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 XI: Evola and Neofascism
As we have already reported, at least in the later war years, Evola lived in Vienna while probably going through the archives of various secret societies. His exact intentions are not known, since he never wanted to talk about them. During this time Vienna was bombarded heavily, but Evola had adopted the habit of working instead of fleeing into the bunker. He did this “because I did not want to evade danger; I sought it out, in the spirit of a silent questioning of fate” (Cammino, p. 177). Then it happened, a few days before the Russians marched into Vienna: Evola was seriously wounded during an airstrike. His spinal cord was damaged, and in spite of numerous operations he remained paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life. (Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn informed us that this bomb attack occurred on March 12, 1945, the anniversary of the Anschluss of Austria to the Third Reich.) For a year and a half, he lay in a hospital in Bad Ischl in upper Austria, until the Red Cross brought him first to Varese and then to a Bologna hospital. A cure was no longer possible and so Evola returned to Rome in 1948, where he lived the rest of his life (except for the time he was imprisoned on remand) in his apartment in the Via Vittorio Emmanuele II.
By 1949 he was already writing in new rightist publications and had soon assembled small band of mostly young followers (regarding this, see Fausto Gianfreschi, “L’influenza di Evola sulla generazione che non ha fatto in tempoa perdere la guerra” [Evola’s Influence on the Generation That Did Not Make It in Time to Lose the War”], in AA. W, Testimonianze su Evola [Testimonies about Evola], Rome, 1985, p. 130). They urged him to write an “orientation” for them, a compendium that would set down the most important core values of a traditional rightist group. The result was Evola’s pamphlet Orientamenti (Orientations), which was published in 1950 in the periodical Imperium and which has since seen countless authorized and unauthorized editions in Italian and other languages.
In turn, this pamphlet led to the writing of Evola’s main political work, Men among the Ruins. During his hospital stay in Bad Ischl, Evola had already written to the poet Girolamo Comi: “However, in contrast to your opinion, I see nothing but a world of ruins, where a kind of front line is possible only in the catacombs” (letter of April 20, 1948; quoted in Lettere di Julius Evola a Girolamo Comi 1934-1962, Rome, 1987). Men among the Ruins was written in the hope of being able to change something about the post-war order. Even though it probably was and has remained the only “practical” handbook for a truly traditional right wing, no reaction was forthcoming from the circles in question. Evola was visibly disillusioned by this, and so this work has remained his only book with an actual “political” doctrine. A few parts of the book may have become outdated because of the ongoing events of history, but since nothing comparable has ever been written, it has been reprinted again and again, the last edition being issued 1990 in Rome by Gianfranco de Turris. Therefore, it was Evola’s only book that was somewhat of a commercial success (in total, it probably sold about 10,000 copies). There were also two editions in France (1972 and 1984), even though the work was originally intended only for Italy. But the underlying principles are so universal that the references to the Italian situation do not detract from them. This was also the reason for the German edition [and for the present English edition – Editor’s note].
Almost concurrently with Men among the Ruins, Evola authored a complementary work, even though this appeared only in 1961 in Milan. This work is Cavalcare la tigre (Riding the Tiger). These books belong together and cannot really be judged apart from each other. Men among the Ruins shows the universal standpoint of ideal politics; Riding the Tiger deals with the practical “existential” perspective for the individual who wants to preserve his “hegomonikon,” his inner sovereignty. In Riding the Tiger, Evola advocated, as already reported, the teaching of “apoliteia” as the only proper attitude for the traditional person. One must have the freedom to go along with the follies of the world on the outside while, on the inside, being detached and able to let go whenever one wants to. Because of its inherent inner contradictions and ever-increasing tensions, modern civilization (the tiger) will drive itself to death. One just has to remain on the tiger’s back and not fall off in order to evade its claws and fangs. If one just waits long enough, its ceaseless running will make it weaker and tired until it finally collapses from exhaustion. Then one can strangle it with one’s bare hands. Concerning this, Evola says: “Today there is no idea, no object, and no goal that is worth sacrificing one’s own true interest for,” (Cavalcare la tigre, p. 174) and: “‘Apoliteia’ must be the principle of the differentiated [i.e., Traditional] man [Uomo differenziato] (Cavalcare la tigre, p. 202). With this he admitted that his book Men among the Ruins was really a failure.
