Sunday, November 24, 2013

Bertonneau's blog

Thomas F. Bertonneau, whose blog at the conservative Brussels Journal was mentioned in an earlier post, also has a very active stand-alone blog, The Orthosphere, started in 2012. The blog is mostly Christian and political, and advertises the possibility of setting up or joining "local traditionalist groupuscles." The two groupuscles that are linked are both Australian, and paleoconservative more than Traditionalist, though one--in Sydney--does have an interest in Evola. Bertonneau's interest in Guénon is such that his blog own can be called "soft" Traditionalism.

Thanks to N. R. for drawing my attention to The Orthosophere.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

New translations of Dugin, and other reading

Alexander Dugin's Fourth Political Theory has just (2013) been translated into Greek, published by Esoptron (Έσοπτρον), a mainstream Greek publisher. English and German translations have also been published recently (2012) by Arktos, the current incarnation of the publisher previously noted in this blog (post here) under its former name, Integral Tradition Publishing.

All these books are available on Amazon, which makes it possible to see what other authors some of Dugin's readers are buying. Unsurprisingly, one finds Julius Evola, Alain de Benoist, and Guillaume Faye. There is also a new addition, Markus Willinger, whose Generation Identity: A Declaration of War against the 68ers is also published by Arktos. Willinger is a young (born 1992) Austrian, a reader of Evola and de Benoist and Faye, whose book contains forty short chapters on topics such as identity, loneliness, religion, ecology, death, sexuality, ethnopluralism, and the Zeitgeist. Chapter 41 is his "declaration of war." Another book that Dugin's Amazon US readers are buying is Jack Donovan's exploration of masculinity, The Way of Men. But then a lot of people are buying Donovan at present.

To avoid Dugin, go to Mars!

An unusual argument was made in yesterday's USA Today: to avoid Alexander Dugin, humanity should go to Mars. Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society, starts an opinion piece in which he argues for a joint Russian-American Mars exploration program by referring to Edward Snowden, Syria, and Dugin as indices of deteriorating Russian-American relations. Instead of quarrelling, Zubrin argues, Russia and America should combine forces in a "grand project." I wonder how Zubrin became aware of Dugin.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

María Zambrano

I have just stumbled across the work of María Zambrano, the Spanish philosopher and sometime poet who died in 1991.

Zambrano is interesting because she read and was influenced by Guénon in the 1930s and 1940s, during a period when Traditionalism seems otherwise to have had little impact on the Spanish-speaking world, and because she was herself a leftist--the daughter of a member of Socialist Workers Group, the wife of a diplomat of the Spanish Republic that lost the Civil War to Franco, who returned to Spain precisely because the war seemed lost, who left Spain for exile as Barcelona was about to fall to the Nationalists, not to return until 1984. Finally, she is interesting because she was a woman--there have been female Traditionalists, but all the major figures and writers have been male.

Zambrano is in fact so unusual in Traditionalist terms that a careful examination of her relationship with Guénon's work is required. There seems to be general agreement that she was a perennialist and that Guénon was important to her, and that the mystical is central to her work, but she of course had many other sources, from Plotinus to the Spanish tradition, in which some include Ibn Arabi. Zambrano was also involved with the circles around Eranos. Some of these issues are examined by Adele Ricciotti in "Método y simbología en la razón poética de María Zambrano,"Annales Universitatis Mariae Curie-Skłodowska 36, 1 (2011), pp. 27-39. But more work is needed.

For those who know Spanish,  a beautiful reading of a beautiful passage from Zambrano's Claros del Bosque (1977) is to be found on YouTube.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Boutchichi rap

One of France's leading rappers, Abd al Malik, is a Boutchichi, a member of the Moroccan-based Sufi order that is currently one of the world's most important, and draws on Traditionalism.

