Julius Evola was an Italian philosopher who lived from 1898 to 1974. I was recently introduced to him by the Academic Agent, who devoted a day of programmes to him on his YouTube channel. This article will focus on just one essay that he wrote, which I think Puffins will find interesting and extremely relevant to our times.
Evola is a hard writer to read, but also to sum up. The belief systems that underpin his work are just so unique and even alien to a modern mindset. At a very high level, we could perhaps describe him as a right-wing Traditionalist with a complete disdain for modernity.
His recent revival on the right is likely explained by just how prescient his works are appearing to be. In books with punchy titles such as Men Among the Ruins, Revolt Against the Modern World and Ride the Tiger – A Survival Manual for the Aristocrats of the Soul, he seems to predict much of the shit-show we now find ourselves in. His diagnosis and recommendations also sit outside the familiar left/right or collectivist/individualist paradigms, and so appear to offer an alternative as these paradigms are increasingly found wanting.
As you might expect, Evola prompts much pearl clutching from the usual suspects. As I see it, he is precisely the sort of provocative thinker who highlights the left’s inability to cope with any radical ideas anymore (outside of the marxist tradition, of course). In line with his elitist philosophy, Evola’s life and writings do not stand up well to the cancel culture routine – he simply did not care about popular opinion. As well as being undeniably right on certain things, Evola is also challenging and somewhat eccentric.
The Academic Agent recommended the short 1950 essay Orientations as a good introduction to some of Evola’s main ideas on politics and society. His other works are very hard reads, but this essay was written to appeal to Italian right-wing youth, and so is relatively more accessible. What follows is my (novice) attempt to summarise and explain the main points in Orientations.
Note: all highlights in quotations are my own to help add emphasis to explanations. Orientations is available in pdf with a quick internet search and also on YouTube as an audiobook.
Give up all optimism
In typical uncompromising style, Evola begins Orientations by dispelling any optimism readers may retain about the state of the world. He sees society’s ruin as an historical inevitability.
There is no point in indulging in wishful thinking with the illusions of any kind of optimism: today we find ourselves at the end of a cycle.
It is important to appreciate that although many traditionalists today hark back to periods such as the 1950s as an idealised time, writing in 1950, Evola considers the West already lost. When advocating a return to traditional values he is pointing to much earlier periods in history.
In the face of a world in ruins, Evola focuses on the remaining ‘men of action’ who can resist modernity.
The problem to pose is, do men on their feet still exist in the midst of these ruins? And what must they do, what can they still do?
The fundamental importance of an inner spirit
Evola sees the root of the problem, and therefore also the solution, as being a failure of inner spirit and personal character. Everything in Evola’s conception of politics and ethics seems to come back to this.
The first problem, the foundation of every other one, is of an internal character: getting up on your feet, standing up inside, giving oneself a form, and creating in oneself an order and uprightness.
He goes further by saying that because such inner spirit is what is key in society, the nature of political structures and political parties are largely irrelevant.
If a state were to possess a political or social system that, in theory, would count as the most perfect one, but the human substance of which it is comprised were tainted, well then, that state would sooner or later descend to the level of the lowest societies, while a people, a race capable of producing real men, men of just feeling and secure instinct, would reach a high level of civilisation and would stay on its feet before the most calamitous tests even if its political system were faulty and imperfect.
Evola dismisses as the solution to our problems political movements that merely consist of large numbers of people and which are based on emotional factors. We can therefore imagine him rejecting movements such as Brexit and Trumpism as lacking sufficient inner foundations. Instead, he says:
What we are hoping for, rather, is a silent revolution, proceeding in the depths, in which the premises are created, first internally and in individuals, of that Order that will later have to affirm itself externally as well, supplanting suddenly, at the right moment, the forms and forces of a world of subversion.
Although it might be hard to conceptualise what exactly Evola has in mind when he talks vaguely about internal character, he has a nice way of showing us each the way. In a simple statement that resonates strongly with me in a world of covid coercion and vaccine passports, Evola says that what must be done is now easier to know because:
We have clearly in front of us the measure of what we should not be. Before a world of mush, whose principles are, ‘You have no choice’…, we know how to give a clear and firm response: ‘As for us, we cannot act in any other way. This is our life, this is our essence.’
He then explains what this new man looks like.
men who stand before us not to recite talking points, but to be models: not yielding to the demagogy or materialism of the masses, but to revive different forms of sensibilities and interests. Beginning with what can still survive among the ruins, and slowly to construct a new man to be animated by means of a determined spirit and an adequate vision of life, and fortified by means of an iron adherence to given principles.
Evola therefore stands in contrast to most conservative thinking which sees man as irredeemably flawed and assumes the political system must work with this reality in mind. In contrast, the left sees man as capable of being perfected, or at least significantly improved, through central control. For Evola, both premises are wrong. The starting point must be the individual man developing his inner spirit before any mass movements of recovery can ever hope for success. This is similar to what Jordan Peterson says about “tidy your own room first”, but clearly at a much more sophisticated level. Such men will eventually have to “affirm themselves” in the world of ruins bringing a return to order based on tradition. This is a theme he expands on in Ride the Tiger – the idea being that if you can ride the tiger of modernism and survive until it exhausts itself, you will eventually triumph.
Evola’s conception of hierarchies
Given what Evola says about the need for men of action and resolve, hierarchy and elitism are fundamental concepts for his vision. However, he rejects the structures that normally define hierarchies such as class and wealth, be they proletariat or aristocrat. He sees hierarchy as being determined by something akin to a meritocracy and an inner strength from which true leaders who are followed willingly will emerge. This can be seen in a man of any vocation, be he an explorer, farmer, or indeed politician.
a repristinated symbol of unshaken authority will reign at the centre of new hierarchical structures.
