Sunday, December 21, 2014

Traditionalism as a Western adaptation of Hinduism that negates claims of Truth?

D.A. has drawn my attention to a review essay prompted by Against the Modern World that raises an interesting question: the review essay's author, Mohamed Ghilan, writes: "Traditionalism is a Western adaptation of Hinduism that negates claims of Truth by any religion through relativizing all of them."

I think Mohamed Ghilan is right in some ways and wrong in others. He is right in the sense that early Traditionalism drew very heavily on Hinduism (as did other religious currents in the West at the time). He is also right in that in general relativizing multiple religions inevitably negates the truth claims of any of them, since if all claims are true in some sense, none can be true literally. And he is right that in the case of Traditionalism, a focus on the esoteric may trivialise the exoteric, not exactly negating the truth claims of a given exoteric religion, but reducing their importance.

Mohamed Ghilan is wrong, though, in the sense that although early Traditionalism drew heavily on Hinduism, Hinduism was not its most important ingredient. I am not now quite sure what the most important ingredient was, but I am beginning to suspect that it was a development of Neoplatonic philosophy. Neoplatonism is of course found in classic Islamic philosophy (and thus also in Sufism) as well as in Western thought. Our understanding of the esoteric, both in Islam and in Western thought, owes much to Neoplatonism.  Mohamed Ghilan may thus actually be joining the ancient dispute about the relationship between philosophy and religion, between the esoteric and the exoteric.

My own feeling is that philosophy and religion, the esoteric and the exoteric, are not necessarily incompatible. One can find a philosophical proposition convincing and still follow a religion, just as one can find a natural-scientific proposition convincing and still follow a religion. But one can also do the opposite, and focus on the esoteric to the full or partial exclusion of the exoteric. It depends on the person and on circumstances.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Rudolf von Sebottendorf's Turkish Freemasonry

A recent article by Thierry Zarcone, "Occultism in an Islamic Context: The Case of Modern Turkey from the Nineteenth Century to the Present Time" (in Henrik Bogdan and Gordan Djurdjevic, Occultism in a Global Perspective, Durham: Acumen, 2013) shows that the identification between Freemasonry and Sufism made by Rudolf von Sebottendorf in 1924 was also made frequently during the nineteenth century, especially with regard to the Bektashi Sufis.

Von Sebottendorf's Die Praxis der alten türkischen Freimaurerei (Leipzig: Theosophisches Verlagshaus, 1924) is now available in two English translations, as Secret Practices of the Sufi Freemasons: The Islamic Teachings at the Heart of Alchemy (Rochester: Inner Traditions, 2013) and The Practice of the Ancient Turkish Freemasons (Runa-Raven Press, 2000, out of print). It is also available in Turkish translation, as Eski Türk Masonlarının Uygulamaları: Bektaşi, Gülhaç ve Simya Sırları (The Practices of the Ancient Turkish Freemasons: The Secrets of Bektash and Rosicrucian Alchemy, Istanbul: Hermes Yayınları, 2010).

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Tyr volume 4

A new volume of Tyr, one of the more varied and interesting Traditionalist journals, has just been published. See 430 pages, with articles by Alain de Benoist, Collin Cleary, Nigel Pennick, Claude Lecouteux, Steve Harris, Stephen Pollington, Michael Moynihan and Christian Rätsch.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Eliade and Traditionalism

An interesting new article on Eliade and Traditionalism: Timotheus Lutz, "Mircea Eliade's 'Traditionalism': Appearance and Reality," Hyperion 2015. The article quotes several comments on Traditionalism and Traditionalists (Guénon and Coomaraswamy) by Eliade of which I was not previously aware. I am not sure I agree with the article's conclusions, but the research on which it is based is certainly valuable. Thanks to CG for drawing my attention to this article.

Traditionalist postage stamp

Only just found: the world's only known Traditionalist postage stamp.

Issued by the Moldovan Post Office (Posta Moldovei) in 2007, a series of three stamps featured the Romanian playwright Ion Luca Caragiale (1852-1912), the Moldovan opera singers Anastasia Dicescu (1887-1945) and Maria Bieșu (1935-2012), and Mircea Eliade (1907-1986).

Inset in the Eliade stamp, shown here, are two well-known photographs of Eliade, the covers of two of his better known books (The Myth of the Eternal Return and the History of Religious Ideas), and--less predictably--a photograph of Guénon and Schuon in Cairo.

The stamp was designed by Elena Karacenţev (b. 1960), a Moldovan artist who grew up in what was then Leningrad, and so perhaps discovered Eliade in a Russian version.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Traditionalism in Hungary

Gábor Vona in front of the Jobbik emblem
TGP has just drawn my attention to the rise of the influence of Evola in Hungary.

