This is part of the introductory essay to the American edition of Julius Evola’s Men amid the Ruins. As the essay is very lengthy (over forty thousand words) I’ll be posting it part by part instead of cramming too much information into too small a space. Credit goes to where it is due; notably to the author, Dr H.T. Hansen, and of course to everyone at Inner Traditions.
Part II: Decisive Influences on Evola’s Thought
Although hesitant to repeat what we have already written in the introduction to the recent English edition of Revolt Against the Modern World, we will recapitulate briefly the most important dates of Evola’s life.
Giulio Cesare Evola was born into a family of the Sicilian landed gentry in Rome on 19 May 1898, and was raised strictly Catholic. Given his rebellious spirit, this had the effect that Evola soon encountered the then ultraprogressive circles of poets around Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Giovanni Papini, who, as founders of Futurism, demanded a total break with conventional forms of thought and style. Instead, Futurism wanted modern life to be understood as movement, dynamism, and everpresent speed that supersedes the categories of space and time. Also, Marinetti’s famous exclamation of “war, the world’s only hygiene” had its effect on Evola, since it was the time of World War I and Evola had enlisted as an artillery officer. Evola himself writes about Papini in his autobiography Il cammino del cinabro (The Path of Cinnabar, named after a symbol in Chinese alchemy; Milan, 1972, p. 151): “Of course, that nihilism which preserves only the naked individual, that individual who despises any support and takes a stand against any evasions and subterfuge, has to make an impression upon youth.” This passage already shows one of EvoIa’s most important character traits, one that continues through his whole work: his unconditional and militant antipathy toward everything bourgeois. The fact that Evola never married, never wanted children, never had a middle-class job, and broke off his engineering studies before the last exam, in spite of his excellent record (so that he wouldn’t be, as he writes, a “Doctor” or a “Professor” like the others) can be traced back to this sentiment. Thus, Evola is not even a “dropout,” since he never dropped in to begin with. This is perhaps a symptom of his upbringing, about which next to nothing is known, as Evola himself hardly ever mentioned his personal life – not even in his autobiography, which is solely concerned with the development of his ideas. Only the “inner” life counts for him. Futurism’s lack of a truly inward-looking nature and its “loud, ostentatious” side were also the reasons that Evola turned away from the movement. But Papini had left a lasting impression, not only because of his fight against intellectual grovelling, so ardently shared by Evola, but especially because he introduced him to many non-Italian streams of thought. Two of these must be emphasized: first Eastern religions, then Western mysticism, specifically Meister Eckhart and Jan van Ruysbroeck. These discoveries laid the groundwork for Evola’s lifelong demand for crystalline clarity in all religious and esoteric questions, and for his simultaneous aversion to all sentimentalism and ecstatic fanaticism in this area.
However, before we treat esoteric influences, we should describe Evola’s worldly philosophical foundation. Three thinkers exercised a special fascination on him in his youthful years, because he could also totally identify with them, being in the same age group. In addition, all three died at a very young age – two by suicide and one (Otto Braun) perished in World War I. Evola’s own inclination toward suicide and toward death in general, which he called “cupio dissolve” – the desire for self-disintegration – was mirrored in them. He himself evaded suicide only by reading a section from the Buddhist Pali Canon (see the introduction to Revolt Against the Modern World, p. xv).
First we look at Carlo Michelstaedter (1887-1910), whose influence Evola denoted as more positive and more important than Nietzsche’s, that transvaluator of all values whose sharp polemics added so much to Evola’s style. Michelstaedter came from a Jewish family in Gorz, a town on the Isonzo in northern Italy. Initially he had studied mathematics in Vienna (see below as to the significance of Vienna in this context), but later delved into painting and Greek philosophy. After he had finished writing his work La persuasione a rettorica (Conviction and Rhetoric; the edition used here: Milan, 1982) one evening, he shot himself the next day. His opinion that he had nothing of value to add to this world surely influenced his decision. Evola was an intimate friend of one of Michelstaedter’s cousins and thus lived through these events at close range. Soon after, this cousin likewise ended his young life by committing suicide. The fundamental point of Michelstaedter’s book is the demand for “persuasion” – that is, conviction. By conviction, Michelstaedter means much more; he sees it as an absolute sufficiency of the Self, which he holds to be the only real principle in the individual. As long as the Self does not exist in itself, but only in the “other” that conditions its life through things and relationships, and thus retains elements of dependence and need, there is no conviction but rather a lack, which is the true death of value. “Value is found only in that which exists for itself, which demands the principle of inner life from nothing and nobody – autarchy.” Thus Evola describes the essence of Michelstaedter’s philosophy (in Saggi sull’Idealismo Magico (Essays on Magical Idealism), Todi, Rome, 1925, p. 136 ff.).
Let us hear Michelstaedter himself in Persuasione a rettorica:
Fear, which most people believe to be restricted to a certain danger, is in truth the terrible horror in the face of the infinite darkness of him who feels unconscious and powerless in a specific case because he has been carried beyond the realm of his power (p. 60).
He who fears death is already dead. He who wants for a moment that his life should be his alone, who wants for a moment to be convinced of what he does, must seize the present; he must see everything in the present as final, as if death is certain to follow: and he must create life out of himself in the darkness. Death can’t take anything from him who has his life in the present; because nothing in this man demands continued existence, nothing in him comes from the fear of death […] and death only takes away that which is born. It only takes away that which it already seized on the day one was born, which lives from fear of death for the very fact that it was born (p. 69).
Because in this final present he must possess everything and give up everything, be convinced and convince, possess himself by possessing the world – and be one, he and the world (p. 82).”
The path of conviction is not taken by ‘omnibus’ (all). This path has no road signs or directions that one can share, study, or repeat. But everyone senses the need to find this path, and the measure of this need is one’s own pain; everyone must open this path anew for themselves, because everyone is alone and can expect support only from oneself. There is only one suggestion for this Path of Conviction: do not surrender to contentment with what has been given to you (by others) (p. 104).
