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 IX: Evola and Racism
Evola dealt with the question of race in much detail and in countless newspaper and magazine articles. He also at least touches upon this theme in most of his books, and four are devoted to it exclusively. This wealth can certainly be ascribed partly to the fact that there was no other field in which he received so much attention, both positive and negative. Mussolini’s reaction and his proposal to make Evola’s racial theories the official “Fascist” doctrine has already been mentioned. If one could ever credit Evola with an “official” character and the resulting influence, it would be here. However, this was the case only after 1938, when under German pressure Italy passed its own racial laws and Mussolini was looking for his own way that would be different from the National Socialist racial views. But recognition alone was not the motivation. Evola was genuinely interested in the question itself, and had long studied it. He always regretted that people saw him only as the “racist” and did not realize that his position regarding race was a consequence of his entire worldview. He always saw racial themes as one area among many, which had its importance but was hierarchically below the all-important primal principles.
In later Fascism and in National Socialism this question dominated everything and, in addition, had been approached from the wrong angle, as Evola saw it. In Grundrisse der faschistischen Rassenlehre (p. 8), he writes as follows:
Up until now, mainly the propagandistic and polemical aspect of race has been emphasized, in respect to the anti-Jewish struggle and other practical and preventive tasks aimed against the mixing of white Italians with races of other colours. But Italy has lacked any preparations concerning the positive, truly educative, and finally the spiritual side of racial thought.
Since we already know that Evola views any and all questions in their relation to transcendence (which he calls “spirit” in man, as opposed to “soul”), it comes as no surprise to learn that when it comes to race, he places the emphasis on the spiritual factor. The following quote gives us a first access to his concept of “race” (Rassenlehre, p. 18):
To ‘have race’ in its perfect and higher meaning is a characteristic that towers above both intellectual values and so-called ‘natural’ talents. In normal linguistic usage, the expression ‘a man of race’ has been around for a long time. In general, this was an aristocratic concept. Out of the mass of common and mediocre beings rise men ‘of race’ in the sense of higher, ‘noble’ beings. Of course, this nobility did not necessarily have a heraldic sense to it: characters from the countryside or originating in a true and healthy people could evoke this impression of ‘race’ to the same extent as the honourable representatives of a true aristocracy.
Here Evola is already introducing a nonquantifiable concept of “quality” that is tied to spiritual values and which is absent in the anthropological view of race. Man can thereby differentiate himself and rise above the shapeless masses. According to Evola’s view, this lends to the racial concept “the sense of defending quality against quantity, cosmos against chaos […] and form against the formless” (ibid., p. 15). As late as in his post-war work Fascismo (p. 106), Evola dares to say the following: “Race alone is and contains an elite, whereas the folk merely remains the folk and the masses.”
Of course, Evola does not intend to totally cut off the idea of “race” from its biological background, the fact of belonging to a folk. But he goes somewhat further and assigns to each nation a nonbiological but “spiritual” and “soul” race. Sometimes he uses the word in this fashion; speaking for example of an “Italian race.” Concerning this, he writes in the Rassenlehre (p. 15f.):
The racial concept […] refuses to look at the ‘individual in itself’ as an atom that somehow has to create everything out of nothing, and which hence acquires value. On the contrary, every man is […] regarded spatially as a link in a community, and temporally as a being that in its past and future is indivisibly bound to the continuity of a family, a clan, to blood and tradition.
