Categorized | Culture, Society

The Two Types of Anti-Modernism

In the months leading up to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, there were a number of protests in which the status of Tibet was a central issue.  Around that time, the American anti-war libertarian activist, Brendan O’Neil, in an article at, criticized such protests saying that, “Western pro-Tibet campaigning is driven less by a passion for freedom, than by disgust with modernity”.  This raises a question, for, if the most vociferous calls for Tibet independence are represented by self-proclaimed “progressives,” it would seem ironic that these people would oppose modernity and love things associated with the past.  It would be nearly impossible for us to believe that the same liberals, who idolize the Dalai Lama, and who indulge in buying trinkets of questionable worth, would pay the same reverence to Pope Benedict XVI, or ever consider displaying a crucifix in their homes.

Though I disagree with libertarianism as a political philosophy, I must admit that O’Neil is correct in the sense that liberals do hate modernity.  However, his analysis is ultimately incomplete.  Western liberals are quite content to strut around in the latest fashions, carrying the high-tech cellphones and MacBooks, buy coffee from Starbucks, and boast of their dedication to “modern” causes such as unrestricted immigration or affirmative action.  Therefore, they cannot hate modernity as a whole.  The hatred that liberals have for modernity is a selective, bourgeoisie one which is inherently decadent and without any underlying logic; it is a hatred which stems from their own ‘wurzellosigkeit‘ (rootlessness).  When liberals display an affinity for any sort of Tradition, it is clearly only because, at best, they feel a emotional nostalgia for that group, or because they believe in their minds that such a group is inferior.  Their “anti-modernism,” at best, is one which is superficial and false.

But we might say the same for modern conservatives.  With the notable exception of the Burkean school of thought, conservatives generally preach about “conserving” the status quo, even if that status quo happens to be a progressive or liberal one.  While the original “conservative” outlook was one which combined conservative social attitudes with a classical-liberal economic outlook, as time went on, these two positions switched places (or rather, the terminology did).  Over time, the majority of conservatives in the Western world came to adopt free-market economic ideas, to the extent that such ideas are now generally considered and termed “conservative,” and also took on many trappings of the left-wing with regard to social issues.  The neoconservative strain of thought, with its origins in the Frankfurt School and Trotskyist line of thinking, is a whole matter entirely, despite the use of the name “conservative”.

Yet both liberals and conservatives try to claim that they are, in some way providing solutions to the modern condition.  Leftists and liberals believe that by superficially opposing certain technologies, or by opposing the trappings of capitalism, or by idolizing certain indigenous or pre-literate societies, they’re somehow bucking the trend.  On the other hand, the conservatives since the 18th century have merely been a less radical version of the leftists.  This is especially prominent in Europe, where even “conservative” candidates promote leftist social values as “Western” values, and the endless Romanticist talking of “taking back Europe” refers only in name, and not even in theory, any longer, to constructs which at this time have already been killed by these faux-conservatives and their leftist allies.  Even in America, the “conservative” movement, while they might claim to support “Traditional” values, is merely a pro-establishment clique that is all to ready to make compromises with the left.

Hence, it is at this point where O’Neil’s analysis breaks down.  The leftists are only concerned with eliminating the most superficial and outward symptoms of modernity, such as technology or industry, without giving attention to the complementary aspect of degenerating spirituality.  Thus superficially they hate cars, factories, and capitalism, but subconsciously are reliant on things in the material world.  Moreover, they are inconsistent in their so-called ‘nostalgia’ for the past.  They would care little to resurrect the moral orders of any religious group, much less authentic the warlike times of the kśatra.) Even when an interest in spirituality is present, it is only a reaction to their own traditions (in this case Christianity); they seek Buddhism only because they want to use it to further the goal of individuality, but few would genuinely care for either exoteric or esoteric Buddhist practice — this is obvious when we hear such people say “I’m a spiritual Buddhist” or similar statements.

The Traditional outlook, then, is completely different from the modernist, liberal one, either “conservative” or liberal.  Traditionalists believe that it is the modern world which has failed, and thus it is in the past that answers may be found.  In other words, not only can we not look to the “status quo,” as the conservatives do, we cannot believe that “progressing” under that same path would be beneficial.  the Traditionalists look to the civilizations of the past, not in pity, but rather in search of the ideals that they possessed.  At the same time, a Traditionalist need not reject science or technology, but rather must place it in its correct position with relation to man.  Ironically, to the left, the solution to those aspects of modernity that they hate is to bring those “primitive” cultures which they claim to admire into the fold of modernity, as if to do so should benefit the human race at large.  But historical data tells us that this is not so.  If we limit our analysis to the past 200 years of Western Civilization, the effects have clearly been visible.  The consequences of “liberalism” and all “modern thought” have been a unmitigated disaster.

