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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Dugin, Evola, 4chan, Arktos (and this blog)

A new collection, Far-Right Revisionism and the End of History: Alt/Histories, edited by Louie Dean Valencia-García (New York: Routledge, 2020) has four chapters of special relevance for those who are interested in Traditionalism.

Chapter 7, “The Extremist Construction of Identity in the Historical Narratives of Alexander Dugin’s Fourth Political Theory” by Charles Robert Sullivan and Amy Fisher-Smith, deals with Dugin and his The Fourth Political Theory (2009), as the title suggests. The chapter argues that The Fourth Political Theory “unfurls three levels of historical narrative.” The first is the Traditionalism of Guénon and Evola, the second is the militancy of Carl Schmitt, and the third is the “other beginning” (andere Anfang) of Heidegger, which is combined with neo-Eurasianism and Orthodox eschatology to produce “a Manichean clash of civilisations, and through the ‘Doppler effect’ of intensifying urgency, a proclamation of the value of war and a program of relegitimated violence.” The chapter is interesting especially for its analysis of Dugin’s use of Schmitt and Heidegger.

Chapter 8, “The Problem of Alt-Right Medievalist White Supremacy, and Its Black Medievalist Answer” by Cord J. Whitaker, deals with the view of the Middle Ages taken by White Supremacists, which is contrasted with the alternative view advanced by writers of the Harlem Renaissance. The view of the Middle Ages of White Supremacists is traced in part to Mussolini and thence to Evola. Whitaker is surely right that “the importance of the Middle Ages in the Alt-Right’s narrative of spiritual knighthood is not lost on the modern movement’s rank and file adherent,” and the myth of medieval chivalry is a powerful one. This perhaps goes close to the heart of the importance of the past for the contemporary right, including perhaps parts of the mainstream right. I fear, however, that Whitaker may be overstating the influence of Evola on Mussolini, who had already romanticized the past for his own purposes before he ever read Evola.

Chapter 15, “Esoteric Fascism Online: 4chan and the Kali Yuga” by Marc Tuters and the Open Intelligence Lab, is one of the most interesting chapters in the book. The Open Intelligence Lab is “an Amsterdam-based collective of interdisciplinary scholars scrutinising online political subcultures” and the chapter uses data produced by a Digital Methods Summer School in Amsterdam, specifically the analysis of 7,000 posts on 4chan/pol/ dating from 2013 to 2019 looking at the use of the key Traditionalist phrase “Kali Yuga.” This produces a diagram of word collocations in which “Evola” occupies a central place as a term that is almost as prominent as “cycle” and “Jews,” the two most prominent terms in the collocation. “Cycle” connects most to “ancient” and “golden,” which is no great surprise, and “Jews” connects to “race,” “Aryan,” and “white,” again no great surprise on 4chan/pol/. What is surprising is the connection between “Kali Yuga” and “Jews” and thus “Aryan,” as for Guénon the Kali Yuga had nothing to do with the Jews.

For Evola, though, there was a connection, and there was an even stronger connection for Miguel Serrano, the Chilean exponent of “esoteric Nazism” who drew on (and on certain points disagreed with) Evola. Tuters is therefore right to point to Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s work on what Tuters calls “esoteric fascism” (Goodrick-Clarke used Serrano’s term). He is right to see “chan culture” as “giving a contemporary ‘vernacular’ form” to this, and he is probably mostly right that “for the anonymous Evolites in discussion on /pol/, the Kali Yuga does not signify a decline for all humanity, but rather a failure of ‘The West’ to preserve its own roots and identitarian history.” And, as we know from other studies, “chan culture” spreads into general online culture, and hence general culture.

Tuters’s chapter demonstrates the impact of Evola, via esoteric fascism and chan culture, on the general culture. This is in itself fascinating. It is also fascinating, methodologically, to see how he did this. Perhaps we all need to attend Digital Methods Summer Schools.

Three other gems from this chapter: (1) the general impression of the importance of chan culture for Brenton Tarrant overstates this influence; (2) the posts analyzed by Tuters at one point showed equal enthusiasm for Hitler and Donald Trump; and (3) “taking the red pill” “refers [to] an esoteric experience of awakening.”

