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 V: The First Steps Toward Politics
This chapter is mainly based on the meticulous and excellent articles by the professor Marco Rossi: “L’Interventismo politico-culturale delle riviste tradizionaliste negli anni venti: ‘Atanor’ (1924) e ‘Ignis’ (1925)” in the respected journal Storia Contemporanea XVIII, no. 3, June 1987, and “‘Lo Stato Democratico’ e l’antifascismo antidemocratico di Julius Evola” in Storia Contemporanea XX, no. 1, February 1989. A further important source is Mario Bozzi Sentieri, “La via evoliana allo stato,” in Diorama Letterario, no. 72, Florence, June 1984.
If Evola had already chosen an antidemocratic and voluntaristic direction after his previous issues, it was Arturo Reghini (1878–1946) who was responsible for the decisive step that finally fixed this position and gave it a spiritual framework. Reghini was a mathematician, linguist, thirty-third-degree Mason (Scottish Rite), and above all a follower of an esoteric “Italic Tradition.” This tradition tried to revitalize Pythagoreanism for the modern age and was emphatically anti-Christian. Reghini had introduced the writings of René Guénon to Evola, and thus introduced him to the central idea of “Tradition.” Guénon does not understand this to be the taking over of certain rules of behaviour and traditions of the past, but instead holds it to be a metaphysical reality standing above time: a totality of principles and transcendental and therefore eternal, unchanging values that are completely anchored in Being i.e., transcendence and which appear in the historical world in a more or less materialized form. This tradition forms an organic whole that is hierarchically structured and which strives to overcome the nature-bound element to form a higher metaphysical principle (concerning this, see Revolt Against the Modern World, the entire first part of which is dedicated to explaining this traditional world). For Reghini and, in his wake, Evola, the classical Roman and Greek religion and imperial conception of the state approached this ideal very closely. A constant decline, owing mainly to Christianity, which contributed to the dissolution of the Roman Empire, had then led the world to its modern state of dismemberment. A last grandiose gesture was the medieval empire of the Hohenstaufen, with its ideals of asceticism, knighthood, and the strict feudal division of society (see Dante, De Monarchia).
Reghini and others now hoped that the ancient Imperium Romanum could be revived in their lifetime. In his magazine Atanor, Reghini writes in 1924 that he has already foreseen and wished for the rise of an Italian regime in the ancient sense. This regime would primarily have the task of rejuvenating spiritual values, by which he meant anti-Christian and antidemocratic ones. It was precisely in this spirit that Atanor (for which Evola also wrote, although on other topics) already welcomed Fascism in its first issue (January/February 1924). The Traditionalists believed, as did the “Conservative Revolution” in the case of National Socialism, that Fascism merely had to be “corrected” in order to be steered onto the right path. They tried to initiate this “correction” repeatedly. This was also the reason for Reghini’s, and later Evola’s, campaign against the effort of the Fascist regime to come to an agreement with the Catholic Church. This was, of course, a hopeless struggle, which ended in 1929 with the ratification of the Lateran Accords between Italy and the Vatican and the defeat of the Traditionalists.
Within the framework of his campaign for a “pagan imperialism” modelled on antiquity, Reghini had sharply attacked Mussolini, who was acting prime minister, in his otherwise purely philosophical and esoteric magazine Atanor, which even drew a detailed and surprisingly knowledgeable response in the form of an article by Mussolini himself (writing under a pseudonym). Of course, in the interests of maintaining power, Mussolini could never pursue an anti-Christian line, but it is still interesting that he even responded to such a marginal opinion. Concerning this, there is some background that has not been completely elucidated and which points to Mussolini’s connections to certain esoteric tendencies. Professor Renato del Ponte revealed some of this in his work Il movimento tradizionalista romano nel novecento (Scandiano, 1987; see also his preface to Julius Evola and the UR Group, Introduction to Magic).
