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'René Guénon and the metaphysics of society' (1942) by Béla Hamvas
An introduction to Guénon—written by Hamvas in 1942, translation by the Prague Circle.
René Guénon’s name should be well known by now. He started to work for the “Voile d’Isis” already in the 1920’s. His first books were published around the same time. These works are among the most interesting ones of our times. The subject is always surprising, the tone is captivating, the thinking is sharp and quick, the conclusion sheds light on unexpected connections, the sense of truth is uncorrupted, the knowledge is so fascinating, rich and multi-faceted that once you understand its intent, you have no choice but to follow it.
These are all favorable conditions for the recognition of books. Yet, although the author brings up the most burning questions of our times, and he goes deeper than any contemporary thinker —with the exception of the Russian emigrants (Merezhkovsky, Ivanov, Berdyaev, Uspenskij)—more than 10 years has past since the publication of “Crise” and “Autorité spirituelle” and he is still unknown.
It’s only Leopold Ziegler and Giulio Evola who have decidedly taken on a path, under Guenon’s influence, that sooner or later everyone must take on, or at least touch upon. These works are indispensable. He has a number of students, Andre Préau among them, whose Chinese commentary on the “Golden Flower” achieves on a few pages what three generations of scientists, in the span of 80 years—from Max Müller to Richard Wilhelm—couldn’t: to understand and explain ancient Chinese society. This work is also in opposition to C.G. Jung, whose “Golden Flower” comments may as well almost completely be ignored.
The group of “Voile d’Isis” has taken on a grander and more significant work than all intellectual initiatives so far: to reconstruct the mentality of ancient humanity on the base of published and unpublished pre-historical scriptures. There is no doubt that these works have world-wide perspective. It is odd that researchers and scientists from the same field don’t seem to know about them. Based on his latest work, the otherwise very alert Keyserling doesn’t seem to be aware of this yet (Vom Persönlichen Leben). Geiger wrote his book (Die indoarische Gesellschaftsordung) after Guenon had already reached both Evola and Ziegler, but didn’t mention him. Hilko Wiardo Schomerus hasn’t heard of him either, although it would have been useful for him for more than one of his books. It seems that German scientism possesses some kind of blindness, which doesn’t want to notice anything that is happening beyond the boarders of Germany.
In this case it is more than just about simple scientific achievement though. Guenon discards not only rationalist materialism and positivist pragmatism. Guenon turns against European scientism that has taken hold since the Middle Ages (Verwissenschaftlichung des Geistes, as Ziegler says) and that he considers to be the restricted, profane, inferior fragment of the human intellect, which he declares completely unreliable, and which he despises and refuses without reservations. René Guénon’s work seems to be appreciated as essential only by personalities like Evola and Ziegler who thoroughly scanned the whole body of philosophy and science of recent times, and couldn’t find one single absolute thought, a single solid starting point, one unquestionable truth in the whole span of 500 years.
What’s more, what could be an absolute starting point and truth in the Europe of recent times, could be found repressed, deformed, fragmented and pale with those who are labeled as daydreamers, enthusiasts or mystics by Science, and who were never taken seriously. In this regard Guénon’s work is similar to that of Nietzsche and—with some restrictions—to that of Scheler. This is why Guenon is considered to be the only and most defining intellectual step of modern times by those only, who after 20–30 years of work are disappointed in the whole scientific and philosophical efforts of modern man. There are of course only a few of such men today.
Guenon’s intellectual step, his consequentially defining thought is infinitely simple: Tradition.
The whole thing will become immediately clear through the following example with gold. When the Spanish conquerors learned about the ancient native society in Mexico and the Yucatan peninsula, the close analogy between the ruler and gold may have been apparent. At that time however nobody understood this. Gold was not money, property, or jewelry or ornament in the current sense of the word. It appeared that all gold belonged to the ruler, no matter where it was found or wherever it was. The ruler, however, didn’t “use” it. According to scriptures, the Inkas were forbidden to touch any object that was not made of gold. Gold cutlery, plates, cups, sticks, sword handles, clubs, throne, buckles, pins, buttons, sandals. No luxury, however, and especially no softness. There was correspondence between the ruler’s being, gold and the act of ruling itself. The same can be found in Egyptian, Chinese, Hindu and Middle Eastern societies, too. This heavy, dull-gleaming, magical metal in its sun like glitter meant ruling itself. But in a fundamentally different way than it is understood today. Ruling was not an activity, the continuous action of the power instinct. Ruling is a passive faculty, just like the sun is passive, it just is, yet its warm rays bring life. The activity of the ruler is no-action (Tao). Sun-gold-ruler, they are relatives; analogies, if not in an earthly, in a cosmic sense. Thus the Chinese ruler is the Son of the Sky, in Egypt Ra is the incarnation of the Sun God; this is known so in India as much as in Mexico. The fact that Tradition is understood the same way in any age, among any human race, even quite recently, is well illustrated by the example of Louis XIV, who called himself the Sun King. Sun is just another word for divine, because the sun is a god symbol. When gold only belongs to the ruler it means that the gold only belongs to the sun, which means that gold is the sun itself; all this is the analogy and the symbol of the center: God.