Interesting in this regard is the opinion of Evola’s declared enemy Furio Jesi (Culturadi Destra, Milan, 1979, p. 89), according to whom the later Evola considered that all worldly action was senseless and meaningless, but that those who did not dare to take the step over to “apoliteia” (i.e., the “non-initiates” that have not reached the “other shore”) should still be encouraged to action by the truly “wise ones,” because this was the only way they could learn their lesson. If Evola was indeed of this opinion, then it must have originated in his own life experience.
After The Metaphysics of Sex (1958) and L’”Operaio”nel pensiero di Ernst Junger (The “Worker” in the Thought of Ernst Junger; Rome, 1960), his already cited analysis of Fascism was issued in 1964. In 1970, an enlarged edition was published with the addition of the appendix Note sul Terzo Reich (Notes on the Third Reich). The themes contained therein have already been discussed. Evola’s last complete book was his spiritual autobiography, Il cammino del cinabro, which appeared in 1972.
In his final years Evola suffered from constant and severe pain and was probably quite embittered. Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn has also confirmed this during a conversation with the author. At this point, Evola wrote only for a few magazines from the rightist spectrum and gave a few interviews, notably for the sex magazine Playmen (“Gesprach ohne Komplexe,” no. 2, 1970). His two wishes – to put out a new magazine with the provocative title The Reactionary and to write a book about Stoicism, for which he had already collected the material – were not fulfilled, for he died on June 11, 1974, in the early afternoon. He had asked to be led from his desk to the window from which one could see the Janiculum (the holy hill sacred to Janus, the two-faced god who gazes into this and the other world). There he tried to die “upright,” as far as was possible with his paralysis – upright because, according to mythical tradition, many heroes died in this manner (Roland, for example, who passed away leaning against a tree after being mortally wounded).
In his testament, Evola had decreed that his corpse be cremated and that there be no funeral procession or Catholic funeral rite. He also forbade an obituary. As chance would have it, the crematorium both in Rome and in Naples was out of order, while the next one, in Pisa, was out of business. After some time, Evola’s body was finally cremated in Spoleto. The urn with his ashes was then, as reported elsewhere, lowered into a glacial crevasse on Monte Rosa in accordance with his last wishes.
After this short historical overview, we now turn to Evola’s influence on the Italian post-war neofascist scene. It is not very easy to determine this influence, for the only ostensibly right-wing party known to its enemies as “neofascists,” and officially as the MSI (Movimento Sociale Italiano), always left Evola out of the picture, despite the fact that a number of its leading members (for example, Pino Rauti) had been influenced in their youth by Evola’s thought. The name Evola is not even mentioned in the official history of the MSI (Gianni Roberti, Opposizione di Destra in Italia, 1946-1979, Naples, 1988). Only the long-standing party chairman Giorgio Almirante once, maybe ironically, called Evola “the Marcuse of the Right, only better” but otherwise he was smilingly referred to as the “magico barone” (magic Baron). Nevertheless, one cannot understand the history of Italy’s right wing without Evola. Especially the young, and among them the more “radical” elements (derived from the Latin radix – “root, origin”), have repeatedly made use of Evola’s thought in their ideologies, even though he himself had lost his faith in “practical” politics at least since the mid-1950s.
So it came to Evola’s arrest in April 1951, which led to six months of detention. The charge was the “glorification of Fascism.” He was also accused of being the “intellectual instigator” of secret combat groups. The police really believed in a far-reaching conspiracy of rightist elements, but the trial ended with Evola being proved innocent and his acquittal. Apart from a few quotes from publicly accessible writings, there had been no evidence against him. All his life Evola had never owned anything (he constantly gave away even his books and pictures). The prominent attorney Francesco Carnelutti defended him free of charge, not because of his political beliefs, for, as Carnelutti emphasized, he understood nothing of those, but because he wanted to rid the world of an injustice. [For more details on the accusations that were levelled against him, and Evola’s own response, see his Autodifesa (self-defence testimony) which is included as an appendix to this book – Editor’s note.]
