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ETHICS AN INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF

SOCIAL, POLITICAL, AND LEGAL PHILOSOPHY

Volume LXViii APRIL 1958 Number 3

TRADITION AND LIBERTY: ANTINOMY


AND INTERDEPENDENCE*
EDWARD SHILS

I on his thought and sentiment; it pre-


O NE of the most deeply established vented him from seeing with his own
eyes and from feeling and valuing ac-
traditions of liberal thought in
East and West asserts that tra- cording to his own creative powers.
The inherent antinomy between tra-
dition is antagonistic toward liberty.
dition and liberty to which liberal belief
Protestantism denied the validity of ac-
correctly points has been underlined
cumulated tradition in favor of the pri- for the liberals by the fact that the
macy of the revelation contained in antagonists of the movement of liberty
Scripture.The process of emancipation -the defenders of oligarchical forms of
of the mind from external determina- government, the opponents of intellec-
tion went on, when revelation as well tual freedom and moral egalitarianism
was rejected, to the point where the -have almost always claimed tradition
genuine source of valid knowledge and for themselves. They have argued not
experience was found to reside in the only for the substantive traditions of
powers of the individual spirit. Ration- particular institutional practices and
alistic liberalism, which ascribed valid- beliefs but also for tradition as such as
ity only to what the individual himself the right means of guiding conduct. The
had decided in the light of his own per- truths which conservatives put forward
ceptions and reason, criticized tradition about the nature of tradition and its in-
as the mindless repetition of inherited eluctibility have been so intertwined
lines of thought and conduct into which with their support of arrangements
individuality did not enter. Romantic which have become intolerable to the
liberalism was hostile to tradition be- awakened sensibilities of the modern
cause traditioncrampedthe spontaneity conscience that assertions about the
which constituted the essential nature value of tradition have come to be sus-
of the individual. Tradition imposed pected as implicit arguments for the
barrierson man's conduct and restraints substance transmitted by tradition. A
* Originally presented at the Conference on the
deforming, simplifying rigidity has
Future of Freedom, held under the auspices of the
Congress for Cultural Freedom, at Milan, in Sep-
been imposed on thought, and the pro-
tember, 1955. ponents of liberty have become its vic-
153
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154 ETHICS

tims. Just as the enhancement of indi- essential that rules legitimized by tradi-
viduality came to be thought of as in- tion should be thought to have been ob-
separably associated with the restric- served or valid "from time immemo-
tion of the rights of property to the rial." To appreciate the weight of the
point of extinction, so the expansion of past, it is not necessary that the past
individual freedom has come to be re- be seen as an indefinitely backward-
garded as incompatible with the main- reaching span of time. Its backward
tenance of tradition. Political and social time span is usually much more vague
thought can no longer remain content and indeterminate.All that is essential
with the inherited clusterings of liberal is that it should be "involved with the
and conservative, of progressive and re- past," and not just as a historical fact.
actionary, and must discriminate the Traditions possess authority by virtue
independent elements which have be- of the quality which they acquire in the
come hardened into apparently logi- minds of the persons of one generation
cally coherent wholes. Just as revolu- when they believe these traditions were
tionary deeds or state action are now accepted by a succession of ancestors
seen to be by no means inevitably con- coming up to the immediate past.
nected with individual liberty, creativ- The traditional rule possesses au-
ity, or justice, so tradition too must be thority because its acceptance estab-
dissolved from its traditional associa- lishes an attachment to the past of a
tions. Both liberals and conservatives family, town, country, or corporate
have misunderstood the nature of the body to which an inherent value is at-
antinomy and both have failed to dis- tributed. Membership in a primordial
sociate the form of inheritance from the and a civil body carries with it not
less admirablebequest. merely attachment to the symbol of the
body as it stands at a particularpresent
II moment in time but to symbols which
Traditions are beliefs, standards, and evoke a sense of the body's past as well.
rules, of varying but never exhaustive Acceptance of tradition is the creation
explicitness, which have been received of a state of communionwith past pow-
from the preceding generation, through ers: It is of the same order as any act
a process of continuous transmission of communionwith one's contemporary
from generation to generation. They society, in a great ritual action or in the
recommendthemselves by their appro- intimacies of daily intercourse or with
priateness to the present situation con- a timelessly transcendent symbol such
fronted by their recipients and espe- as divinity or truth or goodness. The
cially by a certain measure of authori- affirmation of tradition, tacit or ex-
tativeness which they possess by virtue plicit, is an act which binds to the past.
of their provenience from the past. It might be an attachment to a particu-
Their authority is engendered by the lar person, older but still living. It
sheer fact of their previous observance might be an attachment to a dead per-
by those who have lived previously. son. It might be an attachment to events
Max Weber went too far when he de- or assertions which occurredin the past
clared that the legitimation of tradi- and which have the "quality of the
tional authority rested on the belief that past" in them. It might be an attach-
"it had always been that way." It is not ment to symbols which refer to the past

