We have given free rein to Guenon’s critique of Evola which, as far as it goes, is justified. Now we can turn the tables and explore what Evola found lacking in Guenon, specifically, the two issues of “Guenonian Scholasticism” and “Bureaucratic Initiation”. The mutual critiques are of different orders, but that does not make one less important. The distinction is between “thesis” (the principle) and “hypothesis” (the application of the principle to the concrete situation).
Guenon is unremittingly concentrated on the thesis in his published writings, which are typically abstract and require some effort to parse. Even in works such as Crisis or Reign of Quantity, the concrete situation is seen in negative terms. Evola, on the other hand, seems impatient with that abstraction, and focuses on the hypothesis, i.e., dealing with one’s concrete situation as he famously does in Ride the Tiger and Men among the Ruins.
Guenon’s most metaphysical words (Multiple States of Being, Man and his Becoming, Symbolism of the Cross) may seem to many as too abstract and overly logical. It takes some time to integrate that system of thought into one’s worldview and learn to experience the world from that vantage point, sub specie aeternitatis, as it were. Yet, Guenon asserts it is above logic, while not illogical, and requires a “realization” to grasp it in its depths.
So without such a realization, it remains abstract and can devolve into a type of Scholasticism, as happened, for example, with Thomism. Examples can be found in some neo-Traditionalist writings, printed or on the Internet, which are often abstract discussion about whether such and such ancient religion was Traditional, or the same for some person or another, as though they are really in a position to discern that.
To avoid such a dry Scholasticism, Guenon informs us of the need for a real initiation from a valid organization. Unfortunately, Guenon is reluctant to share any specifics. He, for example, explains the principle of the Supreme Identity, but not how to realize it. He gives the Divine Comedy as an example of a initiatory text that outlines the path, but ignores any details. For example, he will point out that the stage of that poem represents higher states of being, but the reader is on his own to explore what that means as far as a concrete application.
Guenon does seem to describe initiation in a bureaucratic way: first, a man must discover a valid organization and then follow their process in a precise and well-defined way. Yet this begs the question of how can a man, starting from a concrete situation of ignorance, be in a position to recognize what is valid or not?
Here, I suppose, it is helpful to know the metaphysics which can serve as the touchstone to evaluate a teaching. Nevertheless, there is no ISO standard to rate such teachings. The other objection to such a strict view is that the “Spirit blows where He wills”, so organizations may decline and arise apart from any human effort.
Now I get several newsletters about health and nutrition, which all contradict each other. There is the paleo diet, the Mediterranean, vegan, and so on, mutually opposed and often polemical against each other. On the one hand, there may be frustration about which is the “ideal” human diet, but another conclusion is that there are different diets suitable for different types of men.
Evola, to his credit, made an effort to identify initiatic paths suitable for a modern Westerner. In the Ur/Krur group, he interacted with Theosophists, Anthroposophists, Jungians, inter alia. At one point, he even spent some time in Catholic monasteries, if you can envision him as a monk. He eventually settled on several figures whom he regarded as offering something, among whom are: Eliphas Levi, Kremmerz, Meyrink, Bo Yin Ra, Gurdjieff, Crowley. Perhaps they are “irregular” from Guenon’s point of view, yet they clearly understood something and learned it from somewhere. A comparative study of their teachings may be of interest, if the right person ever undertakes it.
Guenon makes the distinction between the lesser mysteries and the greater mysteries, and let us suppose for the sake of argument that Guenon’s real objection is that those figures had an inadequate understanding of the greater mysteries, perhaps even because they were not aligned with one of the valid traditions. Nevertheless, knowledge of the lesser mysteries may very well be the “proper diet” for many men today.
While Guenon criticized Evola’s interest in those men, he was not forthcoming about an alternative. In his published writings (as far as I recall), he denied the existence of initiatory organizations in the West, yet in his letters he claimed to have received both a Western and an Eastern initiation; he never revealed from where, as far as I know. The reason can only be speculated; perhaps, the group wished to remain unknown, yet somehow Guenon found them.
In my experience, I have met many people involved with various Vedanta inspired organizations, been to their meetings, heard their talks. Not to be judgmental, it is hard to discern much difference between them and the general populace. Belonging so such an organization often seems to be more of a social thing, a place to make friends, eat exotic foods, and establish an identity. Granted, there may be those with a deeper understanding, but the point I’m making is that initiation in and of itself is insufficient.
In East and West, Guenon passed over Tibetan Buddhism on the grounds that it is too remote from Westerner’s understanding. But that was in the 1920s and today Tibetan Buddhist centers can be found in every major city in Europe and North America. Unfortunately, its encounter with the West has not brought the West to Tradition, but seems, on the contrary, to have affected Buddhism for the worse. But that is another topic; suffice it to say for now that the ideal of a theocratic patriarchical hierarchical society is not the ideal of any Western Buddhists.
Fraud and Legitimacy
While it may be difficult to find a legitimate teaching, a fraudulent one may be easier to identify. The most obvious is if the organization is used for the personal gain of the leader. Hermetists did not earn their living through their teachings. Instead, they held positions, such a horse traders or street artists, which gave them the freedom, and the cover, to travel from town to town to meet with their students. The second is that whether the organization is able to hand down its tradition, which is its very nature, or whether it is just a way of life for its successors.
As an example, I can point to Valentin Tomberg, who explicitly requested that no organization be formed based on his work. This does arouse some curiosity, doesn’t it? Why did he expect that to happen? Is doesn’t seem likely that he was so vain he assumed it. Perhaps he realized its importance and suspected it would have an impact, even if not right away. Or even perhaps, he was part of an movement that decided this was the opportune time to leave behind some evidence; he certainly hints at this.
In the example of the Fedeli d’Amore, including Dante, the authors of the Romance of the Rose, Boccaccio, the organization apparently no longer exists, yet it did make sure to leave written texts. As Guenon points out, it took several hundred years for anyone to realize the Divine Comedy was an esoteric work and not just a poem.
For more on the notions of thesis and hypothesis, and accommodation of principles to concrete situations, interested readers can read this.