TRADITION AND TRADITIONALISM
Except from The Reign of Quantity and Signs of the Times
THE falsification of everything has been shown to be one of the characteristic
features of our period, but falsification is not in itself subversion properly
so-called, though contributing fairly directly to the preparation for it. Perhaps
the clearest indication of this is what may be called the falsification of
The modern mentality itself, in everything that characterizes it
specifically as such (and this must be said once more, for it is something that
cannot be too often insisted on) is no more than the product of a vast
collective suggestion, which has operated continuously for several centuries
and has determined the formation and progressive development of the
anti-traditional spirit, and in that spirit the whole of the distinctive
features of the modern mentality are comprised. Nevertheless, however powerful
and clever the suggestion may be, a moment may always come when the resulting
state of disorder and disequilibrium becomes so apparent that some people
cannot fail to become aware of it, and then there is a risk of a "
reaction " which might compromise the desired result. It certainly seems
that matters have to-day just reached that stage, and it is noticeable that
this moment coincides exactly, by a sort of " immanent logic ", with
the moment at which the merely negative phase of the modern deviation comes to
an end, the phase represented by the
The people just referred to are such as can properly be described as " traditionalists ", meaning people who only have a sort of tendency or aspiration towards tradition without really knowing anything at all about it ; this is the measure of the distance dividing the " traditionalist " spirit from the truly traditional spirit, for the latter implies a real knowledge, and indeed in a sense it is the same as that knowledge. In short, the " traditionalist " is and can be no more than a mere " seeker", and that is why he is always in danger of going astray, not being in possession of the principles which alone could provide him with infallible guidance; and his danger is all the greater because he will find in his path, like so many ambushes, all the false ideas set on foot by the power of illusion which has a capital interest in preventing him from reaching the true goal of his search. It is indeed evident that this power can only maintain itself and continue to exercise its action on condition that all restoration of the traditional idea is made impossible, and more than ever so when it is preparing to take a further step in the direction of subversion, subversion being, as explained, the second phase of its action. So it is quite as important for the power in question to divert searchings tending towards traditional knowledge as it is to divert those concerned with the origins or real causes of the modern deviation, and thus liable to reveal something of the true nature of the said power and the means of its influence; these two devices are both necessary and in a sense complementary, and they could fairly be regarded as the positive and negative aspects of a single plan of action having domination as its objective.
All misuses of the word " tradition " can serve this same purpose in one way or another, beginning with the most popular of all, whereby it is made synonymous with it custom " or " usage ", thus bringing about a confusion of tradition with things that are on the lower human level and are completely lacking in profound significance. But there are other and more subtle deformations, all the more dangerous because of their subtlety; but all have as a common characteristic that of bringing the idea of tradition down to a purely human level, whereas on the contrary there is nothing and can be nothing truly traditional that does not contain some element of a superhuman order. This indeed is the essential point, containing as it were the very definition of tradition and all that appertains to it ; this is also therefore the very point which must on no account be allowed to emerge if the modern mentality is to be maintained in its state of delusion, and still more if it is to have yet other delusions imposed on it, such as will not only suppress any tendency towards a restoration of the super-human, but will also direct the modern mentality more effectively towards the worst modalities of the sub-human. Moreover in order to become aware of the importance assigned to the negation of the super-human by the conscious and unconscious agents of the modern deviation, it is enough to observe how all who lay claim to be " historians " of religion and of other forms of the tradition (and they anyhow usually mix all these forms together under the general title of " religion ") are eager above all to explain everything in terms of exclusively human factors ;. it matters little whether, according to school of thought, these factors are psychological, social or anything else, the very multiplicity of the different explanations facilitates the seduction of a greater number; common to all is the well-defined desire to reduce everything to the human level and to retain nothing that surpasses it ; and those who believe in the value of this destructive " criticism " are thenceforth very ready to confuse tradition with anything whatever, since there is nothing in the ideas inculcated into them such as might enable tradition to be distinguished from that which is wholly lacking in traditional character.
