Tuesday, July 07, 2020

American Jews and Sufism

Quite a lot of Traditionalists have been Jewish, perhaps disproportionately, just as quitea lof of American Sufis have been Jewish, and quite a lot of American Buddhists, too. A new book, Emily Sigalow's American JewBu: Jews, Buddhists, and Religious Change (Princeton University Press, 2019), asks why. her book and its implications for Sufism are discussed in a post on the sister of this blog, at "American Jews, Buddhism, and Sufism."

Monday, July 06, 2020

A new framing of Hakim Bey

A new PhD thesis places the anarchism of the former Maryami Peter Lamborn Wilson (also known as Hakim Bey) in a new context. This is J. Christian Greer, “Angel-Headed Hipsters: Psychedelic Militancy in Nineteen-Eighties North America” (University of Amsterdam, 2020), especially pp. 231-65.

Hakim Bey has already been discussed in two posts on this blog, the longest of which, “Anarchist Traditionalism,” draws largely on Arthur Versluis, “A Conversation with Peter Lamborn Wilson.” The other, “The Origins of Hakim Bey's Anarchism,” draws on a 2013 article by Greer.

Greer’s dissertation starts with the earliest US psychedelic militancy—Timothy Leary in the 1960s—and follows through to the “second wave” psychedelic militancy of the Church of SubGenius, one of the sources (along with the spread of the Xerox machine) of the later “Zine scene” to which Wilson contributed. As Greer argues, Wilson ties the two waves together, since his 1964 Moorish Orthodox Church of America (which was psychedelic) allied with Leary’s League for Spiritual Discovery in 1967. From this perspective, Wilson’s engagement with Traditionalism and the Maryamiyya appears as a sort of detour: the path from the Moorish Orthodox Church of America to the Temporary Autonomous Zone for which Wilson became famous runs relatively straight; it is Tehran and the Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy that make less sense. All three phases, however, can certainly be seen as part of a grand “quest to find a spiritual alternative to the alienation of modern civilization” (p. 2), as Greer says.

And yet, the mystery remains. The Maryamiyya replaces the Moorish Orthodox Church of America for Wilson, as Sufi Islam replaced the Universal Gnostic Church for René Guénon, in a transition from "pseudo-initiation" to "initiation"—putting it in Traditionalist terms. The Wilson of the Moorish Orthodox Church of America grew interested in what he called “Sufism of various unorthodox varieties”—which is one view of Sufism, once fairly prevalent, though one images that Seyyed Hossein Nasr would have disabused Wilson of it fairly quickly one Wilson reached Tehran. This makes sense. But how did the Temporary Autonomous Zone then replace initiation? Somewhere, something got lost.

The thesis is also interesting for a new take on the vexed topic of Wilson’s commitment to “man-boy love,” which Greer argues should be seen as a reaction to the normalization of gay sexuality by the mainstream Gay Rights movement, which in the process abandoned the earlier aim of total sexual liberation. Greer also points out that the two crucial special issues of Semiotext(e) that Wilson edited, on Loving Boys and Polysexuality, attracted contributions from Michel Foucault, William Burroughs, and Jacques Lacan—that is, some sort of liberation mainstream.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Guénon, Voegelin, and Brexit

Thomas F. Bertonneau has published an interesting article comparing René Guénon's Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power (1929) with the thought of Eric Voegelin (1901-85), "René Guénon and Eric Voegelin on the Degeneration of Right Order," Voegelin View September 18, 2017.

The German-American philosopher Voegelin is hard to categorize. On the one hand, he was a powerful critic of Nazism, from which he had to flee to the US in 1938. On the other hand, his criticism of “gnostic” political religions such as Nazism was so thorough that it included liberalism, which he saw as a step on the road to Marxism.

Bertonneau argues that Guénon’s understanding of the revolt of the Kshatriyas, which destroys the “right order,” fits neatly with Voegelin’s understanding of the ecumene, the conquered empire that is “not a subject of order but an object of conquest and organization... a graveyard of societies, including those of the conquerors, rather than a society in its own right” (Voegelin, Ecumenic Age). One consequence of this destruction, for Voegelin, is spiritual disorder.

Bertonneau then applies what he sees as the Guénon-Voegelin view to contemporary issues in a way that I doubt either Guénon or Voegelin would have recognized, but which does provide an instructive example of the thought of the contemporary radical right, and also of how Guénon can contribute to such thought. Bertonneau sees the European Union as the counterpart of the US Federal Government, remote and technocratic, engaged in “a larger, Twentieth-Century Revolt of Kshatriyas” and working to “progressively obliterate the concrete societies that come under their imperial-entrepreneurial sway.” This is the basis for a long final section to the article, discussing Brexit.

Bertonneau also argues that
Guénon grasps that symbols and myths – while they might be, as Voegelin would later call them, compact – articulate reality more fully and more truly than the clichés of modern reductive thinking and that therefore one best wrests intoxicated minds from the drug of those clichés by jerking them around (rhetorically, of course) so as to get them to face and contemplate the symbols themselves in their numinous fullness.
This may indeed be how Guénon’s use of symbol and myth works on some or even many readers, even if I do not think that Guénon intended to use symbol and myth quite as instrumentally as Bertonneau seems to think.

My thanks to Georg Wink for drawing my attention to this article.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Eliade and the radical right

Mark Weitzman of the Simon Wiesenthal Center has just published an (open-access) article, "'One Knows the Tree by the Fruit That It Bears:' Mircea Eliade’s Influence on Current Far-Right Ideology," Religions 2020, 11, 250.

In this, he revisits Eliade's Romanian years and his relationship with Julius Evola, and shows how he has been cited by Alain de Benoist, Guillaume Faye, Alexander Dugin, Claudio Mutti, and Paul Gottfried, and is present on Arktos and Counter-Currents. He concludes that "almost thirty-five years after his death, Mircea Eliade is unquestionably a figure of some influence in extremist intellectual circles today, perhaps even more so than in respectable academic circles."

It is clearly true that Eliade is a figure of some influence for thinkers of the radical right. What Weitzman spends less time on is the (perhaps more interesting) question of exactly what it is in Eliade's work that all these thinkers are using. Weitzman suggests that Eliade's project of (in Eliade's own words) "recovering and reestablishing meanings that have been forgotten, discredited, or abolished" may fit with the project of "those who want to restore an archaic world that embraces traditional forms of human inequality and who reject modernity and its associated vices and failings." This is probably true. But is this all there is to it?

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.