Traditionalist School

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 René Guénon, Ananda Coomaraswamy and Frithjof Schuon. Other important thinkers in this tradition include Titus Burckhardt, Martin Lings, Jean-Louis Michon, Marco Pallis, Huston Smith, 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 René Guénon. Other people considered Traditionalists include Titus Burckhardt, Jean Borella, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Martin Lings, Jean-Louis Michon, Marco Pallis, Huston Smith, Hossein Nasr, Frithjof Schuon and Julius Evola.[note 1]

René Guénon

A major theme in the works of René Guénon (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 Guénon, 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 Guénon, "the malaise of the modern world lies in its relentless denial of the metaphysical realm."[2][note 2]

Early on, Guénon was attracted to Sufism, which he saw as a more accessible path of spiritual 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 world views,[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. 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.[7]

According to the Traditionalist School, this truth has been lost in the modern world through the rise of novel secular philosophies stemming from the Enlightenment,[8] 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".[9][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.[9]

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.[10]


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 Hossein Nasr have advocated Perennialism as an alternative to secularist approach to religious phenomena.

Through the close affiliation with Sufism, the traditionalist perspective has been gaining ground in Asia and the Islamic world at large.[note 7]

Association with far right movements

The Traditionalist School has been associated with some far right movements. Critics of Traditionalism cite its popularity among the European Nouvelle Droite ("New Right"),[11] while Julius Evola's ideas were used by Italian Fascists during the Years of Lead. Mark Sedgwick's Against the Modern World, published in 2004, gives an analysis of the Traditionalist School and its influence.

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]

In his book Guénon ou le renversement des clartés, the French scholar Xavier Accart questions the connection sometimes made between the Traditionalist School and far-right politics. 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 World War II. Accart finally claims that the assimilation of Guénon with Evola and the confusion between Traditionalism and the New Right can be traced back to Louis Pauwels and Bergier's The Morning of the Magicians (1960).[12]

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 8]

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:
    *Michelis, Elizabeth De (2005). A History of Modern Yoga: Patanjali and Western Esotericism. A&C Black. ISBN 978-0-8264-8772-8.
  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. 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.
  8. 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. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Kalin 2015.
  3. Sedgwick 2004, p. 13.
  4. Sharf, Robert (1 January 1995). "Buddhist Modernism and the Rhetoric of Meditative Experience" (PDF). NUMEN. 42.
  5. De Michelis, Elizabeth (2005), A History of Modern Yoga, Continuum
  6. McMahan, David L. (2008). The Making of Buddhist Modernism. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-972029-3.
  7. Coomaraswamy 1977, p. 7.
  8. Daniel J Schwindt, The Case Against the Modern World: A Crash Course in Traditionalist Thought, 2016.
  9. 1 2 Schuon 1982, p. 8.
  10. Guénon 2001, p. 48.
  11. Davies & Lynch 2004, p. 322.
  12. Accart 2005.


  • Coomaraswamy (1977), Lipsey, Roger, ed., Coomaraswamy Selected Papers 2: Metaphysics, Princeton University Press 
  • Guénon, René (2001), Perspectives on Initiation, New York: Sophia Perennis 
  • 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 
  • Accart, Xavier (2005), René Guénon ou Le renversement des clartés, Paris, Milano: Arché, ISBN 978-2-912770-03-5 
  • Davies, Peter; Lynch, Derek (2004), The Routledge Companion to Fascism and the Far Right, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-21494-7 
  • Kalin, Ibrahim (2015), "Guénon, Rene (1886-1951)", in Leaman, Oliver, The Biographical Encyclopedia of Islamic Philosophy, Bloomsbury Publishing 
  • Schwindt, Daniel (2016), The Case Against the Modern World: A Crash Course in Traditionalist Thought, ISBN 978-1532825347 
  • 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 

Further reading

Traditionalist School
René Guénon
Julius Evola
Writings by members

External links

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