The important thing is this: gold doesn’t belong to the ruler, it belongs to God. Not one single flesh and blood man can declare the smallest piece of gold as his own. Profane man who wears or carries gold was considered to be sacrilegious in China, India, Egypt, Peru and in ancient Caldea. It was quite natural that such a man deserved to die. Because the one who hides one piece of gold for himself, he hides one portion of the light and sun which is for everyone, hides for himself a portion of power he is not entitled to. He claims something that belongs to the whole world for selfish and individual purposes.
There isn’t any crime lower or more wicked than this. Having the materialized sunshine hidden means one had disturbed the cosmic order, and disgraced the divine symbol. Gold is on the temple and in the temple, it belongs only to God, who radiates it to men. When the ruler is surrounded by gold it doesn’t mean that the metal is now his loot, just like neither ruling nor power is a loot for him. The king is just a symbol and a guardian. Phylax, as Plato says in Timaeus. And so is it taught by Tao Te Ching, the Veda, and Zarathustra, too. Every ancient tradition anywhere on earth from Peru to China unanimously knows that gold is sunshine, the ruler is the earthly manifestation of deity—standing above man, unreachable and untouchable. The royal symbol, the crown, the golden sun can be on the ruler’s head only.
To make the picture deeper, sharper and truer, a fourth motif must be introduced, too. This motif is time. The metaphysical reference of gold and time is quite clear from such connections as golden time, golden age, or “time is money,” where money means gold. Time’s equivalent is gold. If I need time from somebody’s life, I must pay for it with gold, because gold is the only thing that can compensate for lost time. People are not paid for their work but for their time; paying for results is the sign of the material way of thinking typical of our times. If I take away a day (sun) I must give the sun back. The sun is the master of time and also means time itself, and just like gold is condensed sunshine, so it is condensed time. Gold is materialized eternity. This is why it is expensive. There are minutes and hours for which you can’t pay—there are occasions when you don’t do something for any prize: “there isn’t enough money,” things you wouldn’t leave for “Darius’ treasures.” So are the four elements together: Sun, Ruling, Time and Deity. This is Gold.
Gold has come a long way until it got to where it is today: currency, back up for money [note: this article was written in the 1940’s], the jewel of women, stockbrokers, movie stars, cigarette case, the chain of pocket watches … came a long way: down. The king started to consider the metal to be his own. Simultaneously it wasn’t God, the cosmic Sun, the life sustaining transcendent Power in the center anymore. The king became man and was no longer divine Phylax. Gold has become his own private property. Loot and luxury. In the same time the cosmic divine light became dim and the golden age was gone. Why would it be a smaller sin if the king hides the gold from the world than an ordinary thief? When the first king put gold in his pocket, he pocketed the unlimited goodness and life giving power of the super human God-Power. He took a piece for himself and this way he broke the strength of the light that radiated onto everyone, and was sustaining the golden age. It became the king’s—individual, selfish, demonic, black magic-like. The uninhibited light stopped shining on life, and the earth became dim. Time got confused. This step is known by all sacred scriptures: by the Veda and the Tao Te Ching. It’s known in Egypt just like it is in Iran and Peru.
The second step is when gold slipped out of even the king’s hand and slid even lower, into the hands of the knights, in sanskrit: Ksatrija. Then it went even lower, when the vaisija looted it. At this stage it’s only money. Article of commerce. Now even the wife of the shopkeeper puts sunshine on her neck, they pay with gold for animal flesh, estates and carrots. Everything can be achieved with gold. It now belongs to the merchants. But it didn’t stop there. It fell lower, among the sudra, and bandits, the bumps; pirates started to kill for gold. It became the dream of the masses. The mob gained access to gold, and everybody can have the kind of crown they want. The only thing that matters now is who’s got more gold. The more one has, the more powerful, the stronger, the more excellent, the happier one is. Time followed suit: the era became more fragmented, darker and more excitable. Power went from the hands of aristocracy into the hands of the merchants and then to the masses. In the hands of the sudra (the lowest cast) gold is not a symbol anymore, it’s merely metal. They don’t realize that gold has lost nothing from its original nature, and even today it is just as much a sign of power, sun and divine power as it was in ancient times: materialized sunshine and the symbol of the Golden Age. But by being pushed into matter it has become evil. Everybody knows what gold fever is—power fever, economic fever—the fields of Alaska, the mines of the Ural, the Spanish conquest, the safes of American banks speak volumes about it—the devilish springs of modern life, the wild desperation with which man chases after wealth -blood and gold—all this shows that it’s about a demonized yellow metal, about profane power. But who dares to recognize the catastrophe in this bold, seemingly fantastical symbol?