With this he emphasizes the rootedness of man in contrast to the “individualistic” rootlessness, as he calls it, in which all individuals are interchangeable, lacking their own face and “personality.” He thereby elevates the racial idea above the strictly naturalistic concept of the folk and the nation. He writes (ibid., p. 37):
In this context, the “race” – as a higher race – certainly has a greater importance than ‘folk and nation’: it is the leading and creative element of a nation and its dominant culture, which is in full agreement with Fascist thought. Indeed, Fascism refuses to think of nation and folk as being outside the state. According to Fascist doctrine, it is the state that gives form and consciousness to the nation. The state, on the other hand, is no abstract and impersonal object in Fascism; it is rather the tool of a political elite, the most valuable part of a ‘nation.’ Fascist racial doctrine even goes one step further: this elite is predestined to reassume the heritage of the higher race and tradition that is present in the national makeup. And when Mussolini said in 1923: ‘As it will be tomorrow and through the millennia, Rome has been the powerful heart of our race: it is the eternal symbol of our higher existence,’ he clearly set the direction for an irrevocable decision: The super-race of the Italian nation is the ‘Race of Rome,’ that which we will call the ‘Aryan-Roman’ race.
Thus the purely biological element is not enough for Evola. This is especially clear in the following quotation (ibid., p. 41):
In a cat or a thoroughbred horse the biological is the deciding element, and thus the racial observation can be restricted to this criterion. This, however, is no longer the case when dealing with humans, or at least with beings that are worthy of that name. Man is indeed a biological being, but also connected to forces and laws of a different kind, that are as real and effective as the biological realm and whose influence on the latter cannot be overlooked. Fascist racial doctrine therefore holds a purely biological view of race to be inadequate.
On p. 43 of the same book he slowly arrives at the central thought that occupies him:
Our racial doctrine is determined by tradition. Thus the traditional view of the human being is our foundation, according to which this being has a tripartite nature; that is, it consists of three principles: spirit, soul, and body. […]
This stated, the Fascist racial doctrine rises above both the attitude of those who see the purely biological race as the deciding element, as well as the attitude of those who profit from the standpoint of a racial science only concerned with anthropological, genetic, and biological problems, and who hold that, while race is a reality, it has nothing to do with the values, problems, and the strictly spiritual and cultural activity of man. Fascist racial doctrine, on the other hand, maintains that race exists in the body but also in the spirit and the soul. Race is a deeply embedded force that reveals itself in the biological and morphological realm (as race of the body), the psychical (as race of the soul), as well as in the spiritual (as race of the spirit).”
Then (ibid., p. 47) follows the hierarchy that is to be expected of Evola: it is the spirit that builds its body. He writes:
Fascist racial doctrine understands the correlations between race and spirit on the basis of the principle already mentioned: the exterior is a function of the interior, the physical form is symbol, tool, and means of expression of a spiritual form.
These thoughts were not newly developed at the beginning of the 1940s, when the Rassenlehre was published; they had existed much earlier. Already in Heidnischer lmperialismus, from the year 1928, we can read (p. 55):
Thus, according to our view, the teachings of Count Gobineau contain a glimmer of truth, but not much more. The decline of the qualities and factors that make up the greatness of a race is not-as he states-the outcome of the mixing of this race with others, the outcome of its ethnic, biological, and demographic deterioration: the truth is rather that a race deteriorates when its spirit deteriorates, when the inner tension relaxes, to which it owes its original form and its spiritual type. Then a race degenerates or changes, because its most secret root has been severed! Then it loses that invisible and unconquerable transforming virtue, which, far from infecting them, moves other races even to adopt the form of its culture and to be swept away by it as by a wider stream.
That is why for us the return to the race cannot be merely the return to the blood – especially in these twilight times in which almost irreversible mixtures have taken place. It must mean a return to the spirit of the race, not in a totemistic sense but in an aristocratic sense, relating to the primordial seed of our “form” and our culture.
And in July of 1931, Evola writes in Vita Nova:
The error of some extreme ‘racists’ who believe that the return of a race to its ethnic purity ipso facto equals its rebirth as a people consists of exactly this: they treat the human being as if he were a purebred cat, horse, or dog. To an animal, the conservation or restoration of its racial unity (in its narrow definition) can be everything. But it is not so with the human. […] It would be too convenient if the simple fact that one belongs to a pure race were to bestow, without further ado, a ‘quality’ in the higher sense.
