James Poulos: Tradition in the age of equality

James Poulos writing at Cato Unbound: “To understand the fate and future of traditions, we need an alternative to the secularization thesis—and a different conceptual point of departure than ‘modernity’ . . . [Tocqueville and Nietzsche] recognized that, in a democratic age, Biblical morality would be opposed only insofar as it retained its noble aspect—its commanding system of yeses and nos that authoritatively establish a moral hierarchy. But both thinkers also knew that Biblical morality contained the most profoundly equalizing moral code that had ever been seen on earth—inspiration for a humanistic democratic ethic that sees all persons as equally unique, autonomous, and valuable . . . Traditions cannot be thought of except in relation to institutions. As far as our current struggle is concerned, what is true of marriage is true of any cultural institution that carries traditions that reach back behind the democratic age for at least some of their foundations. Unable to provide their own foundations, traditions in a democratic age are likely to fall back upon the authority of the state—the only institution that can officialize the openness of traditions to all.”