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Born in Rome to a family of the Sicilian landed gentry, Evola was raised a strict Catholic. Despite this, his life was characterised by ‘an anti-bourgeois approach’ hostile to both ‘the dominant tradition of the West – Christianity and Catholicism – and to contemporary civilization – the ‘modern world’ of democracy and materialism’.
By turns ‘engineering student, artillery officer, Dadaist poet and painter, journalist, alpinist, scholar, linguist, Orientalist, and political commentator’, he has been described as a 'rare example of universality in an age of specialization'.
Yet behind it all lay a singular emphasis on, and pursuit of, a ‘direct relationship to the Absolute’. For Evola, ‘the center of all things was not man, but rather the Transcendent.’ This metaphysical conviction can be seen to have determined both Evola’s stance on socio-political issues, and his antipathetic attitude towards ‘all professional, sentimental and family routines’.
The author of many books on esoteric, political and religious topics (including The Hermetic Tradition, The Doctrine of Awakening and Eros and the Mysteries of Love), his best-known work remains Revolt Against the Modern World, a trenchant critique of modern civilisation that has been described as ‘the gateway to his thought’.
Since his death, his writings have influenced right-wing, reactionary and conservative political thought not only in his native Italy, but throughout continental Europe and, increasingly, the English-speaking world. Nevertheless, he should not be considered primarily as a political thinker, but rather as an exponent of the wider Traditionalist School that encompasses the work of such individuals as René Guénon, Titus Burckhardt and Frithjof Schuon.
Evola's earliest years remain obscure - so obscure as to move one commentator to observe it was if he "seems never to have been a child, but to have come into the world fully-formed, ready for his life's mission at a time when most young men are still finding themselves."
According to The Path of Cinnabar, besides the study of technical and mathematical subjects, Evola's teenage years brought a spontaneous interest in thought and art, one which led him to writers like Oscar Wilde and Gabriele D'Annunzio, which only deepened his engagement with contemporary art and literature.
There were other influences, of a more philosophical nature. These included Otto Weininger, Carlo Michelstaedter and, especially, Friedrich Nietzsche, whose writings Evola credited with affirming him in his own 'indifference' to Christianity and revulsion towards petty moralism and conformism.
By the eve of World War I, he had begun to move in artistic circles, particularly those of the avant-garde movement of Futurism, of whose founder, F.T. Marinetti, he claimed to be an acquaintance. However, although it appears Evola had indeed become interested in painting by this time, he also felt Futurism's overall character did not appeal, other than in its revolutionary character.
With war looming, Evola trained as an artillery officer and was assigned to a combat line near Asiago. However, as his unit "never engaged in any significant military operations", his experience of war and military life remained limited, as he himself acknowledged.
Following World War I, Evola returned to the arts, where the radicalism of Dadaism attracted him. As he understood it, Dadaism "embodied the extreme, unsurpassed limit of all avant-garde artistic currents", one well-suited to his own temperament. To him, "it stood for an outlook on life which expressed a tendency towards total liberation", an outlook that "could not lead to any form of art [but rather] signalled the self-dissolution of art into a higher level of freedom."
One of the first exponents of abstract art in Italy, in his paintings he sought to subordinate "passive aesthetic needs" to the "expression of an impulse towards the unconditioned", and outlined the theory behind his practice in a 1920 essay, Abstract Art (Arte astratta). The resultant body of work was exhibited in Rome, Berlin, Milan and Lausanne, and elsewhere.
Ultimately, few of Evola's hopes for Dadaism were ever to be fulfilled. As for abstract art, it was destined to become (in Evola's mind, at least) little more than an academic convention and commercialised product. By 1921, not only had he turned his back on the 'underworld of the avant-garde': he had stopped painting altogether.
Philosophy, Hermeticism, and the Esoteric
This post-WWI period also saw Evola's attention turn to the spiritual, the occult and the philosophical, initially through various occultist, anthroposophist, and theosophist writings. In time, he came to feel these served mostly 'to discredit rather than valorise traditional doctrines'; nonetheless, it was in this milieu that he encountered Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching, which appears to have acted as a point of departure for his 'philosophical phase'.
From 1921 to 1927, in Essays on Magical Idealism, The Theory and Phenomenology of the Absolute Individual, and The Individual and the Becoming of the World, Evola sought to delineate a system of philosophy that not only offered a critique of abstract Idealism, but also posited the "Absolute Individual", and the possibility of experiencing "pure being...anterior to any content determined by consciousness and thought."
Though received with interest by non-specialists, his contributions to the field of speculative philosophy remained largely ignored in academe. This lack of reaction appears not to have surprised Evola (at least in retrospect), and even he admitted that his was a "philosophical introduction to a non-philosophical world" - one directed perhaps as much at himself as anyone else. Thus, by 1927, he had for the most part left the domain of 'discursive thought and speculation' behind and entered that of 'inner, self-fulfilling action'.
