East and West

René Guénon

Hillsdale, NY: Sophia Perennis, 2001.
188 pages
Paperback
ISBN: 0-900588-34-9
Price: $19.95 US
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ISBN: 0-900588-49-7
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In East and West Guénon diagnoses the fundamental ‘abnormality’ of Western civilization vis-a-vis the traditional civilizations of the East, suggests avenues by which the West might be ‘re-oriented’ toward the fundamental metaphysical principles it has largely abandoned, and outlines the possible role of a restoration of true intellectuality in this task. Of course, East and West are no longer what they were in Guénon’s time. The aggressive rationalism and materialism of post-Christian Western culture has become a worldwide phenomenon, and no longer corrodes the philosophical and cultural underpinnings of the West only: it has infiltrated distorted forms of Eastern spirituality and metaphysics, incited fundamentalist reactions the world over, and, thanks to the pervasive internet, wields previously unheard of influence. And so today we have an East largely inflamed with a desire to surpass the West in materialism, and a West sodden with moral and spiritual degeneracy. Nonetheless, fruitful exchanges between traditional Christianity and Eastern religions have also taken place on an unprecedented scale, though marred by an ongoing temptation to ill-informed syncretism. In such a milieu, Guénon’sEast and West, read with an eye to events of recent decades, delivers a stunning intellectual punch.

East and West, first published in 1924, was the fourth of a series of books that cleared the ground for Guénon’s later writings. His first book, Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines (1921), was an exposition of metaphysics as transmitted in the Hindu tradition, and served to establish his specific use of important terms such as ‘esoterism’, ‘tradition’, and ‘orthodoxy’. He next set about writing two extensive volumes critiquing what he called ‘pseudo-esoteric’ groups. The first of these, Theosophy: History of a Pseudo-Religion (1921), is an exposé of Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society; the second, The Spiritist Fallacy (1923), examines the current of nineteenth-century spiritism that set the stage for many occult movements that appeared toward the end of that century. Guénon’s application of traditional metaphysics to the special case of pseudo-esoteric groups was then broadened in the present book to the general question of East and West as conservators and transmitters of traditional wisdom in the modern age. The titles of its two parts, ‘Western Illusions’ and ‘How the Differences Might be Bridged’, describe perfectly the book’s intention. Later books, especially The Crisis of the Modern World and its magisterial sequel, The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, further extended Guenon’s penetrating critique of the modern world.

Table of Contents

Editorial Note—Preface

PART ONE: WESTERN ILLUSIONS

Civilization and Progress—The Superstition of Science—The Superstition of Life—Imaginary Terrors and Real Dangers

PART TWO: HOW THE DIFFERENCES MIGHT BE BRIDGED

Fruitless Attempts—Agreement on Principles—Constitution of the Elite and the Part to be Played by It—Not Fusion but Mutual Understanding—Conclusion

Praise

The Collected Works of René Guénon brings together the writings of one of the greatest prophets of our time, whose voice is even more important today than when he was alive.
Huston Smith, author of The World's Religions

The publication by Sophia Perennis of the complete works of René Guénon, many of them appearing for the first time in English, is an event of major—one is tempted to say cosmic—proportions. Here, gathered together for the first time, are the writings of one of the century's foremost metaphysicians, a man who almost single-handedly initiated the rebirth of traditional thought in the modern age. No one can read Guénon and emerge unchanged, for he challenges us to move beyond our habitual understanding into an authentic way of life, guided by religious truth, in which we may serve God and his Creation without stint. The Guénon oeuvre is one of the great landmarks of the age.
Philip Zaleski, author of The Recollected Heart

About the Author

René Guénon (1886–1951) was one of the great luminaries of the twentieth century, whose critique of the modern world has stood fast against the shifting sands of intellectual fashion. His extensive writings, now finally available in English, are a providential treasure-trove for the modern seeker: while 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, they direct the reader also 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. His greatest contributions are a blindingly lucid exposition of the principles of orthodoxy and traditional metaphysics, an uncompromising critique of the deviation of modernism, and a breath-taking view of the polyvalence of traditional symbols. Implicit in these three genres, as in all Guénon's writing, is the need for personal affiliation with an orthodox tradition as a precondition for a bona fide spiritual practice that might lead, at least in principle, to the intellectual intuition of which he speaks. Little known in the English-speaking world till the recent appearance of his Collected Works in translation, Guénon has nevertheless long been recognized as a veritable criterion of truth by a vanguard of remarkable writers who evince that rare combination: intellectuality and spirituality. Regarded by leading scholars as the first truly authentic interpreter of many Eastern doctrines in the West, Guénon never tired, in face of the seemingly inexorable process of dissolution in the twentieth century, of pointing to the transcendent unity of all religious faiths and the abiding Truth that contains them all.