The crisis of the modern world, by René Guénon - Foreword

This digital edition is a new translation of the 1946 edition of La crise du monde moderne published in French, with no modifications or additions. The original edition dates from 1927.

Despite the care taken with this translation, it is not perfect, but its license allows it to be improved. The French edition is the reference to the meaning to be given to each sentence.
René Guénon died January 7, 1951. Depending on the country, copyright can be exercised during 50 years (in Canada) and up to 100 years (in Mexico) after the author's death.

Readers of this digital edition are invited to comply with the copyright legislation in force in their country.

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This digital edition is distributed under the CC BY SA license. (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/ ).

This Guénon's book has already been translated into english in 1942 and published under a commercial licence.

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When we wrote East and West a few years ago, we thought we had given, on the questions that were the subject of this book, all the useful information, at least for the moment. Since then, events have been rushing by at an ever-increasing speed, and, without changing a single word we were saying at the time, they make certain additional clarifications timely and lead us to develop points of view on which we did not think it was necessary to insist first of all. These clarifications are all the more necessary as we have seen some of the confusions that we have already tried to dispel in a rather aggressive way in recent times, while carefully refraining from getting involved in any controversy, we have seen fit to put things right once again. There are, in this order, considerations, even elementary ones, which seem so foreign to the vast majority of our contemporaries, that, in order to make them understand them, we must not tire of returning to them repeatedly, presenting them in their different aspects, and explaining them more fully, as circumstances permit, which may give rise to difficulties that it was not always possible to foresee at first sight.

The very title of this volume requires some explanation, which we must provide first of all, so that we know how we understand it and so that there is no ambiguity in this regard. That we can speak of a crisis in the modern world, taking the word "crisis" in its most ordinary sense, is something that many no longer question, and, in this respect at least, a fairly significant change has occurred: under the very action of events, some illusions are beginning to dissipate, and we can only welcome them, because there is, despite everything, a rather favourable symptom, the indication of a possibility of a recovery of the contemporary mentality, something that appears to be a weak glow in the midst of the current chaos. Thus, the belief in indefinite "progress", which was once considered a kind of intangible and indisputable dogma, is no longer as generally accepted; some people glimpse more or less vaguely, more or less confusedly, that Western civilization, instead of always continuing to develop in the same direction, could one day reach a standstill, or even sink entirely into some cataclysm. Perhaps they do not see clearly where the danger is, and the chimeric or childish fears they sometimes manifest are sufficient proof of the persistence of many mistakes in their minds; but it is already something that they realize that there is a danger, even if they feel it more than they really understand it, and that they manage to conceive that this civilization whose modern ones are so infatuated does not occupy a privileged place in the history of the world, that it can have the same fate as so many others who have already disappeared at more or less distant times, and some of whom have left behind only minute traces, remnants with hardly perceptible or difficult to recognize.

So, if we say that the modern world is in crisis, what we usually mean by this is that it has reached a critical point, or, in other words, that a more or less profound transformation is imminent, that a change of direction will inevitably have to take place in the short term, willingly or forcibly, in a more or less sudden way, with or without disaster. This meaning is perfectly legitimate and corresponds well to a part of what we think ourselves, but only to a part, because, for us, and by placing ourselves in a more general point of view, it is the whole of modern times, as a whole, that represents for the world a period of crisis; it seems that we are approaching the end, and that is what makes the abnormal nature of this state of affairs, which has lasted for a few centuries, but whose consequences have not yet been as visible as they are now, more sensitive today than ever. This is also why events are taking place at this accelerated speed to which we were referring first of all; undoubtedly, this can continue for some time, but not indefinitely; and even, without being able to assign a precise limit, one has the impression that it can no longer last very long.