Or in 1934, in Rassegna Italiana (XVII, pp. 11-16, “Razza e Cultura” [Race and Culture]): “This (aristocratic) style is precisely the feature that in a higher sense, i.e., concerning man as man and not as animal […] can be called ‘race.’” As early as 1933, Evola started to criticize the racial attitudes of the National Socialists (“Osservazioni critiche sul ‘razzismo’ nazional-socialista,” [Critical Observations on the Subject of National Socialist “Racism”] in Vita Italiana, XXI, 248, pp. 544-549):
The racial doctrine is of value as far as it represents the primacy of quality over quantity, the differentiated over the formless, and the organically grown over the mechanical. Above all, when it has as its starting point the ideal of a deep and living unity of spirit and life, of thought and race, of culture and instinct.
In the already mentioned article against Rosenberg (“A Paradox of Our Time […]”) it further states:
Is it the spirit that gives shape to the race (especially to the nation), or is it the race that gives shape to the spirit? Or even more to the point: Does determination come from above or from below?
Then in the Grundrisse (p. 7), he writes:
In its higher form the racial doctrine has the importance of a culturally and spiritually revolutionary idea. It can even assume the value of a ‘mythos’ (in Sorel’s sense, i.e., that of a power idea), of a crystallizing center for the creative energies and developments of an epoch.
As can be seen upon investigation, Evola’s racial teachings reveal that he understands “race” differently from what is generally the case. Primarily, he introduces a tripartite structure and differentiates between the race of the body (which covers the usual concept of race), the race of the soul (the type of character, lifestyle, and the emotional attitude toward environment and society), and the race of the spirit (the kind of religious experience and position regarding the “traditional” values). Thus, as Mussolini expressed it on the occasion of that first meeting with Evola, Evola’s categories would correspond to Plato’s division of the populace into three groups: the general masses, the warriors, and the wise ones.
Since it is the “race of the spirit” that is the most difficult to grasp, and since Evola himself does not always define it in the same way, another quotation follows (“L’equivoco del razzismo scientifico” [The Mistake of Scientific Racism], in Vita Italiana, September 1942. The review in Diorama Letterario, no. 138, July 1990, of Gli Articoli de la Vita Italiana, to which we owe much inspiration, gives a good overview of Evola’s articles in that journal):
We wish to clarify that for us spirit does not signify philosophical games, ‘Theosophy,’ or mystical-devotional escapism from the world, but simply that which in better times was called race by well-born persons: that is, straightforwardness, inner unity, character, dignity, manliness, immediate sensitivity for all values that are at the core of all human greatness and which, since they are situated far above fortuitous reality, govern this same reality. That race which, on the other hand, is a construct of science and a little figurine from the anthropological museum, we leave to that pseudo-intellectual bourgeoisie that still clings to the nineteenth-century idols of positivism.
The same article later contains one of Evola’s strongest attacks against so-called “scientific” racism, which hurt him very much in official circles. One cannot forget that in 1942, because of the war, the racial campaign was seen as very important. He says:
Those who are striving for a ‘purely scientific racism’ today want to ingratiate themselves with ‘the people.’ Instead of contributing to the elimination of a leftover myth that is present in the lesser educated strata of society, they believe they can use it as a sure basis, to ‘make an impression,’ to give authority to half-baked ideas and a dilettante racism, which wants to be as untouchable in its surface assumptions as it is incoherent and contradictory upon closer inspection.
As the above shows, Evola fought vehemently against a purely physical racism because of its superficiality, and he ranted several times against skull measuring and similar practices. Because of his emphasis on the spiritual, his rejection of what Trotsky called “zoological materialism” was only natural. In addition, Evola traced the origin of “racial thought” in his sense back to aristocratic custom, in which the physical counted for nothing: the deciding factor was membership in the same stratum. Thus, the royal dynasties only in the rarest cases originated in the people that they ruled over. And the fact that ruling dynasties always marry across their frontiers (for example, the Hapsburgs even had Mongolian ancestors) also testifies to this same attitude. (Concerning this, see “Sull’essenza e la funzione attuale dello spirito aristocratico” [On the Essence and the Present Function of the Aristocratic Spirit], in Lo Stato, XII, 10). This “spiritual racism” is also evident in Evola’s saying (which was vehemently opposed by nationalist circles) that the “common ideas are the fatherland” and not the region in which one was born, because “all peoples of today are racial mixtures, and in general elements other than the racial count as the foundation of their unity.”
