Alfio Bernabei reviews Social and Political Thought of Julius Evola
by Paul Furlong (Routledge, 2011). Published in Searchlight magazine, Nov 2011.
As discussed in previous posts, Evola is a pin-up boy for legions of neo-folk, martial-industrial, etc., bands. I'd go so far as to say that mention of his name is used as a dog-whistle call between groups to indicate their interest in fascist ideas. This is transparent to those who know something about Evola, but may fool those who have been led to believe that he was a 'spiritual', 'mystical' writer, or a 'philosopher' - AS
Paul Furlong recognises all this. He knows he is dealing with a dangerous beast. Wearing thick gloves he insists, however, that Evola needs to be studied because "the position of the anti modern intellectual may not appear comfortable, but the species exists and has its own survival mechanism". Some of the language may appear at times far too kind to his subject, but however wrapped in complex metaphysics this is ultimately the dissection of a mind capable of inspiring murderous acts in the tradition of those behind the Holy Inquisition, 9/11 or Utoja island.
Fantasy and falsification are embedded even in Evola's name. Beware of vainglorious Italians who think of themselves as descendants of the Roman Empire and feel the need to Latinise their identity to evoke Emperors' crowns and laurels. Already pompously called Giulio Cesare - Julius Caesar- when he was born in 1898 in Rome into a family of minor Sicilian aristocracy, he was to change the too plebeian "G" into "J", a letter foreign to the Italian alphabet, to mime himself into some tradition of the Imperium Romanum.
As a young man he was too distracted by the Dadaist movement, experimentation with drugs, magic practices and the esoteric in general, to take any notice of Mussolini's terrorist gangs rampaging up and down the country killing hundreds of people prior to the 1922 March on Rome. But as soon as the dictator ditched democracy, abolished parties, trade unions and a free press, and began to incarcerate and murder dissidents, Evola was quick to support the authoritarian experiment and eager to provide his intellectual contributions. He developed a lifelong interest in tyranny and how to perfect it through a minestrone of ideas that included alchemy, superstition, the occult, initiatory rituals, the sacred as inherited from mythologies, combining tradition with nationalism in search of the "absolute", by which he meant the primordial force that renews itself through the heroic deeds of men belonging to an elite, members of a superior race in a superior order, a hierarchy of the spirit.
Between 1927 and 1929 he sought to imbue Mussolini with a sense of the sacred through magic techniques. He engaged devotees to generate a spiritual force to put the uncouth dictator with peasant blood onto a transcendental level. How Mussolini reacted to such attempts to spiritualise fascism is not known. He was probably more interested in preparing the path to attain his imperial ambitions, hence the conquest of Abyssinia and Ethiopia presented as a kind of duty by a superior race descended from the Romans to rule over inferior people for their own good. Racist justification was needed and Evola obliged enthusiastically. Racism became his speciality. There was race of the body, race of the soul and race of the spirit. Needless to say, he was anti-semitic and anti black, as well as a misogynist who relegated women to the role of procreating machines.
After the Second World War he was charged alongside others engaged in terrorist activities with the crime of promoting the revival of the Fascist Party in breach of the new Italian Constitution. He may have perfected this idea after meeting Corneliu Codreanu in 1936, the Romanian founder of the Legions of the Archangel Michael whose Iron Guards carried out assassinations of politicians thought to be corrupt Developed further, as Furlong explains, this concept implies that "the spiritual value of an act is determined by the interior disposition of the actor and the integrity of his commitment to the perfection of the act itself". This is precisely the argument that one finds throughout history, all the way to the Twin Towers and Utoja Island.
That Evola was sometimes critical of fascism made him more valuable to the regime than other contemporaries, such as the philosopher Giovanni Gentile, Mussolini's Minister for Education. When intellectuals enslave themselves completely within the dominant culture they simply turn into part of the mechanism for the reinforcement of established values and fail to provide the permissible dissenting voice, the oxygen that is vital in the process of the maintenance of power. The fact that Evola was not content enough with fascism or Nazism and believed that such regimes were only the first rough step on the ladder to some elevated, more spiritual form of governance, was perfectly acceptable, in fact, functional. He wasn't saying stop, this is enough. He was saying the opposite: continue to push ahead and refine your means because there is an optimum level to be found, a level of absolute tyranny reaching all the way to some spiritual dimension that humans have no right to challenge.
As an enemy of democracy and a believer in the cast system, he was so steeped in legends inspired by the rigid order of spiritual paganism as to believe in history as a cycle likely to resurrect in some form Hesiod's Golden Age and a return to the Age of the demigods (Achilles and suchlike). He so fancied himself as an inspirational figure that he choreographed his own death in that fashion. He is said to have asked his friends to lift him out of bed so that he could die "on his feet", like a mythic warrior, looking through his window over the Gianicolo district of Rome at the place where the Temple of Janus once stood -Janus being the two-faced God of time looking simultaneously at the past and at the future. As well as implying that unrepentant nazi-fascists can "ride the tiger" through time (an expression he was fond of) he was seeking to evoke the fascination for "the quest", the magic pointer (he had once written about the Holy Grail), while reconfirming his support for the right-wing terrorists who were at the time seeking to destabilise the country. Evola is now gaining followers in the United States, Britain, and especially in Russia where some right-wingers with political influence dream of a coming Russian Imperium, with Moscow romantically associated with the notion of a "Third Rome". His ashes, construed as a beacon, were scattered on top of Monte Rosa, Italy's magic peak said to emit a pink glow.
Furlong states unequivocally that "Evola's failure to speak clearly on the Holocaust; still less to acknowledge the responsibilities of regimes with which he was associated is a fatal lapse, enough to destroy his authority" and equally recognises that "the deliberate refusal to condemn those who use one's work to promote violence is not significantly different from condoning violence". This association could have been made clearer by placing Evola's thought development more closely in touch with the historical context of the events he must have witnessed and condoned. We find no mention of the repression that followed the dictatorship after 1926, no word of the Abyssinian war that butchered hundreds of thousands of people and was one of the preludes to the Second World War and there is silence on the Spanish Civil War in which the Italian fascists took part with the Nazis, all episodes that would have provided plenty of evidence to Evola of the bloodshed meted out by both regimes in their thirst for power. And if after the Second World War the "strategy of tension" involved some of Evola's disciples, could it be that in spite of his anti-Americanism he was the maitre a penser of the gladiators in the Stay Behind secret network set up to strike a deadly blow at democracy?
The danger now is that Evola's ideas, still evidently capable of influencing Nazi fascists longing for absolutist solutions, may filter more widely into the current wave of historical revisionism, turning him into an acceptable figure in the Italian intellectual landscape of generations to come. It is shocking, to give but one example, to find one of the most popular contemporary writers, Roberto Saviano, author of Gomorrah, publicly listing Evola among his favourite intellectuals. "As a writer", he stated "I formed myself on well known authors in the traditional and conservative culture, Ernst Junger, Ezra Pound, Louis-Ferdinand Gline, Carl Schmitt. I don't even dream of denying it. I must add that I often read even Julius Evola ..."
One hopes that Furlong's important study will soon be translated into Italian so that more people can be better informed on what Evola stood for. Some adjustments are needed. Mussolini set up the Social Republic with Nazi support from September 1943, not 1944. And I can't help thinking that in citing the terrorist massacres perpetrated by some of Evola's admirers, the number of victims should be mentioned: 17 people died and 88 were wounded, for instance, in the Piazza Fontana bombing in Milan in 1969. Real blood helps to put things into perspective.