Suicide Bombers of Modernity: on Impossibility of Traditionalist Revolution
The term “Traditionalism”, derived from the selective misreading of Rene Guenon – a convinced and professing non-traditionalist – is at the same time a misnomer and terminological procrustean bed: it doesn’t adequately describe its special subject, i.e. Rene Guenon’s thought, nor does it successfully represent all those people who, for one reason or the other, claim to be holding onto some kind of “tradition”, from which the “modern world” has deviated.
For us, this is fortunate; because, we’ll use this loosely defined term to describe the mentality which, by its essential orientation, understands Tradition and “traditional world” so loosely that it ends up being it’s very opposite in the strictest sense of the word; it is not the opposite in the sense of good vs. evil, but in the sense of good vs. not-good, i.e. it is the opposite in every conceivable sense.
The mentality we’re talking about can be summed up as a need for specific kind of revolutionary ideology stemming, in its most radical forms, from the specific existential experience: the realization of nothingness of the present world. One of the most extreme representatives of this radical political bent – because all revolution is a political revolution – is our old friend Alexander Dugin.
In this passage he describes his own awakening to existential conditions that proved instantly to be unbearable:
“I personally experienced the most acute form of this experience (…) at the end of 70s – to early/mid 80s. I admit it was quite subjective, but this doesn’t belittle its value. Experience of existence in Post-Soviet period, somewhere until 1982-1983, represented waking up in the pure Hell, in the middle of nothing. Under these conditions the idea of Radical Subject was born. Later, this perception of the world (…) the reality as such, waned somewhat, the sharpness of experience was blunted, yet the idea let deep roots and preserved its fundamental value. Evidently, this is because it has a deep eidetic validity and resounds with sharp edges of global metaphysical structures.
(…) (what is) the world without opportunity of Salvation? It is an environment, where in general there is no Tradition nor even the traces of it. In no way, shape or form. Describing the modern world, Rene Guenon assumes that separate elements of Tradition still linger. They became extremely rare (…) but they are present. Yet we will imagine the world in which there is no Tradition at all. (…)I was an ordinary citizen of the Soviet Union, born in the USSR to middle class Soviet atheistic conformist parents, raised in a Soviet social environment, trained and received education in Soviet educational institutions. It is important that I am Russian, that is, there was no other ethnic influence, explaining the sudden outburst of alienation. No other factor – external influence, circle of contacts, or other relations or spontaneous interests, which could explain this radical alienation from my surroundings. I was a part of that environment at all levels and in all directions, and knew nothing but it. (…)
Pure experience of total nihilism. The world around me was not discarded for some reason, not for any reason at all, but just because. For no reason, without any internal or external support. And the lack of support (now the most important thing!), the absence of salvation and any distant glimpse of the Tradition, it was conceptually placed in the center of my being and became the basis of systematic thinking.” (source)
What Dugin describes here is the radical beginning of his own intellectual development, the birth of revolutionary “radical subject” from the spirit of nihilism, i.e. from the experience of total absence of Spirit as acting force in the world. It is no wonder that his elusive, but quite adamant, revolutionary doctrine represents the most radical instance of what we are going to talk about here, because it is based on the experience of not having any base at all.
Arguably, all revolutionaries seek this baseless new beginning – paradoxically, at the same time running from it in panic – but, as we’re talking about traditionalist revolutionaries, we’ll use Dugin’s “ontological starting gun” as a blueprint for understanding less radical and, perhaps, more dangerous – because more prevalent – forms of “revolt against the modern world”.
The idea that modernity is a deviation from the substantially different state of things, where there existed an opportunity to reattach oneself to principles that are transcendent to mutable historical experience, lies at the centre of traditional mentality. In this sense, by Traditionalism we refer to the trueness to certain mentality which would be quite superfluous, as the special signifier, outside of the modernity, because what it really meant before it could have been individuated into “doctrine” or “movement” was simply adherence to what was present as prevailing metaphysics and feeling of life.
The consensus is that modernity represents a radical shift away from this state into gradual alienation from traditional metaphysical principles, religions, philosophy and social forms, necessarily in that order. The true Traditionalist is the man who attempts to re-attach himself to them, also, necessarily in that order: from the first down to the last and never the other way around.
This makes traditionalist revolutionary contradiction in terms and, from the existential viewpoint, an irreconcilable contradiction made flesh.