A mysterious character named “Ekatlos” writes in the third volume of Julius Evola and the UR Group’s Introduzione alla Magia quale scienza dell’lo (Rome, 1971, p. 3 81 ff.) that as early as 1913, mysterious rites were being conducted night after night that were intended to hasten the return of the ancient Roman Empire. Thereafter, ancient sacred objects were discovered that harbored the corresponding spiritual power. Finally, when the first fascio di combattimento (combat unit) was founded on March 23, 1919, out of which the Fascist party developed in 1921, someone was present who was part of this magical-sacral group and had conducted the rites. This person said to Mussolini then and there: “You will become the Consul of Italy.” On May 23, 1923, the very same person gave a fasces to Mussolini, who had been head of the government since 1922. The fasces (Italian fascio littorio, hence Fascism) was a symbol of the chief magistrates in ancient Rome. For this fasces that Mussolini received, an ancient Etruscan battle-ax was used, one of the sacred objects mentioned earlier. Also in 1923, the Palatine (one of the sacred hills of Rome in the ancient tradition) witnessed a performance of part of the tragedy Ruman: Romae sacrae origines (Ruman: Rome’s Sacred Origins), with Mussolini present and cheering approvingly. In a letter dated March 7, 1923, he had written: “Ruman must happen under all circumstances. The government supports the initiative most passionately.” However, this tragedy was not theatre in the usual sense, but rather a real ritual and an act of consecration that showed a deep knowledge of Rome’s ancient tradition. Likewise, rites were conducted within the UR Group (which, as we know, was under Evola’s leadership) with the purpose of ensouling Fascism with the spirit of ancient Rome. However, the Christian integralist Silvano Pannunzio writes in his magazine Metapolitica (XIII, 3-4, December 1988) that Mussolini was apparently taken aback when he heard that Reghini and Evola – supposedly in an Etruscan coffin – had conducted rites with this purpose. In the same breath he adds that Evola had no influence on Fascism at all, or certainly much less than had been assumed previously. At least the Catholic Church must have seen these rites and the parallel publishing activities as some kind of danger, for it reacted most vehemently. For example, the later Pope Paul VI indicted the magicians assembled around Julius Evola and their “fanatical re-evocations” in the periodical Studium (XXIV, 6, June 1928). In any case, the esoteric attempt to ensoul Fascism with ancient sacrality had failed. The later intellectual efforts of Evola as a writer that ran in the same direction likewise brought negative results.
This episode definitely shows one thing: at least in the beginning stages of Fascism, the most manifold political and even esoteric-political movements had a chance to articulate themselves, even though Mussolini soon closed down all Masonic lodges on behalf of the Church, despite the fact that the Masonic element was not only strongly represented at the founding of the Party, but was the majority as well, as Gianni Vannoni writes (Massoneria, Fascismo e Chiesa Cattolica, Rome, 1979). Mussolini was continually torn between Modernism (for example, his acceptance of Futurism as the “official” artistic tendency of Fascism) and Traditionalism.
Evola wrote his first real political essay at the behest of his friend Count Giovanni Colonna di Cesare, who was a deeply committed democrat and led his own political paper named Lo Stato Democratico, which ran counter to the rule of Fascism in its espousal of democratic ideas. Colonna di Cesare had approached Evola about a contribution for his magazine. Evola immediately let him know that he could only give a devastating indictment of democracy, which was really surprising (excepting his aforementioned studies) as at that time he still moved in Theosophical and Anthroposophical circles (for example, Colonna di Cesaro’s mother was the Italian publisher of Rudolf Steiner’s works) that were known for their democratic convictions. To this Colonna di Cesare answered that free expression was the hallmark of democracy and that Evola could naturally write what he wanted. The latter agreed, and so the essay “Stato, Potenza e Liberta” came about (State, Power and Freedom, in Lo Stato Democratico, 1/7, May 1925), which consisted of an almost complete transposition of his solipsistic philosophical ideas to the state: “The State as Power,” to paraphrase his work Man as Power:“The foundation of justice and the legitimization of the state can lie only in its power, whereby the concept of power is to be understood in its spiritual meaning as discussed above.” In this context, Evola portrayed Fascism as a “mere caricature” and a “grotesque parody, if one looks at the type of ruler and the state that ought to embody the principle of freedom.” (In 1925, it was already the leading party.) He further elaborated that the Fascist movement “in no way possesses a cultural and spiritual root.” Only after “purely material strength” had brought success did Fascism turn to the task of creating this root, “just as a newly rich man later tries to buy himself an education and a noble title.” These were not exactly amicable words. The “patriotic mythos” is reprimanded as a simplistic “sentimental complex” that reveals an “inner idealistic weakness” and which might be an “early sign of dangerous compromise.” “The so-called Fascist revolution” is merely “an ironic revolution,” because it has “formally accepted the existing constitutional, parliamentary, and legal order.” Evola then goes even further and asserts that this is not so surprising, for “one can hardly trust” these “pseudo-revolutionaries to have the power to execute a real coup d’état.”
