When Does Tradition Become Tyranny? (Isaac Morehouse)

To harmonise the creative and exploratory virtues of unbounded liberty with the wisdom and resilience of tradition is the task of every great libertarian thinker. In his essay Beyond Conservatism: Reclaiming the Radical Roots of Libertarianism, Keith Preston offers some sobering thoughts on the subject:

“There are numerous areas of life where people live by habit and custom, where the custom can neither be called moral or immoral, and where pursuit of custom eases the tensions of social life and makes for a more comfortable and harmonious society. It would be a false and perverted rationalism to say that any custom which cannot be proven on some other ground to be “rational” must go by the board. We can then conclude as follows: (a) that custom must be voluntarily upheld and not enforced by coercion; and (b) that people would be well advised (although not forced) to begin with a presumption in favor of custom, other things being equal.

In a world, for example, where every man takes off his hat in the presence of ladies, an individual should be free not to do so, but at the risk of being generally judged a boor. If, on the other hand, this person’s constitution is such that he would be likely to suffer a bad cold by exposing his pate, then we have here a higher moral consideration overriding the social harmonies of custom…”

Similar sentiments have been shared by Isaac Morehouse, writer at Everything Voluntary, in an article titled ‘When Does Tradition Become Tyranny?’ I would encourage interested readers to explore the whole Everything Voluntary website, it’s a gold mine for sound thoughts on libertarianism, voluntaryism, property, free markets, free speech, free thought and other voluntary ventures.

“Traditions emerge for a reason.  Society is impossible without them.  Traditions provide lenses, rules, norms, and expectations that help make sense of the world, harmonize competing aims and interests, provide stability, and enable long-term planning.

But tradition can be tyrannical.  Traditions can oppress, restrict, stagnate, and destroy individuals and society…”

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