On Evola’s “Revolt against the modern world”

Revolt against the Modern World
by Julius Evola

In this book, Evola reconstructs a picture of “traditional” man, contrasts it with modernity, and tells a story of how the latter displaced the former through much of the world.  For most authors, tradition refers to that which is handed down to us from previous generations, but Evola’s “tradition” is something different–essentially timeless, subject to only accidental variations between cultures, found not in our elders but in ancient texts, and even there only in fragmented or esoteric form.  One might call Evola a sort of Protestant traditionalist, seeking to sidestep centuries of corruption to recover the original Tradition of the North just as the Protestant wants to access Apostolic Christianity unmediated by Catholic tradition.  This would be unfair, though, to the Protestants.  Unlike the Arctic Aryan god-men of Evola’s imagination, at least Apostolic Christianity actually existed, and the Protestant imagination is somewhat grounded by an existing ancient text.  For Evola, most recorded traditions represent the original tradition in partially corrupted form, or their true meaning is accessible only to someone of his spiritual discernment, so he has free play to take anything he likes as part of the true, original tradition and to discard whatever he doesn’t like, no matter how well-attested across multiple cultures.

One sees this clearly in his treatment of religion.  Evola claims that the “original” Tradition had little of what we think of as religion:  belief in personal deities and efforts to establish relationship and gain favors from them.  The numinous was rather thought of as impersonal forces to be appropriated and manipulated by these superior men.  Evola’s claim is outlandish but unfalsifiable.  Confront him with pagan petitionary prayers or pagan mythologies detailing the exploits of personal gods, and he can always say that the people in question were already corrupted by an inferior, “lunal” tradition, or else that you are reading the evidence in a crude, exoteric way intended only for the rubes.  Given his view of religion, Evola naturally thinks theistically-oriented mysticism inferior to Buddhist mysticism, which he thinks comes closer to his masculine ideal of detachment and self-sufficiency.  (His feminine ideal is complete self-abnegation, leading him to embrace a warped sexual ethic that endorses oriental abominations such as the keeping of harems.)  In spite of Christianity, he thinks a superior form of mysticism secretly existed among some medieval chivalrous orders, citing confessions of anti-Christian practices among the Knights Templar while failing to mention that these confessions were obtained under torture.  Evola’s use of data when evaluating traditions for their “solar” (good) or “lunar” (bad) qualities seems entirely arbitrary.  Thus, that Christianity has the cult of a woman, Mary, is pronounced significant evidence of its fundamentally feminine, lunar nature; that the Christian God is considered male is pronounced unimportant; that the Germanic pagans Evola admires reversed the sexes of major gods from the normal (a sun goddess and moon god) is deemed unworthy of mention.  One strains to comprehend his enthusiasm for Islam, since a more uncompromisingly theistic and egalitarian religion would be hard to imagine.  One senses that Evola uses the citation of facts (each page does have lots of interesting historical and mythological data) not as a means to rationally convince but rather to intimidate.  Thus, he will cite a number of obscure and tangentially relevant facts before making extremely dubious generalizations about major religions–but who will dare to disagree with the author, when he’s clearly shown that he knows more than the reader?

 

Religion is only one of Evola’s subjects, but my focus on it is fair because his hatred of Christianity is clearly the organizing theme of the book.  Christianity teaches that God is distinct from his creation, and therefore that humility is a virtue and Evola’s “heroic” type of man is merely stupid in his vanity.  It teaches that kings are not divine, but rule only by delegation from God.  Here we come to what seems to be the real sore point.  Evola’s Northern/Solar tradition is based on the idea that rulers possess some sort of inherent divine quality, and that their authority is grounded in this personal spiritual superiority.  Old feuds live long in Italy, and Evola the Ghibelline will never forgive the popes for their stand against his sacred empire.  It would be a mistake to read this in modern terms and say that Evola is a partisan of “state” over “church”.  Evola is no fan of free cities, modern nation-states, or secularism.  As a partisan of empire with spiritualistic and universalist pretensions, he achieves a genuine and important insight–the connection between the spiritual supremacy of the Church and particularism in the temporal order.  His claim that the Church won its battle for supremacy will sound bizarre to students of early-modern Church-state relationships, but Evola is not interested in what prerogatives the kings of England or France may haver wrested away from the papacy; they are not the same sort of thing as the Holy Roman Emperor.

Evola posits that the solar tradition he extols was originally spread through the world by a particular people originating in the far north.  Naturally, the inferior peoples whom they subjugated were not living in a spiritual vacuum.  They had their own inferior (of course) spirituality opposed to that of the Northern conquerers in nearly every way:  feminine rather than masculine; egalitarian rather than caste-hierarchical; ruled by priests in the name of earth goddesses rather than by warrior kings embodying a sun god; inclined to pantheism or hedonism or theistic religious devotion rather than heroic self-striving.  Evola may seem to be conflating many distinct things that he doesn’t like, but the differences don’t interest him.  Of course, extant cultural artifacts such as Hesiod’s Theogony are already mixtures of the two traditions, so Evola has unlimited freedom to pick and choose as he pleases.