This was the tale of Gold.
Guenon doesn’t tell this tale. It’s only an illustration to shed light on the Traditional way of thinking. Guenon discarded modern reason as the means of knowledge and learning and replaced it with intellectual intuition (intuition intellectuelle). He also discarded modern science and replaced it with Tradition. He didn’t base human knowledge on progress, but in the archaic man.
The first relic of Tradition is unknown. The oldest written works that we know are the Egyptian papyrus, the Veda, the ancient Chinese works. But even before these there was a tradition, which was passed on verbally.
Guenon’s tradition, the realm of metaphysics, is perfectly above all interests and stakes, and is completely independent of everything that doesn’t belong to the realm of pure truth. This esprit traditionnel is the only legitimate base on which one can stand. The one who steps off of this base triggers a catastrophe for himself. There is only one knowledge: Tradition, and only one order: Tradition, and only one law: Tradition.
The modern age opines that, led by the idea of progress, it has reached heights never before reached by man. But modern times are the typical representation of esprit antitraditionnel. Science is inferior knowledge (connaissance inferieure) and it’s also illegitimate and profane. Current science is nothing but the fragments of ancient knowledge. Progress: regression de l’intelligence. The different scientific fields are the illustrations of pure traditional knowledge from a profane view point. The totality of modern knowledge does not have a basic principle—or its principle is nihilism. Reason, which could be the basis of this science, is mere negativity: the denial of intellectual intuition. Indisputable truths however can only be found with intuition; with intuition, which means infallibly. This intuition must not be confused with the one of modern philosophy. The intellectual intuition of Tradition is not rational but supra-rational.
We can see the same kind of confusion and lack of order in society as well as in science and in thinking. The foundation is missing. Tradition is denied. Tradition however is not despotism, not theory. It is the eternal foundation of human existence—the ancient knowledge, which is valid to all eras, to all people, to all races and to all societies. In the modern age it is believed that new truths may be concocted; truth however can never be new, because the Truth is not the product of the human mind—it exists independent of us, we can only discover it. But once we learned it, we can never deviate from it without punishment. The fact that today the Truth is judged from practical view points is simply ridiculous. The naturalism of the modern age, which fabricated this thought is actually the denial of metaphysics and tradition. The nature of the truth is metaphysical and it stands above all practical considerations.
As we can see from the paragraph about gold and the related remarks, Rene Guenon’s tradition is a universal and fundamental thought that has only one peculiar conceptual characteristic, and it is that it’s metaphysical. This means that historical philosophy, history, social sciences, world view, characterology, anthropology, all converge in one point. Guenon provides a universal foundation that, besides being metaphysical, also has a historical perspective. One important note: this metaphysics doesn’t belong to him, but to ancient humanity and to current humanity because this is the only, true, legitimate and absolute doctrine. Guenon’s knowledge covers everything that is fundamental in humanity: Egyptian, Iranian, Hindu, Chinese, ancient American, Hellenic and early Christian scriptures and notes. It seems that with his leadership all this seemingly sporadic and most heterogeneous thinking and knowledge is truly united into one whole, which is ancient knowledge and eternal, timeless tradition.
Tradition is: synthése compléte. Not a religion. There are numerous religions, but there is only one Tradition. All historical religions are the projections of one single tradition in particular races, nations, and ages. Tradition is the source and beginning of the intellect – teaching about existence, about order, man, society, history, religion and life. “Everything that exists and everybody who exists, the way they exist necessarily share universal principles and nothing is possible outside of this sharing of principles … these principles are eternal, unchanging and unchangeable, permanent “living realities” in a divine sense.
If you want to look at the specific part of knowledge of traditional metaphysics that apply to society you’ll find the following:
The order of tradition is that humanity must live in the same hierarchy as man does. It must be led by the spirit, power must follow the spirit, economics must obey power, and matter should obey economics. These four life functions in society are represented by the four castes. Spirit is brahman, power is ksatrija, economics is vaisija and matter is sudra. The priest, the fighter, the merchant and the worker. The highest level of activity is that of the priests, because the spirit precedes everything and is above everything. The function of the priesthood is the conservation and teaching of Tradition. This tradition contains the laws of social organization and basic principles. Brahman deals with pure metaphysics. Not only the Indian but all ancient societies functioned this way. Guenon can list the parallels that support this fact endlessly.
