Monday, January 31, 2022

Russian Traditional Islam not Traditionalist

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

Brazil's most prominent post-Traditionalist dies

The Brazilian post-Traditionalist journalist and philosopher Olavo de Carvalho died suddenly on January 24, 2022. Ironically, it appears that he died of Covid, the seriousness of which he had often questioned, as had his most notable admirer, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro.

Olavo de Carvalho, generally referred to simply as "Olavo," is little known outside Brazil, and the only work of his that is available in English is his half of a 2011 debate with Aleksander Dugin. Although his contribution to the debate was in some ways typical, it does not show him in the best light. Olavo was always provocative and sometimes extremely rude, but also often original. In Brazil, in contrast, he is well known, and credited by some with having revived the thought of the Brazilian right to the extent that Bolsonaro indirectly owed his electoral victory to him. He was sometimes described as Bolsonaro's "guru," but this was going too far. Bolsonaro was definitely an admirer, but no more.

Olavo was, during the 1980s, first a Traditionalist and then briefly a Maryami and the khalifa of Frithjof Schuon in Brazil. He then left Schuon, and reinvented himself as a Catholic philosopher. There is some disagreement about to what extent his later work is Traditionalist. It is certainly not perennialist, and the later Olavo condemned perennialism in strong terms. The rejection of modernity, however, may well still owe something to Traditionalism, and to this extent it may be fair to describe him as a "post-Traditionalist." At the least, his encounter with Traditionalism was an important part of his intellectual development.

For further reading, see earlier posts on this blog, my own article on "Traditionalism in Brazil: Sufism, Ta’i Chi, and Olavo de Carvalho," Benjamin Teitelbaum's book War for Eternity, and – not mentioned before on this blog – a new book by Georg Wink, Brazil, Land of the Past: The Ideological Roots of the New Right. Olavo appears frequently in this book (a pdf of which can be downloaded for free), and chapter 6 is devoted entirely to him, mostly covering the period after that covered in my article. Chapter 7 of Wink's book then looks at Olavo's impact. The book is well researched and well written, and thoroughly recommended.

Sunday, January 02, 2022

Julius Evola’s impact on the postwar and contemporary radical right

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 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.