Before we begin, I should note that I have not read Sohrab Ahmari’s new book The Unbroken Thread: Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos, so do not view this article as some kind of “review” of his book. I will say that I remember reading a different review of Ahmari’s book — one I was unable to re-find, sadly — which made the point that “nothing he says is new, it’s just putting traditional thought in modern situations.”
Of course, Sohrab Ahmari’s best friend in the whole wide world is Josh Hammer, who is an advocate for abolishing stare decisis — Latin for “to stand by things decided,” and in practice nothing more than legal precedent — in the case of law. This is especially ironic when you realize that the Supreme Court, which Hammer constantly criticizes the “supremacy” of, is the closest thing to a council of village elders that exist in modern society. (Ancient wisdom of thee but not for me.)
However, there’s another group of people who are obsessed with ancient thought, I would argue they’re even more certain of its wisdom than Ahmari is — and they are called fans of Ancient Aliens. Seriously, watch Ancient Aliens or any other show of its like, you will see constant talk of what the ancients wrote them and what they meant, as if them writing it down automatically makes them correct.
Ironically, nobody is more obsessed with the past — specifically in the form of ancient civilizations — than the people who believe in what we call “new age.” Starting in the 1980s, a number of new-age believers became convinced the world was going to end on 12/21/2012 due to a prediction made by the Mayans. Mind you, the Mayans made no such prediction (also, I love the implication that every single Mayan came together specifically to predict when the world was going to end)— but even if they did, so what? Why would that prediction be any more valid than Pat Robertson’s 1978 and 1980 prediction that the world would end in 1982? Why would that prediction be any more valid than Edgar Whisenant’s prediction that the world would end in 1988? Why would that prediction be any more valid than William Miller’s prediction that the world would end either in 1843 or 1844? Why would that prediction be any more valid than Henry Adams’s prediction that the world would end in 1950?
However, at least the new-ager takes his commitment to the past seriously. He uses the science of those who came before him along with the philosophy. Meanwhile, I highly doubt Ahmari has any interest in using the science of Aristotle despite the fact he firmly believes in the philosophy of Aristotle.
Of course, science and philosophy are two different fields — but people like Ahmari do not like that. Ahmari opened The Unbroken Thread by talking about how we as a society base what we believe in too much on empiricism and science and not enough on philosophy. It makes sense someone like Ahmari would want us to value a field where nothing can be proven wrong above all else — therefore turning reality into nothing more than a series of opinions that can not be proven right or wrong. What Ahmari dreams of is a world of factual relativism, a world where what is correct and incorrect is determined by opinions and nothing more. Only then will people like Ahmari truly be able to get the power they feel they deserve.
Mind you, none of what I typed above is to say that their isn’t wisdom in the past, their century is. However, that does not mean that everyone in “the past” was wise nor does it mean that everything the start men believed were correct. Up until just a couple hundred years-ago, humans believed they were the center of the universe and the sun revolved around them. We acknowledge that, in the realm of science, those before us made some serious mistakes, and yet we’re also supposed to believe that they had a complete understanding of the metaphysical world according to Ahmari.
Of course, this would also involve the need for a complete separation of the physical and metaphysical worlds — which is utterly nonsensical. Just as its nonsensical to assume that anyone, no matter how wise, would be able to guess the truths about the universe on their first try. But once again, that’s what we’re supposed to believe if we want to take this “ancient thought” crowd seriously.
Once again, none of this is to say that their is no wisdom in those who came before us, that view is also ridiculous. However, it is the same species that came up with those ancient thoughts which Ahmari thinks is currently running society into the ground. Just as humans today can be wrong, the humans of thousands of years ago can also be wrong — in fact, given they had less data to work off us, they’re much more likely to be wrong on a given issue than we are.
However, we are told not to think about any of that and instead to just mindlessly follow tradition. Never question it, never criticize it, just follow it no matter what it demands of you. Of course, if a tradition is really worth its salt it should be able to defend itself against the attacks of even the most strident critic — but civilization is fragile, so you aren’t meant to do anything other than shut up, or else you’re a neoliberal.
I understand that this article has been rather long and rambling, but Classical Conservatism is such a con-game in so many ways that its near impossible to go over most of them without sounding like I did above. However, I want to end with a little story from my native universe, video games.
When Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 was first released, a number of Sonic fans were mad that Sega gave Sonic his green eyes — which he had from Sonic Adventure onward — as opposed to his classic black eyes. The most infamous of these fans was a fellow named AKnotholeResident, who posted a seven minute rant onto YouTube complaining about how Sega betrayed its classic fanbase through this choice.
Of course, Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 later came out and, while it was criticized for many reasons, the eyes of the blue hedgehog you play off were not what was on everyone’s mind. Sohrab Ahmari is the political equivalent to what AKnotholeResident was all those years ago. Someone who is scared of the smallest of changes and who begs that we stick to what is considered “classic” regardless of how little it actually matters. I highly believe Ahmari will down in history next to AKnotholeResident — who has since apologized for his childish attitudes, might I add — as someone who was so afraid of change he let it blind him to the world around him.