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TRADITION AND LIBERTY 155

as such, so that anything which has had because it was once observed and the
a long and continuous past existence traditionalists for whom anything which
evokes the attachment. once existed is entirely sacred by its
The traditional transmission of be- very connection with the long past.
liefs and knowledge is not one that is Rather, it would seem that the mass of
sought. The active searching for a past the race which lives in the grip of the
object to which to attach one's self- past is marginally and not acutely
"the search for a usable past"-is some- aware of the pastness of the rules and
thing different. Traditional attachment beliefs it receives and accepts as its
implies receptive affirmation, neither own. What is felt is that one way is
reception without affirmationnor affir- binding and that it is because it is
mation without reception. The drum- somehow connected with what has been
ming up of tradition, in the style of "les before.
maitres de la contre-revolution," of The unreflective reception of tradi-
Charles Maurras and Maurice Barres, tion is not an amoral, vegetative accept-
or the efforts of American writers like ance. There is an active, outgoing, posi-
Van Wyck Brooks and Irving Babbitt, tive tendency in the reception of tradi-
who recommended the observance of tion. The availability of a traditional
traditions which were no longer being rule or standard of judgment guides
generally received, represents an ideo- and stimulates a spontaneous moral
logical transfigurationof tradition. It is tendency in man, a need to be in con-
certainly quite remote from the process tact with the ultimately true and right,
of traditional transmission. On the a sensitivity to the sacred, which reach
other hand, the stability through gener- out and seek the guidance and disci-
ations of a belief or practice does not pline of tradition. Most human beings
constitute tradition either. Reception are not creative enough to give birth to
must be accompaniedby affirmativeat- a wholly original experience of the sa-
tachment to the past, however vague, cred, to create their own individual
unconscious, and unspoken. The per- image of justice and truth. Tradition
formance of an action which is pre- makes available a set of judgments
sented from the past by authority but which command respect by their origin
which is performed only because no and by the plausibility which derives in
other alternative mode of action can be
part from their appropriateness to ex-
imagined is at the margin of tradition.
The feeling for the "pastness"of tra- perience and in part from their origin.
ditional rules or beliefs can be very at- In doing this, tradition arouses man's
tenuated. There are surely persons who rudimentary spontaneous sensitivity
have practically no sense of affinity and helps it to take form. Although in
with the past, who live as if it had never personal relations our respect for the
existed. These must, however, make up rights of the other person grows spon-
only a very small section of any soci- taneously from the process of interac-
ety. Extreme sensitivity to the "past- tion, in the political sphere the sense of
ness" of traditionalbeliefs is also rather obligation to the community and re-
uncommon, even in "traditional" soci- spect for the rights of others, which
eties, and this small proportionincludes constitute the civil sense, can grow
the rebels who reject anything simply from their embryonic condition only

