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The Illusion of the ’Ordinary Life’

From The Reign of Quantity

and the Signs of the Times

Sh Abd Al Wahid Yahya - René Guénon

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"The materialistic attitude, whether it be a question of explicit and formal materialism or of a simple ‘practical’ materialism, necessarily imposes on the whole ‘psycho-physiological’ constitution of the human being a real and very important modification." René Guénon

Unanticipated Interferences:
[It is clear] "that the world has even now reached a point where the security of ‘ordinary life’, on which the whole outward organization of the modern world has rested up till now, runs serious risks of being troubled by unanticipated ‘interferences’." René Guénon

{ يَٓأَيُّهَا ٱلنَّاسُ إِنَّمَا بَغْيُكُمْ عَلَىٰٓ أَنفُسِكُم }

{ O mankind!
Your rebellion is against yourselves (against your own souls!) }

Quran, 10-23. Rest of versefn7

The Illusion of the ’ordinary life’

p. 102fn3
The materialistic attitude, whether it be a question of explicit and formal materialism or of a simple ‘practical’ materialism, necessarily imposes on the whole ‘psycho-physiological’ constitution of the human being a real and very important modification. This is easily understood, and in fact it is only necessary to look round in order to conclude that modern man has become quite impermeable to any influences other than such as impinge on his senses; not only have his faculties of comprehension become more and more limited, but also the field of his perception has become correspondingly restricted.

The result is a sort of reinforcement of the profane point of view, for this point of view was first born of a defect of comprehension, and thus of a limitation, and this limitation as it becomes accentuated and extends to all domains, itself seems to justify the point of view, at least in the eyes of those who are affected by it. Indeed, what reason can they have thereafter for admitting the existence of something that they can neither perceive nor conceive, that is to say of everything that could show them the insufficiency and the falsity of the profane point of view itself?

Thus arises the idea of what is commonly called ‘ordinary life’ or ’everyday life’; this is in fact understood to mean above all a life in which nothing that is not purely human can intervene in any way, owing to the elimination from it of any sacred, ritual, or symbolical character (it matters little whether this character be thought of as specifically religious or as conforming to some other traditionalfn5 modality, because the relevant point in all cases is the effective…

action of ‘spiritual influences’), the very words ‘ordinary’ or ‘every- day’ moreover implying that everything that surpasses conceptions of that order is, even when it has not yet been expressly denied, at least relegated to an ‘extra-ordinary’ domain, regarded as exceptional, strange, and unaccustomed. This is strictly speaking a reversal of the normal order as represented by integrally traditional civilizations, in which the profane point of view does not exist in any way, and the reversal can only logically end in an ignorance or a complete denial of the ‘supra-human’.fn8

Moreover some people go so far as to make a similar use, with the same meaning, of the expression ‘real life’, and this usage has a profoundly and singularly ironical character, for the truth is that the thing so named is on the contrary nothing but the worst of illusions; this does not mean that everything it contains is actually devoid of all reality, although such reality as it has, which is broadly speaking that of the sensible order, is at the lowest level of all, there being below it only such things as are definitely beneath the level of all manifested existence.

It is however the way in which things are conceived that is so wholly false, because it separates them from every superior principle, and so denies them precisely that which makes all their reality; that is why, in all strictness, no such thing as a profane domain really exists, but only a profane point of view, which becomes more and more invasive until in the end it comprehends human existence in its entirety.

This makes it understandable how, in the conception of ‘ordinary life’, one stage succeeds another almost insensibly, degeneration becoming progressively more marked all the time. At first it is allowed that some things are not accessible to any traditionalfn6 influence, then those things themselves come to be looked on as normal;fn4 from that point it is all too easy to arrive at considering them as the only ‘real’ things, which amounts to setting aside as ‘unreal’ all that is ‘supra-human’; and later on, when the human domain comes to be conceived in a more and more narrowly limited way, until it is finally reduced to the corporeal modality alone, everything that belongs to the supra-sensible order is set aside as unreal.

