|The Inversion of Hierarchy
and the Bondage to Matter
|Institute René Guénon of Traditional Studies|
“The merchant was placed lowest in the category of vocations
– the knight, the tiller of the soil, the mechanic, the merchant.”
Inazo Nitobe, Bushido
Dr. K. R. Bolton
The basis of a “traditional society” is the way it perceives its place in the cosmos as a link between the terrestrial and the divine. The Hermetic dictum: “as above so below” is applicable here as in much else when analysing history from a traditionalist perspective. Conversely, the counter-traditional outlook and zeitgeist of a cycle (1) is portrayed by “The Devil” Trump in the Tarot. Paul Foster Case provides a meaning of “The Devil” that is particularly relevant to this paper:
In its most general meanings, it signifies Mammon and thus big business, the conventions of society, the injustice and cruelty of a social order in which money takes the place of God, in which humanity is bestialised, in which war is engineered by greed masquerading as patriotism, in which fear is dominant. Students of astrology will have no difficulty in seeing how this corresponds to Capricorn, the sign of big business, and the sign of world fame. (2)
The most salient points for this paper are that the Traditionalist recognizes the triumph of Mammon over God and that this is personified by the centrality of business, and of material acquisition which becomes the social norm; the meaning of life. Indeed, under the money-based ethos the artist and poet might well be considered a parasite if s/he does not earn a living in a conventional manner, or alternatively does not compromise one’s aesthetic integrity for material gain as another part of the economic treadmill. Thus, in the Age of Matter, or the Kali Yuga as the Hindus call it, and the Wolf Age of the Norse, the arts become another commodity to be mass marketed and with a high turnover; a transience that is counter to the traditional conception of art. (3)
Another salient aspect of the Case description of the matter-bound Age is his mention of war masquerading as patriotism, but engineered by greed. Here again there is the dichotomy between the traditional conceptions of warrior duty and conflict which service Mammon. The difference is between that of the Knightly Chivalry of the Medieval era, where one fought for Faith and was, at least ideally, guided by an ethos; and the wars “engineered by greed masquerading a patriotism,” which are the wars we have witnessed in our current time. The final vestige of a chivalrous ethos probably manifested in World War I when enemy pilots buried the bodies of their adversaries with full military honours. Perhaps the most cogent way of explaining the traditionalist attitude towards battle is that of the dialogue on the dharma of the ksyatriya (warrior) caste of ancient India, between Krishna and Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita.(4) Evola discusses the concept of the metaphysical warrior in some detail, drawing on such traditional outlooks.(5) While a battle might be the bloodiest conceivable, under such chivalric élan, it is not fought in a cowardly or dishonourable manner. Hence, for example, one might cite the example of Napoleon being exiled and treated in an honourable fashion after defeat by the European alliance; a courtesy that does not seem to be much in evidence towards defeated foes in the present-day, when defeated political and military leaders such as Saddam Hussein, Milosovic and most recently Serbian General Mladic are hauled before mock trials under the nebulous concepts of “international justice”; a.k.a. the victor’s revenge. (6)
A third major concept mentioned by Case is the bestialization of humanity in the context of being bound by the base drives, and within the context of the primacy of commerce. “The Devil” enchains the human pair to matter. Like the “Devil” the human pair are depicted with tail and horns. This is suggestive of the esoteric belief in cyclic regression rather than lineal progression. The modern world is therefore, according to the Traditionalist perspective, not ascending upward toward the Godhead, nor toward manifesting the God within; but is in a downward spiral towards – metaphorically – “The Devil” – the master of our base drives which become dominate rather than being sublimated towards the higher goals as heralded for example by Nietzsche.(7) As counter-tradition negates hierarchy based on cosmic perceptions, it also turns what in modern times has been referred to by psychologists as the “pyramid of human needs” (8) on its head. Hence, the physiological drives that are normally the preoccupation of the human at their most fundamental level of existence, and which might continue to preoccupy one if chained to a cycle of drought, famine or some other such condition, become the ultimate purpose, rather than a transient phase at the most elementary level of existence. This regression takes place when a culture reaches its senile and decayed cycle. Whereas under “normal” – traditional – society, the individual fulfils his basic physiological needs as the means of being free to achieve something higher; in a counter-traditional, matter-bound society, material acquisition becomes the end in itself rather than as a means to an end. In the Medieval epoch, for example, the craftsman sought meaning in the striving towards excellence, fulfilling a wider social duty, to one’s guild, ones’ village, one’s community, one’s Lord, and ultimately one’s God. Medieval craft was therefore not economic drudgery, but a highly personalized and meaningful creativity.
The neo-traditionalist philosopher-historian Julius Evola described the character of traditional societies in Revolt Against the Modern World. (9) For the traditional society “every aspect of the individual and of the social life” is influenced by experience with the “invisible” which is more real than the “physical,” (10) based on “the fact that traditional man considered everything visible and worldly as the mere effects of causes of a higher order.” (11)
Because modern society can only see history through its own matter-based lenses, and even judges the remnants of traditional societies on that basis, (12) the concept of “caste” is equated with the modern, matter-based concept of “class” as Marx refers to class in The Communist Manifesto for example,(13) and is derided for its “injustice” and “inequality.”
