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 VII: Summary of Evola’s Relations to Fascism
Taken as a whole, one can look at Evola’s attitude toward the historical phenomenon of Fascism in the following time sequence: first a great hope; then an immediate sobering that is nevertheless supported by the hope of being able to make corrections of a traditional kind; and finally the recognition that everything is lost, which in Evola’s case, however, leads him to endure, out of “loyalty” and the “legionnaire’s spirit,” to the end and beyond. Finally comes apoliteia, the apolitical stance that betrays a total disillusion. We have discussed several times Evola’s main point of contention regarding Fascism: its lack of spiritual roots. All his other criticisms are merely consequences of this. In countless essays he mentioned the totalitarian state, the bureaucracy, the populist elements (“Proletarian and Fascist Italy,” as one slogan had it) that brought with them demagoguery and a primitive emphasis on outward things, the pedagogic urge of the state, the campaign for population increase, the “virtuous” attitude toward sexual morals, the absurd continuing existence of the party (which, after all, means “part,” and thus stands in logical opposition to an autocratic assertion), with its pathetic election spectacles, the politicizing of leisure time, the Fascist corporative concept, the Catholic influence, and so on.
These “degenerations,” as Evola termed them, were of course exactly the components that made up the political success of Fascism and National Socialism alike. The emphasis on bourgeois thought-patterns and the subsequent repression of the aristocratic element aroused his decisive opposition. By Evola’s definition of aristocracy, it “has nothing in common with Machiavellian or demagogic forms of rule by violent and terrorizing types. […] The foundation of every aristocratic type is above all spiritual, ‘Olympian,’ and refers to an order that is already metaphysical” (Lo Stato, April 1941). We are already familiar with his distaste of everything middle class, as well as its roots in Nietzsche, Plato, Le Bon, and so on. Evola’s attitude becomes very apparent in the article “Unsere antiburgerliche Front” (Our Antibourgeois Front), which he published in issue no. 27 of the German conservative magazine Der Ring. We quote:
The bourgeoisie is identical to the Third Estate, the class of merchants and craftsmen who settled in the medieval cities. Now it is obvious that the ‘progress’ of history since the Middle Ages can be summarized as the abnormal development of the middle-class element and its unique occupations and interests, while the other, higher elements of the medieval hierarchy were shut out – a development that has the character of a cancerous growth. It is the Burger [bourgeois citizen] who unloads the full curse of ridicule on the ideals of the previous knightly era. It is the Burger, like the ‘new men’ whom Dante so despised, who is the first to give the signal to the anti-traditional outrage by assuming the right to bear arms, by fortifying the centers of corrupt economic power, and so helping his standard to prevail; it is the Burger who makes an anarchical claim of autonomy against imperial authority in the urban communities. It is the Burger who has slowly brought things to the point that today a claim that would have been deemed an absurd heresy in other, normal times can appear to be the most natural thing in the world: that is, that the economy is our fate and destiny, that profit is our purpose in life, that bargaining and trading is a ‘deed,’ and that the conversion of every value into the notions of profitability, prosperity, and comfort, into units of speculation and of supply and demand, makes up the essence of our civilization […] thus, modern civilization and bourgeois civilization have come to be almost identical expressions. It is to the Burger’s rise to power, who first through the Revolution and then through the democratic constitutions has been freed from the medieval ‘residues,’ that the Western world owes its illusory greatness, but at the same also its terrible spiritual destruction, whose witnesses we are today.
