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 IIX: Evola and National Socialism
Early on, Evola had already striven to maintain good relations with Germany. He admired German culture, and we have already noted how strongly his worldview was influenced by German philosophers and thinkers. He had especially tried to connect with proponents of the so-called Conservative Revolution (to use a term coined by Armin Mohler), such as Edgar Julius Jung (murdered by the National Socialists in 1934), Christoph Steding, Wilhelm Stapel, A. E. Gunter, and Ernst Niekisch. He also contributed writings to their magazines (Der Ring, Europaische Revue, Deutsches Volkstum, Widerstand) and popularized their philosophies in Italy (with regard to this, see Marcello Veneziani, La Rivoluzione Conservatrice in Italia, Milan, 1987). From the beginning, he also had relations with the Viennese Kulturbund as well as with the group around Othmar Spann (persecuted by the National Socialists) and Prince Karl Anton Rohan, with whom he had especially close contact.
In 1934 Evola embarked on his first series of lectures in Germany and spoke at Berlin University and at the aristocratic, conservative Berliner Herrenklub (Berlin Gentlemen’s Club) under Baron Heinrich von Gleichen. Evola can probably be equated with the proponents of the Conservative Revolution – that is, as their Italian counterpart, as his ideological opponent Professor Franco Ferraresi confirms in La destra radicale (Milan, 1984, p. 26). Though these circles tried at least initially to collaborate with the National Socialists, they distanced themselves from the “populist, plebeian, and fanatical” aspects of the Hitler regime. They believed they could influence National Socialism, which, of course, turned out to be an illusion in the face of Hitler’s great political and also economic success. As a general rule, the more radical element will always triumph over the moderate when their forces are fairly equal.
Evola had developed a sympathy for Germany during World War I that set him at odds with his Futurist friends. Later he developed the idea of the unification of “the two eagles” – the German and the Italian – based on the Ghibelline notion of Empire during the Hohenstaufen period. He pointed out that the two peoples complement each other, and would reap benefits only by moving closer together. With this idea, he invited enmity on both the German and the Italian side, given the ultranationalist climate of the time. Concerning this question, an interesting National Socialist document has been preserved in the Political Archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bonn (file AA Referat DIII, e.o. 9685) that was marked for the internal use of the Foreign Office (Auswartiges Amt). It reports on an article entitled “The Contribution of Rome to the New Germany,” which Evola published in Regime Fascista on November 16, 1941. After discussing the main thesis, the author of the document continues: “This impudent article, which […] is in no way suited to advance German-Italian collaboration, cannot remain uncontested. […]” In this article, Evola, among other things, “spoke of the formidable confusion and spiritual aberrations that can be detected in some circles of the German Reich, and have to be prevented.” These circles’ view of what really constitutes the Nordic ideal rests on “one-sided and arbitrary interpretations” and “confused and often dilettante authors” who sought the essence of Nordicism in a “naturalistic mysticism” and a “foggy, Nibelungen-like romanticism.” Evola further characterized Richard Wagner (for whom Hitler’s admiration is notorious) as a “forger and usurper of the old mythology.”
We have already mentioned that, aside from his Germanophilia, the main reason for Evola’s rapprochement with National Socialism lies in his disillusionment with Fascism. In National Socialism, he saw a much greater inner coherence, a stronger emphasis on the warrior element and the culture of the conservative Right (although the latter was disdained by the actual NS). He was similarly impressed by the motto of the “struggle for the worldview” and welcomed the absence of the marching in line and vying for position that were so common in Italy. As Maria Zucchinali adds (A destra in Italia oggi, Milan, 1986), Evola was also closer to National Socialism because its socialist origins were less noticeable; in their place, the link with the First and Second Empires was emphasized. Tradition seemed more essential there than progress (also because of the prevalence of the Prussian element). National Socialism likewise strove to breathe new life into ancient Germanic man and to restore the original brilliance of the North (Hermann the Cherusker, for example). Added to this were the notion of the “Ordensstaat” (Order-based state) with its accompanying ascetic attitude and readiness for sacrifice, loyalty, honour, discipline, and selflessness. Even the obsession with ancient symbols must have impressed Evola, even though it was clear to him that they were often misused. He knew this manipulation well; as early as 1931, René Guénon had indicted the misuse of the swastika in his Symbolisme de la Croix (see Evola’s essay in Hochschule und Ausland 12, 1934, “Das Hakenkreuz als polares Symbol” [The Swastika as a Polar Symbol]), in which he attributes this symbol not to the Indo-Germanic cultures but instead to a Hyperborean primordial race.