Traditional society on the other hand, intuitively assumes that the hierarchy that exists is ordained as an earthly manifestation of the divine or cosmic order; the “divine right of kings” being one of the few such manifestations that are today known, albeit subject to ridicule as “superstition” and “tyranny.” For tradition, caste is a spiritual manifestation, and class one of economics. Another way of considering this is to regard caste as ordained by God(s); and class as made by humans. In a traditional society, the caste one is born into is accepted as that of divine will, and doing one’s duty and working within that caste is regarded as fulfilling a divine role, or what the Hindus call dharma. The economic consequences of caste are only secondary manifestations of the divine significance. Hence because of the matter-based perspective of modern society, which is to say, the outlook of Western Civilisation in its senile, money-bound cycle, whose influence now encompasses the world, societies and cultures, both now and in past ages, are judged according to our own present money-values. Therefore, “we” as “moderns,” will see for example, the Medieval artisan and peasant as nothing but a miserable wretch exploited by his arrogant overlords; a simplistic belief that fails to comprehend the basis of the social organism of that epoch in Western Civilisation, and culturally analogous periods in other Civilisations. “Moderns” can generally only judge the character of a society in terms of what’s in one’s pay-packet, or other matter-bound values. There is a chasm between the outlooks of modern and traditional humanity that transcend time, geography or race.
Julius Evola explains that the traditionalist conception of caste is distinct from the petty class tyranny of debased societies:
For this we must be clear about one thing: it is an error to assume that the hierarchy of the traditional world is based on a tyranny of the upper classes. That is merely a “modern” conception, completely alien to the traditional way of thinking. …
Only today could anyone imagine the authentic bearers of the Spirit, or of Tradition, pursue people so as to seize and put them in their places – in short, that they “manage” people, or have any personal interest in setting up and maintaining those hierarchical relationships by virtue of which they can appear visibly as rulers. This would be ridiculous and senseless. It is much more the recognition on the part of the lower ones that is the true basis of any traditional ranking. It is not the higher that needs the lower, but the other way round. The essence of hierarchy is that there is something living as a reality in certain people; which in the rest is only present in the condition of an ideal, a premonition, an unfocussed effort. Thus the latter are fatefully attracted to the former, and their lower condition is one of subordination less to something foreign, than to their own true “self.” Herein lies the secret, in the traditional world, of all readiness for sacrifice, all heroism, all loyalty, and, on the other side, of a prestige, an authority, and a calm power which the most heavily-armed tyrant can never count upon. (15)
If we accept Evola’s Traditionalist perception of the social relations between castes, then the assumption that the ruler exerts corrupt tyranny over his subordinates is recognisably more fitting a description to the modernist concept of rulership, where power is today equated with money. In the modern society which, as philosopher-historian Oswald Spengler pointed out, is dominated by money interests and money values, the “ruling class” in general has loyalty to the acquisition of wealth as an individual, or at best beyond one-self, one’s family and one’s corporation. Such a plutocrat might feel accountable to shareholders, board members or courts of law, but not to any condition higher than the material plane. In the traditional society, by contrast, the ruler, probably born to the position, and with family expectations to “do the right thing” and not bring shame upon one’s dynasty, clan, kingdom, principality, tribe…, as well as to pass on as an inheritance intact one’s landed property and all the duties that go with its maintenance; feels that he is answerable to God and to a personal ethos of honour or chivalry, beyond personal gain. Even should a ruler become a brutal tyrant, as is often the case, he is nonetheless still motivated by this pervasive sense of duty to fulfil one’s godly-ordained destiny (and that tyranny could well develop due to bearing the burden of duty). The same outlook holds true throughout the traditional social hierarchy, from top to bottom. The artisan or peasant has just as much a commitment to his or her calling, a sense of pride and a sense of one’s place and purpose, as a King, Queen, Pope, Lady or Knight.
Can it be said that the modern “proletarian” and “bourgeoisie” has any similar dignity and sense of purpose and place or identity? Can today’s prime ministers and presidents be said to have any such meaning beyond appealing to the mass franchise and quibbling over petty matters in parliamentary debates, the jestery of which takes on more outlandish forms when one considers that such antics are ultimately subordinated to the whims of the class that represents the true rulership of modern society: plutocracy. The traditional sense of duty towards principles higher than oneself is still manifested albeit in an abysmally debased form by some members of the current British Royal Family, that can but hint at an era long past, but whose popularity might suggest something innate in the psyche that intuitively rejects the grey drabness of universal equality or what could more accurately be termed “sameness.”