Gábor Vona (in Hungarian, Vona Gábor), the leader since 2006 of Jobbik (the Movement for a Better Hungary, which holds 12% of the seats in the Hungarian parliament and is the country's third political force), is a declared admirer. He wrote the introduction to a recent collection of Evola's work, Jobboldali fiatalok kézikönyve (Manual for Nationalist Youth, 2012), and in 2010 wrote:
My idea of society and people was formed and developed by such great thinkers as Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Mircea Eliade, Rüdiger Safranski, Konrad Lorenz or the all time favourite, Master Eckhart. But If I had to define the category to which my thinking and my perception belong to it would have to be the following: traditionalist. Here I should emphasize Béla Hamvas, Julius Evola and René Guenon. 
Béla Hamvas (1897-1968) was the Hungarian writer, journalist and librarian who introduced Traditionalism into Hungarian circles before the Second World War.

It is unclear what influence Evola has within Jobbik, and it can be assumed that few of the million Hungarians who voted for Jobbik at the last election have read him. But Vona bases his assessment of Islam on a Traditionalist analysis, and this analysis has policy consequences, with Jobbik for example taking a determinedly pro-Palestinian stance, and Vona happily visiting Turkey as well as Russia. He was in Moscow at the invitation of Alexander Dugin in 2013, and is a staunch supporter of Dugin's Eurasianism. Commentators are unsure how to describe Jobbik, with the British Guardian for example reaching for labels like "Fascist" and "extreme right." "New Right" seems a better label.

The Manual for Nationalist Youth was published by Kvintesszencia Kiadó, a publisher run by Tibor Imre Baranyi which now has 19 Traditionalist titles in Hungarian: 6 by Evola, 6 by Guénon, 2 by Schuon, and 5 by Hungarian Traditionalists (2 by András László, 2 by Tibor Imre Baranyi himself, and 1 by Róbert Horváth). András László (b. 1941) was the successor as Hungary's leading Traditionalist to Béla Hamvas; Róbert Horváth is a younger Hungarian Traditionalist.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Lord Northbourne, organic agriculture, and Schumacher

Lord Northbourne in 1956
John Paull has just published a short biography of Lord Northbourne (1896-1982) in the Journal of Organic Systems, “Lord Northbourne, the man who invented organic farming, a biography,” Journal of Organic Systems 9 (1), 2014, pp. 31-53.

Northbourne is generally known to those with an interest in Traditionalism as the first English translator of René Guénon’s The Reign of Quantity (1953), of Frithjof Schuon’s Light on the Ancient Worlds (1965) and of Titus Burckhardt’s Sacred Art in East and West (1967). John Paull’s article argues convincingly that Northbourne’s 1940 book Look to the Land invented the term “organic farming,” which Northbourne put in opposition to “chemical farming.” He did not actually invent organic farming, however, but rather repackaged ideas deriving ultimately from Rudolf Steiner and Koberwitz via Ehrenfried Pfeiffer’s Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening; the term was then picked up and popularized by Jerome Rodale with his periodical Organic Farming and Gardening.

According to Paull, it was after the publication of Look to the Land that Marco Pallis got in touch with Northbourne and introduced him to Traditionalism. This led to Northbourne’s Religion in the Modern World (1963), to a number of articles in the Maryami-aligned journal Studies in Comparative Religion between 1967 and 1974, and to a final book, Looking Back on Progress (1970). It seems that it was Northbourne who introduced E. F. Schumacher to Traditionalism: Schumacher and Northbourne were both active in the Soil Association, which promoted organic farming. Northbourne may thus be important for the environmentalism of Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Prince Charles.

Northbourne was the fourth baron, descended from the first baron, a friend and colleague of Prime Minister William Gladstone. He was educated at Eton and Oxford, where he was president of the Oxford University Boat Club and for some time lectured on agriculture before succeeding to the family estates in Kent, where he lived for the remainder of his life.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Traditionalists banned by University College London Student Union

Discussion continues concerning the decision of the student union at University College London (UCL) to ban a Traditionalist reading group initially called "Tradition UCL" but renamed, at the time of its banning, "The Nietzsche Club." This was a smart move on the part of the UCL Traditionalists, as the ban has been most frequently reported as the banning of Nietzsche, and criticized as such.

The Nietzsche Club put up some posters entitled "Too much political correctness?" and "Equality is a false god" and advertising readings of de Benoist, Evola, Heidegger, and Nietzsche. They were, then, somewhere between political Traditionalism and the New Right. The student union voted to ban them on March 11, 2014 on grounds of protecting UCL students against the dangers of fascism, but the Trustees of UCL then suspended the ban while they took legal advice. Nothing has happened since, but the story passed from online news source to online news source until it was picked up by The Huffington Post on June 3 and The Daily Beast on June 6. And then by this blog.

