TV Liberté, a French internet TV channel associated with the right, broadcast a one-hour program on Guénon on February 27, 2019, entitled “René Guénon et la Tradition primordial” (René Guénon and the primordial Tradition). The hour-long program was hosted by Alain de Benoist, the leading intellectual of the French New Right, in conversation with France’s leading academic experts on Guénon—Jean-Pierre Laurant, Xavier Accart, and David Bisson—and with the publisher Pierre-Marie Sigaud, also an authority on Guénon.
Discussions covered Guénon’s life, work and influence, mostly at a fairly introductory level, to the disappointment of Guénonian commentators on YouTube, where the program is also available, who felt that a serious presentation of doctrine would have been more interesting, and criticized the biographical approach. The program was definitely accessible to non-experts, however, which I assume was the intention.
Many of the most interesting comments were made by Accart, author of Guénon ou le renversement des clartés. Influence d'un métaphysicien sur la vie littéraire et intellectuelle française (1920-1970) (Guénon or the overthrow of enlightened knowledge: The influence of a metaphysician on French literary and intellectual life 1920-1970; 2006). This excellent book studies the impact of Guénon on the French artistic and intellectual circles in great detail, and it is unfortunate that it is not available in English.
Towards the end of the program, when de Benoist asked about Guénon’s influence today, Laurant also made some interesting points about Freemasonry. Guénon, he felt, had been the central reference of French Freemasonry when it came to symbolism earlier in the twenty-first century, but this influence had faded, as it had inevitably come up against the “liberal” strains in Freemasonry that, being opposed to religion in general, were also opposed to the Guénonian approach. I have never seen these developments discussed in writing, and if anyone should know about them, it is Laurant.
The even tone of the program was interrupted only when de Benoist, who knows his Guénon almost as well as the experts, said that after moving to Cairo “Guénon converted to Islam.” Laurant, Accart and Bisson all objected. Accart pointed out that Guénon had received his Sufi “initiation” many years earlier, and had also said that “conversion” was impossible for anyone who truly understood the unity of the tradition. Laurant went further, asserting that for Guénon it was possible to be Sufi without being Muslim, and suggesting that it was only “the Islam of today” that had a problem with this. I think both Accart and Laurant were partly right, but only partly. Accart was right that Guénon did not consider himself to have converted, and Laurant was right that the Guénon who received a Sufi “initiation” in about 1911 considered Sufism to be separable from Islam. There are reports that Guénon followed the practices of Islam in Cairo, however, and no reports suggesting that he did so in Paris. So even if de Benoist was perhaps wrong to use the word “converted,” he was right that something very close to what most people would call a conversion did happen after Guénon moved to Cairo.
All in all, a good program, at least at the level that it chose to address.
My thanks to Steven Engler for drawing my attention to it.