FRANCE: René Guénon

Christopher Jones writes: The man who most influenced Julius Caesar Evola was René Guénon.  "A convert to Sufism, Guénon’s writings span a wide array of subjects from metaphysics and symbolism to the critique of the modern world and traditional sciences. One of the constant themes of his corpus is the sharp contrast between the traditional worldview shared by various religions of the world and modernism, which he considered to be an anomaly in the history of mankind. His writings devoted to the critique of modernism and the modern world contain some of the most profound and enduring analyses of the modern world and its philosophical outlook. Orient and Occident and The Crisis of the Modern World, both published in the first half of the 20th century, are still widely read today and have been translated into various languages. In addition to these two books devoted exclusively to the critique of the modern world from a traditionalist point of view, Guénon’s other writings contain many references to metaphysical and philosophical misconceptions prevalent in modern Western societies.

The second part of Guénon’s corpus deals with traditional doctrines and it is in these works that Guénon attempts to revive traditional concepts and sciences that have been either ignored or lost with the rise of modern philosophy. Such works as The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, Multiple States of Being and Fundamental Symbols of Sacred Science are devoted to the revival of traditional doctrines and have been instrumental in the rise and spread of the Traditionalist School represented by such figures as Frithjof Schuon, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Titus Burckhardt, Marco Pallis, Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Martin Lings. In addition to these, some of Guenon’s writings deal with certain themes and specific religious traditions, all of which have been written from the same perspective of traditional metaphysics and esoterism. For this category of writings, we can mention The Symbolism of the Cross, Man and His Becoming According to the Vedanta, Introduction to the Study of Hindu Doctrines, and the Grand Triad.

Guenon’s view of science is an integral part of his endeavor of reviving the traditional worldview and cannot be properly understood in isolation from the general purview that he adopts throughout his works. The gist of Guenon’s metaphysical views also lies at the heart of the Traditionalist School: the primordial and perennial Truth, which manifests itself in a variety of religious traditions and metaphysical systems, has been lost in the modern world. The modernists seek to reduce all higher principles and levels of reality to their manifestation in the world of multiplicity and relative existence. Modern philosophy carries this out by reducing everything to the individualistic horizon of the subject and by relegating objective reality to the discursive constructions of the knowing subject. In the field of natural sciences, positivism and its scientistic allies similarly reject any reality that is beyond the reach and scrutiny of the quantitative measurement of physical sciences. In the social realm, the moral and aesthetic principles are left to the arbitrary decisions and consensuses of the majority, thus jeopardizing the objective reality of the truth. For Guenon, the malaise of the modern world is its relentless denial of the metaphysical realm, the metaphysical world being comprised of both philosophy and spirituality. Guenon sees everything in the world of creation as an application and manifestation of metaphysical principles that are contained in the perennial teachings of religions, and applies them to every single subject that he addresses in his works. Both the value of traditional sciences of nature and the misguided claims of modern secular science are judged in proportion to their proximity or distance from these principles. In this sense, Guenon is a metaphysician par excellence who has devoted his life to the diagnosis and correction of the metaphysical mistakes of the modern world."

RH: Here is a brief account of  Rene Guenon (Abd al-Wahid Yahya) (1886-1951): Considered to be the founder of the Traditionalist school, Guenon was born in Blois, France in 1886. He devoted the early years of his life to the study of mathematics and philosophy. He went to Paris in 1906, where he maintained regular contact with various spiritualist groups. In 1909, he edited and published a review journal called La Gnose for which he wrote a number of essays and reviews on spirituality and esoterism. In 1910, he met the famous French painter Gustav Ageli, who had by that time embraced Islam and taken the name Abd al-Hadi. Guenon was initiated into Sufism in 1912 and became Muslim, taking the name Abd al-Wahid Yahya. He finished his university education in 1916 with a thesis called “Leibniz and Infinitesimal Calculus”. The same year, he met Jacques Maritain, one of the most influential Catholic thinkers of the 20th century. In 1921, he prepared his doctoral dissertation under the title “General Introduction to the Study of Hindu Doctrines”. Guenon’s thesis was rejected by his doctoral committee, which led to his eventual abandonment of academia in 1923. The dissertation was later published as a book under the same title. In 1924, he published Orient and Occident, one of his major works on comparative philosophy and spirituality. This was followed by The Crisis of the Modern World (1927)--perhaps his most famous and widely read book. RH: Conversion to Islam in 1912 was rare and was quite different from  conversion to Islam today.

Ronald Hilton 2005


last updated: April 16, 2005