Post-Tradition

Stephen Turner writes in 2021:

* The arrival of the war focused the discussion of the moral crisis. One theme was the question of what the war was being fought for: Robert Maynard Hutchins and John Dewey debated the question in the pages of Fortune. The famous London discussion group The Moot debated the possibility of reviving Anglicanism or alternatively of creating a new social doctrine with the force of religion, in contiguity with the writings of T. S. Eliot, such as his tract Christianity and Culture. The Moot’s participants were concerned with the biggest of pictures, the problem of how the lessons of past societies and social change could inform the creation of future societies. They tended to think of the present as an unsatisfactory interregnum between coherent orders. And they were not alone in having difficulty coming to agreement. In The Year of Our Lord 1943, Allan Jacobs shows the idea of the war as a contest of values with Nazism was widely accepted, but the many intellectuals who contributed to this discussion had trouble agreeing on what these values were.

Then it all stopped. The end of the war meant the end of this self searching dialogue, and a turn to the conflicts of the Cold War and to the celebration of the victory of liberal democracy and the expanded place of
Communism in the world. Tawney’s Christian socialism was institutionalized into the bureaucracy of the welfare state and lost its spiritual character.19 Mannheim’s ideas on planning a social order complete with planned values had the same fate.20 In Britain, the kind of non-professional public sociology that had provided a home for this kind of work was replaced by a newly professionalized British Sociological Association that lacked interest in these civilizational concerns, and disdained their predecessors. In the United States, a new historiography and social theory of consensus was created in such works as Richard Hofstader’s The American Political Tradition.
The sense of living in an interregnum evaporated, as did the urgency of the concerns of the earlier discussion.

* …modernity is characterized by a mixture of traditional and novel forms; late modernity or post-traditional society is characterized by a particular novelty, the reflexive self.

* Either we accept something like a liberal framework, of shared rules but few shared ends, and treat individuals as autonomous bearers of culture who get along with one another under these rules, or we can hope for spiritual regeneration that overcomes difference, or we can seek new values that allow for a positive relation between cultures.

* Tradition once supplied a basis for community, but it was a rigid and oppressive basis that ‘crushed individual
autonomy’. It was also based on exclusion and ‘traditions of family and gender’43 that are themselves oppressive. The existence of a variety of cultures in modern societies makes a return to this kind of community impossible. What is needed is something different, and cosmopolitan in character, meaning accepting of the existence of this variety and seeking a peaceful way of accommodating it.

* Giddens’ performative solution to the problem of mutually intolerant traditions is ‘Active Trust’, leading to a ‘positive spiral’ of trust-building that creates a functional substitute for ‘traditional’ community and which
builds obligation at the level of personal relations based on ‘the communication of difference, geared to an appreciation of integrity’.

* reflexivity is not enough as a basis for social life. Indeed, one might say it is merely corrosive of social life, because there must be some non-reflexive, taken for granted, basis for social relations.

* The ‘type of community where shared ends and needs make possible the growth of a common life and a common commitment, which can be expressed in a common language’… is precisely the type of community that liberalism, which accommodates different ends and needs without a ‘common life and a common commitment’, cannot create. From the point of view of this kind of community, liberalism is simply an arrangement, a compromise in a society without common commitments. …the existence of moral pluralism, in contemporary society, and in English society in the nineteenth century, meant that there was no such common base.

* the very lack of a common project meant that society elevated and depended on what he called ‘the secondary virtues of co-operation, of compromise, of a pragmatic approach, of fairness’.54 The idea of civil association to which Giddens appeals has precisely this character: it is not and cannot be, given the lack of consensus on the religious foundations of the legal and political order, grounded in anything but a kind of compromise. It is essentially about the rules of the game – purposes and goals are individual, and pursued within the framework of the rules, and it is to the rules that citizens must subscribe. It contrasts vividly to the kind of association with shared collective goals: Oakeshott’s ‘enterprise association’.

* …Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, which purported to show the decline in associational activities in the United
States. Necessarily, this was concerned with associational activities popular in the past, and their decline, such as the bowling leagues referred to in the title. What it could not address, or did not address, was the development of novel forms of association, or forms of association that have not been recognized as such. It is evident that internet-based forms of association have increased, radically, and that phenomena such as women’s book clubs have become more important.

* A small Toronto Airport posted an advertisement that read ‘You’re Precious Cargo, not Cattle’. An animal rights activist protested, calling it insulting to cows. The ad was removed. The implication was clear: cows have honour claims, can be dishonoured, and others will defend their honour.

* Did people suddenly become aware in the 1960s that they had practices that they could reflect on, and were therefore forced to either choose to abandon them or to embrace them, in both cases being forced to reflect and choose? Or is this a completely normal and continuous part of social life, and always has been?

* Dialogue is the fetish of the tradition of liberalism.62 And the idea that we progress through dialogue fits with a suppressed and unacknowledged grand narrative to the effect that the various traditions of the world are mixtures of moral truth and error, and that somehow the interaction of these traditions will bring about a purified, universal, ‘rational good’… Dialogue then becomes the performative act commanded by the goal of progress, with cosmopolitanism is its apex…

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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