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156 ETHICS

with the aid and encouragementof tra- mental authority. But in the main, tra-
dition. ditional transmissionmollifies the needs
Tradition is not the dead hand of the for attachment to the sacred. Attach-
past but rather the hand of the gar- ment to loose tradition is a substitute,
dener, which nourishes and elicits tend- within limits, for fervent devotion to
encies of judgment which would other- intensely charismatic objects.
wise not be strong enough to emerge on The attachment to the sacred cannot
their own. In this respect tradition is an be evaded in any society. All societies
encouragement to incipient individual- regard as sacred certain standards of
ity rather than its enemy. It is a stimu- judgment, certain rules of conduct and
lant to moral judgment and self-disci- thought, and certain arrangements of
pline rather than an opiate. It estab- action. They vary only in the intensity
lishes contact between the recipient and and self-consciousness of their ac-
the sacred values of his life in society. knowledgment, the scope which they
Man has a need for being in right rela- allow to the sacred, and the extent of
tions with the sacred. Most men do not participation in them. In varying de-
need a continuous and intense contact grees, deviations from these standards
with the sacred. A low level of inten- arouse anxiety and generate needs for
sity with intermittent surges serves expiation and repression. At its highest
their needs. But should they be entire- level of intensity, the belief in the sa-
ly deprived of that contact for too long credness of an institution or a system
a time, their needs will flare up into a of institutions is inimical to liberty be-
passionate irrationality. What was a cause it is hostile, in substance and in
stimulant to individuality becomes an form, to innovation, which is an inev-
intoxication which overwhelms it. itable consequence of a system of lib-
The traditional transmission of be- erty.
liefs about the sacred things of a soci- There is an element of the sacred in
ety curbs the intensity with which such so-called secular and irreligious soci-
beliefs are received and espoused. The eties, like the great countries of the
traditional transmission prevents all of West, as well as in those, like India,
the need for contact with the sacred where the sacredness of certain actions
from becoming rigidly and explosively and symbols is open for all to see. The
attached to a particular substantive be- belief in the sacred finds expression not
lief by drawing some of the need for only in the acts of religious communion
contact with the sacred onto itself. The through ritual, prayer, or contempla-
simple reception of traditional trans- tion. These are merely the modes of
mission is itself a form of contact with communion with that category of the
the sacred past; and this reduces the sacred called divinity. It need not be
need, occasioned in crisis, for individ- the conventionally conceived sacred,
ual search. Of course, the past as such i.e., the divine, to which man is at-
can become the object of intense and tached; it can appear to be entirely
continuous attachment, thus reinforc- "secular." It might be nothing more
ing the attachment to those substantive "otherworldly"than "justice," "human
symbols transmittedby tradition-such dignity," "public order," "individual
as a particular form of property owner- liberty," or "nationality." It might not
ship or a particular pattern of govern- have attached to it, in any obvious way,

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TRADITION AND LIBERTY 157

the cosmological myths or divine inten- system of parties, a free system of )ub-
tions which the conventional conception lic opinion, the rule of law, voluntary
of the sacred carries with it. But as the associations for civic and private pur-
final and ultimate ground of social ex- poses-simply on the basis of rational
istence, which evokes the tremendum calculation. Nor can such systems be
numinosem, the sacred must be ac- stable if they are balanced on the razor
knowledged to exist in "secular" soci- edge of an equilibriumof the powers of
eties. It finds expression, together with the different sectors of society. That
other beliefs, in the laws and customs rational decision, calculations of inter-
of a society, in the written constitution, est, and the equilibriumof powers have
and, above all, in the unwritten expec- a substantial and a crucial value in the
tations which govern conduct. It per- institutional system of liberty is unde-
meates the market place as well as the niable, but they are inadequate alone.
family, the church as well as the uni- The political system of freedom
versity. The values of truth, of individ- must, for the most part, be accepted by
uality, of blood ties, of certain states of its members,at any particular moment,
mind, even of professional achievement, as given. It must be the product of a
can become endowed in varying de- free acceptance in which a belief in the
grees with the property of sacredness sacredness of the order as a whole is
or charisma. latent. The intrinsic and autonomous
The sacred appears to be untouch- value of the other man, of the other
able and unchallengeableand is as such party, and of the institutions within
repugnant to the idea of a free society. which they meet, be they the parlia-
It means that the powers of individu- mentary body or the university or the
als, alone or jointly, to modify and to system of industrial negotiations, must
tamper with institutions and beliefs are be accepted as given. The "givenness"is
limited. Quite rightly, liberals have be- not, however, a mere factual determi-
lieved that the progress of liberty has nateness, an unquestioned inevitability.
in part consisted in the narrowing of It must be something which elicits rev-
the sphere of the sacred, in the "secu- erence and awe. The legal system and
larization of politics." When the sacred even specific laws must be regarded as
sensibilities are aroused, they generate possessing at least an element of intrin-
intolerance and exclusiveness. When sic justice. In all of these acts of recep-
they die down, they allow some meas- tion, then, there must be some infusion
ure of intellectual detachment and in- of a belief in the ultimate rightfulness
dependent action. A major task of -the sacredness-of the order.
liberal policy is to respect the sacred Our appreciation of the value of the
while keeping it at low ebb. This is one individual human being and of the
of the chief functions of the transmis- value of his self-expression and self-
sion of sacred beliefs through a loose protection is fundamentally an appre-
tradition. ciation of the sacredness of his exist-
ence. That we call this appreciation
III self-evident is itself a product of a long
It is beyond human powers to con- tradition. The system of freedom-with
duct an elaborate system of free insti- its self-restraint of the powerful, its ac-
tutions-comprising a parliament, a knowledgment of the worth of other