Granted that nothing that is of a purely human order can for that very reason legitimately be called " traditional ", there cannot possibly be, for instance, a " philosophical tradition " or a " scientific tradition " in the modern and profane sense of the words, any more, of course, than there can be a " political tradition ", at least where all traditional social organization is lacking, as is the case in the modern Western world. Nevertheless such expressions are in common use to-day, each in its way denaturing the idea of tradition; and it is obvious that if the " traditionalists " referred to above can be persuaded to allow their activity to be turned aside towards one or other of these domains and to confine their activity to it, their aspirations will be " neutralized " and rendered perfectly harmless, and may even sometimes be used without their knowledge for a purpose exactly contrary to what they intend. Indeed it sometimes happens that people go so far as to apply the word " tradition " to things which by their very nature are as directly anti-traditional as possible : thus they talk about a "humanist tradition ", and a " national tradition " despite the fact that humanism is nothing if not an explicit denial of the super-human, and the formation of " nationalities " has been the means employed for the destruction of the traditional civilization of the Middle Ages. In the circumstances it would not be surprising if people began one day to talk about a " Protestant tradition " or even a " lay tradition " or " a revolutionary tradition " or if the materialists themselves ended by proclaiming themselves the defenders of a " tradition ", if only in their capacity as the representatives of something already belonging in a great measure to the past ! Most of our contemporaries have reached such a state of mental confusion that associations of the most manifestly contradictory words bring about no reaction on their part and do not even provide them with food for thought.
This leads at once to another important observation when a few people have become conscious of the disorder of these days owing to the all too obvious effects of its present stage of development (more particularly since the stage corresponding to a maximum of " solidification " has been left behind) and when these people try to " react " in one way or another, the best means for making their desire for " reaction " ineffective is surely to direct it towards one of the earlier and less " advanced " stages of the same deviation, some stage in which disorder had not yet become so apparent, and was as it were presented under an outward aspect more acceptable to anyone not yet completely blinded by certain suggestions. Anyone who considers himself a " traditionalist " must normally declare himself " anti-modern ", but he may not be any the less affected, though he be unaware of the fact, by modern ideas in a more or less attenuated form; they are then less easily detected, but they always correspond in fact to one or other of the stages passed through by these same ideas in the course of their development ; no concession, even unconscious or involuntary, is admissible on this point, for from the very beginning up to the present day, and beyond that too, everything holds together and is inexorably interlinked. In that connection, this much more must be said: the work which has as its object to prevent all " reaction " from aiming at anything farther back than a return to a lesser disorder, while at the same time concealing the character of the lesser disorder so that it may pass as " order ", fits in very exactly with the other work carried out with a view to securing the penetration of the modern spirit into the interior of whatever is left of traditional organisations of any kind in the West; the same " neutralizing " effect on forces of which the opposition might become formidable is obtained in both cases. Moreover something more than mere " neutralization " is involved, for a struggle must necessarily take place between the elements thus brought together as it were on the same level and on the same ground, and their reciprocal enmity is therefore no more than an enmity between the various and apparently opposed productions of one and the same modern deviation; thus the final result can only be a fresh increase in disorder and confusion, and that simply amounts to one more step towards final dissolution.
As between all the more or less incoherent things that are to-day in constant agitation and mutual collision, as between all external " movements of whatever kind they may be, there is no occasion to take sides ", to use the common expression, whether from a traditional or from a merely " traditionalist " point of view, for to do so is to become a dupe. Since the same influences are really operating behind all these things, it is really playing their game to join in the struggles promoted and directed by them ; therefore the mere fact of " taking sides " under such conditions is necessarily to adopt, .however unwittingly, a truly anti-traditional attitude. No particular applications need be specified here, but it must at least be made clear in a general way that in all this agitation principles are always and everywhere lacking, despite the fact that " principles " have surely never been so much talked about as they are to-day on all sides, the word being commonly applied more or less regardlessly to things that are least worthy of it, and sometimes even to things that imply the negation of all true principle. This particular misuse of a word is again highly significant of the real trend of the falsification of language already well exemplified by the perversion of the word "tradition" ; that example has been specially stressed because it is most closely connected with the subject of this treatise, in so far as the latter is intended to give a picture of the last phases of the cyclical " descent ". It is not in fact possible to stop short at the point which represents most nearly the apogee of the " reign of quantity ", for what follows that point is too closely connected with what precedes it to allow of any separation being made otherwise than quite artificially ; no "abstractions" are therefore admitted here, for they only represent a particular form of the " simplification " so dear to the modern mentality ; on the contrary, the object is as far as possible to present reality as it is, without omitting anything that is essential for the understanding of the conditions of the present period.