The revolutionary is the one who attempts to bring about the overturn of the existing world, because in it he founds nothing worth living and he wants to do this in an instant, without admission of any intermediary stages and without compromise with anything that does not accommodate his vision. This act, which is primarily an intimate decision, that only outwardly takes shape of some kind of political doctrine and practice, stems from the absolutely nihilistic source, i.e. the mentality presupposing his own creative act as a necessity of existence; the revolutionary wants to create the substance of the world from nothing, because his intimate insight is that initially there is no substance to the world at all.
It is my contention that this point of view is impossible outside of modernity and its aftermath. Therefore, everything based upon it is, from the standpoint of Tradition, a deviation and a lie; whether it’s a communist lie or traditionalist lie, doesn’t make much difference because in the essence of it lays absolute nothing in which all cows are black.
Conservative critics of revolutionary mentality tend to point out only the half of this: the amorality, hypocrisy and, sometimes, downright bestiality of the revolutionaries on the Left, i.e. modern revolutionaries, attempting sometimes to denounce the revolutionaries of the Right as closet leftists (Nationalsozialismus had –socializmus in it, so it’s leftist, etc.). However, this is a lie. The supposed traditionalist revolutionaries are as nihilistic as any communist and, truly, the two tend to blend at some point, especially when it comes to relation of radical left social politics and nationalism – something that was the case with the idea of communist Yugoslavia, which was a creation of both higher form of socialism and higher form of nationalism, with foreseeable yet rarely actually foreseen result of the bloody catastrophe.
The traditionalist revolutionary is the man who, in the most radical form as is the case with Dugin, inverts the order of Tradition, i.e. he takes the inexistent social forms and tries to re-create them anew, using religious symbols and metaphysical principles as ideological guidelines.
This is a process well known in the Eastern Europe, notably in Western Balkans: after the fall of communism, flourishing of, to a various degrees suppressed, religions seemed to overtake the scene, but with a new, sinister, flavor noticeable to anyone who kept his religious mentality intact throughout the communist rule. Notably, the “outing” gained forms that were declaratively “traditional” in the sense of an attempt to grasp the pre-communist times traditions, while simultaneously emptying its symbols and gestures of the content that was spontaneously preserved throughout the rule of the doomed ideology.
The reasons for this go deep. On the superficial level, nationalism and the abuse of religion for reinforcement of warring identities is certainly apparent, as well as the compulsive need for stability on behalf of the peoples who endured the birth pains of postmodern world not in theory, but in the midst of their own lives.
Yet there’s more to it. The apparent regressive tendency in the societies that emerged after the dissolution of one of the prevalent political systems of modernity is in fact anything but; it is not regression in the past where, supposedly, the more authentic and stable principles and models of living can be found, but progression into new epoch; the one that is invariably characterized by dissolution. In this sense, the apparent re-attachment to the past is in fact just a different form of separating from it; only, in this form the process uses the symbols and principles of Tradition as ideological guidelines and decoration.
From what I can perceive in Right flavored “dissident” intellectual circles, people further to the West regularly fall for this as a sign of “conservative” or even “traditional revolutions” going on east of the Schengen. And they’re not, stricto sensu, wrong. Yet what they fail to see is that these “revolutions” are just a vehicle to subvert and destroy what is left from Tradition, moreover, even more successfully than social movements they supposedly oppose.
The fact of the matter is that the world inseparable from its origin – which is in effect a definition of Traditional world – is now beyond the horizon, like the sun that has set, and there’s no power in the hands of men that can make the sun rise up again, just because they feel it should. Moreover, the attempts at this are in fact a hostile takeover of an idea of Tradition, because they all stem from the arbitrary choice of what Tradition is – something that is clearly displayed in Dugin’s case – and are quite congruent with revolutionary mentality of modernity. Those are attempts to re-create the world and initiate the new beginning, motivated by cosmic hatred; a loathing towards all that is present.
Yet if there’s one truth of Tradition that cannot be eradicated or obscured, it is the fact that nothing that is can be wholly evil. This truth annihilates annihilation, i.e. it points to fundamental goodness at the heart of everything; precisely to that proverbial sun that has set.
