Julius Evola (1898-1974) was an important Italian intellectual, though he despised this term intensely. As poet and painter, he was the major Italian representative of Dadaism (1916-1922). Later he became the leading Italian exponent of Integral Traditionalism or Perennialism, the intellectually challenging esotericism of René Guénon (1886-1951). Evola enjoyed an international reputation for books on eastern religious traditions that won the respect of scholars such as Mircea Eliade and Giuseppe Tucci. His 1943 book on early Buddhism, The Doctrine of Awakening, was translated in 1951. It was more than a generation before a second translation appeared, in 1983, when Ienner Traditions published 1958’s The Metaphysics of Sex, reprinted as Eros and the Mysteries of Love in 1992, the same year it published his 1949 book on Tantra, The Yoga of Power. The marketing appeal of books about sex is obvious, but these works are serious studies, not sex manuals. In 1995 Inner Traditions reprinted The Doctrine of Awakening and began publishing translations of his other books, including Revolt against the Modern World, his fullest account of the World of Tradition, which he opposed to the degenerate modern world.
In Europe, Evola is also known as a brilliant and incisive right-wing thinker. His books, New Age and political, were translated into French under the aegis of Alain de Benoist, leader of the French Nouvelle Droite. His books and articles have appeared in German since the 1930s. Translations into English continue to appear. Italian New Age publisher Edizioni Mediterranee keeps his books in print and has republished some with good texts and new introductions. Evola never belonged to a political party or held a political or academic post, but 25 years after his death his books are available in Italian, French, German, and English.
Esotericists will recognize that the title of his masterpiece, Revolt against the Modern World, pays homage to Crisis of the Modern World, the most accessible of René Guénon’s many books. The variation is also a challenge. In Crisis Guénon diagnosed the ills of Modernity coolly and remorselessly. For Guénon and Evola the modern world is the Hindu Kali-Yuga, or Dark Age, that will end one cosmic cycle and introduce another. Guénon advocates enduring the modern world by apolitia (withdrawal from politics) and transcending it by spiritual askesis. Evola believed that real men do not passively accept the world they happened to be born into. His description in Revolt of the World of Tradition with its warrior aristocracies and sacral kingship hints at what is required to overcome the modern world personally and overthrow it politically.
Evola was also the leading Italian exponent of the Conservative Revolution, a German literary and political movement that included Carl Schmitt, Oswald Spengler, Gottfried Benn, and Ernst Jünger. He corresponded with Schmitt, translated Spengler’s Decline of the Westand Ernst Jünger’s An der Zeitmauer (At the Time Barrier) and wrote the best introduction to Jünger’s Der Arbeiter.
The ex-wife of a respected free market economist once remarked to me, “Yale used to say that conservatives were just old-fashioned liberals.” People who think this will be flabbergasted by Julius Evola. Like Georges Sorel, Oswald Spengler, Whittaker Chambers, and Régis Debray, Evola insisted that liberals and communists share basic principles. For Evola, politics is an expression of principles, and he never tires of repeating his own.
- The transcendent is real.
- Man’s knowledge of his relationship to transcendence has been handed down from the beginning of human culture. This is Tradition with a capital T.
- Human beings are tri-partite: body, soul, and spirit and it is wrong to isolate the physical or intellectual part.
- State and society are hierarchical and the clearer the hierarchy, the healthier the society.
- The worst traits of the modern world are its denial of transcendence, its reductionist vision of man, and its egalitarianism.