It is not clear how many students were involved in the club, but their reading list has certainly reached a far wider public as a result of the ban than it did as a result of the initial advertisements.It also seems that the UCL student union is itself somewhat political, as the motion banning the Nietzsche Club noted that "fascism is used by the ruling class to divide workers and students... to split them and thus... undermine their resistance to... consequences of the crisis of the capitalist system."

Saturday, May 24, 2014

On Elements of Traditionalist Symbolism in Tarkovsky

Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-86)
Guest post by Vadim Mikhailin, Department of Foreign Literature and Journalism, Saratov State University, Russia.

The growing impact of Traditionalism in modern Russia is not just due to the fact that a group of Traditionalist-oriented former Soviet dissidents like Alexander Dugin and Geydar Jamal have managed to reach the prime of their intellectual and (mediated) political influence. It is also a result of the susceptibility of some strata of modern Russian political and cultural elites to elements of the Traditionalist discourse which they see as quite “natural” parts of their own Weltanschauung. The question is why so many people from very different late-Soviet milieus, from ex-KGB men to dissident activists, seem to share the same fundamental sets of attitudes: uncritical acceptance of “alternative histories,” a tendency to see “spiritual” motivations behind social processes, and appreciation of individual initiation into “hidden” knowledge.

To answer this question one has to go back to the full-scale crisis of the Soviet identity in the 1960s when the failure of the last great Soviet mobilization project, “the thaw” (an attempt to reassign responsibility for the construction of the communist utopia to the level of individual choice), became obvious. Soviet intellectuals, accustomed to the comfortable regimes of self-identification offered by the Marxist harmonization of global and private horizons, developed a deep need for big explanatory constructions. And the problem was not only that the dominant late-Soviet version of Marxism appeared more and more obviously incapable of performing this function, although its failure to do this undoubtedly added to the prevailing sense of the world coming to a dead end. One of the most effective instruments in the “thaw” mobilization model was an emphasis on “sincerity,” which soon became a shibboleth for diverse phenomena, from new cinema to new kinds of microgroup identity. A competent use of this instrument supposed, among other things, the strengthening of individual motivations through more or less radical criticism of local mediating public discourses, which in itself was fatal for the highly unified system of Soviet public discourses and soon led to its general stigmatization as a kind of all-explaining blather. After the early 1960s, all and any public discourse was rather uncritically suspected of bathos, unless interiorized through some individually and situatively motivated milieu.

A basic need for the legitimization of one’s own position nevertheless remained, as did a need for big explanatory paradigms. The only regime of legitimization that deserved any credit became an individual approbation by some significant self, and the only “good” regime of legitimation of any kind of harmony between global and private meanings became a personal initiation from someone believed already to have the “key.” This could be any kind of initiation ‒ professional, religious, artistic, sexual, consumerist, or counter-cultural. But since this epoch, the life of any late-Soviet person could be seen as a quest in search of a series of initiations.

This does not mean that late-Soviet intellectuals were doomed to Traditionalism, but it did lead them to develop a number of common features which facilitated the reception of Traditionalist ideas and of ideas close to Traditionalism. This can be seen not only directly, in activities connected with a search for some spiritual and intellectual initiation that might add some sense to that dull and apparently doomed farce of late-Soviet civilization. We can also obtain insights into the nature of this sentiment through analysis of symbolic languages that a number of prominent figures in late Soviet culture used in their artistic practices, Andrei Tarkovsky being the most obvious figure of the kind.

Tarkovsky’s major works, like Nostalghia, The passion according to Andrei and Andrei Rublev, are all based on one and the same plot, supposedly autobiographically significant: a passionate and self-sacrificing search for initiation to some Knowledge, the only true one, coming from outside the corrupt modern world, being an embodiment of Decline and Fall. And the tragic aspect of the plot is that it is impossible, or next to impossible, to find the right Master to produce the initiation: the very situation of Soviet 1960s Traditionalism-bound Soviet intellectuals, or at least of those honest enough to be aware that reading books or listening to those who read the books does not produce the Tradition.

The idea of a world reaching the lowest point possible was immanent to Tarkovsky from very beginning, starting with his first full-scale film, Ivan's childhood (1962), which centered on a 12-year-old army scout whose family has been destroyed by the Germans and who lives in a dark universe of death and pain. His broken soul passes abruptly from childish reactions to the reactions of a born killer, who we see smiling only in scenes rendering his dreams about pre-war times, although these dreams also tend to finish with scenes of death or some other unsettling situation. These dreams, as well as many other scenes depicting Ivan's everyday reality, abound with water in all possible forms and aspects, later a distinctive feature of Tarkovsky’s visual language.

