The Political Philosophy of Confucianism

Over at Gornahoor, I’ve made a rough translation of a short essay by Okawa Shumei, which you may find here: The Political Philosophy of Confucianism

Okawa never read René Guénon and had no connections to him, but as with my earlier Gornahoor posts, things will make a lot more sense if you have read Guénon.

Posted: February 28th, 2013 | Kokoro, Tradition 3 Comments »

A Who’s Who of Traditionalism and English translations

Of whom nothing more need be said.
René Guénon: Metaphysician. In print with Sophia Perennis.

Gruppo di Ur
An Italian secret society which hit on the same truths as Guénon.
Julius Evola: Roman/pan-Aryan metaphysician. In print with Inner Traditions, Arktos, and private publishers.
Guido De Giorgio: Metaphysician. Being translated at Gornahoor.
Arturo Reghini: Italian esotericist. Currently being studied as a Ph.D. thesis.

Those who lived around the 1910s-1940s, who had never read Guénon despite holding similar views.
Charles Maurras: French political theorist. Being translated at Gornahoor.
Valentin Tomberg: Hermeticist, Catholic, and ex-Anthrosophist; anonymously published Meditations on the Tarot has a mainstream publisher.
Shūmei Ōkawa: Japanese religious scholar; associate of Sri Aurobindo; class-A war criminal. Translated for the first time on this blog.

Studies in Comparative Religion
A journal published 1963-1987 which codified Guénon’s work as (religious) perennialism and brought it to wider notice among mainstream intellectuals. Their work is carried on by the excellent press World Wisdom which, although it is not academic, is deeply respected by religious scholars of the right persuasion.
Ananda Coomaraswamy: Religionist. in print with World Wisdom, and out of print partially.
Frithjof Schuon: Religionist. In print with World Wisdom.
William Stoddart: Scottish religionist, leaning Sufi. In print with World Wisdom.
Marco Pallis: Greek-British mountaineer who worked with the Tibetan community. In print with World Wisdom.
Jean Hani: French esotericist. Published by Sophia Perennis. Died in 2012 at the age of about 98.
Martin Lings: English Sufi. In print with Islamic publishers.
Titus Burckhardt: English Sufi. In print with Fons Vitae, another perennialist press.
Michel Vâlsan: French Sufi. Out of print.
Jean-Louis Michon: French Sufi. Still living (age 80).

(Temenos Academy founders are not included here because they would make the list too long.)

Academic perennialism
Those who read the perennialists and, without adopting any particular doctrine, took a sympathetic look at various religions. I regard these people as heroes of the very troubled field of comparative religion.
Huston Smith: American religionist. Still living (age 93).
Seyyed Hossein Nasr: Persian religionist. Still living (age 79).
Mircea Eliade: Romanian mythologist. In print with major publishers.

The generation after Studies
People born too late to contribute to Studies, or who became aware of it after the fact.
Algis Uždavinys: Lithuanian Pythagorean; died 2010. In print with World Wisdom and the The Matheson Trust.
James Cutsinger: Eastern Christian and translator of Schuon (age 60). Published by The Matheson Trust.
Charles Upton: American, editor-in-chief of Sophia Perennis (age 65). His wife was an initiate with Schuon.
Wolfgang Smith: American Catholic mathematician (age 83). In print with the Foundation for Traditional Studies.

I argue that neo-pagan traditionalism misreads Evola. Even if they agree with his Traditional assertion that truth comes from principles and not from people, and that the latter should serve the former and not vice-versa, in practice they simply build ethno-fascist networks, and dumb his anti-Christianity down into racial neo-paganism. Actually in Sintesi di Dottrina della Razza Evola says that true Traditional nobility had no need to appeal to myths, and that racial gods are the pitryana, the lowly “way of the South”, while Tradition is the devayana, the “divine way of the North”. Pitryana is not the way to spiritual liberation. Nevertheless many Traditionalists come to Evola via these politicos so you may see their names around.
Alain de Benoist: French neopagan. In print with Arktos etc.
Koenraad Logghe: Flemish neopagan.
Nikolaos Michaloliakos: Greek neopagan, founder of Golden Dawn.
Various Internet wingnuts who may or may not be worth reading.

