Why Tradition Matters

Peter Wehner reflects on the importance of tradition and why so few today, including conservatives, are able to appreciate it:

[I]t’s my impression that today conservatives appeal far more to abstract principles than to tradition, a word and concept that is rarely invoked. . . . There’s a tension between tradition and progress, but tradition is necessary for progress, which builds on what we have. . . . To detach ourselves from tradition is to detach ourselves from the human story, from trials and errors, and so from a source of wisdom. . . .

[M]ost of us are certain that our view of things is inherently superior to how people in the past viewed them. We see ourselves as the most enlightened age of all. . . . [There] is something rather off-putting about our self-congratulatory attitude, the belief that we are so much wiser than those who came before us. On some matters we surely are, but on some matters we surely are not. And ask yourself this: in matters of philosophy, theology, science, statecraft, literature, and music, who today is the equal of Aristotle, Augustine, Newton, Lincoln, Tolstoy, and Mozart? Then ask yourself whether you think they have anything to teach us.

In The Vindication of Tradition, [the historian of religion] Jaroslav Pelikan uses the example of children and parents. He points out how, when we’re young, we often believe our parents are all-wise, blind to their foibles. But it is no less childish, once we discover their foibles, to deny them the respect and honor that is due them for having given us life and having sacrificed for us.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Conservatism, History & Ideas, Religion, Tradition


The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law