Tradition and modernization: is it possible to intercross the object fields of these concepts?

Aleksandr Shchipkov, Moscow, 2015

Nowadays, a clear definition of criteria and markers of such a concept like "tradition" is required from a conservative thought. This, in turn, requires the parameterization of the social and cultural balance – the balance of stabilization processes (tradition field) and evolution (innovation field). It is one of the most significant theoretical problems in the modern world.

The representatives of the modern tradition theory emphasize "there is a need to define the unity and the degree of contradictive interactions between tradition and innovation. Such a degree can be too high or too low and, as a result, one of the parties can become dominant. In this case, the conservation of tradition and turning it into a specimen in a museum or the intrusion of a strange experience unacceptable for a certain ethnocultural community take place. In both cases, the destruction of "live" traditions and the loss of experiential continuity occur."[1]

By being a part of genuine conservatism, traditional culture cannot be destroyed. It can be modified and preserved in the updated form.

One of the most popular memes recently spread in the mass consciousness is the meme of "modernization". This word originally belongs to a narrow, rather technological, context. However, its performance in the sphere of political rhetoric makes it easy to notice the attempts of numerous authors to expand this concept and turn it into an ideologeme, and even a kind of slogan.

There is a significant difference between modernization as a scientifically-based and socially-based concept and modernization as an ideologeme. Modernization as a technological breakthrough and social engineering is one thing. Belief in modernization as a technocratic cult imposed on society in order to avoid solving real and pressing problems is another thing. Technically, the question of modernization is urgent today like never before. However, it has a much more narrow and specific framework than that of "modernization" ideologemes. The question is the global trend outlined in the last two years and associated with the reindustrialization of the advanced countries of the world.

According to analysts from Expert Journals, "the first flag of reindustrialization was hoisted by the U.S.A. They are followed by Europe and the rest of the world. It is not just a renewal of manufacturing industry within the specific territory: the world has joined a new race called "Industrial Revolution 4.0", the main technological drivers of which are digital and additive technology and robototronics penetrating into traditional industries and radically changing their profile."[2] [15, p. 44] Currently, Russia is also going to "join the reindustrialization, come into a new technological mode and develop a diversified defense industry complex competitive on civilian markets."

Such is the objective reality. The reality of political technology is quite a different story.

In the latter case, the slogan of modernization is overtly or covertly opposed to the concept of tradition, both ideologically and stylistically. This contrastness is absolutely incorrect. It bears reminding that the concepts of stability and sustainable development were once ideologically played upon in a similar way. It must be noted that the use of such terms in serious political discussions nullifies their useful result.

The twisting of "modernization" into an ideologeme generates a modern equivalent of a primitive cult, where a word does not indicate a phenomenon or event. Instead, a word becomes a sacred concept, which shelters the present reality and justifies any policy. Understood in this way, "modernization" serves as a "mystical" explanation for such unpleasant things as the attack on family values, the fight against the Orthodox Church, the defeat of fundamental science and education. In the latter case we are dealing with a return to the concept of "skills instead of knowledge", which seriously damaged the education in the Soviet Union of the 1920's. Today it is praised to high heaven again.

The word "modernization" is increasingly becoming a fetish just like the word "revolution" in the Soviet period. In this regard, there was a sad joke among American physicists in the days of the Cold War: "There is no god except Progress, and Henry Ford is his prophet". However, a modern Scientist cult is not amusing any more: the belief in Progress is increasingly replacing the real progress. Just like the belief in a "world revolution" is substituted for a real revolutionary restructuring of society.

The concept of "modernization without tradition" is speculative; it does not give an incentive for development. An endless juggling with such terms as "innovations", "technological parks" and "intellectual centers" only emphasizes the verbal propagandistic nature of this idea closely related to the political and economic doctrine of neoliberalism. The more popular the cult of modernization in Russia becomes, the less likely is the modernization itself. In fact, nothing is modernized. How can anything be modernized when the Academy of Sciences is suppressed, when the unified state exam is used as a test method of knowledge checks or when education must be paid for? As a result, the degradation of the economic, scientific, and social sphere is obvious. However, the inhabitants believe in "modernization" as if it were the advent of the Messiah. Moreover, in the 1990's, they believed in the omnipotence of the "invisible hand of the market". Everything is declared void and is sacrificed on the altar of the main idea: tradition, belief, morality and modernization itself – real modernization without quotes and mystic aureola.

This trend is almost universal. In Russia, the process is going faster than anywhere else in the Western world. The pension system and the health care service go under the knife of imaginary modernization; institutions merge with each other ("optimize"); education and medical treatment become commercial (fee-based). Social segregation, as well as initially unequal access to social benefits and institutions are cultivated instead of the usual property stratification allowed within reasonable limits. Thus, a new stratification is approved in the "modernized" society, and it becomes clear what political trend is served by the described ideology. There are a lot of countries experiencing the unsolved problem of mass literacy. Russia is at risk of breaking its longtime achievements and solving the problem of literacy again.

