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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Brooding Baron of 20th-Century Fascism

Baron Giulio Cesare Andrea Evola's strange brew of dialectical apocalypticism, violent misogyny, Jew hating, and longing for global war.

The history of fascist ideology extends from the early 19th century through our own times: from Fichte to Hegel to Carlyle to List to Ruskin to Spengler to Grant to Spann to Gentile to Schmitt and (skipping a half century) finally to thousands of meme-posting sock puppets on Twitter. These thinkers are united in their loathing of capitalism but also opposition to communism, which is the feature of their identity that is considered right-wing.

Things were never as weird with this camp as during the interwar period, particularly among the intellectuals (or pseudo-intellectuals) that rallied political movements toward violence and state centralization. The main thinkers in this tradition had been largely forgotten until their relatively recent revival in European and American politics. They had unmistakable and consistent ideological traits. They were socialists (and nationalists) who decried capitalism as decadent anomy, but railed against communism too, on grounds that it was too universalist and deracinating of the people’s identity.

Who was the strangest among them? The far left and far right have long shared in common the view that social harmony is an illusory ideal concocted by the liberal tradition. Whereas the Marxists divide society by class, the fascists divided society by religion, race, language, geography, and lineage. They favored strong-man politics, dabbled in pseudo-science and occultism, and never tired of predicting doom for civilization. Above all else, they despised bourgeois liberalism, probably even more then they hated communism.

Who was the strangest among them? There is tough competition for that title. Could it be Francis Parker Yockey, the one-time American leftist who became a frenzied champion of Hitler: whose delirious “masterwork” Imperium has inspired several generations of hardcore anti-Semites? Or perhaps it is George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party who believed that one-man dictatorship was the only hope to rescue America from the Jews and non-whites who inhabited the same nation as the master race?

The Baron  

Evola’s thought contains all the usual fascist tropes, but takes them to a new level of faux-erudition and philosophical frenzy.My vote is for the oddest bird among them (and that’s saying something), and perhaps the most interesting: the monocle-wearing Baron Giulio Cesare Andrea Evola (1898-1974), better known as Julius Evola. Always cagey about his background and education, his followers believed him to be of Sicilian aristocratic lineage, a real-life noble in their midst who was an inexhaustible font of wisdom. Benito Mussolini as well as many Nazi party officials – even the Fuhrer himself – were taken in by his strange brew of dialectical apocalypticism, violent misogyny, Jew hating, and longing for global war to restore the golden age of the warrior class.

Truly, reading his works – I do not recommend it for the faint-of-heart – is a tour of a mind put several times through a blender of malicious nonsense from the first to the last. His thought contains all the usual fascist tropes, but takes them to a new level of faux-erudition and philosophical frenzy.

Who Was Evola?

Julius Evola was born in Rome in 1898 and studied engineering briefly in college before deciding that the discipline was too bourgeois for him; he didn’t want conventional credentials in any case. Like so many others of his generation, his life was interrupted by the Great War, which unleashed a bloody nihilism in Europe, particularly among the artistically inclined.

Following the war, he threw himself into art and philosophy, driving himself toward radical antiliberalism and anti-Catholicism. In this, he was not unlike so many displaced minor nobles of his time. Alienated by democracy and robbed of social position by the pace of modern life, but absolutely unwilling to hold a regular job, he turned to hard-core reactionary politics in a longing to wipe out the modern world and turn it back to some imagined ancient manly despotism.

The Devil

He came to public attention with his first major work, Pagan Imperialism (1928), a massive attack on the Catholic Church, on grounds that the Pope and the Bishops as power had displaced the more legitimate source of moral and legal authority of the imperial state, which he, like everyone else in this right-Hegelian tradition, believed was the central authority of history’s trajectory. To him (again predictably), Christianity was feminized, egalitarian, humanitarian, weak, and excessively pro-peace, and so the Church had to be smashed if civilization were to be saved.  

The Catholic Church was mortified by the attack (the Vatican called him the “Italian Satan”) and his book became a huge subject of debate in intellectual circles where fascists and communists battled it out all over Europe. Among the participants was the man who would later become Pope Paul VI (who presided over the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s), who might have believed that the only way to protect Europe against violent fascism was through a turn to the left.  

Heart of Darkness

Like all fascist intellectuals of the interwar period, Evola wrote extensively on the race issue, and, given the context of the time, his views were slightly more liberal than, for example, the doctrinaire Nazis. He believed that the human person was made of biology, mind, and spirit, so that a person could be a Jew biologically but an Ayran in mind and therefore not entirely intolerable. That Evola was considered a heretic by the hard-core Nazis tells you all you need to know about these times and the strange ideas extant in European intellectual circles.

