I've been thinking about T.S. Eliot’s essay entitled “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” in which tradition is represented as a constantly evolving, yet continuous thing, which is remade with every addition to it, and which adapts the past to the present and the present to the past.
The knowledge of the past makes us more acutely aware of our present. I'd say that philosophy of "living in the moment" has got us into a bit of a bind in the last generation. There are those who fret the loss of an instrument such as the organ. The statement is not to mean that newer instruments are not held in high regard. Nor are instrumentalists and musicians any less attentive to their craft. What they mean, even if they could not put it into words, is that they mourn the loss of memory and the glory that is lost with it by catering to the here and now.
Skills such as metal-works, sewing and farming continue to breed and ingenuity follows them meaning all is not lost. However, if the history of such things are forgotten, new skills take on a dangerous autonomy, replacing the democratic process of progression and invention.
Thomas Paine wrote in THE RIGHTS OF MAN in 1791
“It has been thought that government is a compact between those who govern and those who are governed; but this cannot be true because it is putting the effect before the cause. For as a man must have existed before governments existed, there necessarily was a time when governments did not exist, and consequently there could originally exist no governors to form such a compact with. The fact therefore must be, that the individuals themselves, each in his own personal and sovereign right, entered into a compact with each other to produce a government: and this is the only mode in which governments have a right to arise, and the only principle on which they have a right to exist."
Autonomy in Government reveals not as much a quest for power as it does a picture of historical amnesia. The erasure of the memory that their place did not arrive by their own power, but by the process of trust of other men, the process of a Christ who's words preceded Him or her and by the development of vast numbers of failed, evil, successful and good government.
Our own democratic device seems to be steeped in this quagmire. Because of the unique frailties and depths of passion and forgetfulness unique to humans, just after the United States Constitution was ratified Thomas Jefferson and James Madison began a campaign to amend it with an explicit twelve-point statement that clearly and unambiguously placed humans - the builders of government - above their entity--the structure of Government. This was the birth of what would become the Bill of Rights, and it originally had twelve - not ten - protections for citizens’ rights.
Consider the following two statements:
"The historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own
generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe. . .has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. . . No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone."
(T.S. Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent")
"'I don't think of the past. The only thing that matters is the everlasting
present.'" (W. Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Sixpence 79)
The path we choose to follow steps underneath one or the other of these two statements, thereby leading us to somewhat predictable ends, ironically giving creedance to T.S. Eliot. One is a very humanist view, the other quite Apologetic.
I am a proponent of modernism, but only that which is influenced by tradition. The tradition of architecure, the tradition of Government or the tradition of Worship.
My set of beliefs and ideas arise from my beginnings, my experience, my own history and the history of my family. And it should be this way. Alone, my most necessary beliefs may be both unjustified and unjustifiable from my personal perspective. But my life in a macro-view shows us my want and will to justify them autonomously will lead instead to their loss. They'll be grouped with the abstract rational systems of the philosophers, enlightened "tolerants" etc. We may think ourselves more rational and better equipped for life in the modern world...in the "here and now" generation. But I believe that we are less well equipped, and our new beliefs are far less justified, for the very reason that they are justified by ourselves. The real justification for a belief and a way of being is the one which justifies it as a prejudice--historically credible and engaged in history, rather than as a rational conclusion of a modern argument. In other words it is a justification that cannot be conducted from our own perspective, but only from outside, as a gathering of precedent and experience and observance and faith. In the same way an anthropologist might justify the customs and rituals of an alien tribe or a geologist tell the story of earth and time.
For example I give the idea of sexuality. The theories of the sexes and of sex vary from society to society; but until recently they have held a consistent contempt for what most agree is the difference between seemly and unseemly conduct. We agreed to abhor explicit sexual display, and expected a character that enabled the sexes and humanity itself to flourish. Moreover the union of marriage held long-standing beliefs that stabilized many societies for many many generations. There are very good anthropological and physical reasons for this. Woman and men have physical characteristics that seem to fit the opposite perfectly...we say "like a glove." Furthermore, we encouraged long-term stability of sexual relations in marriage because we believed it necessary if children are to be inducted into society. These ideas do not stand alone, especially if they are to survive.
Modern invention and technical enhancements catapult humans into believing that all of life is meant for review and change. But, in order to change well, we need our traditions....Traditions and conduct are guided by deep and immovable prejudice, in which outrage, shame, and honor are the ultimate grounds...and worthy of fighting for. In light of the above example, the sexual liberator has no difficulty in showing traditional motives are irrational, in the sense of being founded on no reasoned justification available to the person who holds a different view. And he may propose sexual liberation as a rational alternative, a code of conduct that is rational from a number of varied viewpoints, since it derives a complete code of practice from a transparently reasonable aim, a consistently moving society whose wills change, thereby allowing alternatives to reach sexual pleasure. The result of evolving rationals that are not rooted in tradition should've been anticipated. We've experienced a breakdown in trust between male and female, and have seen a faltering in the reproductive process—a failing and enfeebled commitment of parents to each other and also to their offspring. At the same time traditions and individual feelings based on and fulfilled by them, are left exposed and unprotected. Hence the extraordinary situation in America, where lawsuits have replaced common courtesy, where accusations of “date-rape” take the place of modesty and respect, and where advances made by the unattractive and "ugly" are routinely deemed and judged “sexual harrassment.” We've now seen life without regard for the real social function that prejudice, history and tradition fulfill.
That is, unless we forbid societal amnesia from setting in. History repeats itself only because it has been ignored or forgotten.
God's word tells us not to worry about tomorrow but to concentrate on today. I don't believe that the text eludes to an abolishment of the past, but the fulfillment of it.
One of my best friends thinks nothing like I do, and we’ve had a few debates. For instance, He believes religion should be enabled by Government but removed from politics. I argue that I wake up religious and cannot remove who I am from the process. I'm also a bit of a strict constitutionalist. I don't believe the tenets should be screwed with. You cannot have a constantly changing constitution that floats on the whims of the culture. What if a culture decided that murder was acceptable? Would you change the constitution to clearly define acceptable murder?
My point usually is, "What ever happened to Patriotism?" I remember the historical story about a tea party in Boston that proved we wanted to be different than the Socialist, Fascist Europeans of the time. This history forgotten leads to the repetition of all that was worst in man and in Government. Do we as Americans want nothing more than to lose our identity, one that has brought us greatness, so that we can be like everyone else!!!? Patriotism is bred from historical presuppositions. Our song, "The Star Spangled Banner" depends on them. Many in your Congress encourage the abolishment of who we were. Can you fight against it as we once did? Or are you willing to re-write the song?