Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century

Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century

Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century

Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century

Synopsis

The first history of Traditionalism, an important yet surprisingly little-known twentieth-century anti-modern movement. Comprising a number of often secret but sometimes very influential religious groups in the West and in the Islamic world, it affected mainstream and radical politics in Europe and the development of the field of religious studies in the United States.
In the nineteenth century, at a time when progressive intellectuals had lost faith in Christianity's ability to deliver religious and spiritual truth, the West discovered non-Western religious writings. From these beginnings grew Traditionalism, emerging from the occultistmilieuof late nineteenth-century France, and fed by the widespread loss of faith in progress that followed the First World War. Working first in Paris and then in Cairo, the French writer Ren Gu non rejected modernity as a dark age, and sought to reconstruct the Perennial Philosophy-- the central religious truths behind all the major world religions --largely on the basis of his reading of Hindu religious texts.
A number of disenchanted intellectuals responded to Gu non's call with attempts to put theory into practice. Some attempted without success to guide Fascism and Nazism along Traditionalist lines; others later participated in political terror in Italy. Traditionalism finally provided the ideological cement for the alliance of anti-democratic forces in post-Soviet Russia, and at the end of the twentieth century began to enter the debate in the Islamic world about the desirable relationship between Islam and modernity

Excerpt

This book is a biography of René Guénon and a history of the Traditionalist movement that he founded, two subjects that have been almost unknown to the outside world. In January 1996, when I started the research on which this book is based, I had read one of Guénon's books but had no idea of his importance, or that there was any such thing as a Traditionalist movement. To help orient the reader, the book starts with a prologue that shares parts of my own voyage of discovery with the reader in somewhat impressionistic fashion, and with some identities concealed. The remainder of the book conforms to normal scholarly standards and answers most of the questions raised in the prologue. Traditionalism itself is defined in chapter 1.

Because this book is a history of René Guénon and the Traditionalists, it follows events from their point of view. First Guénon himself is placed center stage, and then those who in one way or another followed him. This central position may seem to exaggerate the Traditionalists' historical importance, but it is the Traditionalists themselves who are the subject of this book, not the periods and countries in which they lived. The Traditionalist movement has never been systematically surveyed before, and so my first objective has been to establish what the movement was, who belonged to it and in what ways, and what they did. There is some assessment of Traditionalism's importance in larger contexts, but that is not my main purpose.

A survey of a movement as large as Traditionalism presents certain organizational difficulties for a historian, especially once Tradi-

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