Just as Evola’s definition of race veers from the customary delineations, so also does his use of the term “Aryan.” Of course, Evola is strongly influenced by the Zeitgeist, so that the word “Aryan” automatically has a positive meaning for him. (We already know from his speech of December 1937, which we quoted above, the essential aspects of what Evola means by “Aryan” and “Nordic.”) In spite of this, one cannot forget his studies of the Buddhist scriptures that continuously mention the arya, which generally means the “noble.” (One also cannot overlook that Evola’s Buddhist and racial studies stem from the same time period.) In his book about Buddhism (La dottrina del risveglio, 1942, p. 23f [English edition: The Doctrine of Awakening, Rochester, Vt., 1995]), he deals with this term in detail. In so doing, he mentions that arya is very hard to translate because several meanings are hidden in the word. Thus even prominent Orientalis like Rhys Davids and Woodward have left this word untranslated in their translations and writings. Arya does indeed mean aristocratic, noble, but with fourfold meaning:
- In the spiritual sense, in which “arya” is often equated with the “awakened” in the Buddhist canon.
- In the aristocratic sense, in order to denote the actual membership in a higher caste.
- Also in a clearly racial sense, in order to differentiate between the Aryan peoples that had immigrated from the North and the conquered indigenous strata of the population (varma, Sanskrit for “caste,” originally meant “colour,” as the Nordic conquerors were of much lighter skin colour).
- In the sense of a special “style” that finds its expression in crystalline clarity, lack of emotion, and an ascetic attitude. Here Evola does not hesitate to compare this “style” with Meister Eckhart’s concept of “detachment.”
This also sheds a different light on Evola’s ideal of the “Aryan-Roman” race. His brand of “Roman character” should be seen in this same sacral, aristocratic sense. And even if Evola himself did not always keep these interpretations clear and constant (especially in his numerous newspaper articles), they certainly resonate in his imagination. One must therefore be careful when reading about the “Aryan-Roman” style or similar subjects in his works. If today, after the excesses of the National Socialist era, one uses such words as “Aryan” and even the neutral “race” with some discomfort, one must consider that this problem did not exist at the time. However, as Giovanni Monastra emphasizes (“Anthropologic aristocratiquet racisme: Pitineraire de Julius Evola en terre maudite” in Politica Hermetica, Paris, 1988), Evola must also have considered that most peoples class themselves “noble” and look down upon other ethnic groups, in the era of ancient Buddhists, just as today. Later, in 1952, when Evola was standing trial, he stated in his famous Self-Defence:
It must be realized that in modern racial studies, ‘Aryan’ and even ‘Nordic’ do not in fact mean ‘German’; the term is synonymous with ‘Indo-European,’ and is correctly applied to a primordial, prehistoric race, from which were derived the first creators of the Indian, Persian, Greek, and Roman civilizations, and of which the Germans are only the final adventitious branches.
