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The Joy Of Traditionalism

Boy oh boy, is Felix Miller ever right: [1]

Contemporary young people on the right may be described in many ways: Transgressive. Ostracized. Principled. Unpopular. Free-thinking. Reactionary. Traditional. However accurate—and perhaps damning — one thinks these are, there is one label that greatly worries me: Joyless.

He’s not talking about being funny, in a smart-alecky way. He’s talking about something rooted in love. More:

Many on the right, especially those who identify as “Alt-Right,” spend massive amounts of time rejoicing in the pain of those with whom they disagree. The fact that videos about “libtard meltdowns” and “Butt-Hurt Crying Hillary Voters Compilation” have far more views than videos about Shakespeare, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Dante’s Commedia, should tell us something. Young conservatives and reactionaries, much as they flail their hands at the death of Western civilization and the loss of wisdom, do very little in the way of actually preserving the beauty and truth underlying this great tradition. If joy is truly a result of love, man must be very careful to develop the right affections in his breast. Right now many on the right seem hellbent on cultivating affection for dank memes rather than for truth, goodness, and beauty.

Miller says that G.K. Chesterton ought to be our model. We can’t simply say what we’re against. We have to say what we’re for, and not only that, but we have to live it out. If we really believe what we say, then “we must show our countrymen that there is a better way.” Miller suggests eating, drinking, and making all kinds of traddish merry. More:

This may seem abstruse, but in fact it is one of the most practical realizations a young traditionalist can make. Simply change your habits to help bring friends and family into rituals and ways of life that affirm reality. Host a formal dinner! Go to an art museum! Have a picnic in which you read classic poetry aloud! This is how we can create a sustainable traditionalism in the West.

What I am advocating here is not aestheticism, but communally gathering around all that is true, good, and beautiful. Politics is ordered toward promotion of the common good, thus in order to engage in politics we all must first have a love for the good. We cannot base the rejuvenation of our dying civilization upon a shared animosity, for as Chesterton reminds us, “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”

Read the whole thing [1] and, if conservative, send it to your friends.

If I could write The Benedict Option [2] over again, I would have a lot more of this in it. As longtime readers know, I struggle to articulate this kind of thing, even though I am much more successful living it out. I think it’s because I’m a lazy writer. It’s so much easier to bang out 2,500 words on how this or that thing means Decline & Fall than it is to reflect meaningfully on why a poem I read at bedtime the night before filled me with wonder and gratitude. If I ever do a sequel to The Benedict Option, I want to challenge myself to write about the kind of thing Felix Miller discusses in this wonderful post of his.

You know who is the king of ordinary Christian joy, don’t you? My friend Marco Sermarini, who is, and I mean this seriously, probably the greatest man I know. If you read The Benedict Option, you know that he’s a leader of the Tipi Loschi [3], an orthodox Catholic community in San Benedetto del Tronto, Italy. He is also head of Italy’s G.K. Chesterton Society. It is impossible to be in his presence without feeling better about life, the universe, and everything. You think: I want what that guy has. He’ll tell you that it all comes from his faith, and that’s true, in one sense, but I know lots of people who are just as faith-filled as Marco is, but who don’t have his sense of joy.

Being around Marco and his family and friends is serious fun. They are all Italo-Chestertonians. I don’t know any other way to put it. If you are a fan of Chesterton’s work, and wondered what it would be like to live among people who saw the world as Chesterton did … well, you can experience that for yourself. Honestly, Marco and his community ought to host a workshop in the summers, called “How To Be A Chestertonian Christian”. You can’t learn this from reading, not really. You have to see it, feel it, and, well, be it, in person. I took my son Lucas to meet the gang this summer, and he’s still talking about it. Sometimes he gets a little teary talking about being there. He told me that it’s one of the only times and places he’s been somewhere where he felt truly loved and accepted — and had a lot of fun in the process. This, with a bunch of Tipi Loschi kids who speak at best broken English. Love and friendship and joy is a universal language.

I’ll leave you with this glimpse of Marco, from The Benedict Option [2].

“Nothing we make in this life will be eternal, but we have to build them as if they will be eternal,” Marco continued. “That’s what God wants. If you promise yourself to a woman for a lifetime, that is a way of making the eternal present here in time.”