It should be noted, however, that these two phases did overlap. From at least 1924, Evola had contributed articles and essays to a variety of theosophical and philosophical journals, amongst them Atanor and Ignis, both edited by Arturo Reghini. Reghini was a Florentine traditionalist and exponent of "an unmitigated, intransigent, anti-Christian, pagan directive", who emphasised the sacred character of many aspects of pagan Roman civilisation. Given that Pagan Imperialism dates to this time, his influence on Evola is clear; indeed, Evola credits him with having first introduced him to the writings of René Guénon.
It appears it was also Reghini who encouraged Evola to form and lead the UR Group (Gruppo di Ur) in 1927. Based in Rome (with dependent offshoots in other cities), it sought to practically explore "esoteric and initiatory disciplines in a serious and rigorous manner by means of a critical engagement with genuine primary sources." A monthly journal, UR, dealt with specific topics, and these later were collected and published as Introduction to Magic. According to Evola, its "most ambitious goal" was to evoke a "power from on high", one that could have been directed to realise practically the ambitions and ideals set forth in Pagan Imperialism.
This was not to be. By October 1928, tensions within the group had risen such that Reghini and other inner circle members attempted to remove Evola. They failed, yet this action effectively marked the group's end, certainly in an operative sense. In December 1929, the final issue of the now-titled Krur announced what Renato del Ponte has characterised as a shift "from esotericism to traditional action": "what had been acquired on the esoteric plane of operative magic came to be integrated...into an existential-political picture".
The Revolt Against the Modern World
The early thirties saw the publication of The Hermetic Tradition, a study of alchemical hermeticism from an initiatory perspective, and The Mask and Face of Contemporary Spiritualism, a traditionalist critique of, amongst other topics, Psychoanalysis, Theosophy, Anthroposophy, and Spiritualism.
Both give witness to Evola's essentially aristocratic approach to matters of the spirit, in particular the second, which condemns neospiritualism's tendency to not only popularise esoteric doctrine, but to turn the resulting pabulum into a commodity for the masses.
However, although The Mask and Face of Contemporary Spiritualism was intended to elucidate "the true nature of the views" advocated by Evola, in truth it was his next work, Revolt Against the Modern World, that most fully achieved this.
First published in 1934, it is at once "a study of the morphology of civilisation and history" and "a denunciation of the regressive character of the modern world and of modern civilisation". Divided into two sections, the first draws upon a range of ancient sources - both Eastern and Western - to define and outline the traditional understanding of such issues as jurisprudence and law; ritual, war and victory; property, space and time; art and games. The second section offers an interrogation of the modern world from this same traditionalist perspective.
For the author, the ideas "expressed in Revolt provided the foundation and yardstick for any kind of action: by shunning all compromises, illusions and pretences, the book pointed to those values never to be forgotten." Indeed, it is precisely due his to "shunning all compromises" on those ideas that Evola's relations with the Fascist and National Socialist governments were often tense - and occasionally hostile.
Regardless, Revolt Against the Modern World remains perhaps his greatest legacy and, in Joscelyn Godwin's words, "the gateway to his thought".
Fascism, National Socialism and Race
Despite later efforts to categorise Evola as a Fascist or National Socialist thinker, in reality ‘Official Fascism did not think highly of him’, while SS reports betray a distinct antipathy towards him. This is hardly surprising, considering the highly critical stance he adopted on a range of issues relevant to both the Fascist and National Socialist ideologies, not least that of race.
Benito Mussolini’s ascent to power was, to Evola's unapologetically aristocratic and monarchist perspective, inappropriate. Despite his sympathies for any who might stand against leftist and democratist forces, the Fascist revolution was, in a sense, a counterfeit one. It lacked any connection to a transcendent source of power. And though its early republican, ‘secular’ character was soon ameliorated through fusion with Italian bourgeois "nationalist infatuations", this also blunted whatever revolutionary potential it possessed.
For Evola the ‘true revolution’ - the one that ought to have taken place - was one “from above”, led by the sovereign himself. Still, it must be admitted that despite severe reservations, he did consider Mussolini's government as better than the alternative of liberal democracy or communism. His attitude to Fascism has been described as following the sequence of "first a great hope", then "the hope of making corrections of a traditional kind", then "a recognition that everything is lost", leading ultimately to apoliteia.
Disillusionment with Fascism led Evola to see Germany's National Socialism as "much more consequential". However, even in this case, the absence of any transcendent background to NS was to lead to the criticism of core elements of NS ideology: the great attachment to nature, a Fuhrer principle that lacked any legitimation other than that of the people and, not insignificantly, its purely biological racism. As with Fascism, Evola's ideas were just too different from official National Socialist thought.
