Tuesday, April 05, 2022

New Portuguese translation of Guénon with Luiz de Carvalho

A new translation of the essential works of René Guénon is being prepared in Brazilian Portuguese.

Subscribers to the series (link here) will receive the following titles:

  1. General Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines 
  2. Man and his Becoming according to the Vedanta 
  3. East and West 
  4. The Crisis of the Modern World 
  5. The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times 
  6. Perspectives on Initiation
  7. Fundamental Symbols of Sacred Science
  8. Oriental Metaphysics

A new publisher, Estrela da Manhã (Morning Star), has been set up for this purpose.

One of those behind the series is Luiz Gonzaga de Carvalho Neto (born 1971), a son of the late Olavo de Carvalho (1947-2022), once the leader of the Maryamiyya in Brazil and then an influential “Catholic” philosopher,   admired by President Bolsonaro, whose online lectures were extremely popular.

Luiz de Carvalho, who probably first learned about Traditionalism as a child, has for some time been giving on-line courses at the Instituto Cultural Lux et Sapientia (Light and Wisdom Cultural Center), which does not self-identify as a Traditionalist organization, but encourages visitors to “learn traditional cosmovision and have a life with meaning.” In 2015, its recommended introductory reading list listed six books, five of which were by Traditionalist authors, including one by Olavo de Carvalho from his Traditionalist period.

Purchasers of the series get three free lectures with Luiz de Carvalho, who seems to be following in his father’s footsteps, both as lecturer and as Traditionalist.

My thanks to DP for drawing my attention to the new translation.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Dugin and Ukraine

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there have been ever more mentions of the Russian Traditionalist (or possibly post-Traditionalist) Alexander Dugin in the Western press. The general view is, as the Washington Post recently put it, that President Putin’s “analysis came directly from the works of a fascist prophet of maximal Russian empire named Aleksandr Dugin,” and that “Russia has been running his [Dugin’s] playbook for the past 20 years.” “The recent invasion of Ukraine is a continuation of a Dugin-promoted strategy for weakening the international liberal order,” argues an article in Foreign Policy.  Dugin is “the most influential thinker in Russia,” according to Haaretz.

Is this true? Dugin certainly backs the invasion of Ukraine, which fits with his vision in many ways. But did he inspire that invasion? In a Facebook post on this question, Sindre Bangstad, a prominent Norwegian scholar of the radical right, argued that Dugin’s “influence in the Kremlin and on Putin is not known - precisely due to the fact that it is ultimately unknowable to outsiders.”  

Yes and no. Some things are unknowable to outsiders, or even insiders, but it is clear that Dugin is not one of Putin’s close advisors, and it is also clear that the general thrust of his geopolitical analysis is far from exclusive to him. Dugin did not invent Eurasianism, but rather refined it, in part by combining it with Traditionalism. Eurasianism was invented by earlier Russian thinkers, notably the linguist Prince Nikolai Trubetzkoy (1890-1938), and arose in the context of the debate between Westernizers and anti-Western Slavophils that is almost as old as the Russian state itself. Trubetzkoy’s Eurasianism was prefigured in the work of the Slavophil philosopher Konstantin Leontiev (1831-91), who saw the West as both a moral and military threat to Orthodox civilization and to Russia.

The Westernizing position recently had its day in Russia under President Yeltsin, and has been losing ground ever since. Putin is clearly in the anti-Western Slavophil camp, and is even said to have been reading Leontiev. The current prevalence of anti-Western and Slavophil positions in Moscow certainly helps explain the invasion of Ukraine, as Jane Burbank, a historian of Russia from New York University, recently argued in The New York Times. Burbank also proposed that “Eurasianism was injected directly into the bloodstream of Russian power in a variant developed by the self-styled philosopher Aleksandr Dugin.” This is more likely. Dugin has certainly made Eurasianism better known, and his variant is better adapted to today's world than variants from a century ago. But Dugin is a participant in a broad discussion, not the sole author of any playbook.

There is a tendency, in the West and elsewhere, to explain the actions of opponents in terms of unfamiliar and apparently bizarre ideologies. The anti-Westernism of revolutionaries in the Middle East, for example, is often blamed on Islamism or even Islam. Yes, Islamism matters, but Western policy and interventions in the Middle East since the end of the Second World War also matter, but it is harder to blame those interventions—which would mean the West blaming itself—than to blame Islamism. John Mearsheimer, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, argues that Western policy towards Russia is to blame for the current crisis. In his response to a recent article by Mearsheimer in The Economist. Sir Adam Roberts, an emeritus professor of international relations at the University of Oxford, called this argument “apparently perverse”—but then went on to demonstrate that there were also other reasons for the invasion of Ukraine, not that Mearsheimer was actually wrong.  Mearsheimer is at present something of a lone voice in blaming the errors of Western policy. It is a lot easier to blame “a fascist prophet.”

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Evola as one of five philosophers of the Radical Right

A new book looks again at Julius Evola and his significance for today’s radical right. This is Matthew Rose, A World after Liberalism: Philosophers of the Radical Right (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021).

Evola is one of five philosophers who Rose discusses. The first is Oswald Spengler as a representative of the Conservative Revolution, and Evola is the second. Alain de Benoist is the fourth. This selection and sequence is sensible, though one might perhaps argue for Carl Schmitt or Ernst Jünger as an alternative representative of the Conservative Revolution. The remaining two philosophers are both American, and slightly less obvious figures: Francis Parker Yockey, who comes between Evola and Benoist, and Samuel Francis, who comes after Benoist. The book then closes with a chapter on the relationship between the radical right and Christianity that is perhaps of more interest to those who are concerned with Christianity than to those who are concerned with the radical right.