The book is thoroughly statist, thoroughly racist, massively opposed to every single improvement in living standards since the Age of the Enlightenment.During Mussolini’s consolidation of power in Italy, Evola became his biggest champion and admirer and came to cheer the most reactionary/totalitarian elements in European politics at the time. This culminated in his “magnum opus” called Revolt Against the Modern World. This book became an important rallying treatise of the reactionary movements in Italy, Spain, and Germany, standing alongside even Mein Kampf as an ideological justification for war and slaughter.  

What does this book say? No surprise, he goes full Hegelian, positing a Golden Age of racial purity and perfect political organization that was disrupted by the advent of liberalism, but predicting that the decline will be ended by a full revolt in favor of a strongman-led state that will take us to a new era of perfect order. Of course, the book is thoroughly statist, thoroughly racist, massively opposed to every single improvement in living standards since the Age of the Enlightenment. It is a full-bore attack on human liberty itself.

I would quote it but most of it makes no sense, but you are welcome to a sample or to read the whole book. His central political conclusion is to favor the “establishment of order from above.”

The very notion of “natural rights” is a mere fiction, and the antitraditional and subversive use of that is well documented. There is no such thing as a nature that is “good” in itself and in which the inalienable rights of an individual, which are to be equally enjoyed by every human being, are preformed and rooted. Even when the ethnic substance appears to be somewhat ‘well defined,’…. These forms…do not have a spiritual value in and of themselves unless participating in a higher order, such as when they are assumed in the state or an analogous traditional organization, they are first consecrated as being from above.

(Quoting Evola is always difficult because of his studied obscurantism, but I hope the reader gets the main drift.)

The Girl Problem

In this treatise, Evola presents his position on women, which he would revisit throughout a long literary writing career. Evola not only rejected any human rights for the half of the human race identified as women; he believed that the biological capacity to bear children mandates a situation of permanent slavery for women. His vision of the proper place of woman is represented by the captive harem during life and on the funeral pyre after the death of her master.  

It is not possible, he wrote, for a society that grants “every human being” things such as “dignity” and “rights” to “preserve some sense of the correct relationship between the two sexes.” He explains in an oddly clear passage:

In a society that no longer understands the figure of the ascetic and of the warrior; in which the hands of the latest aristocrats seem better fit to hold tennis rackets or shakers for cocktail mixes than swords or scepters; in which the archetype of the virile man is represented by the boxer or by a movie star if not by the dull wimp represented by the intellectual, the college professor, the narcissistic puppet of the artist, or the busy and dirty money-making banker and the politician – in such a society it was only a matter of time before women rose up and claimed for themselves a “personality” and a “freedom” according to the anarchist and individualist meaning usually associated with those words.

In Evola’s view, the emancipation of women in the 19th century (the age of liberalism), combined with rising prosperity for everyone, led to an intolerable demographic chaos. In his view, birth ought to be regulated, mandated among the superior races (and that includes rape as a moral imperative) but forbidden among the inferior races. If the state doesn’t get involved, humanity is absolutely doomed (a conventional claim of every eugenicist of his generation), so long as we continue to tolerate things like freedom and human rights.  

It is no wonder the superior races are dying out before the ineluctable logic of individualism, which especially in the so-called contemporary “higher classes,” has caused people to lose all desire to procreate. Not to mention all the other degenerative factors connected to a mechanized and urbanized social life and especially to a civilization that no longer respects the health and creative limitations constituted by the castes and by the traditions of blood lineage. Thus proliferation is concentrated in the lower social classes and in the inferior races where the animal-like impulse is stronger than any rational calculation and consideration. The unavoidable effects are a reversed selection and the ascent and the onslaught of inferior elements against which the “race” of superior castes and people, now exhausted and defeated, can do very little as a spiritually dominating element.

He ends this 1934 treatise with a blood-thirsty template for holocaust and the creation of a new man:

This is all we can say about a certain category of men in view of the fulfillment of the times, a category that by virtue of its own nature must be that of a minority. This dangerous path may be trodden. It is a real test. In order for it to be complete in its resolve it is necessary to meet the following conditions: all the bridges are to be cut, no support found, and no returns possible; also, the only way out must be forward. It is typical of a heroic vocation to face the greatest wave knowing that two destinies lie ahead: that of those who will die with the dissolution of the modern world, and that of those who will find themselves in the main and regal stream of the new current.

You read enough of this stuff and it all becomes absurdly predictable. His subsequent flurry of literature, through the rest of the 1930s leading to the Second World War, included reconstructions of early pre-modern history in which every time the merchant prevailed over the warlords, commerce and harmony replaced rape and pillage, Evola cries foul. Humanity lost its love of bloodshed and horror and therefore the essence of life itself!

You read enough of this stuff and it all becomes absurdly predictable. Liberty in all its forms is the enemy; hatred, tribal violence, dictatorship, mythological love of the lie, is the philosophical aspiration of superior people. Though Evola’s books poured out in the years before the war, each was a variation on the same theme.