These latter traits are the basis of what Evola called la daimonìa dell’economia, interpreted by translator Guido Stucco as “the demonic nature of the economy,” although I feel its meaning is closer to “demonic possession by economics.” Real men exist to attain knowledge of the transcendent and to strive and accomplish heroically. The economy is only a tool to provide the basis for such accomplishments and to sustain the kind of society that permits the best to attain sanctity and heroism. The modern world has a different vision. As Evola wrote in Men Among the Ruins (1953, translated in 2002):
In both individual and collective life the economic factor is today the most important, real, and decisive one. … An economic era is by definition fundamentally anarchic and anti-hierarchical; it represents a subversion of the normal order. … This subversive character is present in both Marxism and in its apparent antagonist, modern capitalism. The worst absurdity is for those who today claim to represent a political ‘Right’ to remain in the dark, overcast circle drawn by the demonic power of the economy—a circle inhabited by both Marxism and capitalism, along with a whole series of intermediate stages. Those today who line up against the forces of the Left should insist on this. Nothing is more evident than that modern capitalism is just as subversive as Marxism. The materialistic vision of life which is the basis of both systems is identical.
Evola speaks similarly in 1964’s Fascism Seen from the Right: “Between the True Right and the economic Right there is not only no identity, there is on the contrary a precise antithesis.”
Many Americans detest the leftist hegemony we live under, but still want to preserve a toehold on respectability by compromising with modern ideas. Evola rejected the Enlightenment Project lock, stock, and barrel, and had little use for the Renaissance and the Reformation. For Evola those really opposed to the leftist regime, the true Right, are not embarrassed to describe themselves as reactionary and counterrevolutionary. If you are afraid of these words, you do not have the courage to revolt against the modern world. Evola also countenances the German expression, Conservative Revolution, if properly understood. Revolution is acceptable if and only if it is true re-volution, a turning back to origins. Conservatism is valid only when it preserves the true Tradition. Loyalty to the bourgeois order is a false conservatism, because on the level of principle, the bourgeoisie is an economic class, not a true aristocracy.
For Evola the state creates the nation, not the opposite. Evola maintained a critical distance from Fascism and never joined the Fascist Party, but on this point he was in substantial agreement with the famous article on “Fascism” in the Enciclopedia Italiana by philosopher and educator Giovanni Gentile. Evola objected to the official philosophy of 1930’s Germany. The Volk is not the basis of a true state. Rather the state creates the people. Evola also rejected Locke’s notion of the Social Contract, where rational, utilitarian individuals come together to give up some of their natural rights in order to preserve the most important one, the right to property. Evola also denied Aristotle’s idea that the state developed from the family. The state was created by disciplined groups of men who are initiated to become warriors and priests. The Männerbund, not the family, is the original basis of political life.
Evola saw his mission as finding men who could be initiated into a real aristocracy, the Hindu kshatriya, to carry out Bismarck’s “Revolution from above,” what Joseph de Maistre called “not a counterrevolution, but the opposite of a revolution.” This was not a mass movement and did not depend on the support of the masses, by their nature incapable of great accomplishments. His plans have been called utopian, but Evola knew the political science of his day. The study of élites and their role in every society, especially liberal democracies, was an Italian cottage industry in the first half of the 20th century, carried on by Roberto Michels, Gaetano Mosca and Vilfredo Pareto. Every society has leaders. The modern world needs a true élite to rescue it from its involution into materialism, egalitarianism, and economism and to restore a healthy regime of order, hierarchy and spiritual vitality. When that elite is educated and initiated, then (and only then) they will create a true state and bring the Dark Age to an end.
Although Evola believed the transcendent was essential for a true revival, he did not look to the Catholic Church for leadership. He explained his position in Men among the Ruins in 1953, when the Church’s official position was still strongly anti-Communist. Even then Evola predicted that the Catholic Church would move to the left, an opinion he did not change in later editions in 1967 and 1972.