Ivan's childhood begins and finishes with a hero touching a tree, evidently a personally significant embodiment of an axis mundi. In the very first scene we see the boy standing by a young pine tree. Then the camera goes up along the trunk and a few seconds later we see the small figure of the boy, once again, through the upper boughs. Then we see a goat, then the boy running, seeing a butterfly and smiling because he appears to be able to fly himself. He flies up to see a sea bank and a well by some trees, then we see him standing by a muddy slope penetrated by tree roots, touching the roots and smiling at a slanting sunbeam. Then he runs again to catch up with a woman, his mother, who lets him a drink from a big bucket of sparkling water. Then the woman's expression changes as if she sees something terrible ‒ and Ivan wakes up for war.

In the final scene, which also repeats the stylistics of Ivan’s dreams although we already know that the boy has been executed by Germans, we pass from an apocalyptic picture of destroyed torture chambers stuffed with tree-root-like coils of wire and black-butterfly-like flying scraps of burnt paper to a happy sunlit seashore through a picture of Ivan hanged upside down like the Hanged Man, the 12th Tarot Arcana. He drinks again from the same pail which his mother then picks up and carries away to the sea. Then he plays hide and seek with a number of other children; he has his turn to seek and turns to the trunk of a great dry tree, closing his eyes. When his turn to seek comes, all the other children disappear except his little sister. On spotting her he races her, splashing in shallow sunlit waters. The last thing we see before the camera fades into darkness is his hand reaching for the great tree trunk.

It is not sure that Tarkovsky then had first-hand knowledge of Guénonian symbolism of heavenly waters and an axis mundi, but it is sure that in the Soviet epoch one could rarely find a direct way to any significant information, so possible influences must be sought for in the widest possible cultural milieu that a person belonged to. Tarkovsky himself, as far as I know, never mentioned any direct debt to Guénon, although he mentioned reading Castaneda, which was the most usual way for people in his milieu to become Traditionalism-oriented. Geydar Jamal read Castaneda in those times too, according to a big interview with him on this topic in 2013, and for all his somewhat skeptical evaluation of Castaneda as a “philosopher” he was very eager to promote the idea of valuable primordial knowledge passing through people like Castaneda, even if they were somewhat 'tricky' and profit-bound. Jamal even compared Castaneda to Mme Blavatsky, whom he praised, notwithstanding her occasional hocus-pocus.

We can be sure of two things. Tarkovsky was an eager insider in the Moscow Traditionalist-oriented milieu, and had a deep interest in Traditionalist subject matter and imagery as construction material for his films. This leads us to the reception of his films through a Traditionalist-oriented perspective, even if 90 per cent of his interested audience had heard nothing of Guénon, just for the sake of the feeling of taking communion in some Knowledge vaguely present.

Traditionalist or Traditionalist-compatible symbolism grows in frequency and significance in Tarkovsky’s later films, thickening around the basic plot of a search for initiation, deeply felt by Tarkovsky himself. In The passion according to Andrei (1966), which is possibly the best and the best-known of Tarkovsky’s masterpieces, the historical decorations of 15th century Russia become another metaphor for feeling the time’s end, and thus background for the protagonist’s (or rather protagonists’) quest. The aim of this search is the initiation of an artist, who is seen as the bearer of some inborn knowledge (as a kind of a dim memory about a previous life after metempsychosis) about the very possibility of the Knowledge, and thus doomed to look for the way to acquire it. The signs of the presence of Knowledge multiply, through the same symbolically meaningful domains of Tree and Water, but the Answer comes as silence, throwing the hero back onto himself. Even Feofan the Greek, who seems an embodiment of an archetypical figure of a Master, mainly keeps silent or talks with Andrei about trifles, though making no secret of being close to Knowledge. The situation seems the same for a second protagonist, Boriska the bell-caster, who saves himself from starving to death by saying that he is the only survivor to know the unique secret of bell copper from his dead father, thus trying to delay his death and make it easier. The final part of another film, The Bell, tells the story of his intuitive search for the only right way possible ‒ seasoned, for sure, with trees and abundant waters that take any form possible. In the end, doing his job perfectly well, which it seems he didn't himself expect, he cries aloud to Andrei, who hugs and tries to comfort him, that “the father died and didn't tell the secret.” Initiation seems to be in process notwithstanding the loss of direct access to the knowledge in its technical aspects.

