Julius Evola’s Critique of Fascism
Henry Wolff, American Renaissance, March 29, 2013
Julius Evola, Fascism Viewed from the Right, Arktos Media, 2013, 130 pp.
Julius Evola (1898-1974) was an Italian thinker who wrote about the world of Tradition, that is to say, the world of pre-Modern civilizations. He believed Enlightenment rationalism had repudiated much of what was genuinely valuable in Tradition: religion, monarchy, aristocracy and other forms of inequality. This is why Evola called his critique of Italian Fascism — hereafter, simply “Fascism” — Fascism Viewed from the Right. He believed that Fascism had promise, but that it had deviated in important ways from the ideal Right-wing regime because it had not fully adopted the principles and structures of the best forms of European government prior to the French Revolution. In his view, Classical Rome was a particularly inspiring model. Evola had described the proper Traditional regime in two other books, Men Among the Ruins and Revolt Against the Modern World, and Fascism Viewed from the Right can be seen as an application of these earlier works to a real regime.
Evola limited his critique to the doctrinal elements of Fascism. The fact that Fascist Italy and its ally Germany lost a terrible war did not discredit Fascism any more than a victory would have endorsed it. Likewise, for Evola, the personal failings or virtues of particular figures in the regime — Benito Mussolini in particular — were irrelevant to his analysis.
Evola’s task was difficult, because Fascism did not have a formally elucidated doctrine, unlike Communism or, to a lesser extent, National Socialism. Thus, Evola focused on Fascism’s institutional reality and on Mussolini’s positions, since he was the regime’s principal exponent.
Evola was primarily concerned with the Fascism of the “Twenty Years,” which began with the March on Rome in 1922 and ended in 1943 when Mussolini was deposed after the Allied invasion of southern Italy. The Germans freed Mussolini later that year and installed him in northern Italy, but Evola dismissed the Fascism of what was called the Italian Social Republic because he found it different and less promising.
Fascism and the State
In the wake of the First World War, Italy’s weak and corrupt liberal democratic government and powerless monarchy were ill-suited to deal with the crippling debt, inflation, and socialist agitations plaguing the nation. In this environment Benito Mussolini emerged as a source of hope, riding currents of nationalist sentiment and veteran discontent to a coup d’état: the 1922 March on Rome, which led King Victor Emmanuel III to invite Mussolini to form a government.
By 1926, Mussolini had consolidated power and spoke of his view of the state:
We stand for a new principle in [today’s] world, we stand for sheer, categorical, definitive antithesis to the world of democracy, plutocracy, Freemasonry, to the world which still abides by the fundamental principles laid down in 1789.
For Evola, this was very promising — a “conservative revolution” that sought to return to an idea of the state that the French Revolution had overthrown. Mussolini rejected both socialism and democracy, and tried to establish a state that came before and was superior to both the people and their history or aspirations. In Mussolini’s words: “The nation does not beget the State . . . . On the contrary, the nation is created by the State, which gives the people . . . the will, and thereby an effective existence.” Evola considered this superior to National Socialism, in which the state was said to rise out of the “race” or “Volk.”
But how does a state — a purely political entity — create a people? In Evola’s view, the Fascist state was not just a bureaucracy that protected liberties and gave citizens a certain level of well-being. It was an active, organizing force that shaped the people and gave it direction. Mussolini himself evoked Classical Roman conceptions of authority (auctoritas) and political sovereignty (imperium), thus trying to link his regime to Ancient Rome, which Evola considered to be “the only truly valid legacy of all the history that has taken place on Italian soil.”
Evola drew a distinction between two kinds of state. One kind is defined from below, by “social” factors, and is established to promote material well-being. The typical example would be a democracy, in which different groups and factions agree on a framework to advance material ends. The other kind of state, which Evola considered a vast improvement, is not defined from below but sanctioned from above, by a transcendent principle. The typical example would be a monarchy empowered by divine right.
Evola was, himself, deeply spiritual, and believed that only in a regime with a transcendent purpose did such Roman virtues as honor and service to the state gain their full meaning. He believed that without some spiritual purpose, the individual impulse for “self-transcendence” could not rise any higher than material goals that aim merely at the increase of physical comfort.
Mussolini claimed that Fascism had religious values, but Evola believed the regime never achieved a spiritual sanction which would have given it a transcendent character. Without religious sanction, man’s best efforts are largely wasted: “Even elements like struggle and heroism, loyalty and sacrifice, contempt for death, and so on can take on an irrational, naturalistic, tragic and dark character.”