Notable post-Perennialists
Religionists influenced by Perennialism who nevertheless moved on and became influential in their own traditions.
Jean Borella: French Catholic. Over 80 years old if still alive.
Seraphim Rose: Russian Orthodox hieromonk. In print with Orthodox presses.
Henri Stéphane: Christian esotericist.

Notable modern esotericists
Joscelyn Godwin: American esotericist and musicologist; translator of Evola. In his 60s.
Yoshiro Tanaka: Japanese esotericist and translator of Guénon; died 2012.
John Michael Greer: American esotericist, neo-pagan, and peak oilist.

Observation: The average lifespan of Traditionalists seems to be over 80 years.

Posted: February 19th, 2013 | Tradition 17 Comments »

Borges’ Chinese Encyclopedia

Jorge Luis Borges famously invented a “certain Chinese encyclopedia” which, he asserts, divided all the beasts of the world into the following categories:

  1. Those that belong to the emperor
  2. Embalmed ones
  3. Those that are trained
  4. Suckling pigs
  5. Mermaids (or Sirens)
  6. Fabulous ones
  7. Stray dogs
  8. Those that are included in this classification
  9. Those that tremble as if they were mad
  10. Innumerable ones
  11. Those drawn with a very fine camel hair brush
  12. Et cetera
  13. Those that have just broken the flower vase
  14. Those that, at a distance, resemble flies

The obvious intent of this list, besides merely being amusing, is to upset the reader’s conception of firm categories of animals, and question whether there is such a thing as an objective taxonomy, with the heavy implication that all taxonomies are arbitrary, language is relative, things do not exist, and there is no realm of Being. Michel Foucault was in fact inspired to write an entire book about this passage, which he prefaces with:

This book first arose out of a passage in Borges, out of the laughter that shattered, as I read the passage, all the familiar landmarks of thought—our thought, the thought that bears the stamp of our age and our geography—breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things and continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our age-old definitions between the Same and the Other.

A conservative historian, Keith Windschuttle, conversely complains that this is an improper conclusion to draw from fiction.

In May 1995 I gave a paper to a seminar in the Department of History at the University of Sydney, Australia. Although most of the postmodernists in the department declined to attend, they deputized one of their number, Alastair MacLachlan, to reply and, they hoped, to tear me apart. My respondent opened his remarks by citing Foucault and the Chinese taxonomy. Didn’t I realize, he chided, that other cultures have such dramatically different conceptual schemes that traditional assumptions of Western historiography are inadequate for the task of understanding them?

There is, however, a problem rarely mentioned by those who cite the Chinese taxonomy as evidence for these claims. No Chinese encyclopedia has ever described animals under the classification listed by Foucault. In fact, there is no evidence that any Chinese person has ever thought about animals in this way. The taxonomy is fictitious. It is the invention of the Argentinian short-story writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges.

This revelation would in no way disturb the assumptions of the typical postmodernist thinker, who believes that the distinction between fact and fiction is arbitrary anyway. Foucault himself openly cites Borges as his source. The example is now so frequently cited in academic texts and debates that it is taken as a piece of credible evidence about non-Western cultures. It deserves to be seen, rather, as evidence of the degeneration of standards of argument in the Western academy.

That is, this has nothing to do with real Chinese knowledge demonstrating the relativity of the West, but is rather about the West [via South American urbanite] proving a point to itself through its own fiction. I am not claiming that Foucault himself was trying to make this rather inane argument for relativism, but those who read Foucault religiously are making that argument, as Windschuttle attests. They do this for a reason.

The argument then hinges on this point: is there in fact a culture so foreign that their categories make no sense to us? I have a suspicion that Borges’ Chinese encyclopedia was based on the categorization of an actual Chinese encyclopedia, which had its headings translated in 1911. One of the subheadings for its categorization system reads as follows:

‘Various Manifestations’ rather vaguely indicates the contents of this section, and Klaproth and Mayers have been misled into translating the title [as] ‘Divination’ and ‘Natural Phenomena’ respectively. As a matter of fact, the phenomena recorded are all of a strange or unusual character, departing from the ordinary course of nature. They include prodigies of various kinds, eclipses, plagues, floods, droughts, dreams, and so forth.

Borges almost certainly read this document or something much like it. It all sounds very mystifying and exotic, demonstrating the relativism of truth… until you read the next sentence.

The first four sections form a group conceived as relating to Heaven and its manifestations, as a contradistinction to Earth on one hand, and Man on the other.

Wait, there is nothing exotic about this at all! It is simply an elaboration on the traditional Chinese system. Here are the 32 subdivisions of this encyclopedia:

  1. Heavens/Time: Celestial objects, the seasons, calendar mathematics and astronomy, heavenly portents
  2. Earth/Geography: Mineralogy, political geography, list of rivers and mountains, other nations (Korea, Japan, India, Kingdom of Khotan, Ryukyu Kingdom)
  3. Man/Society: Imperial attributes and annals, the imperial household, biographies of mandarins, kinship and relations, social intercourse, dictionary of surnames, human relations, biographies of women
  4. Nature: Proclivities (crafts, divination, games, medicine), spirits and unearthly beings, fauna, flora
  5. Philosophy: Classics of non-fiction, aspects of philosophy (numerology, filial piety, shame, etc.), forms of writing, philology and literary studies
  6. Economy: education and imperial examination, maintenance of the civil service, food and commerce, etiquette and ceremony, music, the military system, the judicial system, styles of craft and architecture

It is not the way we would write an encyclopedia today, but a medieval European division of knowledge would not be terribly different from this. The terms “economy” (経済) and “society” have even undergone the same modern transformations in Europe and China. The differences arise from different focuses: the triad of heaven, earth, and man being paramount in the medieval Far East.

What this appears to demonstrate is not that all cultures are the same, which is Windschuttle’s vague point, but that differences in culture arise from an implementation of traditional principles which are not “arbitrary” but metaphysical in nature and perfectly comprehensible. Borges, who either did not understand the structure of the Chinese encyclopedia or wished to obfuscate it to make his point, represents perfectly not any actual knowledge about the impossibility of knowledge (as Foucault would claim), but the modern alienation from Tradition and the way of seeing it as confused and meaningless.

Posted: January 21st, 2013 | Tradition 1 Comment »

Choosing a religion on Gornahoor

My discussion of the issues involved with “choosing a religion” has been published on Gornahoor. This essay is intended for people who have read René Guénon and understand his concept of “Tradition”.

Posted: January 19th, 2013 | Tradition 6 Comments »


[In a storm. ALBERT has an amusingly small umbrella. POGO has lent PORKYPINE his umbrella.]

ALBERT. Deacon was on about th’ “rain of quantity” today.

POGO. Rain’s been heavy around these parts.

PORKYPINE. This hooricane is gonna flood the whole swamp, an’ we’ll all be drowned.

[PORKYPINE, arriving at his house, returns the umbrella. It is full of holes, which leak rain onto POGO’s head.]

POGO. It’ll be a pity if none of us gits to see the rainbow.

Posted: January 4th, 2013 | Tradition

Frithjof Schuon on Shinto

Frithjof Schuon’s essays on Shinto, included in Treasures of Buddhism (2003), are a record of Schuon’s discovery of two obscurantist like minds in Motoori Norinaga, about whom nothing more need be said for those familiar with this subject, and Genchi Kato, whose work I have summarized in a past essay.

Schuon is writing about a subject he knows nothing about, so I will be brief. Repeating Norinaga’s unique and unjustified pseudo-Christian interpretation of the Kojiki, he seems to believe that the first kami named in the Kojiki is equivalent in the Japanese mind to the creator God, when in fact each national history assigns a different name and function to that original kami. This is irrelevant to someone who lives in the real world, though, because the closest thing to a “creator God” you’d find in the average Japanese mind is Mr. Sun (お天道様), who brings warmth to all human beings and is always watching over us. The Kojiki has been fussed over considerably by Norinaga, but we should be reminded that both it and the Nihon Shoki are first and foremost a record of the imperial ancestors and their noble deeds, and are cited in Japan’s traditional society for this reason and not for their mythical symbolism. He constructs an analogy between Japanese and Greek “myth”, which I have also taken a look at and found not very intellectually profitable. Anyway it seems that if this symbolism can be better understood by a foreigner than it can by most Japanese people then is really not relevant to how the Japanese tradition functions at all, and is the mission field only of syncretic religionists and people with too much time on their hands.

