Christopher Zehnder, writing in the California Catholic Daily, opines upon what a ‘traditionalist’ is thought to be (and sometimes is) and what a ‘traditionalist’ ought to be.
While Mr. Zehnder goes a little metaphor happy in his piece, he expresses certain concepts that I think are important. He contrast the stereotypical definitions of a progressive versus a traditionalist or conservative.
The “left” we call “liberal,” fond of change and oriented to that non-existence we call the “future.” The “right” is “conservative,” skeptical (leftists say “fearful”) of change, zealous to maintain the status quo, and preservative of the past. At least, so go the common stereotypes of both groups – which, like a lot of stereotypes, has in it a good deal of truth mixed with a fair amount of caricature.
He goes on to critique the reactionary conservative as one who sees the garden in all its beauty and endeavors to freeze it in time, oblivious to the weeds that grow within. The ‘progressive’, on the other hand, wishes to build new and ugly “tract houses” out of the old lumber of the garden, laying it waste. (I told you he is metaphor happy.)
Then Mr. Zehnder gets to the heart of his argument. For a traditionalist to preserve, he must be willing to prune. Sometimes even radically.
It is not enough for the traditionalist to be a conservative; he must be a radical. Like a good gardener, he must strive to understand the nature of the thing he cares for. Understanding its nature, he can discern whatever in it is harmful to its integrity. He can also cultivate it so that it develops into a stronger, healthier, and more fruitful being.
In this sense, the traditionalist is also a progressive, but not like those who are so called today… The traditionalist “progressive,” on the other hand, preserves what was and nurtures it so it can become more fully what it was meant to be.
He finishes with an appeal to the traditionalist to become the reformer.
Tradition, if it is to be fully itself, must be preservative of the past while being suffused with a spirit of reform and (though it might be jarring to traditionalist ears) renewal. It must be radical, revolutionary, willing at all times to cut away what is not truly of itself, and to grow and develop into what is its true self.
I my mind, what Mr. Zehnder is getting at is at the heart of the ‘reform of the reform,’ and I think that he is largely correct. After all, our motto here at CMR is ‘Succisa Virescit,’ (Pruned, it Grows) However, I don’t think that I will start calling myself a radical progressive just yet. I simply don’t have the right wardrobe.