Evola wrote all this despite the fact that he naturally had his hopes for Fascism. He simply wanted to “correct” it and steer it into aristocratic channels, as we will see him doing during the entire Fascist era. Evola always insisted (perhaps with the exception of his last years) on absolute standpoints and despised compromises because they stemmed from the consideration of advantage and utility. This is also one of the reasons he rejected democracy. This unbending search for a perfect inner coherence is both Evola’s highest virtue and his greatest fault. In this first political essay his special conception of power is also discussed repeatedly. Among other things, Evola criticizes those leaders of the Fascist party who ceaselessly emphasized that they held all the power and therefore possessed the ability to prevail, and opines: “To feel the need to refer to one’s own power at every opportunity is already a sign of fear, inner weakness, and insecurity, which leads them in their desperation to resort to brutal violence, since they possess no inner point of real stability and power.” In the same article Evola also strongly condemns violent acts against politically different thinking people, as in the case of the parliamentary deputy Matteotti who was murdered by the Fascists because he wanted to annul the elections of 1924 due to terrorist influence.
This was Evola’s not exactly timid entrance into the political debate. Lo Stato Democratico, no. 15, of the same year already included his next essay “Note critiche sulla dottrina democratica” (Critical Notes Concerning the Democratic Doctrine). Colonna di Cesare found it necessary to introduce Evola as a “strict antidemocrat but definitely not a Fascist.” Evola himself notes in this article: “Good heavens! To be undemocratic and to be a Fascist: those are surely two totally different things.” Evola then expounds the theorem, based on Plato and Taoism, that only a truly spiritual group should hold the reins of power. Then all political and economic problems will be solved. He actually thinks it possible to find such a group in Italy. His later efforts with the UR Group surely followed this direction. Furthermore, he denies in this article that the political arena as such has any value in itself. That is why he has no interest in mere politics. Only the world of ideas has such real value, and therefore has to order the political realm beneath it. He then continues to present “communism, anarchism, and democracy” as different shades of the same thing, a view that he would steadily repeat from then on.
But he did not stop at the political essays for Lo Stato Democratico. In 1926 Evola was already published in the important magazine Critica Fascista, which was founded and headed by Giuseppe Bottai, later minister of education and governor of Rome. Evola knew Bottai from their time in World War I when they had served in the same artillery regiment. Both had agreed to “stir up the waters” a bit, which Evola accomplished immediately, as Critica Fascista was also read by high-ranking officials of the Fascist party. The tenor was always the same: the fight against the Catholic Church, against the bourgeois element in Fascism, against the administration and its back-scratching toadyism, as well as the accusation that a real cultural revolution based on spirituality had not been achieved. Practical questions of statecraft did not interest Evola, nor did eventual difficulties with the conversion of his theories into reality. Thus he writes in “Idee su uno stato come potenza” (Thoughts about a State as Power; Critica Fascista, September 1, 1926):
We have constructed the present concept of the state entirely a priori, independently of any historical reality. But a priori does not mean abstraction. The idea must sit in judgment over reality, and not the other way round. The task of speculation is to ascertain which values must be valid in this insecure human world, not which ones exist. And if this does not correspond to everyday reality, one must nevertheless not call it abstract. Rather, it is the will and strength of those human beings who do not live up to the idea that must be called abstract and sluggish.
With words like these, it could be foreseen that he would not gain any support within the ruling regime, and even less with functionaries concerned for their careers and families. Finally, even his friend Bottai withdrew his support when the attacks on Evola (and by extension on himself, as the publisher responsible) grew in intensity, the immediate cause being the essay “Il fascismo quale volonta di impero e il Cristianesimo” (Fascism as the Will to Empire and Christianity), which appeared in Critica Fascista in 1927 and resulted in such vehement reactions that Bottai did not dare defend Evola anymore, even suppressing his replies. The hardest attacks came from the Catholic Church. These attacks reached a climax with the publication of Evola’s highly polemical first political book, Imperialismo pagano. A storm of outrage broke loose against Evola in magazines and newspapers, even the Osservatore Romano, making the author famous overnight.