Evola also recognized the totalitarian threat of Fascism, though he considered this threat “from the point of view not of a shapeless liberal democracy, but rather of a true Right.” In particular, Evola criticized the Fascist slogan “Everything in the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” He considered this intrusive and coercive. The Traditional state, for Evola, “acts out of prestige with an authority that can, of course, resort to force, but abstains from it as much as possible.” He approved of what he called “rational decentralization,” as opposed to the systematic interference by the state that is characteristic of socialist regimes that care only about material progress.
The Fascist government is often called a dictatorship, but Evola preferred the term “dyarchy,” because Fascism coexisted with the monarchy. Evola believed the monarchy is the “center of gravity” in a Traditional regime, providing a “stable principle of pure political authority.” In exceptional circumstances, it might be necessary for a sovereign to appoint someone with particular qualifications to lead the state. Evola compared this to the ancient Roman Senate’s appointment of a dictator, and he offered Richelieu, Metternich, and Bismarck as more recent examples.
Evola thought it was absurd for the Fascist government to declare itself a “one-party state.” Parties of any kind were a throwback to materialist, democratic regimes. On the route to power, the National Fascist Party might have served as a necessary galvanizing force, but beyond this, Evola says it should have dropped the concepts and language of democratic pretense and tried to establish an “order.” By this he meant a cadre of superior men who would serve the same function as the nobility in older European regimes. These men would not form a political party. Instead, they would be men the people would obey out of a sense of awe and admiration, not because they felt them to be “one of us” or an embodiment of the “will of the people.”
The “will of the people,” after all, is to be shaped by the state, not the other way around. Evola therefore had no sympathy for the populist elements of Fascism, such as the paroxysms of patriotism and nationalism that arose around the “cult of the leader.” He recognized the galvanizing potential of these enthusiasms but disliked their appeal to the “sub-personal aspects of man as mass-man.”
Evola distinguished between representative systems that are egalitarian and those that are not. Egalitarian systems are based on one-man-one-vote, which Evola deplored: The idea that it is progress to give the same vote to a great thinker and an “illiterate butcher’s boy . . . is one of the many absurdities that, perhaps, in better times will be the cause of amazement or amusement.”
A proper system of representation gives precedence to quality over quantity. In this respect, Evola approved of the Chamber of Fasces and Corporations, established in 1939, because it took the place of the Chamber of Deputies, which was based on elections. In the Chamber of Fasces, corporations and unions had influence in proportion to their size and importance, which was a better reflection of the economy.
Mussolini left the Italian Senate unchanged, however; Evola called it “an inefficient, decorative superstructure.” He would have favored an upper house that represented “meta-economic” and “transcendent” aspects of the state, as a counterbalance to the Chamber of Fasces, which was composed of experts.
Fascism and Race
It is common to try to discredit Fascism, not only because of the war, but because it was “racist.” Even in 1964, when Evola published this book, anti-democratic thinkers who saw some value in Fascism tried to explain away Fascist racial thought as a malignant Nazi influence. They claimed that Fascism was not anti-Semitic, and that even during the German occupation of Italy, there was little persecution of Jews. Fascism often protected Jews.
Evola wrote that absolving Fascism of anti-Semitism does not absolve it of racial thinking. He did agree, however, that the notorious “Manifesto on Race” of 1938 was heavily influenced by Nazism. It referred to race as a “purely biological concept,” which, as we will see, was not at all Evola’s view. “The foreign influence here is clear,” he wrote, “since [the Manifesto] specified that Fascist racism should be of ‘Nordic-Aryan orientation.’ ” For Italy, such an orientation was absurd. Evola wrote that to the extent that Italians were Aryans, they were of the “Aryo-Roman” type. Moreover, Evola objected that “Aryan” was not defined, nor was the character of the Aryan explained. For him, the manifesto was a “bungled and inconsistent” document that should have been distinct from German racism.
Evola emphasized, however, that Fascist racial thinking was a reflection of three factors that were independent of Nazi influence. The first, and least significant to Evola, was the “Hebraic problem.” Evola noted there were hardly any references to Jews in Mussolini’s early writings. One of the few was an article from 1919 in which Mussolini wondered whether Bolshevism was “Israel’s revenge against the Aryan race,” since Jewish bankers in New York and London supported it, and many Bolshevik leaders were Jewish.
