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Quotations from René Guénon


in "East and West"

Presented by OmarKN

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The life of words is not independent of the life of ideas. The word civilization, which our ancestors did very well without, perhaps because they had the thing itself, spread during the 19th century under the influence of new ideas.

List of links to text below

- Only a single type of humanity?
- The civilization of the modern West
- Civilization or barbarity
- Understanding East and West
- The study of Eastern doctrines
- Descartes limited intelligence to reason
- Re: ideas of "civilization" and "progress"
- Are these ideas universal?
- Without a term for civilization
- A new era of absolute civilization?
- Man imprisoned in this life
- 'Freedom of thought'

There is one question which René Guénon answered first of all about our modern civilization, and that is, what is "strangely exceptional" about it?
"So long as western people imagine that there only exists a single type of humanity, that there is only one 'civilization', at different stages of development, no mutual understanding will be possible. The truth is that there are many civilizations, developing along very different lines, and that, among these, that of the modern West is strangely exceptional, as some of its characteristics show."  p.10

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Let us face the truth of firstly our civilo-centricity and that secondly our civilization, while becoming global, is fundamentally different from all earlier human civilizations.
"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 coincides 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 ? "   p.23

Today not everyone would agree to the concept of the "bankruptcy of this civilization", but the symptoms are there and while trends of this kind go on over a long period, they tend to accelerate towards the end of a cycle.
"Besides, some people are already beginning to feel more or less confusedly that things cannot go on for ever in the way that they are doing and they even speak, as of something possible, of a bankruptcy of the western civilization, which no one would have dared to do a few years ago; but the real causes which may bring about this bankruptcy seem for the most part to escape them still. "  p.12
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Now-a-days, when the religious vacuum of the West has led many searchers of sacred truth to turn to Eastern and often - what is worse - to anti-traditional teachings, it is clear how much René Guénon was a real pioneer of thought for the West (and increasingly for the East as well).
"We should also take this opportunity to say that where we do not think it suitable to express our thoughts, in a strictly doctrinal form, we none the less draw constant inspiration from the doctrines whose truth we have understood: it is the study of the eastern doctrines which has made us see what the West lacks and the falsity of many ideas which are current in the modern world; it is in this study, and there alone, that we have found, as we have already had occasion to state elsewhere, things of which the West has never offered us the slightest equivalent."  p.17

There were other philosophers both before and after him, but Descartes is the clearest representative of this new god-less trend, which signalled the end of the (enlightened) Middle Ages.
"We will mention, by way of reminder, that Descartes limited intelligence to reason, that he granted to what he thought might be called "metaphysic" the mere function of serving as a basis for physics, and that this physics itself was by its very nature destined, in his eyes, to pave the way for the applied sciences, mechanical, medicinal and moral, the final limit of human knowledge as he conceived it.

Are not the tendencies which he so affirmed just those which at the first glance may be seen to characterize the whole development of the modern world? To deny or to ignore all pure and super-rational knowledge was to open up the path which logically could only lead on the one hand to positivism and agnosticism, which resign themselves to the narrowest limitations of intelligence and of its object, and on the other hand to all those sentimental and "voluntarist" theories which feverishly seek in the infra-rational for what reason cannot give them. Indeed, those of our contemporaries who wish to react against rationalism accept none the less the complete identification of intelligence with mere reason, and they believe that it is nothing more than a purely practical faculty, incapable of going beyond the realm of matter."  p.24

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"But most extraordinary of all is perhaps the claim to set up this abnormal civilization as the very type of all civilization, to regard it as Civilization with a capital letter, and even as the only one which deserves the name. Extraordinary too, and also complementary to this illusion, is the belief in "progress," considered no less absolutely, and naturally identified, at heart, with this material development which absorbs the entire activity of the modern West."   p.26/27
"It is curious to note how promptly and successfully certain ideas come to spread and impose themselves, provided, of course, that they correspond to the general tendencies of the particular environment and epoch; it is so with these ideas of "civilization" and "progress" which so many people willingly believe universal and necessary, whereas in reality they have been quite recently invented and even to-day, at least three-quarters of mankind persist either in being ignorant of them or in considering them quite negligible."   p.27

They did not have the term, ...
"The ancients, from whom we still consciously trace our descent, were equally without a term for what we mean by civilization. If this word were given to be translated in a Latin prose, the schoolboy would indeed find himself in difficulties."  p.27

... instead they had the thing itself.
"The life of words is not independent of the life of ideas. The word civilization, which our ancestors did very well without, perhaps because they had the thing itself, spread during the 19th century under the influence of new ideas. The scientific discoveries, the development of industry, of commerce, of prosperity and of material welfare had created a kind of enthusiasm and even a kind of prophetics. The conception of indefinite progress, dating from the second half of the 18th century, helped to convince mankind that it had entered upon a new era, that of absolute civilization."  p.27

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"In any case, what Westerners call civilization, the others would call barbarity, because it is precisely lacking in the essential, that is to say, a principle of a higher order." p.

Man imprisoned
"When man is imprisoned like this in life and in the conceptions directly connected with it, he can know nothing about what escapes from change, about the transcendant and immutable order, which is that of the universal principles." p.90

"Freedom of thought"
"Let our meaning be quite clear; we have no intention of blaming practical tolerance as applied to individuals, but only theoretic tolerance, which claims to be applied to ideas as well and to recognise the same rights for them all, which if taken logically can only imply a rooted scepticism. Moreover we cannot help noticing that, like all propagandists, the apostles of tolerance, truth to tell, are very often the most intolerant of men. This is what has in fact happened, and it is strangely ironical : those who wished to overthrow all dogma have created for their own use, we will not say a new dogma, but a caricature of dogma, which they have succeeded in imposing on the western world in general; in this way there have been established, under the pretext of "freedom of thought," the most chimerical beliefs that have ever been seen at any time, under the form of these different idols, of which we have just singled out some of the more important.

Of all the superstitions preached by those very people who profess that they never stop inveighing against "superstition," that of "science " and "reason", is the only one which does not seem, at first sight, to be based on sentiment ; but there is a kind of rationalism which is nothing more than sentimentalism disguised, as is shown only too well by the passion with which its champions uphold it, and by the hatred which they evince for whatever goes against their inclinations or passes their comprehension, Besides, since rationalism, in any case, corresponds to a lessening of intellectuality, it is natural that its development should go hand in hand with that of sentimentalism... " p.48


Related texts
link-in Shaykh Abd Al Wahid Yahya - René Guénon, Introduction and Texts


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