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I 58 ETHICS

persons, its reluctance to submit to au- institution might in its turn be sub-
thority, and, above all, its aspiration to jected to a far-reaching rational criti-
rational self-determination-can flour- cism and be amended and improved-
ish only if it is permeated with a large- but it can be done without harm to so-
ly unreflectiveacceptance of these rules ciety only if, at any given time, much
of the game of the free society. This of the rest of the institutional system is
acceptance, if it is not the product of accepted as legitimate. The legitimacy
ratiocination or of individual genius in must flow from a general disposition to
the direct apprehension of the sacred, respect the order as a whole. Thus, at
must, at least to some extent, be based the moment when any component is
on the affirmationof what in the pres- subjected to the most thoroughgoing
ent is involved in the past-of what is criticism and renovation, the legitimacy
and has been existent and what is and of the order of which it is a part must
has been accepted by others for this be affirmed.The paradox of liberty and
reason. The free society must rest, once tradition can thus be partially resolved
it comes into existence, on tradition. by the maintenance of a delicately
There is something paradoxical in poised and labile segregation of the in-
this proposition. The free society is a dividual's traditionally received sphere
society in movement. Tradition incor- of action and his free sphere.
porates and transmits sacred beliefs, it The tradition of self-restraint, so es-
entails self-reproduction, stability be- sential to the free society, resolves the
tween generations and across centuries. paradox through a segregation which
The rules of the game, in which the sa- honors a tradition restrictive of the
cred is incorporated, are the precipi- freedom of one's own action, while
tates of this tradition working on cur- leaving a free sphere for others. Tradi-
rent thought and experience. The free tion is self-restraining, it is in impor-
society entails a critical independentat- tant respects restrictive on individual-
titude toward authority; tradition en- ity, and it is no accident that freedom
tails the acknowledgment of authority first emerged as a modern political sys-
inherent in a belief or mode of action tem in Protestant countries where a
by virtue of its having been performed powerful sense of individuality was
or observed in the past. Nonetheless, curbed by passionate conflict with a
the traditional legitimization of the Puritanical ethos. By virtue of its tra-
frameworkof free action is compatible dition, self-restraint makes possible-
with, and even necessary for, rational even though it does not create-the
criticism and creative innovation. The freedom of others.
traditional legitimization of the frame- The antithesis of tradition and lib-
work of free society requires, however, erty is also resolved by the shift in the
that the rational criticism and improve- locus of the sacred. Instead of being
ment of any institution at any given found only in institutions, it is found
time be carried on in a context which is in the soul of the individual. Respect
set by tradition-by a tradition sus- for the sacred then becomes respect for
tained by laws and rules which them- individuality and is reinforced by the
selves derive their efficacy from the force of its own tradition.
support they gain from this tradition. Despite these resolutions of the para-
In this wise, any and every particular dox of segregation, by self-restraint