One of Tarkovsky’s late films, Nostalgia, relies strongly on Tarot symbolism seemingly in the Papus version, the most popular and most easily acquired version in 1970s-80s Russia, when such books as Tarot divinatoire could be found not only in Moscow’s central Lenin's Library but in some other libraries like the State Foreign Literatures Library. The Arcana present form a basic structure for an ascending way of initiation ‒ with some omissions which absolutely correspond to the goals Tarkovsky seemed to follow, telling his usual story of an intuitive search for initiation without any guarantee of a success. A detailed analysis of the film would take too much space, but a final scene is notable, as we see Gorchakov, the protagonist, after his death following the famous passage with a candle (The Hermit) across the empty pool with a ladder resting against one of the walls (The Hanged Man through a figure at the back of Heuwagen by Hieronimus Bosch). He sits with a dog over a shallow pool of water in front of an idyllic little cottage (The Fool coming home, although not fulfilling the due spiritual transformation). When the camera draws out we see that the scene is incorporated into a ruin of a colossal Gothic temple, strongly reminding those ruins that one can meet at the paintings by Kaspar David Friedrich. The task is not fulfilled, but The Fool hits the right road and his final failure leads him to the presaged perspective ‒ that of a Great Tradition.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Major Traditionalist novel now in English

An English translation has just been published of what may be the most important Soft Traditionalist novel ever written, Adam Buenosayres (Adán Buenosayres, 1948) by Leopoldo Marechal (1900-70).

The Argentinian novelist Marechal is little known abroad, certainly in comparison to his one-time friend Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) or perhaps even in comparison to Ernesto Sabato, but his work is appreciated within Argentina and by critics everywhere. Adam Buenosayres is promoted in the blurb for its English translation as "Argentina's Ulysses" and as "one of the most outstanding anomalies of Argentinian literature," and was recently described in the literary section of La Gaceta as "a key novel of Argentinian literature." Marechal is also known for two other novels, The Banquet of the Archangel Severus (El banquete de Severo Arcángelo, 1965) and Megaphone, or War (Megafón, o la guerra, 1970), and for numerous essays and short stories.

Marechal spent time in Paris during the 1920s, establishing connections in literary and artistic circles there that presumably led to his discovery of Guénon. Three Traditionalist themes are found repeatedly in his writing: the idea of the Kali Yuga, anti-modernism, and initiation (Adam Buenosayres might almost be described as an initiatic novel). All these themes and understandings are clearly taken from Guénon, whom Marechal cites as "a certain Gallic metaphysician."  Marechal also follows closely Guénon's understanding of Dante, and even copies some quirks of Guénon's style. But he does not simply repeat Guénon. In the view of Norman Cheadle of Canada's Laurentian University,
None of this is to say that Leopoldo Marechal the novelist adopts Guénon’s ideology uncritically and gives it expression in Adán Buenosayres. He borrows Guénon’s apocalyptic doctrine of metahistory and, deploying it through his characters, parodies it… giv[ing] a new set of functions to the parodied material…. Guénon’s metahistory is parodied as a way of problematizing a metadiscursive cycle (Ironic Apocalypse, p. 45).
I am not sure about the metadiscursive cycle, but once again we see that true art cannot be merely didactic or purely imitative. Marechal draws inspiration from Guénon, and writes his own novels. He is a Soft Traditionalist, not a Hard Traditionalist.

In his private life, Marechal was a Catholic. Politically, he was a Peronist, which is apparently what led to his break with Borges.

Further reading:
  • Norman Cheadle, The Ironic Apocalypse in the Novels of Leopoldo Marechal (London: Tamesis, 2000). 
  • Graciela Coulson, Marechal: La pasión metafísica (Buenos Aires, Fernando García Cambeiro, 1974).

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Origins of Hakim Bey's Anarchism

A new article by Joseph Christian Greer, "Occult Origins: Hakim Bey’s Ontological Post-Anarchism" (Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies 2013, no. 2, pp. 166-87), examines the early development of the anarchist (or post-anarchist) thought of Hakim Bey (Peter Lamborn Wilson), who, as an earlier post noted, has origins in Traditionalism and perhaps even in the Maryamiyya.

Greer sees Hakim's mature Ontological Anarchism as deriving from a  mix of individualist anarchism, Daoist non-dualism, and esotericism, principally Chaos Magick with a touch of  Nietzsche. Not much Traditionalism here, then, save perhaps the title “The End of the World” used in Kaos for what later became more famous as communiqué #4 in T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy,  Poetic Terrorism, and no Islam beyond the legend of and Hassan-i Sabbah.

But even though the link between Hakim's anarchism and Traditionalism is not Greer's subject, the article is still of interest. Greer makes the point that for Hakim and others, the experience of gnosis can reveal the "interplay of the forces that structure reality," and that this "undermines the legitimacy of all hegemons and abrogates all laws." A hint, then, of how Traditionalism and anarchism may in part be compatible.

