Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power

René Guénon

Hillsdale, NY: Sophia Perennis, 2001.
108 pages
ISBN: 0-900588-46-2
Price: $18.95 US
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ISBN: 0-900588-47-0
Price: $33.95 US
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Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power is an analysis of cyclical manifestation, and more specifically of the relationship between royal and sacerdotal power. In accord with the Hindu doctrine of manvantaras and Plato’s depiction of historical degeneration in the Republic, Guénon views history here as a series of ‘revolts’ of lower castes against the higher. The kshatriyas (warriors) revolt against the brahmins (priests), thus setting the stage for a revolt of the vaishyas (loosely, the bourgeoisie), as in the French revolution—and, finally, the shudras (the proletariat), as in the Russian revolution (which Guénon does not touch upon in this work). From one point of view, this is a progressive degeneration; from another it is entirely lawful, given the ‘entropic’ nature of manifestation itself. External, historical descent reflects an inner degeneration: knowledge (the celestial paradise) is eclipsed by heroic action (the terrestrial paradise), which is in turn overrun by the inertia and agitation of the passions. Yet the nadir of degeneration is also the point of renewal: the dawning of the Heavenly Jerusalem—spiritual Knowledge—which begins a new cycle of manifestation.

Table of Contents

Authority and Hierarchy—Functions of Priesthood and Royalty—Knowledge and Action—Brahmins and Kshatriyas: Their Respective Natures—The Dependence of Royalty on Priesthood—The Revolt of the Kshatriyas—The Usurpations of Royalty and their Consequences—The Terrestrial and Celestial Paradises—The Immutable Law


This century has been witness both to global destruction of traditional institutions of temporal power and to questioning of the very anti-traditional ideas and ideologies that have brought about this destruction. At such a moment, when so many seek to understand what the foundations of political power and the principles for the structuring of society should be, the work of René Guénon remains an invaluable source of guidance. Based on traditional principles expounded with the lucidity and clarity that characterizes Guénon's other writings, this work makes clear the significance of temporal authority, the source of its legitimacy, and its role in a society structured on the basis of principles which the contemporary world neglects at its own peril. Dealing with doctrines that transcend time, Guénon's work is as timely today as when it was written. Its first translation into English cannot but be welcomed by all interested in traditional doctrines, and more particularly in the application of these doctrines to the social order.
Seyyed Hossein Nasr, author of Knowledge and the Sacred

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.