Not to be blamed for countering Dugin’s impassioned experience of Hell with my sterile Platonism infused Roman heresy outlook, I’ll offer a variant of initial experience which quite resembles what Dugin has described, albeit in the literary form:
“He was awoken in the middle of the night by the raging heartbeat. Something was happening and it was neither premonition nor vague hunch anymore. He rose from his bed slowly, shaking like a leaf, and walked over towards the bedroom window. With trembling hands he lit the cigarette and opened it. The vista of the benighted city was quite ordinary. The moon gleamed red in the east, swelled by the dusty, humid, mist of the summer heat, above the cold city lights. Yet, something in the midst of it all filled him with horror. Suddenly, he clearly saw it. This vista was all there is. Beyond the things, there was nothing, and the value he attached to them throughout his life fell apart in one gaze, in one moment that ripped him from his slumber. Momentarily, in the instant, the realization surfaced; the realization that was long in the making and long in hiding from the searchlight of his reflection. There’s no way out and no turning back. In vain he sought in himself some support, some old or new illusion to keep him afloat. They were erased as a chalk under the wet sponge and, together with them, he was being erased, too. He didn’t know how heart attack feels like but the frantic heart beat made him suspect he was in for one. The night engulfing the city now resembled the fire, black flames scorching everything there is; a Hell without entrance or exit, bereft of anything that could give respite or relief; only darkness that burns. For the first time in his life he realized how powerless he was in the face of the world. And the world he awoke to that night was built on power, on beings moving about devouring each other in the infinite struggle bereft of meaning. The reality was horrible, threatening and, naturally, it clutched him from all sides. All masks have fallen. And he couldn’t imagine what could redeem all this, no metaphysics of heroic pessimism, no Nirvana, not even death. For, truth be told, he was close to death. Isn’t this what death really is: erasure of everything that used to keep us going, whether we were aware of it or not? A banal fact you can’t even spit in the face, because, once you see it, your mouth dries up and tongue loses sound. And the only thing separating us from it, when illusions spiral to the ground like dead birds, is our tedious hunger for existence; the hunger that has to eat and in the end be eaten itself. He started to pray. There was no one to hear his anguished thought. That night, first and last in his life, he was all alone.”
Taking cues from the personal experience can be a slippery slope, but only in so far as it gets transformed into dogma. In the proper sense of the word, this is not an “existential experience”, but “a state of person” necessarily assimilated in the most intimate recess of this subsistent reality that makes one “this man” or “this woman”.
Yet this “dark night of the soul” is just one stage in the development of personal self-awareness that has to be endured and accepted as it is. It cannot be resisted when it comes, because it comes both from within and from the outside, and one’s will has nothing to do with it. The horror lies precisely in the realization of the ‘within’ as a source, because it forces one to face his complete impotence to substantiate the existence of his own self; the movement in the very core of person is utterly autonomous and unrelated to conscious or even unconscious deliberation. There is, in effect, nothing one can do about it.
And precisely this is the purpose of the whole ordeal: to reveal the helplessness of man faced with an abyss of his own essence and, consequently, his inherent inability to somehow substantiate or even re-create this essence. In a word, man is completely being handed over at the mercy of the world and, what is even worse, himself with absence of Spirit being the final and necessary realization. For some, obviously, this experience of absence is the clear incitement to endure and wait for proverbial dawn; for others, however, it is a call for destruction of all presence.
The second choice is essentially an attempt to identify with what was being revealed in this vision by one’s own effort and can be without reserve defined as a conscious choice of eternal damnation in quite uncertain terms, because the thing revealed is in fact a foretaste of what we commonly understand as Hell.
We should not suppose that every traditionalist revolutionary is driven by such deep motivation, but the fact of the matter is that orientation remains the same: the end of the present world, brought about by one’s own will, through some kind of political upheaval. The insidiousness of it all lies in the weapon of choice: the very principles of Tradition used as a banner of revolution.
While plethora of modern day traditionalist movements and individuals, from religious traditionalists of all colors to geopolitical prophets and alt righters, are mostly driven by ignorance and by the frantic, yet superficial, search for ideology which accommodates them best to “make sense of the world”, the impulse driving them is essentially hatred that stems from alienation choosing to annihilate itself into even deeper alienation.
To be “against the modern world” in this sense, means to be either too lazy or too vain to realize that no world can exist without truth, goodness and beauty and, quite consequently, to be at the same time driven enough to proceed into destroying it.