As one can see from all these citations, Evola’s racial views were not taken from Vacher Lapouge, Gobineau, Chamberlain, Rosenberg, and so on; instead, his forefathers were Montaigne, Herder and his Volkergeist (spirit of the people), Fichte, Le Bon, and L. F. Clauss, who probably influenced him the most in this direction. It was Clauss, through his Rassenseelenkunde (racial soul doctrine) who most likely inspired Evola directly to develop his doctrine of the racial spirit (Rassengeisteskunde). Clauss, who was never a member of the NSDAP, also revolted against the purely biological tendencies of German racism. He tried to distinguish between different peoples on the basis of their varying psychological qualities (today this would be called ethnic psychology). But when it was discovered that his most important assistant, a woman who also lived with him, was Jewish, trouble came his way, and in 1942 he lost his teaching position at Berlin University. Evola was in personal contact with Clauss and greatly respected him (see Robert de Herte, “Profil biobibliographique de L. E Clauss” in Etudes et Recherches, no. 2, 1983, p. 25). Clauss himself seems to have had a precursor in Gustave Le Bon, who developed the thesis that the forms of community in different peoples were expressions of their “race soul.” This “race soul” remained in effect even when the physical racial characteristics had changed due to mixing with other races (Gustave Le Bon, Lois psychologiques du developpement des peuples, Paris, 1894). In general, Evola tried to construct a racial theory that combines the history of the spirit with racial history, fusing them together: a view that according to Othmar Spann goes back to Schelling’s second phase.
It goes without saying that Evola’s racial views did not avoid criticism – if only because of competition, as Mussolini had had such a positive impression of them. Through his polemics he also managed to increase the number of his enemies. For example, after the passage of the Italian race laws in 1938 (“Manifesto della Razza”) when he accused the many people who all of a sudden “discover a deep racial calling in themselves that is dictated by the despicable toadying spirit,” this could hardly have made him any friends.
Evola’s theses were very hotly debated because in the last analysis (due to the difficulty of applying them) they pulled the rug out from under the notion of a factual and “exploitable” racism. In the end, outward physical characteristics did not count exclusively anymore. The important thing was the inner attitude; and who could test that? Even worse, was anyone good enough for this “higher” conception of race? In order to show how vehemently his opponents fought against Evola, probably in part to demote him from his “privileged” standing with Mussolini, a selection of his critics follows.
We begin with the Jesuit publication Civilta Cattolica (XCII, vol. III, September 1941), which indicted Evola’s racism as an “abstruse and unscientific construct.” (For this reference, we are indebted to Mario Bernardi Guardi’s essay “Julius Evola: Scandalo e Ter” in Avallon, X, April 1986, in which Evola is referred to a “cave-explorer of the spirit,” among other things.) Today it might seem strange that such a prominent religious organ would deal with these questions. But this merely illustrates that the entire intellectual world of that time was concerned with the racial problem. It was especially the Church publications that later brought Evola’s magazine project Sangue e Spirito (Blood and Spirit) to an early end. The other quotations are from the Bolletino del Centro Studi Evoliani, no. 18, Genoa, 1977, and were compiled by Professor Giovanni Conti.
Giorgio Almirante, later long-time leader of the MSI (Italy’s “neofascist” party), says in his article “Che la diritta via era smarrita […]” (Since the Straight Path Was Lost […]; subtitle: “Against the ‘Lost’ Sheep of Anti-Biological Pseudo-Racism,” in La Difesa delta Razza, V, no. 13, April 5, 1942):
Our racism must be that of the blood that I feel within me and that I can compare to the blood of others. Our racism must be a racism of flesh and muscle […] otherwise we will ultimately play into the hands of the bastards and Jews. […] Therefore the ‘absolute spiritualists’ should convince themselves that this is not the moment to, as they say, ‘deepen’ our racism.
Ugoberto Alfassio Grimaldi (at the time one of the exemplary personalities in the racial and Fascist areas; after the war, he became a deputy of the Communist party) wrote in his review of Evola’s Grundrisse der Faschistischen Rassenlehre (Civilta Fascista, IX, no. 4, February 1942, pp. 252–261):
After many efforts, Julius Evola’s racism finally ends up in a special form of anti-racism. […] As Fascists we must refuse the validity of an ‘autonomous’ racial teaching, especially when the concept of race conceals a metaphysical view that did not originate in our cultural sphere. […] That is why the reader of Evola feels some discomfort that Fascism is dealt with only as something very distant – I might almost say finite and mortal – which is used as an ‘instrumentum regni’ for the empowerment of other principles having merely a coincidental connection to politics. Here, Fascism is not the goal, but only the means to an end.