In spite of all this, Evola early on had expressed reservations about National Socialism, as in an article in Vita Nova with the title “Problemi attuali” (Current Problems), in which he uses an article in the Europaische Revue about the Third Reich as a pretext to present his arguments. Beneath the already challenging subtitle “Counterrevolution or Reaction?” he writes:
The inferiority of National Socialism is obvious from the standpoint of ‘doctrine,’ compared to the traditional values defended by groups like those around Hugenberg and Dusterberg. Instead of a tradition with clear outlines that is still ensouled by the ethos and spirit of order, hierarchy, aristocracy, and a heritage that stands in a direct line from the greatest imperial cultures of ancient Europe, we see vague demands, compromises, and national concessions even to Marxism and to positions whose content is dictated mainly by the necessities of the moment and who owe their effectiveness solely to that fact.
Even earlier he had polemicized against Alfred Rosenberg, the “Ideologue of National Socialism,” whom he also met in person. Here the November 1930 essay “Il ‘Mito’ del nuovo nazionalismo tedesco” (The “Mythos” of the New German Nationalism) in Vita Nova must be mentioned. Evola’s dislike was based mostly on the fact that Rosenberg valued modernity so much. Another article against Rosenberg was “Paradossi dei tempi: paganesimo razzista = Illuminismo liberale” (A Current Paradox: Racist Paganism = Liberal Enlightenment) in Lo Stato, VI, 7 (July 1935), pp. 530-532. Evola also polemicized against Walther Darre, who was already NSDAP Reichsleiter at this time, in Lo Stato (“Il Nazismo sulla via di Mosca” [Nazism on the Same Path as Moscow], March 1935, pp. 186-195). Later in Cammino (p. 147), Evola stated about Rosenberg that “he lacked any understanding for the transcendental dimensions of the sacral.”
The absence of any transcendent background was, of course, one of Evola’s main objections against National Socialism. “One can organize a state in the name of the spirit or in the name of matter,” he wrote in 1937 (“Sulle premesse di un’antibolscevismo positivo” [On the Prerequisites for a Positive Anti-bolshevism], in Lo Stato. This and a few other quotes we have culled from Alessandro Campis’s interesting contribution “Organicismo, Idea Imperiale e Dottrina della Razza” in Trasgressioni, I/1, Florence, 1986). This lack of reference to transcendence also leads to the other points criticized by Evola, such as National Socialism’s great attachment to nature (the Volk as guiding principle); the Führer principle that answers only to the people and has no legitimation from above, and the resulting demagoguery; as well as populism and purely biological racism.
Evola also spoke out against the Anschluss of Austria into Germany, because he wanted to see the Austrian monarchy revived (see “Il problema monarchio in Austria” [The Monarchist Question in Austria], in Lo Stato, IV, February 2, 1935, and “Orizzonte Austriaco” [Austrian Horizon], also in Lo Stato, 1935, pp. 22-29). In “Orizzonte Austriaco” we even read:
National Socialism has forsworn the ancient, aristocratic tradition of the Empire. Being nothing but a semi-collectivist nationalism and equalizing in its centralism, it has not hesitated to destroy Germany’s time-honoured division into duchies, counties, and cities that all enjoyed a measure of independence.
