SHIELDS: Tradition Isn’t Enough Pt. I


Monday, February 6, 2023

As the GOP’s identity crisis continues, the hosts of the Daily Wire are doing much to articulate a coherent and conservative philosophy that can be both moral and successful. Because theirs is, in my estimation, the most successful and moral proposed approach for conservatives, it necessitates the most scrutiny and correction.

A recent claim of the hosts is that we needn’t provide justifications for certain traditions and beliefs; it is sufficient to merely hold to them. It is not incumbent upon us to justify the status quo; it is merely incumbent on the Left to justify disrupting it. 

This claim is erroneous. As will be shown in this and following articles, tradition is not enough. We need revelation if we are to have a moral and coherent political philosophy to guide the GOP and our republic. 

Concerning traditions, the difference between conservatives and liberals has often been expressed using Chesterton’s Fence. The liberal sees a fence and not knowing its purpose, demands it be torn down. The conservative sees a fence and not knowing its purpose, demands no damage be done to it lest an unforeseen disaster be caused. 

Implicit in Chesterton’s hypothetical is the ability to ascertain the purpose of the fence. If the conservative is to be Chesterton’s intelligent reformer (as opposed to his modern reformer), the value of the fence’s purpose determines its future. 

If we refuse to rationalize our traditions, as is being suggested, then we are not wisely determining whether the fence should be kept, removed, or modified. We are refusing to inquire intelligently at all. We are saying, “It’s worked so far, this discussion is over.”

Practically, this is foolish for the simple reason that voters don’t care who should technically have the burden of proof. In elections, we are asking the electorate to endorse candidates, policies, and philosophies, and thus we always carry the burden. 

More importantly, this position is philosophically wrong. For what does it matter that something worked for past generations? Is it inconceivable that over the centuries circumstances have evolved so that which was once beneficial is now useless or even detrimental? Perhaps, for example, the definition of marriage can and should change. Why should we be bound by the ways of the dead? 

Furthermore, if it is accepted that we needn’t justify traditions that have seemingly worked thus far, the long term consequences will be dire. Yes, this position will fend off the tyrannical proposals of the Left. And yes, it will allow us to preserve much of our Judeo-Christian values. But in accepting tradition for tradition’s sake, we will also be binding ourselves to those things which ought to be done away with or reformed. 

Suppose, for example, that this argument was proposed in the 1850s in response to communism. Would not then slavery and marital rape, along with numerous other abominations, be among those traditions said to require no justification for they have endured successfully for so long? 

Or suppose one culture’s ways are compared to another culture’s ways. The traditions of both have obviously endured thus far. How then, can one be declared superior to the other? This argument compels the embrace of tribalism. It is the death of progress. 

The Left must be defeated, but we cannot merely hold onto our traditions simply because they are our traditions and consider this sufficient. Leftism must be defeated, but progress must also continue. We conservatives conserve the American Creed, and our Creed requires advancing toward a more perfect union, not just preserving the imperfect one we have now. 

Our traditions need to be judged by an objective standard that can reveal to us which traditions are fences that should be kept up and which should be torn down. Any attempt to defend our traditions without such an objective standard, or denying the need to justify them at all, ought to be immediately abandoned. We carry the burden of proof, and we have a need to progress even as we defend against the tyranny of the Left.

Jack Shields is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is currently attending Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. He is an editor and columnist for Lone Conservative, and a reporter for The College Fix.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.

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About Jack Shields

Jack Shields is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is currently attending Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. He is an editor and columnist for Lone Conservative, and a reporter for The College Fix.

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