Evola made Edgardo Sulis’s words his own: “The bourgeoisie: enemy number one of the Fascist revolution.” For Evola, the bourgeoisie is identical with the destruction of true spiritual values in order to increase one’s own profits, as well as the failure to recognize quality and the subsequent introduction of quantity as the sole criterion. Herein lie further roots of Evola’s enmity toward democracy: it is not the majority that is, quantity, that should decide, but the quality of realization that can be found only in the few. To the same category as the article quoted above belongs the essay “Bureaucracy and the Leading Strata” (in Lo Stato, IV, as well as a German version in Der Vierjahresplan, 1940), where Evola writes:
After the communist and bolshevist danger had receded, one rightfully saw Fascism’s most dangerous opponents in the form of bourgeois culture and the bourgeois spirit. Fascism must be especially prepared for this danger, because it appears in a more refined and cunning form and finds a fertile ground in the natural inclinations of the majority of men, wherever the heroic tension […] begins to weaken. […] However, it is curious that one of the most typical forms [of the bourgeois spirit] has hardly received any attention, a form that is all the more dangerous because it flourishes in the center of the state: I mean the phenomenon of bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is the typical agent of the ‘political bourgeoisie’ and embodies the worst misdeeds of the middle-class spirit in its widest sense. In spite of eighteen years of Fascist rule, it must be honestly admitted that Italy is far removed from being able to show a really effective and not just nominal de-bureaucratization. […] In this way, a very real kind of bureaucratic feudalism is being formed. […]
In his enmity toward the middle-class spirit, Evola could refer to Mussolini himself, who had stressed repeatedly that bourgeois and Fascist spirit, bourgeois and heroic ethic, are incompatible opposites. The expression “Fascism disdains the comfortable life” also originates from Mussolini.
Thomas Sheehan, in his interesting although strongly anti-Evolian essay “Myth and Violence: The Fascism of Julius Evola and Alain de Benoist” (in Social Research, vol. 48, pp. 45-73), in which he sees an absolute “demythologizing” and a veritable ban on the “mythic” as the only means against violence and extremism, quotes Mussolini as exhorting the Italian citizen to “attain that purely spiritual existence in which his value as a man consists.” In a 1930 speech about Fascism, Mussolini also says: “This political process is flanked by a philosophical process; if it be true that matter was on the altars for a century, today it is the spirit which takes its place. […] By saying that God is returning, we mean that spiritual values are returning” (p. 52).
Utterances of this sort must have surely given Evola new hope time and again; but a deep chasm opened between such words and the reality designed by administrators. It is hard to ascertain whether Evola made a fundamental error with regard to Fascism, by mistakenly identifying his private conceptions of it with the historical phenomenon. But we can hardly believe this, because the divergences were simply too great. Was it not Fascism that, as Philippe Baillet writes (“Les rapports de Julius Evola avec le Fascisme et le National-Socialisme” [The Relationships of Julius Evola with Fascism and National Socialism] in Politica Hermetica, p. 61f.), brought the people the modernism despised by Evola with its “invasion of radios, that mania of compulsory exercise for everyone, the political song, the cult of film stars, the invasiveness of bureaucracy, and the excessive industrialization”? And the mass marches where a “Caesar” was applauded? We also support the thesis of Baillet (one of the best Evola experts) and assume that Evola simply saw Fascism as the last chance of the West. From his standpoint, the visible alternatives were much worse; there was only liberalism paired with capitalism (“anything goes”) and Communism, both of which worshiped a world of machines and limitless materialism. Because Fascism strengthened the state and the hierarchical concept, and, for all its demagoguery, praised honour, bravery, and loyalty, Evola saw in it at least a temporary bastion against the equalizing flood that seemed certain to succeed in liberalism and Communism.
In the same way, Evola’s approach to the “much more consequential” National Socialism can be understood as a reaction to his disappointment with Fascism. The disappointment with National Socialism in addition led him to the even “more consequential” philosophy of the SS. But this is material for another chapter. The last “consequence” was apoliteia, the retreat into metaphysics. Aside from this, Evola possibly believed in the “magical” effectiveness of the traditional ideas in the present. Through their continuous “invocation,” the supramundane ideas were supposed to act like magnets on this earth, around which the best simply had to gather. But exactly here lies the crux of any concept of the state that is founded in transcendence: How does one translate the metaphysical values into mundane reality? And this poses a second question: Must not man assimilate himself to the supramundane world before he can recognize and then realize its values? Is not an inner transformation needed before the outer?
