Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Guénon, Voegelin, and Brexit

Thomas F. Bertonneau has published an interesting article comparing René Guénon's Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power (1929) with the thought of Eric Voegelin (1901-85), "René Guénon and Eric Voegelin on the Degeneration of Right Order," Voegelin View September 18, 2017.

The German-American philosopher Voegelin is hard to categorize. On the one hand, he was a powerful critic of Nazism, from which he had to flee to the US in 1938. On the other hand, his criticism of “gnostic” political religions such as Nazism was so thorough that it included liberalism, which he saw as a step on the road to Marxism.

Bertonneau argues that Guénon’s understanding of the revolt of the Kshatriyas, which destroys the “right order,” fits neatly with Voegelin’s understanding of the ecumene, the conquered empire that is “not a subject of order but an object of conquest and organization... a graveyard of societies, including those of the conquerors, rather than a society in its own right” (Voegelin, Ecumenic Age). One consequence of this destruction, for Voegelin, is spiritual disorder.

Bertonneau then applies what he sees as the Guénon-Voegelin view to contemporary issues in a way that I doubt either Guénon or Voegelin would have recognized, but which does provide an instructive example of the thought of the contemporary radical right, and also of how Guénon can contribute to such thought. Bertonneau sees the European Union as the counterpart of the US Federal Government, remote and technocratic, engaged in “a larger, Twentieth-Century Revolt of Kshatriyas” and working to “progressively obliterate the concrete societies that come under their imperial-entrepreneurial sway.” This is the basis for a long final section to the article, discussing Brexit.

Bertonneau also argues that
Guénon grasps that symbols and myths – while they might be, as Voegelin would later call them, compact – articulate reality more fully and more truly than the clichés of modern reductive thinking and that therefore one best wrests intoxicated minds from the drug of those clichés by jerking them around (rhetorically, of course) so as to get them to face and contemplate the symbols themselves in their numinous fullness.
This may indeed be how Guénon’s use of symbol and myth works on some or even many readers, even if I do not think that Guénon intended to use symbol and myth quite as instrumentally as Bertonneau seems to think.

My thanks to Georg Wink for drawing my attention to this article.