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TRADITION AND LIBERTY 159

and by the displacementof the locus of to institutions other than those of po-
charisma from institutions into the in- litical liberalism, the attitude of classi-
dividual, the central feature of the par- cal liberalismhas been suspicious to the
adox remains. The reception of tradi- point of hostility. It has been all in fa-
tion is a submission to anonymous au- vor of the critical emancipation of the
thority; the exercise of freedom is sup- individual from the dominion of tradi-
ported by distrust of authority. The tional institutions. The ideal society
tradition of liberty-this contradictio has been conceived as rationally self-
in adjectio which is indispensableto the determining, equally free from the
continuanceof liberty-is greatly aided pressure of irrational impulse on the
by the ambivalence of man's nature one side and from dogmatic constraint
that rejects and accepts authority. Man on the other. The very existence of lib-
is, as Professor Knight has said, a rule- erty has been alleged to be dependent
making and rule-breaking animal. His on the erosion of tradition-above all,
submissiveness must alternate with re- the iniquitous substantive traditions
sistance to authority; and each sup- which restrict individual liberty by im-
ports the other and involves it. The re- posing dogmatic beliefs, by reinforcing
ception of tradition is aided by resist- parental authority within the family,
ance to it. and by maintaining inequities in the
Finally, the coexistence of tradition distribution of income and status.
and liberty is made easier when the Yet even there, where the incompati-
pressures of tradition and individuality bility of tradition and liberty seems to
are light. The sacred resides both in the be so obvious, the relationship is far
past and in individuality, and any ex- from simple. A free political system
acerbation of either is disruptive. In does require a matrix of stable non-
personalities in whom the sensitivity to political institutions in which its citi-
old and anonymous authority is very zens can live, and the best guaranty of
pronounced, that balance between re- stability is an effective reception of tra-
ception and rejection cannot be main- dition. Many of these institutions are,
tained-any more than it can in one in however, governed by traditions which
which impulse toward a highly differ- repress individual liberty within the
entiated and immediately expressed in- boundaries of the institution and which
dividuality is both very intense and extend this inimicality into the public
very comprehensivein scope. sphere. Thus, for example, a strong tra-
dition of kinship obligation is injurious
IV to the rule of law and to equality of op-
The problem becomes more compli- portunity. Extremely hierarchical ec-
cated when we leave the traditions of clesiastical institutions are permeated
liberty and move beyond them to the by traditions which extend their illib-
traditions which govern religion, fam- eral influences into the political sphere.
ily life, the hierarchy of social status, Powerful traditions of the superiority
and economic institutions. Liberalism and inferiority of certain qualities, such
has been more silent than condemna- as kinship or color, inhibit the growth of
tory where the traditions of liberty the sentiments of esteem for the self and
have been concerned. But where it has others .that are necessary for political
been a matter of traditional attachment liberty. Such traditions prevent the ex-

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160 ETHICS

pansion of the sense of affinity which is tural, and religious-and unifies them
essential to a free society. Substantive in a common subordination to the sa-
beliefs which insist on the vast superi- cred as it is received from the past.
ority of saintly, religious, or prophetic Sentiments of the sacred, when they
authority to ordinarycivil authority de- are aroused to a high pitch of intensity,
rive much of their vitality from tradi- when men are extremely preoccupied
tion and render more difficultthe work- with them, are harmful to liberty. At
ing of democratic political institutions. the height of their intensity, they ren-
The traditions of caste and the fourth der rigid the social structures which
ashram in India, the traditions of ec- they regulate. Sentiments of the sacred,
clesiastical, national, ethnic, and class in their purity, are insistent on exact
exclusiveness in the West, are injurious and thorough conformity. Variations
to political freedom because they en- are not tolerated. Those who regard
feeble the sense of civility, interfere themselves as their properly qualified
with equality before the law, and deny bearers cannot stand rival claimants
the equal rights derived from citizen- and they cannot stand deviations in
ship. Here the liberal repugnance for conduct from the lines of conduct stip-
tradition seems amply justified. ulated by sacred norms. Traditional-
ism, whether it takes the form of na-
V tional patriotism or ethnic solidarity, is
The illiberal potentiality of tradition like political and religious enthusiasm.
as such is accentuated when the attach- Both feel themselves to be responsible
ment to tradition is transformed into for the custody and propagation of
traditionalism. Traditionalism is the something ultimately valuable, some-
self-conscious, deliberate affirmationof thing entirely sacred. At the extreme
traditional norms, in full awareness of point of excitation of sentiments of the
their traditional nature and alleging sacred, such as arise in situations of
that their merit derives from that tra- crisis or under conditions of attack, at-
ditional transmission from a sacred ori- tachment to the sacred can do mortal
gin. This is a revivalist, enthusiastic at- harm both to normal tradition and to
titude. It is always dogmatic and doc- liberty.
trinaire and insists on uniformity. It Those who self-consciously regard
insists on thoroughgoing adherence; it themselves as the custodians of sacred
does not discriminate between the traditional or enthusiastic values in all
workable and the unworkableand it re- their purity aggressively attack the or-
gards all elements of the tradition it dinary traditions and practices of the
praises as equally essential. Tradition- society-or, by an inversion of aggres-
alism, which is a form of heightened siveness, they seek complete with-
sensitivity to the sacred, demands ex- drawal. Their alienation from normal
clusiveness. It is content with nothing tradition and the order in which it is
less than totality. Traditionalism is not involved spreads to others whose spon-
content with the observance of a tradi- taneous attachment to the sacred val-
tion in a particular sphere, e.g., in fam- ues of tribe or sect is not strong enough
ily or religious life. It is satisfied only of itself to make them into initiators of
if the traditionalist outlook permeates traditionalist radicalism but who, when
all spheres-political, economic, cul- they have the model and source pre-

