Sunday, January 07, 2007

Traditionalism and Fascism

The post on Nasr and the Shah has generated a certain amount of discussion (not all of it on topic, but still). Abdul-Halim V. wrote:
somehow Perennialism/Traditionalism seems to be associated to elitist and Fascist tendancies. Is that an accident? Are there thinkers out there who are serious thoughtful Perennialists but who are also progressive and democratic?

There are "progressive" perennialists, but I have not heard of many "progressive" Traditionalists. This is presumably because Guénon saw progress as an illusion, an important point with which few (if any) later Traditionalists have disagreed. This does not mean, however, that all Traditionalists have gone to the other extreme and become fascists. Many are not particularly interested in politics, progressive, fascist, or centrist.

There is an important political stream within Traditionalism, though, which follows Julius Evola and Alexander Dugin, and has often been described as "fascist," though I myself prefer a label such as "new right" or "far right." This has only limited implications for the spiritual Traditionalism represented by people such as S. H. Nasr, however. Since the 1920s, political Traditionalism has developed separately from other varieties of Traditionalism. Certainly, both spiritual and political Traditionalism ultimately derive from Guénon, even though Guénon himself had little interest in politics. But both S. H. Nasr and Sayyid Qutb ultimately derive from the Prophet Muhammad, without having anything much to do with each other.


Abdul-Halim V. said...

thanks for your response. if fascism wasn't the right word perhaps i can put it this way.. do you think that perennialism (or traditionalism) implies a certain amount of elitism?

Mark Sedgwick said...

Short answer: yes for Traditionalism, but not necessarily for perennialism.

"Elitism" doesn't derive from the perennialist element, but from the kali yuga element. Because (in Guénon's view, at least) we are in the kali yuga, society in general is in a state of materialist decline, etc. However, certain individuals may still escape this general decline. Those individuals are, by definition, a sort of elite.

Abdul-Halim V. said...

I really only know the Muslim Traditionalists (Lings, Nasr, Eaton, etc.) Who would the progressive (or leftward leaning, democratic) Perennialists be?

Abdul-Halim V. said...

another aspect which makes me a bit concerned is that even in Nasr and Schuon's writings I get the sense that they speak in pretty essentialist terms when they talk about ethnicity and how it shapes religious differences. They make me think of Huntington and the Clash of Civilizations.

For example, I vaguely remember a passage in one of Nasr's books (I want to say its Ideals and Realities of Islam) where he says something about Sufism and Qawali being a means of spreading Islam to non-Arabs because Indians and Africans would never follow a religion which forbade dancing and music.

I wonder what other sorts of generalizations they would make about different cultures/ethnic groups/civilizations?

Is cultural essentialism usually associated with Traditionalism? Perennialism?

Mark Sedgwick said...

Abdul-Halim V. asked: "Who would the progressive (or leftward leaning, democratic) Perennialists be?"

Answer: I suppose one could count anyone who was not actively anti-democratic as democratic--it's the general default.

A number of private individuals who I have been in contact with over recent years might be labeled "progressive Traditionalists," but none have a major public persona. The only such Traditionalist I've come across who I considered sufficiently notable to include in Against the Modern World was Henri Hartung, a Frenchman.

Mark Sedgwick said...

Abdul-Halim V. asked: "Is cultural essentialism usually associated with Traditionalism? Perennialism?"

Answer: I hadn't really remarked on this "cultural essentialism" myself, and wouldn't say it was a major characteristic.

I don't know (or certainly don't recall) the passage in one of Nasr's books you refer to, but the idea that Sufism is somehow associated with non-Arabs was once very popular. See Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy, for example. It formed part of the whole Semitic/Aryan theory, before that theory was discredited. Arabs, as Semites, were seen as legalistic, and Persians, as Aryans, were seen as spiritually creative. For obvious reasons, this idea was more popular in Iran than in the Arab world! Nasr may have been referring to an idea that was fairly widespread in Iran, then. I don't think it's really important to his thought, though.

Silvermaiden said...

Surely a Traditionalist is, by definition, the reverse of a progressist. Progressism holds to a doctrine of "progress", claiming that things improve in an "evolutionary" manner and therefore to be newer is (ceteris paribus) to be better.

Traditionalism situates the highest point of humanity in its far past (the Golden Age, Satya Yuga, Garden of Eden) and sees human good as that which has been passed down (traditio) from thence. Hence the term Traditionalism.

C.S. Lewis notes the earliest stirrings of the progressist doctrine in a few mid-16th centiry texts. Today it is endemic in Western thinking and all thought that follows the West. This is the nub of the Traditionalist's criticism of the West.

Traditionalism will also tend to support traditional, hierarchical views of government as opposed to modern mass-democratic ones. Whether Fascism falls into the former camp is a moot point. I think most non-Evolian traditionalists would say the reverse was the case. Fascism is distinctly part of the modernist movement, and seeks value in "the race" which is only a certain localisation of "the demos".

Essentialism in its earliest Platonic form means the doctrine that all things take the form they do in reflection of their celestial Archetypes. Most, if not all, Traditionalist writers believe this, and such a doctrine does logically extend to castes, races and cultures.

The idea that human beings should be interchangeable economic units, without rooted characters based on family, race, sex, caste, culture etc. is common to both modern socialism and modern capitalism and as attractive to the communist left as to the individualist right. It too has become the official doctrine of the West.

This is perhaps another fault line between progressist and traditionalist thought, though not entirely so. Some Moslems, Christians and Buddhists even when traditional may fall at least partly into the non-essentialist camp, (in relation to rooted human culture and identity - seeing it as subsumed in the transcending identity of the faith), while some part of the progressist camp (notably fascists) may be essentialist in human terms.

Saladin said...

Excellent explanation Silvermaiden!