This is the last part of the introductory essay to the American edition of Julius Evola’s Men amid the Ruins. Credit goes to where it is due; notably to the author, Dr H.T. Hansen, and of course to everyone at Inner Traditions.
Part XII: Some Concluding Thoughts
A few of the more controversial aspects of Evola’s thought must be raised before proceeding with this characterization. Especially since his “doctrine” runs counter to our usual conceptions, misjudgements can be avoided only by a certain thoroughness. But despite the wealth of facts offered here, many other important questions have had to be bracketed out. Above all, those concern Evola’s esoteric side, the suprarational and spiritual, with which the majority of his books deal. At this point it must be stressed that suprarational does not in any way equal irrational. On the contrary: irrational means under or before the ratio (reason); suprarational, on the other hand, goes beyond the rational but still includes reason itself. The triumph of reason alone first began with Nominalism. Before that, there was hardly a doubt that the spiritual (in a pure, elevated sense; the nous in the ancient meaning in which Plato and Plotinus used it) ranks above mere reason, just as “intellectual intuition” (the “vision” connected to the suprarational, the so-called “intellectual contemplation,” of Dante and Thomas Aquinas) lies above discursive knowledge and thus rules over it. Apart from Guénon and Evola, this view is also found in incomparably more famous philosophers, from Spinoza, Fichte, and Schelling up to Schopenhauer and Heidegger (albeit in a different form).
It should be stressed again that Evola’s experiences with the suprarational are the foundation of his political doctrine. We have tried to prove this point repeatedly throughout this introduction, because it seems that this presents the greatest difficulty in the political analysis of Evola. For “modern” man, the foundations are now totally different. That is why we have so many difficulties in understanding the fundamentalist currents of Islam and Christianity that are primarily connected to transcendence. However, in these cases there are many other aspects at work as well, so that they often result in a narrowing and restriction of the spiritual standpoint, instead of in the expansion and universality demanded by Tradition.
The fundamental question Evola asks is the same fundamental question of all philosophy: Where can I find the point of absolute certainty on which I can build my cosmic system? At first Evola found this point in the “Self,” which in its “might” and “freedom” merged with the absolute “I am who I am.” Various traditional esoteric teachings pointed the way to this conclusion, teachings whose prerequisite was always a stepping out of the purely human condition. And this overcoming of the “human” that leads to the a-human (lying beyond the conception of the human; not to be confused with inhuman) is what is so hard for today’s Western mind to comprehend. In the Tradition, “turning toward God” also means turning away from purely human concerns not in the sense of despising them but because God is more “important.” Even Jesus Christ demanded of his apostles that they leave behind their parents and brethren, if they wanted to follow him. Two excerpts from Imperialismo pagano (p. 80 in the German edition) elucidate this attitude:
This ‘human’ feeling for life that is so typical of the West merely betrays its very plebeian and inferior aspect. That which is an object of shame to some – the ‘human’ – is praised by others. Antiquity elevated the individual to godhood, strove to free him from the passions in order to raise him to the transcendental sphere, that liberating air of the peaks, be it in contemplation or in deed; they knew of traditions of nonhuman heroes and men of divine blood.
The ‘human’ is to be overcome absolutely, without remorse. But to achieve this it is necessary for the individual to attain the feeling of inner liberation. One must know that this feeling cannot be the object of thirst, of the hungry search of the captive whose path to this state is blocked. Either it is a simple matter, which is neither proclaimed nor discussed – something that does not need a second glance, like a natural, elemental, unmanifested presence of the elect – or it is nothing at all. The more it is seen and desired, the more distant it becomes, because desire is fatal to it.
Such an attitude totally contradicts our contemporary view of life. Today, whether in philosophy or in politics and science, moral and ethical views predominate that are directed only toward the human or social spheres. That is why there is constant talk of “human rights,” and surprise when these values are not followed in other cultures (as in the fundamentalist ones, for example), where “divine” commandments remain at the center. Jean-Paul Sartre was certainly one of those who contributed the most to our increasing emphasis on purely moral values; but he was also an Atheist.