The essence of the world in which Spirit is the causal agent is that it cannot be detached from it; claiming that this indeed can come to pass, means to deny, not only the world, but Spirit, too. In the strictly Christian sense, one could say that this is one of the sins against the Holy Spirit, i.e. one of those that cannot be forgiven.
Hence, it is quite obvious how people of this mindset, once they pass the initial phase of playing with ideas, and proceed further down the path of delusion, seem to get reinforced into their convictions to an ever greater extent. The fact of the matter is that scratching beneath the surface is something one does at one’s own peril and if humility is absent, the catastrophe is inevitable; moreover, in the realm beneath the surface freedom rises exponentially and unguided soul is bound to quickly find a way to become a damned one, drowning in the illusion of its own autonomy.
One thing Tradition tells us about – and even an occasional old woman can tell you a thing or two about it – is that there are men who are damned for their hubris and their punishment is the furthering of their confidence in their own delusions. This is probably one of the worst things one can merit when tackling the matters of theology or metaphysics. I have no doubt, people of Dugin’s ilk bear this stain and it is clearly obvious how he attracts the confused, the vain and the envious into his orbit. After all, he represents the essential lack of essence that can accommodate every projection of the corrupted soul.
In conclusion, for someone capable of discernment traditionalist revolution in any form is complete nonsense. The only way to be against the modern world is not to be a modern man. And this requires, above all else, a correspondence of thought and action which does not compromise with the spirit of the age. If one is to do this, he won’t need revolutionary acts to make his life miserable, because act of quiet defiance leads to an immediate and very real loneliness in the “desert of the real”. The revolutionaries of every color are, at best, merely people trying to escape this decision into flamboyant and quite harmless posturing; at worst, however, they’re metaphysical suicide bombers of the modern world.
 “ This is the stage at which the effort made, however praiseworthy and meritorious it may be, can easily allow itself to be turned aside toward activities that will, in their own way and despite appearances, only contribute in the end to the further growth of the disorder and confusion of the ‘civilization’, the rectification of which they were intended to bring about. The people just referred to are such as can properly be described as ‘traditionalists’, meaning people who only have a sort of tendency or aspiration toward tradition without really knowing anything at all about it; this is the measure of the distance dividing the ‘traditionalist’ spirit from the truly traditional spirit, for the latter implies a real knowledge, being indeed in a sense the same as that knowledge.“ Rene Guenon, The Reign of Quantity and The Signs of the Times. Sophia Perennis: Hillsdale, 2001, pg. 210 (the whole chapter „Tradition and traditionalism“ is devoted to this question)
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Why “metaphysical” suicide bombers? From what can be observed, suicide bombers generally do not seek to explode in a metaphysical sense.
As for the rest, I couldn’t agree more.
As for the subject of alienation from something that was previous, well, when was it in human history that this wasn’t the case? Was not the Era of the Romantics, occuring during the period when Europe was still in the grip of “traditional values” a desire to return to that wispful vision of a primordial, pre-Christian Antiquity recorded in myths and tales? Does anyone recall the sheer despairing ennui that permeated European society during the times of the Calvinist debate? Or to go back even further, one can feel angst emanating out of every letter penned by the literati of the Early Han, decrying the moral degradation of the times and pining with lustful agony for the glory days of the kingdoms of Chu and Zhou? This was before China even came into being as we know it!
Of course the rationalist will dismiss this as psychological balderdash, a syndrom of good-old-times-ism. But isn’t it precisely this rationalization of everything that brings about this kind of state? Or perhaps the religious are onto something when they speak of an essential feeling of absence in man from something which should be at the very core of his experiencing the world? Is this the original sin?
We need to however stop this questioning at the point where we come to the realization that if it can’t be strictly speaking, the past that we are alienated from, then it must be the case that it is the present in which we will, rather than existentially find, ourselves to be alien. There’s nothing wrong with perceiving that there is a better way of existence which seems to be largely absent from this world, and if so, the way to realizing or achieving that existence can only be done so within the confines of this present world. This was the case now, as it was always the case, and as far as we persist will probably remain the case. This is why I strongly dislike the term “traditionalism” used to describe these essential understandings, emotional states and conceptual principles of the way life should be lived, it puts an unnecessary orientation backwards in time to something which always permeates it.
That said though we do need to come to a better understanding of what is meant by the term “Kali Yuga”. I hope that this will serve as a suggestion (or perhaps a fan wish) for a future video or article on your website.