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TRADITION AND LIBERTY 161

sented to them, become ideological fa- which lacks its revivalist doctrinaire
natics. The civil order, in which the fervor. This is primordial traditional-
traditions which transmit the sacred ism, in which the sacred tradition has
are more diffuse and less rigid, must ei- not become differentiatedand in which
ther gather its forces to control the ex- what is traditionally sacred in one
tremist reaction or succumb to it. In sphere penetrates and dominates all the
either case liberty suffers. other spheres of life. Formalistic tradi-
Traditionalismis almost always ideo- tionalism which imposes the traditional
logical and extremist. It insists passion- rules of kinship obligation on every sit-
ately on the full and knowing adher- uation, or saintly traditionalism in
ence to tradition with a form and which the tradition of the holy man
elaboration unknown in the ordinary renders activity in most other spheres
observance of tradition. Exceptions, of secondary value, are both restrictive
qualifications, deviations, are all re- of liberty. Primordial traditionalism,
garded as wickedness itself, and only too, is hostile to freedom, because it in-
the pristine tradition in all its fulness is hibits the partial autonomy of the
regarded as an adequate guide to con- spheres of social life that is constitutive
duct. Because the received tradition al- of a free society. Primordial tradition-
ways has an element of authority in it alism is, however, scarcely a problem in
and because it usually legitimizes exist- Western societies. It is a genuine prob-
ing authority, traditionalism alone, as lem, however, for the politics of liberty
an elaborationof tradition, would natu- in peasant societies and in the newer
rally tend to be hostile to liberty. But democracies of Asia and Africa.
in its extremism, traditionalism finds If ideological and primordial tradi-
another even more powerful impetus to tionalism were the only patterns of the
illiberalism. working of tradition, then the classical
Traditionalism is not only hostile to antithesis of tradition and liberty
liberty, it is also radically hostile to would be correct. It is clear, however,
tradition, the vague, flexible tradition that they are not. The normal condition
which even when it does not include the of substantive traditional life is much
tradition of liberty at least allows lib- looser and much more flexible. In most
erty to live on its margins of ambiguity, societies, even in highly traditional so-
to grow gradually, and to take deeper cieties, deviations are many and unno-
root. In oligarchical societies, tradition- ticed, because the traditional prescrip-
alism prevents the further growth of tions of conduct are vague and because
the elements which can give rise to a certain range of variation is allowed
freedom. In societies in which liberty is in many spheres. It is only intermit-
already established, traditionalism- tently in specialized ceremonials that
despite its cant about community and they take on precise and specific form,
continuity-is the greatest enemy of and their specificity is confined to a
the tradition of civility which is essen- narrow range of events, and to re-
tial to its life. stricted spans of time. In daily life, the
There is another type of traditional- tradition is not so rigid that it does not
ist orientation which, in its aspiration permit adaptations to individual idio-
to complete control over conduct, re- syncrasy and external pressure.
sembles ideological traditionalism, but In large-scale, civil societies, the nor-