Evola writes of this:
…[W]hen the right and primacy of interests higher than those of the socioeconomic plane are not upheld, there is no hierarchy, and even if there is one, it is only a counterfeit; this is also true when a higher authority is not accorded to those men, groups, and bodies representing and defending these values and interests. In this case, an economic era is already by definition a fundamentally anarchical and antihierarchical era; it represents a subversion of the normal order. The materialisation of the soullessness of all the domains of life that characterise it divest of any higher meaning all those problems and conflicts that are regarded as important within it. (16)
Spiritual Origins of Caste
The origins of caste as the basis of a traditional social order are ascribed to divinity. In the Hindu scriptures Krishna says to Arjuna: “According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the corresponding four divisions of human society were created by Me…”(17) The Norse Lay of Rig poetically describes the godly origins of the castes. Rig is a name of the Aesir God Heimdal. He arrives at the abodes of four couples and bears sons by the women of each, from which arise respectively the castes of Thrall (serf), Karl (freeman), Jarl (warrior nobility) and Kon (King). (18)
The economic relations of traditional social order are based not primarily on profit, or even on economics per se, but as a reflection of one’s character as an individual reflection of the cosmos. In some societies, such as the Hindu, one’s caste of birth was thought to be the result of karma through reincarnation. Hence, what one did on earthly life very much determined what would happen to one’s spirit afterwards. In analogous manner, the Medieval denizen, from serf to King and Pope, at least in principle, was constrained by the rewarding or punishing of one’s soul. Hence, economic relations were determined by ethico-spiritual principles.
The socio-economic system of the West’s Medieval epoch was founded on the guild system, the primary purpose of which was to maintain the ethos of its members, and reflect trade as craft in the pursuit of excellence, whether in the fields of beer brewing or Cathedral building. The guild was therefore a reflection of divine duty. The distinction between the guild, and the trades union that is a reflection of purely material interests, and was necessitated by the inversion of hierarchy that was completed by the Industrial Revolution, but was several centuries in the making, highlights the difference in ethos that exists between the traditional and the modern.
The American historian and theologian Rev. Dr. W D P Bliss ,(19) wrote of the guilds in Medieval Europe that:
These guilds of one kind or another, extended all over Germanic Europe and endured in most countries till the time of the Reformation and in a few instances to the nineteenth century. The Middle Ages were a period of customary not of competitive prices, and the idea of permitting agreements to be decided by the “higgling of the market” was an impossibility, because other laws of the market were not left to the free arbitrament of contracting partiers. (20)
Bliss stated that this was an era in which craftsmanship dominated over capital “and the master worked besides the artisan.” (21) It is an indication that the social order of traditional European society was of a higher ethical order than the “progressive” and “enlightened ” era of which moderns are so smug in their superiority. Bliss described the organic, social nature of Medieval Europe, taking as his reference the German city of Nuremberg:
No Nuremberger even seriously dreamed of leaving trade or art or manufacture, or indeed any portion of life, to the accident and incident of unrestricted competition. “Competition,” the Nuremberger would have said, “is the death of trade, the subverter of freedom, above all, the destroyer of quality.” Every Nuremberger, like every medieval man, thought of himself not as an independent unit, but as a dependent, although component, part of a larger organism, church or empire or city or guild. This was the very essence of medieval life. (22)
Bliss explained that a trade held the right to practice as a tenure from the emperor who held it from God. The guild determined what raw materials would be used in a manufacture, how much to buy, the number of apprentices a master might employ, the wages, and the methods of production, and fixed prices. (23)
The guild did not allow the untrained workman or the mean-spirited trader to cut prices to spoil or steal the market. The guilds measured and weighed and tested all materials, and determined how much each producer could have. … They equally measured or counted, weighed and tested the finished product…. As late as 1456 two men were burned alive at Nuremberg for having sold adulterated wines…. Nuremberg thus saw very well that competition only served the rich and the strong. That collective trading was the hope of the poor and the plain people. …. Money was not to be lent on usury (interest)…. Extortion, false measures, adulation of goods, were abominations in a trading town and punished usually by death. (24)
The traditional social order gave identity, purpose and freedom of expression to the Medieval denizen much more so than the trade union or the chamber of commerce of modern society. Juliet Schor, Professor of Economics at Harvard University, has shown that Medieval Europe accorded much more leisure, for example, than the present system of free trade:
One of capitalism’s most durable myths is that it has reduced human toil. This myth is typically defended by a comparison of the modern forty-hour week with its seventy- or eighty-hour counterpart in the nineteenth century. The implicit - but rarely articulated - assumption is that the eighty-hour standard has prevailed for centuries. …
…Before capitalism, most people did not work very long hours at all. The tempo of life was slow, even leisurely; the pace of work relaxed. Our ancestors may not have been rich, but they had an abundance of leisure. When capitalism raised their incomes, it also took away their time…
All told, holiday leisure time in medieval England took up probably about one-third of the year. And the English were apparently working harder than their neighbors…. (25)
