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.
- 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.
- Introduction générale à l'étude des doctrines hindoues (Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines) (1921)
- 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"?
- La crise du monde moderne (The Crisis of the Modern World) (1927)
- The “end of a world” never is and never can be anything but the end of an illusion.
- The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times (1945)
- 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.
- Initiation et réalisation spirituelle (Initiation And Spiritual Realization) (1952)
The Crisis of the Modern World (1927)
- Is it because Westerners have come to lose their intellectuality through over-developing their capacity for action that they console themselves by inventing theories which set action above everything, and even go so far, as in the case of pragmatism, as to deny that there exists anything of value beyond action; or is the contrary true, that it is the acceptance of this point of view that has led to the intellectual atrophy we see today?
- p. 47
- 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 and between individuals. The deeper one sinks into matter, the more the elements of division and opposition gain force and scope; and, on the other hand, the more one rises towards pure spirituality, the nearer one approaches to that unity which can only be fully realized by consciousness of the universal principles.
- p. 50
- There is exact correspondence between a world where everything seems to be in a state of mere “becoming,” leaving no place for the changeless and permanent, and the state of mind of men who find all reality in this same “becoming,” denying by implication true knowledge as well as the object of that knowledge, by which we mean the transcendent and universal principles.
- p. 51
- It is, however, only in the nineteenth century that one sees men beginning to glory in their ignorance—for to proclaim oneself an agnostic means nothing else—and claiming to forbid others any knowledge to which they themselves have no access; and this marked one stage further in the intellectual decline of the West.
- p. 59
- The traditional sciences … constitute … a preparation for a higher knowledge and a way of approach to it, and by virtue of their hierarchical arrangement according to the levels of existence to which they refer, they form, as it were, so many rungs by which it is possible to climb to the level of pure intellectuality. It is only too clear that modern sciences cannot in any way serve either of these purposes; this is why they can be no more than “profane science,” whereas the traditional sciences … are effectively incorporated in “sacred science.”
- pp. 65-66
- If an idea is true, it belongs equally to all who are capable of understanding it.
- p. 73
- Philosophy … is interesting because it expresses, in a form as clearly defined as possible, the tendencies of this or that period, much more than it really 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. 75
- It is contradictory to say that the same person can be at the same time ruler 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, as they are in any case 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 in it currents moving in this or that direction as desired. We cannot recall who it was that first spoke of “manufacturing opinion,” but this expression is very apt.
- p. 93
- A community conceived only as the arithmetical sum of its component individuals; a community is, in fact, no more than this once it ceases to be attached to any principle higher than the individuals.
- p. 96
- “Aristocracy,” … taken in its etymological sense, means precisely the power of the elect. The elect, by the very definition of the word, can only be the few, and their power, or rather their authority, being due to 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 elect to the masses.
- pp. 97-98
- The guiding function exercised by a true elect, and even the very existence of this elect—since it must exercise this function if it exists at all—is utterly incompatible with democracy. … A real elect, as we have 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. 98
- Since equality is in fact impossible, and since, despite all attempts at reducing everything to one level, the differences between one man and another cannot in practice be entirely suppressed, men have been brought, illogically enough, to invent false hierarchies, whose higher ranks claim to take the place of the only true elect; and these false hierarchies are built up exclusively on the basis of relative and contingent considerations, always of a purely material order. This is very obvious from the fact that the kind of social distinction which counts the most in the present state of things is that based on wealth, that is to say on a merely external superiority of an exclusively quantitative order, the only superiority, as a matter of fact, that is consistent with democracy, based as it is on the same point of view.
- p. 98
- 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 elect.
- p. 99
- There are people whose mind would recoil from actual negation, but who have no objection to complete indifference; and it is this that is the 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. 103
- 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, to lead them today, it is sufficient to dispose of purely material means, … 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. 109
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)
- 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
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, published in 1935. Quoted in Roger Lipsey, Coomaraswamy, vol. 3: His Life and Work (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977), p. 169.
- Si Guénon a raison, eh bien ! toute mon oeuvre tombe.
- 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.
- Julius Evola. René Guénon: a Teacher for Modern Times. (Holmes Publishing Group, 1994). p. 17.
- He [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 (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 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. (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1998). pp. 76–77.