Tradition in Revolt

Tradition in Revolt

Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World. Inner Traditions, Rochester 1995

The works of the artist and intellectual Baron Julius Evola are classics, classics to the kind which are often quoted, often referred to, whose status is unquestioned, but which have nevertheless lead a cryptic, even marginal existence in the history of modern European thought. Part of the reason for this in Evola's case may be that his philosophical works are certainly not always easy to read and many readers cannot understand Italian and must wait for a translation.

Evola is not classifiable, not in relation to his main themes, still less in relation to specific spiritual or political positions. How far the word "political" can usefully apply to Evola at all is debateable. He followed the early development of Fascism in Italy in the twenties with considerable, even enthusiastic sympathy, but he was a thorn in the side of Fascism once it had itself become the established order. In Germany, where he went on a lecturing tour during the war, he was met with polite scepticism. He was badly injured in an air-raid in Vienna in 1945 and remained a cripple until his death in 1974. He was not active in any of the post-war rightist movements in republican Italy, although he continued intellectual discussions with the sons and grandsons of former Fascists.

Along with René Guénon and Leopold Ziegler, Julius Evola belongs to a school of thought which, in the twenties and thirties, subjected Western Enlightment (historically speaking understood by these thinkers as an agent of modernism), to a fundamental critique. The difficulty of Evola's approach lies in the fact that a comparison between European-American modern society on one hand, and the Mediaeval or Indo-Aryan feudal one on the other, is impossible within a universal historical perspective, they are too far apart. A crucial argument of Rivolto contro il mondo moderno is that the modern world has in any case broken away from all historical awareness whereas "Traditional" structures, for exemple the Greco-Roman or the Irano-Indian, were organized on the basis of their awareness of their own belonging, belonging that is, to the "eternal" unchanging cycles of human history. The Ancient World at the time of Plato were aware of everything recurring in history; the worst Age, the Age of Iron would necessarily be followed by a new Golden Age. The social structure of traditional societies is hierarchical because they are a reflection of the hierarchy of the cosmos, timeless realitiy: "above" are the Priests, Kings, Knights; "Beneath" are the folk, lay persons, dependents, farmers. Evola called this the "solar order".

The modern world has put an end to all that and has replaced it with its own concept of (dis)order. The individualism of modern societies, which are without Tradition, accepts neither that people are unequal nor that Authority and Hierarchy as such defy analysis. the characteristic of the modern Age, which Evola equates with the "Age of Iron", outlines and forseen in nearly all pre-modern societies, is the loss of identity and the rise of collectivism, a characteristic of Bolshevist and Western societies alike. But Evola could also not identify entirely with the fascist model and he distanced himself from the Third Reich.

To read Rivolta contra il mondo moderno can be compared to taking a camera journey to the moon. It is simultaneously "out of the world" and compelling. The writer assumes that his reader is fairly knowledgeable in history and philology as well as being prepared to start from a radically new (or radically old) point of departure. If nothing else though, this book will demonstrate to the reader the ephemeral, indeed wholly marginal character of the prevailing social order, but this is not a book which can be recommended in the normal way. Either someone takes the trouble to devote to this 420 page work the effort it requires or he should let it be. The value of such a work as this is certainly not going to be reflected in its sales figures. But it is a classic for all that.

(Karl Richter, The Scorpion, No.17, Spring 1995)

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