René Guénon (15 November 1886 – 7 January 1951), also known as Shaykh `Abd al-Wahid Yahya, was a French author and intellectual who wrote on topics ranging from metaphysics, sacred science and traditional studies to symbolism and initiation.
Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines (1921)
- Metaphysics, because it opens out a limitless vista of possibilities, must take care never to lose sight of the inexpressible, which indeed constitutes its very essence.
- Europeans, since the days when they began to believe in "progress" and in "evolution," that is to say since a little more than a century ago, profess to see a sign of inferiority in this absence of change, whereas for our part, we look upon it as a balanced condition which Western civilization has failed to achieve.
The Crisis of the Modern World (1927)
- We are now in the fourth age, the Kali Yuga or 'dark age', and have been so already, it is said, for more than six thousand years, that is to say since a time far earlier than any known to 'classical' history. Since that time, the truths which were formerly within reach of all have become more and more hidden and inaccessible; those who possess them grow fewer and fewer, and although the treasure of 'nonhuman (that is, supra-human) wisdom that was prior to all the ages can never be lost, it nevertheless becomes enveloped in more and more impenetrable veils, which hide it from men's sight and make it extremely difficult to discover. This is why we find everywhere, under various symbols, the same theme of something that has been lost-at least to all appearances and as far as the outer world is concerned-and that those who aspire to true knowledge must rediscover; but it is also said that what is thus hidden will become visible again at the end of the cycle, which, because of the continuity binding all things together, will coincide with the beginning of a new cycle.
- p. 7
- We have in fact entered upon the last phase of the Kali Yuga, the darkest period of this 'dark age', the state of dissolution from which it is impossible to emerge otherwise than by a cataclysm, since it is not a mere readjustment that is necessary at such a stage, but a complete renovation. Disorder and confusion prevail in every domain and have been carried to a point far surpassing all that has been known previously, so that, issuing from the West, they now threaten to invade the whole world; we know full well that their triumph can never be other than apparent and transitory, but such are the proportions which it has reached, that it would appear to be the sign of the gravest of all the crises through which mankind has passed in the course of its present cycle. Have we not arrived at that terrible age, announced in the Sacred Books of India, 'when the castes shall be mingled, when even the family shall no longer exist'?
- pp. 17–18
- Is it because Westerners have come to lose their intellectuality by over-developing their capacity for action that they console themselves by inventing theories that set action above everything else, and even, as in the case of pragma- tism, go so far as to deny that there exists anything of value beyond action; or is the contrary true, namely, that it is the acceptance of this point of view that has led to the intellectual atrophy we see today?
- pp. 35–36
- Matter is essentially multiplicity and division, and this-be it said in passing-is why all that proceeds from matter can beget only strife and all manner of conflicts between peoples as between individuals. The deeper one sinks into matter, the more the elements of division and opposition gain force and scope; and, contrariwise, the more one rises toward pure spirituality, the nearer one approaches that unity which can only be fully realized by consciousness of universal principles.
- p. 38
- There is an exact correspondence between a world where everything seems to be in a state of mere 'becoming', leaving no place for the changeless and the permanent, and the state of mind of men who find all reality in this 'becoming', thus implicitly denying true knowledge as well as the object of that knowledge, namely transcendent and universal principles.
- p. 39
- It was however only in the nineteenth century that men began to glory in their ignorance–for to proclaim oneself an agnostic means nothing else–and claimed to deny to others any knowledge to which they had no access themselves; and this marked yet one more stage in the intellectual decline of the West.
- p. 45
- In civilizations of a traditional nature, intellectual intuition lies at the root of everything; in other words, it is the pure metaphysical doctrine that constitutes the essential, everything else being linked to it, either in the form of consequences or applications to the various orders of contingent reality. Not only is this true of social institutions, but also of the sciences, that is, branches of knowledge bearing on the domain of the relative, which in such civilizations are only regarded as dependencies, prolongations, or reflections of absolute or principial knowledge. Thus a true hierarchy is always and everywhere preserved: the relative is not treated as non-existent, which would be absurd; it is duly taken into consideration, but is put in its rightful place, which cannot but be a secondary and subordinate one; and even within this relative domain there are different degrees of reality, according to whether the subject lies nearer to or further from the sphere of principles.
- p. 42
- If an idea is true, it belongs equally to all who are capable of understanding it.
- p. 56
- Philosophy […] is interesting mainly because it expresses, in as clear a form as possible, the tendencies of this or that period, much more than it actually creates them; and even if it can be said to direct them to a certain extent, it does so only secondarily and when they are already formed.
- p. 59
- A philosopher's renown is increased more by inventing a new error than by repeating a truth that has already been expressed by others.
- p. 56
- Protestantism denied the authority of the organization qualified to interpret legitimately the religious tradition of the West and in its place claimed to set up "free criticism," that is to say interpretations resulting from private judgement, even of the ignorant and the incompetent, and based exclusively on the exercise of human reason. What happened in the realm of religion was therefore analogous to the part to be played by rationalism in philosophy: the door was left open to all manner of discussions, divergencies and deviations, and the result was what it was bound to be: dispersion in an ever growing multitude of sects, each of which represents no more than the private opinion of certain individuals. As it was impossible under such conditions to come to an agreement on doctrine, this was soon thrust into the background, and the secondary aspect of religion, namely morality came to the fore: hence the degeneration into moralism which is so patent in present-day Protestantism.