Abd al Malik, a French rapper, seen here on the cover of his best known album, Dante, is also a poet, novelist, and débatteur. He is celebrated by the French establishment (he is a Chevalier de l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres, a sort of literary knighthood) both because of his artistic achievements and because he is that comparatively rare thing, a French Muslim with street credibility who celebrates the Republic rather than criticizes it.

Abd al Malik credits Sufism for his appreciation of pluralism, a position that is certainly found in the Boutchichiyya, and which owes something to Traditionalism. A recent article on Abd al Malik, Jeanatte S. Jouili, "Rapping the Republic: Utopia, Critique and Muslim Role Models in Secular France" (French Politics, Culture and Society 31, no. 2, 2013, pp.58-80), which discusses the Boutchichiyya but not Traditionalism, records Abd al Maliks's youthful interest in philosophy. Deleuze, Camus and Sartre are mentioned, but not Guénon.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

New book on the Maryamiyya (in Persian)

A new book has just been published in Iran: Abdollah Shahbazi,مریمیه: از فریتیوف شوان تا سید حسین نصر (The Maryamiyya, from Frithjof Schuon to Seyyed Hossein Nasr). The book is available online in pdf format here.

Shahbazi is a respected Iranian historian, who has also published on the rise and fall of the Pahlavi dynasty and on twentieth-century Marxism. He was the founding director of the Political Studies and Research Institute.

In the introduction to his book, Shahbazi says that it is based mostly on my Against the Modern World and on this blog, and also on the internet publications of Mark Koslow. The book is 247 pages long in the pdf version, and to judge from the table of contents follows a more or less standard path, though it has some less usual chapters--on Max Muller, the Baha'is, and Vali Reza Nasr. It seems to give special prominence to nudity, sex and related topics.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Traditionalism in the Morgenland

Guest post by Martin Riexinger, Arab and Islamic Studies, Aarhus University

The current edition of Sabah Ülkesi is devoted to Traditionalism. Sabah Ülkesi is a quarterly magazine on cultural issues which is published in Turkish by the Islamische Gemeinschaft Milli Görüş in Germany and is distributed free to members.

Milli Görüş, "National (world-)view," is the second largest Islamic organization in Germany after the mosque associations affiliated to the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs, and has branches in some other European countries. It was traditionally affiliated to the political parties lead by the grand old man of Turkish Islamism Necmettin Erbakan (1926-2011), and since the decline of the last of these parties in the 2000s seems to concentrate on religious activities instead of Turkish politics.

The title of the magazine, Sabah Ülkesi, is a translation of Morgenland, a German term which is even more old-fashioned than 'Orient' and evokes the Arabian Nights and the infatuation of German poets with Persian and Arabic in the age of Romanticism. Apparently the purpose of this publication is to bolster the politics of the Milli Görüş movement with a broader cultural outlook and a more general critique of Western modernism. And who could serve this purpose better than Western critics of modernism? Thus the April issue of Sabah Ülkesi was dedicated to German Romanticism with Caspar David Friedrich’s iconic painting ‘Wanderer above the Sea of Fog’ adorning the cover, and a special issue on Traditionalism is the sequel to the Romanticism issue. This special issue was discussed on the cultural program of TRT, the Turkish state television channel (see this clip on YouTube). A description of it follows.

In a leading article, “Tradition and Traditionalism as a Social Sorting Device” (Gelenek ve Geleneksel Ayrıştırma Aracı Olarak Gelenekselcilik), Nuri Sağlam deplores how tradition has been juxtaposed to modernity whenever Muslims and Islam are dealt with so that Muslims can easily be denounced as fanatic and reactionary whereas in fact, in a world which is changing faster and faster, tradition can serve as an opportunity for liberation.

