I am reading Rene Guenon’s The Crisis of the Modern World.

Guenon has a reasoned prejudice against science that is however quite mistaken. He is rhetorical rather than cogent, has a number of outright crank views… and yet is brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

What is right about Guenon, what is wrong, and what do I fail to grasp?

What is right is that there is a transcendental dimension to human life. It is universal. It is ultimate. It is authoritative. Indeed, it is authority in its native form. And I agree with Guenon (and Leo Strauss, and Eric Vogelin) that a civilization that flees from it or denies it is likely to destroy itself, or be destroyed.

What is wrong is that science, contra Guenon, does have an intrinsic transcendental value (it is true, not one often well stated or understood by scientists, but it is clear enough in that most real scientists are primarily motivated not by utility, but rather by the beauty of the world and of the order of the world). I detect an angry, dismissive, unconscious, defensive tone or attitude in Guenon with respect to science and technology.

What is is probably wrong is Guenon’s implication that tradition, in some sense, was politically formative or normative for civilizations before the 6th century BCE. As far as I can tell the wanderings and conquests of tribes and peoples was, is, and has always been depressingly and familiarly biological. But I may not grasp what he is trying to say, I may be reading too much into it.

I suspect, though I cannot well argue, that the move towards missionary religions (Buddhism, contemporary reactions in Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam) is well motivated, not wrongly motivated.

Perhaps a clue lies in Judaism. It is a missionary religion in that it views itself as holding revealed truth and in the end receiving all the world in the Moshiach’s Kingdom, and yet it is tolerant in that it fully acknowledges the righteousness of gentiles, and does not aspire to on its own hook immediately to convert the world.

What is wrong is that initiation by some preceding initiate is necessary in all cases. It was not necessary for the founders of the traditions. And it is certain that there were founders, because at one time there were not even any human beings.

I may fail to grasp that traditions were mutually tolerant. This may be the case (before the 6th century BCE). Or it may not, I do not know the history well enough. I am reasonably confident that it used to be a lot harder to travel this globe, and that may have a lot to do with tolerance — perhaps it was not possible to think about conversion.

What is wrong is absolutely crank theories such as Hyperborea, which historically have lead on naturally (e.g., Julius Evola or the Ahnenerbe SS) to anti-Semitism, racism, and all manner of truly vicious follies.

What I fail to grasp (perhaps I will grasp it later) is how Guenon deals with people like Second Isaiah or St. John of the Cross, who are, it is transparently obvious, initiated in the only important sense and who are yet committed to a missionary religion. One could say the same of the historical Buddha (or the perhaps several original founders of Buddhism).

The question for me is, why does a liberal such as myself, completely committed to the scientific world-view, find himself so eager to hear wild birds like Guenon, Strauss, Vogelin, Eliade?

A lamp: Thomas Merton?

I must keep working on my perception that fundamentalism is a contemporary form of idolatry, the characteristic sin of our age. The  “revelation” is the idol, however, not the God of revelation. Interestingly, Guenon seems to scorn such reactions.

Mirror idolatries? – Everything in Nature is computable. Truth is revealed in some book.

Jews versus Arabs is a reductio to some sort of absurdam.

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