The treatment of all five philosophers is comprehensive and fair, and the book is well written. Rose sees Evola as “without question the most interesting utopian thinker on the right” and as someone who “dreamed of a world of absolutely fixed and certain meanings, where human identities, in all their forms, bore the indelible chrism of sacred destiny.” This, thinks Rose, came from René Guénon, who imagined “a community in which human beings continued to live in the uninterrupted tranquility of sacred order, and in which uncertainty and disagreement find no place.” Evola “sought to revive the assumption of natural human inequality as essential to any political order. He did so through a form of mythic thinking that collapsed the distance between the archaic past and present. Through esoteric readings of ancient and modern texts, he claimed to reveal the permanent constitution of human society, which he envisioned as a form of sacred hierarchy led by an elite order of men.” This is a reasonable summary, though it emphasizes the contemporary reception of Evola (and Guénon) more than the internal logic of their own thought.

Rose makes an interesting connection between Yockey, Evola, and Benoist. Evola reviewed Yockey’s main early work, Imperium, approvingly, and many of Yockey’s ideas indeed echo Evola’s. Both emphasized empire and spirit, and both condemned narrow nationalism and racism. Given this, it is not quite clear why Rose characterizes Yockey as “the Anti-Semite,” since this was not his real point, and the characterization risks supporting the common and mistaken over-association of the radical right with historical Fascism and Nazism. Evola, incidentally, is characterized as “the Fantasist” because he imagined a new sort of utopia. I suppose this is OK as a chapter heading. In the other direction, Rose claims not only Evola but also Yockey as an influence on and inspiration for Benoist. This deserves fuller investigation, and Yockey should probably be read more carefully.

It is easy to see why Rose ends with Samuel Francis, who drew on James Burnham’s important 1941 book The Managerial Revolution and, in Rose’s words, “synthesized nationalist populism with brewing racial resentments over the shrinking demographic majority of white Americans.” This indeed provides the link to the Trump movement, as Rose says, and also perhaps to European phenomena such as Brexit. What is less clear is how Francis relates to Spengler, Evola, Yockey, and Benoist.

A World after Liberalism is a good book that seems to be being generally well received and that succeeds in showing that “The alt-right is not stupid; it is deep. Its ideas are not ridiculous; they are serious.” Those who already know Evola will not discover much that they did not know before, but the book puts his contemporary reception in a new context (rather as I did in my Key Thinkers of the Radical Right). The book is also recommended for those who know Evola but do not know all of the other philosophers discussed.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Traditionalism and Iranian music

A new PhD thesis discusses the role of tradition, and thus Traditionalism, in Iranian music. It is by Kamyar Nematollahy, entitled “Iranian Classical Music Since the 1970s: The Discourses of Tradition and Identity,” and was submitted at the University of Cologne, from whose website it is available (link here). 

Nematollahy identifies a long-running discussion about tradition and modernity in Iranian music, termed سنت or sonnat (tradition) and تجدد or tajaddod (modernity). He shows that in the musical context, the word sonnat has three distinct but overlapping meanings: one theological, one Traditionalist, and one general. The theological meaning is the same as the meaning of the Arabic word سنة or sunna, meaning the practices of the prophet Muhammad. The general meaning is the same as the English word modernity. The Traditionalist meaning is that given it by Seyyed Hossein Nasr in the early 1970s, and is “the transmission of certain sacred, transcendent, and immutable rules and concepts.” Most of those who use the term in the ongoing debate, however, do not distinguish these three meanings as carefully as Nematollahy does, or indeed distinguish them at all. Perhaps something needs to be added to my standard distinction between “hard” and “soft” Traditionalism: accidental Traditionalism?

Sunday, February 20, 2022

New article on Mircea Eliade and Traditionalism

A newly published article in Aries adds to the debate on the relationship between Mircea Eliade and Traditionalism. It is Davide Marino's "Mircea Eliade and René Guénon: Patterns of Initiation and the 'Myth of Affinity,'" Aries 2022, DOI 10.1163/15700593-20211007

The "myth" that Marino challenges is the idea that Eliade was really a secret Traditionalist but did not dare admit it. Marino carefully traces the development of this myth, and then challenges it in three ways: by reading what Eliade actually wrote about René Guénon in his published work, by looking in detail at how the two men understood initiation, and by suggesting a way in which the myth of affinity might have arisen in the first place. 

As Marino shows, the tone of Eliade's references to Guénon changes over time. Until the 1950s, there are admiring, referring especially to Guénon's critique of modernity. After the 1950s, they are increasingly critical, and Eliade finally goes so far as to dismiss Guénon's understanding of the history of religions – that is, in effect, his perennialism – as no more accurate than the understandings of Marx or Freud. Marino also demonstrates clearly that the two understandings of initiation are different and incompatible.

So, whence the idea that Eliade was a secret Traditionalist? Much of the blame for this seems to lie with Eliade himself, as in 1948 he told another Romanian exile, the Traditionalist Michel Vâlsan, that he agreed with Guénon "on everything," which is fairly explicit, and in 1951 seems to have written something similar to Julius Evola. Why? Marino here agrees with the suggestion of the Italian scholar Paola Pisi, who argued in 1998 that Eliade was at that point looking for a job in the United States, a task in which another Traditionalist scholar, Ananda Coomaraswamy, had been trying to help him. This is plausible, and not as discreditable as one might think, given the somewhat desperate situation that the Communist takeover of Romania had left him in.

Convincing, but probably not the last word on the topic. I myself remain convinced that, while Eliade certainly did not agree with Guénon on everything, his early "soft" Traditionalism is still found in his later work, even though he also disagreed with the Traditionalists on certain points, including the understanding of initiation.