Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Guénon and Abd al-Halim Mahmud

One of those who knew Guénon in Cairo was Abd al-Halim Mahmud (1910-78), who from 1973 until his death was Shaykh al-Azhar, the senior position in Egypt's official Islamic hierarchy. Abd al-Halim did a PhD in Paris, spoke French, and became friends with a number of French intellectuals in Cairo.

The nature of the relationship between Guénon and Abd al-Halim has been discussed before, and is discussed again in a new book on Abd al-Halim and the media by Hatsuki Aishima, Public Culture and Islam in Modern Egypt: Media, Intellectuals and Society (London: I. B. Tauris, 2016). Aishima disagrees with the view of Abd al-Halim as the intellectual follower of Guénon, pointing out that Abd al-Halim was a public intellectual with an agenda of his own, and referred to Guénon to support that agenda--the critique of Western modernity, and the promotion of the role that Sufism could play in modern Egypt.

Abd al-Halim's agenda was certainly compatible with Guénon's, as Aishima's book shows, but far from identical.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

New book on Eurasianism

Charles Clover, a former Russia correspondent for the Financial Times, has just published an excellent new book on Eurasianism and Alexander Dugin with Yale University Press.

Black Wind, White Snow: The Rise of Russia's New Nationalism covers much the same ground that Marlène Laruelle did in Russian Eurasianism: An Ideology of Empire (2012), and that I covered rather more briefly in Against the Modern World (expanded for the Russian translation), but with the benefit of new sources and perspectives. As one might expect of a book by an FT journalist Black Wind, White Snow is very nicely written, and as one might expect of a Yale publication, it is solidly sourced and grounded.

Clover recognises the importance of Traditionalism for Dugin's earlier years, and then emphasises Alain de Benoist as well as Lev Gumilev. In one sense, from the perspective of Eurasianism, this is quite right: Guénon never developed views on Russia or geopolitics. But Traditionalism is not irrelevant. The basic framework of tradition and modernity, East and West, gives Dugin's work much of its power.

Reviews have generally welcomed the book, but some have warned against over-estimating the importance of ideology. Vadim Nikitin, writing in The Nation, emphasises the importance of external factors, notably the policies of the United States, in determining Russian policy. The Economist suggests that "Eurasianism is probably best understood as a reaction to trauma." "Russian politicians," warns Geoffrey Hosking in the FT, "usually adopt ideologies not because they believe in them but because they are useful at certain stages of their careers." Put less cynically, it is certainly true that in order to succeed, any ideology needs to address the concerns and circumstances of the time and place. This is something that Dugin's Eurasianism evidently does.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Against the Modern World in Turkish

Against the Modern World is now available in Turkish translation, from Hece in Ankara. Hece is a mainstream Turkish publisher, with an established interest in Traditionalism.

I am glad that the book can now contribute to the Turkish debate, but I'm not entirely sure about the cover, which shows a boot crushing a butterfly. I suppose the boot represents modernity, but what is the butterfly?

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Western Mysticism, Esotericism, and Traditionalism

Cambridge University Press has just published The Cambridge Handbook of Western Mysticism and Esotericism, edited by Glenn Alexander Magee. This allows an interesting view of Traditionalism in its widest possible context. The Handbook is unusual for putting mysticism and esotericism together but, as Magee argues, "the roots of esotericism almost always lead back to mystical traditions, while the work of mystics was bound up with esoteric or occult preoccupations."

The Handbook is organized chronologically, starting with Antiquity, moving through the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and Early Modernity, and ending in the Nineteenth Century and Beyond. Traditionalism (Mark Sedgwick, “René Guénon and Traditionalism) is one of ten chapters in this last section, along with Blavatsky and Gurdjieff and C. G. Jung. Then there is a final section on seven "Common Threads," which include alchemy and gnosis, but not perennialism. I suppose there had to be some limit to the number of common threads.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Dugin, Evola and Heidegger

René Guénon and Julius Evola played important roles in the early intellectual development of Russia's Alexander Dugin, and Dugin still refers approvingly to the Traditionalist critique of modernity. In recent years, however, Martin Heidegger has become increasingly important to him. Dugin gave Heidegger in 2009 as "the most profound-ontological-foundation" for his "Fourth Political Theory," and published an entire book on Heidegger, Мартин Хайдеггер: философия другого начала (Martin Heidegger: The Philosophy of Another Beginning) in 2010. This book is now available in English translation (Radix, $28), with a preface by the American Paleoconservative Paul E. Gottfried.

The question of the relationship between Heidegger and Traditionalism has been raised before in this blog, in response to an article on the topic by John J. Reilly. An anonymous comment pointed out that Heidegger was anti-metaphysical, and so fundamentally at odds with Traditionalism. Much this point was accepted by Thomas Vašek in a recent article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in the context of a discussion of the implications of Vašek's discovery that Heidegger had copied into his notebooks a long passage from the 1935 German translation of Evola's Revolt Against the Modern World. Vašek points out that Evola and Heidegger both understood and condemned modernity as the "reign of quantity." He accepts that Heidegger had no interest in what he calls "mythical high culture" (i.e. Tradition), but thinks that for Evola "mythical high culture... served only as a place-holder for the lost relation to transcendence, to true Being (Sein)." I am not convinced: I think mythical high culture was a lot more than a place-holder for Evola. What is not clear to me is how important "mythical high culture" now is for Dugin.

My thanks to J.W. for bringing Dugin's new book to my attention.