One could also formulate it in this admittedly provocative way: the more “humane” man becomes, the less he contemplates the “divine” – unless he considers “man” and “God” to be equal, which a mystic, a Mahayana Buddhist, or a Sufi would accept, at least in the spiritual sense. But in today’s practice, this usually results in a “denial of God,” which again leaves only the “human.” The purely linguistic problems in defining what is “human” and “divine” to each individual must, of course, be omitted here. These thoughts should also by no means prevent anyone from treating his fellow men humanely, without which no ordered coexistence is possible; they are intended only to provoke thought. The following excerpt from an already cited magazine article may help to clear up Evola’s attitude toward the “moral” question (“Our Antibourgeois Front”):
In the text of a document that was written two thousand years before Nietzsche we read: ‘When the path (i.e., the immediate connection to the pure spiritual state) is lost, virtue remains; when virtue is lost, ethics remain; when ethics are lost, moralism remains. Moralism is only an exteriorization of ethics and denotes the principle of decline.’ This saying clearly differentiates the stages of the decline that has led down to the bourgeois idol: moralism. Such an idol remained wholly unknown to the great traditional cultures: they had never known a system of egalitarianism and training built on convention, compromise, hypocrisy, and cowardice, a system founded on an inferior, societized utilitarianism – that is, a system of taboos for the protection of undisturbed gluttony, pleasure, and commercial dealings. Moralism has developed in parallel with the parasitic degeneration of Western bourgeois civilization, so its attitude is not hard to connect with the characteristic statements of the most important ideological exponents of this civilization.
Incidentally, it must be mentioned that when before the rise of the bourgeois spirit ethics are mentioned instead of morals, these ethics are really nothing more than a secular spirituality and a laicized religion. That which today has the value of a conventional morality and yesterday had the value of an inner ethos possessed a ‘sacral’ justification in the Tradition. This can already be seen in symbolic guise from the fact that in ancient times every system of law was ‘supernaturally’ revealed or of divine origin, or else decreed by lawgivers of not quite human origin: Manes, Minos, Manu, Numa, and so on. This fact follows from the real essence of every traditional culture, which is always striving to connect man with an energy from above, an energy of such intensity that it is able to tear away, subjugate, and tame everything lowly (i.e., the purely human element) and thus create possibilities for superhuman ascent, instead of damming up and canalizing every rise, every manifestation of power and audacity, in order to reach the goal of creating petty beings and petty lives running on identical tracks. Even when this energy from above is no longer present, its traces remained for a time in ethics, in the classical sense: an ethos as inner character and tradition-bound lifestyle, imbued with a spontaneous love for self-control, discipline, daring, loyalty, or for authority. When even this ethos had run dry, it was replaced by morals and the constant worry about propriety – that is, moralism. The center of gravity shifted to the Philistine in his various disguises, from the fanatical Puritan to Candide and Babbitt.
Especially because morals present something purely human, they differ from culture to culture. Transpositions of moral positions into other cultural circles are therefore not permissible if one is not to become guilty of a new form of colonialism. Concerning this, Oswald Spengler, one of the fathers of Evolian thought, writes in The Decline of the West (German ed., vol. I, p. 434):
Western mankind, without exception, is under the influence here of an immense optical illusion. Everyone demands something of the rest. We say “thou shalt” in the conviction that so-and-so in fact will, can, and must be changed, fashioned, and arranged conformably to the order, with unshakable belief both in the efficacy of such orders and in our right to issue them. That is what we call morality. In the ethics of the West everything is direction, claim to power, will to action at a distance. Here Luther is completely at one with Nietzsche, the popes with the Darwinians, the Socialists with the Jesuits; for one and all, the beginning of morality is a claim to general and permanent validity. This is one of the necessities of the Faustian soul. He who thinks or teaches otherwise is sinful, a backslider, an enemy, and he is fought without mercy. “Thou shalt,” the State shall, society shall – this form of morality is self-evident; it represents the only real meaning that we can attach to the word. But it was not so either in the Classical world, in India, or in China. Buddha, for instance, gave an example to take or to leave; Epicurus offered good advice. These are also forms of high morality, and neither contains the will element.
But if Evola falls back on an ahuman viewpoint, this should not be taken to mean that he was against humane and “social” programs, as his support of the social laws as part of the RSI proves. He merely fought vehemently against the demagoguery that is usually connected with such initiatives. This supra-moral attitude kept many thinkers away from Evola who might otherwise have stood closer to him, as, for example, Count Hermann Keyserling. Hermann Hesse also seems to have gone in this direction, when he says of Evola in a letter to Peter Suhrkamp dated April 27, 1935: “This dazzling and interesting, but very dangerous author […]” Hesse then goes on to accuse Evola of dilettantism in esoteric matters, which seems unjustified considering the many competent and distinguished positive voices, such as C.G. Jung, Mircea Eliade, Giuseppe Tucci, and Marguerite Yourcenar. His works about Tantrism and Buddhism were even published in India, which is very rare for Western authors. Amusingly enough, Hesse adds the following remark: “In Italy, almost no one will fall for him, but it will be different in Germany.”
As with René Guénon, it is difficult to classify Julius Evola within the intellectual history of the twentieth century: the innermost conviction of both that modernity equals decadence led them to break with this world. Guénon went to Cairo, after he had already converted to Islam, and joined a traditional Sufi group. Evola completely withdrew in Rome, did not leave his apartment, and received only a few visitors. Only his combative nature (in contrast to Guénon’s Brahmanic nature) encouraged him to publish an article here and there.