The principle of autarchy, which Evola already knew from mystical and esoteric sources, found its philosophical justification here, and led to the authoritative self of his philosophical period.
As the second thinker should be mentioned Otto Braun, who had already tried to analyse Nietzsche’s Zarathustra at the age of thirteen, and who said something that Evola himself could have uttered: “It is very curious that Nietzsche never conveyed to me the principle of enjoying life to the full, but only that of the greatest fulfilment of duty, however, not in the bourgeois sense of the phrase.” (Otto Braun, Aus den Nachgelassenen Schriften eines Fruhvollendeten, Berlin, 1921, p. 21, from his diary entry of September 14, 1910; English edition: The Diary of Otto Braun, with Selections from His Letters and Poems, London, 1924.) Evola himself quotes the following verbatim in his Saggi (p. 144): “But I will endeavour to recreate everything that comes my way to suit my goal; for me, that is free will” (Otto Braun, p. 148). Further passages likewise reveal the resonance between Evola’s and Braun’s thought. From a letter to his parents in October 1915 (Braun, p. 150): “Composure, here characterized as well-formed spiritual attitude, glowing inwardly with passion, but outwardly hard as hammered steel, gloriously concealing the measureless, seems necessary to me. When I look at my state, that symbol of infinity and all that is finite, but to me an especially visible symbol for others, which I always carry in my heart, as the saints carry the name of Christ, then it appears completely strong and great and perfectly formed, yet teeming within with a multitude of movements and the colourful play of forces.” One should keep these words in mind when we deal later with Evola’s views of the State. This passage likewise is quoted in Saggi (p. 143ff.).
Evola’s abhorrence of Bolshevism and Americanism was influenced by his reading of Count Hermann von Keyserling, as well as the following passage from Braun (p. 151):
Should Germany perish, and the world be divided between America and Russia (which would mean the death of everything that we called our Gods), I believe that […] all of us […] who still love the Gods would do better to leave a world that would be so unsuited to us, as Cato did. This time and its events are so terrible in their scope and power that all thought must indeed despair, and only a deed of salvation can rescue us. I still believe that the ocean is again pregnant, as when they cut off Uranus’s member with a scythe and threw it into Poseidon’s lap, wherefrom sprang Zeus [sic] in waves and foam. Perhaps today, we should again wait for a God to arise in this way.
The following passage is a very clear expression of Evola’s yearning and striving, and certainly an essential emotional key toward the understanding of what it was that Evola, in spite of his reservations, wanted to see in rising Fascism (Braun, p. 156): “The coming age must be one of unconditional synthesis, positive and constructive in its whole character, creating new forms and continuing to mould old forms in an organic manner. In this nothing is a greater danger and should be avoided more than the comfortable retreat into old existent patterns. The incredible will, the grand impetuosity of this rich, dynamic, urgent age […] would be annihilated. I am deeply convinced that the womb of the coming years will give birth to fabulous things; it would be highly ruinous if we were to be robbed of receptiveness to these newly gestating forces through insipid talk, like that of reawakening religiosity. I hold the assumption to be sacrilegious, even devilish, that a time […] of these immense economic, political, and cultural upheavals […] could ever return to the placid waters of a Christianity consolidated by the state. I am as decidedly non-Christian as ever.”
Now to the third of these thinkers who, together with Nietzsche, Evola calls the “holy damned ones,” because none of them was equal to the strength of his thoughts. The spiritual current they bore within annihilated them, because they lacked a supra-normal self-realization centered on transcendence, at least in Evola’s opinion. The third was Otto Weininger (1880-1903), who lived in Vienna, was of Jewish ancestry, and influenced Evola the most out of those we have spoken of so far. The culture of the fin-de-siecle – and not just in the German-speaking realm – bore the imprint of his influence. As early as 1912, the first Italian translation of his main work, Sex and Character, appeared and caused a furore, especially in Papini’s circles. Papini himself had issued excerpts of the book, and spoke out vehemently against Jewry in his own work Gog, following Weininger’s line of thought, which could not have failed to have had an effect on Evola. In 1956 Evola was commissioned by a major Italian publisher to make a new translation of Sex and Character, in order to correct the mistakes of the old edition and to add to Weininger’s critical and bibliographical material. Detailed notes on this can be found in Alberto Cavaglion’s interesting book Ono Weininger in Italia (Rome, 1982).
Weininger’s influence on Evola ranges from ethics to the attitude toward women, and from his thoughts on statehood to the attitude toward Judaism and racial questions. Evola’s late work The Metaphysics of Sex (first Italian edition published 1958; later released in the United States as Eros and the Mysteries of Love, Rochester, Vt., 1983) was originally planned as an introduction to, and correction of, Sex and Character, but subsequently grew to such a length that it became a book in its own right. Here are some passages from Weininger’s main work, we quote from the Viennese edition of 1904. “Truth, purity, loyalty, uprightness toward oneself: these are the only imaginable Ethics.” (p. 206) This could be a quote from Evola himself. Add Hebbel’s epigram that Weininger quotes (Otto Braun also studied Hebbel intensively): “Which do you pay for more dearly, the lie or the truth? The first you pay with your Self, the second, at worst, with your happiness.” Further:
Man is alone in the cosmos, in eternal, immense loneliness. He has no purpose except himself, nothing else he lives for – he is far beyond wanting-to-be-slave, ability-to-be-slave, having-to-be-slave: far below him human society has disappeared, social ethics have fallen away; he is alone, ALONE. But only now is he one and all; and that is why he has a law within himself, that is why he is all law, and not arbitrary desire. And be demands from himself that he follow this law within himself. […] Nothing stands above him, the alone, the all-one. But he must comply with the pitiless categorical imperative within, which tolerates no negotiations with itself. He calls for Salvation […] (p. 210)
We also present a paragraph from the chapter entitled “The Problem of Self and Genius.” It deals with a passage from Schelling, which Weininger quotes verbatim. Evola studied German Romanticism especially thoroughly, and Schelling in particular. His definition of Tradition also shows the influence of Schelling, in addition to Guénon (see my introduction to The Hermetic Tradition, Rochester, Vt., 1995, p. xii).
