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Tradition Today and Yesterday

May 25, 2021

I’ve placed The Unbroken Thread: Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos, by Sohrab Ahmar, on my list of books to read.

Helen Andrews’ review of that book on May 24 in City Journal introduced me to Mr. Ahmar and I plan to learn more about this editorial writer for the New York Post.

City Journal is published by the Manhattan Institute that deserves to be known as much as City Journal, but that too is put aside for later because here I want to address the subject of “tradition” in which I’ve been guided by the late Fr. Stanley Parry CSC.

Fr. Parry was one of my professors at Notre Dame and I was once asked for personal information about Fr. Parry by a person interested in his view of “tradition.”

I never gave thought to tradition as something I should examine for purposes of political theory nor considered what it is and why it is important. But I included Fr. Parry in a chapter of my next book Ennobling Encounters and wrote about Francis Graham Wilson whose interest in Spain led him to value Spanish traditionalists who fought the influence of the French Revolution on Spanish intellectuals and culture.

There are similarities between Spain’s revolution and civil wars and America today which is why yesterday I conducted a meeting with two colleagues on the topic of civil unrest in America today. You may access a video of that discussion by clicking here.

But, first, let’s consider Fr. Parry’s essay, The Restoration of Tradition, published in Modern Age in Spring 1961.

What tradition “is” is an important problem in science. Parry begins his essay by identifying his subject as “paradigmatic” as opposed to “chronological” tradition. Paradigmatic history is measured by “the integrity of the original compact experience of truth whose differentiation constitutes the stages of the history”.[1] Within the context of that meaning, he defines tradition as “nothing more than the concrete experience of truth carried distributively and in common by a multitude whom the experience unites and structures for action in pragmatic history.” This tradition is important because it completes us as citizens and as human beings living in society. A “sense of communion” with truth that arises in this social setting is “tradition.” He writes, “For above all, tradition exists as the experience of truth.” That truth, he finds, is “the common good.”

The modern dilemma that Parry addresses in his essay is the descent from truth to falsehood when contemporary events “replace the real experience of truth with unreal images of it”.[2] Parry identifies the contest between liberals and conservatives as representative of a change in tradition that “involves a diminution in the intensity of communally experienced truth–in consensus–and a falling out of the area of experience large segments of previously held truth”. This type of change “is not a change from one positive position to another, but a change from order and truth to disorder and negation”.

Living in a society in which tradition is contested is the bane of contemporary America, and though we experience discomfort and are ill at ease in daily life, Fr. Parry suggests that something more, even dangerous, is at work. In societies that experience a loss of tradition. A change from order to disorder occurs that “works itself out as a disruption of the individual soul, a change in which man continues as an objective ontological existent, but no longer as a man.” As the character of the nation changes for the worse, we move towards a condition of loss of our humanity.

My colleagues in yesterday’s discussion are optimistic: we will not have another civil war, but our cherished freedoms will be eclipsed by our Ruling Class.

[1] Stanley Parry, The Restoration of Tradition, Modern Age (Spring 1961), p. 126.

[2] Ibid., p. 127.

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