We have to go forward in confidence that the little things we do might, in time, grow into mighty works, he explained. It’s all up to God. All we can do is our very best to serve him.

Sometimes Marco lies in bed at night, worrying that his efforts, and the efforts of his little Christian community, won’t amount to much in the face of so much opposition. He is anxious that the current will be too strong to resist and will tear them apart.

“I know from the olive trees that some years we will have a big harvest, and other years we will take few,” he said. “The monks, when they brought agriculture to this place a thousand years ago, they taught our ancestors that there are times when we have to save seed. That’s why I think we have to walk on this road of Saint Benedict, in this Benedict Option. This is a season for saving the seed. If we don’t save the seed now, we won’t have a harvest in the years to come.”

It was getting late in the afternoon. I was afraid I would miss my bus to the Rome airport. Shouldn’t we be going? I asked.

Grande Rod, don’t worry, my friend!” he said. “You worry too much. You will make it!” And off we sped, down the winding road toward the sea.

As the sun went down in the western sky, we spoke once more about the challenge facing orthodox Christians in the West and how daunting it seems. Marco left me with these unforgettable lines.

“In Italy, we have a saying: ‘When there is no horse, a donkey can do good work.’ I consider myself a little donkey,” he said. “There are so many purebred horses that run nowhere, but this old donkey is getting the job done. You and me, let’s go on doing this job like little donkeys. Don’t forget, it was a donkey that brought Jesus Christ into Jerusalem.”

Here, in Italian (with English subtitles), is Marco (and others) talking about the classical Christian school he and his community founded in 2008: the Scuola Libera G.K. Chesterton. They did it because these Catholic Christian parents wanted better for their children. Such goodness. Such beauty. Such truth. Such joy.  If I ever have the money to do so, I’m going to make a pilgrimage to San Benedetto del Tronto at least once a year, just to get back in touch with reality.

70 Comments (Open | Close)

70 Comments To "The Joy Of Traditionalism"

#1 Comment By Jeremy Buxton On September 24, 2017 @ 4:28 am

Let us celebrate the good in Chesterton: his Christian humanity and simplicity, while rejecting his idiotic socialistic theory of “distributism”. We should also reject but partly forgive his silly remarks about Jews and non-Catholic Christians.

#2 Comment By ginger On September 24, 2017 @ 11:10 am

[NFR: I think what you have to say is very important. I really do. Believe me, I would run like hell from communities like you describe. But it doesn’t have to be that way, right? — RD]

No, it doesn’t have to be that way, as evidenced by a very small number of communities who seem to get it right. But given human nature, I would frankly be shocked if any significant number of such communities ever manage to “get it right.”

I don’t pretend to have the solution–only advice for people to keep their eyes wide open because many of these attempts will simply end up masking dysfunction until it just can’t be masked any longer. Then you’ll have community members and bystanders of good will acting shocked, “But how could this have happened?! The founders were so holy, and everybody was living such faithful Catholic lives! Guess it must be because the devil always tempts the holiest people the most” when the reality is that the writing was on the wall from Day 1.

The Tipi Loschi probably remain so healthy because they are considerably more open-minded than many of the communities I know of, which would not want heretics like you hanging around. One of the girls in my class broke bad by dating a Greek Orthodox guy and was basically ostracized when she decided to marry him in the Orthodox Church because the Orthodox Church would not allow him to get married in the Catholic Church. At the time, I thought to myself that she probably would have been treated with more kindness (not that I’m saying much here–these folks were willing to police the boundaries, and hard!) had she decided to elope to Vegas with an atheist!

Anyway, the bottom line for me is that a lot of the conservative Catholics I know are too busy being angry with people (and the world in general) to be joyous. It’s always struck me as really weird, because if you truly believe the way you are living is the way that brings beauty and joy to your life, wouldn’t you just feel sorry for those who are unwilling/unable to live that way for whatever reason? I mean, that’s the way I feel about the miserably married. I can’t be angry with them–I just feel bad for them. I wish they could have what my husband and I have. Whenever I have the opportunity (in an appropriate, respectful, and non-obnoxious way), I try to show people how great marriage can actually be. Not that it’s a piece of cake, but that the effort is totally worth it.