We all possess a secret, wonderful ability to retreat from the vicissitudes of time into our innermost self, stripped of all outside influences, and there, in the shape of immutability, to contemplate the eternal in ourselves. This contemplation is the innermost and most unique experience, on which all and everything that we know and believe about a supernatural world depends. Only this contemplation persuades us that something IS, while everything else to which we apply that term only appears to be. It is different from all other sensual contemplation in that it can only be produced by freedom and is alien and foreign to all those whose freedom, overwhelmed by the thronging power of objects, barely suffices to bring forth consciousness…. In this moment of contemplation, time and duration melts away for us: WE are not in time, but rather time, or better yet, pure absolute eternity, is within us.
Another passage in the same chapter is as follows: “However, the Self-event is the root of all worldviews” (p. 217). Or: “Moral action can therefore only consist in acting according to an idea” (p. 228). “The idea is our fatherland,” says Evola, to the chagrin of many nationalist circles, as we will see below. Another quote from this chapter: “A man becomes a genius through a supreme act of will, after affirming the whole universe within himself” (p. 236). The constant recurrence of manliness, as opposed to mere masculinity, as a category in Evola’s thought can certainly also be attributed to Weininger. Adriano Romualdi, in his Julius Evola: L’uomo a l’opera (Julius Evola: The Man and His Work, Rome, 1979), even called Weininger the “originator of the idea of manliness as a metaphysical essence” (p. 17). It is almost superfluous in this context to mention how closely Evola’s attitude toward woman – as a metaphysical opposite of man and in the political sense – is based on Weininger, because this is more than obvious. But Evola was not the only one who thought of Sex and Character as an epochal work. For example, August Strindberg wrote the following words to Weininger on July 1, 1903: “To finally see the problem of woman solved (!) is a relief for me […]” In another letter, to Arthur Gerber, he says: “What Weininger has written are not opinions, they are discoveries! Weininger was a discoverer!” (quoted in the preface to the second edition of Sex and Character, p. vi). Among the other personalities influenced by Weininger are Alfred Kubin, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Franz Kafka, Robert Musil, Georg Trakl, Arnold Schonberg, and Thomas Bernhard.
It would be just as hard to understand Evola’s attitudes toward Jews (to be treated in detail later) without Weininger. Two definitive passages from Sex and Character, whose essence time and again forms the foundation for Evola’s own pronouncements, will illustrate this. However, these do not concern themselves with the centuries-old prejudices, which both Weininger – despite his ancestry – and Evola fall prey to, but instead deal with “metaphysical categories.”
But first I want to define exactly what I mean by Jewishness. One is not dealing with a race or a people, and even less with a legally acknowledged profession. One can only define it as a spiritual attitude, a psychic constitution, which offers an opportunity for all men and which merely found its most grandiose realization in historical Jewry. Nothing proves the veracity of this statement more than anti-Semitism. The truest, most Aryan of Aryans, certain of their Aryanness, are no anti-Semites; they cannot even fathom hostile anti-Semitism, […] on the other hand, one can always detect certain Jewish traits in the aggressive anti-Semites […] It would be impossible for this to be any other way. As one loves only those traits in the other which one would wholeheartedly embrace oneself, yet can never fully attain, so one hates in the other only that which one never wants to be, yet which one partially retains. One does not hate something with which one has nothing in common […] (p. 413f.)
Indeed, when I speak of a Jew, I never mean the individual or the whole group, but man in general, as far as he shares the platonic idea of Jewishness. It is my sole intention to define the meaning of this idea. (p. 415)
Evola’s racial thought is decisively marked by these views; hence his disapproving attitude toward Vacher de Lapouge, Gobineau, and Chamberlain, the men who are otherwise known as the fathers of modern racism. The apparently negative characterization in Evola’s Men among the Ruins of the leader who identifies with his people and who, spurred on by them, strides toward “great” deeds (like Napoleon, but of course also Mussolini and Hitler) must also be traced back to Weininger. Weininger compares these popular leaders and popular tribunes with his classification of the prostitute. A quote from Sex and Character will illustrate this:
For the great politician is not only a speculator and millionaire, but also a pop singer; he is not only a great chess player, but also a great actor; he is not only a despot, but also a toady; he not only prostitutes others, but is himself a great prostitute. The politician, the warleader who never “lowered himself” does not exist. After all, his descents are famous; they are his sexual acts. The proper tribune also belongs in the gutter. The complementary relationship with the mob is a downright part of a politician’s constitution. In fact, he can only use the rabble; with the others, the individuals, he makes a quick end, if he is unwise; or, if he is as smart as Napoleon, he pretends to value them, so as to render them harmless.
One feels these sentences slamming down like hammer blows, in a dogmatic manner of which virtually only youth is capable (Weininger wrote this when he was barely twenty years old), and they must have fascinated Evola in his quest for the Absolute.
One element that is finally decisive for Evola’s hostile attitude toward Jews (in the ideal sense mentioned above) is the identification of modernity with the Jewish spirit by Weininger and himself (and certainly also by his followers). Weininger writes (p. 451 f.): “The spirit of the modern age is Jewish wherever it is found”. Then he adds:
Our age, which is not only the most Jewish, but also the most effeminate of all ages; the age in which the arts are only a rag for wiping its moods, and which attributes the artistic urge to animal games [Weininger is an opponent of Darwin’s theory of evolution, like Evola and Spengler]; the age of the most gullible anarchism; the age without a sense for the state and justice; the age of sexual ethics, the age of the most shallow of all historical methods (historical materialism); the age of capitalism and Marxism; the age in which history, life, and science are reduced to economics and technology.
It is this modernity that Evola assaulted from his youth onward, and which he even metaphorically equated with metaphysical “evil.” Himself influenced by the incisive critical method of modernity, he nevertheless fought against it (and the corresponding trait of his own character), and saw in this the justification for his anti-Jewish attitude.
