vendredi, août 22, 2014

Dooyeweerd: Tensions between innovation and tradition

Dooyeweerd: Tensions between innovation and tradition.
     All historical formation requires power. Formation thus never takes place without a struggle. The progressive will of the molder of history invariably clashes with the power of tradition, which, as the power of conservation, opposes every attempt to break with the past. In tradition one finds the embodiment of a cultural, communal heritage acquired in the passing of generations. Tradition shapes us, as members of a cultural area, in large measure quite unconsciously, because we have been nurtured within it from our childhood and thus begin to accept it as a matter of course without taking stock of its intrinsic worth. 

     The wealth of tradition is immeasurably richer than the shares which individuals can appropriate for themselves. Anyone who dares to oppose it is never confronted merely with a few conservatively prone souls but with a communal power binding the past to the future and stretching across entire generations. The innovator almost always underestimates the conserving power of tradition, for such a person sees only the surface of the present where tradition appears mainly as inertia, as a retarding force. But tradition has deep dimensions that reveal themselves only gradually in careful historical research. Only in that light does the investigator begin to understand how great the power confronting the shaper of history actually is.

     It is childish to complain about tradition as if it were a grouchy old person who simply swears by what is and who fails to appreciate anything new. Culture cannot exist without tradition. Historical development is impossible in its absence. Imagine that every new generation would try to erase the past in an earnest effort to start afresh. Nothing would come of it. The world would be a desert, a chaos.

     Cultural development, then, is not possible without tradition. The power of tradition is grounded in the creation order, since the cultural mandate itself is one of the creational ordinances. However, truly historical development also demands that a culture not vegetate upon the past but unfold itself.

     Progress and renewal have a rightful place in history alongside tradition and the power of conservation. In the power struggle between both forces the progressive will of the shaper of history must bow before the norm of historical continuity. The revolutionary spirit of reconstruction, which seeks to dismiss the past entirely, must accommodate itself to the vital forms of tradition insofar as they conform to the norm of historical development. Surely, this norm of historical continuity is not a "law of nature" working itself out in history apart from human involvement. In every revolution guided by false principles an attempt is made to reverse the existing order completely. The French Revolution, for example, tried to begin with the year "one." But quickly it had to moderate its revolutionary intentions under the pressure of tradition.

...Historical formation occurs in the battle between conservative and progressive cultural powers. Conservative power guards tradition, which binds the present to the past. In the power struggle the progressive will of the historical shaper ought to accommodate itself to the vital elements in tradition. The revolutionary trait of a progressive trend to establish a complete break with the past must therefore be molded by the norm of historical continuity if indeed a culture is not broken apart but rather unfolded through further historical development. We have pointed out that the norm of historical continuity itself is not decisive with regard to the search for a creationally based criterion which will enable us to distinguish between genuine progress in historical development and a disintegrated reactionary historical trend.

Tradition itself, however, is not a norm or standard for determining what one's attitude should be toward a power that calls itself "progressive." Tradition contains good and bad, and thus it is itself subject to the historical norm.

...But, as we saw earlier, the historical development that takes place in cultural life is subject not to natural laws but to norms, to the rules of what ought to be. These norms presuppose the human ability to make rational distinctions, and they are given by God as principles requiring concrete formation by those who possess historical power.

(Herman Dooyeweerd, "Roots of Western Culture" pp 72, 73, 74, 75)