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.