Tradition is Conserved

An undeveloped aspect of Moldbug’s analysis is the issue of progressivism’s descent from Christianity, in a particular, a protestant strain of Christianity. The How Dawkins got pwned series is a classic, and is always deserving of a read, but it is very much open to improvement. I would wager that Moldbug would probably agree.

The first point of improvement is to call on the works of Alaisdair MacIntyre, who has been saying the same thing as Moldbug but from a very different angle.

In the Dawkins series of posts, Moldbug outlines that:

In my opinion, the only sensible way to classify traditions – as with species – is by ancestral structure. While the existence of introgression and the absence of reproductive isolation makes it technically impossible to construct a precise cladogram of human traditional history, we can certainly produce sensible approximations. Note that perhaps an even better analogy is to languages and linguistic history, in which cladistic classification is commonplace.

Alaisdair MacIntyre meanwhile goes significantly further along this route, and provides a level of philosophical rigor to which we can only give thanks and adopt for our own purposes. To MacIntyre, it is simply the case that everything is part of a tradition. The significance of this requires this statement to be repeated.

Everything is part of a tradition.

MacIntyre (and this is where he crosses paths with Moldbug) has made a life’s work out of the issue of traditions and the concept of rationality, and his conclusion (and his work in general) has been helpfully labelled “too extreme” so you know it is going to be worth a read. In a nutshell, MacInytre’s assertion is that modern ethics and politics has descended into barbarism, and is in effect the outcome of a secularisation of voluntarist Christianity (both Protestantism and Jansenist Catholicism.)

But how did he come to this conclusion? The answer lies in his conception of rationality and tradition as linked to the work of Karl Polanyi. For Macintyre, it is simply the case that:

“There is no standing ground, no place for enquiry . . . apart from that which is provided by some particular tradition or other” (p. 350) (Whose Justice?, Which Rationality?)

And that:

Liberalism, beginning as a repudiation of tradition in the name of abstract, universal principles of reason, turned itself into a politically embodied power, whose inability to bring its debates on the nature and context of those universal principles to a conclusion has had the unintended effect of transforming liberalism into a tradition (p. 349).(WJWR)

His claim is that thinkers from Diderot, to Hume to Kant are all merely secularised voluntarists. So much for modernity – it is just medieval theology carried on by other means, but with a twist – the followers of modernity reject that they have a tradition. MacIntyre’s thesis is then in accordance with Moldbug’s conclusion that Dawkins is merely a non-theistic Christian because tradition is conserved.

But we have a problem with MacIntyre, because whilst he is able to trace traditions and note that they have become politically empowered, he has no explanation as to how this has occurred. De Jouvenel and Moldbug however do.

These traditions have become empowered because they are those propagated and maintained by power centers amicable to the royal courts and opposed to the clerical and other power centers in medieval Europe. The universities of Northern Europe containing all of these voluntarist Christian sects encouraged by secular power are the same groups from which the likes of Kant and Hume come from. Their conceptions of ethics and their philosophy comes from this tradition. The royal courts simply created and maintained bad institutions in the covert battles within unsecure power systems, which then took over. The validity of the philosophy held by these bad institutions is not lined up with greater reality. In addition, while it is the case that tradition is conserved, traditions are determined ultimately by institutions that can propagate them (power above culture,) and the voluntarist tradition being set within the institutions of the state have had an access to resources that have been un-matchable. This has been a disastrous mistake.

If this is all correct, then the entirety of modern philosophy is simply a total mess. Utterly un-salvageable. It is based on premises which are delusional, impossible to resolve, and simply sources of great harm.  It all needs to be exorcised.

And with this, we come to the lesser thinkers, the thinkers such as Burke, who MacIntyre takes a shot at in the following passage from WJWR page 165


And which he is more direct with in After Virtue with the following as noted by this article:

“Traditions, when vital, embody continuities of conflict. Indeed when a tradition becomes Burkean, it is always dying or dead. . . . The individualism of modernity could of course find no use for the notion of tradition within its own conceptual scheme except as an adversary notion; it therefore all too willingly abandoned it to the Burkeans, who, faithful to Burke’s own allegiance, tried to combine adherence in politics to a conception of tradition which would vindicate the oligarchical revolution of property of 1688 and adherence in economics to the doctrine and institutions of the free market. The theoretical incoherence of this mismatch did not deprive it of ideological usefulness.” (222)

The article unfortunately only briefly mentions Macintyre’s greater critique of Burke in WJWR on page 353 that also deals with Nietzche, which is deserving of greater reading to fully understand MacIntyre’s argument which is beyond the scope of this post to explain fully, but which from an absolutistist position promises to bear fruit.