- p. 61
- Where is the notion of a real hierarchy still to be found in the modern world? Nothing and nobody is any longer in the right place; men no longer recognize any effective authority in the spiritual order or any legitimate power in the temporal; the 'profane' presume to discuss what is sacred, and to contest its character and even its existence; the inferior judges the superior, ignorance sets bounds to wisdom, error prevails over truth, the human is substituted for the Divine, earth has priority over Heaven, the individual sets the measure for all things and claims to dictate to the universe laws drawn entirely from his own relative and fallible reason. 'Woe unto you, ye blind guides,' the Gospel says; and indeed everywhere today one sees nothing but blind leaders of the blind, who, unless restrained by some timely check, will inevitably lead them into the abyss, there to perish with them.
- pp. 67–68
- It is contradictory to say that the same persons can be at the same time rulers and ruled […] The great ability of those who are in control in the modern world lies in making the people believe that they are governing themselves; and the people are the more inclined to believe this as they are flattered by it, and as, in any case, they are incapable of sufficient reflection to see its impossibility. It was to create this illusion that 'universal suffrage' was invented: the law is supposed to be made by the opinion of the majority, but what is overlooked is that this opinion is something that can very easily be guided and modified; it is always possible, by means of suitable suggestions, to arouse, as may be desired, currents moving in this or that direction. We cannot recall who it was who first spoke of 'manufacturing opinion', but this expression is very apt.
- p. 74
- Let us probe still more deeply into the question: what is this law of the greatest number which modern governments invoke and in which they claim to find their sole justification? It is simply the law of matter and brute force, the same law by which a mass, carried down by its weight, crushes everything that lies in its track. It is precisely here that we find the point of junction of the democratic conception and materialism, and here also is to be found the reason why this conception is so firmly rooted in the present-day mentality.
- p. 76
- Multiplicity, considered apart from its principle, and therefore as no longer capable of being reduced to unity, takes the form in the social realm of a community conceived only as the arithmetical sum of its component individuals; in fact, a community is no more than this, once it has ceased to be attached to any principle superior to these individuals.
- p. 77
- 'Aristocracy', […] taken in its etymological sense, means precisely the power of the elite. The elite can by definition only be the few, and their power, or rather their authority, deriving as it does from their intellectual superiority, has nothing in common with the numerical strength on which democracy is based, a strength whose inherent tendency is to sacrifice the minority to the majority, and therefore quality to quantity, and the elite to the masses.
- p. 78
- The guiding function exercised by a true elite, and its very existence–since of necessity it plays this role if it exists at all–is utterly incompatible with democracy, which is closely bound up with the egalitarian conception, and therefore with the negation of all hierarchy; the very foundation of the democratic idea is the supposition that one individual is as good as another, simply because they are equal numerically and in spite of the fact that they can never be equal in any other way. A true elite, as we have already said, can only be an intellectual one; and that is why democracy can arise only where pure intellectuality no longer exists, as is the case in the modern world.
- p. 78
- Since equality is in fact impossible, and since, despite all efforts toward leveling, the differences between one man and another cannot in practice be entirely suppressed, men have been brought, by a curious illogic, to invent false elites–of several kinds moreover–that claim to take the place of the one true elite; and these false elites are based on a variety of totally relative and contingent points of superiority, always of a purely material order. This is obvious from the fact that the social distinction that counts most in the present state of things is that based on wealth, that is to say on a purely outward superiority of an exclusively quantitative order, the only superiority in fact that is consistent with democracy, based as it is on the same point of view.
- pp. 78–79
- There can be only one way out of the chaos, in the social domain as in all others: the restoration of intellectuality, which would result in the formation once more of an elite.
- p. 79
- There are people whose mind would recoil from actual negation, but who have no objection to complete indifference; this is what is most to be feared, for to deny something one must think about it to some extent, however little that may be, whereas an attitude of indifference makes it possible not to think about it at all.
- p. 83
- It is true that the masses have always been led in one manner or another, and it could be said that their part in history consists primarily in allowing themselves to be led, since they represent a merely passive element, a 'matter' in the Aristotelian sense of the word. But, in order to lead them today, it is sufficient to dispose of purely material means, this time in the ordinary sense of the word, and this shows clearly to what depths our age has sunk. At the same time, the masses are made to believe that they are not being led, but that they are acting spontaneously and governing themselves, and the fact that they believe this is a sign from which the extent of their stupidity may be inferred.
