Sohrab Ahmari’s Case for Tradition

Sohrab Ahmari’s Case for Tradition
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Sohrab Ahmari is undoubtedly right that we live in “an age of chaos” that desperately needs to recover—or, perhaps for the majority of our contemporaries, to “discover” for the first time—what he calls “the wisdom of tradition.” His new book, The Unbroken Threadis a most welcome invitation to take both wisdom and tradition seriously again, to see in tradition an indispensable vehicle for conveying and sustaining wisdom about the things that truly matter. In that regard, Ahmari’s very fine book is profoundly countercultural.

It is not a flawless book. Sometimes the argument leans too far toward mere traditionalism, thereby risking the subordination of wisdom to a somewhat romanticized account of tradition. Still, its fundamental claim is both unobjectionable and liberating:

the very modes of life and thinking that strike most people in the West as antiquated or “limiting” can liberate us, while the Western dream of autonomy and choice without limits, is, in fact, a prison; . . . the quest to define ourselves on our own is a kind of El Dorado, driving to madness the many who seek after it; . . . for our best, highest selves to soar, other parts of us must be tied down, enclosed, limited, bound.

Ahmari’s book entails, above all, a thoughtful and eloquent plea for humanizing limits. In making his case, he assumes “the role of the critic, the interrogator of modern certainties.” He thus combines an essentially interrogative approach with a deep intuition that “our contemporary philosophy might be wrong in crucial respects—that we may have too hastily thrown away the insights of traditional thought and too eagerly encouraged the desire for total human mastery.” In this respect, despite some missteps along the way, Ahmari’s argument succeeds brilliantly.

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