Friday, March 08, 2019

New TV program on Guénon

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.


JB said...

re: Masonry, see Jean van Win's masonic diatribe « Contre Guénon! »
Christophe Bourseiller describes the pro- and anti-Guénon factions within French Masonry in one of his works, if memory serves.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mark, I was wondering if you looked into Guenon's change of view with regards to Buddhism. That is, what exactly was his problem with it, with cited sources, how these problems dissipated, again, with cited sources and if they completely dissipated, again with cited sources.

The reason is, this issue appears to muddied with all sorts of censorship, denial, fabrications and so on, both by the Guenonians and the anti-Guenonians. So have you, from an objective and historical perspective, looked into this issue at all? If you have, can you point me to where you have? If you haven't, could you?

Thanks a bunch.

Mark Sedgwick said...

So far as I know, there is no scholarly treatment of Guénon's developing views on Buddhism. The general view is that he adopted a more favorable view in response to the positions taken by Coomaraswamy and Pallis, and from what I have seen, this is indeed the case.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the response Mark, though I am saddened that nobody really looked into what the issue was all about from a scholarly and serious perspective. For instance, did he deny later forms of Buddhism? Did he deny original Buddhism? Did he deny both? In what way did his view become favourable? That is, did he develop favourable views towards all sorts of Buddhism or only certain aspects of it? Was this development even complete? So many questions about this issue.
What you said is already known, though again, there are denials and confusions about it:

- Did he deny Buddhism on the basis that Siddharta was a Kshatriya and hence saw Buddhism as a sort of revolt towards the Brahmin institutions that he held in deep reverence?
- Did he deny Buddhism on a doctrinal basis, that is, the fact that he thought "Attan" meant no-self and hence thought Buddhism denied the existence of the Vedic "Atman"?
- Is it a combination of both?
It's all rather hazy.

Guenonians seem to brush this issue under the rug. For instance, Pallis and Coomaraswamy seem to hold many forms of Buddhism and not only the "original Buddhism" in high esteem, whereas it's not clear if this was the case for Guenon. We also see in a letter to Schuon, dated October 5, 1950:

"...It must be recognized that, on the question of Buddhism, it was impossible,
before the work of Coomaraswamy, to say anything other than what I said
about it, which in any case still remains true, if not for original Buddhism
itself, at least for certain more recent schools
: otherwise one would have to
admit that it is not I who am wrong, but quite simply Shankarâchârya, to
whose authority I have referred in this regard!”

Why was it "impossible" though? It is said over and over that Guenon's teachings proceed from the "supreme centre" which is assumed to be infallible. Wouldn't it then know whether or not either Buddhism as a whole, or some of its derivatives was deviant? Why the hesitant retractions?

So original Buddhism was false according to him, but later forms weren't, or vice versa? To me, with all due respect, it just looks like Guenon is expressing his innate bias for all things sacerdotal and against all things royal, to use his language, even against one considered to be an Avatara like the Buddha! It seems like he wants all to agree with Shankarâchârya, for no other reason than he is Shankarâchârya, a Brahmin...

Anyways, thanks for approaching this entire subject with the honesty and veracity of a serious scholar. I feel that more work is needed along these lines as it reveals that at times even the "infallible" has its flaws.

Mark Sedgwick said...

Correction: you might want to look at Richard K. Payne, "Traditionalist Representations of Buddhism," Pacific World, Third Series, no. 10 (Fall 2008), pp. 177-223.

Anonymous said...

I eventually found some interesting references to source materials here:
Just in case anyone else is wondering about the same things I was, regarding Guenon and Buddhism.