The rise of the bourgeoisie and the emasculation or destruction of the monarchy and the aristocracy, while enacted under the guise of “freedom,” or “liberty, equality, fraternity,” as the French Revolution put it, meant the freedom of commerce and the liberty of the bourgeoisie from the restraints imposed by the traditional social order of the type described by Bliss. English historian-philosopher Anthony Ludovici has commented on the results of the Cromwellian Revolution in this regard:
Charles I… believed in securing the personal freedom and happiness of the people. He protected the people not only against the rapacity of their employers in trade and manufacture, but also against oppression of the mighty and the great… (26)
The Puritan Revolution in England of the 17th Century, under the leadership of Cromwell, was a desacralization of society under the guise of another religion, that of Puritanism, whose attitude toward capital accumulation destroyed the traditional ethos towards money and goods. That is the ethos that came to dominate the West, and was invigorated by both the Industrial Revolution in England, and the American Revolution. We can however turn as far back as Henry VIII, and what might be regarded as the first signs of the destruction of the traditional hierarchy, with the blow at the authority of the Church, again in the name of “liberty.” While us “moderns” see any diminution of the authority of the Church as a “progressive” step, such “progress” does not imply a more satisfactory order of life. The writer Hillaire Belloc opined that the Church as the spiritual custodian of traditional society in the Western cultural context, imbued society with an ethos vastly different from that of commerce:
Our property in land and instruments was well divided among many or all; we produced the peasant; we maintained the independent craftsman; we founded coöperative industry. In arms that military type arose which lives upon the virtues proper to arms and detests the vices arms may breed. Above all, an intense and living appetite for truth, a perception of reality, invigorated these generations. They saw what was before them, they called things by their names. Never was political or social formula less divorced from fact, never was the mass of our civilization better welded--and in spite of all this the thing did not endure. (27)
This was the ethos that imbued all castes, peasant, craftsman, soldier… While in the Western context Belloc refers to Catholicism, the same principle holds true for traditional cultures generally, whether under the impress of Islam, Hinduism, or Shinto. The Reformation inaugurated the present era of capitalism, of which Belloc wrote:
When we come to deal with the story of the Reformation in Britain, we shall see how the strong popular resistance to the Reformation nearly overcame that small wealthy class which used the religious excitement of an active minority as an engine to obtain material advantage for themselves. But as a fact in Britain the popular resistance to the Reformation failed. A violent and almost universal persecution directed, in the main by the wealthier classes, against the religion of the English populace and the wealth which endowed it just happened to succeed. In little more than a hundred years the newly enriched had won the battle. By the year 1600 the Faith of the British masses had been stamped out from the Highlands to the Channel.” (28)
In 1536 by Act of Parliament the monasteries and convents were closed and their properties confiscated for the benefit of Henry VIII and his favourites. The social commentator William Cobbett (1763-1835) asserted that with this Act, striking at the very basis of the local social and economic life of the people,
…[B]egan the ruin and degradation of the main body of the people of England and Ireland; as it was the first step taken, in legal form, for robbing the people under pretence of reforming their religion; as it was the precedent on which the future plunderers proceeded, until they had completely impoverished the country; as it was the first of that series of deeds of rapine, by which this formerly well-fed and well-clothed people have, in the end, been reduced to rags and to a worse than gaol- allowance of food, I will insert its lying and villainous preamble at full length. Englishmen in general suppose, that there were always poor-laws and paupers in England. They ought to remember, that, for nine hundred years, under the Catholic religion, there were neither. (29)
It is notable that William Cobbett, the famous social commentator with an intimate knowledge of England, was not a Catholic. He was only offering an objective account of the England he saw during his lifetime, with masses of the destitute, in contrast to the historical record of traditional pre-industrial England. It is an example of how the cycles of cultural morphology as per Spengler and Evola for example, play out in ways that are far from the modernist conception of an optimistic lineal evolution.
The inversion of the traditional social structure, including those examples that occurred in the name of “the people”, as in France and England for example, were power plays that sought the breaking of spiritual bonds, only to have them replaced by material bonds. As far as the masses of people were concerned, the law of political plenum that had existed between ruler and ruled, on the basis of reciprocal loyalties and duties, predicated ultimately on duty before God, was replaced by a money nexus, where the new money masters had no duty toward their economic wards other than to pay them wages at the lowest rate possible, and the situation continues broadly in the same manner today. The higher ethical unity that existed between the castes was eliminated by the crass profit motive and the “struggle” between classes.
Those who had been relegated to a rather mediocre role in the traditional hierarchy, the merchant, now assumed power, and have continued to do so. Karl Marx, whose ideology was part of the same zeitgeist as capitalism, and therefore sought to expropriate capitalist values rather than overturn them, considered the rise of the merchant on the destruction of the traditional hierarchy to be a progressive “dialectical” phase of history, and was therefore vehemently opposed to any attempt to restore the traditional order. Marx alluded to an alliance that had formed in his own time against the Age of Matter, to which he was personally enchained as much as any merchant:
The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant. All these fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative...