But in the very word "crisis", other meanings are contained, which make it even more capable of expressing what we want to say: its etymology, in fact, which is often lost sight of in everyday use, but to which we must refer as we always do when we want to restore to a term the fullness of its proper meaning and its original value, its etymology, let us say, the fact partially synonymous with "judgment" and "discrimination". The phase that can be called truly "critical", in any order of things, is the one that immediately leads to a favourable or unfavourable solution, the one in which a decision is taken in one direction or the other; it is then, therefore, possible to make a judgment on the results achieved, to weigh the "for" and the "against", by making a sort of classification among these results, some positive, others negative, and to see on which side the balance is finally tilted. Of course, we have no claim to establish such discrimination in any comprehensive way, which would be premature, since the crisis has not yet been resolved and it may not even be possible to say exactly when and how it will be resolved, especially since it is always preferable to refrain from certain forecasts that cannot be based on reasons that are clearly understandable to all, and that would subsequently be too likely to be misinterpreted and add to the confusion rather than remedy it. All we can propose, therefore, is to contribute, to a certain extent and to the extent that the means at our disposal will allow us, to making those who are capable aware of it aware of some of the results that seem well established from now on, and thus preparing, if only in a very partial and rather indirect way, the elements that will subsequently serve the future "judgment", from which a new period in the history of terrestrial humanity will open.

Some of the expressions we have just used will undoubtedly evoke, in the minds of some, the idea of what is called the "last judgment", and, to be honest, it will not be wrong; indeed, it will be literally or symbolically, or both, because they are by no means exclusive in reality, no matter here, and this is not the time or place to fully explain this point to us. In any case, this balancing of the "for" and "against", this discrimination of positive and negative results, of which we were talking earlier, can certainly remind us of the division of the "elected" and the "damned" into two groups that are now immutably fixed; even if there is only one analogy, we must recognize that it is at least a valid and well-founded analogy, in accordance with the very nature of things; and this still requires some explanation.

It is certainly not by chance that so many minds are now haunted by the idea of the "end of the world"; we can regret it in some respects, because the extravagances to which this misunderstood idea gives rise, the "messianic" ramblings which are the consequence in various circles, all these manifestations resulting from the mental imbalance of our time, only aggravate this same imbalance even further in proportions which are not absolutely negligible; but finally it is nonetheless certain that there is a fact here which cannot be ignored. The most convenient attitude, when such things are observed, is certainly to dismiss them purely and simply without further examination, to treat them as mistakes or unimportant reveries; we think, however, that, even if they are indeed errors, it is better, while denouncing them as such, to seek the reasons that caused them and the more or less distorted part of truth that can be contained in them despite everything, because, since error has in sum only a purely negative mode of existence, absolute error cannot be found anywhere and is only a meaningless word. If we look at things in this way, we can easily see that this concern for the "end of the world" is closely linked to the general state of unease in which we are currently living: the obscure presentiment of something that is actually about to end, acting without control over certain imaginations, quite naturally produces disorderly representations, and most often grossly materialized, which, in turn, are externally reflected in the extravagances to which we have just referred. This explanation is not an excuse in favour of them; or at least, if we can excuse those who involuntarily fall into error, because they are predisposed to it by a mental state for which they are not responsible, it can never be a reason to excuse the error itself. Moreover, as far as we are concerned, we cannot surely be blamed for excessive indulgence towards the "pseudo-religious" manifestations of the contemporary world, nor towards all modern errors in general; we even know that some would rather be tempted to blame us for the opposite, and perhaps what we say here will make them better understand how we see these things, always trying to place ourselves in the only point of view that matters to us, that of impartial and disinterested truth.

That is not all: a merely "psychological" explanation of the idea of the "end of the world" and its current manifestations, however just it may be in its order, cannot be regarded as fully sufficient in our eyes; to leave it at that would be to be influenced by one of those modern illusions against which we are rising precisely on every occasion. Some, we were saying, feel confused about the imminent end of something whose nature and scope they cannot define exactly; it must be admitted that they have a very real, albeit vague, perception, subject to misinterpretation or imaginative distortions, since, whatever that end, the crisis that must necessarily lead to it is quite apparent, and a multitude of unequivocal and easily observed signs all lead to the same conclusion in a consistent way. This end is probably not the "end of the world", in the total sense in which some people want to hear it, but it is at least the end of a world; and if what must end is Western civilization in its present form, it is understandable that those who have become accustomed to seeing nothing outside it, to considering it as "civilization" without an epithet, easily believe that everything will end with it, and that, if it does disappear, it will truly be the "end of the world".

