About traditionalism

What is traditionalism? Traditionalism is a political movement that defends important aspects of traditional societies that are undermined by liberal modernity.

Liberalism began some centuries ago in the early modern period with political theorists such as Hobbes and Locke. One of the key features of liberalism is that it takes individual autonomy to be the overriding good in society. What this means is that liberalism wants to liberate the individual from whatever is predetermined rather than self-determined. This is the way, according to liberals, that individuals are able to autonomously self-author their own lives.

But there is a terrible logic to this core belief of liberalism. Many of the most important aspects of life are predetermined; therefore, liberalism must set out to deconstruct them or to make them not matter.

For instance, we do not choose our own sex but are born male or female. Therefore, liberals take masculinity and femininity to be negative, restricting categories that the individual needs to be liberated from. They are considered to be oppressive sources of inequality and for this reason a liberal culture does not celebrate sex differences, or support our identities as men and women, or uphold masculine and feminine ideals.

Similarly, the traditional family is based on complementary sex roles that liberals wish to deconstruct. The traditional family is also built on the willingness of individuals to limit their choices, in order to preserve the stable commitments of family life, but this too runs counter to the liberal emphasis on autonomous choice. And so we see a decline in stable family formation within a liberal culture.

Nor do we get to choose autonomously for ourselves a traditional national identity, i.e. one based on a common ethny - on a shared ancestry, history, culture, language, religion and way of life. This is predetermined and so is rejected by liberals as something that is both restrictive and discriminatory, rather than as something that is important to identity, to belonging, to our sense of connectedness to a particular culture and history, to our social commitments, and to our love of a particular land, people and tradition.

Liberalism understands the "free" individual as being radically atomised, abstracted and self-interested. It gradually and increasingly winnows down society to a relationship between the individual and the state, undermining the less formal and less centralised forms of social life that would exist in a more traditional society.

Liberalism has existed in two main forms. Both agree on the underlying philosophy of liberalism, but disagree on how best to regulate a society made up of autonomous individuals. Classical (or "right") liberalism holds that the market can best regulate society. Millions of people can act for their own profit in the market and, according to classical liberals, this will create the best possible outcome for society and advance human progress.

Progressive liberals (or "left" liberals) prefer society to be regulated via the expertise of a state bureaucracy. Whereas right liberals focus on limited government and the free market, left liberals prefer state intervention to overcome what they see to be inequalities or discrimination.

The political debate between right and left is often passionate, but it is important to remember that this is a debate about how best to reach liberal outcomes. Traditionalists, therefore, do not support those parties on the right which are either classical liberal or libertarian, as we see these philosophies as being just as dissolving of society as those of the liberal left.

Traditionalists have broken in a principled way with liberalism and this sets us against what is currently the political orthodoxy. The depth of the differences can be seen by looking at two key issues, namely feminism and civic nationalism.


Feminism is liberalism applied to the lives of women. Feminists aim, in other words, to maximise autonomous choice for women.

This means that feminists do not want womanhood itself to matter in the lives of women, as this is a predetermined quality that is not chosen by the individual. Feminists often describe femininity in negative terms as a social construct that limits a woman's life choices; similarly, they describe masculinity as toxic, both to women and society.

Having removed masculinity and femininity as legitimate expressions of self, feminists no longer see men and women as having complementary qualities that might, in a cooperative relationship with each other, form a more complete whole. Instead, the relationship between men and women is seen in political terms as a contest for autonomous freedom between two social classes, one privileged and one oppressed.

It is assumed that men have historically hoarded autonomy for themselves, and have therefore lived privileged lives of comfort and ease in virtue of having denied autonomy to oppressed women. The primary enemy of women has been, in the eyes of many feminists, their own men.

Women are thought to have been particularly oppressed within the family, via their roles as wives and mothers. These roles are associated negatively as being lesser, and less free, than the traditional male role of providing and protecting. Therefore, feminists focus a great deal on levelling these roles, so that there is only one unisex parental role, a role that is thought to be a hindrance to individual success, and so must be borne equally between men and women.

I hope it is clear from the above why traditionalists cannot support feminism. We cannot support an ideology that sets the men and women of a community apart as political enemies; that denies the complementary nature of the masculine and the feminine; that undermines the cultivation of masculine and feminine ideals; that denies the efforts of men throughout history to support and to defend their wives and children; that sees the family in negative terms as a restriction on personal autonomy; and that identifies the roles of wife and mother as false and oppressive social constructs.

Civic nationalism

Liberals can only accept identities that are self-chosen. Therefore, a traditional ethnic identity (an ethnonationalism) is rejected, as it is not readily transferable between people, being based on a shared ancestry, history, religion and culture.

In its place, liberals established a civic nationalism, based on citizenship and a shared commitment to liberalism itself. Anyone can become a member of a civic nation, which is more in line with liberal ideas about autonomous choice.

But there are any number of problems with civic nationalism. A civic national identity is "thin" compared to an ethnic one. All that is required, in practice, is to undertake a citizenship ceremony and to formally assent to some liberal political values. Nor is it a distinct identity, as it does not differ between those countries that have adopted it. There is no significant difference between a civic national identity in Australia and one in Canada.

Because membership of a civic nation is so easy to acquire, it lends itself easily to demands for open borders from those who have an interest in large scale population transfers. There is little within civic nationalism, in other words, to limit mass immigration, which then has the effect of destabilising the existing culture and way of life of a country.

Civic nationalism tends over time, as well, to undermine itself. If having liberal political beliefs defines who is a member of my nation, then it does not really matter where people live or where the borders of my nation currently are. My "co-nationals" would logically be anyone sharing my liberal commitments. And so there is no principled reason why the elites might not choose to build superstates, like the EU (or to extend such a superstate beyond the borders of Europe itself).

It has to be said, too, that civic nationalism, based as it is on an open identity and porous borders, has helped to foster the idea that the most advanced outlook is to see oneself as a global citizen - a citizen of the world - rather than as being embedded within a longstanding and distinct national tradition of one's own. It undermines itself by paving the way to a postnational identity.

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There is not a fixed orthodoxy when it comes to traditionalism, although there are common stances on some issues. If you are interested in the kinds of debates that traditionalists have, or political positions that we typically hold, I recommend that you look through some of the websites or books listed on the "Further reading" page.