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 IV: The Philosophical Period
Evola’s “academic” philosophy traces back in general to German Idealism, and thus further back to Plato. Even if originating from the same root, it goes against the Italian court philosophers of the time, Giovanni Gentile and Benedetto Croce. Despite this, the latter valued Evola’s thought and even published him through his main imprint, Laterza. The strong voluntaristic streak in Evola, which decisively differentiates him from Croce and Gentile, can be traced back on the one hand to Nietzsche and on the other to French Personalism, whose main proponents Secrétan, Lachelier, Hamelin, and Lagneau he studied closely. Also originating from Lagneau is Evola’s motto for his Saggi sull’ldealismo Magico, a work that gives a very good overview of Evola’s thought development around 1923-1925, and already contains a nucleus of all his later views. The motto already indicates that purely academic philosophy would not suffice for him. What concerns him in this, as in his earlier artistic and his later political activity, is the “breakthrough of levels” to a “totally different” plane. The motto is as follows: “Philosophy is the train of thought that finally sees into its own inadequacy and realizes the need for an absolute action that originates from within.” Exoterically, this view is also comparable to the solipsism of the Stirnerian type and Evola does not deny how strongly Stirner’s anarchism had moved him but he wants to overcome it by referring to the “totally different” plane, namely the transcendental. Unbridled freedom and the will-to-rule as essence of the individual are also Evola’s code words; only he tries to proceed from the “transcendent” Self (in the sense of idealistic philosophy) to a true superpersonality, an impersonality. The Self for him is the “center of universal responsibility” (Teoria del lndividuo Assoluto [Theory of the Absolute Individual], new edition, Rome, 1975, p. 32; first published 1927). For this Self he desires a complete realization that is freedom and power at the same time, and which includes not only body, soul, and spirit, but also the whole cosmos. He wants to overcome any abstract speculation and actuate the knowledge completely within himself. An irresistible urge for self-transcendence and therefore self-salvation becomes apparent here. The identification of Deus = Homo and Homo = Deus (God is man and man is God) is to become reality for him. It seems only logical that the philosophical period is followed immediately by the magical one (see Introduction to Magic, vol. I of which is available in English; vols. II and III remain untranslated).
Evola’s question is one of the primal questions of philosophy, and is also Descartes’s question: “Where is this point of certainty, which is completely fixed and on which I can build my construct of thought and life?” At least at that point in time, for Evola this could only be the Self, but of course not the everyday self but the transcendent, primal foundation of one’s own personality. In the philosophical magazine Logos (1920/1931, p. 404, written at the beginning of the 1920s but first published in German in 1931), he writes: “One can only ascribe reality to those things whose principle and the cause of whose being […] are found in the Self as the governing function. […] Beyond the eternal problem of that which, according to Plato, ‘simultaneously is and is not,’ there lies only one certainty: the self. Only here does the individual find […] an absolute and self-evident reality. The rest the infinite ocean of forms of the inner and outer world affords no such certainty.”
Just a few words regarding Evola’s conception of power, which is the source of so much misunderstanding, especially when used in the political realm: this concept, which Evola derived from esotericism, especially from Tantra and Taoism, must be strictly differentiated from “force.” On the contrary: “power” loses its essential nature when it has to resort to material means i.e., “force” and is not acknowledged as self-evident. Power must function as its own “unmoved mover.” To Evola, it is a metaconcept intended to overcome both rationalism and irrationalism, since on the one hand it makes use of reason, while on the other an elevation occurs through power to freedom, realization, and primordial being. In Saggi (p. 123), Evola writes:
Here one understands why Lao Tse ascribes the characteristics of ‘emptiness’ and ‘non-being’ to the perfect man, and how he can say, from the depths of the consciousness of perfection, that every being has its primordial basis in non-being […] and one also understands why the much abused concept of maya in Tantra means illusion, but also at the same time stands for creative power; and finally, one understands the meaning of the highest body of the Buddha, Dharmakaya, which is defined as the principle of nonexistence, which is the foundation of all reality.
Or as he writes in Imperialismo pagano (Padua, 1996):
Superiority does not rest on power, but power rests on superiority. To need power is impotence; the one who truly comprehends this will perhaps understand in what sense the path of renunciation (a manly sacrifice that rests on ‘not needing,’ on ‘having enough’) can be a condition for the way to the highest power; and he will also grasp the hidden logic according to which (based on traditions that most people hold to be myths, but I certainly do not) ascetics, holy men, and initiates suddenly and naturally manifest suggestive and supernatural powers that are stronger than any powers of men and things […]. A true ruler, imperial by nature, is he who has access to this higher quantity of being, which automatically also means a different quality of being by which others are inflamed, attracted, overpowered without his even wanting them to be. It is he who imposes himself, so to speak, through his mere presence: like an embracing and threatening gaze that others are unable to resist; akin to that calm and relaxed greatness that magically stops even the armed man and the attacking beast; that immediately commands respect and the desire to obey, to sacrifice oneself, to search for the meaning of one’s own truer life within this vaster life. […] And so it is he who can say at the zenith: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life,’ and thus give a unity, meaning, and justification to countless individuals, to that whole system of life’s inferior determinisms, that they did not have before. For the inferior person never lives his own life as perfectly as when he is certain that this existence has a center and a goal in something superior (pp. 49–50).
Concerning this we offer an excerpt from Georg Mehlis, Italienische Philosophie der Gegenwart (Philosophische Berichte, no. 12; chapter: “Der magische Idealismus”):
Man as power is in possession of total self-rule: he is content with the absolute possession of his self. He has no longer any ‘deficiency’ to compensate for. In his full possession of power, man reaches absolute indifference, so that it makes no sense for him to act any more. The magical man stands beyond good and evil, beyond pain or joy, beyond emotion or passion. Nietzsche’s Ubermensch is actualized within him, who rejects the paltry moral concepts of the bourgeois order, mainly built on utility and advantage, and who celebrates the singular great personality. However, Evola rises even above the Ubermensch.
It is self-evident that these excerpts merely deal with the partial aspect of Evola’s philosophy that is relevant to this inquiry. But they provide a glimpse that is already helpful for the comprehension of his political ideas. Those who are further interested in the philosophical phase of Evola’s work may refer to Roberto Melchionda, Il volto di Dionisio-filosofia e arte in Julius Evola (The Face of Dionysus Philosophy and Art in Julius Evola, Rome, 1984), which remains the deepest analysis so far of Evola’s anything-but-simple philosophy.
The transition from the philosophical to the political world of ideas occurs wholly without constraint in that, according to Evola, on the political plane one replaces the Self in its freedom and power with the State, which rules the people as the Self rules its body.