In this book, which Evola later characterized as too impetuous and of which he forbade new editions, he attacked not only the Catholic Church, but also Protestantism, lashed out equally against the Soviet Union and America, and above all indicted the faults of the Fascist regime, by then already all-powerful. One example will illustrate this:
On the other hand, the so-called hierarchies of Fascism almost always consist of mere party leaders, who have often come up from lower strata, without a title or a true spiritual tradition, and who have more the suggestive ability of popular tribunes or condottieri in a secular Renaissance sense than any real aristocratic traits. Caught up in the struggles and worries of concrete politics, Fascism does not seem to be interested in creating a hierarchy in the higher sense, based on purely spiritual values and knowing only disdain for all pollutions due to ‘culture’ and modern intellectualism, so that the center might again shift to a position that lies beyond secular and religious boundaries alike. The Fascist conjuration of Roman symbols is far from being accompanied by a conjuration of the pagan Roman idea of the Imperium that is sacral, not just militaristic, and that would clearly expose the whole compromising and purely opportunistic side of the union of integral Fascism with any form of the Judeo-Christian religion (p. 98 in the German edition).
It probably did not help that he immediately followed this by noting that the Fascist regime was “better than nothing.” The following quote elucidates what moved Evola and what he believed in:
In the same way that a living body stays alive only when a soul is present to govern it, so every social organization not rooted in a spiritual reality is outward and transitory, unable to remain healthy and retain its identity in the struggle of the various forces; it is not really an organism, but more aptly something thrown together, an aggregate. The true cause for the decline of the political idea in the West today is to be found in the fact that the spiritual values that once permeated the social order have been lost, without any successful efforts to put something better in their place. The problem has been lowered to the plane of economic, industrial, military, governmental, or even more sentimental factors, without considering that all this is nothing more than matter: necessary if you like, but never enough by itself, and unable to create a healthy and reasonable social order, any more than the mere interplay of mechanical forces can bring forth a living being (ibid., p. 14).
Therefore one thing was essential above all: “The principle and foundation of the new state must be the organic idea” (ibid., p. 26). What else did Evola want? A resurrection of Rome’s ancient greatness. Thus he writes:
Rome was simultaneously a material and a spiritual power: it arose ‘to rule the earth’s peoples with authority and discipline, to order peace, to be mild toward the vanquished, and to crush the defiant’ [Virgil, Aeneid, VI, 852-854], and at the same time was something sacral […], in which there existed no expression of life, be it in public or private, in war or peace, that was not strictly accompanied by a ritual or symbol – a cultural formation of mysterious origin that had its demigods, its divine kings […] (p. 43f.).
The resurgence of Rome should coincide with the formation of a true sacral monarchy. We quote:
Of course, this ideal implies the affirmation not only of the concept and right of the nobility, but also of the monarchy. […] It must be renewed, strengthened, and dynamized as an organic, central, absolute function that embodies the might of power and the light of the spirit in a single being; then the monarchy is truly the act of a whole race, and at the same time the point that leads beyond all that is bound by blood and soil. Only then is one justified to speak of an Imperium. When it is awakened into a glorious, holy, metaphysical reality, the pinnacle of a martially ordered political hierarchy, then the monarchy once again occupies the place and fulfils the function that it once had, before being usurped by the priestly caste (p. 24 f.).
Evola believed he would be able to rechannel Fascism with this battle cry and maybe prevent the concordat with the Church at the last moment. But no positive echo within Fascism was forthcoming. The practicalities of daily government and careerism were too far removed from such ideas. However, we know that Antonio Gramsci, a cofounder of the Italian Communist party and still its leading theoretician (and respected by both left and right), definitely took note of the work.
Even though the book found no positive echo in Italy, it was noticed in Germany, where it was published in 1933 by the Armanen Verlag in an expanded version. It was due to this book that Evola was able to make his first lecture tours in Germany and also make contacts within the “Conservative Revolution.” The commentary of SS Brigadefuhrer Karl Maria Weisthor (real name Wiligut), which will be discussed later, is also interesting. In a report dated August 7, 1938 (R.A. III 2309/6/392) to the Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler, after reporting on Evola’s Heidnischer Imperialismus at the latter’s behest, he writes as follows: “It is astounding that a man in today’s strongly nationalistic Italy dares to publicly commit such thoughts to writing.”
In 1929, Evola’s famous essay “Americanismo e Bolscevismo” (Americanism and Bolshevism) appeared in the magazine Nuova Antologia. Following the ideas in Imperialismo pagano, this piece reveals the danger of a division of the world between America and the Soviet Union, by which Europe would only lose. Both powers strive to enslave man, although with different methods and toward different goals. In either case, the spiritual element is abandoned.
