A Handbook of Traditional Living: Theory and Practice
Trans. S. K.
Ed. John B. Morgan
Atktos Media, 2010
A Handbook of Traditional Living is a slender volume (just under 100 pages) comprising two essays published in Italian in 1997 and 1998 by the Raido Cultural Association. The author or authors are anonymous. The first essay, “The World of Tradition,” is a somewhat dry summary of Julius Evola’s version of Traditionalism especially as expressed in his magnum opus, Revolt Against the Modern World.
I wish to focus here on the second essay, “The Front of Tradition,” which deals with how one might organize in the light of Tradition to struggle against the modern world. This essay is most strongly influenced by Corneliu Codreanu’s Iron Guard. The organization that is proposed is an initiatic, hierarchical spiritual-militant order. Its structure and aims are essentially that of the Iron Guard, but its spiritual content and foundation is Evolian Traditionalism, not the Iron Guard’s Romanian Orthodox Christianity.
The underlying assumption of “The Front of Tradition” is that the modern world is declining of its own accord, in keeping with the downward thrust of history according to Traditional doctrine. We live in the Kali Yuga, the Dark Age, which is the most hostile to the principles of Tradition and the most removed from the Golden Age that inaugurated our present historical cycle. But the furthest remove from the last Golden Age is the closest proximity to the commencement of the next one. And, as the current Dark Age advances deeper into decadence and chaos, there will come a point when objective conditions will permit a fighting vanguard of Traditionalists to intervene successfully in events and contribute to the inauguration of the next Golden Age. But Traditionalists must be prepared to act effectively when eternal conditions align. Sadly, there is no evidence that any serious Traditionalists are even close to being prepared.
“The Front of Tradition” proposes a hierarchical order that assigns rank based on merit and accomplishment not seniority. The assumption is that true order and authority flow from above, thus nobody can associate with the order who is not oriented toward what is above and interested in finding those genuine superiors who can bring him closer to the transcendent principle. Each individual is also duty-bound to pass down what he knows to his inferiors who look to him for guidance. But the primary orientation of each individual has to be upwards, toward the transcendent. It is an attitude of receptivity to Tradition. It is characterized by humility, by the recognition of one’s imperfection and need of completion from above.
Any orientation downwards, toward followers, is only secondary, and a matter of duty rather than inclination. It is an attitude that must be characterized by detachment and impersonality, since one is a teacher not by virtue of one’s personality but simply by virtue of one’s place in a chain of initiation. What one teaches, moreover, is merely the transcendent truth passed on from above, not a product of one’s own ego.
The great destroyer to be avoided is “egoism,” which seems pretty much synonymous with narcissism. The genuine Traditionalist is oriented first and foremost toward reality. Because of this orientation, he enters into relations with others, specifically into an initiatic hierarchical organization. The genuine Traditionalist has a strong and substantial ego; he knows who he is; he had a deep and abiding sense of worth. Because of this, he is capable of setting aside his ego and devoting himself to eternal truth and disinterested, impersonal action in the service of great collective aims.
The egoist, by contrast, is oriented first and foremost toward himself. He is psychologically needy, and to satisfy these needs, he interacts with others. Reality places a distant third in his priorities. Indeed, since egoists are primarily concerned to satisfy their psychological needs though interactions with others, they are often practiced liars and manipulators.
The Right wing is swarming with egoists of this type. They are characterized first and foremost by a neurotic need for attention. Generally, they like to set themselves up as leaders of little grouplets by claiming to have knowledge, expertise, or money they often do not possess, or do not possess to the degree required by their ambitions.
Since the purpose of these groups is the psychological gratification of their leaders, they seldom accomplish anything in the real world. They tend to be “virtual” groups, existing through websites, Facebook, and press releases. Since these groups do not aim at disinterested action, they are consumed with personal rivalries and schisms. Since these groups are not based in unchanging truth but instead are all about playing to the fickle crowd, they are constantly changing their views, activities, and alliances. Anything to keep the spotlight on them.
The best way to avoid egoists is the establishment of a genuinely hierarchical, initiatic order with objective criteria for membership and advancement. The egoist cannot survive in such an environment. He is primarily motivated by the desire to reign over others. He wants to be on top and therefore rejects the need or possibility of completion from above. Instead of seeking out his superiors, he fears them and tries to keep them away. (Most egoists are oblivious to genuinely superior people, whom they often patronize and seek to manipulate. For the superior individual, this often presents an amusing albeit grotesque spectacle, rather like having one’s leg humped by a dog. Egoists are generally more concerned with fighting off the challenges of other egoists, whom they recognize instinctively.)
A Traditionalist order obviously must contain a significant component of indoctrination in the Tradition itself. But indoctrination is only the beginning. The goal is not merely to inform the mind, but to cultivate the character of the student. One cannot just understand Tradition in the abstract, it must sink in and dye the core of one’s character. It must become second nature, so that one perceives and judges the world instantaneously and effortlessly in the light of Tradition. One must also learn prudence, the ability to apply universal principles to unique and shifting concrete circumstances. Tradition is not an ideology, which is a body of abstract ideas that can never be truly internalized and unified with one’s inner self. A lifestyle that is both unique and Traditionalist emerges spontaneously and organically from a truly cultivated individual.
The essay on “The Front of Tradition” is rather skimpy on concrete advice for the cultivation of the individual in the light of Tradition. One appealing notion is the use of discussion. A group that aims at the perfection of its members and their transformation into a vanguard fighting for great impersonal goals cannot allow individuals to hide their flaws and reservations behind bourgeois notions of privacy. Thus a Traditionalist society must practice group discussion in which individuals strive for openness. The goal is not merely the forgiveness of the confessional but the creation of trust and camaraderie that fuses individuals into a higher unity.
But openness about one’s doubts and flaws is merely a prelude to collective criticism and striving, again with the assistance of the group, to overcome oneself. This process of self-disclosure and group criticism and reform is not personal one-upsmanship and back-biting. Indeed, it is the highest form of friendship. The ancients distinguished flatterers from friends. A flatterer tells you what you want to hear. A friend tells you what you need to hear for your own good, even if it might be personally painful, because self-knowledge is necessary for self-improvement.
My main objection to the idea of an order that combines spiritual initiation and militant struggle is that excellence in these two functions are seldom combined in the same individual. The greatest initiate will seldom be the same person as the greatest warrior. Therefore, in establishing a hierarchy, one would have to choose to subordinate one function to another or to follow a leader who combines both functions, but who is inferior to the specialized warrior or the specialized initiate. The first option introduces internal conflict. The second option places leadership in the hands of an inferior individual. Both options lead to an organization that is inferior to one in which spiritual and military functions are distinct.
Overall, A Handbook of Traditional Living is more suggestive than definitive. The purpose of a handbook is not to be “deep” but to be superficial in an exhaustive manner. “Depth” for such a work is a matter of discerning what is essential. Yet there is much here that seems vague and inessential. But I still found this Handbook valuable as a starting point and stimulant for thinking about how some elements of a North American New Right might be organized.