On Tradition, Education, Adolescence, and Marriage

The following are not my thoughts (although I tend to not only agree with them but feel compelled to share them). They are from Budziszewski’s What We Cant Not Know, Chapter 8, and deserve reflection.

On Tradition:


To some people in our day the word “tradition” suggests merely a repeated action that is hallowed by sentimental associations, like wearing a certain tartan or eating turkey on a certain day. I mean a good deal more than that—a shared way of life that molds the mind, character, and imagination of those who practice it, for better or for worse. It is a sort of apprenticeship in living, with all of the previous generations as masters, and includes not only ways of doing things, but ways of raising questions about things that matter…Traditionlessness, then, is not the absence of traditions so much as a particular, unsound sort of tradition that does not recognize itself as tradition, disbelieves whatever it does recognize as tradition, and is traditionally smug about its disbelief. It is the absence, not of traditions as such, but of sound ones…


In general, a person who has been raised in a sound tradition is far better prepared to change his mind, should his beliefs prove faulty in some particular respect, than a person who has been raised “to make up his own mind” about them. While the former has at least acquired some equipment—the habit of taking important things seriously, and a body of inherited reflections about what some of these things are—the latter is weighed down with different baggage: the habit of not taking important things seriously, and the habit of considering the way things really are as less important than what he thinks of them at the moment…


The vigor of sound traditions requires a way of life in which the generations live in close proximity and have discourse with each other. It requires that people in general live in communities in which they know each other and can hold each other accountable. It requires that in relations among the various cultural institutions— parents, churches, schools, government, and so forth—the agents higher on the totem pole regard themselves merely as servants of the lower, and not as their masters or competitors. Unfortunately, the lines along which our own society is organized are diametrically

opposed to these. The generations say little to each other, and may be hundreds of miles apart.


On Modern Education:


Sophism has always been a corrupter of democracies, and the difference between ancient and modern Sophism corresponds to the difference between ancient and modern democracy. Ancient democracy was radical democracy, so in order to win power through the sophistical arts, one had to win over the Assemblies of the People. Modern democracy is constitutional democracy, full of checks and balances, so there are other possibilities. The Sophists might seize power, not in the assemblies, but in the courts and the civil service; in this case the assemblies might not have to be wholly corrupted, but only confused enough to go along…


In our own polity this strategy is well advanced, especially in the courts. When the U.S. Supreme Court declared that “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”, it was expressing the Sophist charter… If Sophists are to run the courts and the civil service, they need plenty of help. From somewhere there must come a steady stream of people who think as they do, to fill vacancies as they open up. Universities fill this need. Ordinary people who have not spent time on college campuses find it difficult to believe just how thoroughly they subvert the mind and how little they train it…


The curriculum of the university is but a tithe of what it teaches. It is a total-immersion counterculture whose methods of indoctrination include classroom style, freshman orientation, speech codes, mandatory diversity training, dormitory policies, guidelines for registered student organizations, mental health counseling, and peer pressure… if the modern university is not theoretically Sophist, it is operationally Sophist, and the extremists hold the high ground…


When I ask my graduating college students to “formulate an argument”, I have to tell them what I mean. Many of them have never heard the expression; the idea of persuading someone by reasoning is new to them. They conceive an opinion as a kind of taste, like a partiality for one brand of soft drink over another. Many of my colleagues will tell them that they are right…


Many lines of work require more training than of old; that is plain enough… Schools, in the meantime, have become incompetent, so that the time necessary to learn anything is much longer. What once was taught in secondary school now waits for college; what once was taught in college now waits for postgraduate school. The result is a long period of economic dependence.


Prolongation of Adolescence and Later Marriage:


Apologists for late marriage consider it good because human beings do not reach maturity until their mid-twenties… Certainly people should not marry until they are mature. But the age at which people are mature enough to
take on the responsibilities of marriage is not a human constant; it depends in part on when we marry. For centuries, most people married and began families in their teens. If today they are not ready until twenty-five—or thirty or thirty-five—then our first question ought to be “Why aren’t they?” We should also pause to remember how maturity is attained. Men and women do not first become mature and then accept responsibilities; it is through accepting responsibilities that they become mature. Responsibility itself is what transforms them, the marital responsibility above most others…


The unnatural prolongation of adolescence poses a variety of moral problems. Normal erotic desire is transmuted from a spur to marriage to an incentive for promiscuity. Promiscuity thwarts the attainment of moral wisdom and makes conjugal love itself seem unattractive. Furthermore, prolonged irresponsibility is itself a sort of training, and a bad one. Before long the entire culture is caught up in a Peter Pan syndrome, terrified of leaving childhood.



Budziszewski, J, What We Cant Not Know 

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