Too many conservative Catholics I know just come off as sour grapes instead. Basically, the very opposite of joyful living.

#3 Comment By Jon On September 24, 2017 @ 1:48 pm

Devotion has its seasons flowing in torrents during its Spring when snow melt nourishes its banks but then drying revealing rounded pebbles from its bottom during the heat of Summer only to regain its flow from the heavy rains of Autumn to freeze as sheets of ice during Winter. But devotion in our age cannot feed off its environs but must be sustained through introspection and what comes of it.

The artist and artisan turns this inward turn outward to celebrate Creation ignoring the noise and clatter of distracted souls who pursue their own pleasures in the service of false gods. Alas, the artist and artisan are alone with ne’er an ear to hear or eye to witness their expression unless someone comes along who understands their intent connecting through their work with the source of all seeing in their inspired creations a spark to carry the visitor’s prayer heavenward.

The Benedict Option has its correlation for those who walk in other traditions. Thank you for this inspiring blog depicting how at least one human being (Marco Sermarini) has conducted his life in accordance to the divine potential which resides in us all.

Now, I must go back to my painting commencing a new canvas. I cannot mitigate the nihilism that attacks form and content and meaning and at times accost the eye with lurid disfigured images of angry faces with detached words as we witness with Neo Expressionism. But one plods along regardless.

#4 Comment By Colonel Bogey On September 24, 2017 @ 2:46 pm

Thank you, Mr John Dixon, for that inspired parody; you should do more of them. Just as Shelley’s Ozymandias was really User-ma’at-Re Setepenre Ramesses II, I think we can guess fairly easily as to the ‘Com of Box’.

#5 Comment By Giuseppe Scalas On September 24, 2017 @ 4:43 pm

Mark VA

Since my ethnicity is Eastern European, I would like to know. Am I civilized, partly civilized, or can I only simulate it?

I don’t know about you 🙂 but nowadays I should say Eastern Europe is very civilized. The Visegrad Group is the last bastion of rationality in thr West.

#6 Comment By Giuseppe Scalas On September 24, 2017 @ 5:38 pm


My friend, the burden of proof lies upon the authors of libels. One needs not debase onself by entering in conversation with them.

To me, the final word on the topic was the one said in 1937, the year after GKC’s death, by Rabbi Stephen S. Wise: “Indeed I was a warm admirer of Gilbert Chesterton. When Hitlerism came, he was one of the first to speak out with all the directness and frankness of a great and unabashed spirit. Blessings to his memory.”

Yes, Chesterton at times criticized Jews as he criticized many other peoples (including Americans) and did so openly because he was “direct and frank”. But his criticism was without hate.

The same can’t be said about his critics. I suspect that what they actually begrudge him is his support for Zionism.

#7 Comment By Philip Bess On September 24, 2017 @ 6:24 pm

Siarlys Jenkins asks Giuseppe to elaborate on denials that Chesterton was a calumnious anti-Semite. Here are three, from the links I provided yesterday.
The first is from Ross Douthat, critiquing Adam Gopnik’s 2008 characterization of Chesterton’s anti-semitism:

I’ll start with [Gopnik’s] lengthy attack on Chesterton’s “Jew-hating,” which culminates in this peculiar passage:

The insistence that Chesterton’s anti-Semitism needs to be understood “in the context of his time” defines the problem, because his time-from the end of the Great War to the mid-thirties-was the time that led to the extermination of the European Jews. In that context, his jocose stuff is even more sinister than his serious stuff. He claims that he can tolerate Jews in England, but only if they are compelled to wear “Arab” clothing, to show that they are an alien nation. Hitler made a simpler demand for Jewish dress, but the idea was the same. Of course, there were, tragically and ironically, points of contact between Chesterton and Zionism. He went to Jerusalem in 1920 and reported back on what he found among the nascent Zionists, whom he liked: he wanted them out of Europe and so did they; he wanted Jews to be turned from rootless cosmopolitans into rooted yeomen, and so did they.

