This article traces the history of the South American reception of the work of the esoteric philosophers René Guénon and Julius Evola, and of the Maryami Sufi Order of Frithjof Schuon, focusing on Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Peru. It compares South American forms of Traditionalism with those found elsewhere, primarily in Europe and North America, understanding differences between these in terms of “glocalization,” the local adaptation of the global. Traditionalism in South America was most localized in its religio-political form, which was more important for the Right in South America than elsewhere, and least localized in its purely religious form, which was less significant in South America than elsewhere. The impact of Traditionalism in South American academia, notably in philosophy and anthropology, also reflects local conditions, as does an unusual interest in indigenous peoples.
Thursday, August 04, 2022
Thursday, July 14, 2022
The book is extremely critical of Murray's former husband Frithjof Schuon, following the same line taken by Murray in her YouTube video (here) and on her website (here). It consists of 31 relatively short chapters that cover four phases in Murray’s life: (1) youth and encounter with Traditionalism (chapters 1 to 5); (2) the extended Schuon family in Lausanne (chapters 6 to 9); (3) the Bloomington community (chapters 10 to 19); and (4) Murray’s subsequent life, including reflections on earlier events (chapters 20 to 31). Murray becomes Schuon’s third wife during phase 2, and the relationship ends during phase 3.
The book is a valuable primary source for the history of the Maryamiyya, but not always an easy one. The chapters covering the first two phases are quite well written, in a pleasant, rather chatty style with occasional repetitions and digressions. Murray, it seems, was generally happy during these phases of her life, and reports them happily enough. The picture they paint is believable, and is not contradicted by anything we know from any other source. Phase 3 begins much as phase 2 ends, but the narrative then becomes increasingly hard to follow, as Murray becomes more unhappy and troubled. This is understandable—she was not having an easy time at all towards the end of the Bloomington period—but somewhat reduces the empirical value of the account.
Third Wife, then, is strongly recommended as a source—to be taken, like all sources, along with other evidence—and somewhat less strongly recommended for other purposes. Casual readers may find themselves skipping a bit after half-way through.
Thursday, June 30, 2022
As well as the Guénonian Traditionalism that this blog follows, there is also “Catholic Traditionalism,” the broad stream of Roman Catholic thought that is hostile to the ascendent liberalism that it identifies with the Second Vatican Council. In general, Guénonian and Catholic Traditionalism are quite separate phenomena, but Alistair McFadden (a pseudonym) has drawn my attention to an overlap between the two at US-based Angelico Press, one of the leading “traditional” Catholic publishers.
Angelico Press is important for Catholic Traditionalism. In McFadden’s words, “Traditional Catholics will likely have at least one Angelico title on their bookshelves.” Others agree about the press’s importance.
McFadden, himself a traditional Catholic, finds the presence of Traditionalist and other esoteric voices at Angelico problematic, as he argues in a long blog post, “Observations on the Influence of the Occult in Traditional Catholic Discourse.” It is not the scope of this blog to address such judgments. But publishing Traditionalist works was one reason why Angelico was established in the first place, as explained in an interview (here) by its founder and current president, John Riess:
I wanted to run a Catholic press, yet reach beyond what most Catholic presses were publishing: to explore the catholicity past and present of the tradition; to give a mouthpiece to contemporary Catholic voices such as Stratford Caldecott, Jean Borella, and Jean Hani.
Caldecott (1953-2014) was and English convert to Catholicism who seems to have been what I term a “soft” (Guénonian) Traditionalist, while Borella (b. 1930) and Hani (1917-2012) were leading French Catholic (Guénonian) Traditionalists. Riess’s partner in starting Angelico was James Wetmore, the director of the leading US (Guénonian) Traditionalist publisher Sophia Perennis. Angelico, then, was as much a (Guénonian) Traditionalist publisher that became popular among traditional Catholics as it was a traditional Catholic publisher that published (Guénonian) Traditionalists.
