July 28, 2023 - 6:00pm

Traditionalism is an ancient philosophy, a mystical doctrine said to have a growing influence on the Right. Long associated with fascism, in recent years it has been said to inspire the likes of Steve Bannon, Brazil’s Olavo de Carvalho and — most notoriously — Russian philosopher Aleksandr Dugin, otherwise known as “Putin’s brain”. 

But what is Traditionalism, and why is it considered so dangerous? Professor Mark Sedgwick, author of Traditionalism: The Radical Project for Restoring Sacred Order, visited the UnHerd Club — making the trip from Denmark, where he teaches at Aarhus University — to explain.

The primary insight of Traditionalism, according to Sedgwick, is that there is a sacred order, a primordial tradition beneath organised religion which should dictate the way society is structured. He stated:

Everything is connected: everything is planned by God, or whoever we think is planning it. Nothing happens by chance; nothing is random. So there is a possibility of a proper order […] between humans and nature and in the development of the human spirit, between the human spirit and the transcendent.
- Mark Sedgwick

Traditionalism, unsurprisingly, abhors modernity, which has deviated drastically from this primordial order. There is, in Sedgwick’s view, “a theoretical welcoming of the apocalypse as the start of the new age.” Following the apocalypse, Traditionalists believe that the old order will make a triumphant return, after what they would consider a centuries-long decline:

The last time that we had anything [Traditionalists] would approve of as the proper sacred order was precisely in the mediaeval period. The Enlightenment is a complete delusion, because the Enlightenment is the idea that today’s rather reduced human beings can replace with their own feeble minds the true primordial tradition. And it just gets worse, because the Enlightenment leads to various other characteristics of modernity: for example, the ideas of equality, democracy and progress.
- Mark Sedgwick

If Enlightenment and modern values are the antithesis of the Traditionalist understanding of how a good society should operate, followers of the latter movement “envisaged a very stratified social system, which took from the Hindu caste system and then mixed together with the pre-revolutionary French system of estates”.

Sedgwick went on:

People have particular functions […] At the top, you have your sacred caste. Priests, scholars — they all tend to locate themselves in that top Brahmin-type caste. And then you pass your way down from the thinkers, the people who know the primordial tradition, who are the ones who really should be in charge of everything to the military caste, the nobility in the old French system […] Then, after that, you then get your merchant caste and at the bottom peasants. Yet a peasant who is a proper peasant is superior to a noble who isn’t a proper noble. So it’s completely hierarchical, but it’s also about function. Julius Evola was extremely critical of the so-called nobility of his own day for spending more time with cocktail shakers than with swords.
- Mark Sedgwick

What should a Traditionalist living in the present day do in the face of progress? Sedgwick explained that Traditionalist thinkers have been divided on this, setting out various different paths. One can choose asceticism and isolation in the wilderness, hoping that the world self-immolates as it pursues modern values. Alternatively, there is the “warrior path”, also known as the path of action. As Sedgwick describes it in his book, “the follower of the path of action evokes in himself the transcendent power of destruction. He takes it on, becomes transfigured in it and free, thus breaking loose from all human bonds.”