Matter as the fundamental reality
The most important thing to understand is that materialism, in its essence, is the opposite of idealism. This is the core principle underlying any traditional worldview:
that the material world of the senses (the changing world of becoming), is only a product of the real and immaterial world of the unchanging metaphysical (the un-changing world of being).
Materialism is the polar opposite of this: it is the principle that the material world is the fundamental reality, and all non-material ideas and concepts find their source in something material, an illusory by-product of matter.
Nowadays, after all, reality is understood only as something strictly encompassed within the world of physical bodies located in space and time. 1Julius Evola – Revolt against the Modern World – p.3
This basic principle that the material world is the fundamental reality and everything non-material deriving from it is the assumption underlying the worldview of modern people.
The materialist state of mind
Not all people that fall under the above-mentioned category would explicitly refer to themselves, or even view themselves as materialists.
Many will even take offense at being called materialists.
This is because the principle outlined above manifests itself in different ways among our contemporaries. There are the ones that blatantly profess belief in the sole existence of matter and regard everything else as superstition. Think of the atheistic, ‘scientific’ types often found in academic circles, though not exclusively.
Besides avowed and formal materialism, there is also what may
be called a factual materialism, the influence of which extends much
further afield, for many people who regard themselves as being by
no means materialists nonetheless behave as such in practice in all
circumstances.2René Guénon – The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times – p.99
There is also the large multitude of modern people who do not formally believe that matter is all that exists, but who do behave and operate from the principle that matter is the fundamental reality.
Most modern people fall in the second category, even among religious or spiritual believers. Their only experience of reality is through the material senses, that which they can feel, hear and see. That is all they operate on.
But we intend at present to speak of materialism mainly in another, much wider, and yet very definite sense: in this sense, materialism stands for a complete state of mind, (…) This state of mind is one that consists in more or less consciously putting material things, and the preoccupations arising out of them, in the first place, whether these preoccupations claim to be speculative or purely practical; and it cannot be seriously disputed that this is the mentality of the immense majority of our contemporaries.3René Guénon – The Crisis of the Modern World – p.82
This state of mind, or worldview, has some major consequences.
Within the traditional worldview, the material world is seen as something temporary and transitory.
If this is the case, our material existence is something ephemeral as well. Permanence exists only in the metaphysical realm.
Thus, for example, suffering or sacrifice on the material plane to respect principles presents itself as natural, because principles are eternal, while material suffering is transitory and illusory.
In other words, this worldview leads to virtue.
Within the materialist worldview, the world of the senses is the real world. Everything outside of the physical experience is irrelevant at best. What matters is the here and now.
There is no point in suffering or making sacrifices for things that are immaterial since everything outside of our direct experience is transitory and illusory.
What matters is our current condition and our material well-being. Taken to extremes, what matters is getting the most pleasure and avoiding the most discomfort.
This worldview leads to degeneracy and vice.
This is also the reason people with this mindset will not understand poor villagers who give what little they have away to build a church or shrine for their village, while they may go hungry themselves.
Traditional man knew that man does not live on bread alone.
But most modern people, even if they do not explicitly identify themselves as materialists or believe that matter is all that exists, have internalized the underlying assumption of the physical world as the touchstone of experience.
The world of the senses as fundamental reality has become their basic state of mind.
Thus, in such a world, and with the rarest exceptions, a man who professes himself a Christian does not fail to behave in practice as if there were no reality whatever outside corporeal existence alone, and a priest who does ‘a little science’ does not differ perceptibly from a university materialist.4René Guénon – The Reign of Quantity – p.100
For those of us who want to break free from the modern world, it is not enough that we simply profess a belief in non-material reality. We must ask ourselves: how does our experience of reality differ from that of our contemporaries? Does it?
To learn more about this topic, you can read the following chapters:
- The Reign of Quantity Ch. 14 – Mechanism and Materialism
- The Crisis of the Modern World – Ch. 7 – A Material Civilization
- Revolt against the Modern World – Ch. 1 – The Beginning
- 1Julius Evola – Revolt against the Modern World – p.3
- 2René Guénon – The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times – p.99
- 3René Guénon – The Crisis of the Modern World – p.82
- 4René Guénon – The Reign of Quantity – p.100