How then is Evola’s attitude toward the post-war rightist groups in Italy to be classified? And where, if at all, is his influence to be found? One thing is certain: Evola certainly was no “nostalgico,” who looked back with longing to the historical Fascist era. On the contrary, he rather despised such people. This could be one explanation for his lack of popularity within the MSI. He also had little good to say about the right National-Bolshevists and the right-wing Maoists (yes, they also have these in Italy), since they combined traditional ideas with “leftist” efforts aimed at the masses. He gave his most avid support to “rightist anarchism,” as this was closest to his apoliteia and reminded him of his youthful dadaist ambitions (see Julius Evola, L’arco e la clava, p. 208, where he discusses this type). His positive attitude toward the Beatnik movement and people such as Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller must be viewed in the same light. So he says: “[…] we are of the same opinion as some Beatniks […], that in today’s culture and society, especially in America, the healthy person can be generally recognized in the rebel and the asocial type that does not fit in” (ibid., p. 210). But Evola warned the Beatniks that their attitude can only be sustained if one possesses a strong inner center. Here, perhaps to the surprise of many, the proximity to Herbert Marcuse becomes obvious. But in contrast to Marcuse, he says: “One must know in whose name one says no to a whole civilization.” Here Evola is referring to the necessary transcendental foundations that are totally missing in Marcuse. Giorgio Galli even writes (La crisi italiana e la Destra internazionale, Milan, 1974, p. 20): “The analogies between Evola and the Frankfurt School (Marcuse, Horkheimer, Adorno) doubtless exist, especially concerning the critique of mass society and its manipulated democracy. Evola can even claim the fame of being the first.” In spite of Evola’s approval of the 1968 Revolution (when excerpts from Riding the Tiger were read publicly at Roman universities), he felt that the revolt of ‘68 had only superficially attacked the terror of consumerism, and that the revolution in the 1930s (the “Fascist revolution”) had gone much deeper, because it had aimed at reforming the whole person and the corresponding institutions, even if that had failed.
Italo Mancini and Massimo Cacciari, one a university professor and the other a delegate of the Italian Communist Party, have also confirmed the parallels between Evola and Marcuse. Their radical critique of rationalism, the unmasking of modern middle-class society and the revolt against the same, the lack of faith in progress, and the recognition of the alienated direction of man are certainly present in both, and probably go back to a common root in Nietzsche. But if one wants to speak of Evola’s actual political influence, one must keep this in mind: Evola’s Traditionalism cannot be used by modern political movements. Even Evola himself saw this: his teachings are too aristocratic, too demanding, and too much directed against progress and modernity. It is unimaginable how these thought patterns could be successful in the industrialized democracies of the West. Evola’s ideas did not even have any hope of being realized during the time of Fascism, which certainly was fertile ground. His antimodernism is simply too radical. Italy’s New Right under Marco Tarchi (which received major impetus from the French New Right under Alain de Benoist) even regards the Evolian philosophy as a “mito incapacitante,” an incapacitating myth. Indeed, reading Evola has kept many young people from pursuing political activities, because he speaks of a past that is too remote and of which nothing is left, as well as of ideals that are too lofty. He leaves no hope for contemporary man (thus the adoption of apoliteia as the last consequence). But a “tragic” attitude toward life is not enough for political activism. And since according to Evola we cannot change the cosmic, metaphysical course of history, any political engagement becomes meaningless. Thus the myth of the eternally vanquished hero is born. But, interestingly enough, there are other inconsistencies. Evola writes in Orientamenti (p. 15): “It is senseless to harbour illusions: we are at the end of a cycle.” And (p. 28): “History, that mysterious entity beginning with a capital letter, does not exist. It is humans, as far as they are truly human, that make history or tear it down.” (Concerning this, see “Julius Evola: Tra mito e attualita,” in Diorama Letterario, no. 72, June 1984.)
