needs traditionalism, for traditionalism is knowing and participating in the true order of the world.

Although the true order is God-given and therefore not changeable by man, the concrete expression of the social part of this order in the life of a people varies from group to group, from nation to nation. Each people expresses this order in its own way, and this is why although there is only one God-given order, there are many different traditions. If you are an American, then, you need American traditionalism.

Since traditionalism is thought to be a type of conservatism, our advice is diametrically opposite from contemporary thinking. Contemporary authorities say that traditionalism is to be opposed because it makes you subservient: Perhaps to a tradition you did not freely choose, or a tyrant god who doesn’t even exist, or the white people who allegedly still rule America for their benefit at the expense of everyone else.

Like every great lie, this belief contains an element of truth. Traditionalism opposes the radical freedom that is the ideal of the modern world because when man is radically free he is also lost. To live well, then, man must be under a tradition and an authority greater than himself. And traditionalism supplies this need.

To live well (like a human being rather than an animal or a demon) man needs, among other things:

  • Knowledge of the God Who is the ultimate cause of all being, truth, goodness and beauty. But contemporary thinking denies that one can know God.
  • True religion, through which man can know and have friendship with God. But contemporary thinking denies that it is even possible for a religion to be true.
  • True morality, through which man can know how to live a righteous life, and also know that he is a sinner who needs salvation through Jesus Christ. But contemporary thinking denies the reality of almost all moral truths, and it denies the principles by which any moral truth can be known with certainty.
  • Knowledge of the first principles of philosophy, through which man can understand the basic nature of the world he inhabits. But contemporary thinking denies the reality of true philosophy, claiming instead that science is the highest form of knowledge.
  • A family and nation to belong to and participate in, without which man is lost. But contemporary thinking denies that family and nation have any objective existence, or that they ought to be honored and protected.

The list could easily be extended. Anything beyond the physically tangible and the immediately obvious is denied by contemporary thinking, or at least it is said to be purely subjective. According to contemporary thinking, you can believe it if you want but it’s nothing more than your personal preference.

But observe that if it’s just your preference then it isn’t real. You could have chosen to believe or participate in the opposite of what you chose, and this opposite choice would have been equally valid. And something that could just as well have been its opposite isn’t real, for reality has definite characteristics that do not change with the whims of man.

And since, according to contemporary thinking, anything transcendent (i.e., beyond the mundane) is not real, human life is ultimately (that is, in reality) nothing but social atoms choosing arbitrarily, and we are left with the contemporary world, in which God, religion, country, morality and honor do not exist, a world in which individuals are demoralized and societies are malfunctioning. This is the horror of the modern, non-traditional world. (True, many people believe in these transcendent elements, but according to the official narrative of Modernity, these people are fooling themselves. And the overall progress of society is always toward the actualization of this official narrative, as our leaders continually smash institutionalized intolerance and promote diversity.)

How then can you reconnect with the order you need to live well? How can you escape the nightmare of the contemporary world? Know first that you cannot save yourself. You are too small. You need to discover, believe and participate in something larger than yourself, something that connects you with the realities that the contemporary world denies: God, true religion, family, nation, and so on. You need the traditionalism of your people.

Traditionalism is not just adherence to a tradition, for there must be a reason why we adhere to it. More basically, traditionalism is knowing and living in accord with what many thinkers call the order of being. Contemporary thought holds that the world is only a physical realm in which any meaning or order that transcends the physical is arbitrarily projected by man. And since this order is arbitrary, man can change it whenever he wants. But contemporary thought is mistaken. The world contains a God-given order that pre-exists man, and that he knows primarily through intuition, his faculty of knowing basic truths without a process of formal reasoning.

What are the elements of this order of being? It contains, among other things,

  • The physical world, with its scientific laws of matter and energy.
  • The biological world, with plants and animals (including man in his animal dimensions), with laws of life and death, birth and growth, male and female.
  • The social world, with its moral, psychological, political and economic laws, with individuals, families, clans, associations, nations, rulers, and governments.
  • The spiritual world with God, angels and demons, Heaven and Hell, creation and miracles, and spiritual laws.
  • The religious world, with priests and pastors, Scripture and creeds, religious acts, and laws of sin and repentance, salvation and damnation.
  • The intellectual world, with metaphysical and epistemological principles, schools of thought, disputation and proof.
  • The aesthetic world, with beauty in all its varied manifestations.

The reader will note that some of these elements appear to be man-made. Man creates social, religious and intellectual orders. Each nation creates its own unique orders. But there are proper ways to create them, within limits established by God.  Man is not free to redefine what is proper without the disastrous consequences we see all around us.

To live well you must begin to know this order and its unique expression as the traditions of your people, and you must seek to live in accordance with it. You must search for those who know this order and learn from them. You must seek out like-minded persons with whom you can share your life. And most importantly, you must seek to know God through Jesus Christ, repenting of your sins and having faith in Him.  This is the life-giving traditionalism that you need.


This essay was originally published at The Orthosphere, a Christian Traditionalist journal. We are grateful for the contribution.