The year 1929 also saw the end of the magical workings of the UR Group, which from 1928 was called KRUR. As he did not have any more true inner or esoteric experiences to add to what he had already published, as he says in the last KRUR journal, Evola now felt it his mission to become active in the exoteric realm. And because few publications were willing to accept his contributions, he founded his own magazine with a few friends, which he called La Torre (The Tower, new edition: Milan, 1977, published by Marco Tarchi), even though the times were extremely difficult, as he writes at the conclusion of KRUR (new edition: Rome, 1981, p. 385). But he takes the words of the Indian sage Shankara to heart: “Just as the clouds move back and forth across the sky, so too do the experiences of the individual change. And just as all the dark clouds together cannot cloud its emerald calm, so the pains and passions of the world cannot disturb the detached state of an enlightened soul.” It was called “The Tower” not as a “place of refuge, but as a place of resistance, of the struggle of a higher realism for the few, the lonely, the free, and the unbending.”
With La Torre, Evola finally tested the extent of his influence on the cultural and political currents of his time. Among his contributors he counted the poet Girolamo Comi, the later famous psychoanalyst Emilio Servadio, the well-known mountain climber Domenico Rudatis, the Roman mystic Guido de Giorgio, and René Guénon. Contributions by Julien Benda, Krishnamurti, and even Paul Tillich, and excerpts from Nietzsche and Bachofen also appeared. (How many of these were authorized cannot be determined.) In the editorial to the first issue of La Torre, Evola already writes:
Without weakening and compromise we oppose the lowering of the spiritual level, as it has been elevated into a system by contemporary man. […] We are reacting against the loss of all higher meaning in life; against the materialization, socialization, and standardization to which everything is subjected. […] We want to be a danger, a challenge, and an indictment […] of all that is weak and directed toward compromising solutions, and which stands enslaved by prevailing opinion and small-minded adaptations to the moment. […] [With this magazine we express] the unmoving protest against the tyranny of the economic and the social that insolently permeates everything, and against the decline of any higher viewpoint into the most pitiable humanism. (p. 21).
An “identity card” written by Evola for the magazine also appeared in the first issue (p. 43). Herein it says:
Our magazine was not created to ‘whisper’ and ‘insinuate’ something to Fascism or to Deputy Mussolini, because neither Fascism nor Deputy Mussolini would know what to do with that. Our magazine was created rather to defend principles that for us are always and absolutely the same, independently of whether we are under a communist, anarchist, or republican regime.
Evola mentions his thoughts, as we have heard them, on hierarchy, the anchoring in the transcendental, and the imperial idea. Then he continues: “Up to the point that Fascism follows and defends these principles, up to that point we can consider ourselves Fascists. And that is all.” And further: “We are in open opposition to a certain mythos: the one that wants to turn spirituality and culture into a realm that is dependent on politics. We, on the other hand, claim that it is politics that must be dependent on spirituality and culture.”
It is thereby unmistakable what Evola’s goals were in regard to Fascism, what his convictions were, and what his efforts were aiming for.
Already one month after the launch of the magazine (the publication appeared biweekly), an issue was confiscated because Evola had taken an energetic stance against Mussolini’s plan to increase the population (“The fatherland needs people”).
By the time of issue number five (April 1, 1930), he seems to have found it necessary to write a preamble under the following title: “Things Put in Their Proper Place, and Some Plain Words.” Among other things one can read there:
We are neither ‘Fascists’ nor ‘anti-Fascists.’ ‘Antifascism’ is nothing. But for us as integral advocates of the Imperium, for us as aristocratically inclined, for us as unbending enemies of plebeian politics, of any ‘nationalistic’ ideology, of any and all party ranks and all forms of party ‘spirit,’ as well as of any more or less disguised form of socialism or democracy, Fascism is not enough. We would have wanted a more radical, more fearless, a more absolute Fascism that would exist in pure strength and unbending spirit against any compromise, inflamed by a real fire for imperial power. We can never be viewed as ‘anti-Fascists,’ except to the extent that ‘super-Fascism’ can be equated with ‘antifascism.’ And we have no inhibitions that keep us from plainly speaking our minds. On the contrary, it is to our advantage that the censors know from the start: even if in a humble form, with the experiment of La Torre we want to signal to the foreign world the point up to which strict imperial and traditional thought has a chance of survival in Fascist Italy, especially when it remains free of any political indenture and only obeys the pure will to defend an idea.
