Saturday, May 26, 2007

Traditionalists and traditionalists

I have always made a distinction between Traditionalists (initial upper case, those who are inspired by Guénon and others discussed on this Blog) and traditionalists (initial lower case, those who emphasize tradition in a sense other than that in which Guénon used it). But sometimes there is a link between the two.

One example is Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, the director of the Zaytuna Institute, described by The Guardian as "arguably the west's most influential Islamic scholar," and by an irreverent American Muslim blogger as "the great goeteed demi-god of traditional Islam."

Hamza Yusuf is a fan of Martin Lings. He was a festured speaker at the Celebration of the Life and Writings of Dr Martin Lings held in London in February 2006, and recommends Lings's book Muhammad and (I am told) Charles Le Gai Eaton's Islam and the Destiny of Man. Seyyed Hossein Nasr returns the compliment, endorsing Hamza Yusuf's journal Seasons.

Does this mean Hamza Yusuf is in some sense a Traditionalist (upper case)? I think not. He doesn't recommend "hard" Traditionalist books--but he does recommend Ali Shariati. As well as being endorsed by Nasr, Seasons is also endorsed by John L. Esposito of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University.

Conclusion (and disagree in a comment if you wish): Hamza Yusuf's enthusiasm for Martin Lings shows how certain aspects of Traditionalism have passed into the general culture, and no more.

Another well-regarded "traditional" Muslim scholar is Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller. In 1996, Keller took issue with perennialism in "On the validity of all religions in the thought of ibn Al-'Arabi and Emir 'Abd al-Qadir: A letter to `Abd al-Matin." He was explictly critical of a view that
has waited for fourteen centuries of Islamic scholarship down to the present century to be first promulgated in Cairo in the 1930s by the French convert to Islam Rene Guenon, and later by his student Frithjof Schuon and writers under him. Who else said it before? And if no one did, and everyone else considers it kufr, on what basis should it be accepted?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Music Scene Traditionalism

A whole area of Traditionalism that was not dealt with in my Against the Modern World is the intersection between Traditionalism and various music scenes, especially various forms of neo-folk and metal music. For want of a better term, in this post I will refer to Scene Traditionalism.

To discuss Scene Traditionalism adequately would take an entire article, which I am not yet in a position to write. Some mention of it in this blog is, however, long overdue. It is one of the most important and fastest growing forms of Traditionalism in the West today.

Scene Traditionalism is more European than American, and has a certain Northern European and Scandinavian emphasis. It is generally musical, Traditionalist, and neo-pagan; it is sometimes also political, in which case it will be rightist.

One typical figure is an American, Michael Moynihan (born 1969). Moynihan is the musician who established the band Blood Axis. He is also an editor of the Traditionalist journal Tyr: Myth—Culture—Tradition, and a member of the neo-pagan Tribe of The Wulfings.

Another typical band is Sol Invictus, based in England. Their first ever release, in 1987, was entitled Against the Modern World(!).

Neither Blood Axis nor Sol Invictus is well known. The Swedish group Therion, however, is well known--though their debt to Traditionalism is less clear. One track on their recent album Gothic Kabbalah is entitled "Perennial Sophia," but its lyrics would hardly have appealed to Guénon.

One immediate question about Scene Traditionalism is how serious it is: are they really Traditionalists, or do they just use Traditionalism as part of a strategy of deliberate transgression? Moynihan's journal Tyr is certainly serious, but that does not mean the whole scene is seriously Traditionalist.

A starting bibliography would include:
  • Stephen McNallen, "Three Decades of the Ásatrú Revival in America" Tyr 2 (2003-04), pp. 202-220.
  • Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind, Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground (Los Angeles: Feral House; London: Turnaround, 2003).

Savitri Devi and Traditionalism

Dr Greg Johnson has pointed out that there is more of a connection between Savitri Devi and Traditionalism than I thought.

Savitri Devi Mukherji (1905-82, born Maximine Portaz) is a key figure for what is often called "Esoteric Nazism," and was the subject of Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke's Hitler's Priestess: Savitri Devi, the Hindu-Aryan Myth, and Neo-Nazism by (New York: New York University Press, 1998).

Savitri's admiration for Guénon is especially evident in her Souveniers et réflexions d'une Aryenne (written between 1968 and 1971), in which she quotes approvingly from five of Guénon's books, as well as from Evola's Chevaucher le tigre.

Souveniers et réflexions d'une Aryenne is is available in PDF format from the excellent Savitri Devi Archive.

