These questions and answers are intended to give a brief overview of the founders and followers of Perennialism, their main teachings, and principal manifestations. There is no intent on the part of the authors of the Le Floch Report to make judgments on the subjective intent of anyone named here. The Le Floch Report is concerned with the principles! With this in mind we must remember the words of Father Le Floch “What the world needs is not men of sincerity but men of truth.”
J. Christopher Pryor and Jeanette M. Pryor
1. What is Perennialism?
Perennialism is primarily the belief that mankind possesses a body of spiritual truths, known as “perennial wisdom.” (Sophia Perennis) These truths are handed down by the various “traditional religions” such as Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and even some ancient rites of Free-Masonry. The Perennialists distinguish between the exoteric (external, material) aspects of the “religions” and their esoteric (hidden, inner) meanings. For example, each “faith” has its own specific dogmas and rituals (exoteric) while all, according to the Perennialists, hold in common the deeper meanings hidden in those dogmas and rituals.
Those who adhere to these “faiths” can, through specific ascetic processes, arrive at the knowledge of the “perennial wisdom” and a state of enlightened consciousness. This state is for the “initiated”, hence the term “Gnosticism” is often used to define Perennialism.
Perennialism was a reaction against the rational, materialist spirit of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution. Its founders rejected modern Western Civilization because of its departure from the traditional paths that led to “wisdom and enlightenment.” Thus, the central focus of Perennialism is a fierce adherence to natural, human traditions and a bitter rejection of “modernity,” all the Perennialists perceive to flow from the “modern spirit.”
2. Who were the “Fathers” of Perennialism?
Rene Guenon was a French scholar of the early twentieth century. Rene was born to Catholic parents, but early in his youth he abandoned his Faith and turned to the study of the occult which was then in vogue in Paris. Rene became in turn a Free-Mason, an adept of Hinduism, and, finally, a Sufi-Muslim. Guenon wrote prolifically about his Perennialist theories and his most important book was “Crisis of the Modern Word.”
The two other authors who contributed most significantly to the formulation of Perennialist thinking were Ananda K. Coomaraswamy and Frithjof Schuon. Coomaraswamy, an expert on Hindu art, was primarily interested in the role of art and craftsmanship in culture and their relation to industrialized labor. Frithjof Schuon was responsible for giving to Rene Guenon’s philosophical theories the more formal structure of a religious movement. Schuon was a convert to Islam.
3. Who was the “Father of Political Perennialism” and some of the authors who influenced him?
The Father of Poltical Perennialism was Baron Julius Evola.
4. What are the main tenets of Perennialism?
The main tenets of Perennialism are:
a. Love of “Tradition” – Perennialists believe there is an original source of knowledge (Sophia Perennis) which is esoteric and attainable by observing the customs found in “traditional” religions and cultures. This love of “tradition” is the reason for their disdain for modernity.
b. Hatred of Modernity – The Perennialists, in an effort to counter the modern philosophies, place an exaggerated importance on human custom or “Tradition”. This tendency is sometimes carried out to such an extent that the Perrenialists will oppose modern technology, medicine, universal literacy, etc. merely because these things are new and the product of human reason as opposed to being the product of traditional customs. For the Church’s teaching on modern inventions such as radio, telelvision and motion pictures read Miranda Prorsus.
c. History is a Series of Cycles – History is considered as succession of cycles. Each cycle begins with the spreading of a new “ideal for civilization.” As the ideal becomes embodied in the culture, it losese its original purity, and the culture begins to decay. In order for a new cycle to begin, the old order of civilization must then disintegrate. This prepares the way for the next rebirth. Julius Evola remarked to his students concerning the modern world, ‘I am not talking about restoring society, I am talking about blowing everything up.’ This typifies the hope many Perennialists have, that the current decaying society will not be repaired but that an absolute cataclysm will bring it to an end.
d. Crisis Mentality – The crisis mentality flows from the idea that society is now at the end of a cycle of decay which will lead to ultimate destruction before the next rebirth. Perrenialists appear almost gleeful in expectation during events such as the 9-11 terrorist attacks or the recent riots in France.
e. The “New Man” – Each subsequent cycle begins with a new concept which is typified by the “New Man” who embodies this new salvific ideal.
f. Exaltation of the Male Gender – The Perenialists, under the guise of rectifying modern feminism, raise the masculine gender to an exalted level and subsequently diminish the female nature to a subhuman level, sometimes going so far as to deny the intellectual nature of women. A concept of women and their relation to men is promoted which is akin to Islamic slavery and has nothing to do with the ideal presented by the Catholic Church; an ideal which has its origin in the exalted dignity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For the Church’s view on this topic see: Casti Connubi
5. Why are Traditional Catholics attracted to Perennialism?
Traditional Catholics may be attracted to Perennialism because they oppose some of the same errors as the Perennialists such as Modernism, Feminism, Materialism, and the effects of unchecked and excessive Industrialization. However, the analysis of and the solutions provided for these problems proposed by the Catholic Church are completely different then the analysis and solutions proposed by the Perennialists. For the Church’s teaching on the restoration of Society read Our Apostolic Mandate.