The superiority of the priest was overthrown by the warrior. This is the era when gold is not in the temple anymore, it’s not assigned to God, because it’s no longer the symbol of power, light, eternity and the golden age, but starts to become human—it is becoming demonized: it gets weaved into fate and becomes a diabolical yellow metal, for which people start to kill and to fight; bloodshed and war begins. The golden age is gone. The knight, the noblemen, aristocracy and the warrior take center stage which means that power steps over the spirit. The balance of spirit (as represented by supra rational intellect) and power breaks down: it’s no longer the spirit that determines what to do; power acts without previous spiritual determination. This is the beginning of the decline. With this, the denial of all transcendent principles became prevalent. Priests are the guardians of spirituality. To translate this fact to the language of society: the autorite spirituelle must be at the top. The warrior must not lead. The warrior only works and deals with power. This: pouvoir temporel. Les hommes, qui sont faits pour l’action, ne sont pas faits pour la connaissance. In a society that stands on traditional grounds specific functions must be filled by people who were born to fill it, being perfect fits. The priest should be a priest, the fighter should be a fighter. The priest is a spiritual man who knows the law and possesses transcendent knowledge. The warrior is a man of power who executes the law. Autorité spirituelle is spiritual authority: the observant type and function; the pouvoir temporel is execution and active power, the active type and function. The latter is subordinated to the former, just like the strength of the arm is subordinated to the thinking of the brain and the intellect (pouvoir temporel—une délégation de l’autorité spirituelle). If the act is not guided by spirit, it is evil and senseless (un vaine agitation).
The warrior had stepped forward and brought with him the fight: the metaphysics of war: this is the superiority of action over the spirit. With this act it disturbed all the lower castes and turned the traditional order upside down. This turning point in world history is the era of VI. Century B.C: Lao-ce, Kung-ce, Buddha, the last Zarathustra, Herakleitos, Pythagoras, the beginning of the historical era, the birth of modern man, the final disappearance of the golden age, the appearance of revolutions and hate, the break down of the castes, and the beginning of the crisis.
Rene Guenon’s knowledge is much richer, his books’ content is much more significant and the thought of Tradition is much more universal than to even attempt to introduce his whole work. At this time it wouldn’t be possible anyway, although he already expounded the important aspects of Tradition mostly in his books about Hinduism. Laying down the foundation of the universal tradition however is still under way and its full completion cannot be expected in the near future. They say that Guenon now lives in Egypt with his students where he is researching the ancient Egyptian and Muslim tradition after having compiled and still adding materials from the Far East, Tibet, Iran, North Africa, the Celtic world and America. Following Guenon, Leopold Ziegler made a similar attempt to the unification of tradition with his “Überlieferung.” Finding connections will no doubt lead to a substantial view that may define an era.
A few more words about the present: today, according to Guenon, we are at the end of the Kali-yuga (dark age), when gold sinks into matter, becomes change (money), becomes smeared with blood and soil, which means that power and spirit, hierarchy and order—broken and humiliated—dissolves. Nothing follows this era. It is impossible to sink deeper. This is the apocalypse—which is acknowledged by the Vedas, the Eddas, the Egyptians, the Chinese, and the New Testament. Modern man doesn’t want to take this seriously – they say it’s fantasy, religion, vision. And by not believing what was known 10,000 years ago, they fulfill their fate. While science, with a petty automatism continuously talks about progress and the power of the human mind, politicized power is desperately fumbling for solutions, the confused mass is dreaming about world peace and brotherhood, traditional knowledge sees that the situation cannot be saved and a big epoch has been concluded.
The crisis has arrived—discernement des esprits—as the Book of Revelations says: the good seed is separated from the bad one. The separation is the crisis itself. The path came to an end and now we must return to the beginning. Not everyone can return. Discernement des esprits means the separation of the fertile and infertile intellects. This is the purpose of the crisis. Fertile spirits head towards renewal. According to Guenon, we found the guide, which is the eternal Tradition. This will lead us back to the beginning, to a new start and to renewal. He doesn’t hide it in his book about the crisis that the end of the era, the judgement, the discernment, the separation will be terrible. There are only a few chosen ones. These are already very passionate about freeing themselves of the current false humanism, the false idealism of brotherhood, and to occupy their place in the hierarchy. This will be preceded by the restoration of the spirit of Tradition—c’est l’unique reméde du désordre actuel.
Society, like in all ages of vitality, the last time in the European Middle Ages, stops being a holding company or a labor camp, or a robbed mob and returns to the hierarchy, to human layers that correspond to human nature, no matter what it’s called: caste or class. It returns to the spiritually guided order, the foundation and essence of which has always been and always will be metaphysics.
This translation—by “PCC/LK”—is taken from the Prague Circle.