Saturday, February 26, 2022

Traditionalism and Iranian music

A new PhD thesis discusses the role of tradition, and thus Traditionalism, in Iranian music. It is by Kamyar Nematollahy, entitled “Iranian Classical Music Since the 1970s: The Discourses of Tradition and Identity,” and was submitted at the University of Cologne, from whose website it is available (link here). 

Nematollahy identifies a long-running discussion about tradition and modernity in Iranian music, termed سنت or sonnat (tradition) and تجدد or tajaddod (modernity). He shows that in the musical context, the word sonnat has three distinct but overlapping meanings: one theological, one Traditionalist, and one general. The theological meaning is the same as the meaning of the Arabic word سنة or sunna, meaning the practices of the prophet Muhammad. The general meaning is the same as the English word modernity. The Traditionalist meaning is that given it by Seyyed Hossein Nasr in the early 1970s, and is “the transmission of certain sacred, transcendent, and immutable rules and concepts.” Most of those who use the term in the ongoing debate, however, do not distinguish these three meanings as carefully as Nematollahy does, or indeed distinguish them at all. Perhaps something needs to be added to my standard distinction between “hard” and “soft” Traditionalism: accidental Traditionalism?

Sunday, February 20, 2022

New article on Mircea Eliade and Traditionalism

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

The Traditionalism of Alexander Dugin

An article in Politica Hermetica (2020) provides a comprehensive overview of Alexander Dugin's reception and development of Traditionalism. It is Jafe Arnold, "Guénon en Russie : le Traditionalisme d'Alexandre Douguine." The English original, "Guénon in Russia: The Traditionalism of Alexander Dugin," is available on here.

As Arnold points out, many scholars who dismiss Dugin's Traditionalism have not actually read much of what he has written. Arnold has, and in Russian too. He identified three phases in Dugin's reception of Traditionalism: an initial one, in which Dugin really just read Guénon and Evola; a second phase, during which he reconciled Traditionalism with Christianity; and a third phase, in which he decided that tradition and Traditionalism were not actually the same thing, and that Traditionalism was valuable not as an account of tradition but as a powerful philosophy that could analyse not only modernity but also postmodernity. 

The third of these phases is the most complex and the most interesting, and may well be Traditionalism's way forward.

A must-read.

New book on Arturo Reghini and the background to Evola's Pagan Imperialism

Christian Giudice has just published the first book in English on Julius Evola’s early teacher, Arturo Reghini (1878-1946). This is Occult Imperium: Arturo Reghini, Roman Traditionalism and the Anti-Modern Reaction in Fascist Italy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2022). The book is based on Giudice's PhD thesis, previously reviewed on this blog.

Reghini was an Italian esotericist who translated some of René Guénon’s works in journals he published with help from a small group including Evola, and who in 1914 wrote a crucial article on “Pagan Imperialism” (Imperialismo pagano) that became, in 1928, the basis of Evola’s own work of the same title. Evola’s 1928 publication was one of the causes of a breach between Evola and the Reghini group that ended up with Evola losing a court case against Reghini, but Reghini losing much of his reputation in Fascist Italy. Giudice translates the original “Pagan Imperialism”  in an appendix to this book.

It was Reghini who developed the idea of an Italian imperial tradition that Evola adopted, a Western alternative to Guénon’s Oriental tradition. Evola’s fierce anti-Catholicism and the blaming of Christianity for the fall of the Roman empire also come from Reghini, or at least from Reghini’s milieu, where such ideas were widespread, popularized by the novelist Ciro Alvi (1872-1944) among others. As Giudice shows, Italian nationalism had always tended in a pro-pagan and anti-Catholic direction, if only because the nationalists of the Risorgimento wanted imperial Rome as their inspiration, not the Papacy’s Rome, and because the Papacy initially opposed Italian unification. While modern paganism in Britain and Germany inevitably referred to obscure folk traditions, modern paganism in Italy instead referred to the well-documented and respected classical tradition.

Occult Imperium is interesting for the light it sheds on Evola’s thought. The connection with Guénon in fact started with Reghini’s own teacher Amedeo Armentano (1886-1966), who together with another Italian, Giulio Guerrieri (1885-1963), visited Guénon in Paris during the 1910s. Armentano founded the Schola Italica group that Reghini later took over, and Reghini was on good terms with Guénon during the 1920s, accepting Guénon’s concept of the perennial tradition and much of his anti-modernism, though not sharing his interest in the Orient. The idea of the Middle Ages as a period of relative tradition is common to Guénon, Reghini, and Evola. 

Occult Imperium is also interesting for what it shows of the Italian esoteric milieu before and after the First World War, a milieu that resembled that of Paris, for example in the importance of Theosophy and esoteric Freemasonry, but that also had its own special characteristics, of which the idea of Pagan Imperialism was probably the most important. Occult Imperium also tells the story of the groups and journals led by Reghini that Evola was part of: the journals Atanòr, Rivista di Studi Iniziatici (Atanòr, Journal of Initiatic Studies, 1924), Ignis (Fire, 1925), and then Ur: Rivista di Indirizzi di una Scienza per l’Io (Ur: Journal of Orientations Towards a Science for the I, 1927).

An important contribution to our understanding of the background of Evola's thought.

Dugin's Traditionalism

An important article on Alexander Dugin, “Alexander Dugin and Western Esotericism:The Challenge of the Language of Tradition” by Jafe Arnold, was been published in Mondi: Movimenti Simbolici e Sociali dell'Uomo in 2019. The article argues in general for the importance of Traditionalism for Dugin’s world view and activities, and then discusses Dugin’s most important mature work on Traditionalism, Filosofiia traditsionalizma (The Philosophy of Traditionalism, 2002).

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.