Evola may be studied at various Italian universities (Turin, Genoa, Florence, Rome, Naples, and Pisa) and be the subject of an increasing number of dissertations, but his radically anti-modern, antidemocratic (though not at all anti-liberty!), reactionary, aristocratic, even theocratic statements will always remain a stumbling block. Incidentally, Evola was also a “practicing” antidemocrat. He never voted in elections, and party politics were always thoroughly alien to him.
With Evola’s traditional worldview and the modern one, we actually have two possible solutions to a fundamental problem of man: the problem of his weakness in the face of the immense universe, or in other words the problem of his “being thrown” into this world (as Sartre says). Should we in answer to this inferiority complex try to soar up to the universe, or must we, when we sense a discrepancy with something “higher” and more “spiritual” (that is, we feel inside that we cannot meet its standards), bring it down to our human plane? Should we – and here we again connect with the moral question – transcend ourselves and turn man into a “divine” man, or must we strip the “divine” of its attributes and feel merely human? Should we acknowledge an aristocratic, hierarchical order whose ranks are impulses to higher realms, or do we unite according to our most common denominator “down here,” and are all equally high or low? Should we strive to fulfil “eternal” values, or do even temporal ones exceed our abilities and possibilities? Basically, is the direction “up” or “down”? (The “inner” being very much feels the difference.) Here we have two opposing value systems: which one do we follow? Does the purely pragmatic answer apply here: right is that which leads to the happiness and satisfaction of the majority of people? So do we try, in Popperian manner, to “falsify” these two value systems? Or are there perhaps some archetypes that tower above the individual, fascinating primal images in the collective unconscious, that downright force us to strive for “higher” things? Or is the human substance somehow conditioned from the beginning so that “liberation” from the earthly burden is possible only through physical wellbeing? Questions upon questions, which we each have to answer according to our inclinations.
This is what makes Evola’s thought so interesting, because he leaps ahead of us in his radicality and paints a powerful total picture of his version of an upwardly-directed traditional guidance. In this we are able to search for our likeness and see whether we can find ourselves there. Evola’s critique of today’s world is among the most embittered and fundamental that have ever been heard. Thomas Sheehan writes in his aforementioned essay “Myth and Violence” (p. 61): “In no other contemporary European thinker that I know of is the rejection of history – and, a fortiori, of the modern world – so absolute and so violent.” Incidentally, Sheehan characterizes Evola, whom he holds intellectually responsible for some terrorist acts, as “perhaps the most original and creative – and, intellectually, the most nonconformist – of the Italian Fascist philosophers” (p. 50). But even this can be understood as originating from Evola. His principles are “eternal” and thus one cannot negotiate about them. They are not a compromise between the individual efforts of various people in order to arrive at a contrat social (social contract). For Evola, they are truths carried over from transcendence, and there is no room for compromise in truth. Therefore, the motto throughout his life remained: “Act, without heeding the fruits, without letting the prospects of success or failure, victory or loss influence you, nor even joy or pain, or the approval and rejection of others.” Or expressed in other words: “Be whole, even in fragments; be upright even when bent.” In a time when the marketing techniques devised by business are used in every arena, especially in politics, these sentences will most likely not be understood. Only shortly before his death he is supposed to have uttered: “One must rescue that which can be rescued, choose the lesser evil, and ally oneself with the moderate in order to fight the subversion.” A step in the right direction or a sign of weakness?
Today one hears such radical sentiments mainly among the fundamentalist Greens. While their critique of progress, technology, and the hegemony of science is outwardly identical, when measured against Evola it remains superficial. The fact that quality, the immeasurable, is always coming up short against quantity, the measurable, is, however, a thorn in the sides of both.
Evola “engaged” himself and for almost sixty years fought for the same principles, albeit in various interpretations. Part of these was what he always called a cardinal attribute of traditional man: the “legionary spirit” (in reference to Codreanu?). In Orientamenti (p. 20), Evola defines this term:
The attitude of him who can choose the hardest life, who is able to continue fighting even when he knows that the battle is materially lost, who holds to the ancient precept that ‘loyalty is mightier than fire,’ and who carries the traditional idea of honour and dishonour within. This attitude creates a substantial, even existential difference between men, almost as though between one race and another. […]
Compare to this (and to other ideas of Evola’s that we know) the ideas of Toni Negri, the Italian theoretician of radical neo-Marxism living in French exile, when he speaks of the conviction that true Marxists are a “different race,” descended from a “virgin mother,” and are engaged in a “struggle between truth and falsehood,” all the while being led by the party that is compared to a “martial religious order” (Antonio Negri, Il donrinio e il sabotaggio: Sul metodo marxista della trasformazione sociale [Rule and Sabotage: On the Marxist Method of Societal Change], Milan, 1978):
The ‘style’ that must assert itself is the style of one who remains strong in his position of loyalty to himself and to an idea, a strength marked by concentrated intensity, resistance to any compromise, as well as a total engagement that shows in every phase of existence.