In Marx’s Germany there arose an alliance of what Marx called “Reactionists” who resisted this “dialectical materialism” as Marx called his method of historical analysis, and wished to restore the traditional order. Max Beer, an historian of German socialism, stated of these “Reactionists”:
The modern era seemed to them to be built on quicksands, to be chaos, anarchy, or an utterly unmoral and godless outburst of intellectual and economic forces, which must inevitably lead to acute social antagonism, to extremes of wealth and poverty, and to an universal upheaval. In this frame of mind, the Middle Ages, with its firm order in Church, economic and social life, its faith in God, its feudal tenures, its cloisters, its autonomous associations and its guilds appeared to these thinkers like a well-compacted building… (31)
This was the rearguard action of people drawn from remnants of the peasantry and craftsman, the aristocracy and the clergy. A similar phenomena had occurred at the time of the French Revolution, when the region of Vendee had undergone a peasant revolt to restore the traditional hierarchy and the ethos of Faith that had been their way if life for centuries, and from which they had no desire to be “free” in the name of a nebulous slogan: “liberty, equality, fraternity.” The representatives of “the people” exterminated the Vendée peasants with gusto.(32) Peasants and nobles had also attempted an abortive revolt of like nature against Henry VIII. (33)
The Relegation of Commerce
People in today’s modern societies will for the most part be perplexed by the contempt that mercantile interests were held by traditional societies. Because of the inversion of traditional ethos and concomitant hierarchies, the lowly have been elevated; in this sense, the lowly being those bonded to the baser pursuits of existence. How ironical it is in this sophisticated society that those who are admired and emulated the most are those who are regarded least in traditional societies. These feted plutocrats and bloated merchants, are in what Evola called “normal” societies regarded as crass individuals stuck at the basest levels of existence.
A prominent example of this is the place of the banker in modern society, who has assumed the role of de facto Lord, otherwise known as the plutocrat. It is the banker and the CEO who live in mansions and run huge estate; who hold court and to whom politicians go as abject servants. It should be kept in mind that in traditional societies, the predecessors of money speculator George Soros, Rothschilds, Rockefellers, et al were regarded as “usurers” and were universally despised. They are the heirs to the squalid little people that Jesus drove out of the Temple because they had made a place of faith into a place of trade: a scenario imbued with much symbolism as the dichotomy between the spiritual and the material outlooks on life (34). Their “profession” was generally outlawed, and the charging of interest on loans was condemned in Holy books as not just a civil or moral crime, but as a sin against God.
The Medieval epoch adopted its prohibitions against usurers from the Roman and Greek worlds, indicating the antiquity of the contempt for this practice, and the outlook as to how money and profit were perceived. Aristotle described usury as an unnatural use of money. Cato and Seneca regarded usury as on the same level as murder, and St. Jerome adopted the same view. (35) From the Christian viewpoint, as with the Jewish, there was a Biblical condemnation, to the point of sanctioning the death penalty.(37) Jesus had condemned the practise.(37) Unfortunately the Medieval epoch was ambiguous in its attitude and allowed for interest to be charged on loans if the usurer shared equal risk in an endeavour, and we might ask whether this opening provided for the indebtness that was eventually incurred by the aristocracy and allowed money-lenders to buy their way into the “aristocracy” thereby eventually undermining the traditional meaning of the institution and the ethos. The Church however, countered this by encouraging the formation of “poor men’s banks” that offered loans on a non-profit basis, during the 15th century. It is significant that these banks were run throughout Europe, with the exception of England, where they were prohibited by Parliament. While Luther regarded usury as unholy, Calvin regarded it as proper, and by the later half of the 16th century, both Catholic and Protestant theologians were becoming more accepting of money-lending. However in 1745 the papal encyclical Vix Pervenit continued to condemn usury as the official Church position, while Protestantism was generally accepting. Islam opposes usury as a sin, and followed the Aristotelian view, prohibiting ribâ (usury). (38)
This diversion into the way money and profit were considered in traditional societies is intended to indicate that commerce was far from being regarded as being the pivot of society that it is today.
Material Wealth and the Subversion of the Cosmic Order
While “profit” was not even regarded as the primary purpose of work, traditional societies also regarded capital accumulation as morally reprehensible. This was an ethos that was upheld by both pagan religions and the Catholic Church, but that was turned on its head by Protestantism. (39) For example, the Norse Havamal states of wealth that, “He who has money does not suffer need; But saving is a virtue that can be carried to a fault,” (40) and “Full sheepfolds I saw at the rich man’s sons; they now bear the beggar’s staff; Riches are like the wink of an eye, the most fickle of friends.” The Vishnu Purana, one of the most important Hindu texts, is particularly cogent on the traditionalist attitude towards material acquisition that is concomitant with the cycle of decline of a civilization or what the Hindus call the Kali Yuga. The “prophesy” could have been written by Oswald Spengler, or Julius Evola in describing the modern era of Western Civilization. The Vishnu Purana refers to the rise of “impious” rulers, “who shall create many a new mixed caste.” The new rulership would “root out the Kshatriya or martial race,” and “elevate barbarians” and “other castes to power.” The Sudras, the outcasts, and barbarians would occupy lands “under all the contemporary kings [who] will be of churlish spirit” and of “violent temper… always abdicating to falsehood and wickedness,”
They will destroy women, children and cows; they will seize upon the property of their subjects, will be of limited power; they will rapidly rise and fall; the duration of their life will be very short; they will form high expectations and acquire very little piety. (42)
