About a half-century ago I was urged by my oldest friend to read a book by Fritjof Schuon (1907-1998) written in 1953, The Transcendental Unity of Religions. The book’s title basically tells its message: that while each religion has its own exoteric forms that differ from those of each other, there is a core to all of them that is the same, a transcendental unity of cosmic truth and fundamental reality. Schuon had links with the Shadhili Sufi order, the Sufis being the branch of Islam open to relations with other relations from a transcendental mystical perspective, somewhat echoing ideas present in the 19th century US transcendentalist movement that was also associated with progressive political ideas.
I found this book most interesting, although I was not moved to get involved with the Sufi group that my friend and a couple of others were drawn to. My old friend and his wife really got into that group for several years, becoming quite conservative on social issues as well as some others. This led to a period of time when we did not have any dealings with each other. Eventually, they became disillusioned with this group and moved on, eventually becoming Romanian Orthodox despite neither having any Romanian ancestry. They remain quite conservative in their views, although fortunately have not been fans of Donald Trump at all. We did renew our friendship and remain in communication. Schuon, originally from Switzerland, eventually moved to the US, dying in Bloomington, IN, not too far from where my friends now live outside Indianapolis.
Schuon was strongly influenced by Frenchman Pierre Guenon (1886-1961), who also would join the Shadhili Sufi sect and would move in 1930 to live in Egypt. He is viewed as the founder of a movement known as Traditionalism, also as the Perennial Philosophy. Raised as a Roman Catholic, Guenon initially was interested in Hinduism as well as Taoism before joining the Sufi sect. But like Schuon he argued that all religions share a common unifying of transcending beliefs. Guenon argued that these ideas and beliefs dated from the pre-modern world and thus are Traditional. He favored ancient and medieval forms of art over those arising in the Renaissance and since. The Enlightenment and science and reason were seen as distracting from and degrading this primordial vision of transcendental unity. Guenon’s ideas were most influentially laid out in several books he wrote in the late 1920s such as The World in Crisis (1927) and Spritual Authority and Temporal Power (1929). Guenon’s work would become highly influential on much of modern academic religious studies.
While Guenon’s work implicitly posed a highly conservative view of the world with its denigration of science and modernity, he avoided specific political movements, as did his follower, Schuon, and some others. But one such follower did not engage in such avoidance, Giulio (Julius) Evola (1898-1974) of Italy. He would shift the religious focus to occultism and adopted an overtly anti-Semitic stance. His most famous books were Revolt Against the Modern World (1934) and Men in the Ruins (1953). Living in Italy under Mussolini he was initially too extreme even for the Fascists, but in the late 1930s after spending time in Germany with Himmler he would help move Mussolini to fully racist position more in line with that of Nazi Germany. He disapproved of the “populism” of both the Fascists and Nazis, arguing for the revival of an ancient caste system. He continued to formulate his philosophy of “radical traditionalism” and “magical idealism” after the war, adding a patriarchal element to his anti-democratic position. He would be arrested in 1951 for active involvement in attempting to revive fascism. He advocated a trans-national “European Imperium.” One of his current followers is sometime Trump adviser, Steve Bannon.
But for our purposes, his most important follower and advocate of this Traditionalism is the Russian Aleksandr Dugin (b. 1962), who would lead the sociology department at Moscow State University for several years prior to 2014, when he was fired. Dugin accepted the authoritarian and anti-Semitic elements of Traditionalism while shifting the religious focus to the Russian Orthodox Church. especially its Old Believer branch. He has developed his own version of the European Imperium as Eurasianism, which sees an even broader entity that rules all of Eurasia that is ruled by Russia. Dugin has laid this out in various works posing his own version of history that glorifies the history of the Kyivan Rus, especially in his most influential book, The Foundations of Geopolitics: The Geopolitical Future of Russia (1997). This book, now widely read by members of the Russian general staff, has become a major influence on none other than Vladimir V. Putin, with Dugin a major adviser of his. Reportedly it was Dugin who convinced Putin to take over and annex Crimea in 2014 and has long advocated Russia conquering Ukraine as part of a broader campaign to establish his Eurasiatic entity.
We thus have a great irony. On the one hand, V.V. Putin has declared that a major motive for his invasion of Ukraine is that he is supposedly going to “de-Nazify” the nation. But his underlying philosophy reflects a profoundly fascist vision of the world.