The Absurdity of Traditionalism
The terms “Traditionalism” and “Traditionalist” have been gaining currency, reflecting an unfortunate and misleading trend. Presumably used to describe the intellectual ideas promulgated by Rene Guenon, then further developed by Ananda Coomaraswamy and Julius Evola, it instead treats those ideas as merely another perspective or school of philosophy. As such, it would then be subject to criticism and debate at that level.
First of all, it is necessary to be clear about what Tradition is and what motivated Guenon. “Tradition” must be understood in its literal sense as something “handed down” or “given across”, not as the “repetition of the past” for its own sake. What is handed down, then, is a transcendent knowledge which cannot be considered as just another perspective or worldview. In actuality, due to historical contingencies and the resultant isolation of cultures, several traditions have arisen, each reflecting the primordial Tradition.
As such, each authentic tradition is complete in itself. Thus, the “traditional man”, who follows one of those traditions has no need whatsoever to know anything about the teachings or symbols of another tradition. Everything he needs for his own self-development or self-transcendence is already there within his own tradition. Hence, it is absolutely absurd to call him a “traditionalist”, since he is simply a Hindu, or Taoist, or Sufi.
It is only In the modern Western world, which has lost its own tradition, that the question of multiple traditions is forced to arise. Guenon, in his search for authentic tradition in the West, studied the various traditions and noted their commonality – not in their empirical manifestation, but in the transcendent knowledge they carry. Guenon compared this knowledge, hidden in the metaphysics and symbols, of the traditions in his voluminous writings. Nevertheless, not even Guenon was a “traditionalist”; instead he embraced the authentic tradition of a Sufi lifestyle, in his intellectual (not religious) conversion.
As for those who dare call themselves “traditionalists”, Guenon writes:
[“traditionalists” refer] to people who only have a sort of tendency or aspiration towards 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 …
Ref: Chapter XXXI: “Tradition and Traditionalism” in The Reign of Quantity & the Signs of the Times