Dalliance with the Nazis  

As the Nazi party made advances in German politics, Evola was enraptured, placing all his hopes and dreams into the great cause, and became a full-time propagandist working in Germany. He spoke on behalf of the Third Reich, and became good friends with Nazi official and extermination-camp builder Heinrich Himmler. His services were so appreciated that Evola eventually became a top intellectual in Nazi circles, a genuine intellectual insider of a cause who provided ideological cover for its crimes, while cheering every aspect of Hitler’s war and regime as the best possible hope for humanity. He even ended up escorting Mussolini to Hitler’s hideout during the war. Evidentally, the slaughter of innocents was not only just fine by him but embodied some realization of what he believed must happen. 

So worshipful did Evola become of violence and death that he made it a habit to walk around Mussolini’s short-lived Social Republic, contemplating the spiritual meaning of bombs, during which time he was hit by a shell that left him paralyzed. His disability only added to his mystique after the war during which time he cheered the violent juntas that held out for a fascist utopia even following Allied victories. Evola ended up escaping prosecution after the war, most likely by cleverly boring the jury with abstruse philosophical ramblings.

The writings from his last years demonstrate that he never gave up his faith in fascist revolution. His 1974 book Fascism as Viewed from the Right downplayed some of his weird views on sex and race but reiterated the main theme: statism as a replacement for classical liberalism.

The true state will be oriented against both capitalism and communism. At its center will stand a principle of authority and a transcendent symbol of sovereignty…. The state is the primary element that precedes nation, people, and society. The state – and with the state everything that is properly constituted as political order and political reality – is defined essentially on the basis of an idea, not by naturalistic and contractual factors.

Paradise Lost 

Baron Evola was hardly singular in his outlook among his class. At the end of the 19th century, there were many such minor nobles who felt stranded in the age of democracy, loose in the world, brilliant and privileged but unwilling to get a conventional education much less take a regular job. World War I shattered their moral lineage, so many turned to outright nihilism out of anger at their personal plight. They also happened to be the smartest person in the room and they knew it.

What to do? Where to go? Basically, many of these people became The Joker, people who wanted to see the modern world burn. The world they knew they despised. But Mussolini was hope. Hitler was hope. The determined strongman, the use of massive force to turn back history, the extermination camp, and the eventual gas chamber: these were hope. These displaced minds couldn’t fight but they could think, lecture, and write. They wrote treatises on why mass death was the source of life. They went from one-time angels of old Europe to Satans in the new, as the Vatican said of Evola. And today? Their legacy lives on, tragically and horribly.

So that I’m clear: I’m not unsympathetic with their personal plight. Everyone has a reason for how he or she is. But the fact is that they used their gifts for evil, and are full accomplices in bringing it about.

The Lure of Gnosticism

Why are people drawn to the views of such thinkers? Why are Evola’s works newly translated and selling again? Why is there

You could theorize that this is what you get when the left goes too far; it creates a radical right as a mirror image. That might be a factor. More fundamentally, however, Eric Voegelin is right: it has to do with the attraction of a secret teaching, the great Gnostic appeal, stemming from an initial distrust of conventional learning and wisdom and leading to a search for some lost and suppressed worldview.

There seems to be some sneaky pleasure in pouring over such dark works, like a sin against a corrupt and expendable society. People like Baron Evola have a special attraction for such people because of their supposed aristocratic lineage; this hints of the master’s alienation from prevailing corruption and signals the possibility of truthful revelation, some hidden truth buried in the great mind. It’s all the better when people like this write treatises of a thousand pages that reconstruct the story of humankind in super un-PC terms, placing blame for the loss of greatness on invaders, deviants, feminization, almost always the Jews, or some other supposed artificial turn that leads humankind away from its organic destiny to be led by mighty men (and the readers of such books always imagine themselves to be among them).

There seems to be some sneaky pleasure in pouring over such dark works, like a sin against a corrupt and expendable society. For followers of such thinkers, that the books don’t make much sense is hardly the point. What matters most is that the author himself represents isolation, exclusion, condemnation, and his works are suppressed by prevailing elites. It is the very rejection of their thought by the establishment that is the source of their power among people afflicted with such Gnostic longings.

Evola Lives

Every reactionary ideology – every outlook on life that harbors deep resentment against the liberation of humanity from deprivation and barbarism – has a vision of an idealized past, a theory of its decline and fall, and a plan for restoration which is necessarily violent. The fascist movements of the interwar period became the flypaper for all these activists in Europe.

The pompous and ridiculous Baron Giulio Cesare Andrea Evola, whose works, to this very day, entice alienated and authoritarian pseudo-intellectuals around the world, lives on through his works translated in at least five languages. His thought – like the writings of medieval occultists – will most likely attract brooding and bitter autodidacts around the world for decades to come. Both Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos have cited Evola as inspiration.

And the biggest irony of all: Evola’s ideas are only accessible today due to the very technology – and ideals behind that technology – that he dedicated his life to opposing. Ludwig von Mises has the last word: “fascism is not as the Fascists trumpeted a ‘new way to life’; it is a rather old way towards destruction and death.”