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«The Reign of Quantity and The Signs of the Times», Ren? Gu?non

Rene Guénon (1886—1951) is undoubtedly one of the luminaries of the twentieth century, whose critique of the modern world has stood fast against the shifting sands of recent philosophies. His oeuvre of 26 volumes is providential for the modern seeker: pointing ceaselessly to the perennial wisdom found in past cultures ranging from the Shamanistic to the Indian and Chinese, the Hellenic and Judaic, the Christian and Islamic, and including also Alchemy, Hermeticism, and other esoteric currents, at the same time it directs the reader to the deepest level of religious praxis, emphasizing the need for affiliation with a revealed tradition even while acknowledging the final identity of all spiritual paths as they approach the summit of spiritual realization.

 

Editorial Note

The past century has witnessed an erosion of earlier cultural values as well as a blurring of the distinctive characteristics of the world’s traditional civilizations, giving rise to philosophic and moral relativism, multiculturalism, and dangerous fundamentalist reactions. As early as the 1920s, the French metaphysician René Guénon (1886—1951) had diagnosed these tendencies and presented what he believed to be the only possible reconciliation of the legitimate, although apparently conflicting, demands of outward religious forms, ‘exoterisms’, with their essential core, ‘esoterism’. His works are characterized by a foundational critique of the modern world coupled with a call for intellectual reform; a renewed examination of metaphysics, the traditional sciences, and symbolism, with special reference to the ultimate unanimity of all spiritual traditions; and finally, a call to the work of spiritual realization. Despite their wide influence, translation of Guénon’s works into English has so far been piecemeal. The Sophia Perennis edition is intended to fill the urgent need to present them in a more authoritative and systematic form. A complete list of Guénon’s works, given in the order of their original publication in French, follows this note.

Guénon frequently uses words or expressions set off in ‘scare quotes’. To avoid clutter, single quotation marks have been used throughout. As for transliterations, Guénon was more concerned with phonetic fidelity than academic usage. The system adopted here reflects the views of scholars familiar both with the languages and Guénon’s writings. Brackets indicate editorial insertions, or, within citations, Guénon’s additions. Wherever possible, references have been updated, and current English editions substituted.

The publisher would like to thank Christopher James Northbourne, the translator’s son, for his encouragement and his permission to use a revision of his father’s translation.

 

The Works of René Guénon

 

Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines (1921)

Theosophy: History of a Pseudo-Religion (1921)

The Spiritist Fallacy (1923)

East and West (1924)

Man and His Becoming according to the Vedanta (1925)

The Esoterism of Dante (1925)

The Crisis of the Modern World (1927)

The King of the World (1927)

Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power (1929)

The Symbolism of the Cross (1931)

The Multiple States of the Being (1932)

The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times (1945)

Perspectives on Initiation (1946)

The Great Triad (1946)

The Metaphysical Principles of the Infinitesimal Calculus (1946)

Initiation and Spiritual Realization (1952)

Insights into Christian Esoterism (1954)

Symbols of Sacred Science (1962)

Studies in Freemasonry and the Compagnonnage (1964)

Studies in Hinduism (1966)

Traditional Forms and Cosmic Cycles (1970)

Insights into Islamic Esoterism and Taoism (1973)

Reviews (1973)

Miscellanea (1976)

Introduction

Since the time when The Crisis of the Modern World was written, the march of events has only served to confirm, all too completely and all too quickly, the validity of the outlook on the present situation that was adopted in that book, although the subject matter was then dealt with independently of all preoccupation with immediate ‘actuality’ as well as of any intention toward a vain and barren ‘critique’. Indeed, it goes without saying that considerations of that order are worth nothing except insofar as they represent an application of principles to certain particular circumstances; and it may also be noted in passing that if those who have formed the truest judgment of the errors and insufficiencies of the mentality of our times have generally maintained toward them a purely negative attitude, or have only departed from that attitude to propose virtually insignificant remedies quite inadequate to cope with the growing disorder in all domains, it is because a knowledge of true principles has been just as lacking in their case as it has been in the case of those who have persisted in admiring a so-called ‘progress’ and in deluding themselves as to its fatal outcome.

