The Social Chaos

René Guénon — The Crisis of the Modern World (3)


“ Under the present state of affairs in the Western world, nobody any longer occupies the place that he should normally occupy by virtue of his own individual nature, with the whole array of special aptitudes that this nature carries with it and that predisposes each man to the fulfilment of one or another particular function.

Since the undertaking of a function, no matter of what sort, is no longer dictated by any legitimate rule, the inevitable result is that each person finds himself obliged to do whatever kind of work he can get, often that for which he is the least qualified. The part he plays in the community is determined, not by chance -which does not really exist- but by what might appear to be chance, that is, by a network of all sorts of incidental circumstances: what exerts the least influence is precisely the one factor that should count for most in the matter, namely the differences of nature between one man and another.

It is the negation of these differences, bringing with it the negation of all social hierarchy, that is the cause of the whole disorder; this negation may not have been deliberate at first, and may have been more practical than theoretical, since the nature of individuals was misunderstood before it began to be altogether ignored; at all events this same negation has subsequently been raised by the moderns to the rank of a pseudo-principle under the name of ‘equality’. It would be quite easy to show that equality can nowhere exist, for the simple reason that there cannot be two beings who are at the same time really distinct and completely alike in every respect.

Not merely does a man, in the present state of affairs, fulfil his proper function only in exceptional cases but it also happens that the same man is called upon to fulfil successively completely different functions, as though he could change his aptitudes at will. This may seem paradoxical in an age of extreme ‘specialisation’, and yet it is in fact the case, especially in the realm of politics.

If the competence of specialists is often quite illusory, and in any case limited to a very narrow field, the belief in this competence is nevertheless a fact, and it may well be asked why it is that this belief is not made to apply to the careers of politicians and why, with them, the most complete incompetence is seldom an obstacle. A little reflection, however, will show that there is nothing surprising in this, and that it is in fact a very natural outcome of the democratic conception, according to which power comes from below and is based essentially on the majority, for a necessary corollary of this conception is the exclusion of all real competence, which is always at least a relative superiority, and therefore belongs necessary to a minority.

Once let the principle be denied or lost from sight and nothing remains but multiplicity pure and simple, which is the same thing as matter

The most decisive argument against democracy can be summed up in a few words: the higher cannot proceed from the lower, because the greater cannot proceed from the lesser; this is an absolute mathematical certainty that nothing can gainsay. And it should be remarked that this same argument, applied to a different order of things, can also be invoked against materialism; there is nothing fortuitous in this, for these two attitudes are much more closely linked than might at first sight appear. Once let the principle be denied or lost from sight and nothing remains but multiplicity pure and simple, which is the same thing as matter.

If one takes the word ‘individualism’ in its narrowest sense, one could be tempted to oppose the collectivity to the individual, and to think that facts such as the increasingly invasive role of the State and the growing complexity of social institutions indicate a tendency contrary to individualism. However, the collectivity, being nothing other than the sum of the individuals within it, cannot be opposed to them.

If conflicts arise in the social sphere between tendencies, all of which equally find their place within the modern outlook, they are not conflicts between individualism and something else, but simply between the various forms that individualism itself is capable of assuming; it is easy to see that such conflicts must be more numerous and more serious in our time than they have ever been before, owing to the absence of any principle capable of unifying the multiplicity, and because individualism necessarily implies division.

Multiplicity, considered apart from its principle, and therefore as no longer capable of being reduced to unity, takes the form in the social realm of a community conceived only as the arithmetical sum of its component individuals; in fact, a community is no more than this once it has ceased to be attached to any principle superior to these individuals. The law of such a community is literally that of the greatest number, and it is on this that the democratic idea is based.

But what is this law of the greatest number which modern governments invoke and in which they claim to find their sole justification? It is simply the law of matter and brute force, the same law by which a mass, carried down by its weight, crushes everything that lies in its track. It is precisely here that we find the point of junction of the democratic conception and materialism, and here also is to be found the reason why this conception is so firmly rooted in the present-day mentality.

By this means, the normal order of things is completely reversed and the supremacy of multiplicity as such is upheld, a supremacy that actually exists in the material world; in the spiritual world on the other hand -and more clearly still in the universal order- it is unity that is at the summit of the hierarchy, since unity is the principle out of which all multiplicity arises.”

René Guénon — The Crisis of the Modern World 1927

René Guénon (1886–1951)
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