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History through the Traditionalist Lens:
Alexander Wolfheze’s The Sunset of Tradition & the Origin of The Great War

2,116 words

Alexander Wolfheze
The Sunset of Tradition and The Great War
Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2018
£67.99 (sale price £33.99 until December 1)

Of the major (and even several of the minor) European languages, the Traditionalist school of philosophy – that articulated by René Guénon and Julius Evola and their offshoots – was a latecomer in the Anglophone world. After the better part of a century of near-total obscurity, it was only thanks to the hard work of publishers such as Sophia Perennis, Inner Traditions, and World Wisdom (not to mention Counter-Currents!) that most of the writings of the Traditionalist school finally appeared in English and became known – in certain circles, at least – in recent decades.

While this has been a major step forward, there is still a dearth of original, secondary works pertaining to the Traditionalist perspective in English. And most of what has been produced in English has focused exclusively on esotericism (particularly of the Islamic variety). What has been conspicuously absent have been works dealing with history, social issues, and politics from a Traditionalist point of view.

It’s not difficult to understand why, however, given that for a long time, Traditionalists have been operating under the guise of being purely concerned with religion and mysticism, remaining silent about the fact that Traditionalism in its complete form is one of the most – if not the most – reactionary current of thought that exists in the postmodern world. This is of course a consequence of the fact that most Traditionalist thinkers today have opted for the safety of academic careers (something which Evola noted already in the 1950s and for which he expressed his contempt), and thus want to avoid being called fascists. Their cover has been somewhat blown, however, as a result of Steve Bannon’s claim that Guénon was a crucial influence on him, which has in turn led to some superficial and ill-informed propaganda from journalists using Traditionalism as a branding iron with which to mark both Bannon and Trump (by association) as fascists, by bringing attention to the connection between Evola and Guénon. (And Evola had the audacity to call himself a “superfascist,” so by the logic of the average half-witted journalist of today, that makes Bannon and Trump really fascist!) It remains to be seen what the long-term consequences of this will be in terms of Traditionalism’s reception in the mainstream, although I’ve noticed that it’s become harder to find Evola and Guénon’s books on bookstore shelves these days. It may have the beneficial effect of forcing Traditionalists out of the realm of pure scholasticism and into putting their beliefs into practice, if academia ultimately becomes a hostile environment for them – which it inevitably will, if present trends continue. Time will tell.

Alexander Wolfheze is thus to be commended for defying this trend and producing a work which openly declares the anti-modern and anti-liberal spirit of Traditionalism and applies it to the temporal world, rather than focusing on esotericism alone. The Sunset of Tradition and the Origin of The Great War, fortunately, takes a large step towards rectifying the lack of original Traditionalist literature in English, being essentially a Traditionalist historiography – or, according to the author, only the start of a multi-volume Traditionalist historiography – of the birth of the postmodern world. According to the biography included in the book, Dr. Wolfheze is a Dutch scholar who specializes in Assyriology, cultural anthropology, pre-modern epistemology, and (naturally) Traditionalism, and he has previously published studies on Near Eastern cultural history. He is also active with the Dutch Right-wing metapolitical organization, Erkenbrand, so clearly, unlike most Traditionalist scholars, Dr. Wolfheze is not content to merely sit on the sidelines while his civilization is destroyed, justifying it by whining about “muh Kali Yuga.” While many Rightists pay lip service to Traditionalism without actually knowing much about it, Dr. Wolfheze seems to be one who is bridging that divide.

The book’s Preface is titled “Childhood’s End,” and in it Dr. Wolfheze briefly discusses the Arthur C. Clarke science fiction novel of the same name as being symptomatic of the post-war (in this case meaning the Second World War) mentality: namely, that the rapid and dramatic progression of science and technology are leading us towards an apocalypse that we cannot yet identify, but which still fills us with a sense of dread. (Spoilers ahead; if you haven’t yet read the book but think that you might, skip to the next paragraph.) In that book, a near-future humanity is visited by an extraterrestrial civilization which helps to solve all of humanity’s problems, bringing about Utopia. The problem, as humanity soon learns, is that it turns out that it was the struggle to deal with those problems that gave their lives meaning, and having everything handed to them eventually leads to stagnation. It turns out that all of human history was merely a process leading us towards humanity’s real end, for which the aliens have come to act as midwives: evolving into a species of plain, anonymous children, all identical and part of a collective with no more distinguishing features than ants, but endowed with what we would consider to be superpowers. Ultimately, these children combine their forces and transform themselves into a non-corporeal being, destroying the Earth in the process and incidentally all of those unevolved humans such as ourselves – those who haven’t already committed suicide, that is.

As an allegory of the modern world, the parallels to the Right-wing and Traditionalist view of the modern world is clear, even if Traditionalists would deny that “progress” is leading us towards anything higher, collectively or otherwise. We, too, are fighting against the transformation of the world into a giant supermarket, where everyone is identical and meaning is to be found solely through the acquisition of material possessions.