- p. 88
- It is strange that people should talk so much about ending all war at a time when the ravages it causes are greater than they have ever been, not only because the means of destruction have been multiplied, but also because, as wars are no longer fought between comparatively small armies composed solely of professional soldiers, all the individuals on both sides are flung against each other indiscriminately, including those who are the least qualified for this kind of function. Here again is a striking example of modern confusion, and it is truly portentous, for those who care to reflect upon it, that a 'mass uprising' or a 'general mobilization' should have come to be considered quite natural, and that with very few exceptions the minds of all should have accepted the idea of an 'armed nation'. In this also can be seen an outcome of the belief in the power of numbers alone: it is in keeping with the quantitative character of modern civilization to set in motion enormous masses of combatants; and at the same time, egalitarianism also finds its expression here, as well as in systems such as 'compulsory education' and 'universal suffrage'.
- pp. 89–90
- The traditional spirit cannot die, being in its essence above death and change; but it can withdraw completely from the outward world […] We may see the 'beginning of the end', the preliminary sign of the moment when, according to the Hindu tradition, the whole of the sacred doctrine is to be shut in a conch-shell, from which it will once more come forth intact at the dawn of the new world.
- p. 99
The Reign of Quantity and Signs of the Times (1945)
Le Règne de la Quantité et les Signes des Temps, as translated by Lord Northbourne (1953)
- The “end of a world” never is and never can be anything but the end of an illusion.
- Thus the sedentary peoples create the plastic arts (architecture, sculpture, painting), the arts consisting of forms developed in space; the nomads create the phonetic arts (music, poetry), the arts consisting of forms unfolded in time; for, let us say it again, all art is in its origin essentially symbolical and ritual, and only through a late degeneration, indeed a very recent degeneration, has it lost its sacred character so as to become at last the purely profane 'recreation' to which it has been reduced among our contemporaries.
- There is thus all the more reason to exercise extreme vigilance ... against anything that may lead the being to become "fused," or preferably and more accurately "confused" or even "dissolved," in a sort of "cosmic consciousness" that shuts out all "transcendence" and so also shuts out all effective spirituality. This is the ultimate consequence of all the anti-metaphysical errors known more especially in their philosophical aspect by such names as "pantheism," "immanentism," and "naturalism."
- p. 288
- What is to be said of someone who flings himself into the Ocean and has no aspiration but to drown himself in it? This is precisely the significance of the so-called "fusion" with a "cosmic consciousness" which is really nothing but the confused and indistinct assemblage of all the psychic influences.
- p. 289
Initiation And Spiritual Realization (1952)
- The truth is that there is really no "profane realm" that could in any way be opposed to a "sacred realm"; there is only a "profane point of view", which is really none other than the point of view of ignorance.
Quotes about Guénon
- No living writer in modern Europe is more significant than René Guénon, whose task it has been to expound the universal metaphysical tradition that has been the essential foundation of every past culture, and which represents the indispensable basis for any civilization deserving to be so called.
- Ananda Coomaraswamy in the introduction of his translation of part of La crise du monde moderne, quoted in Roger Lipsey, Coomaraswamy, vol. 3: His Life and Work (1977), p. 169
- If Guénon is correct, then all my work is for naught.
- The criticism which Guénon levels against modern scientism in all of its materialistic, pragmatist and evolutionary trajectories, is the most serious and the most radical of all the criticisms ever made. On the other hand, once it is applied to a social and practical plane, any knowledge which tradition draws from its metaphysical premises can be translated into principles which can properly situate and organize mundane activities and bestow on them a higher meaning; these principles can also create institutional forms adequate to this purpose and prolong "life" into something which is "more than life." In this context, Guénon's deductions assume a radical character: hierarchical, aristocratic, anti-individualist, anti-social and anti-collectivist … the knowledge and the study of the works of this author should be recommended to the best elements and to those who are most anxious to receive an authentic spiritual orientation in our new Italy. … These elements would find in Guenon’s works perspectives which are far removed from any particularism and personalism. … I feel this to be case, since the promise of Guenon’s “radical traditionalism” is the same as Mussolini’s idéal of the attainment of a “permanent and universal reality,” which is the necessary requirement for any person who wishes to act spiritually in the world with a “dominating human will.”
- In any case, Guénon belongs in essence to the culture of the Right. His work is a radical negation of democracy, socialism, and individualism. He goes even further, into areas barely touched upon by current Right-wing critiques.
- Julius Evola, Ricognizioni: uomini e problemi (1974)
- Carl Schmitt believes René Guénon is the most interesting person of our time. (I don’t believe this always, but often I do. Although I consider Aurobindo Ghose more “perfected.”)
- Mircea Eliade, Mircea Eliade’s The Portugal Journal, trans. Mac Linscott Ricketts (2010)
- If during the last century or so there has been even some slight revival of awareness in the Western world of what is meant by metaphysics and metaphysical tradition, the credit for it must go above all to Guénon. At a time when the confusion into which modern Western thought had fallen was such that it threatened to obliterate the few remaining traces of genuine spiritual knowledge from the minds and hearts of his contemporaries, Guénon, virtually single-handed, took it upon himself to reaffirm the values and principles which, he recognized, constitute the only sound basis for the living of a human life with dignity and purpose or for the formation of a civilization worthy of the name.
- Philip Sherrard. Christianity and the Lineaments of a Sacred Tradition. (1998). pp. 76–77.