We conclude this section on Weininger with a remark by the great sexologist Wilhelm Stekel. In the magazine Waage (1904, 44-45), he writes about Weininger:
Thus one should not pass judgment on genius, even when it shows pathological traits, because we have to prefer morbid genius to healthy inactivity (quoted in Emil Lucka, Otto Weininger, Sein Werk and seine Personlichkeit, Vienna, 1905).
The influences that originated from Fichte (Evola repeatedly quotes his Sittenlehre), Oscar Wilde, and Gabriele d’Annunzio can be mentioned only in passing. Those of Plato, Nietzsche, Spengler, and Gustave Le Bon must be looked at more closely.
First let us turn to Plato, whom Evola mentions in his philosophical works as well as in his “Self-Defense.” Plato’s dialogue The Republic must be counted among the politically most important books of the West. One should note what Plato says there about freedom, education, equality (VIII, 557–565) or about those (IX, 586) who “look down always with their heads bent to the ground like cattle; at the banquet tables they feed, fatten, and fornicate. To get their fill of such things they kick and butt each other with iron horns and hoofs and kill each other. They are insatiable as they do not fill the real and continent part of themselves with true realities” (trans. Grube). The antidemocratic tradition, to which Evola professes to belong, would be unthinkable without Plato (see Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, London, 1957).
Next we turn to Nietzsche, that “earthquake of an era,” as Gottfried Benn calls him. Evola’s affinity to this thinker cannot be overlooked even in a cursory examination. The fight against Christianity, the bourgeoisie, and the prevalent moral prejudices on the one hand, and on the other the predilection for the grandiose, for that which exceeds man, the pitilessness, without caring about himself, and the caustic language without any concessions are clear signs of this. Again we provide some excerpts to illustrate this, the first being from Beyond Good and Evil (part 9: “What Is Noble?” aphorism 257, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, London, 1990):
Every elevation of the type “man” has hitherto been the work of an aristocratic society – and so it will always be: a society which believes in a long scale of orders of rank and differences of worth between man and man. […] Without the pathos of distance such as develops from the incarnate differences of classes, from the ruling caste’s constant looking out and looking down on subjects and instruments […] that other, more mysterious pathos could not have developed either, that longing for an ever-increasing widening of distance within the soul itself, the formation of ever higher, rarer, more remote, tenser, more comprehensive states; in short precisely the elevation of the type “man,” the continual “self-overcoming of man,” to use a moral formula in a supra-moral sense […] The essential thing in a good and healthy aristocracy is, however, that it does not feel itself to be a function (of the monarchy or of the commonwealth), but as their meaning and supreme justification – that it therefore accepts with a good conscience the sacrifice of innumerable men who for its sake have to be suppressed and reduced to imperfect men, to slaves and instruments. Its fundamental faith must be that society should not exist for the sake of society but only as foundation and scaffolding upon which a select species of being is able to raise itself to its higher task and in general to a higher existence. (Aphorism 258)
In a tour of the many finer and coarser moralities which have ruled or still rule on earth I found certain traits regularly recurring together and bound up with one another: until at length two basic types were revealed and a basic distinction emerged. There is master morality and slave morality – I add at once that in all higher and mixed cultures attempts at mediation between the two are apparent and more frequently confusion and mutual misunderstanding between them, indeed sometimes their harsh juxtaposition – even within the same man, within one soul […] When it is the rulers who determine the concept “good,” it is the exalted, calm states of soul which are considered distinguishing and determine the order of rank. The noble human being separates from himself those natures in which the opposite of such exalted proud states find expression: he despises them. It should be noted at once that in this first type of morality the antithesis “good” and “bad” means the same thing as “noble” and “despicable” – the antithesis “good” and “evil” originates elsewhere. The cowardly, the timid, the petty, and those who think only of narrow utility are despised; as are the mistrustful with their constricted glance, those who abase themselves, the dog-like man who lets himself be mistreated, the fawning flatterer, above all the liar – it is a fundamental belief of all aristocrats that the common people are liars. “We who are truthful” – thus did the nobility of ancient Greece designate themselves. […] The noble type of man feels himself to be the determiner of values, he does not need to be approved of […] such a morality is self-glorification. In the foreground stands the feeling of plenitude, of power which seeks to overflow, the happiness of high tension, the consciousness of a wealth which would like to give away and bestow – the noble human being also aids the unfortunate but not, or almost not, from pity, but more from an urge begotten by the superfluity of power. The noble human being honours in himself the man of power, also the man who has power over himself, who understands how to speak and how to keep silent, who enjoys practicing severity and harshness upon himself and feels reverence for all that is severe and harsh […] belief in oneself, pride in oneself, a fundamental hostility and irony toward “selflessness” belong just as definitely to noble morality as does a mild contempt for and caution against sympathy and the “warm heart.” – It is the powerful who understand how to honour, that is their art, their realm of invention. Deep reverence for age and the traditional […] belief and prejudice in favour of ancestors and against descendants, is typical of the morality of the powerful; and when, conversely, men of “modern ideas” believe almost instinctively in “progress” and “the future” and show an increasing lack of respect for age, this reveals clearly enough the ignoble origin of these “ideas.” (Aphorism 260)
We, who have a different faith – we, to whom the democratic movement is not merely a form assumed by political organization in decay but also a form assumed by man in decay, that is to say in diminishment, in process of becoming mediocre and losing his value: whither must we direct our hopes? Toward new philosophers, we have no other choice; toward spirits strong and original enough to make a start on antithetical evaluations and to revalue and reverse “eternal values” […] so as to make an end to that gruesome dominion of chance and nonsense that has hitherto been called “history” the nonsense of the “greatest number” is only its latest form: for that a new kind of philosopher and commander will sometime be needed, in the face of whom whatever has existed on earth of hidden, dreadful, and benevolent spirits may well look pale and dwarfed. It is the image of such leaders which hovers before our eyes.” (Part 5: “On the Natural History of Morals, aphorism 203)
From Human, All Too Human (book I, aphorism 451, “Justice as a Party Lure,” trans. Gary Handwerk, Stanford, 1995):
The demand for equality of rights made by socialists of the subjected caste never flows from a sense of justice, but instead from greed. If someone holds bloody chunks of meat near an animal and then yanks them away until finally it roars: do you think that this roaring signifies justice?
