The phenomenon of the “trad cons” (traditional conservatives) and “trad cats” (traditional Catholics) is growing in media and online spaces. They have become a very vocal group of late, bemoaning the continued degradation of society and the problems of modernity. They’ve also begun a sweeping revisionist historical analysis blaming the decline of the West on the rise of individualism, Protestantism, and the Enlightenment—in short, the overthrow of the “throne and altar” monarchies (especially in Catholic form) is the catalyst for the decline of the West. They give paeans to the “common good” and the “family,” though many of these writers are themselves young and unmarried and would use the force of the state to promote the common good while decrying whatever common good statist vision imposed by the left.
What the digital tradcons understand, or at least emulate, is the reality of state power politics. The progressive left, with its monolith vision of society, is the creation of the state. Being opposed to this vision, tradcons see the state as the safeguard against the totalitarian encroachment of progressivism over society. But it doesn’t end there. They also seek to use the power of the state to impose their monolithic vision of society over everyone.
To say the tradcons are Machiavellian is an understatement. They would likely scoff at the association. Machiavelli, after all, denied the summum bonum; something that tradcons don’t. Yet Machiavelli also had a stark realism to his political philosophy: power is what matters. For tradcons, this is the fundamental truth about politics that progressives also understand. Libertarians, civil society conservatives, and other weak-kneed “civility” moderates are nothing more than useful idiots who do nothing to stop the totalitarian march of the progressives despite their posturing and sloganeering. To combat the progressives whom libertarians, civil society conservatives, and moderates claim to dislike, it is necessary to wield the power of the state to undo the changes wrought by progressivism and use the state to artificially create the good society that tradcons envision.
Despite their rhetoric of organic society, tradcons and progressives have another thing in common: society as an artificial creation. Tradcons believe that legislative action and state benefits toward their goals are the best ways to achieve the (re)creation of the good and wholesome society that is missing in modernity. Thought they speak of the organic cells of society being the family, the organic love that draws humans together to form families and communities is conspicuously absent in their political ideology. If humans don’t want love in marriage and the duties and responsibilities that come with being parents, well, the state will make them marry and have duties and responsibilities being parents. That’s the mentality of the totalitarian trad cons.
At their heart, they are statists. They just disagree with the current statism of the left with its moral degeneracy, digital atomism, and promotion of anti-natalism. They don’t disagree with the governing principles of statism.
The totalitarian tradcons respond that there is no such thing as a neutral state and society. I agree. Value judgements and decrees are often masked behind the veil of neutrality or objectivity or civility. But that doesn’t entail that there cannot be a value-pluralist state. In fact, pre-New Deal America was exactly that. The problem that statists of all stripes have is that a truly value pluralist society is messy and often “inefficient.” Different laws, different customs, different values in different regions create competition to the federal state; a competition that the federal state cannot allow to exist in order to exercise its overreaching agenda.
Beware the totalitarian tradcons, even among those who might be otherwise sympathetic to a lot of what they put their finger on as crises needing to be addressed. Those crises are real. The solution, however, can be dangerous. In many ways, we’ve been living through a test phase of totalizing state control over the past two years. The problem isn’t the people in power. We see left-leaning and right-leaning parties all over the Western world embarking on the same totalitarian politics. The problem is totalitarian state-oriented politics. And many of the tradcons are totalitarian every bit as their obnoxious leftwing opponents are.
Hesiod, Paul Krause in real life, is the editor-in-chief of VoegelinView. He is writer, classicist, and historian. He has written on the arts, culture, classics, literature, philosophy, religion, and history for numerous journals, magazines, and newspapers. He is the author of The Odyssey of Love and the Politics of Plato, and a contributor to the College Lecture Today and the forthcoming book Making Sense of Diseases and Disasters. He holds master’s degrees in philosophy and religious studies (biblical studies & theology) from the University of Buckingham and Yale, and a bachelor’s degree in economics, history, and philosophy from Baldwin Wallace University.
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