Long Live the Traditionalists!

I admit it. In 101 ways I am a traditionalist and apart from a burst of hormone fueled teenage degeneracy I always have been. Even as a little boy I often used to get quite angry about signs of “progressive modernity” from new houses to female bus drivers. I liked and trusted old and traditional things and everything modern would be weighed by me against its traditional counterpart. If it didn’t match up then I would be against it. I have always taken an interest in futurology and have always welcomed everything that is actually good from amongst the new, but unfortunately it is an undeniable fact that many of the things that have been changed through the ‘progress’ of ‘modernity’ have been changed for the worse. Quite simply, I’m a traditionalist because the old stuff (most of which gradually developed over the ages) is generally better than the newfangled (which was mostly created with little thought or care to its broader effects).

Why was I like this so young?  Well you could say that it is connected to the fact that my four grandparents were each infused with their fair share of strong traditional attitudes and I soon came to the conclusion that they generally had more sense and wisdom than my postwar “baby-boomer” generation parents. My grandmothers in particular used to pour stories of the past into me to the point that much of what I knew about life was through the lens of the early 20th century. I also had various elderly great aunts and uncles of varying degrees of influence. In addition I lived on Edwardian cul-de-sac, largely populated by genteel elderly ladies (and a few men), many of them as old as the houses in which they lived. They were the sort of people who came for afternoon tea and looked as if they belonged in an episode of Miss Marple. All of these people helped me to grow up seeing the present ways not as the only and imperative way that things can be, but as particular ways within a range of many possibilities. Without saying it in so many words all of these people helped me to perceive the benefits of traditionalism.

Yet I don’t think that the above influences were anything like the only source of my traditionalist leanings. Overall everything that I have experienced in life, all my thoughts on, and impressions from, various subjects have served to make me less “progressive” and more of a traditionalist.  My traditionalist leaning now is not the traditionalist leaning that I had as a child because that was more intuitive and this leaning is intellectual as well. Like all people I have been a person with different leanings and opinions in different times of my life, at times I was probably extremely “progressive” on the surface, yet this progressiveness was dissonant with my inner traditionalist who was struggling to get out.

Over time I came to realize the generally vacuous and superficial nature of most things “modern”. I started to perceive the destructive nature of youth culture and “pop music” versus the civilized nature of traditional music and traditional cultures. I started to notice the typically lowly nature of the majority of career politicians and thus to realize the advantages of Monarchy over Republicanism. Indeed the more I learned the more that I came to perceive that  – generally the old people were right in their differences with the foolish young ones, that the slightly prudish attitudes of religious neighbours actually protected against various social ills (ills that now ruin so many lives) and that the “intelligent prophets” of modernity were generally amongst the least-wise and least-clever people around.

Don’t get me wrong I have always been all for such things as the benefits of modern medicine, washing machines, reading lamps and scientific knowledge etc, but (for example) do we all really, really need cars? after all cars have spoiled the peace and safety of our towns and they maim and kill thousands every year. Wouldn’t feet, bicycles, pony and trap and a fully comprehensive steam train system be nicer (this is less bonkers than it sounds)? They would certainly less damaging for the environment and sustainable long past the end of cheap oil. Walking is the best exercise, horses eat grass and you can build steam trains that are powerful, fast and will run on practically anything that burns – ugly electrification systems and dangerous power rails could be a thing of the past. Furthermore Jet flight is a wonderful thing for a holidays in distant climes, but is it really worth the damage to the planet? are holidays at home or by ship really so inferior?

There are so many good things of sure benefits that have been lost into the mists of time and could do with reviving…

  • respect for parents and elders as the norm not the happy exception.
  • public transport of a level and quality that make private vehicles are unnecessary.
  • the idea of public service rather than private greed.
  • social deference and deserved respect and authority for teachers, priests, mayors and other public figures – whilst at the same time avoiding snobbishness and anti-egalitarianism as God made everyone equal,
  • a stronger idea of proper and improper behaviour based not upon individualism but upon traditional values,
  • dignified and appropriate behaviour that justifies respect for teachers, priests, mayors and other public figures,
  • a stronger idea of public decency and the revival of shame over drunken, lewd and loutish public behaviour,
  • darkness at late night time  rather than the light pollution of over the top mass-street lighting.
  • times of peace and quiet and actual universal days of rest and holidays.
  • so called “bobbies on the beat” – police men who actually prevent crime rather than arriving after the fact seem to have become a rare species,
  • corporal punishment for many less serious crimes rather than the expensive, unhealthy and ineffective use of imprisonment which has failed to deter mass recidivism.
  • capital punishment for clear cut cases of murder and the other most serious crimes rather than the expensive, unhealthy and ineffective use of imprisonment which has failed as a deterrent.
  • milk delivered to the door in recyclable glass bottles has largely faded into the past despite its obvious advantages,
  • children being able to safely play out in the street without needing adult supervision has seemingly become an unrealistic hope despite officially falling crime figures (the current deterrents – cars and child abusers – being massively reduced),

Everybody loves their central heating, double glazing and electric lights, but how man a modern house feels dead, sterile and unhealthy because of these very things. I admit that if you want to read an electric light is a must, but an evening is so much more relaxing lit by lamps or candles. Whilst central heating provides ambient warmth, but there is nothing like sitting by an open fire in a comfy chair. As for double glazing, yes it is wonderful for keeping you warm (or cold in hot climes), but it also robs you of the fresh air that percolates through the cracks in a traditional window, it robs you of the whistle of the winter storm and of the sounds of the singing birds outside. Having lived in both mod-cons fitted centrally heated houses and ancient cottages heated by coal and wood I know which I would choose.

People need new homes but why do they have to look new? Most modern architecture looks horrible, plain and utilitarian. It tends to be devoid of craftsmanship and beauty. On the other hand nearly everything built before the 1920s was built with love and skill. Concrete bricks and plastic window frames will ruin the best house design, yet baked bricks and wooden window frames tend to improve any design. There is a space for modern buildings, but when they are so much more beautiful than the hybrid styles of the modern age why do we not authentically build new Tudor, Georgian and Victorian houses fitted for our modern needs? Why must we stick to these ugly modern patterns?

Modernistic furniture, tastes and designs mostly make me want to vomit.  The soulless synthetic furniture for sale in places such as Ikea and Argos has s deadness to it when compared to antique furniture which emanates life, the past and a particular world. Persian and Chinese carpets of traditional designs have never been surpassed in their beauty and the probably never will, most of the modern designs that have become so common are not even fit to enter the race. A room well decorated in the classic style has a solidity and permanence of beauty that the modern styles can rarely approach one decorated in classic styles. Indeed the modern styles of any values are nearly always so indebted to classic styles that their ‘modernity’ consists in little more than their rearrangement and reuse of the better things of the past. As with decor and furniture as with life.

I am a believer in the good things of modernity but more so a believer in the good things of the traditions and this love of the traditional does not just extend to one culture, but to many. There is much wrong and sickly with many elements and facets of modernity, but not all is wrong with it. Indeed Just as I cannot condone every thought and idea that originated with the European “Enlightenment” and our current path of “modernity” neither can I condone every thought and idea that originates with the philosophies of “Counter-Enlightenment”. Indeed people with a working brain in their head take good from whatever source, whatever land and whatever period of history – they adopt things based upon their merits and make their own new meaningful traditions. However, they may find some good in modern things, but at the end of the day I believe that they will find more richness and value in the traditional … and by continuing long lasting traditions of worth they are preserving something good for future generations … and attaching themselves to a valuable chain that passes back through time.