This text refers from a Traditionalist perspective to the end cycle of a civilization where faith is replaced by impiety among rulers and ruled, and there is no respect for family and sanctity (women, children and cows). There is also the lamentation of the inversion of castes, this traditional society being replaced by a rulership that includes “a new mixed caste” under “impious” rulers who, having assumed power in the Kali Yuga, lack piety. From a neo-traditionalist viewpoint, the ancient text “prophesies” rather well the condition of modern Western society, where the rulership is devoid of spiritual essence. This “new mixed caste” has formed the ruling class of much of the modern world as an oligarchy, whose worship is what another tradition - related shortly – that of “mammon.” Of the Kali Yuga and its rulership, the Vishnu Puruna goes on to state that, “the people of the countries, they will rule over, will imbibe the same nature.” (43) This accords with the neo-traditionalist view that history is made from above, contra Marx and the materialist historians who claim that it is made by the “masses.” Even the Communist Party was reliant on an elite not only to achieve power by organizing revolutionary cadres, but also in order to maintain authority. There is no mass rebellion by “the people,” as per an anarchist fantasy. Furthermore revolution often occurs at the end cycle of a civilization when the ruling class has become corrupt, decadent, or effete and lacks the will to retain authority. A violent upheaval prefiguring a change for the ruling class might not at all however rely on any mobilization of the “lower classes,” but might only reflect a factional dispute within ruling classes, such as the substitute of the rule of Cromwell for that for the King; which was the victory of the newly emerging merchant class over the traditional order: a coup; manifested in earlier times by the wars between principalities and kingdoms, where the “people,” whether peasants or merchants, did not figure historically at all other than as cannon fodder (or arrow fodder). As far as “the people” are concerned, those of the former peasant and artisan classes have often, again contra Marx, sided with traditional authority against its usurpation, as in the Vendée and Pilgrims of Grace revolts previously referred to. Hence the traditionalist viewpoint, as stated in the Vishnu Puruna, that the people imbibe the ethos of their rulers. The Vishnu Puruna continues to describe the ethos of the Kali Yuga:
…Wealth (44) and virtue will decrease day by day until the whole world will be depraved. Wealth will be the test of pedigree and virtue; passion will be the only tie of marriage; falsehood will be the only means of success in litigation; and women will be merely the objects of sensual gratification. Earth will be respected for its mineral treasures… external marks will constitute the only distinction of orders and wickedness will be the only means of livelihood. (45)
With these comments the emphasis is on the castes, or what we today call “classes,” having become based on one’s economic position. “Wealth will be the test of pedigree and virtue.” Jesus said something similar about the Pharisees when public ostentation became a mark of their holiness. (46) The Pharisees were the debased ruler class of Jesus’ time, superficial and soulless, (47) whose wealth was the test of their pedigree; again the analogous nature of traditional outlooks becoming apparent: that of Jesus and that of the Hindu sages describing same phenomena. The externality of class as the indication of one’s status (“external marks will constitute the only distinction of orders”) is allied with the comment of wealth being the test of pedigree, and marks again the distinction between “caste’ in the traditional hierarchy, and “class” in the modern economic hierarchy, which is based on superficial appearance. The other comments in the above sentences will be familiar enough to observers of this current era: falsehood as a means of successful litigation, and women as objections of sensual gratification; both phenomena themselves again being manifestations of money-centered society. Hence the “law” is not regarded as an ethical expression for upholding a culture, but as a means of getting out what one can, generally based around the amount of money one is able to expend. These lamentations on the Kali Yuga repeatedly refer to the domination of matter over spirit and the way every major facet of society is infected:
…[G]ifts only will constitute virtue; wealth will be the only sign of honesty ; simple ablution will be purification ; mutual consent will be the marriage; a man wearing good clothes will be considered honest and water at a distance will be considered a holy spring…. (48)
Like the Havamal and the Vishnu Puruna, the Christian Gospels express a traditionalist detestation of the rule of matter by warning that there is a spiritual conflict when economic considerations become the raison de’etre on an individual, social and cultural level. Indeed, there was much about Jesus’ Ministry that was a militant fight against materialism. Paul counselled that Bishops and Deacons of the Church must be “not greedy of filthy lucre.” (49) Paul’s admonitions to the Church are a repudiation of materialism as much as any other traditionalist text. While his comment that “the love of money is the root of all evil” (50) is quite familiar, the passage prior to that warns that the yearning for wealth results in drowning in “destruction and perdition.” (51) The Revelation of John is analogous to the description s of the Kali Yuga in the Vishnu Puruna and that of the Wolf Age/Axe Age described in the Norse Voluspa. (52) One of the primary themes of John is that of a world that is ruled by the lust for what Paul called “filthy lucre;” a system that spreads over the entirety of the Earth, from which no state has escaped. This is a world regime, “Babylon,” upon which the “kings of the earth have committed fornication;” that is, the rulers of the world have sold themselves to this universal system. It is, John made clear, a system based on mercantile values: “…[T] merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.” (53) The epoch John described is that of the end of a civilization that has reached what Spengler called its Winter cycle where money dominates; the same as the Kali Yuga. One does not have to subscribe to the view that John of Patmos was being given a vision directly form Yahweh to recognizing that he was describing the closing cycle of a civilization rooted by greed, putting it into poetical and revelatory terms, rather than as empirical historical analysis as per Spengler. (54) It is furthermore, “end time” or Kali Yugic ruling classes that John is describing; the classes that come to the fore in the late epoch when the traditional hierarchy has been inverted: an “aristocracy of money” rather than an “aristocracy of nobility.”
