It is no longer news that the Western world is in a crisis, a crisis that has spread far beyond its point of origin and become global in nature. In 1927, Rene Guenon responded to this crisis with the closest thing he ever wrote to a manifesto and 'call-to-action'. The Crisis of the Modern World was his most direct and complete application of traditional metaphysical principles-particularly that of the 'age of darkness' preceding the end of the present world-to social criticism, surpassed only by The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, his magnum opus. In the present work Guenon ruthlessly exposes the 'Western deviation': its loss of tradition, its exaltation of action over knowledge, its rampant individualism and general social chaos. His response to these conditions was not 'activist', however, but purely intellectual, envisioning the coming together of Western intellectual leaders capable under favorable circumstances of returning the West to its traditional roots, most likely via the Catholic Church, or, under less favorable ones, of at least preserving the 'seeds' of Tradition for the time to come.
Metaphysics, Tradition, and the Crisis of Modernity
Author: René Guénon
Publisher: World Wisdom, Inc
A prolific writer and author of over 24 books, Rene Guenon was the founder of the Perennialist/Traditionalist school of comparative religious thought. Known for his discourses on the intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy of the modern world, symbolism, tradition, and the inner or spiritual dimension of religion, this book is a compilation of his most important writings. A key component of his thought was the assertion that universal truths manifest themselves in various forms in the world's religions and his writings on Hinduism, Taoism, and Sufism are particularly illuminating in this regard.
The Symbolism of the Cross is a major doctrinal study of the central symbol of Christianity from the standpoint of the universal metaphysical tradition, the 'perennial philosophy' as it is called in the West. As Guenon points out, the cross is one of the most universal of all symbols and is far from belonging to Christianity alone. Indeed, Christians have sometimes tended to lose sight of its symbolical significance and to regard it as no more than the sign of a historical event. By restoring to the cross its full spiritual value as a symbol, but without in any way detracting from its historical importance for Christianity, Guenon has performed a task of inestimable importance which perhaps only he, with his unrivalled knowledge of the symbolic languages of both East and West, was qualified to perform. Although The Symbolism of the Cross is one of Guenon's core texts on traditional metaphysics, written in precise, nearly 'geometrical' language, vivid symbols are necessarily pressed into service as reference points-how else could the mind ascend the ladder of analogy to pure intellection? Guenon applies these doctrines more concretely elsewhere in critiquing modernity in such works as The Crisis of the Modern World and The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, and invokes them also to help explain the nature of initiation and of initiatic organizations in such works as Perspectives on Initiation and Initiation and Spiritual Realization.
The Reign of Quantity gives a concise but comprehensive view of the present state of affairs in the world, as it appears from the point of view of the 'ancient wisdom', formerly common both to the East and to the West, but now almost entirely lost sight of. The author indicates with his fabled clarity and directness the precise nature of the modern deviation, and devotes special attention to the development of modern philosophy and science, and to the part played by them, with their accompanying notions of progress and evolution, in the formation of the industrial and democratic society which we now regard as 'normal'. Guinon sees history as a descent from Form (or Quality) toward Matter (or Quantity); but after the Reign of Quantity-modern materialism and the 'rise of the masses'-Guinon predicts a reign of 'inverted quality' just before the end of the age: the triumph of the 'counter-initiation', the kingdom of Antichrist. This text is considered the magnum opus among Guinon's texts of civilizational criticism, as is Symbols of Sacred Science among his studies on symbols and cosmology, and Man and His Becoming according to the Vedanta among his more purely metaphysical works.
In East and West Guenon diagnoses the fundamental 'abnormality' of Western civilization vis-a-vis the traditional civilizations of the East, suggests avenues by which the West might be 're-oriented' toward the fundamental metaphysical principles it has largely abandoned, and outlines the possible role of a restoration of true intellectuality in this task. Of course, East and West are no longer what they were in Guenon's time. The aggressive rationalism and materialism of post-Christian Western culture has become a worldwide phenomenon, and no longer corrodes the philosophical and cultural underpinnings of the West only: it has infiltrated distorted forms of Eastern spirituality and metaphysics, incited fundamentalist reactions the world over, and, thanks to the pervasive internet, wields previously unheard of influence. And so today we have an East largely inflamed with a desire to surpass the West in materialism, and a West sodden with moral and spiritual degeneracy. Nonetheless, fruitful exchanges between traditional Christianity and Eastern religions have also taken place on an unprecedented scale, though marred by an ongoing temptation to ill-informed syncretism. recent decades, delivers a stunning intellectual punch. But the East is always the East: the place where the sun rises, the point of recollection and return to the Source. And the West is always the West: the place of the full manifestation of possibilities (including the most degenerate), of the tendency to dissipation and dissolution; the point where the sun sets. In postmodern, global culture, we are all more or less forced to be 'Westerners' outwardly; our only recourse under these circumstances may be to become 'Easterners' within.
Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power is an analysis of cyclical manifestation, and more specifically of the relationship between royal and sacerdotal power. In accord with the Hindu doctrine of manvantaras and Plato's depiction of historical degeneration in the Republic, Gunon views history here as a series of 'revolts' of lower castes against the higher. The kshatriyas (warriors) revolt against the brahmins (priests), thus setting the stage for a revolt of the vaishyas (loosely, the bourgeoisie), as in the French revolution-and, finally, the shudras (the proletariat), as in the Russian revolution (which Gunon does not touch upon in this work). From one point of view, this is a progressive degeneration; from another it is entirely lawful, given the 'entropic' nature of manifestation itself. External, historical descent reflects an inner degeneration: knowledge (the celestial paradise) is eclipsed by heroic action (the terrestrial paradise), which is in turn overrun by the inertia and agitation of the passions. Yet the nadir of degeneration is also the point of renewal: the dawning of the Heavenly Jerusalem-spiritual Knowledge-which begins a new cycle of manifestation.
One of Ren Gunon's lifelong quests was to discover, or revive, the esoteric, initiatory dimension of the Christian tradition. In the present volume, along with its companion volume The Esoterism of Dante, Gunon undertakes to establish that the three parts of The Divine Comedy represent the stages of initiatic realization, exploring the parallels between the symbolism of the Commedia and that of Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, and Christian Hermeticism, and illustrating Dante's knowledge of traditional sciences unknown to the moderns: the sciences of numbers, of cosmic cycles, and of sacred astrology. In these works Gunon also touches on the all-important question of medieval esoterism and discusses the role of sacred languages and the principle of initiation in the Christian tradition, as well as such esoteric Christian themes and organizations as the Holy Grail, the Guardians of the Holy Land, the Sacred Heart, the Fedeli d'Amore and the 'Courts of Love', and the Secret Language of Dante. One chapter in the present volume, 'Christianity and Initiation', is of special interest with regard to the history of the Traditionalist School. When first published as an article, it gave rise to some controversy because Gunon here reaffirmed his denial of the efficacy of the Christian sacraments as rites of initiation, a point of divergence between the teachings of Gunon and those of other key perennialist thinkers. Both The Esoterism of Dante and Insights into Christian Esoterism will be of inestimable value to all who are struggling to come to terms with the fullness of the Christian tradition.