Other articles are dedicated to the protagonists of the Traditional school, in particular those who converted to Islam, as for example in the introductory article “Four Travelers Encountered on the ‘Eternal Journey’: Guénon, Schuon, Burckhardt and Lings…” (’Daimi Yolculuk’ta karşılaşmış dört Yolcu) by Melek Paşalı. Serap Kılıç describes in “Philosophia perennis and Its Manifestation in the Course of History” (Ezelî Hikmet ve Tarihî Süreçte Tezahürü) the Traditionalist idea that sacred knowledge based on a divine origin can be found in all authentic traditions. Zeynep Kot Tan addresses in her article “Notes Concerning the Perception of the Traditionalist School” (Gelenekselci Ekol algısına ilişkin Notlar) what should be the major problem for orthodox Muslims with regard to the Traditionalist school—that their approach relativizes the truth claims of any one particular religion—but defends Traditionalism against (unnamed) Muslim detractors who equate it to the ‘liberal-secularist’ idea that all religions are the same. Discarding such ‘reductionist concepts’ she claims that religions have within their very own framework instruments that allow them to attain truth.

In “The Knowledge of Being and the Being of Knowledge: The Understading of Being and Knowledge in René Guénon” (Varlığın Bilgisi Bilginin Varlığı: René Guénon’un Varlık ve Bilgi Anlayışı), Numan Rakipoğlu writes that Guénon rejected the subject-object distinction that characterizes most post-Cartesian Western philosophy, and adopted both Vedantic anti-dualism (advaita) and the Sufi concept of unity of existence (waḥdat al-wujūd) to express his point that there is no clear separation between subject and object because both are derived from Being. He leaves the shackles of Aristotelian logic behind him, and hence his approach is closer to that of wise men like Ibn ʿArabī, Qūnawī and Jīlī. His ideas contradict the nominalist concepts which underlie most of modern philosophical and scientific concepts.

The aspect of the ‘transcendental unity of religions’ is also dealt with, by Nurullah Koltaş in “A contemporary/ modern Wiseman: Frithjof Schuon and Traditionalism” (Çağdaş bir Arif: Frithjof Schuon ve Gelenkselcilik). Koltaş gives a brief account of Schuon’s life, and defends him against allegations of syncretism, even though he turned to Native American religion after having converted to Islam. Religions are not mixed together they are already one in their essence. Koltaş seems to be the most prominent of the special issue’s authors: he teaches philosophy at Trakya Üniversitesi and has published a book on the Traditionalist school and Islam (Glenekselci Evol ve İslam, Istanbul: İnsan Yayınları, 2013).

In another biographical article, Ercan Alkan addresses discusses “Titus Burckhardt: Traditionalism and Sufism” (Titus Burckhardt: Gelenekselcilik ve Tasavvuf) where he describes how Burckhardt traces back all aspects of Islamic art to the principle of tawḥīd. According to Alkan, Burckhardt saw Sufism as the internal direction and essence of Islam, and as a commentary on the Qurʾān.

The title of the article “Geleneğin sinemadaki izsürücüsü Tarkowski” is difficult to translate because it alludes to the title of the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s most famous film: “The Stalker of Tradition in Cinema” sounds a bit odd in English. In this contribution, Özay Aslan alleges an intellectual affinity between Tarkovsky and the Traditionalist school. He refers to Tarkovsky’s book Sculpting Time where the director claims that “the East (i.e. the Easterner) doesn’t say a word about himself but loses himself in God, nature and time and reemerges in them.” However, Aslan does not claim or try to show that Tarkowski was influenced by the Traditionalist school.

Finally the issue contains three interviews, one with the leading Traditionalist Seyyed Hossein Nasr, and one each with Mark Sedgwick and William Chittick.

In his interview, Nasr declares that he became attracted to and finally convinced by Traditionalist thought because the Traditionalist school provided a critique of the modernist worldview which rests on the ‘first principles.’ According to Nasr it gives post-Christian Westerners an opportunity to rediscover their traditions, and can enable the Muslims who live as minorities in the West to defend themselves against the onslaught of secular ideologies. But for this purpose they also have to overcome the inferiority complex which Western colonialism has instilled into them. Unlike Japan, China or India, which have to various degrees adopted some form of Western modernism, the majority of Muslims remained devoted to their faith and thus remain an obstacle to western dominance. Islam also continues to be a whole way of life from which no single elements could be adapted. One cannot simply practice some aspects of Sufism like one can practice yoga, one has to become Muslim, and many in the West have done so.

