Saturday, February 11, 2017

Julius Evola: philosopher of Fascism and Trumpism?

Jason Horowitz analyses the work of Julius Evola on Presidential adviser Steve Bannon (Steve Bannon Cited Italian Thinker Who Inspired Fascists New York Times 02/10/2017):

Evola, who died in 1974, wrote on everything from Eastern religions to the metaphysics of sex to alchemy. But he is best known as a leading proponent of Traditionalism, a worldview popular in far-right and alternative religious circles that believes progress and equality are poisonous illusions.

Continue reading the main story Evola became a darling of Italian Fascists, and Italy’s post-Fascist terrorists of the 1960s and 1970s looked to him as a spiritual and intellectual godfather.

They called themselves Children of the Sun after Evola’s vision of a bourgeoisie-smashing new order that he called the Solar Civilization. Today, the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn includes his works on its suggested reading list, and the leader of Jobbik, the Hungarian nationalist party, admires Evola and wrote an introduction to his works.
Horowitz writes that Benito Mussolini became a fan of Evola because he admired Evola's authoritarian concept of the "ideal order."

The dictator already admired Evola’s early writings on race, which influenced the 1938 Racial Laws restricting the rights of Jews in Italy.

Mussolini so liked Evola’s 1941 book, “Synthesis on the Doctrine of Race,” which advocated a form of spiritual, and not merely biological, racism, that he invited Evola to meet him in September of that year.

Evola eventually broke with Mussolini and the Italian Fascists because he considered them overly tame and corrupted by compromise. Instead he preferred the Nazi SS officers, seeing in them something closer to a mythic ideal. They also shared his anti-Semitism.
A. James Gregor's Mussolini's Intellectuals: Fascist Social and Political Thought (2006) devotes a full chapter to Evola along with references elsewhere in the book:

Among the desperate efforts made to find the irrationality and malevolence that typifies contemporary mayhem in a Fascist source, some have seized on the work of Julius Evola. Elevated to the stature of “the philosopher of Fascism,” Evola has been identified as one of the principal sources of “right-wing extremism.”

The fact is that whatever the case might be with respect to Evola’s connections with contemporary extremism, there are virtually no grounds for identifying him as a spokesman for Fascist doctrine [i.e., during the Mussolini period]. Such an identification has become possible only because Fascism as an historic reality has receded further and further into the mists of stereotypy and political science fiction. An entire quarter century of Italian history has taken on the banal qualities of a poor morality play. Fascism no longer appears as an historical reality, but becomes a waking horror, without substance and without an intellectual history. [p. 16]
Gregor may be underestimating the ideological continuity between the original Fascists and today's versions. He continues directly, "In fact, Italian Fascism has very little, if anything, to do with either Julius Evola or modern extremism of whatever sort. Those today identified as 'neofascists,' 'cryptofascists,' and 'parafascists' are, most frequently, not fascists at all, but persons suffering clinical afflictions."

As we have seen often, people with clinical afflictions do play real roles in real-life politics.

But Gregor's warning that ideas of notable thinkers, or notorious ones, need to be understood in their historical context, even when their ideas have a much longer temporal influence, is a good one. Many such treatments of the precedents of Hitler's thinking have been published, including Brigitte Hamaan's Hitlers Wien. Lehrjahre eines Diktators (1998) and the extensive scholarly annotations to the 2016 Mein Kampf.Eine kritische Edition, published by the Institut für Zeitgeschichte.

It's possible that Evola is more of an influence on Trumpism than it was on Italian Fascism. Horowitz reports:

As Mr. Bannon suggested in [a 2014] speech, Mr. Putin’s most influential thinker is Aleksandr Dugin, the ultranationalist Russian Traditionalist and anti-liberal writer sometimes called “Putin’s Rasputin.”

An intellectual descendant of Evola, Mr. Dugin has called for a “genuine, true, radically revolutionary, and consistent fascist fascism” and advocated a geography-based theory of “Eurasianism” — which has provided a philosophical framework for Mr. Putin’s expansionism and meddling in Western European politics.
Gregor writes in a footnote (p. 158):