Also in Civilta Fascista (IX, no. 10, August 1942, pp. 647-652), the same Grimaldi writes the following in his article “Ali margini di una polemica sulla validita di un esoterismo razzista” (On the Margins of a Polemic about the Validity of a Racial Esotericism):
The reasons that Fascism is fighting against a certain brand of modern culture that includes the Hebrew element are only in small part identical with the reasons that esotericists like Evola are fighting a culture that does not correspond to the one fought by Fascism, not even in the purely racial area. […] One can have no doubt that Evola is aware of Fascism’s weakness (as he represents it) in comparison to his esoteric world, after re-reading what Evola himself has declared in the biweekly La Torre (no. 5, April 1, 1930): ‘We are neither ‘Fascists’ nor ‘anti-Fascists.’’
Even Guido Landra, the extremely important director of the Racial Studies Department in the Ministry for National Culture, co-editor of the official periodical La Difesa della Razza (The Defense of the Race), and co-author of the official 1938 Manifesto Razzista, attacks Evola vehemently. In his article “Razzismo biologico e scientismo” (Biological Racism and Scientism), in La Difesa della Razza, VI, no. 1, November 1942, pp. 9-11, aptly subtitled “For Science and Against the Melancholic Apostles of a Nebulous Spiritualism,” we read:
Those poor racists of the first hour who are guilty merely of having initiated the race campaign in Italy and of having remained loyal to the original as well as the official line, are now being accused of nothing less than Jacobinism and Bolshevism. The accusation – and this is painful to report – originates from a publication that can really be proud of a noble anti-Jewish tradition; and the accuser is the author Evola, who, while claiming to expatiate upon Professor Canella, attacks all those who remain loyal to the notion of biological racism. […] If the expressions ‘biological’ and ‘scientific’ have a negative connotation for the spiritualists, we answer that for us it is a great honour to be called biological and scientific racists.
In Vita Italiana (XXXI, no. 359, February 1943, p. 151 ff.) Landra adds:
And this is the weakest point in Evola’s teachings: that an Aryan can possess the soul of a Jew and vice versa. And that a Jew could therefore be discriminated against even though he possesses the soul of an Aryan is for us theoretically untenable. In practice, the assumption of such a principle would have terrifying consequences for racism, and ones that would exclusively benefit the Jews.
Landra, probably the highest official racial theoretician, makes his sharpest attack in his own publication La Difesa della Razza (VI, 1, November 5, ‘1942, p. 20), singling out the following for criticism:
The essays about the problem of race, ‘Due razze’ [Two Races] by Giulio Evola and ‘I nostri nemici’ [Our Foes] by Guido Cavalluci, that have appeared in a well-known monthly Diorama [Evola’s aforementioned Diorama Filosofico] and in which every realistic foundation of racism is doubted, even going so far as labelling anti-Semitism as a mere polemical view […] [and] that article ‘The Misunderstanding of Scientific Racism’ by Evola, which is the most exemplary document and monument of the present campaign that has been unleashed against racism in Italy […]
Attacks of this sort and the resulting sanctions from high places were also responsible for the demise of a project that surely was very dear to Evola. He was to have been the editor of a bilingual German-Italian periodical on race. The project had been worked out together with Mussolini, who moreover had already pledged his full support. Even the title of the magazine had been determined: Sangue e Spirito – Blot and Geist (Blood and Spirit). The intention was to unify the approaches to the race problem in Germany and Italy, whereby both sides hoped to present their own views to each another. The steady efforts by the Church and orthodox Fascists to influence Mussolini finally succeeded in swaying him toward the “biological” racist position, which also corresponded to the NS ideology. In the end, Mussolini withdrew his approval of the magazine. Since the German Foreign Affairs Office had also noticed that Evola did not intend to champion the racism dear to the Germans, it also withdrew its support. In addition, the dramatically increasing wartime confusion made this and other similar plans seem less important. Thus the project was doomed to certain failure.
Now we turn to another question that logically follows from Evola’s racial thought: his anti-Semitism.