Angelico’s success among traditional Catholics owes something to the fact that it republishes traditional Catholic classics. The model of republishing classics was pioneered by the US publisher Dover, starting in the 1940s, and Riess worked for 15 years at Dover before starting Angelico. Its current list includes not only Catholic and Traditionalist authors, but also Rainer Maria Rilke and Max Weber.
In 2020, Angelico’s imprints included a joint Angelico Press/Sophia Perennis imprint with sixteen books, and a purely Sophia Perennis imprint with three books. These imprints have now vanished from Angelico's website, perhaps partly as a reaction to McFadden’s criticisms, but the books involved remain. At time of writing, Angelico has, as intended, published Caldecott, Borella, and Hani (four books each). It has also published contemporary Catholic (Guénonian) Traditionalists—notably Wolfgang Smith (born 1930) and Bernard Kelly (see earlier post here—and non-Catholic (Guénonian) Traditionalists—notably Charles Upton and Brian Keeble (born 1941). And it has also republished classic (Guénonian) Traditionalists, including Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (1877-1947) and Lord Northbourne (1896-1982), and the “soft” Traditionalist (and typeface designer) Eric Gill (1882-1940).
Angelico, then, is known as a major “traditional” Catholic publisher, and is also a significant (Guénonian) Traditionalist publisher. As such, it represents an overlap or even a mixing of two formerly distinct streams within contemporary religious thought, an interesting development. My thanks to McFadden for bringing it to my attention.
- Jean Borella (b. 1930) and Jean Hani (1917-2012) were leading French Catholic Traditionalists. Borella was a professor of philosophy, and for many years the leading Catholic Traditionalist in France. For some years in the 1990s he was the joint editor of the journal Connaissance des religions (1985-2005), which was in effect the Schuonian successor to the original Études traditionnelles of René Guénon. Jean Hani was also a French scholar (of classical antiquity), a Traditionalist, a Catholic, and a regular contributor to Connaissance des religions.
- Stratford Caldecott (1953-2014) was an English scholar and convert to Catholicism who accepted the Traditionalist understanding of the transcendent unity of religions but does not seem to have been a paid-up Traditionalist, though he is said to have often cited Borella. He acknowledged the influence of Guénon’s one-time sponsor, the great French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain (1882-1973).
Monday, June 27, 2022
A new article looks at the neopagan Traditionalist John Michell (1933-2009) and the unusual connection he made between the primordial tradition and extra-terrestrial beings. The article is Marleen Thaler, “How Modern is Technology? The Link between Prehistoric UFOs and Modern Traditionalism,” Religio 30, no. 1 (2022): 7-24, available here.
Michell, an admirer of the work of Julius Evola, was the author of various “Radical Traditionalist Papers" in the 1970s and 1980s, and of Confessions of a Radical Traditionalist (London: Turnaround, 2005). In a 2011 article, Amy Hale argues that he played an important role in bringing Traditionalism to the attention of Neopagans in the US and the UK (see earlier blog post here).
Thaler argues that Michell combined Traditionalism with what she calls “alternative archeology,” which she traces back to Alfred Watkins (1855-1935) and his The Old Straight Track (London: Methuen, 1925), the book that introduced ley lines into the English (alternative) consciousness. Books such as George Adamski and Desmond Leslie’s Flying Saucers Have Landed (London: Laurie, 1953) and Carl G. Jung’s Ein moderner Mythus. Von Dingen, die am Himmel gesehen warden (1958; translated as Flying Saucers. A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies, London, Routledge & Paul, 1958) then added UFOs to ley lines.
As Thaler says, alternative archeology and Traditionalism have very little in common, but one thing that they do have in common is a preference for the prehistoric past over modernity, which is seen as in decline relative to that past. So combining Traditionalism with UFOs is not as difficult as one might at first think. Michell's crucial works for this are The Flying Saucer Vision: The Holy Grail Restored (London: Sidgwick and Jackson 1967) and The View Over Atlantis (NP: Sago Press, 1969). Both precede Michell’s Radical Traditionalist Papers.