Today, the Church is also pushed to pseudo-modernization. It is forced to accept the secular concordat and split the churchgoers in social groups. This is a dangerous trend. The attacks on the Church and the Orthodoxy, historically inherent in Russia, actually mean the attacks on traditionalism as such. Even atheistic traditionalists experience this pressure.[3]

They are trying to convince the society that tradition is something stagnant and stand pat, that it imbodies the everlasting fear of change. It is an extremely unfair view.

Modern traditiology confirms "the position opposing tradition against innovation, as well as globalizing society against traditional society, is obsolete. Its supporters often lose sight of such phenomenon as modification of traditions ...l" and "tradition has potential for variability and adaptation."[4]

Tradition is constantly on the move. However, it develops on the basis of internal intellectual resources rather than under the external guidance. That is why the national modernization paths of different societies may overlap, but never assume deliberate imitation. Imitation makes modernization impossible.

The solid basis of tradition is at the heart of genuine modernization. The desire to break the obvious dialectical connections between the concepts is a sign of intellectual irresponsibility. A genuine yet not slogan-like modernization is possible only on the basis of tradition.

It is a known fact that Protestantism plays a great organizing role in the self-consciousness of American society – both of the general population, and the political elites. Even statements by U.S. presidents allude to this impact, including exaggerated remarks on the "Divine Plan" (George W. Bush) or the concept of Manifest Destiny for the United States. All this, despite the crisis in the global economy, supports social, political, scientific and technological progress of the United States.

Genuine modernization (not a journalistic one) is a part of tradition, a part of historical continuation mechanism, and not a denial of them. In addition to the contractual relations, a sustainable and stable society supports the mechanism of tradition (i.e. deliberate (rather than spontaneous) historical continuation of collective experience). Such a society differs in a special type of human relations. These relations are similar to relations between distant relatives and constitute the level of social relations behind family and kinship.

If a society is focused on a living and dynamic tradition, it excludes stiff patriarchality, short-term benefits and narrow sectional interests, as well as inextinguishable utopianism in the choice of its future. Such a society can precisely be called a "large social organism". A large society needs loyalty to national values and cultural symbols, political will in decision-making, historical flair and strategic thinking in the choice of the future.

To prove this thesis, let us give a "reverse" example. Communist industrialization in the USSR was conducted without regard to tradition. One of the social groups, the peasantry, was sacrificed to it within an ugly phenomenon of collectivization. This is a typical example of modernization without regard to tradition. That is why the Soviet industrialization was so fragile and the elements of a social welfare state were only a temporary achievement. This achievement was easily dismantled in the 1990's due to the incompetent economic policy destructive for the whole country. The neglect of tradition also had a poisonous influence on culture. When the Soviet project ceased, people with an obliterated identity took up a considerable part of the Russian society.

The secret of genuine traditionalism is that the "assemblage point" of tradition is never located in the same place. It travels along with the accumulation of social experience and the formation of social practices. Some of our opponents would like to consider tradition as a monument to itself, but this does not reflect the actual situation.

Tradition is always on the move.

However, everything of value that has been accumulated remains at the disposal of a society. Even in the event of a social paradigm shift, the past experience is not rejected: it gets a new place and a new role in a new social environment. Everything new is important, everything old is necessary. This principle should be called the principle of multilevel development. In the past, it was more typical for cultural practices than for social and political institutions. The challenge is to make this principle universal at the earliest opportunity.

Moral values (in this case: Christian values) remain unchanged. They fix the frame of tradition and prevent it from crumbling and falling apart. The boundary between the tradition field and the field of relativistic consciousness is easily visible today. It is easily distinguishable despite attempts by postmodern intellectuals to hide this boundary behind the effects of quasi-scientific rhetoric, doubtful sociological researches and cultural racist doctrines such as Fukuyama's The End of History.

For the normal development of society, the "assemblage point" of tradition must be sought and found in every period, in every cultural phenomenon, and in every historical situation.


[1] S.А. Madukova, U.V. Popkov. Socio-cultural Phenomenon of Neotraditionalism / S.А. Madukova, U.V. Popkov; under the editorship of Е.A. Tiugashev. – St. Petersburg: Aletheia, 2014. – 132 p.

[2] D. Medovnikov, A. Mekhanik. Production Forces, Wakey! / D. Medovnikov, A. Mekhanik. – "Expert". – 2014. – № 27.

[3] S. Chernyakhovskiy. Tradition, Modern and Supermodern / S. Chernyakhovskiy // Crisis. Collection of Articles on the Reasonableness of Tradition. – Moscow: Probel-2000, 2013.

[4] S.А. Madukova, U.V. Popkov. Socio-cultural Phenomenon of Neotraditionalism / S.А. Madukova, U.V. Popkov; under the editorship of Е.A. Tiugashev. – St. Petersburg: Aletheia, 2014. – 132 p.