Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Western Muslim Responses to Western Modernity: Rene Guenon (d.1951)

"René Guénon's role (was to be the) reviver of Tradition for the Western world."
Charles Upton < >

"The civilization of the modern West appears in history a veritable anomaly: among all those which are known to us more or less completely, this civilization is the only one which has developed along purely material lines and this monstrous development, whose beginning coincindes with the so-called Renaissance, has been accompanied, as indeed it was fated to be, with a corresponding intellectual regress; we say corresponding and not equivalent, because here are two orders of things between which there can be no common measure. This regress has reached such a point that the Westerners of today no longer know what pure intellect is; in fact they do not even suspect that anything of the kind can exist;"

"Hence their disdain, not only for eastern civilization, but also for the Middle Ages of Europe, whose spirit escapes them scarcely less completely. 

How is the interest of a purely speculative knowledge to be brought home to people for whom intelligence is nothing but a means of acting on matter and turning it to practical ends, and for whom science, in their limited understanding of it, is above all important in so far as it may be applied to industrial purposes ? "  

Read more quotations from Rene Guenon:

His function is also to warn the people of religion, including Muslims, of the entanglements (fitna) of (post-) modernity, how it threatens to destroy the mentality even of some religious people as it did when modernity first emerged in the West, how it casts into doubt any absolute, metaphysical truth and how it influences the public at large.

A European intellectual from the first half of the 20th century, he had witnessed the tragic and seemingly unavoidable events of his times, not the least both World Wars. He confronted the ruling myths of this civilization, such as 'human progress', 'technical development towards a brighter future' and he penetrated some of the most important philosophical and religious traditions - when towards the middle of his life - he embraced Islam and travelled to Egypt where he lived until the end of his life as a well-respected Muslim author.

One of his main concerns was to produce an unsentimental analysis of Western ideological and religious development since the Renaissance, focusing on the degradation - as he saw it - of metaphysics, religion and philosophy and consequently of the mentality of the general populace.

He explained why the civilization of the West was built on false foundations, like a house built on sand: its positivism, its denial of true tradition and in consequence its metaphysical knowledge. He also showed the way to reform this situation by gaining access - through initiation - to the sacred and eternal treasure of timeless wisdom hidden beyond pseudo-sciences. His writings have inspired many engaged readers to search for truth and meaning in an otherwise meaningless world.

Another of his main concerns was to clear from the pure concept of Ultimate Reality everything that IT is not and to teach its pure doctrine, because IT can only be described in negative terms (of what IT is NOT ). His work is to remind us of the impossibility of having some rational concept of Ultimate Reality, except for the insight gained from intellectual intuition (the ma`rifa - intuitive knowledge of God) and the knowledge of revelation and prophetic tradition by following its teachings.

This introduction is not an adequate overview over this outstanding writer's work, who wrote no less than 26 books and conducted a numereous correspondance with many intellectuals of his time. Some of his main areas of focus are:

• A definition of tradition versus anti-tradition and sentimentalized religion
• a distinction between metaphysics versus philosophy and religion
• an exposition of metaphysics and the hierarchy of stages of being
• a clear doctrine of the Ultimate Reality, Allah, Almighty God
• a thorough examination of Western thought and mentality:
   - individualism, modernism, rationalism, quantification; slackening of doctrine
• a rigorous distinction between Intellect and reason
• an explanation of esoterism and its function in religion, of initiation
• an explanation of the science of symbolism

René Guénon or (November 15, 1886 – January 7, 1951) was a French author and intellectual who remains an influential figure in the domain of metaphysics, having written on topics ranging from metaphysics, sacred science and traditional studies to symbolism and initiation.

In his writings, he proposes either "to expose directly some aspects of Eastern metaphysical doctrines", these doctrines being defined by him as of "universal character" or "to adapt these same doctrines [for western readers] while keeping strictly faithful to their spirit";  he only endorsed the function of "handing down" those Eastern doctrines, while stating their "non-individual character".

His works, written and first published in French, have been translated into more than twenty languages.

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