Written in 1912, Sergei Bulgakov’s Philosophy of Economy: The World as Householdsurprises in its embrace of a certain kind of materialism. Giving credit largely to the heavyweights of the German idealist tradition with an occasional nod to Marx, it quickly becomes evident that this materialism is rooted in a sense of embodied action and historical metamorphosis that might have characterized some of the revolutionary politics of the earlier half of the nineteenth century. Eschewing the armchair philosophizing of post-Kantian idealism and relying especially upon Schelling in order to articulate a yet highly original vision of the relation forged between the subject and the object through purposive activity, Bulgakov’s philosophy of economy can offer us some surprising insights toward developing an understanding of tradition as a living process.
Organicist thinking with regard to tradition and ecclesiology is of course nothing new. The romanticist reaction against the assertoric dogmatism of medieval ecclesiology is well documented in the work of Möhler, Khomiakov, and, to some extent, John Henry Newman. But how many of these organicist theories were so bold as to consider a theory of metamorphosis under the aspect of the human being as a creature of basically economic activity, who realizes itself through a complex interplay of pragmatist models and idealist projections in the vivification (or resurrection) of dead mechanism through a living process? Herein lies Bulgakov’s special relevance for us today.
In a recent post, Aristotle Papanikolaou argues that the terms “traditionalism,” “traditionalist,” and “Orthodox morality” are unhelpful identifiers. For Papanikolaou, these terms construct a false traditional/non-traditional dichotomy that conceals the fact that everybody belongs to some tradition. The real question is what the presuppositions of one’s tradition are, and consequently “the implications of presuppositions or beliefs held in common by those who adhere to [that] tradition.” The logic of purity that underlies attempts to constrict “tradition” to narrowly-defined doctrinal and moral positions animates much of Papanikolaou’s essay. I want to extend Papanikolaou’s argument further by introducing two spiritual temptations of those who claim “tradition” for their own side as part of the culture wars, especially in the US.
The philosopher Max Scheler once called those who hold their deepest beliefs from a place of “intrinsic meaning and worth” the “resurrected.” Particularly apt examples of the “resurrected” are the saints, who love God for God’s own sake. Yet, in addition to this “resurrected” type, there are today a considerable amount of what Scheler calls the “apostate” and “romantic” types. For Scheler, to be either an apostate or a romantic is a particular form of spiritual resentment. Continue reading →
Amidst the culture wars, the word “traditionalist” has gained currency and has been co-opted in a variety of ways. Broadly, it is a self-naming mostly by those who identify as religious and are seemingly faithful to their religious tradition in the face of attacks either against religion in general or by others within their religious tradition who challenge various givens of that tradition. For the Orthodox Christian crowd, a very simple example would suffice: a self-named traditionalist would typically oppose the ordination of women to the diaconate, while a non-traditionalist—usually called, pejoratively, a liberal—might challenge the givenness of the non-ordination of women.
An extension of “traditionalist” is “traditional values,” which has come to mean a very select set of “values” related to gender and sexuality. “Traditional values” has very recently become a transnational slogan, which cuts across the East-West divide, since there are Westerners (American Evangelicals) making alliances with Easterners (Russian Orthodox actors) in order to advance “traditional values” through established national and international legal structures.
The meaning of “traditional values” has been further amplified with the neologism: “Orthodox morality.” I say neologism, because never in the history of Christianity—at least Orthodox Christianity—has the word “Orthodox” functioned as an adjective for “morality.” Never. This neologism has a very non-traditionalist—dare I say, modern—ring to it. It may appeal to those attracted to a version of the so-called “Benedict Option,” but this Donatist logic of purity was condemned a long time ago by the Church.
My thesis is very simple: the use of the word “traditionalist” and its derivative forms (“Orthodox morality,” “traditional values”) is philosophically untenable, i.e., it’s wrong. Continue reading →