We will therefore say, to bring things back to their proper proportions, that it seems that we are really approaching the end of a world, that is, the end of a historical era or cycle, which may also be in correspondence with a cosmic cycle, according to what all traditional doctrines teach in this respect. There have been many such events in the past, and there will undoubtedly be more in the future; events of unequal importance, moreover, depending on whether they end more or less extensive periods and whether they concern either the whole of humanity on earth or only one or the other of its portions, a particular race or people. It is to be assumed, in the present state of the world, that the change that will take place will be very general in scope, and that, whatever form it takes, and which we do not intend to seek

to be defined, it will more or less affect the entire earth. In any case, the laws governing such events are applicable analogically at all levels; so what is said about the "end of the world", in a sense as complete as it is possible to conceive it, and which moreover usually refers only to the terrestrial world, is it still true, all things considered, when it is simply the end of any world, understood in a much more restricted sense.

These preliminary observations will greatly help to understand the considerations that follow; we have already had occasion in other works to make frequent references to "cyclical laws"; indeed, it may be difficult to make these laws a complete exposition in a form easily accessible to Western minds, but at least it is necessary to have some data on this subject if we want to get a true idea of what the present era is and what it represents exactly in the whole history of the world. This is why we will begin by showing that the characters of this era are indeed those that traditional doctrines have always indicated for the cyclical period to which it corresponds; and it will also show that what is anomalous and disorder in a certain respect is nevertheless a necessary element of a broader order, an inevitable consequence of the laws that govern the development of any manifestation. Moreover, let us say it right away, this is not a reason to be content with passively suffering the trouble and darkness that seem momentarily to triumph, for, if it were so, we would only have to remain silent; on the contrary, it is one, on the contrary, to work, as much as we can, to prepare the way out of this "dark age" from which many indications already allow us to glimpse the end more or less soon, if not quite imminent. This too is in order, because balance is the result of the simultaneous action of two opposing tendencies; if one or the other could completely cease to act, the balance would never be found again, and the world itself would vanish; but this assumption is unfeasible, because the two terms of an opposition only make sense one by one, and, whatever the appearances, we can be sure that all partial and transitional imbalances ultimately contribute to the achievement of total equilibrium.


Les problématiques de la Tradition

L'article "Problemi della Tradizione" de René Guénon a été publié dans le numéro de novembre 1937 de La Vita Italiana. Il a, à nouveau, été publié dans la revue italienne Arthos (Anno II, N. 3, mai-août 1973).

Son contenu a été traduit en français et intégré par Guénon, en y ajoutant quelques développements et toutes les notes, dans le chapitre 6 ("Synthèse et syncrétisme") et le chapitre 7 ("Contre le mélange des formes traditionnelles ") des Aperçus sur l'initiation paru en 1946.

On remarque que Guénon n'a pas repris en 1946 la conclusion de son article de 1937, lequel n'a semble-t-il été publié qu'en italien. Ce qui était une alerte pour les intellectuels italiens un an avant le début de la guerre avait certainement perdu son auditoire en 1946. Je vous en livre ici une traduction rapide et certainement perfectible, parce qu'elle sonne toujours comme un besoin d'actualité à une échelle occidentale, et parce qu'il n'est jamais tout à fait trop tard pour le pèlerin :
"L'ensemble des observations que nous avons faites ici ne doit pas être considéré comme purement abstrait. Si nous voulons toujours nous maintenir au niveau des principes purs, les conséquences qui peuvent en découler peuvent aussi atteindre des problèmes d'ordre concret et d'importance immédiate. Par exemple, dans une période comme celle que nous vivons, où la nécessité de dépasser tout particularisme au nom de la solidarité spirituelle devient de plus en plus urgente, parce que c'est le seul moyen de s'opposer efficacement à l'action concertée des forces de subversion et de destruction du monde, il est d'autant plus important d'étudier les conditions dans lesquelles on peut concilier différence et unité ; dans lesquelles un même esprit peut survivre derrière les différentes formes ; selon lequel la fidélité à une tradition ne constitue pas du sectarisme ni ne se traduit dans un principe de schisme ou de désorganisation. C'est pour cette raison que nous avons cru opportun d'insister, ici-même, sur quelques points fondamentaux, sans lesquels il n'est pas possible de définir une véritable orientation dans les problématiques identiques d'organisation des forces spirituelles en lutte contre la décadence moderne."
Un exemplaire de février 1932