What would you call the belief that the present is a bad time and the past is the example of how it should be? Not that the past was a perfect or even necessarily good age, but that the present is much worse.

Suppose that you were given the chance to go back to any given era. Some people would choose to do so because that era is the lesser of two evils. These people might be described as ____s, ____ist or ____ish, and their social trend might be described as ____ism.

Amish people might be a good example, but too specific to be a satisfactory answer. ____s might not all have rules they're socially expected to follow or live in communities of the like-minded. They might not even agree on which point in time in the past was better. In fact, there is no official ____ism movement. This word simply describes people who constantly grumble about this particular topic.

I found a related question, but it asks for an individual, and the most upvoted answer, "nostalgic," doesn't quite fit the bill. I think of nostalgia as fond remembrance rather than discontent with the present. However, if there is some way to qualify the word nostalgia so that it could be understood to mean a cynical view of the present as compared to the past, that might be acceptable.

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    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 0:54

13 Answers 13


There have been numerous "traditionalist" movements with the word meaning different thing at different times, making the word less helpful because of it's association with specific movements.

ALSO> I don't think the word works today because it sounds too "normal" and any word that has less than a clearly pejorative ring to it won't be acceptable to those that don't want to normalize dangerous ways of thinking.

... that being said, what you refer to is close to:

traditionalist, traditionalism


noun tra·di·tion·al·ism \trə-ˈdish-nə-ˌli-zəm, -ˈdi-shə-nəl-ˌi-\

1 : adherence to the doctrines or practices of a tradition

2 : the beliefs of those opposed to modernism, liberalism, or radicalism

Below is a discussion at Wikipedia of one period roughly categorized as Traditionalist Conservatism

Traditionalist Conservatism, also known as Traditional Conservatism, Traditionalism, Classical Conservatism and (in the United Kingdom and Canada) Toryism, is a political philosophy emphasizing the need for the principles of natural law and transcendent moral order, tradition, hierarchy and organic unity, agrarianism, classicism and high culture, and the intersecting spheres of loyalty.1 Some traditionalists have embraced the labels "reactionary" and "counterrevolutionary", defying the stigma that has attached to these terms since the Enlightenment.

Traditionalism developed throughout the 18th-century Europe (particularly in response to the disorder of the English Civil War and the radicalism of the French Revolution). In the middle of the 20th century it started to organize itself in earnest as an intellectual and political force. This more modern expression of traditionalist conservatism began among a group of U.S. university professors (labeled the "New Conservatives" by the popular press) who rejected the notions of individualism, liberalism, egalitarianism, modernity, and social progress, promoted cultural and educational renewal,2 and revived interest in the Church, the family, the state, local community, etc.

  • 3
    Op-ed aside, this is the correct answer.
    – Adam Wykes
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 7:29

One of the definition of Nostalgia according to Merriam Webster is

a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition; also : something that evokes nostalgia

and for Escapism is

habitual diversion of the mind to purely imaginative activity or entertainment as an escape from reality or routine

So maybe combine the two into Nostalgic escapist

  • 2
    @Cascabel - is this cynical enough? Pro-Nazi nostalgia....euractiv.com/section/elections/news/…
    – user66974
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 19:05
  • 1
    If Native Americans yearned for a continent free of Europeans where they could live spiritually rich(by their connection to the seasons, herd migrations and other things shaping their life experience) yet materially destitute by modern standards, it would be dismissive to imply that they were "excessively sentimental" or "escapist".
    – Tom22
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 23:32
  • 3
    I'd like to temper my comment above acknowledging that the majority of people espousing a preference for the past over the present DO suffer from nostalgia. I just think that nostalgia and escapism are words for how reason can be obscured, not for the espoused preference. I think it's dangerous to lump an assessment of mental state and disapproval of conclusions as synonymous with a stance.
    – Tom22
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 4:48
  • 2
    First word that came to mind was Nostalgic, precisely. +1 Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 10:54
  • Perhaps anachronist, from wiktionary:

    A person who has anachronistic views or habits

    (where anachronistic is "Having opinions from the past; preferring things or values of the past")

  • I've also thought halcyon, particularly in the usage "halcyon days" (also from wiktionary):

    A period of calm, often nostalgic

    I've never heard it used this way, but I could see a word such as halcyonist matching what you would want.