Another connection: the Savitri Devi Archive is maintained by Gabriella, a 17-year-old devotee of Ásatrú and metal music as well as Savitri. See my post on Scene Traditionalism.

The books from which Savitri quotes are: Orient et Occident, L’ésotérisme de Dante, Symboles fondamentaux de la Science sacrée, Le Roi du Monde, and Le Théosophisme.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Guénon and Daumal

I've just found an excellent book for those interested in Guénon's impact on French artistic circles, specifically René Daumal's Le grand jeu group and André Breton and the Surrealists.

The book is Kathleen Ferrick Rosenblatt, René Daumal: The Life and Work of a Mystic Guide (Albany: SUNY Press, 1999; 252 pages, ISBN 0791436330).

René Daumal (1908-44) started with Guénon and ended with Gurdjieff. Ferrick Rosenblatt sensitively examines the points where Daumal and Guénon coincided, and where they (and Breton) differed, placing this in the context of the Fremch artistic milieu. Though she is evidentl herself engaged and sometimes reveals her sympathies, the book satisfies normal scholarly requirements--as well as being very readable. Strongly recommended, and available from the bookstore.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Mr Putin is not Stalin?

"Mr Putin is not Stalin," observed The Economist in its report on the supression of the Other Russia demonstration in Moscow on April 14, 2007. Even so, The Economist felt, "the brutal suppression of peaceful protests" showed that "the ruthless paranoiacs who run Russia are utterly unfettered in what they choose to do." A similar line was taken by most Western newspapers, and by some Western politicians.

Little noticed was the role played by Edward Limonov and the National Bolshevik Party (NBP). The Economist did mention him by name ("Eduard Limonov, the leader of another banned organization, was arrested") but did not identify the organization in question--understandably, perhaps, since naming it would have some required rather complicated explanations.

Almost the only publication to examine the significance of Limonov's participation was The National Interest, commenting on a news report in The Washington Post:
In their April 18 article . . . both the text and the photographs present a highly misleading picture. The photographs show Garry Kasparov appealing to the menacing-looking police officers. It also shows the police in anti-riot gear overwhelming a long-haired, bespectacled young man. Talking about the organizers of the marches, [the Washington Post correspondent] refers to Garry Kasparov and former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov—and nobody else. He does not mention at all that another organizer—and a key ally of Mr. Kasparov and Mr. Kasyanov—was Eduard Limonov, leader of the nationalist and militantly anti-American outlawed National Bolshevik Party. As the photographs accompanying this article show . . . a significant, and the most assertive, part of the demonstrators marched under the Nazi-style banners of the National Bolshevik Party. . . And some of the demonstrators did not just march. . . In a number of instances they also attacked the police.
A summary of recent events:

  • In 2004, the NBP staged an audacious anti-Putin protest/provocation, breaking in to the presidential visitors' room in the Kremlin.
  • In 2005, the registration of the NBP was cancelled by the Supreme Court.
  • During 2006, the NBP staged several more protests, including entering the Finance Ministry, "throwing leaflets and demanding that bank deposits lost in the turbulent 1990s be returned to their owners" and "trying to enter the State Duma building to attend a parliamentary session, citing the Constitution, which says parliamentary sessions are open to the public" (quotes from Novosti). Limonov's sense of humor is evident.
  • On March 3, 2007, the NBP participated in the Other Russia protests in St Petersburg, allegedly attacking police officers. Limonov said afterwards that "the activists of the National Bolshevik Party have fully justified our hopes. They really were on March 3 the avant-garde’s strike battalion, a hot shell, in all confrontations the first and most militant" (quote from The National Interest).
  • On April 14, 2007, the NBP participated in the Moscow protest, police reactions to which might well (as the National Interest alone suggested) have been in anticipation not of the likely behavior of a former chess champion and a former prime minister, but in anticipation of the likely behavior of the NBP.
  • On April 26, 2007, the Moscow City Court declared the NBP an "extremist organization" (a decision which, according to Gazeta, was announced in the government-run Rossiiskaya Gazeta before it was announced in court!). This decision renders members of the NBP subject to a fine of 200,000 rubles or two years in prison merely for belonging to the NBP.
  • On April 28, 2007, Limonov announced he planned a further march.

Although the NBP's provocatons achieved little during its earlier, semi-Traditionalist, anti-Yeltsin phase, then, they seem to be rather effective during its current phase.