It is enough to notice how our contemporaries constantly make use of the word ‘real’ as a synonym of ‘sensible’ without even thinking about it, in order at once to become aware that they have indeed…

fully reached the final stage, and that this way of looking at things has become so completely incorporated into their very nature as to have become so to speak almost instinctive with them. Modern philosophy, which is more than anything else merely a ‘systematized’ expression of the common mentality, subsequently reacts on the latter to a certain extent, and the two have pursued parallel courses; that of philosophy began with the Cartesian eulogy of ‘good sense’ alluded to earlier, and which is very revealing in this connection, for ‘ordinary life’ surely is first and foremost the domain of this so- called ‘good sense’, also called ‘common sense’, and is no less limited than it and in the same way; next, through rationalism, which is fundamentally only a more specially philosophical aspect of ‘humanism’, that is to say, of the reduction of everything to an exclusively human point of view, materialism or positivism are gradually attained:

whether one chooses, as in materialism, expressly to deny everything that is beyond the sensible world, or whether one is content, as in positivism (which for that reason likes also to call itself ‘agnosticism’, making an honourable title for itself out of what is really only the avowal of an incurable ignorance), to refuse to be concerned with anything of the kind and to declare it ‘inaccessible’ or ‘unknowable’, the result is exactly the same in either case, and it is precisely the result of which a description has just been given.fn1

Mechanism and materialism themselves have only been able to acquire a widespread influence by extending from the philosophical into the scientific domain:

anything related to the latter, or anything that gives the impression, rightly or wrongly, of being endowed with a ‘scientific’ character, doubtless exercises, for various reasons, much more influence than do philosophical theories on the common mentality, in which there is always at least an implicit belief in the truth of science, for the hypothetical character of science passes quite unperceived, whereas everything classed as ‘philosophy’ leaves it more or less indifferent; the existence of practical and utilitarian applications in the one case and their absence in the other is no doubt not entirely unconnected with this. This recalls once more the idea of ‘ordinary life’, in which an effective part is played by a…

fairly strong dose of pragmatism’; and that statement is of course made quite independently of the fact that some of our contemporaries have tried to build up ‘pragmatism’ into a philosophical system: this only became possible by reason of the utilitarian twist that is inherent in the modern and profane mentality in general, and because, at the present stage of intellectual decadence, the very notion of truth has come to be completely lost to sight, so much so that the notion of utility or of convenience has ended by replacing it entirely.

However that may be, as soon as it is agreed that ‘reality’ consists exclusively in what presents itself to the senses, it is quite natural that the value attributed to any particular thing should to some extent be measured by its capacity to produce effects in the sensible order; it is evident moreover that ‘science’, considered in the modern fashion as being essentially grouped with industry, if not more or less completely one with it, must for that reason occupy the first rank, science thus finding itself mingled as closely as possible with ordinary life, in which it becomes one of the principal factors; and in return, the hypotheses on which it claims to be founded, however gratuitous and unjustified they may be, must themselves benefit by this privileged situation in the eyes of the people.

It goes without saying that the practical applications really depend in no way on the truth of the hypotheses, and it may be wondered what would become of a science of this sort — seeing that as knowledge in the true sense it is nothing — if it were divorced from the applications to which it gives rise; but it is a fact that science such as it is ‘succeeds’, and for the instinctively utilitarian spirit of the modern public ‘results’ or ‘success’ become a sort of ‘criterion of truth’, if indeed the word ‘truth’ can be used in this connection and still retain some sort of meaning.fn2

Clearly the materialists themselves are more incapable than anyone else of becoming aware of these things or even of conceiving them as possible, blinded as they are by their preconceived ideas, which close for them every outlet from the narrow domain in which they are accustomed to move; doubtless they would be as astonished to hear of them as they would be to know that men have existed and still exist for whom what they call ‘ordinary life’ would be quite the most extraordinary thing imaginable, because it corresponds to nothing that occurs at all in their existence.

Nevertheless such is the case, and furthermore, these are the men who must be regarded as truly ‘normal’, while the materialists, with all their boasted ‘good sense’ and all the ‘progress’ of which they proudly consider themselves to be the most finished products and the most ‘advanced’ representatives, are really only beings in whom certain faculties have become atrophied to the extent of being completely abolished.

