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Tradition And Its Image

The concept of Tradition is one that draws many towards its passionate defense. Basing entire political agendas on the Idea of Tradition, many in the contemporary outside and dissident right see this abstraction as some ultimate value, the one value which we should strive to restore if we ever want to save Western Culture.

While generally agreeing on the importance of Tradition as an instrument towards the restoration and abolition of the slow degeneration of politics into terminal ruinous debauchery, the concrete definition of what Tradition is seems like a big point of contention for the contemporary alternative right. A multitude of contrasting definitions exist: from different religious perspectives to more secular definitions structured around socio-historical references. Of course, one overarching element to this discussion on Tradition rests on the recognition of its slow erasure or subversion by whatever forces are identified as laying siege to it.

Tradition, as a concept, tends to always rest in some imagined context or scenario, something that is capable of forming a clear link to a rooted Identity. The problem is that Identity is indeed linked to the soil as Dugin states, but not linked to an image or fabulation of the soil. This small detail goes back to the fundamental issue with the common conception of Tradition in the Alternative Right: “Tradition” is nowadays an empty abstraction. As much a product of modernity and as artificially constructed as any modern cosmopolitan identity (or rather, its manufactured, atomized and distorted equivalent).

Real and concrete Tradition is built upon certain customs and common procedures in daily life. It is fundamentally connected to how someone lives, how someone expresses himself and how he interacts with the world, and how all these elements are continuously transmitted in a successful manner, through generations.

The soil that molds an Identity and its Tradition has been fundamentally changing in the west over the last two centuries. This is hard to understand for anyone who never had contact with any remnant of pre-industrial ethos, but Tradition, in practice, is an absurd chimera nowadays: a heavily distorted and noisy remnant of an original signal. The myriad of European Traditions and Identities that make up Western Civilization are either dead or dying. They were taken over and ripped apart by an unholy conjunction of historical, cultural and technological contingencies.

Material conditions hold a significant importance in the way of being and acting of any given society. The revolutions in the daily lives in the West over the course of the last 200 years have put into question any meaningful definition of western tradition, be it local, national or meta-national. Continuous, unrelenting pressures that started in the early 19th century never stopped, and have eroded these original modes of living: from a complete revolution in the tilling of the fields, to huge migrations from rural regions to dense urban areas, as people searched for a better paying job in some factory, to the advent of the railroad, the telegraph, the telephone, the radio, the TV. The Internet.

The original traditions of the West, organically evolving and changing, suffered a shock from which they never recovered: a new alien dynamic arose from this radical revolution of the soil on which these Traditions and Identities had flourished.

Scott Alexander, from Slate Star Codex fame, puts it better than anyone1:

I am pretty sure there was, at one point, such a thing as western civilization. I think it involved things like dancing around maypoles and copying Latin manuscripts. At some point, Thor might have been involved. That civilization is dead. It summoned an alien entity from beyond the void which devoured its summoner and is proceeding to eat the rest of the world.

This “alien entity from beyond the void” is Modernity - Understood as a dual force that applies physical as well as cultural and spiritual mutation, it goes beyond the limited Marxian understanding of material conditions as the only spoke in the wheel of historical change. An intense feedback loop between the uprooting of traditional modes of living and processes of techno-capital advance feeds the appetites of modernity, in a gorging feast of increasing insanity.

Culture is not an element subservient to the means of production, a Super-structure of the Base, but rather an independent concept. It develops on its own, expressing itself in societies and institutions, independently of climate or productive relations and other technological and material conditions. Perception of reality is built in Commons, through socialization and culture. This perception is fluid, it evolves and mutates often, through concrete changes in material conditions or through emergent constructs that are borne out of previous worldviews, which in turn sets up the path towards new productive forces and material realities. This feedback loop is what brought the advent of the Last Man in the west, by terminal cultural exhaustion feeding back on technological change.

These radical changes seem to be awfully understated by the dissident Right, in part I would wager, because of its origin: the Anglo-Saxon world. From a southern European perspective, these changes in rituals and modes of living are a lot more explicit, in a generational sense. Take as an example a a documentary TV series from Portugal, done in the 1970’s, about folklore chanting from different villages around the country.

The footage from this series shows a world that was already dying at the time of its footage. You can see this in the faces of the people who chant, who are shown tilling the fields: almost all old faces. The producer of this series was very much aware of this dying world, himself an Italian outsider ethno-musicologist, he recognized the urgency to record these last examples of centuries-old musical traditions grounded on equally centuries old work rituals in remote villages. Remoteness is actually an understatement: the intro theme to the series episodes usually showed the production team opening a path for the production van to reach many of these villages, completely disconnected from road infrastructure, electricity or phone, all of this in the early 1970’s. Despite its remoteness, Modernity was still fast obsoleting and dissolving these places and these cultures, young people fleeing to urban centers, looking for a better life beyond subsistence agriculture, cutting daily ties with their extended family or the relatively small tight community of their villages. Their life in the city is a radical departure from everything experienced in a rural world. The perception of time, the shape and size of their social networks and rhythms of life, it all changes.

In the Anglo-Saxon world, this process had already happened long ago, often in the 19th century, and the generational loss in inherited experience is much, much more profound. In certain places in peripheral Europe, like in Portugal, this only happened during the 1940’s or 1950’s, a time from where there are still people very much alive today, and where this experience of radical change still finds a real, human voice.

Seeing this documentation of older habits and routines and comparing it with the attempts at maintaining it today is extremely disheartening. Today, these chants survive in small institutionalized groups and local organizations. This cultural content is now completely uprooted from its origins, reproduced artificially, disconnected from their original use. They’re a museum piece and a dead heritage. These chants are reproduced in sterilized environments like folklore events, where the “traditional clothing” is sewn in some factory, sometimes in some other part of the globe.

This small example is part of a larger subset of consequences that relate to Tradition in general: lived Tradition is nowadays a reproduction of something that never existed in the first place. An idealized and romanticized past is ossified and presented as an Ideal. What defines actual Tradition, its modes of living and everyday worldview is either conveniently forgotten or romanticized too. They’re the result of a post-modern condition where disembodied signs take over a concrete, self-conscious admission of historical trends. This type of Utopic idealization turns into mundane postmodern “pastiche” as Frederic Jameson recognizes in his analysis of Post-Modernity.

The “trad lifestyle” turns into yet another symptom of an all too modern identity crisis and an all too modern mindset: “a fragmented mind, dealing on counterfeits” as Baudrillard puts it. This obsession with the past is actually an obsession with a fake, and its lifestyle just as absurd as the usual urbanite rat race life.

The obsession with an image of Tradition defeats the entire purpose of Tradition in the first place: to receive and uphold a common, intemporal experience and understanding of the world, and to transmit it to latter generations. Nothing is received, and nothing is transmitted, only a certain act is performed.