Monday, April 28, 2014

An intellectual history of Traditionalism in America--now in English

Now available in English: Setareh Houman's De la philosophia perennis au pérennialisme américain (Milan: Archè, 2010) has been published as From the Philosophia Perennis to American Perennialism (Chicago: Kazi, 2014). Paperback, $59.95, currently $53.96 on Amazon.

The English book is substantially the same as the French original, already discussed on this blog, but I am told that the section on Frithjof Schuon has been revised.

The blurb is:
The search for an eternal wisdom of divine origin, transmitted from the very dawn of humanity, but fragmented and partially lost, is a recurring theme in the history of Western esotericism. This theme was most notably expressed at the beginning of the 20th century by a form of thought called Traditionalism, above all from the moment that the French author René Guénon became its spokesman with his anti-modernist writings. The term Perennialism, however, refers more specifically to the form this thought has taken in the United States, as represented primarily by Frithjof Schuon and his followers, namely, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Huston Smith, and a second generation of writers such as James Cutsinger. Frithjof Schuon is regarded as the thinker who gave perennialist philosophy its definitive synthesis, and as the first perennialist to assume an initiatory function. Founder and spiritual master of a neo-Sufi order in the United States, Schuon based his perspective on the intellect and on the nature of things, and he oriented his own teaching toward an esoterism per se, personified by the Virgin Mary. The idea of religio perennis or sophia perennis, a set of metaphysical principles revealed by heaven and partially restored by each genuine founder of a new religion, became, in Schuon's metaphysics, the transcendent unity present in the essential core of every religion. This metaphysical view and the spiritual method introduced by Schuon were adapted by two of his followers, the Iranian professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr, an authority in Islamic Studies, and the American scholar Huston Smith, who specialized more in transpersonal experiences. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy is an independent figure among American perennialists, but shares their perspective. This new meaning of esoterism, in contrast to esotericism, applies to certain currents in Western culture that are historically related and show certain similarities, and that point toward a religionist approach to the study of religions an approach that is often criticized.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Arturo Reghini and Roman Traditionalism

Two resources for those interested in Arturo Reghini (photo below), Roman Traditionalism, and Julius Evola, both maintained by Christian Giudice, a PhD candidate at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden:
 For those who do not know Reghini, Evola wrote:
It is thanks to my encounter with Reghini (and Guenon, who Reghini first mentioned to me) that I decidedly broke with what “occultist” or Theosophical tendencies I still possessed, and came to acknowledge the complete separateness and transcendence of initiatory wisdom with respect to all profane culture, and particularly modern.
(quotation taken from Giudice's blog).

You can also read about how Evola slapped a German soldier in Capri, and of course about Reghini himself. The Facebook page carries periodic announcements that may be of interest to readers of this blog, for example of a paper Giudice is due to deliver on April 23, 2014, at Ben Gurion University, on "‘Why is the last mile the hardest mile?’: Mountaineering as an metaphor for spiritual advancement in Julius Evola and Aleister Crowley."

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Traditionalism and Natural Science

Stefano Bigliardi has just published Islam and the Quest for Modern Science.Conversations with Adnan Oktar, Mehdi Golshani, Mohammed Basil Altaie,Zaghloul El-Naggar, Bruno Guiderdoni and Nidhal Guessoum (Istanbul: Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul, 260 SEK).

Guiderdoni is a scientist--an astrophysicist, director of the Lyon Center for Astrophysics Research, well known for his 1998 paper on "Semi-analytic modelling of galaxy evolution in the IR/submm range"--and a Traditionalist Sufi, following Shaykh Abd Al Wahid Pallavicini of Milan. He is less famous than, for example, Adnan Oktar, also known as Harun Yahya, the Islamic creationist whose very heavy Atlas of Creation was given away across the world in 2007. But his views are rather more sophisticated.

Those interested may watch Guiderdoni lecture in English (University of St Andrews, 2008) or lecture in French (c. 2013), or can read Bigliardi's book.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Foreign Affairs identifies Dugin as "Putin's brain"

Alexander Dugin has been becoming more famous in the West since the Russian re-conquest of the Ukraine, as the Western media searches for ideological explanations for Russian actions.

Now Dugin has been identified as "Putin's brain" by Anton Barbashin and Hannah Thoburn, writing in the very influential US journal Foreign Affairs.