Finally, chapter 16, “The Rise and Fall of the Far Right in the Digital Age” by Louie Dean Valencia-García deals with Arktos Media, the publishers who have done so much to distribute the works of Evola. Arktos is, as Valencia-García argues, “one the largest dealers of alt-histories in the world today,” and is also “a nexus between Russian Nationalism, the European New Right and the American Alt-Right.” By “Russian Nationalism” Valencia-García really means Dugin. Arktos is also important for Generation Identity. The chapter deals primarily with the activities and connections of people currently or formerly involved with Arktos, not with Evola as such, though it does look at the extent to which Evola and the other currents promoted by Arktos may be considered “fascist.”

The chapter also deals with this blog, which is described as “a sort of node connecting scholars of traditionalism and traditionalist activists.” This may indeed be one of the many things that this blog does, but it is far from being its primary purpose. In this context, Valencia-García says in a footnote “As presented on the blog, the relationship between Sedgwick [the manager of this blog] and the far-right is ambiguous at best.” Valencia-García was kind enough to explain to me [Sedgwick] in an email that he was not referring to any actual relationship with the far right, about which he knew nothing, but to the way in which I sometimes respond to comments posted on the blog by known far-right activists, which he thought “might be considered by some as a friendly back and forth.” “Rather than describing that dialogue as friendly,” continued Valencia-García, “I thought a more fair descriptor would be ‘ambiguous.’” For the sake of clarification—and to avoid all ambiguity—I should note that my intention in responding to comments is always to be polite, not friendly, and that I hope I am polite to all who post comments on this blog, the vast majority of whom are not connected in any way to the far right.

Finally, the chapter also discusses Jacob Senholt, who was one of the two co-founders of Integral Tradition Publishing, the company that grew into Arktos. Senholt is a Dane who did his BA, MA, and PhD at Aarhus University, where I teach, and I co-supervised his PhD dissertation, as Valencia-García points out. Again, some clarification is in order. When I agreed to be one of Senholt’s supervisors, I did not know of his involvement with Integral Tradition Publishing, but it did not come as a total surprise to me to read of it in Valencia-García’s chapter, as I had heard rumors about what Senholt’s political views (once?) were. In fact, I already had some idea of what his views might be when I agreed to be one of his supervisors, and therefore had to decide whether or not I should agree to supervise him. My view was that as an employee of a public university it was not appropriate for me to discriminate between students, including PhD students, on any basis—not their religious beliefs, gender identify, sexual orientation, and not their political convictions either. I never discussed Senholt’s political convictions with him, only his academic work, and I believe that was the proper course of action to take.

In all, a good book, especially chapter 15.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Forthcoming book on Aguéli

Forthcoming from Bloomsbury in late 2020 or early 2021: Anarchist, Artist, Sufi: The Politics, Painting, and Esotericism of Ivan Aguéli, edited by Mark Sedgwick.

Contents as follows:

1. Ivan Aguéli: politics, painting, and esotericism—MARK SEDGWICK

PART I: Ivan Aguéli the Artist 
2. Ivan Aguéli’s life and work—VIVECA WESSEL
3. Exploring the territories of the avant-garde: Ivan Aguéli and the institutions of his time—ANNIKA ÖHRNER
4. Ivan Aguéli the esotericist, in reality and fiction—PER FAXNELD
5. Ivan Aguéli’s monotheistic landscapes: From perspectival to solar logics—SIMON SORGENFREI
6. Painting the sacred as an initiatic path: Art and cubism in the eyes of Ivan Aguéli—THIERRY ZARCONE

PART II: Ivan Aguéli’s Politics 
7. Kill the Audience: Ivan Aguéli’s universal utopia of anarchism and Islam—ANTHONY T. FISCELLA
8. Sufi Teachings for pro-Islamic Politics: Ivan Aguéli and Il Convito—ALESSANDRA MARCHI
9. Feminism and the Divine Feminine: An exploration of female elements in Ivan Aguéli and subsequent Traditionalist thought—MARCIA HERMANSEN