Not only has society has become destabilized, life is now mundane and full of much suffering, and irreparable damage has been inflicted on the natural world. The Dalai Lama concisely summarizes some of those ills of modernity in a short work called The Paradox of Our Age:

We have become long on quantity, but short on quality.
These are times of fast foods but slow digestion;
Tall men but short characters;
Steep profits but shallow relationships.
It’s a time when there is much in the window
But nothing in the room.

Tradition is concerned with the primacy of eternal principles, and as such, it is independent of time, and to a further extent, independent of space.  While certain segments of traditionalist anti-modernism do have an agrarian tendency, such Luddite persuasions are not the individual hallmark of a Tradition-centered framework of thought.  Nowhere is this better demonstrated in the mock anti-modern attitudes of the Left, who, while decrying technology and consumerism outwardly, simultaneously promote the very vices of the modern world and openly show hostility towards any spiritual authority!

"Friendly Western Values" in action?

In general, we may define traditionalism a being subset of within “conservatism,” but this, too, is incomplete.  While Traditionalism indeed is considered conservative by its very nature, what is commonly regarded as “mainstream conservatism” would be regarded as a lukewarm endeavor which is solely concerned with the politics of the lowest common denominator.  In modern times, we anti-modern Traditionalists must also be revolutionary in ideology,while being transcendental in action.  Unlike mainstream conservatives, we do not merely accept the “status quo,” as that status quo which is often touted has deviated so much from a primordially pure state, that it is not a viable option.  To illustrate this, we need only look towards the American politicians, who brazenly claim to talk about the “American way,” supposed “American values,” and their “American traditions,” all the while advocating poisonous alliances with foreign countries, and while also failing to realize that at best they are promoting an idealized version of 1950′s America.  Of course, the fact that America has fallen so far so quickly can only mean that the 1950′s wasn’t as ideal as it was portrayed to be, and that whichever symptoms which finally erupted in the subsequent decades had been festering for decades.

Has the West gained anything from, for instance, allowing women to vote, or even emancipating the slaves?  Have we Westerners gained anything for all their professions of egalitarianism, secularism, democracy?  Have we gained anything, aside from marginal and temporary economic benefits, which are slowly fading away due to globalism and massive immigration?

In fact, if we in the West had cared to be honest with ourselves, we might say that the “benefits” of the majority of the social movements in the 20th century were detrimental to our societies.  Women’s suffrage lead, inevitably to feminism, which in its second and third waves, have destroyed families, and in combination with immigration, will lead to Europeans becoming a minority in our indigenous land.  We also need to realize that when certain so-called “nationalists,” such as Geert Wilders, or that rag-tag mob called the EDL, speak about defending our “Western Values,” they mean liberalism.  They belong to that insidious clique of militant secularists who insist that one must be liberal to belong to the West or to be an “assimilated foreigner”.  Their nationalism is merely the defense this secular false messiah.

The correct view on anti-modernism lies with the Traditionalist line of thought which is interested not only in self-preservation, but the preservation of societies, cultures, and peoples.  The liberal version of “anti-modernism” is really only a counterfeit ideology which is meant to re-draw authentic tradition in its own image, whilst the conservative variation, only marginally better, does the same at a slower pace.  Within the realm of Traditionalist thought, there is a calling not towards the praise of what is perceived to be inferior, but rather a call to embrace strength, balance and prowess as one’s way of life.

Traditional conservatives draw upon the knowledge of the past, but this does not mean we cannot look to the future and plan ahead for our posterity.  Let us therefore defeat the enemy within by identifying and confronting the fake anti-modernists, who, despite their empty slogans have done everything to plunge societies deeper and deeper into worldly perdition!

About William van Nostrand

William van Nostrand is a native of Chicago, Illinois and is currently the Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of He holds a B.A. in Economics as well as a minor in cultural anthropology. His interests are highly varied and include late medieval European architecture, German romantic classical music, and travel.