Tuesday, April 05, 2022
A new translation of the essential works of René Guénon is being prepared in Brazilian Portuguese.
Subscribers to the series (link here) will receive the following titles:
- General Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines
- Man and his Becoming according to the Vedanta
- East and West
- The Crisis of the Modern World
- The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times
- Perspectives on Initiation
- Fundamental Symbols of Sacred Science
- Oriental Metaphysics
A new publisher, Estrela da Manhã (Morning Star), has been set up for this purpose.
Luiz de Carvalho, who probably first learned about Traditionalism as a child, has for some time been giving on-line courses at the Instituto Cultural Lux et Sapientia (Light and Wisdom Cultural Center), which does not self-identify as a Traditionalist organization, but encourages visitors to “learn traditional cosmovision and have a life with meaning.” In 2015, its recommended introductory reading list listed six books, five of which were by Traditionalist authors, including one by Olavo de Carvalho from his Traditionalist period.
Purchasers of the series get three free lectures with Luiz de Carvalho, who seems to be following in his father’s footsteps, both as lecturer and as Traditionalist.
My thanks to DP for drawing my attention to the new translation.
Sunday, March 27, 2022
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there have been ever more mentions of the Russian Traditionalist (or possibly post-Traditionalist) Alexander Dugin in the Western press. The general view is, as the Washington Post recently put it, that President Putin’s “analysis came directly from the works of a fascist prophet of maximal Russian empire named Aleksandr Dugin,” and that “Russia has been running his [Dugin’s] playbook for the past 20 years.” “The recent invasion of Ukraine is a continuation of a Dugin-promoted strategy for weakening the international liberal order,” argues an article in Foreign Policy. Dugin is “the most influential thinker in Russia,” according to Haaretz.
Is this true? Dugin certainly backs the invasion of Ukraine, which fits with his vision in many ways. But did he inspire that invasion? In a Facebook post on this question, Sindre Bangstad, a prominent Norwegian scholar of the radical right, argued that Dugin’s “influence in the Kremlin and on Putin is not known - precisely due to the fact that it is ultimately unknowable to outsiders.”
Yes and no. Some things are unknowable to outsiders, or even insiders, but it is clear that Dugin is not one of Putin’s close advisors, and it is also clear that the general thrust of his geopolitical analysis is far from exclusive to him. Dugin did not invent Eurasianism, but rather refined it, in part by combining it with Traditionalism. Eurasianism was invented by earlier Russian thinkers, notably the linguist Prince Nikolai Trubetzkoy (1890-1938), and arose in the context of the debate between Westernizers and anti-Western Slavophils that is almost as old as the Russian state itself. Trubetzkoy’s Eurasianism was prefigured in the work of the Slavophil philosopher Konstantin Leontiev (1831-91), who saw the West as both a moral and military threat to Orthodox civilization and to Russia.
The Westernizing position recently had its day in Russia under President Yeltsin, and has been losing ground ever since. Putin is clearly in the anti-Western Slavophil camp, and is even said to have been reading Leontiev. The current prevalence of anti-Western and Slavophil positions in Moscow certainly helps explain the invasion of Ukraine, as Jane Burbank, a historian of Russia from New York University, recently argued in The New York Times. Burbank also proposed that “Eurasianism was injected directly into the bloodstream of Russian power in a variant developed by the self-styled philosopher Aleksandr Dugin.” This is more likely. Dugin has certainly made Eurasianism better known, and his variant is better adapted to today's world than variants from a century ago. But Dugin is a participant in a broad discussion, not the sole author of any playbook.