Evola went even further: when he was reminded that Mussolini thought differently from him (one has to remember the totalitarian character of Fascism at that time), he answered in his paper: “So much the worse for Mussolini!” Especially in the column “L’Arco e la Clava” (The Bow and the Club the title is an ironic expression of how distant opponents would be dealt with by the bow and closer ones with the club), Evola let his polemical and satirical side have free rein. His opponents were almost always functionaries who had climbed to their positions through long service and who had often been from the ranks of the street fighters. Education and culture were not their strong points, and hence Evola had an easy game. Expressions like “cabbage heads” and sentences like “these people should learn how to read before they talk about me” (p. 130) earned him many enemies. Soon the political department of the police warned him and recommended that he be more moderate, because the highest ranks of the Fascist party were already moving against him. He suffered daily attacks and could not move around in Rome without a bodyguard of friends. Consistently with his martial character, Evola did not worry about this, and so orders came down from the highest places to all potential printers of La Torre to refuse any orders placed by Evola. Thus this initiative was choked off after little more than six months. La Torre could no longer appear.
It is interesting to note that a non-Fascist, even anti-Fascist periodical like Croce’s La Critica could appear throughout the whole Fascist period, whereas a “super-Fascist” publication like La Torre was a victim of censorship. One can see from this who served the regime and its functionaries more, or at least damaged them less.
In his autobiography, Evola wrote about the epoch up to 1930 (Cammino, p. 102) that back then he was acting “with idealistic innocence and little practical and tactical sense.” After these experiences it became clear to him that he needed “some kind of base within the castle” if he wanted to continue to be active. This base he soon reached with the help of Giovanni Preziosi, who had become aware of La Torre because he himself edited a very combative publication called La Vita Italiana. In addition, he was acquainted with Arturo Reghini. Preziosi, who came from a strict Catholic family, had won Mussolini’s trust with his uprightness, in spite of some resistance; hence, he enjoyed a kind of immunity, as Evola writes, that gave him a large amount of freedom within his magazine. Thus, Evola was able to continue expressing his opinions in Preziosi’s organ, and even had the opportunity to travel abroad for instance, to Germany and Romania at the magazine’s expense. But Preziosi did even more for Evola when he introduced him to Roberto Farinacci. Like Preziosi, Farinacci had been on Mussolini’s bad side for a time, because he had uncovered the dirty dealings of Mussolini’s brother, but on account of his loyalty, honesty, and strength of character he had a direct connection to Mussolini and so was in a nearly unassailable position. Farinacci managed the publication Il Regime Fascista, which was then part of the official state media.
Now, Farinacci offered Evola the possibility to fill a special page every two weeks with the very ideas that he had always stood for, in complete freedom. And thus the absurd situation developed in which although La Torre could not appear any more, the same ideas continued to be published in a paper of the regime. And as he notes, Evola had found a “patron saint” in Farinacci who defended him to the utmost degree. It did not matter to Farinacci that Evola was not a party member and had no intention of becoming one. Evola had indeed found a “base within the castle itself.” Farinacci was conscious of his own lack of learning, but saw this as a deficiency, and at least through this support wanted to bring “culture” into Fascism.
Thus, it was decided to create a philosophical podium to address a spiritual elite. It was called Diorama Filosofico (Philosophical Diorama) and subtitled “Problems of the Spirit in Fascist Ethics.” (The reprint of a first volume of the Diorama with the essays from 1934 to 1935 appeared in 1974 in Rome. It was prefaced with a knowledgeable introduction by Marco Tarchi, “Evola e il fenomeno storico del fascismo” [Evola and the Historical Phenomenon of Fascism].) This special page, which appeared almost uninterruptedly for ten years (until 1943), was a veritable anthology of rightist thinkers in which the unorthodox and nonpartisan dominated. In fact, Evola wanted to assemble a European nonconformist Right that would work as a corrective, in Evola’s sense, in the Fascist-type regimes that then predominated everywhere. To this end, he visited numerous countries, all the while soliciting contributions for his Diorama Filosofico. This plan is articulated, for example, in the Diorama introduction (of February 2, 1934), where he mentions the need for an elite that will function as the “living soul in the center of the hierarchical totality.”