Evola did not hesitate to go further. In an essay of November 1940 (that is, after the start of the war, when Evola was repeatedly visiting Berlin and Vienna) he attacked one of the main slogans of National Socialism and declared: “One of the catchphrases that is especially dear to National Socialism and is expressed in the words: ‘Fin Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer’ [One people, one empire, one leader] is already outdated.” (“Il problema dei futuri ‘spazi imperiali’ e il contributo romano-germanico” [The Problem of the Future “Imperial Regions” and the Romano-Germanic Contribution] in Vita Italiana). As late as 1942 there appeared a German version of this article under the heading “Reich und Imperium als Elemente der neuen europaischen Ordnung” (Empire and Imperium as Elements of the New European Order, in Europaische Revue, no. 18) in which Evola expressed the same sentiment in somewhat milder form. Two excerpts from Evola’s post-war work about Fascism (Fascismo, p. 171) should also illustrate his feelings in that period:
For Hitler, the people were the principle of legitimacy. No higher principle existed or was tolerated by him (his polemics against the Hapsburgs were often marked by an unparalleled vulgarity).
When one took a look at the masses of ‘Aryan’ folkish comrades of the KDF and the arrogance of the ‘deproletarianized’ modern Berlin worker, one could only shudder with revulsion at the thought of a future Germany that would develop in this direction.
But in spite of all these negative aspects, there was something in National Socialism that attracted Evola: the concept of a state ruled by an Order, which he felt was embodied by the SS. “We are inclined to the opinion that we can see the nucleus of an Order in the higher sense of tradition in the “Black Corps,” he wrote in Vita Italiana (August 15, 1938). Again in Vita Italiana (August 1941, “Per una profonda alleanza italo-germanica” [For a Deep Italian-Germanic Alliance]) he writes:
Beyond the confines of the party and of any political-administrative structure, an elite in the form of a new ‘Order’ – that is, a kind of ascetic-military organization that is held together by the principles of ‘loyalty’ and ‘honour,’ must form the basis of the new state.
As mentioned, Evola held the SS, which Himmler strove to design according to the model of the Teutonic Order, to be this elite. The castles of the SS Order, with their “initiations,” the emphasis on transcending the purely human element, the prerequisite of physical valour, as well as the ethical requirements (loyalty, discipline, defiance of death, willingness to sacrifice, unselfishness), strengthened Evola in his conviction. He also was of the opinion that the ethics of the SS were borrowed from the Jesuits. Conversely, the SS was interested in Evola and began to maintain a file on him. All his lectures after 1937 were attended, summarized, and archived. Through the meritorious work of Hans Werner Neulen, a real expert in the area of recent historical relations between Italy and Germany, these files have been found in the Political Archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bonn (most of them were translated into Italian and published by Nicola Cospito and Hans Werner Neulen as Julius Evola nei documenti segreti del Terzo Reich [Julius Evola in the Secret Documents of the Third Reich], Rome, 1986). Nicholas Cospito authored another essay regarding this theme in Intervento (no. 80/ 81, Rome, 1987: “Julius Evola e il Nazionalsocialismo”). The first facsimiles of this material were publicized in Rudolf Mund’s work illuminating Himmler’s occult side, Der Rasputin Himmlers (Vienna, 1982). This book deals with the aforementioned Karl Maria Wiligut (alias Weisthor), who wanted to instill Himmler with a Germanic esoteric foundation.
Especially important to this study is the final report on Evola’s June 1938 lectures, kept in the handwritten files of the personal staff of the Reichsführer-SS (file AR/126). After a short summary of his life, it says there: “Today Evola – and really only in northern Italy – is regarded as a fanatic and dreamer, mostly misunderstood and merely tolerated by official Fascism.” Then the content of the three lectures is summarized and on page 12 comes the conclusion, which must be quoted in full:
The ultimate and secret motivation for Evola’s theories and plans must be sought in a revolt of the old aristocracy against today’s world, which is totally alienated from the upper class. This confirms the initial German impression: that we are dealing with a ‘reactionary Roman.’ The whole impression is one of an old-fashioned aristocratic feudalism. Thus even his scholarship displays a trait of dilettantism and literary affectation.
In conclusion, there exist no grounds for National Socialism to place itself at the disposal of Baron Evola. His political plans for a Romano-Germanic Imperium are of a utopian character and moreover very apt to cause ideological confusions. Since Evola is also only tolerated and barely supported by Fascism, it is tactically not necessary to accommodate his tendencies from our side. It is therefore recommended to:
Not support Evola’s current efforts for the establishment of a secret supra-national order and the founding of a magazine directed toward this goal.