PART III: Ivan Aguéli’s Sufism 
10. Ivan Aguéli's second period in Egypt, 1902–09: The intellectual spheres around Il Convito/Al-Nadi—PAUL-ANDRÉ CLAUDEL
11. Ivan Aguéli and the Islamic Legacy of Emir ʿAbd al-Qadir—IHEB GUERMAZI
12. Ivan Aguéli’s Humanist vision: Islam, Sufism, and Universalism—MEIR HATINA

PART IV: Ivan Aguéli and Traditionalism 
13. The Significance of Ivan Aguéli for the Traditionalist Movement—MARK SEDGWICK
14. What is esotericism in art? Ivan Aguéli’s art versus the Traditionalists’ “traditional Art”—PATRICK RINGGENBERG

PART V: Writings by Ivan Aguéli 
15. Letter from Paris—IVAN AGUÉLI
16. Letter from Ceylon—IVAN AGUÉLI
17. The Enemies of Islam—ABDUL-HADI EL MAGHRABI [IVAN AGUÉLI]
18. Pure Art—ABDUL-HÂDI [IVAN AGUÉLI]
19. Universality in Islam—ABDUL-HÂDI [IVAN AGUÉLI]

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Bannon, Traditionalism, Dugin, and Olavo

Benjamin Teitelbaum has just published a major new book on contemporary Traditionalism, War for Eternity: Inside Bannon's Far-Right Circle of Global Power Brokers (New York: Harper Collins, cover to left) or, in the UK, War for Eternity: The Return of Traditionalism and the Rise of the Populist Right (London: Allen Lane, 2020, cover below).

Teitelbaum is an American scholar who has previously published Lions of the North: Sounds of the New Nordic Radical Nationalism (Oxford University Press, 2017), an excellent ethnographic study of radical nationalists and the related music scene in Sweden, and although War for Eternity is written in light, journalistic style, it is based on thorough research, principally long interviews with its main subject, Steve Bannon.

The book’s US cover and title focus on Bannon, but the UK cover and title are closer to the contents, as the book also covers several other Traditionalists, notably Alexander Dugin (Russia) and Olavo de Carvalho (Brazil), and then Gábor Vona of Jobbik (Hungary) and John Morgan of Integral Tradition Publishing and Arktos (online).

Some of what is in War for Eternity will come as no surprise to those who know their Traditionalism and/or have read my Against the Modern World, but much of it is new and interesting. Most of all, Teitelbaum’s long discussions with Bannon reveal Bannon’s own, modified, version of Traditionalism, and resolve a number of mysteries.
  • Firstly, what Bannon now takes from Traditionalism is, in his own words, “the rejection of modernity, the rejection of the Enlightenment, the rejection of materialism,” and the understanding that “culture, true culture, is based upon immanence and transcendence.”
  • Secondly, Bannon reconciled Traditionalism with populism by identifying the American working class with tradition, and America’s globalized elites with modernity. In Guénon’s terms, in the hierarchy of values “proceeding from the body, to money, to earthly creeds, to Spirituality,” it is the elites who are slaves to money, and the working class that may perhaps access spirituality. In Evola’s terms, it is the working class who are the warriors: “The aristos don’t fight! They strictly don’t fight.” All in all, it is the working class that is “out of time, insulated from the corrupting influences of modernity; vessels for eternal ideals and carriers of a spirit that unites a society internally and separates it from others elsewhere.”
  • Thirdly, Bannon agrees with the Traditionalists that the end of the temporal cycle means that destruction inevitably proceeds a new cycle. Trump is the great destroyer, though Bannon more often calls him “the disrupter.” The early moves of the Trump administration, in which Bannon’s ideas were still influential, were aimed at the destruction of the forces of modernity in the form of the “administrative state,” in this instance the federal government. Unfortunately from Bannon’s perspective (though he does not put it quite like this), Trump then also went on to destroy his own administration, and thus also the possibility of it actually achieving anything very much. That was not the original idea (though perhaps it was fortunate, at least for those who see the federal government as performing necessary functions).
  • Fourthly, Trump’s enmity towards China fits with Bannon’s Traditionalist views. For Bannon, “The globalists are totally tied to the mercantilist totalitarian system of the Chinese. China is the economic engine that drives it all. Without China, it doesn’t work; that’s what’s driven the system.” Bannon tried to convince Dugin of this during a long meeting between the two in Rome, arguing that the Chinese are trying to create precisely the unipolar world that Dugin has spent much of his career arguing against. Bannon very much liked Dugin’s Forth Political Theory. It seems that Dugin was less convinced by Bannon.
Also of interest is what Teitelbaum learned of Traditionalism in Hungary, where it combined nicely with Turanism, the 19th-century nationalist view that joined Hungarians with Turks, Central Asians, Japanese, and Koreans. Just as Eurasianism proved a good basis for Dugin to construct a vision of Russia as part of a traditional alternative to Western modernity, so Turanism helped Vona construct a vision of Hunagary as part of another traditional alternative to Western modernity. Vona opened the King Attila Academy to explore and promote such views, and then closed it in 2015 when it became a political liability.