William Chittick stresses right at the beginning that he does not want to be considered a Traditionalist or a member of any other ‘school.’ However, he confesses that when he was a student reading Schuon had a considerable impact on him because he did not believe in the ‘American Way of Life.’ Asked whether he thinks that other religions might contain some truths from which the Muslims might profit, Chittick answers that just as one first begins to reflect on one’s own language when one learns another one, people begin to reflect on their religion once they encounter another one. According to his experience they then return to their religion with even more conviction. In response to a question about why Sufism has become so popular in the West, Chittick states the many in the West encounter not only Islam, but also Christianity and Judaism in narrow-minded, fanatic form, but encounter Sufism as a message of love and mercy in the form of beautiful poems. However, one should not make the mistake of separating Sufism from Islam, from the teachings of the theologians and the regulations of the sharia. Chittick says he does of course not renounce such advantages of modernity as computers (although Illich has alerted us to the Medical Nemesis), but the people of earlier periods were far more aware of what it meant to be a human and of what God demanded from them. It was not only modernization and modernism which disrupted the connection between Muslims and their heritage: another factor was according to him the politicization of Islam.

Muazzez Tümay talks with Mark Sedgwick, whom she introduces as a scholar with a critical approach to Traditionalism, about “The other side of Traditionalism” (Gelenekselciliğin diğer yakası). Starting with the analysis that Traditionalism is Western philosophy cloaked in Islamic terms, the interviewer asks Sedgwick why he does not consider Guénon a Muslim although the circumstances of his passing away are well known. Sedgwick replies that it is for God to judge whether Guénon was a Muslim or not but that it is apparent that there is no major change in his writings between before and after his conversion to Islam. And this is the case because he wanted to discover the perennial philosophy which is our Urreligion. Sedgwick states that the Traditionalist critique of modernism has some aspects in common with Romanticism, but ‘Guénon was not Goethe’ and Traditionalism lacks the obsession with individualism and originality that characterizes Romanticism. Sedgwick also refuses to accept that other currents of Traditionalism have split off from ‘Islamic Traditionalism.’ As a scholar, it is not his task to say what true Traditionalism (or true Islam) is. In response to a question about why Traditionalism is so successful in Turkey although he has called it a ‘school for intellectuals,’ Sedgwick responds that historical experiences in Turkey and Russia were completely different from the West. This might explain why Traditionalism attracts far more interest there. Asked what motivated him to study Traditionalism, Sedgwick responds that in the beginning he was motivated because he himself found Traditionalism fascinating, and then he wanted to understand why others were fascinated by Traditionalism. After publishing Against the Modern World he thought that he had done his duty and could now address other subjects, but that was not possible because people continue to ask him about Traditionalism.

Friday, August 02, 2013

"Traditional Islam" explained

An important new article on Traditional Islam has just been published, and is easily available online. It is Kasper Mathiesen, "Anglo-American ‘Traditional Islam’ and Its Discourse of Orthodoxy," Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies 13 (2013), pp. 191-219.

In this article, Mathiesen explores and explains the discourses of "Traditional Islam," which he distinguished from Traditionalism, despite its origins in Traditionalism and the ways in which it continues to parallel Traditionalism.

He suggests that Traditional Islam, with capital letters, "may be construed as a denomination within Sunni Islam."  It is, he considers, "one of the main paradigms and most influential currents within contemporary Islam," but is predominantly Western: as a Google search confirms, al-islām al-taqlīdī ("Traditional Islam" in Arabic) barely exists.