The variety of authors whom Evola was able to win over was surprisingly colourful. This kind of freedom was possible in the first place only because Diorama appeared in one of the organs most loyal to the party, and thus little prone to attack. Among the authors we must mention Franz Altheim, Othmar Spann, Walter Heinrich, Gonzague de Reynold; and famous poets like Gottfried Benn, Karl Wolfskehl (who came from the circle surrounding Stefan George), and Paul Valéry. In addition, there were outstanding monarchists, like Prince Karl Anton Rohan, Edmund Dodsworth, Sir Charles Petrie, and the monarchist delegate A. E. Gunter (not to be confused with H. F. K. Gunther); and no less than Wilhelm Stapel, publisher of Deutsches Volkstum. Former collaborators of La Torre, like Guido de Giorgio and René Guénon, wrote for it as well. Even a Georgian, Grigol Robakadise, was among the contributors. G. Preziosi and G. A. Fanelli must perhaps be counted among the more official proponents. A submission by Heinrich Himmler also appeared, although only in the form of a summary because, as can be seen in the documents of the German Federal Archives in Koblenz, Himmler or at least his staff was not very happy about this (more details about the National Socialist episode below). In addition, poetry by Proust, Joyce, and Thomas Mann was reviewed in the Diorama, and there were critiques of Freudian and Jungian psychoanalysis, Nietzsche, Bachofen, and Bergson. Beside these contributions, which must have been incomprehensible for many readers, there were discussions of themes connected to the current experiences of Fascism. Among these themes we can include the problems of the corporations, the question of a unique Fascist art and architecture, and ethical questions.
In the meantime, Evola’s totally unpolitical but excellent study of alchemy had appeared in 1931 under the title La tradizione ermetica (The Hermetic Tradition, English edition: Rochester, Vt., 1995). The book betrays an unbelievable familiarity with hundreds of alchemical texts, and has been laudably mentioned by C. G. Jung and Mircea Eliade. Academie Francaise member Marguerite Yourcenar, at the end of her own L’Oeuvre au noir, calls it one of the best studies on alchemy that has ever been published.
In 1934 Evola released his “unofficial masterpiece,” Rivolta contro il mondo moderno, in which he consolidated his thought on a traditional worldview. The work (which was also released in 1935 by the German Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart, under the title Erhebung wider die moderne Welt) was revised three times and published in its final form in Rome, 1969. The latter was the foundation for the English translation of 1995 with the title Revolt Against the Modern World. Because this book is still available, despite its importance it will be discussed only very briefly here. It is not a political book in the strict sense; rather it could be called metapolitical. Supported by a mass of quotes from ancient philosophical and religious writings, it presents the spiritual foundation on which all politics whatsoever, according to Evola, should be built. Without exaggerating, one can say that none of Evola’s other writings, including the political ones, can be understood without prior knowledge of Revolt. The only exceptions are the works written before 1925, although even these are already infused with some isolated aspects of the traditional worldview.
The book is a merciless reckoning with everything we call modern, and especially with the concept of progress as such. According to Evola (and also according to the ancient world and the religious beliefs of India), the world is not in a state of improvement, but rather in an ongoing decline. The reason for this lies in an increasing desacralization of life and of history. The sacred, which penetrated and uplifted every aspect of life in the traditional world, from the family to the state, has been completely lost, replaced by a purely economic attitude entailing ever stronger mechanization and standardization. This is especially noticeable in the leadership of the state, which should be the domain of a priest-king acting as mediator between Heaven and Earth. And for all this, the traditional world for Evola (and he follows Guénon in this regard) is no nostalgic conjuration of the past, but instead the historical expression of a supratemporal reality.
In his review of the work in Die Literatur (vol. XXXVII, 1934/1935, pp. 283-287), the famous expressionist poet Gottfried Benn called it: “A work […] whose extraordinary importance […] will be clearly evident. An ‘epochal’ book. He who has read it will be changed.” And Mircea Eliade, ostensibly the most well-known contemporary scholar of comparative religion, writes in Vremea (March 31, 1935, p. 6): “Evola is one of the most interesting spirits of the war generation. He wields a truly astounding amount of knowledge. […] We recommend this book to those who want to consider, if not answers to all questions, then at least a fascinatingly broad explanation of the world and of history” (quoted after Les Deux Etendards, I/1, Luisant, 1988).