Traditionalists and modernists differ in that traditionalists don’t believe the world can be perfected. We don’t even believe it can be substantially improved with regard to basic human nature. Sure, we can invent some new gadgets, but we will never eliminate greed, callousness and the blind love of power from the world.
Modernists, however, believe the world is on its way to an ever-improved state of affairs. They think things are going to get better and better. The belief that the world can be made more humane and just and pleasurable forms the core tenet of the modern secular faith which is predominant in the West. Believers in this faith are never reluctant to take action to push the world further down the road to utopia.
The actions they are willing to take include the use of military force. The modernist sees military action, when undertaken by a secular, modernist government ostensibly for the purpose of making the world safer and more democratic, as good. In their minds, military conflict, while tragic in the short term, is a means to establish long-term harmony by imposing the values of the rational, democratic secular West on societies that have failed to embrace them. The modernist tends to excuse this sort of intellectual and spiritual imperialism in light of the positive consequences he is certain it will bring.
Traditionalists don’t buy it. We doubt that human beings are wise enough to predict the consequences of large-scale disruptive actions. We are fully convinced that the world will always be home to evil, oppression, and cruelty. We know that the slaughter of innocents is a feature of unchanging human nature. The best we can do is build safeguards against such things when we can.
Since this is so, traditionalists are less inclined to exercise military might than are modernists. Obviously, the categories “traditionalist” and “modernist” do not entirely align with the categories “conservative” and “liberal” in the American context and certainly not with the categories “Democrat” and “Republican.” Many Republicans, in their enthusiasm for warfare, show themselves totally in thrall to the modernist vision of an ever improving world.
Because traditionalists see human being as profoundly flawed and unable to realistically assess our decisions because of our hubris and other moral failings, we are reluctant to embrace the destruction war inevitably entails. We are less confident than our modernist counterparts that the losses incurred can ever be recovered.
War always entails damage to the environment, the loss of tradition and the disruption of communities, all things traditionalists value more highly than an abstract vision of a world made perfect through the forceful imposition of secular, modern values. Traditionalists resist war because we believe the world that rises organically out of the human struggle to cope with reality and to safeguard families and communities is superior to one engineered and imposed through force by modernists gorged on abstractions.
This is not to say traditionalists always oppose war. There are instances where, due to the corrupt nature of human beings, large-scale conflicts are unavoidable. However, traditionalists see only defensive wars as legitimate. Wars to defend home and family, to preserve a culture and tradition against a ruthless aggressor are, while still tragic, acceptable.
The widespread use of military force that has characterized American foreign policy in recent decades does not qualify for support from traditionalists. Instead of striding across the world leaving in our wake a legacy of death and destruction all in the hopes of realizing some naive globalist ideal, we traditionalists want to see our nation turn toward home.
Send those soldiers back to their wives, back to their children, back to the towns and lands that birthed them, we say. Let them invest in a craft, in work, in learning to lead those in their charge, and in doing so, engage themselves in those mundane disciplines of life and heart that actually do make the world a better place, or at least a place that is as good as it can be.