If we define tradition too hastily we leave to one side the question of what the relevance of tradition is for us. Here the concept of tradition is opened up by considering the different views of it taken by Hannah Arendt, Michael Oakeshott and Alasdair MacIntyre. We see that each has put tradition into a fully developed picture of what our predicament is in modernity; and that each has differed in their assessment of what our relation to tradition is or should be. Arendt sees tradition as something which no longer conditions action, Oakeshott sees tradition as something which conditions all action, and MacIntyre sees tradition as something which should condition right action. In each case, the view of tradition is clearly one element in an attempt to see how the most important constituent elements of human existence – variously called the human condition, human conduct, or human virtue – should be understood in a modernity which is ours because it has put the traditional concept of tradition into question.
OakeshottOn Human Conduct (Oxford: Clarendon Press1975) 105. Oakeshott here distinguishes a (third person) “story” from a (first person) “myth” which is closer to what Arendt and MacIntyre suppose a story to be.
Arendt“What is Authority?” in Between Past and Future132–5. Compare Simone Weil Intimations of Christianity Among the Ancient Greeks trans. Elisabeth Chase Giessbuhler (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1957).
Michael Oakeshott“On Misunderstanding Human Conduct”Political Theory4 (1976): 364. The only time he mentions “tradition” in On Human Conduct is in the form “traditio” when he writes about religion. See 81.