In Canada and the United States, Labour Day is celebrated as the holiday of workers, to avoid the radical connotations of May Day. Nevertheless, in celebration of Labour Day, traditionalists should re-examine what may have been authentic and insightful in Marx’s ideas – most notably, the cherishing of the worker. What is perhaps the pre-eminent attitude in authentic, reflective traditionalism is the recognition of the dignity of labour.
At the same time, traditionalism – despite its unwarranted reputation for anti-intellectualism –– recognizes that the true thinker or artist, are also engaged in profound work and effort. Reflective persons often face the huge psychological burden of their erudition and knowledge about the world. Today, the traditionalist philosopher can see the prospects of an ever more dystopic future before humanity, against which any kind of counter-action often appears very difficult.
Some male traditionalist thinkers might perhaps like to submerge themselves in the bliss of “unconscious” living. Working at hard, but satisfying physical labour for a decent wage, having a faithful and unpretentious wife who will bear and help raise many children, and believing in religion without an often agonizing examination, may seem quite a blissful existence. However, the heightened consciousness of a traditionalist critic in regard to the surrounding society does not usually permit the enjoyment of simple pleasures, while the world around is crumbling.
The idealized life of the blue-collar worker also becomes less and less of a reality for anyone in society – as Canada and the United States are increasingly “de-industrializing” – and the re-educational projects of left-liberalism affect the most traditional families. Today, decent working people are not left alone by the state and its managerial-therapeutic impulses.
Persons who enjoy thinking and philosophizing would also, in most cases, probably wish to pursue a profession in areas such as the academy or high-level journalism, where they could manifestly use and be rewarded for their intellectual talents. For intelligent persons of traditionalist persuasion, academic, journalistic, or publishing success is frequently highly difficult in today’s social and political climate – no matter how diligent they are in their studies, and how smartly they frame their arguments. So, in many cases, to make a decent living, they have to fall back on some white-collar profession that is not as intimately linked to society, politics, and culture – for example, librarianship, translation, or engineering.
The reflective traditionalist is able to see the worth and dignity of all honest labour. Traditionalism largely identifies with both the petit-bourgeoisie and the proletariat – the broad working classes of society. It sees the haute-bourgeoisie today as mostly a managerial elite which has largely abandoned decency -– in the wake of what Christopher Lasch called “the revolt of the elites” (in his 1995 book of that title). Traditionalism also rejects what Marx had honestly termed the lumpenproletariat – which it sees as an unruly, disorderly element of society whose failure is largely the result of bad moral habits. Traditionalism is also inclined to boldly criticize most of the “official” academic, literary, and journalistic worlds as pseudo-intellectuals or as a pseudo-intelligentsia. Traditionalism also has a healthy disdain for most sports and Hollywood celebrities, appreciating the irony of multimillionaire rock-star or movie-actor “rebels.” It is most disdainful towards the archetypical “caviar socialists” and “limousine liberals” – who it sees as immensely powerful and privileged persons who have rarely done an honest day’s labour in their lives – and have in most cases manifestly benefited from holding all the politically correct opinions.
In the 19th century, the countervailing power of the labour movement was clearly needed to balance the power of an engorged capital. Throughout the 20th century, however, Western societies have gone through a series of almost continual, relentless, wrenching, social revolutions and transformations that have massively reconfigured the social terrain. The result of this is that the classic labour struggle now exists in a far different context. It is mostly seen today as part of a left-liberal coalition. Nevertheless, traditionalism would retain a slim hope for a partial disalignment of labour from this coalition.
Traditionalism cherishes the ethos of the hardworking, patriotic petit-bourgeoisie and proletariat, which it hopes to bring once again to the centre of society and politics, as the popular foundation for a new cultural and spiritual re-birth.
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto writer whose work has appeared in Canada, the United States, and Poland in publications such as Chronicles, The World and I, and Catholic Insight.