Concerning Evola’s disdain of “equal rights for all”:
The inequality of rights is the precondition for the existence of any rights at all. […] There is nothing wrong with unequal rights; only in the claim to equal rights. […] What is evil? […] Everything arising in weakness, envy, and revenge. (The Antichrist. aphorism 57, trans. P. R. Stephensen, London, 1929)
Concerning his passionate arguments against Christianity:
There is every reason for comparing the Christian and the anarchist because the impulse of both is toward destruction. […] The Christian and anarchist are both decadents, both are only able to act for the purpose of disintegrating, poisoning, degrading, and blood-sucking. They both have the impulse of mortal hatred toward anything that stands up, and is great, and is lasting and shows promise for the future […] Christianity was the vampire of the Imperium Romanum […] (aphorism 58)
These few passages should give us enough insight. Of course, it must be emphasized that Evola, as much as he valued Nietzsche, always cautioned against his hubris of the “worldview” in the purely natural sense (see the introduction to Revolt, pp. 14-17). Nietzsche’s influence was strong but should not be overrated, because he never even mentions the “transcendence” that was so important for Evola.
With that we turn to Oswald Spengler and his work that was so important for cultural history, The Decline of the West, which Evola later translated into Italian and for which he wrote a critical introduction. Concerning Evola’s criticism of Spengler, especially his bondage to the natural and his lack of transcendent principles, see Evola’s essay “Spengler a il Tramonto dell’Occidente” (Spengler and the Decline of the West, Fondazione Julius Evola, Rome, 1981, Quaderni di Testi Evoliani, no. 14). The fundamentally pessimistic outlook, which we have already encountered in Nietzsche and which figures in most of the “philosophers of crisis” up to Ortega y Gasset, found its most eloquent and pronounced expression in Spengler. After reading him, if not before, Evola was finally convinced that Western civilization was doomed to failure. Very important in this is Spengler’s view that it is a sure sign of decadence when the economy wins the upper hand in a culture.
Evola’s conviction that a new start was necessary – hence his conditional support of Fascism and, later, the transcendence of this world through “Tradition” – was indebted to this philosophy of decline. But Nietzsche’s ideas also appear in Spengler’s work, as in the following passage, which defines the difference between the “deed” and “work,” which is also decisive for Evola:
And there is the same relation between the ethical passion of the great Baroque masters – Shakespeare, Bach, Kant, Goethe – the manly will to inward mastery of natural things that are felt to be far below oneself, and modern Europe’s will to outwardly clear them out of the way (in the form of state-provisions, humanitarian ideals, world peace, happiness of the majority) because one perceives oneself to be on the same level as they. This also is a manifestation of the will to power as opposed to the Classical endurance of the inevitable; it also shows passion and a longing for eternity, but there remains a fundamental difference between the material and metaphysical scale of the achievements. The latter lacks depth, it lacks what men formerly called God. The Faustian universal feeling of the deed, which […] had been active in every great man, was reduced to a philosophy of work. Whether such a philosophy attacks or defends work does not affect its inward value. The cultural concept of the deed and the civilized concept of work stand in similar relation as Aeschylus’s Prometheus to Diogenes. The one suffers and endures, the other is lazy. Galileo, Kepler, and Newton performed deeds of science; the modern physicist carries out scientific work. And in spite of all the great words from Schopenhauer to Shaw, it is the plebeian morals of everyday life and “sound human reason” that are the basis for all perceptions and discussions of life. (The Decline of the West, New York, 1934, p. 355, translation adapted)
Similarly, concerning the same theme: “What has occurred on the way from Newton to Faraday – or from Berkeley to Mill – is the supplanting of the religious concept of the deed by the irreligious concept of work. In Bruno’s, Newton’s, and Goethe’s view of nature, something divine was active in deeds; in the worldview of modern physics, nature carries out work” (German ed., p. 537).
A few words by Spengler that could also come verbatim from Men among the Ruins. “The state is the inner form, the shape of a nation” (p. 179). “But that is exactly what turned Faustian man into the slave of his creation. Ills number and the layout of his standard of living are forced by the machine onto a course of no rest and no return” (vol. II, p. 631).
But the onslaught of money against this spiritual power has taken the same titanic proportions. Even industry is bound to its place and to its sources of elements, bound to the soil like the peasantry. Only high finance is completely free, completely unsusceptible to attack. Since 1789, the banks and thus the stock exchanges have come into their own as a power, feeding off the credit needs of an industry growing into monstrous proportions. Now they, and money, want to be the sole power in all civilizations” (p. 633).
Like Evola, Spengler considers that “Caesarism arises out of democracy” (p. 583). In his other work, The Hour of Decision (original title Jahre der Entscheidung, Munich, 1933; English edition: New York, 1934), for which Evola again authored an introduction to its Italian edition, Spengler speaks of the “utilitarian morality of slave-souls” (p. 95), and further of a “Prussian style” to which Evola gives high marks in Men among the Ruins and which consists of an “aristocratic ordering of life according to the rank of achievement” and of the “pre-eminence of high politics over the economy and the latter’s disciplining by a strong state (p. 138).