There is a tendency, in the West and elsewhere, to explain the actions of opponents in terms of unfamiliar and apparently bizarre ideologies. The anti-Westernism of revolutionaries in the Middle East, for example, is often blamed on Islamism or even Islam. Yes, Islamism matters, but Western policy and interventions in the Middle East since the end of the Second World War also matter, but it is harder to blame those interventions—which would mean the West blaming itself—than to blame Islamism. John Mearsheimer, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, argues that Western policy towards Russia is to blame for the current crisis. In his response to a recent article by Mearsheimer in The Economist. Sir Adam Roberts, an emeritus professor of international relations at the University of Oxford, called this argument “apparently perverse”—but then went on to demonstrate that there were also other reasons for the invasion of Ukraine, not that Mearsheimer was actually wrong. Mearsheimer is at present something of a lone voice in blaming the errors of Western policy. It is a lot easier to blame “a fascist prophet.”
Saturday, March 26, 2022
Evola is one of five philosophers who Rose discusses. The first is Oswald Spengler as a representative of the Conservative Revolution, and Evola is the second. Alain de Benoist is the fourth. This selection and sequence is sensible, though one might perhaps argue for Carl Schmitt or Ernst Jünger as an alternative representative of the Conservative Revolution. The remaining two philosophers are both American, and slightly less obvious figures: Francis Parker Yockey, who comes between Evola and Benoist, and Samuel Francis, who comes after Benoist. The book then closes with a chapter on the relationship between the radical right and Christianity that is perhaps of more interest to those who are concerned with Christianity than to those who are concerned with the radical right.
The treatment of all five philosophers is comprehensive and fair, and the book is well written. Rose sees Evola as “without question the most interesting utopian thinker on the right” and as someone who “dreamed of a world of absolutely fixed and certain meanings, where human identities, in all their forms, bore the indelible chrism of sacred destiny.” This, thinks Rose, came from René Guénon, who imagined “a community in which human beings continued to live in the uninterrupted tranquility of sacred order, and in which uncertainty and disagreement find no place.” Evola “sought to revive the assumption of natural human inequality as essential to any political order. He did so through a form of mythic thinking that collapsed the distance between the archaic past and present. Through esoteric readings of ancient and modern texts, he claimed to reveal the permanent constitution of human society, which he envisioned as a form of sacred hierarchy led by an elite order of men.” This is a reasonable summary, though it emphasizes the contemporary reception of Evola (and Guénon) more than the internal logic of their own thought.
Rose makes an interesting connection between Yockey, Evola, and Benoist. Evola reviewed Yockey’s main early work, Imperium, approvingly, and many of Yockey’s ideas indeed echo Evola’s. Both emphasized empire and spirit, and both condemned narrow nationalism and racism. Given this, it is not quite clear why Rose characterizes Yockey as “the Anti-Semite,” since this was not his real point, and the characterization risks supporting the common and mistaken over-association of the radical right with historical Fascism and Nazism. Evola, incidentally, is characterized as “the Fantasist” because he imagined a new sort of utopia. I suppose this is OK as a chapter heading. In the other direction, Rose claims not only Evola but also Yockey as an influence on and inspiration for Benoist. This deserves fuller investigation, and Yockey should probably be read more carefully.
It is easy to see why Rose ends with Samuel Francis, who drew on James Burnham’s important 1941 book The Managerial Revolution and, in Rose’s words, “synthesized nationalist populism with brewing racial resentments over the shrinking demographic majority of white Americans.” This indeed provides the link to the Trump movement, as Rose says, and also perhaps to European phenomena such as Brexit. What is less clear is how Francis relates to Spengler, Evola, Yockey, and Benoist.
A World after Liberalism is a good book that seems to be being generally well received and that succeeds in showing that “The alt-right is not stupid; it is deep. Its ideas are not ridiculous; they are serious.” Those who already know Evola will not discover much that they did not know before, but the book puts his contemporary reception in a new context (rather as I did in my Key Thinkers of the Radical Right). The book is also recommended for those who know Evola but do not know all of the other philosophers discussed.