Mathiesen traces the origins of Traditional Islam to Seyyed Hussein Nasr’s Traditional Islam in the Modern World (1987) which, he considers, "sets forth a holistic, inspiring and learned grand vision of the Islamic past, of traditional Islam as it was, is, should and could be." Since 1987, he argues, Traditional Islam has developed into something more specific, more Sunni, and less perennialist--replacing, for example, the classic Traditionalist account of decline with one based soundly on Islamic hadith.

Above all, however, there has developed a distinctive discourse, mostly at the hands of Nuh Ha Mim Keller and Abdul Hakim Murad, which the bulk of Mathieson's article explains. The essentials of this mirror the classic trio of  islam, iman and ihsan, and are the importance of the madhhabs in fiqh, an ʿaqīda that stresses complete Divine transcendence against the anthropomorphism of Ibn Taymiyya and his contemporary Wahhabi/Salafi followers, and "the revivification of Islamic Sufism," which for Mathiesen is the "real core issue" in Traditional Islam.

The article is valuable for giving a more thorough and precise picture of Traditional Islam than is available anywhere else, and for explaining its relationship to Traditionalism clearly and convincingly. Mathiesen is right that Traditional Islam today is something separate from Traditionalism, and yet its debt to Traditionalism is clear: it is after all quite possible to object to reformists and Salafis, to value the madhhabs and stress Divine transcendence, without ending up in Sufism. Traditional Islam in a sense simply reaches the same destination as Traditionalism proper by a different route.

Mathiesen notes in passing that he accepts Ron Geaves' classification of British Barelwis as "Traditional Islam." It would be interesting to see a fuller examination of the relationship between this and the Traditional Islam of Keller and Murad.

In closing, I must declare an interest: Mathiesen is a PhD student in the Islamic Cultures and Societies Research Unit at Aarhus University, where I teach.

Monday, July 29, 2013

New French book on Guénon

Just out: a new French book on Guénon, David Bisson's René Guénon: Une politique de l'esprit (Paris: Pierre-Guillaume de Roux, 2013), 528 pp., €29.90.

Bisson, one of whose articles has already been noted by this blog, is an academic, and defended a PhD thesis in political science on Guénon in 2009, "Une politique de la Tradition au XXème siècle. Fondements et usages de la pensée de René Guénon (1910-1980)". His book reflects his politicalogical interests. It is divided into four parts. First comes "Tradition in theory" (1910-32), then "Tradition in practice" (1930-51), then "Tradition in perspective" (1951-80) and finally and more briefly "Tradition today" (1980-2000). Technically, the fourth part is the closing section of the third part.

"Tradition in theory" sees Guénon's early life as "genesis" (gnostic intuition), "incarnation" (Oriental exposure) and "synthesis:" esoteric reason. Then comes "Tradition as metapolitical project," proceeding from a "metaphysics of history" (the end of the modern world) to a program of "intellectual" reform. This section ends by asking how Guénon should be placed politically, and suggests that he should be understood as a modern despite himself--perhaps at the avant-garde of modernity--and as belonging to the Counter-Enlightenment, to extreme conservatism ("reaction"), and to the Right.

"Tradition in practice" looks first at Guénon's life from 1931, and then at Traditionalism in politics, focusing on Evola, Eliade, Carl Schmitt, Pierre Drieu la Rochelle, and Simone Weil. This section ends by asking how the movement that Guénon inspired should be understood, and suggests that it should be seen as an intellectual community positioned between esotericism, politics and spirituality, and as a coherent ideology, but one that asks for initiatic realization rather than political engagement.

"Tradition in perspective" looks at the major streams of Traditionalism after 1951 in terms of the "regular" Traditionalism of Schuon, Vâlsan, and Maridort, the "gnostic perspectives" of Eliade, Henry Corbin, Gilbert Durand, and Eranos, and the "anti-modern metapolitics" of Raymond Abellio, Louis Pauwels, Evola and the New Right.

"Tradition today," finally, looks briefly at the "reconfiguration of the Traditionalist space" (current French Traditionalist journals, Pallavicini), the "new reception of Traditionalism in the academic field" (Jean Borella and contemporary French academics such as Éric Geoffroy), and "re-readings of Traditionalism in the metapolitical space" (the New Right).