I am disturbed by the influence this man seems to be exercising over many in the reactionary and traditionalist Right.  His construction of Tradition is entirely antithetical to the tradition of the West, the pillars of which include an understanding of the absolute ontological gulf between God and His creation, the need for divine grace as opposed to the pretensions of spiritual “heroism”, the superiority of the Church over the temporal powers, the legitimate particularism of these temporal powers, and the grounding of authority in public role rather than personal qualities.

13 Responses

  1. I think he’s mostly just good for a quote or two. I did not find his book particularly interesting.

  2. Very nice review.
    I have never really grasped the essence of the “Tradition” that Evola talks about. Sometimes “Tradition” seems to be about the path of a few elect to becoming gods themselves. If you´re heroic and exceptional enough in this life you might join the company of the gods in the afterlife, as popular Greek paganism proposed.

    At other times Evola is closer to Guenon and other “mainstream” perennialists who shared a non-dual worldview similar to, and inspired by, Vedanta and Buddhism. In this tradition the lower self should be dissolved into the higher Absolute Self.

    I might be unimaginative but I cannot see how these ideas can be reconciled.

  3. Thanks for writing this. He’s always seemed screwy to me.

  4. I’ve been reading your blog for some years , and I always wanted to know your opinion on Evola.
    I’m glad to see that we shared the same conclusions: the semi-archaelogical effort to reach the original Tradition is very similar to the effort proposed by protestant theologians and post-CVII theologians.

  5. For Evola, most recorded traditions represent the original tradition in partially corrupted form, or their true meaning is accessible only to someone of his spiritual discernment, so he has free play to take anything he likes as part of the true, original tradition and to discard whatever he doesn’t like, no matter how well-attested across multiple cultures.

    So at the end of the day it is just another truckload of question begging disconnected from reality.

    I basically agree with David Stove that there are just too many ways for our thoughts to go wrong, and too strong an animal incentive to make our wants the standard, for most people to think objectively. The reason for ‘stronger’ results in math and physics and the like vs “religion” has less to do with inherent rigor and more to do with the fact that the proof of Fermat’s Theorem doesn’t tell people that they really ought to obey their parents (despite their obvious flaws) and shouldn’t sleep around.

  6. Evola rather puts me in mind of Frazer’s Golden Bough or Barthold Niebhur on the history of Christianity and Neo-Platonism, in which an enormous amount of evidence is arranged in support of a theory, rather than the theory being inferred from the evidence; the method of a lawyer “getting up” a case, rather than that of an historian.

  7. in which an enormous amount of evidence is arranged in support of a theory, rather than the theory being inferred from the evidence

    Heh. In other words, first draw the graph, and only after plot the points.

  8. You could’ve saved yourself a lot of reading if you paid attention to the Foreword:

    “The scientific “anathemas” in regard to [my] approach are well known: “Arbitrary!” “Subjective!” “Preposterous!” In my perspective there is no arbitrariness, subjectivity, or fantasy, just as there is no objectivity and scientific causality in the way modern men understand them. All these notions are unreal; all these notions are outside Tradition. Tradition begins wherever it is possible to rise above these notions by achieving a superindividual and nonhuman perspective; thus, I will have a minimal concern for debating or “demonstrating.” The truths that may reveal the world of Tradition are not those that can be “learned” or “discussed”; either they are or they are not. It is only possible to *remember* them, and this happens when one becomes free of the obstacles represented by various human constructions, first among which are all the results and the methods of specialized researchers; in other words, one becomes free of these encumbrances when the capacity for *seeing* from that nonhuman perspective, which is the same as the traditional perspective, has been attained.”

    If you approach a work based on esoterism from the perspective of exoterism, or nondualism from the perspective of dualism, the meaning will be opaque to you. Hence the ridiculous conclusion that Evola’s hatred of Christianity is the theme of the book.

  9. Evola was a gnostic weirdo.

  10. I think you may have been a little too harsh on Evola here. It is definitely worth reading ‘Crisis of the Modern World’ by Guenon before Revolt as it helps understand some of the very murky esotericism. I do agree about the Templars stuff, but it’s obvious in that instance that Evola is simply suffering bias in trying to confirm his own pre-existing Nietzscheanism, not unusual to this time period among philosophers. Ride the Tiger is his attempt to escape from some Nietzschean coils but he does it from arguable an atraditional standpoint, to his own loss. The usefulness of Evola can only be ascertained once one understands why he dissented from Christianity (given his own context) and thus can fairly dismiss some of the arguments he gave. It’s also worth noting that Evola’s position on paganism changes over time from Imperialismo Paganum to his letter “Against the Neopagans”. And certainly his statements on Interwar Romania are very telling that he did not in fact dismiss Christianity in its totality. Cologero Salvo at Gornahoor has been rather essential to my ability to understand Evola in a Christian way, similar to Frithjof Schuon’s work.

  11. Mark Citadel,

    Can you summarize what you think useful in Evola to Christian traditionalism?

  12. […] Bonald has a tepid take On Evola’s Revolt against the modern world. […]

  13. […] trends comes more from followers on the Right of esoteric doctrines such as those of Leo Strauss, Julius Evola, and Rene Girard.  One danger is that the tendency to impute hidden meanings onto dead authors […]

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