Fascist-Jewish relations were essentially neutral until 1938. There were Jewish Blackshirts, and there was a Jewish pro-Fascist newspaper. Evola thought that whatever hostility was directed at Italian Jews was the result of “militant anti-Fascist hostility demonstrated by Jewish elements abroad, especially in America.” This hostility increased greatly after Italy’s alliance with Germany, and Italian Jews “ended up suffering the consequences of the attitude of their non-Italian co-religionists.” Evola added that anti-Jewish measures “very often remained on paper and were not enforced.” In any case, Evola thought that how the Fascists handled the Jewish question was more a political matter than one of doctrine, and therefore irrelevant to any evaluation of Fascist doctrine itself.
The second contributor to Italian race thinking was a “practical” and “non-ideological” race consciousness that was eventually used to justify the conquest of Ethiopia. This was no doubt the purpose of Mussolini’s 1938 call for “a clear, severe consciousness of race that would establish not only differences, but also very clear superiorities.”
Evola wrote that this kind of “racism” was an inevitable part of modern empire-building. It “nourished a sentiment of ‘race’ in order to protect the prestige of Whites . . . and to prevent miscegenation.” It solved “the problem of the legitimacy of the right to rule over a people and their culture.” In Evola’s view, however, this was not always successful:
[W]e have to acknowledge that this legitimacy was largely non-existent, when it was not a question of savages, Negroes, and other inferior races, but of peoples that already possessed their own ancient civilization and tradition, like, for instance, the case of the Hindus. To these peoples, “Whites” could present nothing besides their technological civilization and their material and organizational superiority, along with Christianity and its strange claim to be the only true religion or, at least, the highest religion.
Evola wrote that the European powers were not, in some cases, legitimate colonists because their “superiority” was based on strictly material or biological factors. A cultural or spiritual purpose might have justified rule over other races, but neither Italy nor any other power could make such a claim.
The third reason Fascism was led to confront race explicitly is the one Evola thought the most important. This was the development of a “racism in the proper, positive sense” that was not an invidious comparison with other groups. From the beginning of his regime, Mussolini spoke of creating “a new way of life” and “a new type of Italian.” Evola believed that the people of Israel had gone through such a process. Diaspora Jews were “not a single pure and homogenous race, but was instead an ethnic compound united and formed by a religious tradition.” Over time, this ethnic compound remained unified against adversity, causing it to become a new people. Evola also wrote that in the United States, an “easily recognizable type” formed from an “unlikely ethnic mix” under the discipline of a uniform culture.
In Italy, likewise, the state could have created what Evola called a “climate of high tension” that inspired Italians to go beyond themselves. This would have taken the form of an “appeal to special forms of sensibility, vocation, and the interests of individuals,” though there was no guarantee of success: “If the appeal finds no echo, little of what really matters can be attained in another way.”
For Evola, the goal was for a people, unified under a stable culture and tradition, to develop physically in a way that reflected their “mode of being” or “interior race.” For him, race was not just a biological concept, but one with an inner spiritual dimension. The aim of a “positive racism,” as opposed to ranking against other races, was “human completeness,” in which the physical race and race of the spirit were aligned.
Evola’s views on race are important for Fascism. Mussolini had read Evola’s Synthesis of a Doctrine of Race and invited Evola to come talk to him about the book. Evola wrote about the meeting:
It is symptomatic that he approved of its theses unconditionally, and finally agreed that we would undertake some rather significant initiatives based on the book. The crisis of events and certain internal doubts kept us from completing them.
We do not know what these initiatives would have been but Evola’s thinking would certainly have influenced them.
Evola reminds the reader that Mussolini had had a long-standing interest in race that predated any German influence. As early as 1921, he gave a speech tying Fascism to “a profound, perennial need of our Aryan and Mediterranean stock, that at a certain moment felt itself threatened in its essential reasons for existence.” The same year, he proclaimed “it is with the race that history is made,” and, in 1927, he warned, “We must rigorously watch over the destiny of the race; we must take care of the race.” These sentiments were Mussolini’s own; not borrowings from Nazis.
In April 1951, Julius Evola was arrested at his home in Rome on charges of “glorifying fascism” and of having “attempted to reconstitute the dissolved Fascist Party.” He was imprisoned for six months and then a two-month trial began. Like Socrates, Evola was charged for “corrupting the youth,” and like Socrates in the Apology, Evola issued an Autodifesa (self-defense statement).
Citing many of the points made above, and noting that he never joined the Fascist Party, Evola said he was a defender of an aristocratic tradition that predated Fascism and was superior to it. He said if this was a crime, and “if such are the terms of the accusation, I would be honored to see, seated at the same bench of accusation, such people as Aristotle, Plato, the Dante of De Monarchia, and so on up to Metternich and Bismarck.”
Unlike that of Socrates, Evola’s defense was successful.