The book covers the standard ground well, then, and also adds some new perspectives, both analytically and in terms of (mostly French) figures who are often understudied or ignored in connection with Traditionalism (not least by myself!): Carl Schmitt, Drieu la Rochelle, Simone Weil, Corbin, Durand, Abellio, Louis Pauwels, and Jean Borella. The book's vision is distinctly Franco-centric, but then this is hard to object to in a French book!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

No real Nazis in Tibet

Ernst Schäfer
Isrun Engelhardt, the historian of Ernst Schäfer's 1938-1939 German expedition to Tibet, has published an interesting and entertaining article, "Nazis of Tibet: A Twentieth Century Myth," on

Engelhardt looks at the origins of the "alleged Nazi-Tibetan connection" from Heinrich Neuhaus in 1618 (sic) to Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier, mentioning Guénon's Le Roi du Monde (1927) in passing, and compares these to what is known of the Schäfer expedition from the  primary sources she has studied. Conclusion: no real Nazis in Tibet.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Dugin OpEd in FT

Alexander Dugin has an OpEd piece in today's Financial Times, "The world needs to understand Putin" (March 12, 2013). Very measured and moderate--Putin is a conservative, and why this is, and why it matters. Dugin is described as "chairman of the department of the sociology of international relations at Moscow State University." Well, yes. But there's a lot more to him than that!

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Postdoc in Sweden

The University of Gothenburg in Sweden is offering a postdoctoral fellowship for a person working on "Western Esotericism and Islamology, for example notions of the Muslim in esoteric discourses, transfer of magic, alchemy and astrology from Islamic traditions to Western currents, and the adoption of Western esoteric practices within Sufic organisations." Some projects dealing with Traditionalist Sufism would fall in that category, I think. Further details here. It's a good department.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Traditionalist economics

Waleed El-Ansary has brought Traditionalism to bear on a new area, Islamic economics, following on E. F. Schumacher's classic application of Traditionalism to economics in general in Small as Beautiful (1973).

El-Ansary, who is University Chair of Islamic Studies in the Department of Theology at Xavier University (Cincinnati, Ohio), has contributed a chapter on "Islamic Science and the Critique of Neoclassical Economic Theory" to Karen Hunt-Ahmed's Contemporary Islamic Finance: Innovations, Applications and Best Practices (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2013), pp. 75-101. El-Ansary gives Schumacher and S. H. Nasr as his points of departure, and concludes that the application of divine law to economics not only ensures that spiritual needs are met rather than ignored, but also strengthens such principles such as justice and contract that are essential for free markets to operate in the first place.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Breton, Surrealism, Traditionalism

In 1978, Eddy Batache published Surréalisme et tradition: la pensée d’André Breton jugée selon l’oeuvre de René Guénon (Paris: Éditions Traditionnelles), arguing for Guénon as a major influence on Breton and on Surrealism.

Tessel Bauduin has now completed a PhD dissertation, "The occultation of Surrealism: a study of the relationship between Bretonian Surrealism and western esotericism" (University of Amsterdam, 2012), arguing against Batache (amongst other things). Her dissertation may be downloaded from here.

Batache, argues Bauduin, built his argument on accumulating similarities between Breton's thought and Traditionalism, and ignored the fundamental incompatibilities between Surrealism, which was of the Left and had no interest in extra-European phenomena, and Traditionalism, which tended towards the Right and was primarily interested in extra-European phenomena. Also, as Breton himself said, Guénon was interested in the mind, not the heart. Yes, Breton was briefly interested in Guénon's work, but he was interested in it in the way that Surrealism in general was interested in esotericism in general and even in spiritism: poetically, as a source of material.

A nicely written and well argued dissertation that makes a real contribution to our understanding of the relationship between art and esotericism in general, and Surrealism and Traditionalism in particular.