Julius Evola has been in the news lately as an inspiration for Steve Bannon. Who is he? Even digby, a really, really smart political blogger admitted she “had never heard of this philosopher before.” It seems a little Evola education is in order, even if some Alt-Rightists poo-poo the idea that Evola has any influence in the Trump administration (although they do so with an “if only” kind of vibe).
Let me say two things up front: First, and I seem to be stressing this a lot, THIS IS NOT NORMAL! It is not normal that the New York freakin’ Times is discussing Evola as having a role in the Executive Branch of the United States government. Definitely not a bit normal. Don’t let it become normal. Second, Evola is worse than you think, even if you go into this thinking Evola is going to be worse than you think. One of Evola’s books, which you can buy in a new edition (but please don’t), is titled Fascism as Viewed from the Right. Be warned.
Giulio Cesare Andrea Evola (1898-1974) wasn’t exactly a Nazi and wasn’t exactly a Fascist. His racist ideology, which he called “traditionalism,” was based on a mixture of various mythological traditions and the occult. As we know from reliable sources regarding the occult, Hitler was a nut on the subject. Evola began his career in Italy as a Dada artist but by the 1920s was working out a complicated system of thought inspired by the post-World War I konservative Revolution in Germany, the Theosophy of Madame Blatovsky, Hermetic philosophy, and a hodge-podge of Eastern traditions such as yoga. Add in some ancient European mythology and you get one of the most radical rightest thinkers of the 20th century. And apparently, Steve Bannon is a bit of a fan, so we should be paying attention.
One of Evola’s big influences was Arturo Reghini (1878-1946). Reghini claimed to have predicted the rise of Fascism and pushed the idea that Fascism was linked back to the ancient Roman Patricians. The symbol of Fascism, the fasces was a bundle of sticks with an axe handle was to symbolize this link to Rome’s noble past:
Evola embraced the idea that the ideal society was strictly hierarchical, as he imaged ancient Rome to be. His was a thoroughly anti-modern discourse. His criticism of Nazis was not that they were racist, but that they were the wrong kind of racists. The Nazis, Evola argued, were thorough materialists who grounded their racism in biology. This was missing the mark, he though, because the biology, and materialism, was not really real. Race was a matter of spirit, a “race soul,” not a matter of biology. Real scholars put the matter this way:
“This unmitigated affirmation of the spiritual, which in very different ways was characteristic of reactionary intellectuals between the wars, forms the foundation of Evola’s philosophical fascism and the basis of his repudiation of nihilism, bourgeois materialism (especially in its American form), and, of course, Marxism. In his eyes it marked the critical difference between the Olympic, Apollonian nature of Italian Fascism and the pagan, romantic-telluric Dionysianism of German National Socialism.”
Clear as a mountain pool, right? Let’s translate Evola into a Star Wars metaphor. Here is Master Yoda on The Force:
And then… In one of the wretched prequels it was revealed that The Force was a result of “mido-chlorians” a genetic predisposition to be able to harness The Force. The fans hated the mido-chlorians. The Force was supposed to be this mysterious, spiritual thing!!! Now it is all sciency and that ruins it! Honestly
I they were pretty upset. Evola would have been livid too.
For Evola, race was a matter of spirit, it was not “crude matter”. The Nazis were wrong, Evola argued, because they wanted to reduce “race” to something biological; that is to say, something to do with bodies. Race was a matter of spirit. Evola rejected Marxism because it was thoroughly materialistic: everything was economics for Marxists. But he also rejected capitalism, particularly American capitalism, for the same reason: it was all about material things and not spiritual.
All this spiritualism was wrapped up in a myth that makes Xenu look normal. As Kevin Coogan documents in his excellent history of post-World War II fascism, the racially superior people first inhabited Hyperboria (sometimes called Altima Thule), located far above the Arctic circle. When these sun-worshiping Hyperborians migrated out, some mixed with inferior races. Evola called these Atlanteans. The masculine northern races were at a constant war with the feminine (thus, inferior) races. Fascism should have the goal of returning to the god-kings of Hyperboria and the superior spiritual life of the ancient Nordic past. This is only scratching the surface of an elaborate mythology. If you want more, buy Coogan’s book or Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s equally good, Black Sun.
What is important for us, is that lots of Alt-Rightists are very enthusiastic about Evola’s mythology. Coogan hypothesizes that, after the war, Evola was involved in organizing neo-fascists into an underground army of sorts. Even if Coogan is wrong about this, there is no doubt that Evola has remained an inspiration for the far right for decades. This is important because of the violence endorsed, indeed encouraged, by Evola’s writings. Political scientist Corey Robin argues convincingly that “the infatuation with violence on today’s right is not an aberration; it is constitutive of the tradition itself”. This is especially true of Evola, who saw violence as how real men prove their manhood. Moreover, through the glory of violence, the racially superior can prove themselves, even ascending to the status of gods in the form of man. Evola was the inspiration for waves of terrorism that plagued Italy in the 1970s.
Part of the power of Evola’s vision is that it is mythological. Myths are powerful. One reason that Star Wars is so popular is that it perfectly embodies a common myth in Western Culture. We all want to be Luke or Leia or Han (no one wants to be the space janitors on the Death Star though they must have had them). Evola promised his readers that they could become gods through violence and many took him at his word. And Steve Bannon is apparently a fan. We should pay attention.
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