This brings us to Gustave Le Bon (1841–1931) and his work The Crowd (London, 1896, seventh ed., 1910), which was valued not only by Pareto, Freud, Mussolini, and de Gaulle, but even by Horkheimer and Adorno. Evola’s mistrust of democracy looked for and surely found its final confirmation in Le Bon’s work. Properly, a faith in democracy has to be matched by a radical optimism, a belief in the good in man. Politically, Evola was a pessimist – and not just since reading Spengler – and thus was hard to win over to democratic ideas. He is convinced that the masses are incapable of following higher ideals, because they always follow the leader who is temporarily the strongest, no matter what ideas he preaches. He merely has to be able to fascinate. Evola fears what Le Bon likewise called the “feminine character” of the masses. The rejection of Christianity also shows itself in Le Bon, because at least at the time of its inception it was identifiable with the spirit of the masses. Once again, some quotes to clarify Le Bon’s influence:
Crowds exhibit a docile respect for force, and are but slightly impressed by kindness, which for them is scarcely more than a form of weakness. Their sympathies have never been bestowed on easy-going masters, but on tyrants who vigorously oppress them. It is to these latter that they always erect the greatest statues. It is true that they willingly trample on the despot whom they have stripped of his power, but this is because, having lost his strength, he has resumed his place among the weak, who are to be despised and not feared. The type of hero dear to crowds will always have the semblance of a Caesar. His insignia attracts them, his authority overawes them, and his sword instils them with fear. […] Should the strength of an authority be intermittent, the crowd, always obedient to its extreme sentiments, passes alternately from anarchy to servitude, and from servitude to anarchy. (The Crowd, book I, Ch. 2, section 4)
Ideas being only accessible to crowds after having assumed a very simple shape must often undergo the most thoroughgoing transformations to become popular. It is especially when we are dealing with somewhat lofty philosophic or scientific ideas that we see how far-reaching are the modifications they require in order to lower them to the level of the intelligence of crowds. (Book I, Ch. 3, section 1)
Still, though the wishes of crowds are frenzied they are not durable. Crowds are as incapable of willing as of thinking for any length of time. […] Crowds are everywhere distinguished by feminine characteristics, but Latin crowds are the most feminine of all. (Book 1, Ch. 2, section 1)
Le Bon states “On this point, however, as on many others, democratic ideas are in profound disagreement with the results of psychology and experience.” Le Bon then goes on to explain that man cannot be taught by education (book II, Ch. 1, section 5). And as a final quote: “In the case of human crowds, the chief […] plays a considerable part. His will is the nucleus around which the opinions of the crowd are grouped and attain to identity. […] A crowd is a servile flock that is incapable of ever doing without a master” (book II, Ch. 3, section 1).
Another name should be mentioned briefly, even though his influence probably took effect later: that of Johann Jakob Bachofen, who has recently gained renewed respect. He certainly counts as the one who popularized in the scientific world the concept of “gynecocracy,” the rule of women. Precisely through Bachofen’s identification of the age of female rule with the age of earthbound, “chthonic” deities, a model was created that must imply as its opposite pole the solar, the Olympian, and the manly, with which Evola naturally identified. Thus Bachofen can be credited with the creation of that idea of “Olympian manliness” which is one of the foundations of Revolt Against the Modern World. Evola later translated a selection of Bachofen’s work into Italian, adding an introduction and notes. (Julius Evola, Le Madri e la virilita olimpica [The Mothers and Olympian Manliness], Milan, 1949. Apparently, this translation did not have the same precision as Evola’s translations of Spengler and Weininger.)
With that we have dealt with the most important “profane” philosophers to whom Evola is unmistakably indebted. But there is an essential element that is lacking in all these authors: the Transcendent. Everything that these people said might be apposite, but it amounts to nothing in an Evolian and Traditionalist worldview if it is not elevated by and grounded in transcendence. These opinions become valid only when they are seen against the backdrop of a higher, timeless realm.
Papini had already introduced Evola to Meister Eckhart, who was probably the first to reveal this deeper knowledge to Evola. Meister Eckhart and Jan van Ruysbroeck are mentioned as early as Evola’s Arte astratta (Abstract Art, Rome, 1920, p. 14). Concurrently, he was most likely starting to study Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism. As already mentioned, it was a passage from the Buddhist Pali Canon that stopped Evola from committing suicide. We should therefore investigate the extent to which religious and mystical writings complement the thinkers mentioned thus far, or better, place them in a timeless framework so that many passages that smack of the “worldview” will be spiritualized and given a different background as to their meaning.
First, let us deal with Meister Eckhart. Early on, Evola had mastered several foreign languages: Latin, ancient Greek, and above all French (his poetry, which will be mentioned later, was written in this language) and German. Thus he read Meister Eckhart in German. From his notes we even know that he first used the edition by E. Buttner, Schriften und Predigten (Works and Sermons). The important influence of this work cannot be underestimated: he quoted Eckhart with the greatest respect all his life, which is unusual given Evola’s critical mind. Evola’s concept of freedom, his “act, without looking toward success or failure” and his aforementioned aversion to sentimentality can be largely traced to this theologian and mystic. For example, Evola quotes Meister Eckhart in German in his early work Saggi sull’Idealismo Magico (1925, p. 48) as follows:
From this deepest foundation of being [where life exists for its own sake (Evola’s note)], you should do all your works, without asking why. I decisively assert: as long as you do your works for the sake of heaven, God, or your salvation, and hence from the outside, you are really not in the right. If one asks a truthful man, one who acts from his own being: ‘Why do you do your works and he answers honestly, he would also say: ‘I do for the sake of doing!’
The closeness of this thought to Taoism and Zen is self-evident. But more about this later. Meister Eckhart’s thought also already shows the traits that Evola’s critics, in their thorough misunderstanding, have seen as selfish excess, total overestimation and obsession with the Ubermensch: the fact that Evola holds the Self (of course, not the everyday self or “worldly self” in Graf Durckheim’s expression) to be absolute. Let us quote Eckhart:
Being is God […] God and existences are identical. Should I be able to recognize God in an immediate way, then I must become he and he must become I, pure and simple […] so completely at one, that this he and this I are one and will become and be one, and exist and act eternally in this way and form of being (Meister Eckhart, Deutsche Predigten und Traktate [German Sermons and Treatises], ed. Josef Quint, Munich, 1978, p. 354).