Another aspect that brought Evola into conflict with the ruling Fascism was his disapproval of the nation concept as a creation of the French Revolution, which had led to an impermissible rise of the ethnic concept. For him, nation and folk were concepts rooted in nature, and thus subversive and anti-traditional. Rooted in nature means rooted in life, and thus geared toward one’s own survival, which excludes any form of sacrifice for a higher ideal. The whole philosophy of self-interest derives from being rooted in life. By definition, true spirituality stands above life and therefore cannot be concerned with it. That is why overcoming the fear of death is a prerequisite of free spirituality.
In the essay “Processo alla Borghesia” (Indictment of the Bourgeoisie) from March 1940 (reprinted in the anthology Gli articoli de la Vita Italiana durante il periodo bellico [The Articles from Vita Italiana during the War Period], Treviso, 1988), he says:
For us the word ‘people’ comes from the jargon of demagogues and agitators, because in reality it is either a passive substance and belongs to him who understands how to possess it, or else it is the end phase of a process of dissolution and of a societal equalization.
To Fascism, and even more so to National Socialism, such words amounted to sacrilege – as they would in the contemporary world as well.
In his summarizing critique of Fascism, Il fascismo visto dalla Destra con in appendice: “Note sul Terzo Reich” (Fascism Viewed from the Right with an Appendix: ‘Notes on the Third Reich,’ Rome, 1970), which, however, was written after the war – which is why we have focused on the works of the Fascist period – Evola even writes the following:
We are not afraid to invert the thesis of a certain antifascism, and assert that it was not Fascism that had negative effects on the Italian people, but rather the other way round: it was this people, this ‘race,’ that negatively affected Fascism, i.e., the Fascist experiment, because it showed that it did not have enough men on the necessary plane of certain higher qualifications and symbols […] capable of further developing the positive possibilities that could have been contained in this system.
This is not necessarily as malicious as it seems, even though it is of course provocative (provocation being, after all, one of the special inclinations of our author), for the concept of the state that Evola represents presupposes the over-coming of the purely human. That is why Evola strives to form the “new man,” only not in the mass but instead in the form of an elite, an Order, which takes up the reins of the state as Plato’s wise men did. In this he is different from the leftist utopians, who also want to create a new man, but who want to see him in the people as a whole, and thus mercilessly want to re-educate everyone. As their head there should be a monarch because, as Evola writes in Fascismo (p. 45): “A true Right without a monarchy would be lacking its natural gravitational and crystallizing point” (see also the collection of essays published by Renato del Ponte with Evola’s relevant articles: Monarchia, Aristocrazia, Tradizione, San Remo, 1986, and “Significato e funzione della Monarchia” [Significance and Function of the Monarchy] in the appendix to his translation of Karl Lowenstein, La Monarchia nello stato moderno, Rome, 1969).
With this emphasis on a spiritual monarchy (“by the grace of God”) and the consequent imperial idea, Evola stood in sharp contrast to the principle of Fascism’s and National Socialism’s leaders, who both derived their legitimacy from the people: thus the monarchs came from above, the leaders from below. This leadership principle corresponds exactly to the picture of Caesarism that Spengler unfolds in his Decline of the West, and which is a sign of a declining civilization. Mussolini seems to have had a clear understanding of these contexts, and tried to cut off the spread of Spenglerian ideas as much as possible. It is interesting that the communist theoretician Antonio Gramsci accused Fascism of “bourgeoisation” and Caesarism (see Marcello Veneziani, La Revoluzione Conservatrice in Italia, Milan, 1987, p. 51). On the other hand, Evola did not intend his traditional concepts to remain mere idle plays of thought. In order to at least put something into action, he also had to compromise and, for instance, accept the nominal status of the monarchy in the Fascist epoch. Of course, this led to other unavoidable contradictions. A real solution to these inconsistencies was to come only with Evola’s apoliteia.
Evola led a special struggle against the “bolshevist” tendencies in Fascism – that is, the opinion of some that communism had to undergo only a few positive developments in order to turn into Fascism. The communist idea, with its collectivism, was for Evola the most radical negation of his ideal of the personality, which, bound to transcendence, rose above the purely human element. This “anti-bolshevism,” as he often called it, was also the reason for his decisive opposition to all similar tendencies in National Socialism, which also approached communism, in that among other things it wanted to abolish private property and dreamed of the introduction of the Russian Revolution. That is why he opposed National Bolshevism more and more, even though he also wrote for Ernst Niekisch’s journal Widerstand.
