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