Marcello Veneziani also writes that Evola’s teachings lead “to a traditionalism without tradition, since it lacks real continuity” and to a frustrating immobility (ibid., p. 212; Veneziani was himself one of the “affected”). The only allowable engagement is one that is totally detached from all that is political and historical today, as Veneziani continues. In Evola’s Revolt Against the Modern World, we read the following (pp. xxix–xxx):
The only thing that matters today is the activity of those who can ‘ride the wave’ and remain firm in their principles, unmoved by any concessions and indifferent to the fevers, the convulsions, the superstitions, and the prostitutions that characterize modern generations. The only thing that matters is the silent endurance of the few, whose impassable presence as ‘stone guests’ helps to create new relationships, new distances, new values, and helps to construct a pole that, although it will certainly not prevent this world inhabited by the distracted and restless from being what it is, will still help to transmit to someone the sensation of truth-sensation that could become for them the principle of a liberating crisis.
The abyss between the world of facts and the world of Tradition is too great. The construction of a bridge no longer seems possible. Traditionalists must hold onto ideas and principles, not institutions (Men among the Ruins), or in other words:
The idea and only the idea can be the true fatherland for them. Not the fact that they are of the same nationality, that they speak the same language, and that they are of the same blood, but the fact that they belong to the same idea, should be the deciding factor that unite or divides them (Revolt, first chapter).
In his interesting essay “Evola e la generazione che non ha fatto in tempo aperderil Sessantotto” (Evola and the Generation That Did Not Make It in Time to Lose ‘68) in Testimonianze su Evola, Rome, 1985, p. 324, the same Veneziani says, perhaps hitting the mark:
Evola’s doctrine remains a teaching about the roots and not about the fruits. An unpolitical thought, then. Daring, noble, but desperately non-political. The mistakes that have been made by those who have tried to transfer Evola onto the earthquake-fraught terrain of politics must be blamed on those who committed them, and not on Evola himself.
Other rightists accused Evola of “sterility” and “retrograde utopias.” In spite of this Evola was doubtlessly a model, even if only for very small groups that did not intend to break into competitive politics. But why? Antonio Lombardo, one of the young people who looked to Evola for “orientation” right after the war, writes in “La funzione dellminoranze e l’opera di Evola” (The Function of the Minorities and Evola’s Work), in Ordine Nuovo, vol. X, no. 5/6, 1964, p. 30:
Evola offered a system of principles and correspondences that was organic and closed within itself, an interpretation of history and a systematic analysis of the ruling ideologies in the modern world.
In this way Evola offered the more intellectual elements a “meaning” for life and history that could be used to combat the all-powerful Frankfurt School. And Marco Tarchi (also one of those immediately “affected”) wrote in “La Rivolta contro l’uomo qualunque” (Revolt Against Anybody), in Civilta, vol. II, 8/9, 1974, p. 41:
He gave the consciousness of being different in a world that tends to be shapeless and colourless: the consciousness of realizing something on the inside that the others, in their superficiality, could not even approach, the certainty of having foundations on which one can build while everything is collapsing around oneself.
Obviously, Evola was compensating for the difficult role in the outside world that rightists had to play after the war.
Is it completely impossible that Evola’s thought will ever be transformed into political action? Evola would probably have answered that his ideas (i.e., traditional ones) should serve as centers, like poles or bridge piers, around which something slowly builds itself up that will then make the transition from the spiritual into the material realm. Not Voluntarism (as in Ernst Junger, for instance) but the “magical effect” of fascination could usher in change. Not causality, but analogy. In Orientamenti (p. 21), Evola formulates it thus:
A silent revolution that reaches the depths, so that first inside and in the individual the prerequisites to that order are met that will dominate on the outside at the right moment, by replacing in a flash the form and forces of a ruined and corrupt world.
Of course, one could call Evola the “spiritual father” of a group of radical “neofascists” (in the broadest sense of the word), just as Nietzsche has been called the father of National Socialism, Stirner the father of terrorist anarchism, and Hegel the father of Stalinism. But it is questionable that this leads to better understanding. Even though he himself would have strictly denied this characterization (see his “Superamento del Romanticismo” [Overcoming Romanticism] in II Progresso Religioso, Rome, 1928, no. 3, p. 97), one could instead see him, in spite of his “Olympian clarity,” as a “romantic” latecomer.