Thus, in 1937, Julius Evola, a marginal thinker in Fascist Italy, published his Il mito del sangue that was presumably read and approved by Mussolini himself. Evola wrote that “the theory of race,” which inspired National Socialist Germany, was not a “concept” that could be evaluated employing “properly scientific, philosophic, or historical” criteria. Evola identified National Socialist race theory as a “myth”—not a fiction, but a nonrational device, which through “suggestive force” would be capable of moving persons to action. He reminded his audience that Mussolini had always insisted that race was a “matter of sentiment, not a reality.” [my emphasis in bold]
Looking at Evola's development over the years as a thinker, Gregor certainly doesn't present him as a very perceptive or admirable advocate for his positions, which owed a lot to a vague mysticism. He even argues that Evola's reputation as a significant influence on Italian Fascism was not a contemporary view but one developed later and superficially associated with Italian Fascism of the 1920s and 1930s:

In retrospect, it appears evident that Evola was never particularly interested in Fascism, as such. In effect, he actually has no place in any history of Fascist social and political thought. He is accorded a place because, years after the passing of fascism, discussants have chosen to identify him as the “fascist” source of the irrationalism and antihumanism of contemporary “extremism.” He presumably provided the meaning of fascism for modern revolutionaries.

In fact, Evola was never a fascist, however the term is understood. He provided idiosyncratic meaning for all its principal concepts in his candid effort to further the interests of that arcane Tantric and Vedic Wisdom that he had made his own. [pp. 197-8]
None of this is to say that Evola was a misunderstood democrat or a closet leftist of some kind. He wasn't. Nor could he be described as an opponent of the Mussolini regime. But Gregor argues at some length that Evola's influence on Fascism in Italy and National Socialism in Germany was marginal, a minor sideshow of highbrow propaganda.

Roger Giffith, in a critical remark on the Evola chapter in Gregor's book (Roger Griffith, American Historical Review 110:5 Dec 2005, pp. 1625-6), reinforces the point that Evola's influence on postwar neofascism is more significant than for Mussolini's Fascism:

[Gregor's] efforts in chapter nine to show that Evola was never a true representative of Italian fascist ideology under Benito Mussolini is tilting at windmills, since no serious scholar has ever claimed this. What experts such as Marco Revelli, Franco Ferraresi, and Richard Drake have demonstrated in considerable empirical detail is that Evola has had a major impact both on postwar fascism in Italy and on several currents of revolutionary nationalism, both cultural and terrorist, that emerged elsewhere in Europe after the defeat of the Axis powers. As a philosopher of generic fascism, Evola eclipses in importance Giovanni Gentile, whose impact outside the confines of fascist Italy has been minimal. [my emphasis in bold]
Walter Laqueur in his Foreward to What History Tells: George L. Mosse and the Culture of Modern Europe (2003) also refers to "postwar neofascists such as Julius Evola."

Robert Payne writes that Evola became "Italy's leading 'racial philosopher,' and later yet the chief ideologue of the country's terrorist radical right in the period after World War II." (my emphasis; A History of Fascism, 1914-1945; 1995; p. 113) Payne also observes, "Evola was largely ignored in Fascist Italy by all save some of the most radical sectors of Fascism (though Mussolini seems to have held his intellectual dynamism in some esteem)."

Payne elaborates on the views of Evola's that had particular influence after the Second World War:

Strictly speaking, therefore, Evola had never been a complete Fascist and was never a full neofascist, but after the war he became the intellectual leader of the most extreme radical right. Though anti-Jewish, he later considered Hitler's demonic anti-Semitism to have been a "demagogic aberration." What made Evola so attractive both to genuine neofascists and to the radical right after the war was the fact that he developed eloquently and incisively an alternative concept of history and of culture, based on uncompromising antidemocratism, elitism, mysticism, and the call for a revolutionary elite to create a hierarchic, organic new order, structured on socioeconomic corporation. The goal, as in Fascist doctrine, was to achieve a "new man" with a "soul of steel" capable of "transcendence against temporality," who would live a "warrior epic" imbued with "legionary spirit." In all this there lay a scarcely veiled encouragement of terrorist action against the present rotting order. Evola thus provided inspiration for a wide range of right radical, neofascist, and even neo-Nazi groups in Italy. [my emphasis; pp. 502-4]
The fact that Evola was a mystical racist crank with little intellectual influence among Italian Fascism in Mussolini's day doesn't make the fact that a man currently as powerful as Steve Bannon favors his ideas any less creepy. And it's cold comfort that one of the erratic new President's most influential advisers may be significantly inspired by a crackpot extremist who had a major influence "both on postwar fascism in Italy and on several currents of revolutionary nationalism, both cultural and terrorist, that emerged elsewhere in Europe after the defeat of the Axis powers."

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