East and West
East and West, first published in 1924, was the fourth of a series of books that cleared the ground for Guénon’s later writings. His first book, Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines (1921), was an exposition of metaphysics as transmitted in the Hindu tradition, and served to establish his specific use of important terms such as ‘esoterism’, ‘tradition’, and ‘orthodoxy’. He next set about writing two extensive volumes critiquing what he called ‘pseudo-esoteric’ groups. The first of these, Theosophy: History of a Pseudo-Religion (1921), is an exposé of Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society; the second, The Spiritist Fallacy (1923), examines the current of nineteenth-century spiritism that set the stage for many occult movements that appeared toward the end of that century. Guénon’s application of traditional metaphysics to the special case of pseudo-esoteric groups was then broadened in the present book to the general question of East and West as conservators and transmitters of traditional wisdom in the modern age. The titles of its two parts, ‘Western Illusions’ and ‘How the Differences Might be Bridged’, describe perfectly the book’s intention. Later books, especially The Crisis of the Modern World and its magisterial sequel, The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, further extended Guénon’s penetrating critique of the modern world.
René Guénon (1886-1951) was a French metaphysician, writer, and editor who was largely responsible for laying the metaphysical groundwork for the Traditionalist or Perennialist school of thought in the early twentieth century. Guénon remains influential today for his writings on the intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy of the modern world, on symbolism, on spiritual esoterism and initiation, and on the universal truths that manifest themselves in various forms in the world’s religious traditions. His writings on Hinduism and Taoism are particularly illuminating in this latter regard.
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