Letter from the Editor: Tradition and Progress

Time moves societies forward relentlessly. In a way, progress is inevitable. Things will always change, but it is up to a society to ensure that the changes are for the better. Social progress, then, is a function of whether the institutions of a given society promote the good. It is a constant balance between universal human principles and their actualization in particular circumstances. These two poles are the foundations for progress and the starting point for legitimate human traditions.

Progress, however, becomes a cancer in society when it rejects either one. It becomes either relativism or idealism. We can see this in the development of architecture in the 20th Century. The so-called “international style” was intended as a return to “pure” architecture without the accretive distractions of cultural decoration. On the other hand, you had expressionism which rejected clear principles in favor of artistic license. Both were seen as progress, but in fact, both were set-backs in the development of truly culturally appropriate and significant architecture.

The Gherkin is a symbol of the City of London, but it did not spring from a tradition attached to London. It would be just as at home in any other city in the world. The Empire State Building is also an urban symbol, but it has a particular place in the development of New York City architecture that makes it most appropriate in the context of that city.

Customs, however, need constant refinement so they do not, because of fallen humanity, move toward vice. A tradition is not valuable just because it is a custom; not all customs are humane. All cultures need to examine their traditions to ensure they are not acting against universal principles.If they do not, tradition becomes just as destructive as unmoored progress.

Every movement of human progress needs to be grounded in a particular tradition so that it remains associated with the realities of human need. When an initiative is proposed that seeks to diminish the importance of the customs of the people for which it is proposed, it becomes an imposition of values foreign to that people. Instead, universal principles should be discovered and brought forth from legitimate custom so that true progress is possible.

The questions then remain, what are these principles by which tradition and progress are judged and how are they to be actualized? Peregrine Magazine hopes to be a part of clarifying the answer.

Nathaniel Gotcher, Editor-in-Chief

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