Curb his public activities in Germany after this lecture series, without taking any special measures.
Prevent his further penetration into leading offices of the party and the state.
Observe his propaganda activity in neighboring countries.
In a short letter (AR/83) dated August 8, 1938, it then says laconically:
The Reichsfuhrer-SS has acknowledged the report regarding the lectures of Baron Evola and is in full agreement with the thoughts and recommendations stated in the last paragraph thereof.
According to this, the SS as a whole was not favourably inclined toward him, even though he was apparently unaware of it. His ideas were just too different from official National Socialist thought. The scope of this difference is displayed by a written report from one of Evola’s lecture evenings (October 12, 1937 at the Studienkreis, Berlin), which bore the title “Abendlandischer Aufbau aus urarischem Geist” (Western Rebirth Out of the Primordial Aryan Spirit) and is archived in the same file. Because this lecture documents very well Evola’s attitude toward National Socialism, some especially telling excerpts will be quoted at length.
First, Evola lists some areas in which he thinks National Socialism (which he refers to as “the new views”) has made a positive development (the formation of a front against liberalism, rationalism, Bolshevism, “the myth of the economy,” for instance). But then he goes on to declare that much work remains to be done. For example, National Socialism should be replaced by a supranationalism in order to fight against the internationalist forces, and an “Olympian elite, so to speak” must take up the task of superseding with spiritual aims, and thus eliminate all modern streams of thought, such as rationalism, materialism, and collectivism. Then he goes into detail about the points that should be improved, and explains:
In this respect, I want to be totally straightforward with you, since you shouldn’t view me as someone whose ideas are conditioned by his ethnicity and who speaks to you as a foreigner, or who follows any other interest but the pure truth. The only important fact is that we have some knowledge concerning these matters and want to contribute to the common cause, on the basis of unconditional loyalty, lack of prejudice, and selflessness.
This said, we note the first principal fault in the new views [i.e., National Socialism], which is that these are composed more of myths than of real ideas. To a great extent, these seem to be unclearly received truths that essentially have turned to crystallization points for irrational and passionate forces of belief, that have their effect not because of their spiritual truthfulness but because of their power of suggestion. Because of this impure makeup, these new myths are prone to all manner of infiltration; they are not equipped to prevent dangerous mixtures and are even in danger of becoming the instruments of an unconscious demagoguery, differing from the myths of our opponents only by their distinguishing symbol. I don’t want to be misunderstood; therefore I happily admit that it would be utopian to want to influence the masses without resorting to the realm of myth, the irrational, and the passional. But that which constitutes myth and irrationality for them should be pure knowledge, truth, and reality for the others – for a strongly organized and cohesive elite. Due to a regrettable incompetence and pressure from immediate interests, Nordic thought, paganism, primordial symbols, and so on, today all too often see new life in the distorted form of personal affectations and slogans. […]
As they are frequently understood today, Nordic thought, Aryanism, the imperial idea, and the concept of a super-race are burdened with an interpretation entirely foreign to the great free breath of the corresponding primordial traditions. According to the Aryan primordial conception, the Reich is a metaphysical solar reality. The Nordic heritage is not semi-naturalistic, only conceivable on a blood-and-soil basis, but rather constitutes a cultural category, an original transcendent form of the spirit, of which the Nordic type, the Aryan race, and the general Indo-Germanic moral being are only outward manifestations. The concept of race itself, according to its higher traditional significance, cannot have anything in common with the rational idols of modern biology and profane science. Above all, race is a basic attitude, a spiritual power, something primal and creative, whose outer, tangible forms are only a last echo. […]