Chesterton wasn’t a fascist, and he certainly wasn’t in favor of genocide, but that is about the best that can be said for him-and is surely less of a moral accomplishment than his admirers would like. He did speak out, toward the end of his life, against the persecution in Nazi Germany, writing that he was “appalled by the Hitlerite atrocities,” that “they have absolutely no reason or logic behind them,” that “I am quite ready to believe now that Belloc and I will die defending the last Jew in Europe.” Yet he insisted, “I still think there is a Jewish problem,” and he denounced Hitler in the context of a wacky argument that Nazism is really a form of “Prussianism,” which is really a form of Judaism; that is, a belief in a chosen, specially exalted people.

[to which Douthat responds]:
But the whole point of the “in the context of his times” argument is precisely that by the standards of the ’20s and ’30s, it was morally impressive for a political writer to reject both fascism and communism, to praise Zionism, and to speak out forcefully against Nazi anti-Semitism – and not in its eliminationist phase, but in its very earliest stages. (Chesterton died in 1936.) This does not excuse Chesterton’s anti-Semitism by any means, but it makes him an odd target, out of all the writers and thinkers of that period, to single out for particular opprobrium. Here I think Gopnik is indulging the chauvinism of hindsight: The assumption that everyone who partook of the attitudes that helped make the Holocaust possible should be judged and condemned on the basis of what we know now, rather than what they knew then. It’s the Goldhagen approach to assigning culpability, in which even people who opposed Hitler – even people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who died fighting him – are to be judged, and harshly, if they failed to live up the standards that Western society only adopted after the Holocaust provided a terrible example of where these thoughts and impulses can lead.

The second is from Ian Boyd, C.S.B. of the G.K.Chesterton Institute, writing of “Chesterton’s alleged ‘anti-Semitism'”

The question of G.K. Chesterton’s ‘anti-semitism’ has been thoroughly discussed in many biographies and journals. Chesterton certainly made anti-Jewish remarks, which today’s G.K. Chesterton Institute has no wish to condone or defend. These remarks, however, need to be undertood in their social and historical context, not in order to whitewash Chesterton, but to see how they do not invalidate his entire intellectual or spiritual legacy.

Above all they need to be read in the light of important statements he made repudiating anti-semitism towards the end of his life (he died in 1936, i.e. before the Second World War). As Kevin L. Morris writes in his C.T.S. booklet G.K. Chesterton (1994), Chesterton’s prejudice was largely political in nature, bound up with his opposition to plutocracy and the ‘sleaze’ of his day, in which several prominent Jewish figures were implicated at the time:

‘far from being a racist, he ridiculed racism, had Jewish friends, admired individual Jews, valued the Jewish faith, wanted the Jews to have the dignity of a Jewish nation-state, and, with the rise of Nazi Germany, denounced the persecution of the Jews.’ ‘I am quite ready to believe now,’ he said, ‘that Belloc and I will die defending the last Jew in Europe’.

In the biography Gilbert (Jonathan Cape, 1989, pp. 209-11), Michael Coren noted Chesterton’s profound literary and personal friendship with the Jewish writer Israel Zangwill (not, by the way, his only such friendship), his cordial meetings with Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, and the important statement by the Wiener Library (London’s archive on anti-semitism and Holocaust history) that Chesterton was never seriously anti-semitic: ‘he was not an enemy, and when the real testing time came along he showed what side he was on.’

For its part, the G.K. Chesterton Institute wishes to build on the positive legacy of Chesterton and the writers associated with him, purifying that legacy of the mistakes of judgment that afflict imperfect and inconsistent men and women embroiled in the controversies and ethos of their day. Anti-semitism is incompatible with the Christian religion, a religion that G.K. Chesterton did more than most to defend, explain and represent in a life and writings that many Jews have loved as well as Christians.

Finally this, from the American Chesterton Society’s Dale Ahlquist:

[T]hose of us who love Chesterton…are always distressed to see him falsely accused of something vile. But we have gotten a little tired of the charge of anti-Semitism. He has been absolved of that charge too many times for us to count – from the tribute by Rabbi Stephen Wise to the official statements of the Weiner Library (the archives of anti-Semitism and holocaust history in London). The charge is usually made thoughtlessly or ignorantly. But in some cases it is made knowingly and deceitfully. It is a calumny against the man who said “The world owes God to the Jews,” and “I will die defending the last Jew in Europe,” who was sought out by Jewish leaders in his support for Zionism, a man who hated racism and racial theories and who fought for human dignity and always affirmed the brotherhood of all men.

