Principle and Tradition

I offer one of my replies to Nilo Pascoaloto in the comment thread of the post The One True Faith?  As noted, it is one of several comments in our dialogue, but it well sums up the dialogue – at least up until this point; it is possible Nilo will still reply, as he has in the past taken some time to consider my comments and read what I have also linked for clarification.

My comment, as presented below, is slightly modified for clarification (you will find the original at bionic mosquito January 6, 2018 at 7:06 PM).  I will follow with a few additional thoughts.


And while your immediate worry is over the nasty effects of simple principle without tradition, mine also include the opposite.

Nilo, I don’t merely suggest simple tradition without principle. When I have written of “tradition,” it has been in the context of a few ideas, for example:

The “old and good law”; the law of the Middle Ages. The “old,” of course, is the “tradition” part. But what is meant by the “good”? It was a “good” grounded in the Christian faith. I will suggest that this is the “principle” part.” Of course, this principle is not the NAP, but I will come to the connection shortly.

A few examples of “good”?  Slavery was virtually unknown; serfs had rights, protected by courts specifically established for the benefit of grievances; things like witch-burnings were rare. All quite compatible with the NAP.

So, when I write of tradition, it is this tradition of which I write – an “old” tradition that existed because of this “good” principle. I don’t write as if any tradition is acceptable, e.g. child sacrifices, mutilations, etc.

What does this principle have to do with the NAP? The “old” and “good” law was also about as close to an NAP-consistent law that I have found in history. In other words, the tradition of which I write is one that respected the NAP more so than any other tradition I am aware of involving real human experience.

Both principle and tradition are, after all, useless if these do not recognize human reality and the value of human life.

I realize you’ve crossed that bridge already – for you, rationalism has nothing to do with, and cannot be reconciled, with the “good” part of Western tradition.

It is not clear to me why you write this.

Was the time of the Middle Ages irrational? It was not – it was a time when reason alone was not satisfactory, and was considered incomplete without faith. I find nothing irrational about this – man still incorporates faith with his reason today, unfortunately the “faith” in which man places his trust today is corrupt.

The men of the time used reason to bound tradition (while also using tradition to bound man’s “reason,” meaning bounding man’s ability to create new laws from whole cloth) – as I have described above. One balanced the other.

Post Renaissance and Reformation, man walked down the path of eliminating tradition and applauding reason alone. We are living through the end times of this transition, with the Cultural Marxists as the current high priests.

It gets worse – society, now without tradition, is today is destroying rationalism – Jordan Peterson ascribes this to postmodernist philosophy. One example should suffice – we are now meant to suffer an infinite number of made-up, artificial genders, each allowed into any public restroom of their choosing. There is nothing rational about this; it does not conform to reason.

I have written, perhaps not often enough, that there is much in the western liberal tradition that is good – however, what I believe to be correct: the primary advantage has been economic. I cannot say that it is true regarding our social, religious, cultural, or political lives. I have struggled with how to sort all of this out – as I have written before, I much prefer the law of the Middle Ages, while also preferring air conditioning of today (meaning, even the poorest among us lives better than anyone alive 700 years ago).

Is it possible to have the “old and good law” of the Middle Ages with the air conditioning of today? I don’t know, but I will keep thinking on it.

However, there is no doubt: today the state controls far more of my life and takes far more of my wealth than occurred during much of the Middle Ages – even to a serf. Tradition has been destroyed and now even reason is being destroyed.

And we are the poorer for it, as relative wealth and poverty cannot be measured solely in terms of the availability of air conditioning.


So much for my original, slightly edited, comment.

As long-time readers know, bionic cut his teeth on the non-aggression principle.  So, what started me down this path of examining culture, custom and tradition?  It came from reading and considering “libertarianism” from some of its strongest advocates.  I will not name them; my descriptions will have to be enough for your curiosity:

  1. The property owner is free to choose any punishment he likes in retaliation for a violation of the NAP.  To suggest anything else makes one a thick libertarian.
  2. The non-aggression principle allows for every manner of libertine behavior.
  3. Culture, tradition and the patriarchy must be destroyed if we want to achieve a libertarian society.

While offering critiques of some of these positions, someone challenged me to take on Hoppe with the same venom.  Well, I took on Hoppe, but found I could not muster the same venom…because he actually made sense.

I return to one of my comments to Nilo, from above:

I have written, perhaps not often enough, that there is much in the western liberal tradition that is good – however, what I believe to be correct: the primary advantage has been economic. I cannot say that it is true regarding our social, religious, cultural, or political lives.

The non-aggression principle is “good” law.  But from where does law come if not society?  And I am left to wonder: can “good” law arise from a society that is either unconcerned with (at best) or actively works to destroy (the current situation in the west) “our social, religious, cultural, or political lives”?

I know some will say that if we lived under the NAP, such culture-destroying behaviors would diminish as they would no longer be subsidized.  This is likely true.

There is just one problem: that is a big “if.”

For this reason I focus on culture and tradition when I consider the application of the non-aggression principle.  Someone has to do it, as there are many libertarian writers today who ignore it – to the detriment of advancing the philosophy.

Reprinted with permission from Bionic Mosquito.