The truly original Nordic essence melts with the Hyperborean; and here we see a primordial culture that is solar and sacral, that possesses the power and irresistibility of the universal, and that encompasses paganism and spirit, Olympian sovereign superiority and will-conditioned originality, in a grand synthesis of the mundane and the supramundane. Once one has reached this realization, then one can truly say that Tradition in its higher sense is synonymous with the Hyperborean, or primordial Nordic, tradition, and that the Nordic element has been present wherever a people has had a tradition, and vice versa. That is not all. In this way we can even approach the mystery of prehistory and sense a fateful correspondence between physical circumstances and higher, metaphysical meanings. If the tradition in question indeed had the polar region as its original seat, it must therefore have been geographically polar and so has always embodied the spiritual significance of a pole as an unshakable axis for any ordered movement, as a center point for any normal hierarchy and every true tradition-based Reich. […]
Now, can one present such streams of thought in certain circles without being accused of an alien universalism, of Roman notions that are anti-Germanic, or even of having Jewish ideas? And yet all this belongs to the highest Aryan inheritance; this is the true level to which the motifs and symbols that the new Germany has called forth must be elevated if it really wants to stand at the forefront of the resistance and attack against the dark powers of world revolution. We must really return to the origins, and the Nordic essence must be freed from any interpretations that are infected by modern, profane intellectual prejudices and by the superstitious religion of life, becoming, and being bound to nature. We must once again find out how to imbue the Nordic-Aryan symbols and their logical consequence, the Reich, with a spiritual power and a universal gravity, something truly Olympian and transcendental. And this is indeed possible. This must be our task. The new Germany has talented and qualified powers for this and it remains only to give them the right points of orientation, true principles instead of myths and slogans. […]
We repeat: race is secondary, spirit and tradition the primary factor, because, in a metaphysical sense, race dwells in the spirit before being expressed in the blood. If it is true that without racial purity, spirit and tradition are deprived of their most precious means of expression, then it also true that pure race deprived of spirit is condemned to be a biological mechanism and, in the end, doomed to extinction. The proof of this lies in spiritual decay, the ethical stupefaction, and the slow death of many tribes that did not commit any of the sins against the blood that have been discovered by materialistic racial science. […] It follows that without the rejuvenation of the higher spiritual power latent in the Nordic symbol, all measures for the biological protection of the race will have a limited and relative effectiveness, as opposed to our superior task of a Western reconstruction of the Nordic-Aryan spirit. […]
Leader and followers, organic structure, overcoming of individualism and collectivism through a virile spiritual concept of community – these foundations for an inner rebuilding of the Folk should now be valid above and beyond the individual nations, and should lead the way to an organic conception, to which independence contributes as well as unified higher leadership, ethnic diversity, as well as spiritual, supranational community. That is what Western rebirth fuelled by the Aryan spirit means. […]
It follows that our front should also take account of all the surviving conservative and traditionalist forces in Europe and even strive toward a new active conservatism on a Nordic foundation, which will have this dual purpose: to rid the world in revolutionary fashion of a culture of decadence and the new materialist and collectivist barbarism and to call forth to new life the primal creative power of the ancient Aryans, in close connection with the values of personality, hierarchy, spiritual virility, and the Reich as both worldly and metaphysical reality. The first condition for this is the desecularization of the world and of man, of realization and of action. If this prerequisite is not fulfilled, then all roads toward the understanding of primordial Nordicism remain blocked. The first assumption is that there is a higher world beyond this one. Therefore, we have to abandon any mysticism of this world, any adoration of nature and of life, any pantheism. At the same time we must strongly oppose the curious interpretation of Aryanism invented by the dilettante Chamberlain that relates to a purely rational praise and glorification of profane science and technology for the surmounting of a supposedly un-Aryan supersensible worldview. It is indeed high time that we were done with such foolery. […]
The supra-mundane realm should mean Doric clarity, cosmos, light in its suprarational sense, and thus has no concern for feelings, longing, mere faith, or the unconscious. This is the fundamental condition of understanding the true meaning and content and the true awakening power of the primordial symbols of our tradition, and of using them to rediscover the paths to a metaphysical, suprarational and supraindividual knowledge.
