Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Anarchy Breeds Tradition

More often than not, the figure of the powerful authoritarian is a figure of tradition. Progressives hate the patriarchy, while traditionalists would embrace it, but in no small way, both fall under the spell; the right man shall save the day- until, of course, he does not. Progressives have their disappointment in Obama, but traditionalists seldom find fault with their figures of authority. This is due, perhaps in large part, to the fact that top down action is only good for novelty, for change- in other words, it is precisely the powerful who have the power to do progressive stuff!

Patricius provides us with a wonderful example: the liturgical innovations of Pius XII and the 'traditionalist' groups who think they are somehow being traditional by following the liturgical books of 1962.

Buried deep in Nassim Taleb's notebook there is this:
Time for some revision of historical reputations. Historians keep piling on the Byzantine for the alleged pettiness of their disputes. I hold that if the Byzantines argued, it was because it was a truly collegiate system & each bishop was entitled to voice his opinion. The system was (& still is) bottom up. The main Patriarchs now have more clout than in the past, but they cannot do anything without consulting each other. If the Westerners seemed more focused & less “Byzantine”, it was because their system was top-down & the Pope was the big boss.

Now, to the extent that the Eastern Orthodox have a more traditional liturgy, they have it because it was bottom up. In such a situation, how does one decide whether or not the Christians one province over from you are actually in communion with you? Well, what do they do? Especially when there are differences in languages, where you can't necessarily tell what they are professing to believe, the emphasis is placed on what is done, and not as much on what is believed.

Belief! If modern science is right, I suppose belief must be crammed somewhere in the brain, though it was once thought we kept our important stuff in our hearts. In any case, your belief is not something I can readily examine; sure, I can ask you, but I can't really take it out of your head and get the flavor of it. I can see what you do. And if I make sure I'm not coercing you (and no one else is either), then what you do becomes a clear signal.

Thus anarchy breeds tradition. Out of a multitude of decisions a remarkably strong tradition arises. This is a pattern, or a language of life. We work out through what gives life, what doesn't, and what obviously kills. How many times does a president, congress, or various foreign entities have to make stupid decisions that cause death on a massive scale before we realize it's better to have the chaos through which our trillions of little decisions can be expressed (oh, how necessary this is in health care!).

Perhaps the impulse of the conservative towards authoritarianism his fatal weakness; in his rush to defend tradition he puts in place structures which can only destroy it. This is not, by the way, anti-papal; the dichotomy between what Catholic 'traditionalists' say they want and their unwillingness to note when popes deviate from tradition is just too good of an example to pass up.

No comments: