Traditionalist School

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The Traditionalist School was a group of 20th century thinkers concerned with what they considered to be the demise of traditional forms of knowledge, both aesthetic and spiritual, within Western society. The principal thinkers in this tradition are Rene Guenon, Ananda Coomaraswamy and Frithjof Schuon. Other important thinkers in this tradition include Titus Burckhardt, Martin Lings, Jean-Louis Michon, Marco Pallis, Huston Smith, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Jean Borella and Julius Evola.[1] A central concept of this school is that of the perennial philosophy based upon an ancient belief that all the world's great religions share the same origin (in a primordial principle of transcendent unity) and are, at root, based on the same metaphysical principles. These ideas are sometimes referred to in the Latin as philosophia perennis.


The ideas of the Traditionalist School are considered to begin with Rene Guenon. Other people considered Traditionalists include Titus Burckhardt, Jean Borella, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Martin Lings, Jean-Louis Michon, Marco Pallis, Huston Smith, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Frithjof Schuon and Julius Evola.[note 1]

René Guenon

A major theme in the works of René Guenon (1886-1951) is the contrast between traditional world views and modernity, "which he considered to be an anomaly in the history of mankind."[2] For Guenon, the physical world was a manifestation of metaphysical principles, which are preserved in the perennial teachings of the world religions, but were lost to the modern world.[2] For Guenon, "the malaise of the modern world lies in its relentless denial of the metaphysical realm."[2][note 2]

Early on, Guenon was attracted to Sufism, which he saw as a more accessible path of spirirtual knowledge. In 1912 Guénon was initiated in the Shadhili order. He started writing after his doctoral dissertation was rejected, and he left academia in 1923.[2] His works center on the return to these traditional worldviews,[2] trying to reconstruct the Perennial Philosophy.[web 1]

In his first books and essays he envisaged a restoration of traditional "intellectualité" in the West on the basis of Roman Catholicism and Freemasonry.[note 3] He gave up early on a purely Christian basis for a traditionalist restoration of the West, searching for other traditions. He denounced the lure of Theosophy and neo-occultism in the form of Spiritism,[note 4] two influential movements that were flourishing in his lifetime.[citation needed] In 1930 he moved to Egypt, where he lived until his death in 1951.[2]


Perennial philosophy and the loss of tradition

According to the Traditionalist School, "the primordial and perennial truth" is manifested in a variety of religious and spiritual traditions.[2] Coomaraswamy explains:

The metaphysical "philosophy" is called "perennial" because of its eternity, universality, and immutability; it is Augustine's "Wisdom uncreate, the same now as it ever was and ever will be"; the religion which, as he also says, only came to be called "Christianity" after the coming of Christ [...] and so long as the tradition is transmitted without deviation.[4]

According to the Traditionalist School, this truth has been lost in the modern world,[2] and modernity itself is considered as an "anomaly in the history of mankind."[2] Traditionalists see their approach as a justifiable "nostalgia for the past".[5][note 5] Frithjof Schuon explains:

... "traditionalism"; like "esoterism" [...] has nothing pejorative about it in itself [...] If to recognize what is true and just is "nostalgia for the past," it is quite clearly a crime or a disgrace not to feel this nostalgia.[5]

Return to tradition

The Traditionalist School insists on the necessity for affiliation to one of the "normal traditions", or great ancient religions of the world.[note 6] The regular affiliation to the ordinary life of a believer is crucial, since this could give access to the esoterism of that given religious form.[6]

Most Traditionalists, such as Guénon himself, found a way in Sufism and embraced Islam.[note 7] The most influential representatives of this school in Northern Europe, viz. Kurt Almqvist, and Tage Lindbom, also embraced Sunni Islam.[citation needed] Others, such as Marco Pallis, found a way in Buddhism, and some, such as James Cutsinger, belong to the Orthodox churches.[citation needed]


Traditionalism had a discrete impact in the field of comparative religion,[web 1] particularly on the young Mircea Eliade, although he was not himself a member of this school. Contemporary scholars such as Huston Smith, William Chittick, Harry Oldmeadow, James Cutsinger and Seyyed Hossein Nasr have advocated Perennialism as an alternative to secularist approach to religious phenomena.[citation needed]

Through the close affiliation with Sufism, the traditionalist perspective has been gaining ground in Asia and the Islamic world at large.[note 8]

Association with far right movements

The Traditionalist School has been associated with far right movements. Critics of Traditionalism cite its popularity among the European Nouvelle Droite,[7] while Julius Evola's were used by Italian far-right groups during the 1970s turmoils.[citation needed] Mark Sedgwick's Against the Modern World, published in 2004, gives an analysis of the Traditionalist School and its influence. He describes how

A number of disenchanted intellectuals responded to Guénon's call with attempts to put theory into practice. Some attempted without success to guide Fascism and Nazism along Traditionalist lines; others later participated in political terror in Italy. Traditionalism finally provided the ideological cement for the alliance of anti-democratic forces in post-Soviet Russia, and at the end of the twentieth century began to enter the debate in the Islamic world about the desirable relationship between Islam and modernity.[web 1][note 9]

In his book Guénon ou le renversement des clartés, the French scholar Xavier Accart questions the connection sometimes made between the Traditionalist school and the far right movements. According to Accart, René Guenon was highly critical of Evola's political involvements, and was worried about the possible confusion between his own ideas and Evola's. Guénon also clearly denounced the ideology of the fascist regimes in Europe before and during the Second World War. Xavier Accart finally claims that the assimilation of René Guénon with Julius Evola, and the confusion between Traditionalism and the New Right, can be traced back to Louis Pauwels and Bergier's Le matin des magiciens (The Morning of the Magicians) (1960).[8]

Alain de Benoist, the founder of the Nouvelle Droite declared in 2013 that the influence of Guénon on his political school was very weak and that he does not consider him as a major author.[note 10]

See also


  1. Renaud Fabbri argues that Evola should not be considered a member of the Perennialist School. See the section Julius Evola and the Perennialist School in Fabbri's Introduction to the Perennialist School.
  2. According to Wouter Hanegraaf, "modernity itself is in fact intertwined with the history of esotericism."[3] Western esotericism had a profound influence on Hindu and Buddhist modernisers, whose modernisations in turn had a deep impact on modern western spirituality. See:
    * De Michelis, Elizabeth (2005), A History of Modern Yoga, Continuum<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    * Sharf, Robert H. (1995-B), "Buddhist Modernism and the Rhetoric of Meditative Experience" (PDF), NUMEN, vol.42 (1995) Check date values in: |year= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    * McMahan, David L. (2008), The Making of Buddhist Modernism, Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780195183276<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Cf. among others his Aperçus sur l'ésotérisme chrétien (Éditions Traditionnelles, Paris, 1954) and Études sur la Franc-maçonnerie et le Compagnonnage (2 vols, Éditions Traditionnelles, Paris, 1964-65) which include many of his articles for the Catholic journal Regnabit.
  4. Cf. his Le Théosophisme, histoire d'une pseudo-religion, Paris, Nouvelle Librairie Nationale, 1921, and L'Erreur spirite, Paris, Marcel Rivière, 1923. Both books exist in English translation.
  5. Guénon rejected the term, because "it implies in his view a kind of sentimental attachment to a tradition which, most of the time, has lost its metaphysical foundation.[web 2][web 3]
  6. See Titus Burckhardt, "A Letter on Spiritual Method" in Mirror of the Intellect, Cambridge (UK), Quinta Essentia, 1987 (ISBN 0-946621-08-X), where a rather strict list is given.
  7. See a candid personal account by Martin Lings: "How Did I Come to Put First Things First?", in A Return to the Spirit, Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 2005 (ISBN 1-887752-74-9).
  8. Witness the works by Mahmoud Bina at the Isfahan University of Technology, the Malay scholar Osman Bakar, and the Ceylonese Ranjit Fernando. This is probably also related to the expansion of the Maryamiyya branch of the Shadhili Sufi order, as studied by Sedgwick, Against the Modern World, always within the pale of Sunni Islam. Cf. also a review by Carl W. Ernst: "Traditionalism, the Perennial Philosophy, and Islamic Studies," Middle East Studies Association Bulletin, vol. 28, no. 2 (December 1994), pp. 176-81.
  9. Some critics with traditionalist sympathies questioned the content and methodology of the book and the motives of its author, charging him with various personal motives, including being "a Euro-Atlantic spy" and having himself "not been allowed to enter an initiatory order with 'Traditionalist' connections".[web 4][web 5]
  10. On radio courtoisie (20 May 2013), during the programme "le Libre Journal de la resistance française" presented by Emmanuel Ratier and Pascal Lassalle.


  1. Renaud Fabbri argues that Evola should not be considered a member of the Perennialist School. See the section Julius Evola and the Perennialist School in Fabbri's Introduction to the Perennialist School
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Kalin 2015.
  3. Sedgwick 2004, p. 13.
  4. Coomaraswamy 1977, p. 7.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Schuon 1982, p. 8.
  6. Guénon 2001, p. 48.
  7. Davies & Lynch 2004, p. 322.
  8. Accart 2005.


  • Coomaraswamy (1977), Lipsey, Roger (ed.), Coomaraswamy Selected Papers 2: Metaphysics, Princeton University Press<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Guénon, René (2001), Perspectives on Initiation, New York: Sophia Perennis<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Schuon, Frithjof (1982), From the Divine to the Human. French original edition: Du Divin à l'humain, Paris: Le Courrier du Livre, 1981, Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Accart, Xavier (2005), René Guénon ou Le renversement des clartés, Paris, Milano: Arché, ISBN 978-2-912770-03-5<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Davies, Peter; Lynch, Derek (2004), The Routledge Companion to Fascism and the Far Right, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-21494-7<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Kalin, Ibrahim (2015), "Guenon, Rene (1886-1951)", in Leaman, Oliver (ed.), The Biographical Encyclopedia of Islamic Philosophy, Bloomsbury Publishing<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Sedgwick, Mark (2004), Against the Modern World : Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century, Oxford University Press<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

Traditionalist School
Rene Guenon
Julius Evola
  • Franco Ferraresi, "Julius Evola: Tradition, Reaction and the Radical Right" in Archives Européennes de Sociologie (1987).
  • Roger Griffin, "Revolts Against the Modern World: The Blend of Literary and Historical Fantasy in the Italian New Right" in Literature and History (1985).
  • Troy Southgate, ed., Evola: Thoughts & Perspectives, Volume One, Black Front Press, 2011.
  • Troy Southgate, "Anti-Tradition in the Age of Iron" in Le Salon: Journal de Cercle de la Rose Noire, Volume 1, Black Front Press, 2012.
Writings by members
  • Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins: Post-War Reflections of a Radical Traditionalist (1953, revised 1967, with a new appendix, 1972).
  • Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Knowledge and the Sacred (1989) ISBN 0-7914-0177-4
  • Andrew Rawlinson, The Book of Enlightened Masters: Western Teachers in Eastern Traditions ISBN 0-8126-9310-8
  • Huston Smith, Forgotten Truth: The Common Vision of the World's Religions (1976), reprint ed. 1992, Harper SanFrancisco, ISBN 0-06-250787-7
  • Alice Lucy Trent, The Feminine Universe: An Exposition of the Ancient Wisdom from the Primordial Feminine Perspective (2010) Golden Order Press, ISBN 1-4537-8952-9
  • William W. Quinn, Jr., The Only Tradition (1996) ISBN 0-7914-3213-0
  • The Unanimous Tradition, Essays on the essential unity of all religions, by Joseph Epes Brown, Titus Burckhardt, Rama P. Coomaraswamy, Gai Eaton, Isaline B. Horner, Toshihiko Izutsu, Martin Lings, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Lord Northbourne, Marco Pallis, Whitall N. Perry, Leo Schaya, Frithjof Schuon, Philip Sherrard, William Stoddart, Elémire Zolla, edited by Ranjit Fernando, Sri Lanka Institute of Traditional Studies, 1991 ISBN 955-9028-01-4

External links