The Crisis of the Modern World

by Rene Guenon, 1946

Of denunciations of the modern world, I can never get my fill.  Guenon claims that the West has abandoned tradition, contemplation, and metaphysics (all more or less synonymous for him), and created the world’s first anti-metaphysical (materialist and individualist) civilization.  The Eastern civilizations have preserved the wisdom that the West has abandoned, but today the West is working aggressively to spread its poison abroad.  The West itself is so far gone that it will most likely require expert help from the East to resuscitate our spiritual traditions.

This is not a great book, but it does make some original points.  A couple of things I found interesting:

  1. Guenon sensibly identifies the Catholic Church as the main repository of the West’s traditional spiritual wisdom.  She must be the starting point of any future revitalization of the West.  To play this glorious role, Guenon insists that the Church wouldn’t need to sacrifice any of her dogmas; in fact, she would get to stop watering down her faith to accomodate modernity.  I’m not sure if I trust Guenon here.  He seems to think that all traditional religions transmit the same essential truths.  Catholicism, however, carries historical as well as metaphysical truth claims.  Guenon doesn’t attack these claims, but they don’t seem to interest him either.
  2. The most fascinating part of the book for me was the defense of non/pre-modern science.  For the ancients (and contemporary Easterners), the main point of science is not to quantitatively model and predict natural phenomena, but to use natural phenomena as mental aids, stepping-stones, to the contemplation of eternal, incorporeal truths.  (Remember all the images of the Trinity that medievals liked to find in the natural and psychological world?)  For this goal, Guenon pronounces contemporary science inferior to what it replaced.  He even goes so far as to say that our contempt for astrology and alchemy is based on misunderstandings.

One Response

  1. On the contrary, it is a very great book, and is the predecessor to his magnum opus, The Reign of Quantity []. Prior to Guénon the essential principles which he expounds so lucidly had been virtually forgotten in the West. They West is still ignorant of them, of course, but some few have been fortunate enough to have read Guénon with understanding. See the essays by Martin Lings on Guénon [], by Harry Oldmeadow [] as well as the appreciation and corrections by Frithjof Schuon, available at Amazon or at Online Books [].

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