Posted: July 30th, 2012 | Japan, Secular-Religious, Tradition

Recently I was out planting rice

I look like a fool in this picture, but I am a fool, after all… not much that can be done about that.

The act of rice planting, in my mind, is magic. You put this stuff in the ground, and six months later it’s food. How does it happen? Miracles, man. Tide comes in, tide goes out. Aliens. Sure, you can explain why it happens while you sit here at your computer and Google up the details, but if you get out there and do it yourself, maybe you’ll realize that you yourself are a wizard.

Getting off the computer. I am in favor of it.

I am making a list of things that René Guénon is wrong about. Here is a start:

  • The role of Tradition in East Asia. Related, Guénon falsely thought that Tradition itself was linked intimately with esoteric knowledge, rather than simply making esoteric knowledge possible and purposeful. Evola corrected some of this, which I will elaborate on in my next post.
  • Reincarnation. Guénon believed that no tradition ever espoused reincarnation and that the clear material evidence in its favor was merely “psychic residue“. This is silly nonsense. He invented the term “psychic residue” himself so he hasn’t a foot to stand on calling other traditions false. Evola bizarrely found a basis for this in Buddhism, which Guénon had rejected entirely as false tradition.

I leave you with an adorable Chesterton quote:

The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children’s games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up. And one of the games to which it is most attached is called,”Keep to-morrow dark,” and which is also named (by the rustics in Shropshire, I have no doubt) “Cheat the Prophet.” The players listen very carefully and respectfully to all that the clevermen have to say about what is to happen in the next generation. The players then wait until all the clever men are dead, and bury them nicely. They then go and do something else. That is all. For a race of simple tastes, however, it is great fun.

Posted: June 18th, 2012 | Japan, Tradition

Evola Has No Sense of Humor, and That’s Just Wrong

I regard the lack of fun, delight, and love in Guénon and Evola as a deep mistake by both these writers. The Traditionalists are convinced that as occult warriors they must be opposed on principle to the frivolous entertainments of the masses. Their failure is rather incredible, because fun is an exclusive property of the traditional elements of a society.

This may seem incorrect at first glance, because of an inversion that has occurred. Intellectuals now have a solid body of “serious” literature which mocks real tradition, and a constant stream of humor “with a message” employed by the left to mock the right. This seriousness, and this message, is not an integral part of fun, but is injected into it by modern progressivism. The enjoyment is actually drained out of these works by their poisonous politicization. A truly fulfilling sense of humor and fun requires a human concept to play with, so denouncing this concept renders your art less funny and more harsh, even misanthropic. One must only visit a playground to realize that fun is not a destructive force but actually requires rules and can only be fulfilling when those rules are obeyed. Quoting Huizinga’s Homo Ludens: “Play creates order, is order. Into an imperfect world and into the confusion of life it brings a temporary, a limited perfection.” Violating the rules renders a game meaningless.

Huizinga also has an interesting thing to say about poetry, which Spengler noted withers on the vine with the rise of modernity. Poetry cannot be put to work for progressivism, because

If a serious statement is defined as one that may be made in terms of waking life, poetry will never rise to the level of seriousness. It lies beyond seriousness, on that more primitive and original level where the child, the animal, the savage, and the seer belong, in the region of dream, enchantment, ecstasy, laughter. To understand poetry we must be capable of donning the child’s soul like a magic cloak and of forsaking man’s wisdom for the child’s.

The ancient Hindu epics are an incredible proof of this. They are a kind of play, in regular verse often performed with music or actors, that not only sustains tradition but created the tradition itself. Their primitive dreaminess and perennial magic are inseparable from their fun, the fact that they are a joy to listen to and watch. In short, they are a wonder of the world, an impenetrable mystery in a way that a poem celebrating scientific knowledge could never be.

