Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power

Another interesting point made by René Guénon through the course of his work was his distinction between a ‘caste’ on one hand and ‘class’ on the other hand. Guénon argued that ‘class’ is an entirely modern phenomenon fostered by economic and social disparities, whereas ‘castes’ are a traditional ordering of society transcending ‘national’ boundaries and preceding the modern epoch. The overhaul of the ‘caste system’ – with the ‘caste system’ being endemic to all civilizations – at the hands of modernity, according to Guénon, is perhaps the most important factor in the multifaceted ‘crisis’ which modernity is facing.

Guénon saw the ordering of any society based on four different ‘castes’ as a universal truth and reality. For one, there is an intellectual and spiritual class. Second, there is a government class made up of institutions such as the military, the judiciary, and administrative institutions. Third, there is the ‘bourgeoisie’ class which is made up of businessmen and the ‘nouveau riche.’ Finally, there is the masses. According to Guénon, social turmoil and political instability are the direct results of the government class disregarding or subordinating the intellectual and spiritual class to its subjective will. In turn, the inevitable outcome of the disregard towards the intellectual and spiritual class on the part of the government class and their subordination of the intellectual and spiritual class is the demise and overhaul of the government class at the hands of the masses.

The demise and the overhaul of the government class at the hands of the masses due to the former’s disregard for the intellectual and spiritual class translates into ‘tyranny’ and ‘despotism,’ according to Guénon. ‘Nationalism’ is also an entirely modern phenomenon, the aim of which is the ‘centralization’ of power by the government class. ‘Centralization’ of power by the government class is a major facet of the strategy on the part of the government class to disregard and subordinate the intellectual and spiritual class, according to Guénon. “Egalitarianism” and “individualism” – which can never be achieved in reality – are also attempts at blurring the distinctions between the different castes or groups in society. “Egalitarianism” and “individualism” are merely sentiments which seek to justify the subordination of the intellectual and spiritual class at the hands of the other castes.

Why the intellectual and spiritual class is superior to the government class is ultimately because of the superiority of ‘contemplation’ over ‘action.’ The intellectual and spiritual class represents ‘contemplation’ and thus their ability to attain and comprehend supra-human principles and truths. Without the authority and input of the intellectual and spiritual class, the government class is essentially “flying blind” and in turn is laying the groundwork for its own demise. In sum, there is “spiritual authority” on one hand, and there is “temporal power” on the other hand. The intellectual and spiritual class represents “spiritual authority,” whereas the government class represents “temporal power.” And according to Guenon, no matter how diminished the intellectual and spiritual class has become in the modern epoch, even the slightest remnants and vestiges of spiritual authority in a modern society reign supreme over all other castes or groups.

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