This difference is perhaps most stark in the area of race. Although Evola recognised that race was important, it was "hierarchically below the all-important primal ideas". The biological element was never enough for him: "In a cat or a thoroughbred horse the biological is the deciding element, and thus the racial observation can be restricted to this criterion. This, however, is no longer the case when dealing with humans, or at least with beings that are worthy of that name. Man is indeed a biological being, but also connected to forces and laws of a different kind, that are as real and effective as the biological realm and whose influence on the latter cannot be overlooked." This nuanced stance also conditioned his approach to questions surrounding Jewish identity, character and influence.
Whilst researching the archives secret societies on behalf of the Ahnenerbe, shortly before the Red Army took Vienna, Evola was seriously wounded in an airstrike, which was to leave him paralyzed from the waist down for the remainder of his life.
He returned to Italy in 1946 - first to Varese, then Bologna,before finally returning to Rome in 1948. By 1949 he was contributing to new rightist publications and soon gathered a circle of mostly young activists and radicals, though his influence on the neofascist scene was limited: his antimodernism being simply too radical. Despite this, in 1951 he was arrested and charged with "glorification of fascism" and of being an "intellectual instigator" of secret combat groups. He was acquitted.
During this period, works included Men Among the Ruins, Riding the Tiger, and The Metaphysics of Sex, as well as a spiritual autobiography, The Path of Cinnabar. His final years were marked by severe pain, and he reportedly became quite embittered. He died in Rome, on 11 June 1974. His body was cremated in Spoleto and, in accordance with his wishes, the urn with his ashes was placed in a glacial crevasse on Monte Rosa.
Work in English Translation
- The Doctrine of Awakening (London: Luzac, 1951; republished by Rochester: Inner Traditions, 1995)
- Metaphysics of Sex (New York: Inner Traditions, 1983; republished as Eros and the Mysteries of Love by Inner Traditions, 1991)
- The Yoga of Power (Rochester: Inner Traditions, 1992)
- The Path of Enlightenment According to the Mithraic Mysteries (Edmonds: Holmes Publishing Group, 1993)
- René Guénon: A Teacher for Modern Times (Edmonds: Holmes Publishing Group, 1993)
- Taoism: The Magic, the Mysticism (Edmonds: Holmes Publishing Group, 1993)
- Zen: The Religion of the Samurai (Edmonds: Holmes Publishing Group, 1993)
- Revolt Against the Modern World (Rochester: Inner Traditions, 1995)
- The Hermetic Tradition (Rochester: Inner Traditions, 1995)
- The Mystery of the Grail (Rochester: Inner Traditions, 1996)
- Meditations on the Peaks (Rochester: Inner Traditions, 1998)
- The Thoughts of Julius Evola (Sydenham, South London: The Rising Press, 2000)
- Further Thoughts of Julius Evola (Sydenham, South London: The Rising Press, 2000)
- Introduction to Magic (Rochester: Inner Traditions, 2001)
- Race as a Revolutionary Idea (Sydenam, South London: The Rising Press, 2001)
- Men Among the Ruins (Rochester: Inner Traditions, 2002)
- Ride the Tiger (Rochester: Innder Traditions, 2003)
- Three Aspects of the Jewish Problem (Thompkins&Cariou, 2003)
- The Elements of Racial Education (Thompkins&Cariou, 2005)
- Metaphysics of War (Integral Tradition Publishing, 2007)
- Heathen Imperialism (Thompkins&Cariou, 2007)
- The Path of Cinnabar (Integral Tradition Publishing, 2009)
- De Benoist, Alain. "Julius Evola, Radical Reactionary and Committed Metaphysician: A Critical Analysis of the Political Thought of Julius Evola." The Occidental Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 1 (Spring 2015), pp. 17-62.
- Evola, Julius, Personal Background and Early Experiences in The Path of Cinnabar (Integral Tradition Publishing, 2009).
- Godwin, Joscelyn, Foreword in Men Among the Ruins (Rochester: Inner Traditions, 2002).
- Hansen, Dr. H.T., Introduction: Julius Evola's Political Endeavours in Men Among the Ruins (Rochester: Inner Traditions, 2002).
- Hansen, Dr. H.T., A Short Introduction to Julius Evola in Revolt Against the Modern World (Rochester: Inner Traditions, 1995).
- Stucco, Guido, Translator's Preface in Revolt Against the Modern World (Rochester: Inner Traditions, 1995).
- Del Ponte, Renato, Preface: Julius Evola and the UR Group in Introduction to Magic (Rochester: Inner Tradtions, 2001).
- Revolt Against the Modern World
- Junio Valerio Borghese
- Conservative Revolutionary movement
- Edgar Julius Jung
- Othmar Spann
- Ludwig F. Clauss
- Spiritual Race