Once the times of De Maistre, Bonald, Donoso Cortés, and the Syllabus were past, Catholicism has been characterized by political maneuvering. … Naturally the Church’s sympathies had to gravitate toward a democratic-liberal political system. Moreover, Catholicism has for some time espoused the theory of so-called ‘natural right,’ which is difficult to reconcile with the positive and differentiated right, which is the foundation of a strong and hierarchical state. … Militant Catholics like Maritain have taken up Bergson’s formulation that ‘democracy is essentially evangelical’ and tried to show that the democratic impulse in history appears as a secular manifestation of the authentic Christian and Catholic spirit. …Today the categorical condemnations of modernism and progressivism are long gone. … When we see today’s Catholics reject the ‘medieval residues’ of their tradition; when Vatican II and its implementations import destructive forms of ‘bringing things up to date’; when popes point to the United Nations (that ridiculous organization, half-breed and bastard) as prefiguring a future Christian world order—there can be no doubt in which direction the Church is being dragged. That it is capable of providing any sort of support for a revolutionary-conservative and traditionalist movement must be resolutely denied.
His 1972 analysis mentions Vatican II, but Evola’s ideas go back to the 1920s, when he was developing a worldview based on the traditions of India, the Far East, and ancient Rome as an alternative to the 20th Century’s democratic ideals and plutocratic reality. In 1926-27 Evola wrote a series of articles in Critica Fascista, the journal of leading Fascist ideologue Giuseppe Bottai (1895-1959), praising the Roman Empire as a synthesis of the sacred and the regal, an aristocratic and hierarchical system under a true leader. Evola rejected the Catholic Church as a source of religion and morality independent of the state, because he saw its universalistic claims as tending toward liberal egalitarianism and humanitarianism, despite its anti-Communist rhetoric.
Evola’s articles enjoyed a national succès de scandale and he expanded them into a book, Pagan Imperialism (1928), which provoked a heated debate among Fascist and Catholic intellectuals, including, significantly, Giovanni Battista Montini (1897-1978), who, when Evola published the second edition of Men among the Ruins in 1967, had become the liberal Pope Paul VI. In 1928, Mussolini was negotiating with Pope Pius XI (1857-1939) for a reconciliation in which the Church would give its blessings to his regime in return for protection of its property and official recognition as the religion of Italy. Italy had been united by the Piedmontese conquest of Papal Rome in 1870 and Popes had refused to recognize the new regime. The signing of the Vatican Accords on February 11, 1929, ended that situation and the debate.
Evola later regretted the tone of his polemic, but he also pointed out that the fact that the debate took place gave the lie direct to extreme assertions about lack of freedom of speech in Fascist Italy. Evola was right about one thing. Today’s Catholic Church accepts liberal democracy and even defends it as the only legitimate regime. Notre Dame is not the only Catholic university with a Jacques Maritain Center, but neither Notre Dame nor any other Catholic university in America has a Center named after great traditionalists like Joseph de Maistre or Louis de Bonald or Juan Donoso Cortés. Pius IX was beatified for proclaiming the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, not for his Syllabus Errorum, which denounced the Pope’s coming to terms with liberalism and modern civilization.
The 2002 translation of Men among the Ruins includes Evola’s 1951 Autodifesa, the speech he gave in his own defense when he was tried by the Italian democracy for “defending Fascism,” “attempting to reconstitute the dissolved Fascist Party” and being the “master” and “inspirer” of young Neo-Fascists. Like Socrates, he was accused of not worshipping the gods of the democracy and corrupting youth. When he asked where in his writings he had defended “distinctively Fascist ideas,” the prosecutor, Dr. Sangiorgi, admitted that he could not cite specific passages, but insisted that the general spirit of his works promoted “distinctively Fascist ideas,” e.g., “monocracy, hierarchism, the concept of aristocracy or elitism.” Evola responded: “I must say that, if such are the terms of the accusation, I would be honored to see, seated next to me at the prisoners’ dock, men like Aristotle, Plato, the Dante of De Monarchia, and so on up to Metternich and Bismarck.” At this point, according to a note in Autodifesa, Evola’s lawyer, Franceso Carnelutti, called out, “La polizia è andata in cerca anche di costoro.” (“The police have gone to look for them, too.”) Evola ignored this outburst and continued,
In the same spirit as a Metternich, a Bismarck, or the great Catholic philosophers of the principle of authority, De Maistre and Donoso Cortés, I reject everything that, directly or indirectly, derives from the French Revolution and which, in my opinion, has as its extreme consequence bolshevism; to which I oppose the ‘World of Tradition.’…My principles are those that before the French Revolution every well-born person considered sane and normal.