Evola attacked; however, he was also himself attacked, not only because of his strict theoretical convictions and his often personal attacks on some representatives of Fascism and its culture, but also because he was seen as a “narcissistic magician” who studied Tantrism, Buddhism, Hinduism, alchemy, and so on. One of the accusations from Catholics and Fascists asserted that these occult activities in themselves already proved his “antifascism,” because a real Fascist would have totally different ideals. Accusations of this kind must have been frequent, because Evola at least once felt compelled to answer the charges in an essay (see “Oriente non e antifascismo” [Orient Does Not Equal Antifascism”], in Critica Fascism, October 10, 1927).
Official Fascism was equally unhappy about Evola’s public agreement with the thesis of the “philosophers of crisis” – Spengler, Benda, Massis, Guénon, Keyserling, and Ortega y Gasset – that the world was in the midst of a decline. This amounted to a denunciation of the modern age, whereas to be modern and progressive was the declared goal of Fascism. Especially hard hit by this rejection by the Fascist regime was Oswald Spengler, who was spurned even by such well-known philosophers as Croce and Cantimori. For the evaluation of Evola’s attitude toward Fascism, the following seems to us expressive and telling. In the middle of the war, when the very survival of Fascism was at stake, Evola authored an extensive work on Buddhism, which, truly free of any hint of the desperate times, speaks in an erudite fashion about ascetics, nirvana, karma, and rebirth, unlocking these concepts in true Evolian fashion in a new way, while directly referring to the ancient Buddhist texts, contradicting the then current pseudo-Oriental prejudices: a work that was translated and published by Luzac, one of the most respected English publishers in this field. Even declared enemies of Evola agree about its merits.
After these fairly numerous references, which should allow the reader a differentiated picture of Evola’s activities in relation to Fascism, it is surely interesting to read a few opinions and judgments about him.
Renzo de Felice, no doubt the most important expert on Fascism and the well-known Mussolini biographer, writes in Der Faschismus: Ein Interview (Stuttgart, 1977, p. 97ff.):
Who is Evola? Throughout the whole Fascist period he was an outsider, and not by accident; he never held any office within the Fascist party […] and at least many of the Fascists criticized him and viewed him with mistrust. Evola represents a form of Traditionalism that consists of cosmic history on the one hand and prophecies of doom on the other. These are convictions that one finds only in very small fringe groups in Fascism, if at all.
Ernst Nolte opined in his Der Faschismus in seiner Epoche (Fascism in Its Epoch, Munich, 1979, p. 589):
Giulio Evola played no political role. Still, he was no ‘unpolitical archaicist,’ because he worked diligently with the racial campaign. (A following chapter examines Evola’s racism in detail.)
Mircea Eliade (as a historian of religion, no “expert” on the subject, and then still young) declared in his article in Vremea:
Evola is not subject to influences. This is exactly why we sympathize with him.
Gottfried Benn had the following to say in his review of Revolt:
Because they put their racial-religious axiom into action, Evola sees in the movements of Fascism and National Socialism the possibilities of a relinking of peoples to the world of Tradition, promises for the production of real history, and a new legitimate relationship of spirit and power. Indeed, with Evola’s teachings as a background, one can see the epochal depth of these movements very clearly.
Surely, Evola was no Fascist in the historical meaning of the term, but was even less of an “anti-Fascist.” One could label him as a critical sympathizer with Fascism, who because of his martial and spiritual archaisms remained without political influence. A pointed word from Dino Cofrancesco (in Paolo Corsini and Laura Novati, L’eversione nera, Milan, 1985, p. 105) concludes this chapter:
To paraphrase the saying of De Felice, Fascism was an illegitimate child of 1789. For Evola, in contrast, Fascism is a degenerate child of Tradition.
As is well known, for De Felice, Italian Fascism is part of a revolutionary line of a “leftist” Enlightenment that demands a “new man” in a “new society.”