René Guénon on Modernity, Democracy & Technology

René Guénon on Modernity, Democracy & Technology

Modern civilization has gone downwards step
by step until it has ended by sinking to the level of the lowest elements in man and aiming
at little more than satisfaction of the needs inherent in the material side of his nature,
an aim which is, in any case, quite illusory, as it constantly creates more artificial needs
than it can satisfy. Individualism necessarily implies the refusal
to admit of any authority higher than the individual, as well of any means knowledge
higher than individual reason; and these two attitudes are inseparable. Consequently the modern outlook was bound
to reject all spiritual authority in the true sense of the word, authority, that is, which
is based on the superhuman, and all traditional organisation, that is to say all organisation
based essentially on this authority, whatever form it may assume. Nothing and nobody is any longer in the right
place; men no longer recognize any effective authority in the spiritual order or any legitimate
power in the temporal; the profane presume to diccuss what is sacred, and to contest
its character and even its existence; the inferior judges the superior, ignorance sets
bounds to wisdom, error prevails over truth, the human supersedes the divine, earth overtops
heaven, the individual sets the measure for all things and claims to dictate to the universe
laws drawn entirely from his own relative and fallible reason. The most decisive argument against democracy
can be summed up in a few words: the higher cannot emanate from the lower, because the
greater cannot come out of the less; this is an absolute mathematical certainty that
nothing can gainsay. It is abundantly clear that the people cannot
confer a power that they themselves do not possess; true power can only come from above,
and this is why, it can be legitimized only by the sanction of something which stands
above the social order, that is to say by a spiritual authority; otherwise it is a mere
counterfeit of power, unjustifiable through the lack of any principle, and in which there
can be nothing but disorder and confusion. This reversal of the true hierarchical order
begins when the temporal power seeks to make itself independent of the spiritual authority,
and then even to subordinate the latter by claiming to make it serve political ends. The great ability of those who are in control
in the modern world lies in making the people believe that they are governing themselves;
and the people are the more inclined to believe this as they are flattered by it,
and as they are in any case incapable of sufficient reflection to see its impossibility. It was to create this illusion that “universal
suffrage” was invented: the law is supposed to be made by the opinion of the majority:
but what is overlooked is that this opinion is something that can very easily be guided
and modified; it is always possible, by means of suitable suggestions, to arouse in it currents
moving in this or that direction as desired. This mental outlook is one that consists in
more or less consciously putting material things and the preoccupations arising out
of them in the first place, whether these preoccupations still make some show of being
speculative or are purely practical; and it cannot be seriously disputed that this is,
in fact, the mental outlook of the immense majority of our contemporaries. It seems that nothing exists for modern men
beyond what can be seen and touched; or at least, even if they admit theoretically that
something more may exist, they immediately declare it not merely unknown but unknowable,
which absolves them from having to think about it. The moderns in general cannot conceive of
any other science than that of things that can be measured, counted and weighed, which
really comes to the same as saying material things, since it is to these only that the
quantitative point of view can be applied; and the claim to reduce quality to quantity
is very typical of modern science. This tendency has reached the point of supposing
that there can be no science, in the real meaning of the word, except where it is possible
to introduce measurement, and that there can be no scientific laws except those that express
quantitative relations. What the modern world has striven after with
all its power, even when it has claimed in its own way to pursue science, is really nothing
else than the development of industry and machinery, and in thus seeking to dominate
matter and bend it to their service, men have only succeeded in becoming its slaves. Not only have they limited their intellectual
ambition to inventing and constructing machines, but they have ended by becoming in actual
fact machines themselves. Indeed, it is not only scholars but also technicians
and even labourers who have to undergo the specialization which certain sociologists
praise so highly under the name of “division of labour”; and for these last it makes intelligent
work impossible. Very different from the artisans of former
days, they have become mere slaves of machines with which they may be said to form part of
a single body. In a purely mechanical way they have constantly
to repeat certain definite movements, which are always the same and always performed in
the same way, so as to avoid slightest loss of time; such at least is required by the
American methods which are supposed to represent the most advanced stage of progress. Indeed, the object is merely to produce as
much as possible; quality matters little, it is quantity only that is of importance. Modern civilization may really be called a
quantitative civilization, and this is only another way of saying it is material civilization The inventions whose number is at present
growing at an ever increasing rate are all the more dangerous in that they bring into
play forces whose real nature is quite unknown to the men who utilize them; and this ignorance
is the best prof of the worthlessness of modern science as an explanatory means. The danger inherent in these inventions, even
in those that are not expressly created for a purpose destructive to mankind, but which
none the less cause just many catastrophes, without mentioning the unsuspected disturbances
that they create in the physical environment, this danger, we say, will undoubtedly continue
to grow, and that to an extent difficult to foretell, so that, as we have already shown,
it is by no means improbable that it will be through these inventions that the modern
world will bring about its own destruction, unless it can check its course in this direction
while there is still time.

7 Comments on "René Guénon on Modernity, Democracy & Technology"

  1. Ahoj Charles! Great Video! I do not know Mr. Rene Guenon and his writings however, his words as you spoke are filled with common sense and reason! Man will never control Nature. Nature will always have the last word! I will study Mr. Guenon and his philosophical writings. Also GREAT view of Beautiful Carpathian Forest! Thank-you for your hard work, Ricky 🙂


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