The American Chesterton Society devoted an entire issue of Gilbert to address the charge of anti-Semitism against Chesterton. We bring out the facts and we also let him defend himself in his own words. We would be happy to debate anyone on a point-by-point basis who insists on repeating the false charge.

GK Chesterton is not everybody’s cup of tea, but it truly is a calumny to depict such a generous and large-spirited (and -bodied) human being as just a witty anti-semite. GKC wrote scores of books and literally thousands of newspaper columns (he regarded himself first and foremost as a journalist); but if he had only written Orthodoxy, The Man Who Was Thursday, and Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox his reputation for brilliance of art and intellect would be secured for anyone who has read this books — and this apart from his active involvement in the political controversies of his day, almost always on the side of the poor and the side of common sense, and with a cheerfulness and good humor that even Rod understates.

#8 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On September 24, 2017 @ 7:32 pm

I don’t pretend to have the solution–only advice for people to keep their eyes wide open because many of these attempts will simply end up masking dysfunction until it just can’t be masked any longer.

To anyone who has studied the international communist movement, however sympathetically, this is sound advice.

Let us celebrate the good in Chesterton: his Christian humanity and simplicity, while rejecting his idiotic socialistic theory of “distributism”.

Wait a minute! Distributism is one of the few things he got right! (Which is the inherent problem in any argument over naming schools or building statues… we can’t even agree coherently on which points are good, and which are bad.)

#9 Comment By stephen cooper On September 24, 2017 @ 9:52 pm

Thrice a Viking: thanks for reading. I took no delight in that; what you said about my delight was not true. I have prayed for Chesterton for 40 years and I see him as he is: a child of God. It hurts, to tell the truth, to say the harsh things I said. But Chesterton has died and he needs prayers. Read Dante’s Purgatorio; it is no small thing to live life as a proud sinner – and to die without public repentance – and all my friends are sinners. So yes I say harsh things sometimes. Either they will forgive me or they won’t. As for me, I have forgiven every single person who has said harsh things to me. Thrice a Viking, unlike many of us, Chesterton was born into a loving family, in a Christian world, and he was given huge gifts of love. And he chose, in moments of weakness, to say foul things about others. Disgusting, foul, and hurtful things – and he was intelligent enough to know that his anti-Jewish words were received with joy by very evil people. You know that, if you know the context of his anti-Semitic words, and I know it. You can argue all day long about how little it matters if he said those evil things, but he said them. I think it is kind to focus on a fault like gluttony when one is criticizing a much more foul fault. And I do not agree with Michael Moore on much: I like his compassion for what he believes is the working man, but he has no true compassion for the poor, the powerless, and the unborn. But if I were to discuss, for example, his views on the evil of abortion, yes, I would point out that he has no concern for how many animals are killed for his desire to be obese. Gluttony is a serious sin, and I take no delight in discussing sin. Pray for Chesterton, and for me. Make fun of me all you want: I am poorer than Chesterton, and in my humble way I am even fatter. But I do not mock vegetarians, so there is that. Anyway, God bless you for sticking up for Chesterton. Maybe he is already in heaven and doesn’t need our prayers: in which case he would be more thankful to me than to you, right? And if he is in Purgatory, who does he appreciate, those who minimize his sins or those who seek out prayers for his soul? Anyway, have a good evening – let’s agree that we both care, in our way.

#10 Comment By Gina On September 25, 2017 @ 12:22 pm

I love this post, and this side of you, Rod!

But no on the overt Chesterton-lovers. The ones I know are all insufferably pretentious bearded fogeys, who go around in tweeds with hipster glasses and pipes, spouting Chestertonian bon mots, chapter and verse, like fundamentalist preachers. They seem like really nice people under their costumes–but they come across as either ridiculous or obnoxious in their inability to deal with the real world.

#11 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On September 25, 2017 @ 3:31 pm

Phillip, your harangue is decidedly secondary, and unimpressive. Giuseppe, thank you, you provided exactly the relevant data I was seeking.