Besides, even from a purely disinterested and ‘theoretical’ point of view, it is not enough to denounce errors and to show them up for what they really are; useful though that may be, it is still more interesting and instructive to explain them, that is to say to investigate how and why they have come about; for everything that has any kind of existence, even error, has necessarily its reason for existence, and disorder itself must in the end find its place among the elements of universal order. Thus, whereas the modern world considered in itself is an anomaly and even a sort of monstrosity, it is no less true that, when viewed in relation to the whole historical cycle of which it is a part, it corresponds exactly to the conditions pertaining to a certain phase of that cycle, the phase that the Hindu tradition specifies as the final period of the Kali-Yuga. It is these conditions, arising as a consequence of the development of the cycle’s manifestation, that have determined its peculiar characteristics, and from this point of view it is clear that the present times could not be otherwise than they actually are. Nonetheless, it is evident that if disorder is to be seen as an element of order, or if error is to be reduced to a partial and distorted aspect of some truth, it is necessary to place oneself above the level of the contingencies of the domain to which that disorder and those errors as such belong; similarly, in order to grasp the true significance of the modern world in the light of the cyclical laws governing the development of the present terrestrial humanity, it is necessary to be entirely detached from the mentality that is its special characteristic and to avoid being affected by it in the least degree. This is the more evident in that the said mentality implies of necessity, and as it were by definition, a complete ignorance of the laws in question, as well as of all other truths which, being more or less directly derived from transcendent principles, are essentially part of traditional knowledge; all characteristically modern conceptions are, consciously or unconsciously, a direct and unqualified denial of that knowledge.

For some time past the author has had it in mind to follow up the Crisis of the Modem World with a work of a more strictly ‘doctrinal’ character, in order to set out with more precision certain aspects of the explanation of the present period given in the earlier book, in conformity with the strictly traditional point of view, which will always be adhered to; in the present case it is, for the very reasons already given, not merely the only valid point of view, but it might even be said to be the only point of view possible, since no such explanation could be imagined apart from it. Various circumstances have delayed the realization of that project up till now, but this is beside the point for anyone who is sure that everything that must happen necessarily happens in its due time, and often in ways both unforeseen and completely independent of our will. The feverish haste with which our contemporaries approach everything they do is powerless against this law and can produce only agitation and disorder, that is to say effects which are wholly negative; but would these people still be ‘moderns’ if they were capable of understanding the advantages of following the indications given by circumstances that, far from being ‘fortuitous’ — as their ignorance leads them to suppose — are basically nothing but more or less particularized expressions of the general order, an order at the same time both human and cosmic, with which we are compelled to integrate ourselves either voluntarily or involuntarily?

Among the features characteristic of the modern mentality, the tendency to bring everything down to an exclusively quantitative point of view will be taken from now on as the central theme of this study. This tendency is most marked in the ‘scientific’ conceptions of recent centuries; but it is almost as conspicuous in other domains, notably in that of social organization — so much so that, with one reservation the nature and necessity of which will appear hereafter, our period could almost be defined as being essentially and primarily the ‘reign of quantity’. This characteristic is chosen in preference to any other, not solely nor even principally because it is one of the most evident and least contestable, but above all because of its truly fundamental nature, for reduction to the quantitative is strictly in conformity with the conditions of the cyclic phase at which humanity has now arrived; and also because it is the particular tendency in question that leads logically to the lowest point of the ‘descent’ that proceeds continuously and with ever-increasing speed from the beginning to the end of a Manvantara, that is to say throughout the whole course of the manifestation of a humanity such as ours. This ‘descent’, as has often been pointed out on previous occasions, is but a gradual movement away from the principle, which is necessarily inherent in any process of manifestation; in our world, by reason of the special conditions of existence to which it is subject, the lowest point takes on the aspect of pure quantity, deprived of every qualitative distinction; it goes without saying that this point represents strictly speaking a limit, and that is why it is not legitimate to speak otherwise than of a ‘tendency’, for, during the actual course of the cycle, the limit can never be reached since it is as it were outside and beneath any existence, either realized or even realizable.


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