Somewhat less interesting is the section towards the end of the book on the relationship between Jason Jorjani, an American activist of Iranian origin who is influenced by Traditionalist, and Michael Bagley, a con-artist who ended up in jail.

One criticism: the book perhaps relies too much on interviews, and more attention could usefully have been paid to what Dugin and Carvalho have written.

All in all, however, required reading.

Friday, April 03, 2020

Obituaries

Four of this blog's eight posts for 2020 so far have been obituaries. Although this feels like the passing of a generation, the four deaths were in fact of people from three different generations: Michel Chodkiewicz (1929-2020) was from the generation that grew up immediately after the Second World War, Eduard Limonov (1943-2020) was of the generation that made the 1960s, and James Cutsinger (1953-2020) and Yahya Bonnaud (1957-2019) were of the following generation.

What is striking, however, is that three of these four were interesting primarily in religion, while today's leading Traditionalists often seem to be interested primary in politics, not religion. So something is indeed changing.

Michel Chodkiewicz (1929-2020)

Michel Chodkiewicz died on 31 March 2020, at the age of 90.

Chodkiewicz was a leading French scholar of Ibn al-Arabi, a Muslim, and by origin a Traditionalist, once a follower of Michel Vâlsan, the Rumanian Traditionalist who broke with Frithjof Schuon and led  an important tariqa in Paris for many years.

As I wrote in Against the Modern World,
Among other early followers of Vâlsan were a penniless marquis of the pre-Napoleonic nobility and a young French student named Michel Chodkiewicz. The son of a magistrate, Chodkiewicz read Guénon's Crise du monde moderne at 18 while doing his military service at Tours airbase, and then the rest of Guénon's work, and became Muslim in 1950 after being introduced to Vâlsan by the nephew of the penniless marquis. Chodkiewicz was the first French Traditionalist to begin what may be called the revenge of Traditionalism against the Sorbonne. His initial project of a Ph.D. thesis on Ibn al-Arabi had to be abandoned in the face of resistance from Louis Massignon, who dominated French Islamic studies in the 1950s and who had no sympathy for Ibn al-Arabi, and also in the face of the need to support a young family. Chodkiewicz followed his shaykh in many things, but not in his spartan lifestyle. He got a job with the major French publisher Editions du Seuil and remained there until his retirement in 1989, by then du Seuil's president. Despite this career, he continued work on Ibn al-Arabi, publishing various high-quality translations of and studies on his work, and also on his later follower, the Amir Abd al-Qadir (in whose Damascus circle Aguéli's shaykh Illaysh had once been). Chodkiewicz's work received the academic recognition it deserved, and beginning in 1982 he taught as an adjunct professor at the Sorbonne while also running du Seuil. After his retirement from du Seuil he was appointed to a full professorship, from which he retired in 1994, generally accepted as one of the leading figures in the French study of Islam (pp. 134-35).
 His most important works were:

  • An ocean without shore: Ibn ʻArabî, the Book, and the Law (originally Un Océan sans rivage. Ibn 'Arabî, le Livre et la Loi, 1992). 
  • The spiritual writings of Amir ʻAbd al-Kader (originally Émir Abd el-Kader, Écrits spirituels, présentation, traduction et notes 1982). 
  • Seal of the saints: prophethood and sainthood in the doctrine of Ibn ʻArabī (origianlly Le Sceau des Saints, Prophétie et Sainteté dans la doctrine d'Ibn 'Arabî, 1986).