This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

The traditional-modern distinction, its use, and its limits

We spend a great deal of time discussing the opposition between what we will call the ‘Traditional World’ and the ‘Modern World.’

Because of this emphasis, it needs to be said here at the beginning that this is primarily a didactic and rhetorical device, adopted because helpful to illustrate certain points. We do not wish to define ourselves by this opposition, nor is it even necessary in order to say what we have to say.  Nonetheless, because our readers are ‘modern’ it helpful to describe that ‘world’ and to circumscribe its limits, meeting them where they are, and then lead them in the direction we wish to go by setting up an alternative. This requires the establishment of an opposition for the simple reason that they first must be shown that there is somewhere else that they can go, since as things stand, most modern people operate on the assumption that their way of thinking is the only possible way, and that all else is irrationality or barbarism.

We make the modern world our ‘opponent’ but must not allow this opponent to become our center of gravity, with the result being that we would have nothing to offer but criticism. To proceed in such a way is self-defeating since it means that we depend on the opposition in order to say anything. In other words, we have nothing positive to say, and no center of gravity within ourselves.

This is the problem one sees with Protestantism in general, and which is implied in the term ‘Protestant’ itself. Without Catholicism to set itself against, Protestantism would have no sermons to preach and no doctrines to teach, since things like ‘sola scriptura’ (scripture alone) and ‘sola fide’ (faith alone) only make sense if you are staring at the Catholic Church and trying to distinguish yourself from the pre-existing doctrines of that tradition. Anytime you allow this to happen, you become dry-docked, attached to your opposition and defined by it, and in that sense you are, ironically, dependent for your identity on that which you reject.

So again, we do not really wish to define ourselves as anti-modern, which would make us nothing more than a simple ‘reactionary’—a term we embrace somewhat, provided it is understood as a secondary label and in a certain relationship, but not as a basis for everything else. On the contrary, we stand for certain positive principles that existed before the advent of the modern world, principles that without doubt equip us to build a view of the world and an approach to life that can stand on its own two feet. But since we are situated in the modern world and live among people who think according to the modern vocabulary, it is necessary to frame the discussion as an opposition between the modern world and something else. This ‘something else’ is what we call the traditional world, or, when speaking of doctrine specifically, we call simply tradition. This positive ground is our true foundation and our center of gravity. It is the same foundation that was taken for granted by all preceding civilizations aside from the modern West, and that is why we refer to them as ‘traditional civilizations,’ speaking also of ‘traditional religions’ and ‘traditional peoples.’ In each case, we have in mind a type that is very easy to contrast with its modern version.

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