The Future of Tradition

Sunday, August 14th, 2005

In The Future of Tradition, Lee Harris looks at the battle between reason and tradition:

America has been in the midst of a culture war for some time and will probably remain so for some time longer. But culture war is not peculiar to this country. Indeed, there have been at least three great culture wars fought in the course of Western history, including one contemporaneous with the rise of the Sophists in ancient Greece, the epoch identified with the French Enlightenment and the German Aufklärung, and our own current battle. The first two ended in disaster for the societies in which they occurred — the outcome of the third is still pending.

Each of these wars has its own particular antagonists, each its own weapons of combat, each its own battlefield. But the essential nature of a culture war is invariant: A set of traditional values comes under attack by those who, like the Greek Sophist, the French philosophe, and the American intellectual, make their living by their superior proficiency in handling abstract ideas, and promote a radically new and revolutionary set of values. This is precisely what one would expect from those who excel in dispute and argumentation.

In every culture war the existing customs and traditions of a society are called to the bar of reason and ruthlessly interrogated and cross-examined by an intellectual elite asking whether they can be rationally justified or are simply the products of superstition and thus unworthy of being taken seriously by enlightened men and women.

Read the whole article. There’s even a bit of a zinger near the end.


  1. As I note here Harris is very selective in which “culture wars” he cites. He is in fact defending the results of previous “culture wars” which brutally suppressed alternative traditions.

    P.S. The link to this post in the later post citing “The Future of Tradition” is broken.

  2. Isegoria says:

    Thanks, Lorenzo, for pointing out the broken link. It went bad when I imported the rest of my posts from Blogger. (Long story.)

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