6. How is Perennialism distinguished from “Traditional Catholicism?”
Catholics believe that the Faith and Sacraments provided by Our Lord Jesus Christ as well as the mediation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary will transform society. The Perennialists believe that the modern world is beyond saving; that its destruction must be hastened through revolution, “Fleeing to the Fields,” or a divine chastisement. After the fall of the modern governments, it is believed by some that truly virile men will rise up and restore civilization through their methods of education, the application of Distributism, and man’s proximity to the land. Some Catholics tainted with Perennialism go so far in their beliefs that they, at times, will distort the Faith in order to serve these political agendas.
7. What are examples of Perennialst thought found within the Traditional Catholic Movement?
It must be remembered that, as there are various degrees of Modernism and Liberalism, there are also various degrees of Perennialism. Some who are infected with this ideology may only show some of the following traits while others might show them all.
Some examples of Perrenialist thought within Traditional Catholic circles are:
a. Rejection of Technology – Many Perennialist Catholics abhor technology and scientific advances. Unfortunately, when they wish to spread their own ideas, they do not reject the computers upon which they write, the printing presses they use or the electronic devices that tape their conferences. Most Perennialists make their writings against the use of the internet and computers readily available online!
b. Rejection of Cities as Evil or Unnatural – Perrenialists argue that getting “back to the land” is the thing (“sine qua non”) without which a return to Catholicism is impossible.
c. Love of Crisis and a Longing for the Destruction of the Modern World – Perennialists at times exibit an almost gleeful expectation of cataclysm. This was seen in their reaction to the 9-11 tragedy, the Columbine Shootings, and the French riots.
d. Belief in Conspiracy Theories and Anti-Semitism – Examples of this are: “The Jews perpetrated the 9-11 Terrorist Attacks, the Holocaust never occurred, no one was ever killed in a gas chamber, the Jews have omnipotent control over all sectors of modern life, the Jews run all the banks and control all sectors of global politics and government.”
e. Racism – Some Perrenialists in Traditional Catholic circles accept the Evolian Aryan view that the white race is a master race chosen by God to lead and direct the other races towards Christendom.
f. The Exaltation of Men and the Depreciation of Woman – Perennialists in Traditional circles exaggerate their response against feminism to the point that they suggest that ideas, schooling, and even the Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius are not for women. The world is seen as the “brotherhood of men” in which women are merely “mindless generatives.”
8. Who were some important figures influenced by Perennialist thought? Is Perennialism synonymous with Fascism?
Some figures influenced by Perennialist thought or whose writings predispose Catholics to similar views were Eric Gill, Roberto Fiore, Derek Holland, and E.F. Schumacher. Although many Perennialists have been Fascists, the ideology of Fascism is not always equivalent to Perennialsm. Perennialism is an erroneous ideology aside from the fact that some Perennialists were Fascists. There have been many “honest” Perennialists who were wrong despite thier sincerity and pious lives.
9. What connection does Derek Holland have to Traditional Catholicism?
Derek Holland became friends with Roberto Fiore who was a student of Julius Evola. Holland adapted many of the ideologies put forth by Julius Evola and presented them in a manner meant for consumption by Traditional Catholics. His two main works designed to do this are The Political Soldier and Catholic Action, Uses Abuses, Excuses. Furthermore, Derek Holland is the co-founder of IHS Press with John Sharpe. IHS Press presents Distributism and the Back-to-the-Land Movement, two ideologies that apply Perennialist principles to economics. Books published by IHS Press often present Distributism as “THE Social Teaching of the Church” and insist that it is “the condition sine qua non” for the restoration of a Christian Civilization.
10. Who is Rama Coomaraswamy and how is he connected to Traditional Catholicicsm?
Rama Coomaraswamy is the son of Ananda Coomaraswamy (one of the founding fathers of Perennialism). He converted to Catholicism because there was not enough of a Hindu presence in the United States for him to practice his traditions. He recounted that he found living outside a Traditional Religion repugnant and so became a Catholic, since, according to Rama, Catholicism fit perfectly with his beliefs as a Hindu. He later taught at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary for five years and left with the sede-vacantists who were expelled by His Excellency Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.
Rama Coomaraswamy and Derek Holland are two poignant examples of how Perennialists and their ideologies are becoming associated with Traditional Catholicism.
11. How is Dr. Peter Chojnowski connected to Derek Holland and IHS Press?
Dr. Peter Chojnowski is a public supporter of John Sharpe, who is a co-founder with Derek Holland of IHS Press. He has written extensively (i.e. book reviews and prefaces) for IHS Press whose books mostly center around the ideologies of Distributism. Many of these false ideas and principles are laid out in Derek Holland’s (a/k/a Liam Connolly) book Catholic Action, Uses, Abuses, Excuses. While living in St. Mary’s and teaching at St. Mary’s Academy and College, Dr. Chojnowski attempted to implement a plan very similar to that put forth in Holland’s book. He and his “Group of 8”, as he called it, attempted to devise their own currency, called “Bellocs” and a bartering system within the town. He claimed during a round table discussion entitled: A Look at the Present: How to Rebuild a Catholic Society in Pseudo Judeo/Christian America that everything was going according to plan until there was “a clerical intervention” which destroyed the project. The Traditional Catholics of St. Mary’s are indebted to that “clerical intervention”.