In "Putin's Brain: Alexander Dugin and the Philosophy Behind Putin's Invasion of Crimea," Barbashin and Thoburn write about Russia's post-Soviet need for a new strategy, about the history of Eurasianism, and about neo-Eurasianism and Dugin's career and views. They conclude:
Dugin’s ideology has influenced a whole generation of conservative and radical activists and politicians, who, if given the chance, would fight to adapt its core principles as state policy. Considering the shabby state of Russian democracy, and the country’s continued move away from Western ideas and ideals, one might argue that the chances of seeing neo-Eurasianism conquer new ground are increasing. Although Dugin’s form of it is highly theoretical and deeply mystical, it is proving to be a strong contender for the role of Russia’s chief ideology. Whether Putin can control it as he has controlled so many others is a question that may determine his longevity.
I am not so sure. Yes, post-Soviet Russia did need a new narrative, and yes, today's Russia has found a new narrative, and yes, Dugin's geopolitical views and neo-Eurasianism coincide with that narrative. But I am not convinced that philosophy produces invasions. Vladimir Putin has a brain of his own, and Russia has interests of her own, and geography has a logic of its own. Catherine the Great did not need neo-Eurasianism to conquer the Crimea in 1774. As a historian, I generally find that ideology contributes to events of this kind, but does not drive them.

Against the Modern World in Russian

My book Against the Modern World has just come out in Russian translation, as Наперекор современному миру: Традиционализм и тайная интеллектуальная история ХХ века, published by NLO (New Literary Observer) in Moscow.

The cover is amazing--see image to the right--and the book also contains some new material not included in the original English edition, mostly dealing with Traditionalism in Russia.

So far, the glossy lifestyle magazine Собака/Sobaka has voted it one of the five most interesting non-fiction books of the season, while the rightist-nationalist newspaper Завтра/Zavtra (discussed in the book) has concluded that it is not worth getting out from under the blanket for it. The Zavtra review is very extremely hostile and rather funny.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Mamleev's Shatuny in English

The work of Yuriy Mamleyev, the underground author from the circle of alternative intellectuals that Alexander Dugin joined, has until recently not been available in English, though some short stories were translated in 1980 and published as The Sky Above Hell and Other Stories.

Now, however, Mamleyev's seminal novel Шатуны (Shatuny), written between 1966 and 1968 and first published in samizdat, is available in English as The Sublimes from Haute Culture Books in Sweden, either in printed and hand-bound form for €2,000 (!) or (rather more usefully) as a free pdf download.

The publisher's blurb says:
In its search for the Absolute and with all its insanity, Mamleyev’s world reminds us of that of Dostoyevsky, but his characters go beyond ethical problems – they look into the abyss, they recoil and admit the existence of superior powers. Mamleyev goes one step further in trying to comprehend evil and metaphysical planes of consciousness. In The Sublimes, Mamleyev’s figures are mystics, perverse occultists, philosophical fanatics in search of immortality, of their own “eternal ego” and of the great Absolute. They sometimes seek evidential proof of the presence of God and the continuation of life in order to find an answer to the most terrifying question: What will they meet with on the other side of death?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Traditionalism and the New Right

The Journal for the Study of Radicalism has just published a special issue (Spring 2014, vol. 8, no. 1) on the New Right that contains two articles that deal with contemporary manifestations of Traditionalism.

"The Nouvelle Droite and 'Tradition,'" by Stéphane François, is devoted to an examination of the relationship between Traditionalism and the New Right, or rather to French New-Right Traditionalism--François sees "a Traditionalist current" as "a distinctive tendency within the ND [Nouvelle Droite, New Right]." He agrees with my earlier conclusion that Alain de Benoist cannot be considered a Traditionalist, a conclusion that de Benoist himself welcomes in a response ("Alain de Benoist Answers Tamir Bar-On") printed at the end of the special issue. François then stresses the influence of Evola and other Traditionalists on the New Right, especially with regard to the critique of modernity and the embrace of an Indo-European pagan alternative to Christianity, blamed for inspiring egalitarian secular utopias. Guénon's writing on Hinduism contributes to the New Right conception of Indo-European paganism, he thinks, but Evola in particular is enlisted to this end.

François also discusses what he calls "Nordic Traditionalism," a little known phenomenon that he says draws on Guénon's regard for a supposed original Hyperborean tradition. François mentions only one contemporary name in this connection, that of Paul-Georges Sansonetti. Sansonetti is the author of a number of books not discussed by François, the most striking of which is Hergé et l'énigme du pôle, which--according to its blurb--provides the key to decoding the secrets of the North Pole as Supreme Center as found in Hergé's Tintin books... It is not entirely clear how seriously this should be taken.

"A Conversation with John Morgan" by Arthur Versluis, takes discussion of Traditionalism and the New Right across the Atlantic. Morgan is the editor-in-chief of Arktos, an important English-language publisher for Traditionalist and New Right books, from Evola to de Benoist and Dugin. Unlike de Benoist, Morgan acknowledges an important debt to Traditionalism. As well as talking about this and about his own encounters with Sufism and Hinduism, Morgan discusses the origins, nature and mission of Arktos, and the general New Right "scene" (my term, not his) in America. He also explains how he sees the New Right as differing from the fascism that its critics seek to identify it with: the New Right does not favor a powerful state, and is not interested only in the material. The New Right is not radical, he says, in the sense of wanting revolution, but he "could even conceive of these ideas entering the mainstream political and cultural process eventually, such as has been happening recently with the identitarian movement in many Western European countries, which has been catching on among the youth with great success."