#12 Comment By Michael On September 25, 2017 @ 3:53 pm

“A poem I read at bedtime the night before filled me with wonder and gratitude.”

What poems do you recommend reading? (other than Dante) I am always looking for poetry recommendations!

[NFR: He’s an acquired taste, but I like Wallace Stevens. And I like W.H. Auden. — RD]

#13 Comment By Fran Macadam On September 25, 2017 @ 5:38 pm

You’ve lost me when you attack Chesterton; but no doubt you don’t care. Which shows what side you’re on, which isn’t the same one.

#14 Comment By Andrew On September 25, 2017 @ 7:29 pm

Well done, Felix. Stay conversant with these issues and keep writing!

Perhaps TAC should invite Felix for a guest column.

#15 Comment By stephen cooper On September 26, 2017 @ 2:58 am

For all the Chesterton supporters who want to debate, may I suggest this: do you have a daughter or a son whom you care about? Well, tell that daughter or that son that someone wants them to dress like Arabs for a year, as embarrassing as that might be, because that is just what Jews ought to be required to do. Make sure that your beloved son or daughter knows that you think there is nothing wrong with that, it is only because your beloved Chesterton thought it was right, because he had no problem with your son or daughter dressing like an Arab – actually, being forced to dress like an Arab – for a year. He had no problem with the fact that the Blessed Virgin was a Jew – you know that, don’t you? Sure you think he just forgot, but I think he is sitting there in Purgatory, hoping he spends much more time there because, unlike you, he is repentant for the evil things he said. Well, sure it will be hard on your daughter or son, but, hey, Chesterton was a genius! After that year where your own children are insulted and belittled, if you want to debate me about the evil things Chesterton said, I will debate you. I will never respect you: but I will debate you. And I am a Zionist, and I would rather discuss the failures of Pope Pius the Tenth when he was rude and cruel to the Zionists who wanted the 20th century to be a century of peace: but, even as a Zionist and a sort-of-critic of Saint Pius the Tenth (who was in truth a saint) I would never put my children though that. If you have no compassion for those you insult, my friends, repent. Repent as soon as you can. And pray for me! I never once said I was better than Chesterton, or you. Pray for him: you know he said evil things. And you may have decided not to pray for him, I am sad to say. Change your mind: pray for him.

#16 Comment By stephen cooper On September 26, 2017 @ 3:11 am

For the love of God do not take me up on that. I do not mind being hated by people who think Chesterton is a saint: I think he was almost a saint, for the record: but for the love of God do not let your children be subjected to what Chesterton would willingly have subjected innocent Jewish children to. And remember that the Mother of Our Lord was Jewish.

#17 Comment By Felix James Miller On September 26, 2017 @ 11:39 am

Rod, thank you so much for sharing my piece (and for your kind praise). I am glad to get folks thinking about this subject.

While I agree with nearly every imaginable complaint made by Christians and social conservatives about the contemporary West, I am often disheartened to see how many fall prey to political idolatry by allowing our surrounding culture to dictate our disposition.

If early Christian martyrs could go to their deaths singing Christ’s praises, we can certainly live in joy despite the few small crosses we must bare.

In Christ,

#18 Comment By JonF On September 26, 2017 @ 1:20 pm

Re: The Tipi Loschi probably remain so healthy because they are considerably more open-minded than many of the communities I know of,

There may be some cultural factors involved as well. Mediterranean cultures tend toward a certain joie ve vivre, and the Tipi Loschi have taken that with them just as a matter of course. In the US we have never quite gotten over the Puritans, no matter how debauched we come. Hence our religious separatists tend to become dour and fearful.

#19 Comment By JOnF On September 30, 2017 @ 4:28 pm

+RE: Let us celebrate the good in Chesterton: his Christian humanity and simplicity, while rejecting his idiotic socialistic theory of “distributism”.

I have my own problems with distributism, since I think it’s wildly impractical and ignores how economies naturally evolve. But calling it “socialist” is absurd and suggests an ignorance or what distributism is.

#20 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 3, 2017 @ 9:34 pm

Debauched Puritans. Now there is a concept whose time may have come. The sheer anger of sitting in the darkness pondering the possibility that someone, somewhere, is NOT having fun.