Review: Sedgwick’s Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century

Ed note: this review was written years ago for a now defunct livejournal account.

Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century

Mark Sedgwick

I never said I had refined tastes. Anytime a book has got “secret” and “intellectual history” in the subtitle, I am definitely interested. Hell, I’ll even overlook pretty poor writing if the subject matter is worthwhile.

Traditionalism is an interesting idea. Basically it’s a combination of the sort of standard new age idea that all the world’s religions share a single basic kernel of truth coupled with a fascistic hatred for the corruption of the modern capitalistic world and a distrust for the average person. Add in a bunch of masons and western sufis, and it makes for an interesting mix.

As with most of these fringe intellectual movements, there’s a kernel of truth in their somewhere (indeed fairly mainstream thinkers like Huston Smith could be aligned with teh movement). But, as is often the case, that kernel is deeply buried under horrific politics (Julius Evola, a writer some closely aligned with the movement has been a major figure in post-war fascism) and bad personal behavior (you get the whiff of personality cults surrounding a number of the major players here).

All in all, its an interesting if ill defined movement. And this is an interesting read — if out-there intellectual movements are your thing. They’re definitely my thing and I enjoyed it. That said, it need to be noted that the writing is pretty poor. Sedwick identifies far to many people as “pivotal to the history of traditionalist thought” and way to many ideas are “key”.

Paragraphs tend to wander and the point can sometime be hard to pull out. However, as anyone who read much on a fringes knows, poor writing is the price we often pay for coverage of the murkier edges of intellectual life.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

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    […] Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret International History of the Twentieth Centu… — An academic history of the “tradionalist” religious movement, of which many of the more esoteric fascists of the post-war era have been enamored. […]

  2. Stas

    I remember how frustrating it was that all the curioso sources on Eranos/Dumezil/Corbin were in French, thus not very accessible to me. There was a chapter on Dugin, who is in the news lately. For the Russian thing, you probably know Limonov, but lately Zakhar Prilepin is writing his own chapter in Donbass.

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  5. romandobs

    Wow. I was randomly searching for exactly this kind of book to read and happened upon your blog. I’d love to speak about the secret history of the ages with you. However that seemed to be a preoccupation a lifetime ago. All the best peace and blessings.

    1. seanv2

      Still of interest if you want to get in touch!

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