Two other articles mention Evola. The lead article, "The French New Right Neither Right, nor Left?" by Tamir Bar-On, merely mentions him in passing as an inspiration of the New Right, an inspiration that is examined in somewhat more depth in the second article, "The New Right and Metapolitics in France and Italy," by Massimiliano Capra Casadio.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Call for Reference Article

Note: The Call below is no longer live as the article has now been commissioned.

Proposals are invited for a 3,000 word article on "Guénonian Traditionalism" to be completed by 30 April 2014 for a major reference work on esotericism in the Routledge Worlds series, The Occult World, edited by Professor Christopher Partridge of Lancaster University. According to Routledge, 
The Routledge Worlds are magisterial surveys of key historical epochs, edited and written by world-renowned experts. Giving unprecedented breadth and depth of coverage, they are the works against which all future books on their subjects will be judged and are essential reading for anyone with a serious interest in the subject.
The Occult World seeks to provide understanding, dispel myths, and explore new trajectories in esoteric thought.

Scholars interested in writing the article on "Guénonian Traditionalism" are invited to contact Professor Partridge at, providing a brief CV indicating relevant previous publications and current academic affiliation.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Evola and Futurism

A new exhibition entitled Italian Futurism, 1909–1944: Reconstructing the Universe opened at the Guggenheim New York on February 21 and runs until September 1, 2014. Evola is not among the Futurists exhibited, but Valentine de Saint Point is, and her "Manifesto of the Futurist Woman" is among those excerpted on the excellent exhibition website. So is the original 1909 "Manifesto of Futurism" of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, generally accepted as the founder of Futurism. This makes clear that Evola's earlier participation in Futurism before his engagement in Traditionalism was not an aberration but a preparation: Futurism, like Traditionalism, included a radical critique of the status quo. "There is no beauty that does not consist of struggle," wrote Marinetti in his Manifesto. "We intend to glorify war—the only hygiene of the world." Ten years later, in 1919, Marientti helped write the Fascist Manifesto (Il manifesto dei fasci italiani di combattimento).

Friday, January 17, 2014

Guénon goes mainstream?

Peter King, Reader in Social Thought at De Montfort University in Leicester, England, has just published The Antimodern Condition: An Argument Against Progress with Ashgate (£54 or $109 hardback, ISBN 978-1-4724-0906-5). The title deliberately echoes Jean-François Lyotard's Postmodern Condition/La condition postmoderne, the 1979 book that helped launched the word "postmodern." But King maintains that the most comprehensive critiques of modernity are made not by postmodernists but by antimodernists, and that "the most complete challenge to modernity by any thinker before or since" is that of René Guénon.

King's book is "soft Traditionalism"--it draws on Guénon, but also draws on other sources. It starts with De Maistre and the Counter-Enlightenment, then moves on to Guénon, and then the Romanian-French philosopher Emil M. Cioran, especially as interpreted by Susan Sontag (not someone I have previously encountered in any relationship with Traditionalism). King then turns to the pre-revolutionary Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov, Epicurus, the University of Chicago's Martha Nussbaum, and five film directors, including Ingmar Bergman and Hiroshi Teshigahara. All these assist King to examine absurdity, anxiety (the modern "lack of acceptance of what we are and how we are"), egoism, complacency (including blandness, reundeerstood as a virtue) and acceptance. Quite eclectic, then, but it works, and in his final chapter King manages to pull all this together into a coherent critique of modernity.

The book is also "soft Traditionalism" because King parts company with the Traditionalists on certain points. He explicitly rejects Guénon's interest in initiation, as well as Evola's emphasis on race, which he sees (like nation) as a modern construct unworthy of the attention of the true antimodernist. King keeps Guénon's views on esoteric spirituality, but makes them incidental to Guénon's critique of modernity--while for Guénon, of course, the critique of modernity was ultimately incidental to esoteric reality.

King's Antimodern Condition may bring Guénon to new audiences. Ashgate is a mainstream (and good) academic publisher, and The Antimodern Condition complies with mainstream academic conventions. King himself is also a mainstream academic, having previously worked mostly on housing policy, both at De Montfort University and as part the Housing and Poverty working group of the Centre for Social Justice, a Conservative Party think tank. With this book, then, Guénon may join some of the mainstream intellectual discussions that he himself was not interested in, but which may one day finally find themselves interested in him.