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.


Anonymous said...

A Romanian language essay about Guenon s thinking https://mirceadiaconu.wordpress.com/2020/05/24/despre-rene-guenon-si-guenonisti/

Thomas F. Bertonneau said...

Thank you for your reference to my essay at Voegelin View. The year 2017 seems like an age ago, considering how swiftly the civic order has collapsed under the pestilence and the rioting -- which are so much entwined that they are difficult to distinguish from one another. What impresses me is the flat and abstract content of every public pronouncement on both topics: The linguistic aspect of the crisis is bereft of any human substance; it is as if primitive machines, automata from the eighteenth century, were delivering every public pronouncement.

Voegelin and Guenon are, of course, utterly different types. Their very difference, however, makes the convergence of their thinking the more poignant.

I was previously unaware of the "Traditionalists" website. A friend called my attention to it. I shall be visiting it regularly from now on.

Sincerely, TFB

Bertrand said...

If the faceless bureaucrats are the Kshatriyas, does that make Boris Johnson a Brahmin?! That

On a side-note, Mark, you could perhaps be interested in Tim Rogan's book 'The Moral Economists' who deals with a lineage going from R. H. Tawney to E. F. Schumacher ; Though I don't recall that Traditionalism gets a mention, the proximity of Tawney to guild socialism, and thus to the New Age, and perhaps Coomaraswamy, left me thinking that a more astute reader than me could perhaps unearth there some 'Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century'.

Robert said...

While I haven't yet read Rogan's book, I can confirm that Traditionalism was important for the intellectual development of E. F. Schumacher. See this blog's entry for April 27, 2019:



Bertrand said...

I think Mark also mentions him in his book - Traditionalist economics are quite niche I think - perhaps because the dismal science seem to belong in a 'reign of quantity' - but I find it is an exciting subject.

Robert said...

Yes, I think Mark is quite right in seeing Schumacher as a "soft" Traditionalist. Thanks to his reading Guénon, the quantity-quality distinction became important to Sch. and I don't think it's stretching matters too far to see his life after Burma (1955) as an attempt to reconcile his professional obligation as an economist to speak in terms of 'quantity' with his deeper philosophical or spiritual need to speak to the qualitative. It's the blend of these two impulses that gave his writing particular power, in my opinion.

Bertrand said...

The Rogan book I mentioned complicates the qualitative/quantitative distinction by distinguishing between formalist economics (on the model of hard science, basically neo/classical) and substantivist economics (where value is acknowledged as an effect of social organisation as a whole). I suspect that to a lot of romantics, 'social' Catholics, and perhaps also to the many interwar dictatorships that followed, corporatism was an attempt to return social and economic organisation to a 'qualitative state' - one of fixed identities, where wealth and status were integrated anew.