Evola sees such hierarchies as forming organically, and it’s quite interesting how he applies an invisible-hand type concept, which the right usually limits to economic factors, to values instead.
The organic conception has nothing to do with a state worshipping sclerosis and a levelling centralisation. As for individuals, both individualism and collectivism are really overcome only when men stand in front of men, in the natural diversity of their being and their dignity.
And again, he links it all back to the discovery of the inner self.
an artisan that acquits himself perfectly in his function is without doubt superior to a king that rejects and does not live up to his dignity. [Take note Prince Harry]
Democracy and Communism – Two sides of the same coin
Perhaps the idea that has resonated most in the last couple of years is Evola’s view that liberalism and democracy are just as bad as socialism and communism.
The great illusion of our days is that democracy and liberalism are the antithesis of Communism and have the power to stem the tide of the forces of the low, what is called the ‘progressive’ movement… This illusion is like saying that dusk is the antithesis of night… or that a diluted poison is the antithesis of the same poison in its pure and concentrated state.
Evola again makes clear that this decline began with the rejection of traditional forms of thought and hierarchy.
The beginning of this process is the point at which Western man shattered the fetters of tradition, rejected every superior symbol of authority and sovereignty, claimed a vain and illusory liberty for himself as an individual, and became an atom instead of a conscious part in the organic and hierarchical unity of a whole.
Globalism and the Cult of the Experts
Evola goes on to explain that the battle between democracy and communism will inevitably result in the same end state regardless of outcome. And he then describes something which looks rather like our own form of globalism.
From the point of view of the idea that inspires them, Russia and North America can be considered as two tongs of the same pincers that are tightening definitively around Europe. In them we see the same foreign and hostile force, acting in different but converging forms. The forms of standardisation, conformism, democratic levelling, frantic overproduction, the more or less arrogant and explicit cult of the expert (‘brain trust’), and the petty materialism of Americanism can only clear the road for the final phase, which is represented in the same direction by the Communist ideal of the mass man.
The Trojan Horse
Evola goes further and complains that whilst communism can be seen plainly as an enemy, what he calls ‘Americanism’ is in fact worse because it acts as a Trojan Horse.
By thoughtlessly submitting to the influence of Americanism under the flag of democracy, Europe is already predisposed to the ultimate abdication, and this could come about without the need for a military catastrophe, but more or less the same point could be reached in a ‘progressive’ fashion after a final social crisis. Again, there is no stopping halfway down the slope. Americanism, willynilly, is working for its ostensible enemy: collectivism.
Obsession with Economics
The similarities between individualism and collectivism are also seen by Evola in both sharing an obsession with economic factors rather than higher values.
As long as we talk about nothing else but economic classes, work, wages, and production; and as long as we delude ourselves that real human progress and the genuine elevation of the individual is conditioned by a particular system of distribution of wealth and goods, and therefore has to do with poverty and ease, with the state of prosperity à la the United States or with that of utopian socialism, we yet remain on the same level as that which we need to combat. We need to assert the following: that everything that relates to economy and the view of economic interest as a mere satisfaction of physical needs has had, has now, and always will have a subordinate role in a normal humanity.
This is reminiscent of how the Brexit debate, and indeed so much of politics, is focused only on weighing up economic questions. Evola sees our real values as the spiritual and the heroic.
[It is the] things for which it is worth living and dying, which establish a true hierarchy, which differentiate new ranks of dignity.
As you would expect by now, Evola recognises the Yuri Bezmenov-esque subversion of traditional culture that we see today.
young people in particular should recognise the poison which has been given to an entire generation by the concordant varieties of a distorted and false vision of life that has affected their inner forces. In one form or another, these poisons continue to act in culture, science, sociology, and literature, like so many hotbeds of infection that must be identified and attacked.
Safety and Security
We mentioned earlier how the ‘new men’ will embody the heroic. Evola despised everything associated with what was called ‘bourgeois’ at the time. He would have been appalled by our current obsession with covid safety and group-conformity, as well as the propaganda that props it up.
They will be anti-bourgeois because they despise the easy life; anti-bourgeois because they will follow not those who promise material advantages, but those who demand all of themselves; anti-bourgeois, finally, because they are not preoccupied with security but love an essential union between life and risk, on all levels, …his intolerance for every form of rhetoric and false idealism, for all those big words that are written with capital letters; for everything that is only gesture, phrase, effect, and scenery. The essential, on the other hand, is a new realism in measuring oneself exactly by the problems that will face us, and in acting so that what counts is not appearance, but being; not gossiping, but accomplishing, in a silent and exact manner, in harmony with related forces and adhering to the command that comes from above.
The Role of Religion
Evola criticised organised religion, again in terms that will echo with the modern reader.
…the mediocre and essentially bourgeois and parochial level to which practically everything that is confessional religion has descended, and its surrender to modernism.
However, he recognised the importance of belief.
A religious factor is necessary as a background for a truly heroic conception of life… It is necessary to feel the evidence in ourselves that beyond this earthly life there is a higher life, because only someone who feels this way possesses a force that cannot be broken or overwhelmed.
The ideas and political strategies in Orientations open up a debate that goes well beyond today’s constrained narratives. Evola’s analysis is at times spookily prescient, which clearly makes him worthy of serious consideration. I think his uncompromising and passionate style can also provide a sense of hope and inspiration to the politically jaded, despite his essentially pessimistic prognosis.
I’ll leave you with a thought-provoking, and disturbing, comment that has been made about Evola’s vision of the future – the eventual rise of men among the ruins and a return to traditional hierarchies. It has been pointed out that this is entirely compatible with traditional Islam.
© JimmySP 2021