It is incidentally only under such conditions that the sensible world can appear to them as a ‘closed system’, in the interior of which they feel themselves to be in perfect security: it remains to be shown how this illusion can, in a certain sense and in a certain measure, be ‘realized’ through the existence of materialism itself; but it will also appear later that this nevertheless represents as it were an eminently unstable state of equilibrium, and that the world has even now reached a point where the security of ‘ordinary life’, on which the whole outward organization of the modern world has rested up till now, runs serious risks of being troubled by unanticipated ‘interferences’.
. - .

[Does this sound in any way familiar? This text was published in 1945 !]

"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."
René Guénon, East And West, 1924

صلّى الله على سيّدنا محمّد و على آله و صحبه و سلّم

The blessings and peace of Allah on the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions, ( sallAllahu `aleihi wa sallam ) .



Related texts
link-in Shaykh Abd Al Wahid Yahya - René Guénon
link-in Tradition And Islamic Tradition

  1. - continuation of original text:
    It may be repeated here that in most cases there is naturally in question only something that can be called a ‘practical’ materialism or positivism, not dependent on any philosophical theory, for philosophical theory is now and always will be quite foreign to the majority; but this makes matters all the more serious, not only because the materialistic state of mind thereby obtains an incomparably wider diffusion, but also because it is all the more irremediable the less it is deliberate and clearly conscious, for when it becomes so it has then really penetrated and as it were impregnated the whole nature of the individual.

    This is sufficiently shown by what has already been said about factual materialism and about the way in which people who nevertheless fancy themselves ‘religious’ accommodate themselves thereto; the same example also shows that philosophy properly so called has not the conclusive importance that

    some people would like to assign to it, or at least that its chief importance is as ‘representative’ of a certain mentality rather than as acting effectively and directly upon it: in any case, how could a particular philosophical conception meet with the smallest success if it did not fit in with some of the predominant tendencies of the period in which it is formulated?

    This does not mean that philosophers do not play their part just like anyone else in the modern deviation, for that would certainly be an overstatement; it only means that their part is in fact more restricted than one would be tempted to suppose at first sight, and is rather different from what it may seem to be out- wardly. In quite a general way moreover whatever is most apparent is always, in accordance with the laws which control all manifestation, a consequence rather than a cause, an end-point rather than a starting-point , 1 and in any case it is no use searching in the apparent for whatever may be the really effective agent in an order more profound, whether the action in question be exercised in a normal and legitimate direction, or in a directly contrary direction, as in the case now under consideration.

  2. - continuation of original text:
    Besides, whatever point of view is being considered, whether philosophical, scientific, or simply ‘practical’, it is evident that in the end all such points of view only represent so many different aspects of one and the same tendency, and also that this tendency, like all those that have an equal right to be regarded as constituting the modern spirit, can certainly not have developed spontaneously. Advantage has already been taken of many other opportunities to explain this last point, but since this is a matter that cannot be too

    strongly insisted on, it will be necessary to return later on to a more precise exposition of the place occupied by materialism in the broad ‘plan whereby the modern deviation is brought about.

  3. This is the whole text from the chapter "The Illusion of the ’Ordinary Life’" in "The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times" by René Guénon, pp.102-106.

    Extra paragraph breaks have been added, as well as some italic and black font edits.

    The book can be read here at - archive.org → reneguenon - free of charge and even downloaded.

  4. "Normal" is what accords to and is in harmony with tradition and with divine revelation, because it is the given norm for humans.

  5. Concerning the term Tradition or traditional, it refers to the divine, eternal message which has been revealed to mankind since the time of Adam. Specifically for our times it refers to the last divine message - the one brought by Prophet Muhammad (saws).
    See also: Tradition And Islamic Tradition

  6. ibid.

  7. With the rest of the ayah/ verse:

    { O mankind! Your rebellion is against yourselves, (you have the) enjoyment of the life of the world. Then to Us is your return and We will inform you of what you used to do. }

  8. Of course what is meant here by 'supra-human' does not include the psychic levels of cognition, which are still part of the human, but instead the sacred and the spiritual, as explicated in the divine revelation from Allah.

    See related: The Confusion of the Psychic and the Spiritual


* Living Islam – Islamic Tradition *