Against the Modern World is the first history of Traditionalism, an important yet surprisingly little-known twentieth-century anti-modern movement. Comprising a number of often secret but sometimes very influential religious groups in the West and in the Islamic world, it affected mainstream and radical politics in Europe and the development of the field of religious studies in the United States, touching the lives of many individuals.
French writer Rene Guenon rejected modernity as a dark age and sought to reconstruct the Perennial Philosophy - the central truths behind all the major world religions. Guenon stressed the urgent need for the West's remaining spiritual and intellectual elite to find personal and collective salvation in the surviving vestiges of ancient religious traditions. A number of disenchanted intellectuals responded to his call.
In Europe, America, and the Islamic world, Traditionalists founded institutes, Sufi brotherhoods, Masonic lodges, and secret societies. Some attempted unsuccessfully to guide Fascism and Nazism along Traditionalist lines; others later participated in political terror in Italy. Traditionalist ideas were the ideological cement for the alliance of anti-democratic forces in post-Soviet Russia, and in the Islamic world entered the debate about the relationship between Islam and modernity.
Although its appeal in the West was ultimately limited, Traditionalism has wielded enormous influence in religious studies, through the work of such Traditionalists as Ananda Coomaraswamy, Huston Smith, Mircea Eliade, and Seyyed Hossein Nasr.
"Mark Sedgwick shows how Traditionalism is a major influence on religion, politics, even international relations. Famous scholars, theosophists and masons, Gnostic ascetics and Sufi sheikhs, jostle with neo-fascists, terrorists and Islamists in their defection from a secular, materialist West. As a study of esotericism and Western images of the East, Against the Modern World compares in importance with Edward Said's monumental Orientalism. Likewise, it deserves the widest readership." -- Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, author of Black Sun and The Occult Roots of Nazism
"An exceptionally well-informed book.... It is a marvellous inquiry on the mutual porosity of a wide range of sometimes mutually contradictory anti-modernist ideological trends, from anarchism to fascism, and mutually opposed ilieus, from dissidents to officers of secret services." -- Stephane A. Dudoignon, Central Eurasian Reader
"Well-researched, well-written...an impressive scholarly achievement." -- H-Net Reviews
"Against the Modern World is a genuinely startling book. In this massively researched and clearly written study, Mark Sedgwick seeks nothing less than to provide an alternative intellectual history of the twentieth century. Time and again, he offers unexpected connections, stresses the importance of forgotten or underestimated thinkers, and throws new light on the history of esoteric thought and religion. A wonderful contribution." -- Philip Jenkins, author of The Next Christendom: the Coming of Global Christianity
"An erudite, graceful, and nuanced study of a movement that has enjoyed far more influence than attention in the modern world that it so despises." -- Parabola
"This is an invaluable contribution to an ongoing and increasingly sophisticated discussion about modernity, the professional study of religion, and the religions themselves. What sets Sedgwick's narrative apart from most all previous accounts is his remarkable historical sweep (from the Italian Renaissance to today), his impressive grasp of the Muslim world, and, perhaps most of all, the humane grace with which he treats his historical subjects. Here they emerge with both their hearts and their warts intact, neither as intellectual fathers to slay nor as cultural gods to put on the proverbial pedestal, but as human beings struggling with some of the deepest religious problems and promises of our modern world. The result is a reading experience through which one comes to realize, with something of a start, that their story happens also to be ours." -- Jeffrey J. Kripal, author of Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom: Eroticism and Reflexivity in the Study of Mysticism
"In 2004 Mark Sedgwick did not only publish the definitive account of Traditionalism. He also provided a narrative that stands out for both the density of its factual material and the quality of its style. I have rarely read an academic book with such ease and pleasure and, at the same time, learned so much ...This might be one of the most fascinating books in the history of ideas published in recent years." -- Andreas Umland, National Taras Shevchenko University, Kiev, in Patterns of Prejudice
"Mark Sedgwick sets out to chronicle this disparate group of thinkers, each in his own way engaged in the most fascinating intellectual project that you have never heard of . . . This book is a valuable companion to their works, a comprehensive and neutrally presented archive of the personalities and authors, along with their political activities and personal lives." -- Charles Clover, Financial Times
"Mr. Sedgwick's history of traditionalism, the first scholarly effort by an outsider, also sheds light on contemporary passions... The book... makes clear how important this neglected movement is."
-Edward Rothstein, The New York Times
"Traditionalism . . . is an amalgam of the dotty, the incredible and the significant.. . . It has importance because it was, however tangentially, an influence in twentieth century politics, and could, perhaps more importantly, be even more influential in the twenty-first. Sedgwick's book is a triumph of careful scholarship and intelligent interpretation."
-Kenneth Wilson, Reviews in Religion and Theology
"After reading this book, you will never see an allusion to the 'transcendental unity of religions' in quite the same light again."
-John J. Reilly, First Things