About Against the Modern World

The first history of Traditionalism, an important yet surprisingly little-known twentieth-century anti-modern movement. Comprising a number of often secret but sometimes very influential religious groups in the West and in the Islamic world, it affected mainstream and radical politics in Europe and the development of the field of religious studies in the United States.

In the nineteenth century, at a time when progressive intellectuals had lost faith in Christianity's ability to deliver religious and spiritual truth, the West discovered non-Western religious writings. From these beginnings grew Traditionalism, emerging from the occultist milieu of late nineteenth-century France, and fed by the widespread loss of faith in progress that followed the First World War. Working first in Paris and then in Cairo, the French writer Rene Guenon rejected modernity as a dark age, and sought to reconstruct the Perennial Philosophy-- the central religious truths behind all the major world religions--largely on the basis of his reading of Hindu religious texts.

A number of disenchanted intellectuals responded to Guenon's call with attempts to put theory into practice. Some attempted without success to guide Fascism and Nazism along Traditionalist lines; others later participated in political terror in Italy. Traditionalism finally provided the ideological cement for the alliance of anti-democratic forces in post-Soviet Russia, and at the end of the twentieth century began to enter the debate in the Islamic world about the desirable relationship between Islam and modernity.

  • "An erudite, graceful, and nuanced study of a movement that has enjoyed far more influence than attention in the modern world that it so despises."–Parabola
  • “It’s Raiders of the Lost Ark minus the stunts”–Financial Times
  • "I have rarely read an academic book with such ease and pleasure, and, at the same time, learnt so much novel and relevant information unavailable in mainstream Western research... This might be one of the most fascinating books in the history of ideas published during the last years." –Patterns of Prejudice (forthcoming)
  • “Part detective story, part philosophy, and part international history, Mark Sedgwick’s Against the Modern World is an engaging look into the clandestine underworld of traditionalist intellectuals.” –History
  • "Sedgwick's book is a triumph of careful scholarship and intelligent interpretation." –Reviews in Religion and Theology
  • "Remarkably, this book actually lives up to its subtitle." Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, January 2005.
  • "Literally unable to put it down, I read this book in a single weekend, barely stopping to eat, sleep, or shower. Weeks later, I still haven't fully digested it."–Penkill Papers



Traditionalists.org was established June 19, 2000.
This page was last revised July 21, 2006 .
Comments © Mark Sedgwick, 1998, 2000-2006