  • You may also consider revisionist, where wiktionary defines revisionism as:

    the advocacy of a revision of some accepted theory, doctrine or a view of historical events

  • 2
    would upvote anachronist, but revisionist is the exact opposite, almost, of what is wanted here.
    – Adam Wykes
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 6:29
  • I guess that's what I get for giving three answers in one. For what it's worth, I thought revisionist qualified because of OPs request for "cynical view of the present compared to the past" and Tom22's comment on the question about how the past wasn't really good. Someone who is cynical about their current time but nostalgic for a previous one are likely "looking back through rose colored glasses". It's revisionist compared to the way they themselves currently view the world. Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 6:37
  • That's why I say it's almost, but not quite, the exact opposite. The main problem with the term is that it provides no inherent direction - do we intend to revise to an earlier draft, or do we intend to revise to a completely new draft? And while you CAN use it in the former sense, most native speakers do not use revision to mean a return to prior states; that more specific sense is reserved for words like return, undo, and retract.
    – Adam Wykes
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 7:15
  • I had just been rationalizing the word "halcyonist" to myself with the excuse that every intellectual movement I can think of was named with a word that was created for that movement, that hadn't previously existed. Having opened that door, that leaves room for retractionist. :-) Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 7:55
  • There's a word floating around I've seen, which is "rusticarian" - I quite like it for this purpose, but it's not quite popular enough yet...
    – Adam Wykes
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 8:02

Sentimental (sentimentalist, sentimentalism, sentimentality)

Prone to nostalgia. It has all the forms you asked for. It normally implies strong emotional ties more than objective judgments.

1a : marked or governed by feeling, sensibility, or emotional idealism

"Sentimental." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 9 Jan. 2017.

Sentimentality originally indicated the reliance on feelings as a guide to truth, but current usage defines it as an appeal to shallow, uncomplicated emotions at the expense of reason.[1]

The quote is from The Continuum Encyclopedia of American Literature, Serafin and Bendixen, p. 1014, according to Wikipedia:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sentimentality

  • My reading of the OP question was the were looking specifically for a word that looked at the past with clear acknowledgement of it's faults. ~ "Not that the past was a perfect or even necessarily good age" ~
    – Tom22
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 23:38

You didn't specify whether you were looking for a neutral word or one with a negative connotation.

A person who opposes technological advancement for any of a number of reasons may be called a Luddite. This is a word with a fairly strong negative connotation, as you might guess from the movement it takes its name from.

A rarer but more neutral word with the same emphasis on technology is technoskeptic.

Neither word conveys the idea of a person who believes that society or things in general are getting worse; they focus on the effects of modern technology.


There is French word with similar meaning, and it's making its way into British English - you can find it in Oxford Dictionaries online

passéism (also passéisme) NOUN

A deprecated adherence to and regard for the traditions and values of the past, especially in the arts. Chiefly opposed to futurism.

So someone who is fond of the past can be called passéist.


Conservative -- Oxford Dictionary.

Averse to change or innovation and holding traditional values.

Is one of the few that's not been mentioned, although it's been alluded to by @Tom22.


There's a trope When I Was Your Age on TV Tropes

This is a Stock Phrase speech by any character denigrating modern kids, modern conveniences, modern behavior, modern anything, against the standards of the speaker's past. It doesn't matter how many conveniences or benefits are available now; the speaker of the When I Was Your Age rant will not waver in his view that They Changed It, Now It Sucks.

  • 1
    The problem with your trope is it doesn't fit the blanks in the OP's examples unless you savagely hyphenate it.
    – Jacinto
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 19:20
  • @Jacinto Yeah. That is an issue.
    – NVZ
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 19:21

hark back to sth.
If someone harks back to something in the past, they talk about it again and again, often in a way that annoys other people: He's always harking back to his childhood and saying how things were better then.

So trying to squeeze this into OP's phrases:

These people might be described as harking back to the past, and their social trend might be described as harking back to the past.

  • Clarification, in case it's helpful: "sth" here is a contraction of "something".
    – keshlam
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 4:50

Anxiety. A guy named Trace Adkins wrote a song about it called You're Gonna Miss This.


Perhaps you have in mind the belief in a Golden Age. — Wikipedia

A golden age is a period in a field of endeavor when great tasks were accomplished. The term originated from early Greek and Roman poets, who used it to refer to a time when mankind lived in a better time and was pure.



Meaning of this word as given in urbandictionary.com

One who greatly loves artifacts and aesthetics from the past. Typically associated with hipsters, whose attire often hearken back to past decades, retrophilia often goes hand and hand with a general distaste for modern culture.

  • The Urban Dictionary, alas, includes a fair number of definitions invented for the sole purpose of being included in the Urban Dictionary.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 4:52

I like the word atavistic to define a person who, either in a positive or negative way, reverts to primitive behaviors. It is originally, as far as I know, a term from biology, referring to the recurrence of a previously absent trait. I am not sure I'd sanction the term to say person had atavistic dreams, but why not? English is a wonderfully adaptive language.

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