Saturday, February 26, 2022
Sunday, February 20, 2022
A newly published article in Aries adds to the debate on the relationship between Mircea Eliade and Traditionalism. It is Davide Marino's "Mircea Eliade and René Guénon: Patterns of Initiation and the 'Myth of Affinity,'" Aries 2022, DOI 10.1163/15700593-20211007.
The "myth" that Marino challenges is the idea that Eliade was really a secret Traditionalist but did not dare admit it. Marino carefully traces the development of this myth, and then challenges it in three ways: by reading what Eliade actually wrote about René Guénon in his published work, by looking in detail at how the two men understood initiation, and by suggesting a way in which the myth of affinity might have arisen in the first place.
As Marino shows, the tone of Eliade's references to Guénon changes over time. Until the 1950s, there are admiring, referring especially to Guénon's critique of modernity. After the 1950s, they are increasingly critical, and Eliade finally goes so far as to dismiss Guénon's understanding of the history of religions – that is, in effect, his perennialism – as no more accurate than the understandings of Marx or Freud. Marino also demonstrates clearly that the two understandings of initiation are different and incompatible.
So, whence the idea that Eliade was a secret Traditionalist? Much of the blame for this seems to lie with Eliade himself, as in 1948 he told another Romanian exile, the Traditionalist Michel Vâlsan, that he agreed with Guénon "on everything," which is fairly explicit, and in 1951 seems to have written something similar to Julius Evola. Why? Marino here agrees with the suggestion of the Italian scholar Paola Pisi, who argued in 1998 that Eliade was at that point looking for a job in the United States, a task in which another Traditionalist scholar, Ananda Coomaraswamy, had been trying to help him. This is plausible, and not as discreditable as one might think, given the somewhat desperate situation that the Communist takeover of Romania had left him in.
Convincing, but probably not the last word on the topic. I myself remain convinced that, while Eliade certainly did not agree with Guénon on everything, his early "soft" Traditionalism is still found in his later work, even though he also disagreed with the Traditionalists on certain points, including the understanding of initiation.
Saturday, February 12, 2022
That Traditionalism is important for Dugin is probably something that few readers of this blog will need to be convinced of, but it is also something that several scholars writing on Dugin, notably Anton Shekhovtsov and Andreas Umland, have disputed. The real interest of the article is in its treatment of The Philosophy of Traditionalism, which no Western scholar has previously written about in any detail. This is where “the Language of Tradition” comes in, as Dugin argues that it is better to think of Tradition as a language than as something that ever existed as historical fact: “There exists not a transcendental unity of traditions, but a transcendental unity of the language of traditions.” Dugin also draws on an unusual source, Herman Wirth (1885-1981), who he cites Julius Evola as identifying as being as important as René Guénon himself. Wirth is, as Arnold argues, generally neglected by Western scholars. His importance for Dugin is in part his work on reconstructing the primordial Arctic Hyperborean language, and in part the opportunity he gives Dugin to trace Russia and Eurasia to Wirth’s primordial arctic civilization.
Monday, January 31, 2022
There is some connection between Traditionalism and the "Traditional Islam" movement (also called Neo-Traditionalist Islam), though these are really different things (as explained in an earlier blog post). It is interesting, therefore, to see what is meant by "Traditional Islam" in a Russian context, given that there are Traditionalists in Russia, some of them Muslim. Answer, according to a new book, The Concept of Traditional Islam in Modern Islamic Discourse in Russia, edited by Renat Bekkin: no connection. A pdf of the book can be downloaded for free.
One of the best chapters in the book is the first, "In Search of ‘Traditional Islam’ in Tatarstan: Between National Project and Universalist Theories" by Leila Almazova and Azat Akhunov. As this chapter and other chapters in the book make clear, everyone knows what traditional Islam is not: it is not oppositional or Islamist. It is also clear that Traditional Islam is loyal to the Russian state. Beyond that, almost anything goes.