Two main attitudes toward the supramundane reality are possible. One is solar, virile, affirming; the other is lunar, feminine, religious, passive, corresponding to the priestly ideal. The second attitude is mostly that of the southern Semitic cultures, whereas the lordly Nordic and Indo-Germanic man has always been solar; the subjugation of the creature and the pathos of its absolute distance from the Almighty were totally unknown to him. He felt the gods to be his equals; he felt himself to be descended from heaven and to be of the same blood as the gods. From this there arises a conception of the heroic that does not end with the physical, soldierly, or tragically choreographed aspects, and a conception of the Ubermensch that has nothing in common with the Nietzschean-Darwinist caricature of the beautiful blond beast, because this Nordic Ubermensch also exhibits ascetic, sacral, and supranatural traits, and culminates in the type of the Olympian ruler, the Aryan Chakravartin as wielder of the two powers and King of Kings. […]
These excerpts not only are useful in determining Evola’s exact attitude toward National Socialism, but also explain what the concepts of “race,” “Nordic,” and so on, meant to him. All these interpretations must be kept in mind if one wants to do justice to his work, especially that which dates from this period. By using these emotive words, very positively received at the time, he wanted to slowly bend their meaning in his own direction and thereby influence the decisive circles. This was of course a hopeless undertaking for one man who could count on scarcely any support.
How was it possible for Evola to speak his mind so freely and critically in a public lecture? It seems that the Germans initially thought Evola to be the man who would propagate their racial ideas in Italy, since he was introduced by “racists” as a “racist” into the German Foreign Office. When it was realized (especially by the Ahnenerbe) that Evola wanted to spread totally different ideas and that his racism was far removed from the NS version, both interest and support for him waned. In spite of this, as he notes in his autobiography, Evola was long able to say things for which a German would have landed in prison.
Another document from Himmler’s personal staff should be mentioned here (archived in the aforementioned file under no. II 2113), because it shows that Himmler personally received and collected information about Evola. It reports that Himmler again ordered a thorough examination of Evola’s Heidnischer Imperialismus, in which the German translation should even be compared to the original Italian text in order to eliminate errors in translation. At the same time, the opinion of the chief of the Sicherheitshauptamt (main security office) is given:
Evola possesses no understanding of the German folkish (volkisch) past, whereby it must be noted that he is a foreigner and probably does not know Germany’s historical conditions enough to really grasp the origins of our folkish history. His results remain a spiritual and speculative impossibility. […]
His [Evola’s] words about the “superstition of the Fatherland” clearly display that these traditionalist values of his are only theoretical and are not rooted in profound historical views and realizations. The following passage of Evola’s shows his basic lack of understanding of National Socialism and Germanic values (p. 98): “If it is true that the swastika, the Aryan pagan symbol of the sun and of the flame burning by its own volition, certainly belongs to those symbols that more than any others might lead the way to a real Germanic rebirth, it nevertheless must be realized that the name of the political party that has taken it as its emblem and that is today revolutionizing Germany in the spirit of Fascism is anything but a fitting choice. Indeed, aside from the association with the working class, both ‘Nationalism’ and ‘Socialism’ are elements that have a hard time fitting in with the noble Teutonic tradition, and it should be clear that what Germany urgently needs is a counterrevolution against democratic socialism. The resurrected Harzburg front already showed the right path: an anti-Marxist and anti-democratic movement of revolt that called upon the front of conservative and traditionalist elements as such. One will have to be careful that the ‘socialist’ element, even if it is a ‘National Socialism,’ does not get the upper hand and let everything become a mass phenomenon grouped around the momentary prestige of a Fuhrer.”
During the war, Evola had three main goals:
- To usher in a spiritual unity between Germany and Italy.
- To propagate his ideas concerning racism.
- To provide early on for a new order in Europe after the war.
His ambitions for this “new Europe” are also expounded in Men among the Ruins. Essentially, it incorporates a federal ruling system based on the old concept of the Empire. It therefore stands opposed to a rigid centralism, has organic foundations, and rests on a spiritual basis. Churchill and Roosevelt supposedly also discussed the possibility of such a European Empire for the post-war era. A sort of “supermonarchy” was supposed to form a strong dam against Communism. The names of Otto von Hapsburg and Lord Mountbatten were mentioned in this regard. That it was the destruction of the Hapsburg Empire that first made possible the expansion of Communism in all of Eastern Europe is today recognized by many experts, even by liberal historians like Golo Mann.
This should suffice to establish Evola’s fundamental attitude within and toward National Socialism. For a complete evaluation of his political beliefs, it remains only to examine his attitude toward racism and the Jews.