With this and his maxim of “action without questioning why” Eckhart also anticipates Evola’s boundless conception of freedom. For as long as one is acting out of an inner urge, as a reaction to a shortcoming, or because an idea seems attractive, whether it is “material” or “spiritual,” one continues to be bound in “slavery.” The concept of “power” that is so important to Evola also derives from this precept. An absolute Self wields absolute power, even when it does not utilize it. Naturally, the concept of power leads through cross-references to Tantra, which Evola had already encountered very early on (see below as well as his work L’uomo come potenza [Man as Power], Rome, 1926). His main sources for this were the translations by Sir John Woodroffe (Arthur Avalon). Evola also knew Woodroffe personally, and thus certain translations of the latter’s work first appeared in Italian before they were even published in English (one such example is contained in Julius Evola and the UR Group, Introduction to Magic, Rochester, Vt., 2001, p. 64 ff.).
The “arrogance” in spiritual matters that Evola has been accused of again and again also applies to Meister Eckhart – for example, when he writes: “Coarse-natured people must simply believe this, but the enlightened must know it” (Eckhart, p. 267). Still another quote concerning action without looking for success, approval, or rejection by others: “He is just, who gives everybody what is due to him” (p. 182). And then: “[…] but in a different sense, those are just who take all things from God to be equal, whatever it may be, great or small, dear or not, completely the same, without less or more, the one like the other” (ibid.). Such an outlook presumes a separation from the world and especially from oneself (“All love in this world is built on self-love. If you would only leave that, you would have the whole world left”; p. 185) and must necessarily bring with it a separation from the concept of time and a turning toward the supratemporal or, in other words, the “eternal.” Eternity in this sense is not limitless time, but instead the atemporal, the realm beyond time, where before and after fuse into an absolute present. This timelessness is also the realm in which Tradition, in the Evolian sense, operates. It is the “most intrinsic of all being, the most real of all reality, the most certain of all certainty,” which even though we cannot understand it intellectually is an area we can be open to.
A poem by Henry Vaughan (quoted by D.I. Suzuki in Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist, New York, 1957, p. 93f.) may open the way on an emotional level:
Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright,
And round beneath it,
Time, in hours, days, years
Driven by the spheres,
Like a vast shadow moved, in which the world
And all her train were hurled.
Meister Eckhart writes the following concerning this concept: “For the Now in which God created the first human being, and the Now in which the last human being will perish, and the Now in which I speak, are all identical in God and are nothing but a Now” (Eckhart, p. 162).
Evola’s urge toward transcendence and the higher reaches, which was certainly already preconditioned (see the introduction to Revolt Against the Modern World, which deals with this quest in more detail), found its deeply-felt confirmation in Meister Eckhart. Other sources, especially Taoism, whose main work (Lao Tse, Tao Te Ching) he translated into Italian in two different versions in 1923 and 1959, also strengthened and confirmed his notions. A few excerpts from this work will testify to the extent these esoteric truths additionally influenced and strengthened Evola’s thought, including his political ideas. (All translations based on Lao Tse, Tao Te Ching, ed. by K. O. Schmidt, Pfullingen, 1961.) Tao Te Ching (I, Ch. 7; Evola mentions this explicitly in Saggi sull’ldealismo Magico, p. 100, as a maxim for right action):
Thus the awakened one, Because he puts himself behind, he steps in front, Because he gives away, he gains, Because he cares not for himself, he is maintained. That is it. Because he is selfless, He achieves self-fulfilment.
Here we have the famous wei wu wei, (subtle) action without acting in the normal sense, which is so prevalent in Taoism. Another quote from I, Ch. 10:
To feed and to preserve, yet not to cling, To act, yet not to hold back and not to hold forever, To lead, yet not to lord over, This is the virtue of a calm spirit.
From I, Ch. 13:
Honours and disgraces are equally full of suffering. Attain glory, and you will fear losing it. Lose glory, and the shame will terrify you. Both are accompanied by fear. Both are sources of suffering.
From I, Ch. 26:
Thus the sage is anchored in inner security and safeguards his weight. He remains calm, also when glory and riches tempt. For the one who gives up inner security and who sticks to something, Becomes weightless and insecure. Weightless he becomes thoughtless and restless. Insecure he remains defeated and powerless.
From I, Ch. 29 (this passage is especially important politically, in order to understand the attitude of the traditional monarch. Evola has admonished Fascism and National Socialism repeatedly for not comprehending this attitude):
To win the empire through action and to master it, That is the way that leads to failure, For the empire is a divine vessel, Which cannot be seized and acted upon. One who desires to grasp it, does not understand it. One who desires to take it, loses it. He believes he is getting ahead, but falls behind. He believes he is increasing, but he dwindles away. He thinks himself strong, and reveals his weakness. He thinks himself superior, and is defeated.
From I, Ch. 33 (central to his concept of power):
One who knows others is clever; One who knows himself is enlightened. One who conquers others is strong; One who conquers himself is power.
From II, Ch. 56, about the nobility of the wise:
Since he is all-one, he is touched by neither life nor hate, gain nor loss, exaltation nor humiliation. That is his nobility.
This inner attitude of the enlightened one as goal is found in all of Evola’s creative periods, from the philosophical to the magical, from the political to the cultural-historical. It must be emphasized again and again that Evola’s political writings cannot be understood at all without this reference point and that anybody who reads them with the usual values in mind is doomed to misinterpret them.