And further, as an explanation: “Tradition as we understand it is that which is most revolutionary in the face of today’s prevailing values” (interview with Evola in Pianeta, no. 44, January 1972, quoted from R. del Ponte’s introduction to Evola’s Saggi sull’Idealismo Magico, Genoa, 1981).
In any case, a certain desire of Evola’s to shock with his pronouncements cannot be denied. Again and again he uses terms with a meaning totally different from the publicly accepted one, and in so doing almost deliberately invites misunderstanding.
Related to this is his perfect ability to continually “fall between two stools,” even where he could have enjoyed sympathies. Domenico Rudatis once said in a personal conversation about Evola: “His greatest obstacle was his intellectual brilliance.” He was certainly no easy character, as is confirmed by some episodes from his youth, and was easily insulted and hurt. Such natures (combative because of their very fragility) with the corresponding verbal excesses seem to have been more common in the first half of the twentieth century than today. Would National Socialism and Fascism have been as successful with their methods otherwise?
But it is also obvious to Evola that he is not really fighting against Bolshevism, Americanism, and consumer culture, but rather against contemporary man. All these currents would have had no chance if we were not already “inner” “Bolshevists,” “Americans,” or “consumers.” A term like “Americanism” is only a symbol for something that is found deep inside us. “The “outer enemy” has chances of winning only because an “inner enemy” inside of ourselves collaborates with him. This also explains Evola’s esoteric efforts, intended to counteract this, because he who can control the inner can also control the outer domain. The outward fight, as we have said, is regarded as an “existential moment” or “inner experience” (E. Junger), as metaphor for a spiritual or intellectual conflict. Apart from Junger, this insight can be also be found in Gottfried Benn, Knut Hamsun, Ezra Pound, and Ferdinand Céline, all of whom, interestingly enough, sympathized for a longer or shorter time with Fascism or National Socialism. Even Luigi Pirandello, one of the most important dramatists of the twentieth century and, like Hamsun and Pound, a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, said as he signed a manifesto of Fascist intellectuals: “I have always struggled against words” (quoted by Sheehan, p. 53).
In Evola, this martial, warrior clement (his “Kshatriya” essence) led to a special conflict. How can one be simultaneously active in this world and detached from it? And how can one feel oneself to be part of Tradition and yet act in the “factual” world? The necessary “active indifference” is a problem already encountered in Plato’s philosopher. In reality, his goal is spiritual self-realization, and yet he has the task of ruling a state. Evola finally saw “apoliteia” as a way out and thus ended the dilemma.
To see Evola as a thinker (in the philosophical, esoteric, and metapolitical sense of Gramsci), as we have done in this study, is one approach. Pierre-Andre Taguieff uncovers another possibility. He views Evola above all as an artist for whom the “aesthetic” side of his ideas lies closest to his heart. Taguieff even calls Evola’s metaphysics those of an artist. If one agrees with this assessment, then many doors might open for Evola, because an artist has more freedom in our society than is allotted to a philosopher or even a political thinker. Above all, the artist can claim freedom from the usual moral norms: he is allowed to stand beyond, while also changing society on this side. Henry de Montherlant sees the Evola phenomenon in yet another light: “I have read Julius Evola and I continue to read him. […] He is what he is. But, he sees” (quoted in Pierre Pascal, “Lux evoliana,” in Julius Evola, Le philosophe foudroye). The same article quotes René Guénon, who despite his differences was one of the closest fellow travellers of Evola. He says of Evola: “Fire in ice and ice in fire […] the eagle’s cry […] the demon of action.” And Gerd-Klaus Kaltenbrunner opines about this “pilgrim of the absolute”: “For many, reading Evola might be an offense, in the exact biblical sense. […] But this at least one cannot take away from the author: his consistency, a universal education, and the courage to make a daring, sovereign formulation” (“Das letzte Licht kam vom Gral. Anmerkungen zu Julius Evola’s Traktat: Revolte gegen die Moderne Welt” [The Last Light Emanated from the Grail: Notes on Julius Evola’s Revolt Against the Modern World], in Die Welt, December 28, 1982). Jay Kinney, publisher of Gnosis magazine, writes the following in issue 14 (“Who’s Afraid of the Bogeyman? The Phantasm of Esoteric Terrorism,” San Francisco, 1990): “It remains to be seen whether his Hermetic virtues can be disentangled from his political sins. Meanwhile, he serves as a persuasive argument for the separation of esoteric ‘Church and State.’”
To conclude this study, we will mention a characterization that Joseph Roth gave to the Austrian poet Franz Grillparzer that seems to me both amusing and appropriate for it suits Evola just as well: Roth called Grillparzer an “anarchist individualist reactionary.”