Evola’s Autodifesa was more effective than Socrates’ Apology, since the jury found him “innocent” of all charges. (Under Civil Law Italian juries may find a defendant “innocent,” “not guilty for lack of proof,” or “guilty.”) Evola told the jury, “Some like to depict Fascism as a ‘grim tyranny.’ During that ‘tyranny’ I never had to undergo a situation like the present one.”
But Evola was no lackey of the Fascist regime. He attacked conciliation with the Vatican in the years before the 1929 Vatican Accords and developed an interpretation of race that rejected the “scientific racism” favored by important currents within Fascism. But he was never put on trial for his writings during the Fascist era. That had to wait for liberal democracy.
What books by Evola should members of the American Alternative Right read? His summa is Revolt against the Modern World. Men Among the Ruins outlines the principles that should guide political action. Ride the Tiger tells the “differentiated man” how to maintain his integrity in the Dark Age. It relates to Men among the Ruins as Aristotle’s Ethics does to his Politics and, although published later, was written at the same time. These works are all available in English.
Among interesting books that have not been translated, the provocatively titled Fascism Seen from the Right, with its appendix, Notes on the Third Reich, criticizes both regimes as too populist and insufficiently principled and hierarchical. Readers accustomed to hearing the word “Fascist” used as an angry epithet may be fascinated or appalled by a book critical, but not disrespectful, of il Ventennio (the Twenty Years of Fascist rule). Others may prefer Orientamenti(Orientations), a pamphlet composed in 1950 as a summary of Men among the Ruins.
Some right-wing Italians deprecate Evola’s influence because his Tradition comes from an unhistorical past and assumes an impossibly transcendent truth and a hopelessly pessimistic view of the present. Yet Evola confronts the modern world with an absolute challenge. Its most distinctive traits, materialism, egalitarianism, feminism, and economism, are fundamentally wrong. The way forward involves rejecting them and returning to spirit, transcendence and hierarchy, to the Männerbund and the Legionary Spirit. It may be discouraging to think that we are living in a Dark Age, but the Kali-Yuga is also the end of a cosmic cycle. When it ends, a Golden Age will begin—what our traditionalist American Founders called novus ordo saeclorum. Evola rejects Spengler’s biologistic vision of our civilization as an individual, without links to earlier ones and doomed to die without offspring. We are linked to the past by Tradition and when the Dark Age comes to an end, Tradition will light the way to new greatness and accomplishment, new sanctity and heroism. Even if we do not live to see that day, we can still embody the Legionary Spirit Evola described in Orientamenti:
It is the attitude of a man who can choose the hardest road, fight even when he knows that the battle is materially lost and live up to the words of the ancient saga, ‘Loyalty is stronger than fire!’ Through him the traditional idea is asserted, that it is the sense of honor or of shame – not halfway measures drawn from small minded moralities – that creates a substantial, existential difference among beings, almost as great as between one race and another race. … If anything positive can be accomplished today or tomorrow, it will not come from the clever tricks of agitators and politicians, but from the natural prestige of men both of yesterday but also, and even more, from the new generation, whose recognition of how much they can accomplish validates what they believe.
Evola admired Oswald Spengler’s description of the Roman soldier who died at his post at Pompeii as the sky fell on him, because he had not been relieved. We do not need talking points and marketing strategies, but men like him. Evola rejected the idea of the inevitable march of history. “History is made and unmade by men, provided they really are men.” His ideas continue to speak to the right person. “Keep your eye on just one thing: to remain on your feet in a world of ruins.”
This article was originally published on 28 February, 2010.