Required Reading

Any self-styled conservative would do well to read this article, “The Future of Tradition,” by Lee Harris, from the latest issue of Policy Review. Those who don’t consider themselves conservatives should read it anyway: Perhaps it will give you an understanding of the intellectual rationale behind traditions and traditionalism–and the reason conservatives are fighting so hard on a number of social issues.

I shall not lie: The article is dense, and will take some time to work through, but the result is well worth it. Harris will take you on a journey that kneecaps multi-culturalists and cultural relativism, re-examines defenses of traditionalism–defensible defenses as well as indefensible defenses–compares the Greek Sophists to comtemporary intellectuals, and much much more. All written in a dispassionate manner, taking you from point A to point B to point C. You may feel like you’ve entered the ring with an intellectual heavyweight–you have–but if you survive the bout, you’ll come out on the other side with a better understanding of culture, the transmission of culture, the current culture wars, why civilization hangs in the balance, how an intellectual elite has brought down civilization before, and how they’re trying to do it again. No doubt about it: This is very Important. One excerpt, just to give you a taste:

But a tradition that has lost its ethical obviousness has thereby become vulnerable to challenge, and the question soon arises: Why this tradition rather than the tradition of foreigners? Indeed, that was the theme of the first cultural warriors, the Greek Sophists, who, wandering as homeless strangers, went from polis to polis undermining the traditional ethos everywhere they stopped–not by willful subversion, but merely by calling the traditional ethos into question. To cause people to have even the first shadow of a doubt about the rightness of their inherited tradition is to exercise a staggering power over them, and it explains the often violent reaction of the Greek city-states against those who were perceived, fairly or unfairly, to be subverting the traditional order through the mere use of words.

Read this article. I can assure you that it is much more enlightening than studying for finals.

Not wholly unrelated, when I logged on to post this fine article, I came across the following bit in the comments section regarding TDR’s latest (excellent) issue that addresses similar issues:

“Out of curiosity, how does knowing who founded Rome create the kind of balanced, thoughful person that is able to live a world that is much more complicated than your proscribed brew of Bible, Milton and Shakespeare?”

The implicit assumption, it seems, is that at some point (in the last few decades, I suppose), humanity evolved beyond the quaint ruminations of Milton, Shakespeare, and the Disciples. Their views and razor-sharp commentary and observations on the nature of civilization, human beings, and history are out of date, passe. One wonders, though, how the modern world is “much more complicated” than that of Shakespeare, who, I believe, did a pretty damn good job with recreating human nature, emotions, and circumstances in a thought-provoking (and mellifluous) way. I wish someone like our dear anonymous would explain how I, Rigoberta Menchu is more relevant today than the Bible.

This kind of sentiment, as anti-intellectual as it is morally bankrupt, pervades so much of the modern-day university and is trickling/flooding into society. Harris’s article is a bone-crushing pile-drive of anyone who thinks otherwise–and it’s a call to arms for everyone worried about our societal trajectory.