One might well wonder whether the Hindu sages or John of Patmos had the benefit of a “Tardis” or a very accurate crystal ball. However, the wise and holy ones of many traditional societies – attuned as they were to the cosmos and conscious of their place in the divine order – were readily able to comprehend the way a society would unfold; not as an upward evolution, but as a downward spiral, after which a cataclysm of destruction would usher forth a new culture that was again in accord with the divine. The wise and holy ones were interpreting the laws of the cosmos in a far more accurate and meaningful way than – in general - our present floundering academics, other than historians who were themselves influenced by this ancient wisdom, such as Oswald Spengler and Julius Evola.
With the inversion of hierarchy that placed the merchant class as the nexus of a new system, the need to engage in commercial activity whether as a proletarianized peasant or artisan, or an a bourgeoized noble or soldier meant that the former ethos of both the “lower orders” and the military and noble castes were transformed into economic classes that bonded both to an economic system. One recourse was for aristocrats to marry their progeny to the merchants, and conversely merchants received knightly honours, as in the phenomena of the members of the House of Rothschild and others receiving knighthoods, whereas in traditional societies money-lenders were despised. That is the situation that continues to pertain.
The inversion of hierarchy being a symptom of cultural pathology that arises at certain epochs of cultures across time, geography and ethnicity is evidenced by the analogous situation arising in Japan, for example; an interesting case insofar as the Japanese have attempted to retain traditional foundations while embracing the technocracy of a civilization (Western) in its advanced state of decline. The Japanese scholar Inazo Nitobe cogently expresses the theme central to this paper, that mercantile activity which assumes prime importance – and is actually honoured - in the late epoch of civilization, is in traditional societies regarded with disdain. Nitobe writes of this in relation to the Samurai ethos that is analogous to the Medieval Knight:
Of all the great occupations in life, none was further removed from the profession of arms than commerce. The merchant was placed lowest in the category of vocations – the knight, the tiller of the soil, the mechanic, the merchant. The samurai derived his income from the land and could even indulge, if he had a mind to, in amateur farming; but the counter and abacus were abhorred. (56)
Nitobe states that when Japan opened up to foreign commerce feudalism was abolished, the Samurai’s fiefs were taken and he was compensated with bonds, with the right to invest in commerce. Hence the Samurai was degraded to that of a merchant in order to survive. (57) Again it is Japan’s cultural analogue to other civilizations. The traditional society of the Japanese was like that of other traditional societies as explained by Evola, Nitobe stating that the individual and the universe were both spiritual and ethical.
While both the traditional wisdom and the empirical cultural morphology of modern historians such as Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee (58) chronicle the symptoms of cultural pathology, what is an aspect of both Traditionalist and empirical historical morphology is that both state that decline precedes renewal. In an organic sense, which is how Spengler considered cultures, the old dies and gives way to new growth; and even by the act of dying both space and nourishment in the earth’s replenishment provide for the growth of a new cultural organism. Those who retain their vigor take the place of those who have grown ossified and are rotting The Vishnu Purana (59) states that, in cosmic terms, Kali Yuga is brief and from that decline there will emerge a new-yet-traditional culture. The Norse Voluspa states the same in regard to the aftermath of Ragnaork, when even new gods emerge, but with Baldr assuming the role of the Godhead, thereby rooting the new dispensation with tradition. John of Patmos likewise had a vision of a “new heaven and a new earth” (60) arising out of the eclipse of the corrupt order symbolised by Babylon as a world embracing system whose demise would be mourned by the “merchants of the earth.” (61) Evola advised that there is nothing that can be done to save the old order, but that traditionalists should – to use an Eastern analogy – “ride the tiger”, or survive the present order while preparing the way for a new civilization. (62)
* * *
Dr K R Bolton is a “contributing writer” for The Foreign Policy Journal”, and a Fellow of the Academy of Social and Political Research. He has also been published on a variety of subjects by academic and other media, including: India Quarterly; World Affairs; Journal of Social Economics; The Initiate: Journal of Traditional Studies; Intertraditionale (Ukraine); Primordial Traditions (New Zealand); Esoteric Quarterly; New Dawn; Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies, Trinity College; Geopolitika, Moscow University; Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies; Radio Free Asia; Journal of Russian Studies; Istanbul Literary Review; Red Star, Russian Ministry of Defense, etc.
1. K R Bolton, “The Wheel as a Symbol of Fate,” Esoteric Quarterly, Vol. 6, no. 4, Winter 2011, pp. 73-81, passim.
2. John Foster Case, Oracle of The Tarot: A Course on Tarot Divination, Chanter 6, “The Major Trumps: 15. Le Diable,” http://tarotinstitute.com/free/Oracle2.pdf
3.For an explanation as to how the fine arts evolved from the crafts of the guilds, see: Oscar Wilde, Essays and Lectures by Oscar Wilde, “Art and the Handicraftsman” (London: Methuen and Co., 1908).
