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Obscurantist? Give Me a Break!

Of course there’s a long-running conservative critique of the cult of progress – it’s comes from the cult of tradition — and in the 20th century in particular this critique of progress was mostly ineffectual; which is why I’m surprised it’s so lovingly embraced here. One of the great contributions to conservatism made by the neoconservatives was in recognizing the limits of the trad argument in a post-Enlightenment age; neocons encouraged a turning away from the obscurantism of trad con writing and thinking. What is different today that would convince crunchy cons that trad arguments will have any greater resonance than when neocons replaced them with a reliance on empiricism? ~Nick Schultz, Crunchy Cons

Note that: the critique was “ineffectual.” No word on whether it was true or not. Perhaps the folks at the CC blog might think this idea would have resonance today as more and more people awake to the bankruptcy not only of the cult of progress, but also of the very idea of progress as it has been conventionally understood. The critique of progress in the 20th century gained less traction because a great many people were convinced, all things considered, that overall progress had taken place without a loss of anything that really mattered. Now the costs of that progress are becoming more clear, and fewer people are willing to accept the sacrifices that Progress claims is necessary.

Obscurantist is a word for people who think that tradition is something from which man needs to be freed, a bondage from which he must be emancipated. It is a word for someone who believes scrapping tradition is enlightenment and holding to tradition is to hide in the dark. The only thing more dismissive of and insulting to a traditionalist might be “hidebound.”

I understand why neoconservatives would use the term obscurantist, because they have never had much time for anything that dates before 1920. Most other conservatives take a somewhat longer view and place tremendous value in the enduring habits and customs of our civilisation (as well as in many worthwhile habits and customs that have not endured as well but should in some measure be revived).

Why we “trads” (would that make our opponents into progs?) should find the accusation of obscurantism against our intellectual forebears is less clear. The difference between today and 20 or 30 years ago may be that fewer conservatives are going to fall for the arguments of putative conservatives that traditionalism is somehow less conservative than progressivism, managerial government and creating a more efficient welfare state. Indeed, the “cult of tradition” is opposed to the cult of progress, broadly speaking. Mr. Schultz’s observation on that score answers his own question as to why conservatives, crunchy or no, would embrace it and why they will stand against the concrete pourers and cement mixers and those that sing their praises. In brief: Treebeard, yes, Saruman, no.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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