One observation by Almazova and Akhunov is especially interesting. "After decades of Soviet rule," they write, "Islam had virtually disappeared from social life in the Volga Region and had only been preserved in customs and traditions that were Islamic in essence and content but referred to as Tatar or Bashkir." Perhaps. It is widely agreed by scholars that religion and culture interpenetrate each other, but the emphasis tends to be on ways in which culture (and politics and so on) impact religion. Less attention is paid to the possibility of culture being a bearer of religion.
There may, however, be connections to Traditionalism that the contributors to this book have missed. Reference is made to the Tabah Foundation's role in organising the (in-)famous Grozny fatwa, and the Tabah Foundation is part of the international Neo-Traditionalist Islam movement that does connect to Traditionalism. See my "The Modernity of Neo-Traditionalist Islam," in Muslim Subjectivities in Global Modernity: Islamic Traditions and the Construction of Modern Muslim Identities, ed. Dietrich Jung and Kirstine Sinclair (Leiden: Brill, 2020): 121-46.
Friday, January 28, 2022
Sunday, January 02, 2022
A new-ish article gives a concise account, in English, of Julius Evola’s ideological impact on the postwar and thus also the contemporary radical right. It is “CasaPound Italia: ‘Back to Believing. The Struggle Continues’” by Elisabetta Cassina Wolff, in Fascism 8 (2019) pp. 61-88, available on academia.edu. Not everything in the article is new, but much of the work on which it draws has been available only in Italian, and the story is clearly and convincingly told.
Much of the article deals with Evola’s disciple Pino Rauti and his Centro Studi Ordine Nuovo (New Order Study Group). It then proceeds through later groups (Roberto Fiore’s Terza Posizione, International Third Position, and Forza Nuova, and then Gabriele Adinolfi’s Centro Studi Orientamenti e Ricerca) to Gianluca Iannone and CasaPound Italia. This is one of contemporary Europe’s most important radical right groups. The article reports that in 2018 it had some 230,000 followers on Facebook.
The article’s conclusion is that “all these movements have contributed to the survival and dissemination of typical fascist ideology,” as “there has been a constant evolving of right-wing radical discourse.” I am not sure this really works. How should one conceive of a single “typical fascist ideology” if it has been constantly evolving? In fact, the article shows evolution more than anything else, and also shows that Evola, Rauti, and the Centro Studi Ordine Nuovo were responsible for much of this evolution.
The article argues that Centro Studi Ordine Nuovo was important for its diffusion of Evola’s ideas in Italy and abroad, and through this activity also of a general shift away from “the traditional and national authors of historical Fascism” like Benito Mussolini and Giovanni Gentile to a whole range of new authors, including Evola himself, as well as others from Oswald Spengler and René Guénon to Corneliu Zelea Codreanu and Knut Hamsun. All these new authors are reference points for CasaPound today, and also, one might add, for the broader radical right. Evola, Rauti, and the Centro Studi Ordine Nuovo further reoriented the radical right away from “historical Fascism” (and its “stigma”) to the confrontation with modernity and the consequences of the French Revolution, against “the moral decadence deemed as a con¬sequence of the cultural hegemony of the humanitarian, globalist and Marxist left.” And, perhaps most importantly, they reoriented the radical right away from a focus on a narrowly defined nation (state) to “an ideal nation… [that] transcends physical boundaries and includes all people who are loyal to tradition,” and also away from biological racism to culture and thus to today’s Identitarianism.
The article also comments on the “theoretical distinction” often made by scholars between a mainstream or “institutionalized” parliamentary right and a radical or extremist extra-parliamentary right. In Italy, “the distinction is indeed a theoretical and academic one; the very same people continuously went in and out of the [institutionalized] MSI and the contraposition between parliamentary and non-parliamentary activity was never clear-cut.” I suspect that the same is true of most other countries.
An important article, well worth reading.