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Publisher's Summary

Sohrab Ahmari challenges the postmodern Western worldview by asking 12 timeless, fundamental questions about life - and reveals that true freedom and happiness is found in the wisdom of traditional thought.

We've pursued and achieved the modern dream of defining ourselves - but at what cost? The influential New York Post op-ed editor makes a compelling case for the modern person to seek the inherited traditions and ideals that give our lives meaning. 

As a young father and a self-proclaimed 'radically assimilated immigrant', opinion editor Sohrab Ahmari realised that when it comes to morals and principles he'd want his son to inherit, today's America comes up short. For millennia, the world's great moral and religious traditions taught that true happiness lies in pursuing virtue - and accepting limits. But now, free from these stubborn traditions, we all exercise some degree of liberty to live the way we think is most optimal - or, more often than not, merely the easiest. All that remains are the fickle desires that a wealthy, technologically advanced society is equipped to fulfil. 

In response to this crisis, Ahmari offers 12 questions for us to grapple with - 12 timeless, fundamental queries that challenge our modern certainties. Among them: is God reasonable? What is freedom? What do we owe our parents, our bodies, each other? Drawing on historical and contemporary figures from Saint Augustine to Howard Thurman to Abraham Joshua Heschel, he invites us to consider the hidden beliefs that drive our behaviour, and in so doing, recapture a more human way of living in a world that has lost its way.

©2021 Sohrab Ahmari (P)2021 Penguin Audio

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  • Magda
  • 19-06-2021

Revelatory

Listening to Sohrab Ahmari make the case for tradition has been revelatory. This book was a persuasive and informative rebuttal to the secular materialism that has dominated most of my life.
Part intellectual and spiritual autobiography, part theological and sociological exploration of the multiple voids in our individual and shared existences, every chapter dissects an unanswered or indeed ignored problem in our modern worldview, from the abolition of rest which follows the abolition of God, to the universal human need for ritual, which is so poorly substituted by corporate wellness culture. Each chapter then introduces a wise or moral character from Franciscan martyrs to Communist anthropologists, inviting us to see how they answered those same problems in their life's work ​through the light of tradition.

Ahmari's goal can be summed up thusly: to explain to a materially comfortable, liberal, seemingly well educated and apparently rational modern mind why they need tradition with all its prohibitions, pain and paradoxes, not as an optional character quirk, but as the essential, guiding, liberating, beating heart of their life. He succeeds in this for four reasons that I can see:

1. Phenomenal breadth. He is able to weave strands of thought from seemingly unrelated disciplines and figures to make a cohesive and beautiful tapestry of an argument.
2. Masterful storytelling. Even characters you thought you were familiar with will be cast in a new light, and a new side to them will be revealed. Characters you had never heard of have something so fresh to say through Ahmari that you will be amazed at your  prior ignorance of them. Rabbi Heschel - wow what a guy!
3. Humility  and compassion in his argument. He is not shrill and does not ridicule or caricature the prevailing worldview (or us its victims), but playfully lets it unravel itself and reveal its own hollowness, before proposing a radically wise alternative and gently revealing how it works through parable, history, exegesis and experience. That this is written as an apologia to his son, for whom he is seeking what is truly and eternally good, somehow separates it from the culture war even though it addresses so many of the crucial topics of our conflicted age.
4. He is, once you put it all together, actually right. We need tradition, and if we kid ourselves into rejecting it we will only replace it with less fulfilling, less fruitful, ultimately hopeless imitations. Modernity is a never ending series of dark rabbit holes, which at best lead to nowhere or at worst lead to destruction. Tradition on the other hand provides a delicate but enduring stairway, promising the profound, if only we are willing to look up from the dirt and start climbing.

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