Dr. Wolfheze does not seem to be an “orthodox” Traditionalist, in the sense that he is not nearly as pessimistic as many other Traditionalists have been about the predicament of the modern world, seeing potential amidst the devastation that is currently being wrought upon the traditional foundations of civilization:

In the second decade of the 21st Century it is clear, even to the most simple-minded and retired-living individuals, that mankind’s global natural and social habitat is changing beyond recognition – and that this change is taking place at breath-taking speed. Accordingly, culture and knowledge are being transformed at the same speed – and with it mankind’s experience of its history. Thus, a new form of audience for a new form of history is being created by sheer force of circumstances. It is this new audience, as yet un-defined and un-determined, that is addressed by this present work.

But one thing about this new audience is certain: it will not include the old audience. The old audience will cling to its complementary comforts of infotainment consumption and academic snobbery, but it will also be left behind because it is existentially unable to match the impudent curiosity and steel nerves required of the new audience. The old audience can only reject, up front and out of hand, the new realities and new concepts that will inevitably invalidate its own decades-long experience of educational indoctrination, media propaganda and political correctness – an experience that is approaching the ne plus ultra of Modernity. About the old audience little remains to be said.

This is a welcome development in Traditionalism, since it is surely the dark and pessimistic view of our era common to the scholastic Traditionalists, which in turn lends itself to apathy, that has led to Traditionalism being so marginalized among those who prefer to do more than just detach from the world around them. Dr. Wolfheze – much like the present reviewer – prefers to see what can be made of the postmodern world, even given the chance that it might all end up being futile, to just throwing up one’s hands and saying, “It’s hopeless.” For Dr. Wolfheze, the end of the Traditional world should not be seen as a cause for mourning, but rather the mark of a need for a new maturity, a desire to be a “man among the ruins,” to use Evola’s phrase, not by denying the world as it is, but by attempting to understand how it got there, and in so doing learning to stand for values that transcend it. Childhood’s end in this book thus means not “going gentle into that good night” by accepting our fate, but rather of discovering a form of maturity that gives us the power to be in this world, but not of it.

Nevertheless, I did find myself somewhat balking at the author’s own statement of purpose, which he gives as follows: “This present work, Sunset, will provide the young people of the world a tool to work towards childhood’s end.” A dense book on philosophy and metaphysics – 450 pages in length including the endnotes, with small type – might seem an odd way to attempt to appeal to young people in an age which, by the author’s own admission, the printed book has less appeal to the young than ever before; nonetheless, it is clear that Dr. Wolfheze wishes to address himself to the more capable elite among the youth, those who can straddle both the worlds of the past and the one just coming in to being, rather than attempting to reach a mass audience. And indeed, this book, while extremely interesting, is certainly not for everyone – but then Traditionalism has always been an elitist doctrine. And I myself have always been firmly convinced that there will always be things that only books can accomplish, even in the age of social media.

Dr. Wolfheze divides his critique of modernity in terms of Ten Key Concepts, which he identifies as Modernity (which he associates with “meta-history” in terms of cultural-historical perspective), the Dark Age (metaphysics), Apocalypse (religion), Materialism (philosophy), Ecocide (economics), Regression (sociology), Narcissism (psychology), Decadence (art), Anomy (domestic politics), and Imperialism (international politics). Each of these gets a chapter describing the way in which each thread developed towards and produced the Great War, and the world that came after it, in detail. The scope of the book actually goes far beyond the Great War, which the author sees as a pivotal event which witnessed the final end of the long-decaying world of Tradition that had been sustained by the ancient monarchies and empires that were swept away in the deluge, setting the stage for the coming of our own, rootless world. But the author also explores the trends which culminated and burst forth in the Great War, as well as their implications for the world since, and thus his analysis runs far afield from merely the War itself.

Engagement with history has always been a weak point in Traditionalism; the Traditionalist authors will make occasional reference to certain historical events as being indicative of the metaphysical trends they see at work in the world, but to my knowledge there has never before been a sustained analysis of modern history from a sacred, Traditional perspective, which has always seemed to me to be a major flaw in their work since it neglects to show how the forces which have produced the modern world have been at work in material and tangible ways. Dr. Wolfheze’s book thus takes Traditionalist thought in a new and welcome direction in this regard, citing very specific events that can be identified and examined, which led to the transition from the sacred world of Tradition and into the secular world of modernity. In his Postscript, Dr. Wolfheze tells us that The Sunset of Tradition – all 450 pages of it – is but a prologue to a series of books he is writing to offer “a Traditionalist history of the entire Great War,” although he also makes it clear that he regards it as a work that can be viewed as a standalone work. Given the value of this first book, it is to be hoped that he perseveres in this effort.