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162 ETHICS
real pattern of tradition is loose. Grad- p)osedby traditional and legal norms.
ual modificationsin action are possible The perception and the fear of chaos
without arousing hostility from others drives those who are sensitive and de-
or guilt feelings within the actor. Nor- pendent to take refuge in new symbols
mal tradition permits diverse interpre- of order, usually of an intensely sacred
tations which, although they might be and traditionalist nature. Social disor-
criticized as incorrect, retain sufficient der awakens sacred sensitivity while
legitimacy to render them tolerable. It normal tradition holds it in check; it
is, indeed, within the framework of holds it in a comatose condition, alive
such a commonly shared tradition, with but not alert, vaguely responsive but
its capacity for multiple interpretations not sensitive. Normal tradition, with
and diverse emphasis, that the system its ambiguity and approximateness,
of political liberty can arise and flour- muffles the sacred and reduces the in-
ish. Individual variation and group di- tensity with which it is experienced by
versity are both the fruit of normal tra- those who come into contact with it.
dition. They are products of the loose General and reasonable conformity
amorphous character of normal tradi- with the norms of a society, such as the
tion, and the security of their existence normal traditional orientation brings
is guaranteed by the single tradition about, makes less likely affrontsto what
from which they are acknowledged to is regarded as sacred. Traditions are
derive. not so demandingof precise observance
The regime of liberty is possible only as are freshly and directly experienced
as long as liberty is limited and as long sacred rules. Tradition reduces both the
as the aspirations which can be freely motives for infringement and the sensi-
expressed are limited. Unrestrained ap- tivity to infringements. The less likely
petites, ambitions for power, wealth, are affronts, the less likely is the reac-
security, dignity, and honor precipitate tive, revivalistic insistence on complete
severe conflicts, in so far as they do not and exclusive adherenceto sacred rules.
directly subvert the institutions which Threats to the interest of the other
provide the framework of order in groups often engender a rigid adher-
which liberty can exist. ence, an obstinate refusal to yield all
The pursuit of interests unrestrained that is demanded-or, more frequently,
by standards common in society unwilling concession is accompaniedby
arouses an aggressive response. In this a slowly formingcounterattackof equal
approximation to the state of nature, intensity. Thus the breaking away from
the institutions which have the task of tradition arouses a reactive traditional-
adjudicatingconflicts and keeping them ism, while a moderate respect for tradi-
within peaceful limits undergo a heavy tion does not give occasion for its des-
strain. Their authority is diminished perate defense.
and formal justice moves toward self- Even in non-liberal societies, a cer-
help or lynch law. Governing institu- tain measure of liberty comes into ex-
tions lose their authority when they istence in the interstices of society,
show themselves unable to exercise it thanks to the ambiguity of traditions.
by coping with disorderly tendencies. This meager liberty may be extin-
This in turn fortifies the existing tend- guished where there is an intensifica-
encies to break out of the limits im- tion of sensitivity to the sacred. Liberal

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TRADITION AND LIBERTY 163

societies move in the same direction power should not be so severe as to ali-
when sensitivity to the sacred becomes enate substantial sections of the popu-
more intense. Hobbes pointed out, and lation and to turn them into enemies of
the twentieth century has shown, that the free society. The more rigid and
the counterattack takes the form of an precise a tradition, the more it is incor-
oligarchicalorder which expels freedom porated in ritual and in law, the more
from the civil and intellectual spheres it alienates those who suffer from it.
and leaves it to carry on a furtive exist- The losers in the social game, the
ence in private relations which, for their lower castes and classes, are more like-
own part, are soon dominated by the ly to turn against a rigid and precise
stringencies of a harsh political temper. tradition than they are to turn against
Order is preserved by the integration a flexible and ambiguous one. The lat-
of conflictinginterests, by the authority ter gives them grounds for self-legiti-
of tradition and law, and by leaving a mization; it does not so completely ex-
certain area for the conflict of interests clude them from beneficent relations
and individual tastes to work itself out with the sacred. Hence the lower castes
freely. The integration is never wholly and classes will not spring so readily
stable and an exacerbationof one of the into attachment to new, sacred symbols
component elements can cost so much of order when the authority of the hith-
in terms of the interests of other groups erto prevailing order becomes en-
that the reaction of the loser is likely to feebled.
be extreme. In so far as traditions,
which always have some communaland VI
restrictive aspect, are effective, they aid The practice of respect for substan-
in the confinement of individual im- tive traditions, even when they are nei-
pulse and ambition, and in the defini- ther liberal nor democratic, maintains
tion of interests in such a way that con- the traditional receptiveness which sus-
flict can be kept down. They reduce the tains the tradition of liberty. The re-
extent of loss and render the actually ception of the traditions of liberty, like
experienced loss acceptable by legiti- the reception of any tradition, rests in
mizing the action by which it was in- fundamental part on the affirmationof
flicted. Not all traditions have this lim- the sacred authority of the past. The
iting function, but many do, and to that traditional affirmationof liberty resem-
extent they aid in the support of the bles any other traditional affirmation.
system of liberty. As such, it draws strength from the tra-
Thus tradition reduces the rate of ditional outlook in other spheres, e.g.,
change in a society but, in so far as it the respect for family traditions and
allows a moderate amount of change, it for religious traditions, however wide-
enhances the orderliness of change and ly these might differ in content from
permits a free development in the di- the tradition of liberty. The disruption
rection of greater justice. All change of non-liberal traditions in a free soci-
infringes on some established rights, ety might well have a disruptive effect
and there is nothing inherently wrong on the traditions of freedom in that so-
about this. It is important, however, ciety. Their maintenance in a labile
that the expectations which are frus- state might well be very helpful to the
trated by redistributionsof wealth and prosperity of freedom, even though

