Why Tradition Matters https://mosaicmagazine.com/picks/history-ideas/2015/03/why-tradition-matters/

March 18, 2015 | Peter Wehner
About the author: Peter Wehner, a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times, is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and director of the Faith Angle Forum.

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 on Commentary: https://www.commentarymagazine.com/2015/03/16/in-defense-of-tradition/#more-858065

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register Already a subscriber? Sign in now