In Chesterton’s The Napoleon of Notting Hill, a king appears who institutes a host of absurd traditions throughout England, requiring every town to appoint a Provost who will wear ridiculous clothes at all times, carry a coat of arms, and be accompanied everywhere he goes by a team of halberd bearers. Nearly all of England is in revolt over this. They think these invented traditions demean their role as serious, modern, secular leaders. But one man, trying to get the king to protect his beloved neighborhood of Notting Hill, engages himself in the game fully, and presents himself to the king with complete pomp and circumstance. The other provosts grumble, but the delighted king addresses them:

You thought to spoil my joke, and bully me out of it, by becoming more and more modern, more and more practical, more and more bustling and rational. Oh, what a feast it was to answer you by becoming more and more august, more and more gracious, more and more ancient and mellow! But this lad has seen how to bowl me out. He has answered me back, vaunt for vaunt, rhetoric for rhetoric. He has lifted the only shield I cannot break, the shield of an impenetrable pomposity.

Fun in the traditional world is an activity that respects the existence of an institution. When there is a butt of a joke in a traditional society, it is the human being, unable to live up to the metaphysical tasks he is asked to fulfill. Human nature, which in tradition is not appealed to with capitalist treats but kept in check by a rigorous order, is a source of comedy that never stops supplying, and can always be much more subtly and pleasingly humorous than leftist, political humor. The object of the traditional joke is not, generally speaking, the shared standards of living. Cultural institutions can be funny either for the people participating in them or the people who despise them, but the latter group are playing a dangerous game. When ridicule of a standard becomes more prominent in society than the standard itself, soon the standard shall be unable to tolerate mockery. Then the standard will fall, and all the humor it gave the world will obviously cease with it; and the world will therefore lose some of its cheeriness and joy.

Christopher Hitchens at his most intelligent observed that men are inherently much funnier than women. He attempted to supply several answers for this, but I believe I have a very simple one. Recently I tried to teach the card game Doubt, or BS, to a large number of Japanese children. This is a simple game where lying gradually becomes inevitable and players are rewarded for spotting the lies of others. Boys and mixed-sex groups picked up the rules quickly. But one group was consisted entirely of little girls, and none of them were willing to accuse their friends of lying. I understood the sincerity of their sweet intentions immediately, but the game as they played it was no fun.

Posted: June 16th, 2012 | Tradition 6 Comments »

My essay is now up on Gornahoor

I’ve written an essay for the popular, well-respected Internet journal Gornahoor called “Players and Pugilists“, on the degrading nature of acting in traditional society. Check it out over there, and leave a comment if you like it. You may need to bump up the font size on your browser by pressing Ctrl+Plus.

Site news, June 11: The spam blocker on this blog was just too much of a pain, so I switched to Disqus. Comments should reappear shortly.

Posted: June 9th, 2012 | Tradition

Whence modernity for Guénon?

Modernity is a becoming, a transient state that arises, and we side with Spengler and differ from both Evola and Guénon in considering it a state which is unavoidable. The attitude towards material conditions which existed before modernity was one of essential ignorance and disinterest, except when specific areas of knowledge had to be mastered to achieve higher ends. It is not shocking to see human beings move from ignorance to knowledge in any field. Rather, it should be expected and appreciated, even when we understand the metaphysical shortcomings of a given age.

In Spengler we have no problem identifying the origin of modernity and materialism. After Nietzsche, Spengler places modernity squarely on the shoulders of Christianity’s “Jewish hatred” of the priestly caste and promise of initiation for the many, a process which gave all of Europe over to spiritual ecstasy for some centuries, but eventually led to Faustian populism. This “Jewish hatred” or “slave morality” is better worded as a disrespect by the captive Jews for foreign priests, converted by Jesus into a disrespect for Jewish priests, converted by Paul into a disrespect for pagan priests, which centuries later, through the difficult work of many smart men, became a disrespect for all priests who claim divine right and duty to the above, rather than popular right and duty to the below. All this is dependently arisen and its origin may be interpreted metaphysically as either historical Becoming or superhistorical Being, depending on how much you like Judaism.