4. Bhagavad Gita (Los Angeles: The Bakhtivedanta Book Trust, 1981), passim.
5. J Evola, Against the Modern World (Rochester, Vermont: Inner traditions, 1995), pp. 79-88.
6.That is to say, those political and military leaders who just happen to be on the side of those states opposing some aspect of the “new world order”, including economic globalisation, as in the case of Kosovo.
7. Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1969), passim.
8.Abraham Maslow, “Hierarchy of Needs,” ektron.com (Accessed 15 April 2011).
9. J Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World (Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 1995).
10.J Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World , op. cit., p. 4.
11. Ibid., p. 91.
12. An inwardly rich society will be discounted as “primitive,” “backward,” “superstitious.”
13. Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975), passim.
14. Oswald Spengler, The Decline of The West (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1971), inter alia.
15. Julius Evola, “On the Secret of Degeneration,” 1938.
16. J Evola, Men Above the Ruins, op. cit., p. 166.
17. Bhagavad Gita, op. cit., 4:13
18. Elsa-Brita Titchenell, The Masks of Odin (Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1985), “The Lay of Rig,” pp. 181-189.
19. Bliss was an Episcopalian and a leading American theorist of Christian Socialism, which however originated from Catholicism out of Frederick Denison Maurice’s The Kingdom of Christ, published in 1837. (Revd. Robert Rea, Was Father Field a Christian Socialist? “Christian Socialism”, Project Canterbury,” http://anglicanhistory.org/essays/field/field2.html (accessed 16 October 2009).
20. W D P Bliss, New Encyclopaedia of Social Reform, (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1908), pp. 544-545.
21. Ibid., p. 546.
22 Ibid., p. 842.
25.J B Schor, The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, (New York: Basic Books , 1992), “Introduction,” http://groups.csail.mit.edu/mac/users/rauch/worktime/hours_workweek.html (Accessed on 17 January 2011).
26. A Ludovici, A Defence of Conservatism (1927), Chapter 3, “Conservatism in Practice.” http://www.anthonymludovici.com/dc_01.htm (Accessed 15 April 2011).
27. H Belloc, Europe and the Faith, (London: Constable, 1920), Chapter IV,
28. Ibid., Chapter V.
29.William Cobbett, The History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland, showing how that event has impoverished the main body of the people in those countries in a series of letters addressed to all sensible and just Englishmen (Kensington, 1824), p. 166.
The book is online at: http://www.wattpad.com/171334-History-of-the-protestant-Reformation-by-William-Cobbett
The page numbers are cited from this online version. (Accessed 16 October 2009).
30.K Marx, op. cit., p. 57.
31.M Beer, A General History of Socialism and Social Struggle (New York: Russell and Russell, 1957), pp. 88-89.
32.Sophie Masson, “Remembering the Vendée,” http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig5/masson1.html (Accessed 15 April 2011).
33.The Pilgrimage of Grace, inspired by the Lincolnshire Rising.
34.John, 2: 14-16.
35. N Jones, “Usury,” EH.Net Encyclopaedia, Utah State University, http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/jones.usury
36. Ezekiel 18:13
37. Luke 6:35.
38.Qu’ran, Al Imran 3:130
39.Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Asceticism and the Sprit of Capitalism (London: Unwin Hyman, 1930), passim.
40.Elsa-Brita Tichenell, op. cit., “Havamal,” verse 40, p. 114.
41.Ibid., verse 78, p. 118.
42.Vishnu Purana (Calcutta: Elysium Press, 1896), p. 310. (Ehttp://www.archive.org/stream/Vishnupurana-English-MnDutt/Vishnupurana-English-MnDutt_djvu.txt
44.The “wealth” being referred to here, in conjunction with “virtue” is that of “inner wealth.” This is apparent when the narrative then goes on to describe the other external type of wealth becoming predominant.
45. Vishnu Puruna, op. cit., 310-311.
46.Matthew 23: 5.
47.Matthew 23, passim.
48.Vishnu Puruna, op. cit., 310-311.
49. I Timothy 2: 11, (KJV).
50. I Timothy, 6:10.
51. I Timothy 6: 9.
52.Elsa-Brita Tichenell, op. cit., “Voluspa,” verses 40-60.
53.Revelation 18: 3.
54.Spengler, op. cit., passim. K R Bolton, Esoteric Quarterly, op. cit., endnote 20, p. 81.
55.K R Bolton, ibid., passim.
56.Inazo Nitobe (1899) Bushido: The Code of the Samurai (Sweetwater Press, USA, 2006), p. 104.
57.Ibid., p. 105.
58.Toynbee Arnold, A Study of History (London: Oxford University Press, 1954).
59.Vishnua Purana, op. cit. 311.
60.Revelation 21: 1.
61.Revelation, 18: 11.
62.Julius Evola, Ride the Tiger: A Survival Manual for the Aristocrats of the Soul (Rochester: Inner Traditions International, 2003).