I intend to write a more in-depth review of The Sunset of Tradition at a later time – my primary purpose in writing this brief announcement is to make readers aware of the book, and of the special price for which it is temporarily being offered, given its hefty cover price ordinarily. The book’s publisher, Cambridge Scholars, is offering the book at a half-price discount until December 1 as part of a commemoration of the Armistice, and information on how to get it can be found on their Website. For those who have found the Traditionalist perspective appealing, but who have longed for a more robust form of it which engages with real-world problems in a clear manner, this book is an important first step in this direction – and is thus for you.

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10 Comments

  1. dominique_malaparte
    Posted November 27, 2018 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    I was all set to buy this book, without delay. However, after reading the 30-page sample on the Cambridge Scholars website, I am now hesitant.

    Although the sample covers only the Preface and up to the sixth page of the Introduction, once other initial materials are paged through, my impression of Wolfheze’s writing is that it is sophomoric & overheated, sub-Nietzschean provocation. Good for an adrenalin rush, but does he offer real substance and analysis?

    I will probably buy it anyway, $60 price tag after FFW18 discount, as the book’s overall thesis and chapter headings sally & tally so closely with my own notions & concerns.

    • Posted November 27, 2018 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      I would not have reviewed the book positively if it was of that sort. Prefaces and introductions are often more general and less detailed than the bodies of books, and this one is no exception. It is certainly not a Nietzschean analysis. The main text of the book is a very dense, detailed, and specific analysis of events which mark the decline of Tradition in the West and set the stage for the First World War. I didn’t want to write a detailed examination of it until I had the chance to properly review and consider everything that’s in it, as it is quite rich with information and detail.

      • dominique_malaparte
        Posted November 27, 2018 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        Good to know. I shall definitely get it. And I didn’t mean to doubt you. Rather, it was the sample pages themselves that caused me to doubt. (And by sub-Nietzschean, I meant the feverish, invective prose of the opening pages, not the outline of the argument.)

  2. jon slavik
    Posted November 27, 2018 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    I assume that you mean Sufism, a subject on which a considerable amount of Traditionalist literature was indeed produced. While I can understand why some folks might feel a degree of aversion to it, I would argue that Sufi tradition can be easily divorced from Islamic/Abrahamic trappings and that it is in line with Aryan ethos. In fact, good arguments have been made for its Indo-European sources.

    • Posted November 27, 2018 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      I have no problem with Islamic mysticism (I use that term deliberately, to include Shi’ite mysticism as well, which is not Sufism), or whites who study it, whatsoever. However, if you look at the bulk of Traditionalist literature in English that’s been published, putting aside the translations of works by its primary thinkers, it is overwhelmingly comprised of works related to Islam and Islamic mysticism. You will find very few that examine the Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Christian, or other traditions. The reason for this is clear: most Traditionalists who came after the first generation chose to follow Guénon and Schuon’s example and become Muslims, even though, as Prof. Mark Sedgwick pointed out in his history of Traditionalism, there is no particular reason why Islam should occupy a privileged position in Traditionalism. Guénon never suggested to anyone that they should become Muslim, and he rarely wrote about Islam in detail in his work. So, sure, let the works on Islamic mysticism continue, but it would be nice to also see a lot more Traditionalist works pertaining to other traditions, especially those which are more compatible with the Western spirit. Dr. Wolfheze’s work is part of that.

  3. Paui
    Posted November 25, 2018 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    Clarke thought that novel’s ending to be a happy one tho, did he not? And I imagine that some rightist of transhumanist and/or gnostic variety might see it that way.

    • Posted November 27, 2018 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      At the end of the novel it’s really up to the reader to decide if it’s a positive ending or not, and I’m not aware if Clarke somewhere spoke about how he saw it. However, certainly from a Traditionalist perspective it can only be seen as a catastrophic ending and as an inversion of the fact of devolution.

  4. EF
    Posted November 25, 2018 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    I have to say that CC is a most valuable resource. When I read Greg’s ‘Remembering René Guénon’ I was struck by how Whites have been deprived of our history of our THINKERS and their writings. Let’s face it Counter Currents a jewel and whenever I remember to come here I end up spending hours, literally.

    (((THEY))) have taken away, hidden, buried so much of our intellectual treasures but Greg and the crew here are bringing them back so that we can benefit and MARVEL…

    René Guénon I will always remember him a man of incalculable worth.

    • laza
      Posted November 26, 2018 at 1:54 am | Permalink

      While Guénon offered valuable insights, I am of an opinion that he was unfortunately still too steeped in Abrahamic worldview. It is with Evola that authentically Indoeuropean Traditionalism begins.

  5. SO
    Posted November 25, 2018 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Can’t say I’ve been disappointed with any of the book recommendations from CC. Definitely will be getting a copy while it’s on sale, though.

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