Evola differs from Spengler in seeing modernity as a dark force that can arise at any time, just as Tradition can be restored at any time. In Revolt, which may be regarded as definitive, Evola states that “the fact that civilizations of the traditional type are found in the past becomes merely accidental: the modern world and the traditional world may be regarded as two universal types and two a priori categories of civilization.” In Imperialismo pagano, however, we find that “Christianity is at the root of the evil that has corrupted the West.” This is odd for a work that is almost completely based on Guénon, who viewed Catholic Christianity as a Tradition among peers. Later Evola joins up with Nietzsche and creates a sort of spiritual anti-Semitism, objecting both to “Jewish hatred” and to contemporary attempts to dilute European tradition by involving Jews and other minorities, although he was careful to declaim that many of the people he was objecting to were of Christian European origin. Note that Nietzsche’s slave morality does not force the Jews themselves to be modern, only the Christians who modified their metaphysics. In any case Christianity is here part of the development of what would later be modernity, and in his writings Evola consistently regards any return to Christianity as trying to roll a ball back up a slope, rather than finding metaphysical certainty in a Tradition that was not part of the development of modernity.

In placing the origin of modernity Guénon, the lover of Christianity, has a harder time than Evola. His strongest attempt, I think, is found in Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power. First he asserts the absolute nature of anti-traditional, devolving thought, using the example of the revolts of the Kshatriyas to show how breaks with tradition can appear at any time. Of course, our modernity originated in Europe and not India. Actually, using the Indian example gives Guénon some trouble, because what did Europe have that India lacked, other than Christianity? As a result we are taken of a tour of Philip the Fair, who curtailed the Knights Templar and wrought an increased focus on temporal order, which eventually led to Protestantism, which was soon placed in the hands of Anglo-Saxon rationalism, which, united with French anti-monarchism, at long last gives us secular materialism. Guénon explains the origin of modernity as far as: “There is a kind of political (and therefore entirely external) unity that implies a disregard, if not the denial, of the spiritual principles that alone can establish the true and profound unity of a civilization.” But he fails to explain to us what gave this anti-spiritual concept the necessary power in Europe where it failed in India.

In fact, Guénon’s narrative can be reconciled entirely with Nietzsche (per Spengler), who seems uninterested in the years 300-1300. Guénon provides us with the additional data of European royalty as a kind of Kshatriya caste, slowly developing out of the ruins of the Roman Empire in accordance with the new Christian tradition. Without Nietzsche’s slave morality, though, we cannot see how so many elements could have brought us to materialism; it looks like a staggering number of coincidences at work, all involving elements which seem to lack the necessary uniqueness. Are we to regard the Chinese or Japanese, for example, as insufficiently rational to bring about modernity? Did Southeast Asia lack the requisite number of kingdoms? Were India’s princes insufficiently concerned with material matters? Guénon feigns disinterest towards the entire question in East and West when he says, “We should add that when we speak of the West, we also include Judaism, which … may have even helped somewhat toward forming the modern mentality in general.” But perhaps he worried that too much interest in the Jewish element of Christianity would lead to anti-Semitic feeling, as with Nietzsche; and Guénon was attempting to boost any Tradition opposed to material modernity, so this would not have helped his thesis. It seems entirely possible that Evola did intertwine these two strands to form his own thought, although he does not usually list his influences so openly.

Modernity was born out of spiritual conditions, but it will die owing to material conditions. Christianity will not die with it; it may emerge stronger. The pagan position of Evola is one of superhistorical force and extreme radicalism, which gives power to one’s rejection of modernity, while Guenon’s embrace of Catholicism may feel metaphysically weaker, for Catholicism is now almost completely given over to modernity, but at least it accepts European heritage, the essential race-feeling of Tradition. A third option, of Western Europeans turning to Orthodox Christianity, has proven popular among Traditionalists as an alternative to either of these uncomfortable options, but it is of course a compromise. What we have described here is not an attempt to blame Christianity, nor Judaism, but rather to acquaint differentiated men with these arguments, which will hopefully aid them in finding a comfortable tradition whose language they understand and believe.

Posted: June 4th, 2012 | Tradition 8 Comments »