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René Guénon

Atif Khalil. For a clarification on these matters, see M. While his prescient medi- tations have been accurately described as prophetic,2 especially in regard to the social, cultural, religious and deleterious ecological consequences of the disintegration of societies centered on principles of a higher order, it would be unreasonable to expect the French metaphysician to have foreseen the more peculiar anomalies of the modern world.

It will die and leave little of value behind. Much of what he writes about, however, as already noted, can also apply to other parts of the world affected by the globalization of American culture. In the present review, we shall explore only some of the themes Hedges touches on in Empire of Illusion. While his treatment is somewhat exhaustive, pragmatic considerations guided by constraints of space will allow us to examine only some aspects of his critique. In the process, an attempt will be made 2 Seyyed H. Cc Christopher Hedges devotes a significant part of Empire to lamenting the intellectual climate of modern Western culture, in particular, the United States.

Even elite universities, idealized as models of higher education, in his eyes, promote little genuine learning. Among them is that academics, par- ticularly in the humanities, are pushed, by the very nature of the universities which employ them, into scrutinizing minute and ultimately meaningless trivia and data.

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They become specialized in narrow disciplines, exploring areas that are of little social consequence or existential relevance. They com- municate with each other through a highly refined technical lexicon which prevents them from exchanging ideas with anyone outside of their fields. The use of impenetrable, specialized vocabulary in turn produces an illusory sense of knowledge coupled with an unwarranted feeling of intellectual hubris.

Here Hedges recounts a telling anecdote to illustrate what he has in mind.


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Sometime after he graduated from Harvard Divinity School, he met up with a fellow classmate who was by then a professor of theology. Despite three years of seminary education at one of the leading schools in the country, Hedges confessed that he had little idea of what she was talking about. Meanwhile, the foundations of the institution at virtually all levels—economic, political, theoretical—of which the specialist is a part, as a cog-in-the-machine, so as to say, remain unchallenged.

To do otherwise, on the part of the academic, would be to risk stigmatization, loss of funding, marginalization, and, in more extreme cases, unemployment with the corrosion of the tenure system. All the while, both insiders and outsiders remain ensnared by the illusion of its pretensions to higher learning.

The institutional world needs intellectuals but it does not want them as intel- lectuals. It beckons to them because of what they are but it will not allow them, at least within its sphere of articulation, either to remain or entirely cease being what they are. It needs them for their knowledge, their talent, their inclinations and passions; it insists that they retain a measure of these endowments, which it means to employ for its own ends, and without which the intellectuals would be of no use whatever.

Remembering René Guénon: November 15, to January 7,

Despite the growing recognition in recent years of various forms of intelligence emotional, social, and creative, to name but a few universities privilege analytic skills above all else—a fact reflected by the very format of standardized tests used to assess potential students. What matters most is meeting the requirements of the courses one is enrolled in, an end which is most efficiently obtained through conformity to standards which privilege analytic acumen. But [… other forms of intelligence …] are not distributed preferentially among the educational elite.

Moreover, since this link to the world outside is established not through ratio but intellectus, the latter is not simply a form of intelligence, but more significantly, its very foundation. Michel Valsan, trans. The difference between ratio and intellect may also be compared to the distinction Rumi d. For Hedges, in the hands of those whose primary existential concerns are neither benign nor morally edifying, analytic intelligence will not be used for noble ends, whether they involve moral rectification and the redressing of economic, social and political inequities, or even the search for truth, but instead, profit, material gain, and their justification.

But if you determine worth by wealth, as these insti- tutions do, then examining and reforming social and political systems is inherently devalued. The unstated ethic of these elite institutions is to make as much money as you can …. On the whole, Hedges offers a pensive and thoughtful indictment of modern universities.

Yet, at the same time, and despite the strengths of his analysis, there are certain issues pertaining to the nature of academia he overlooks, and which, when taken into consideration, soften the brunt 18 Hedges, Empire, , First of all, he seems to have unrealisti- cally high expectations of academics, without recognizing that not all who enter the profession do so for such admirable ends as alleviating human suffering, redressing social injustices, promoting the greater good or even disinterestedly pursuing truth.

Many simply have gone into the profession because they found, at some stage in their education, that they were particularly adept at and captivated by certain subjects and so decided to make careers out of researching and teaching them.

While we may hold those who enter pastoral, humanitarian, philanthropic, or social justice oriented lines of work to high moral standards, it may be unreasonable to expect the same of scholars and scientists, whose primary credentials are determined not by the motivations of their research nor by how they put it to use, but instead, by how it fares in the eyes of their academic peers, which is simply another way of saying, to the extent that it contributes to the advancement of knowledge in a narrowly defined field.

The military and imperial ventures of the state, for example, would naturally elicit different reactions depending on where one stood on the political spectrum. On the contrary, some of the most engaged and conscientious academics subscribe to the philosophy in one form or another.