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164 ETHICS

their existence might give umbrage to which obstruct the functioning of the
rationalism and liberalism. sense of civility. It is menaced by tra-
While obtaining reinforcement from ditions of political and religious enthu-
non-liberaltraditions outside the politi- siasm which claim to possess the means
cal sphere, the traditions of liberty in and knowledge for the direct achieve-
the political sphere are by no means ment of the most sacred values. It is
free of danger from them. Not only do endangered by the traditional outlook
the illiberal traditions have a potential when it is pushed, by reaction against
expansiveness which can make inroads the disruption of tradition, into an ex-
into the traditions of liberty but there tremist traditionalism.
is also a danger that the receptive affir- The traditional receptiveness which
mation of substantive, illiberal tradi- is one of the ultimate pillars of free-
tion can be so pronounced that, within dom in society can never be supplanted
the tradition of liberty, the independent by either calculation, reason, or power.
and critical spirit toward authority It can and must be attenuated, it can
can be excessively repressed. and must be retracted, and it can and
The maintenance of a traditional re- must be diminished in intensity; but it
ceptiveness which facilitates the trans- cannot be dispensed with, even though
mission of the traditions of liberty with that is repugnant to our basic liberal
their peculiar antinomies depends to a conception of the dignity of man as a
considerable extent, then, on the state rational self-governing being. The art
of traditionality of the value system of of the politics of liberty consists, in
the society outside the political sphere. part, in the attenuation, retraction, and
If it is too dilapidated, it can cause the diminution of the intensity of sacred
traditions of liberty to dissolve or can tradition to the point where libery is at
prevent them from ever being formed. an optimum,but in which the matrix of
If it is too strong, too comprehensive the traditional outlook is left unim-
and precise, and too pressingly expan- paired. The fundamental impairment
sive, then it can prevent them from be- of the traditional outlook and damage
ing formed or from gaining sufficient to the individual's receptiveness to tra-
strength to maintain a free society. dition can only lead to an indiscipline
which is momentarily mistaken for an
VII enhancement of liberty and which in
the longer run gives rise to ideological
We see then that the relations be-
traditionalism and to enthusiasm-in
tween liberty and tradition are diverse.
neither of which is there any place for
Liberty is sustained by traditions, both
the free man.
the traditions of liberty and traditions The right relations between liberty
which flourish outside the sphere of po- and tradition are not to be asserted in
litical liberty. Liberty lives in a con- a single comprehensiveproposition.The
text of order; and order, beneficial to tentative guesses presented here are not
liberty, is maintained by traditions of fully in accordance with the traditions
many sorts, some quite illiberal in their of liberal thought, although the stand-
content. Liberty is constricted by tradi- point from which this paper is written
tions which suppress the development is that of pluralist individualistic liber-
of individuality and selfhood, and alism. Much of what this paper asserts

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TRADITION AND LIBERTY 165

explicitly and in its overtones might be have been historically and convention-
repugnant to the sentiments associated ally alien to liberalism. Corresponding-
with the tradition of rationalist utili- ly, it would be an equal misfortune if,
tarian liberalism. But nothing will be in order to overcome their own past
gained from a denial of the facts of life errors or to avoid the errors of their
or from the determination of political contemporaries,they took refuge in an
affinitiesand affiliationsby the compati- uncritical adulation of tradition, in
bility or incompatibility of definitions which the past is always regarded as
and a few substantive historical coinci- better than the present, and in which
dences. the wisdom of our ancestors is always
The intellectuals of the West are now regarded as better than our own. And
but slowly recovering from the disillu- all this allegedly on behalf of liberty.
sionments consequent on their alliances The reconciliation of pluralist indi-
with movements which seemed to share vidualist liberalism with the affirmation
certain of the values of classical hu- of the claims of normal tradition may
manitarian liberalism. It would be a not be an appetizing task and is cer-
pity if this misadventure, and a linger- tainly not an easy one. It is in its
ing sympathy for the prejudices of their achievement, however, that the respon-
quondam allies, were to result in a re- sibilities of liberals lie.
fusal to traffic with viewpoints which UNIVERSITYOF CHICAGO

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