True progress will always respect the line of formal development of man. It will give rise to qualitative civilization such as was the civilization of Greece in the fourth century BC and, in a higher degree, the civilization of Western Europe in the thirteenth century. If a people’s attention is diverted from things spiritual and turned to material conquests, to the cultivation of the useful, that is, of whatever serves as a means of furthering human intercourse and ministers to man’s bodily needs and comforts, the whole direction of life gradually changes. The means become the end. The civilization is quantitative instead of qualitative.
~ Denis Fahey CSSp, The Mystical Body of Christ in the Modern World (p 140)
In this passage, we see the fundamental agreement between Fr. Fahey—a Traditional Catholic—, Rene Guenon, and Julius Evola, all of whom see the last of a Traditional civilization in the civilization of Western Europe in the thirteenth century. Therefore, it is worth investigating in more detail the characteristics of that civilization that make it so. It often seems easier to look further beyond, say to India, or pagan Scandinavia, and so on, although this is prone to many misconceptions and misunderstandings. On the other hand, something closer is often more emotionally challenging, particularly is we are accustomed to look at the period as the “Dark Ages” marked by theocratic or feudal oppression. Yet, if we take Guenon and Evola seriously, then we must take this period seriously, and it must be done objectively without prejudices or a priori commitments to particular theological positions.
To be clear, we stand with Maurras and take the West as a single civilization: “The Western Tradition is based on the axis from Greece and Rome, and its prolongation in time to Paris”. This is unlike Evola, who saw two distinct civilizations. Also, unlike Guenon, we see that Tradition as complete and not inferior to anything East of Persia. This is called the Roman Tradition, or Romanity.
The method used will be to look at the natural order in the development of truly human life within a civilization. This encompasses several fields of human endeavour.
- Economics and Technics
- Ethics and Civic Virtues
The profane historian interests himself in the contingent realm of politics or economics. Thus, he calls the “Fall of Rome,” what was in reality a regime change. The alternative is to see in the Germanic tribes nothing but barbarian hordes and in Rome just a political structure while missing its essential Spirit. Rather, we see that era as the incorporation of the Germanic and Nordic Traditions into Romanity; the incursions of the Northern peoples—who saw themselves as Roman—into Southern Europe brought political and economic disruption, but then led to the enrichment of Romanity and its continuation under a different form. The actual Fall of Rome, in the metaphysical sense, came much later.
We shall briefly mention two representative figures of thirteenth century Europe to demonstrate the continuity of the Roman Tradition. They represent the fields of metaphysics and art.
Thomas Aquinas connects ancient Athens to medieval Paris by incorporating the philosophy of Aristotle, Plato, and indirectly Plotinus through Dionysus and Augustine. His metaphysical doctrine, known now as Thomism, was regarded by both Guenon and Evola to embody Tradition.
The great poet Dante looked to the Roman poet Virgil as his guide, which indirectly connects him to to Homer. Evola, Guenon, and Coomaraswamy—who considered Dante to be one of the greatest of Europeans—held Dante in high esteem from a Traditional perspective. Furthermore, through his relationship to the Fedeli d’Amore, Dante can be regarded as an initiate, demonstrating the existence in the West of an authentic esoteric tradition.