Finally, we arrive at Hinduism and one of its main writings, namely the Bhagavad Gita, whose pronouncements strengthened Evola’s existing warrior (Sanskrit: Kshatriya) tendencies and provided them with the necessary metaphysical background. Again, we provide selected quotes (the edition we have utilized is The Bhagavad Gita, trans. Winthrop Sargeant, Albany, 1984):
He whose delight is only in the self, And whose satisfaction is in the self, And who is content only in the self; For him the need to act does not exist. He has no purpose at all in action, Nor any whatever in non-action, And he has no need of any purpose whatever in regard to any being. (III, 17–18)
In a sense in relation to an object of that sense, Passion and hatred are seated. One should not come under the power of these two; They are indeed one’s two antagonists. (III, 34)
To whom honour and dishonour are equal; Dispassionate toward the side of friend or foe, Renouncing all undertakings, He is said to transcend the gunas [attributes]. (XIV, 25)
That action which is controlled and free from attachment, Performed without desire or hate, With no wish to obtain fruit, Is said to be sattvic [filled with being]. But that action which is performed with a wish to obtain desires, With selfishness, or, again, With much effort, Is declared to be rajasic [filled with passion]. (XVIII, 23-24)
Fixed in Yoga, perform actions, Having abandoned attachment, Conqueror of Wealth [Arjuna]. Having become indifferent to success or failure. It is said that indifference is Yoga [realization]. Action is inferior by far To the Yoga of intuition, Conqueror of Wealth. Seek refuge in intuitive determination! Despicable are those whose motives are based on the fruit of action. He whose intuitive determination is disciplined Casts off, here in the world, both good and evil actions […] (II, 48-50)
By relinquishing egotism, force, arrogance, Desire, anger and possession of property; Unselfish, tranquil, One is fit for oneness with Brahman [the divine]. (XVIII, 53)
And it is hard to escape the greatness and tragedy of the Bhagavad Gita while reading about the warrior Arjuna’s horror, when he stands on the battlefield and realizes that the opposing ranks include friends and relatives whom he has to kill. My limbs sink down And my mouth dries up And my body trembles And my hair stands on end. Gandiva (Arjuna’s bow) falls from (my) hand, And my skin burns, And I am unable to remain as I am, And my mind seems to ramble […] (I, 29-30)
And he begs Lord Krishna to absolve him from his warrior duties, because he does not want to fight this battle. But what does Krishna answer him: Thou hast mourned the not-to-be-mourned And yet thou speakest as if with wisdom; For the dead and for the not dead The pandits [wise ones] do not mourn. (II, 11)
These bodies inhabited by the eternal, The indestructible, the immeasurable embodied one [i.e., the Brahman], Are said to come to an end. Therefore fight heroically, Descendant of Bharata [Arjuna]! (II, 18)
He whose state of mind is not egoistic, Whose intelligence is not befouled, Even though he slays these people, Does not slay, and is not bound [by his actions]. (XVIII, 17)
And, perceiving just thine own caste duty, Thou shouldst not tremble. Indeed, anything superior to righteous battle, For the Kshatriya [man of the warrior caste], does not exist. And if by good fortune they gain The open gate of heaven Happy are the kshatriyas, Sons of Pritha, When they encounter such a fight. (II, 31-32)
Given Evola’s predisposition, these words fell on fertile ground – even more so when he realized that the outward battle on the field is used by all wisdom teachings as a symbol for the inner struggle against one’s own negative attributes, and can only be justifiably fought in this way; and that such a struggle through self-mastery can even lead to “liberation.” Corresponding passages in the Koran and even the Bible must have strengthened his notion (see Revolt Against the Modern World, “The Greater and the Lesser Holy War,” p. 116). Of course, such excerpts raise the question of which code of ethics and morals one should follow. That the thoughts quoted above can be incorporated only with much difficulty into today’s prevalent worldview is self-evident. It is even harder to see them as “religious” commandments. Only a vision directed exclusively at the eternal, to which our human world is irrelevant, makes their affirmation even possible. The unshakable conviction that this world is in reality Maya, a mere illusion, is the prerequisite. In reference to morals and ethics, we include another Taoist saying that Evola often quoted and which we will deal with in more detail further on: “When the Way [the immediate connection to the spiritual] has been lost, virtue [in the sense of manliness and honour] remains. When virtue is lost, ethics remain; when ethics are lost, moralism remains. Moralism is the exteriorization of ethics and defines the principle of decline.”
When speaking of Evola’s spiritual foundation, the drug experiences of his youth (circa 1917–18) cannot be left unmentioned, because to them he owes his practical approach to esotericism, his first personal experience of transcendence. They surely also contributed to the absolute and uncompromising nature of his idea of freedom. Evola never repeated his drug experiences because he had already taken from them all that he could. In describing them, he speaks of a “peremptory, absolute, resounding certainty” (see Iagla, “Experiences: The Law of Beings” in Introduction to Magic, p. 167ff.). Evola defines the expansion of consciousness caused by drugs as follows: “When I compare it to my previous and habitual consciousness, only one image comes to my mind: the most lucid, conscious state of wakefulness in comparison to the deepest, most hypnotic and torpid state of sleep.”
Extensive experiences with mountain climbing also have their place in the formation of Evola’s distinct spiritual worldview, because he preferred to visit the high alpine mountains, the glaciers and impassable regions, where he sensed the force of creation in their solitude and could measure his spirit against this force. It was neither sport nor romanticism for him; he saw mountaineering as a path to his Self. Following ancient traditions, Evola speaks of the mountain as the holy mountain, the seat of the gods, the mediator between heaven and earth (Olympus, Meru, Kailash, etc.). Mountain climbing for him is the symbol for the spiritual ascent toward the divine, the ever purer, clearer, and more crystalline realm. Evola speaks of the “transformation of the experience of the mountain into a way of being.” And further: “This then is the strength of those who may be said to never return from the peaks to the plains. This is the strength of those for whom there is no longer going out or coming back because the mountain is in their spirit, because the symbol has become reality [….]” And: “The mountain is connected to something that has no beginning and no end and that, having become an inalienable spiritual conquest, has become part of one’s nature, something one carries everywhere that bestows a new meaning to every action, every experience, and every struggle in everyday life” (Meditations on the Peaks, Rochester, Vt., 1998, p. 22). Or: “The mountain teaches silence. […] It promotes simplification and the turning of one’s attention inward” (p. 33).
Evola completed some difficult climbs for example, the north wall of the Eastern Lyskam in 1927. He also requested in his will that after his death the urn containing his ashes be deposited in a glacial crevasse on Monte Rosa (see Renato del Ponte’s report in Michel Angebert et al., Julius Evola: le visionnaire foudroye [Julius Evola: The Devastating Visionary], Paris, 1977, p. 211f.). In Domenico Rudatis – who ranks among the best mountain climbers of this century and who, among other achievements, edited a book (with Reinhold Messner and V. Varale) about the sixth degree of difficulty in mountain climbing, Evola found a fellow traveller to write about the mountains for his later magazines.