Translated by Greg Johnson
In the circles of what we might euphemistically call the “revolutionary right,” or more broadly the “anti-liberal right,” one can observe the recurrent rise—like outbreaks of acne—of what one can only call “metaphysical traditionalism.”
Authors like Evola or Heidegger are in general the pretexts—mark my words: the pretexts—for the expression of these tendencies, many aspects of which seem to me negative and demoralizing. These authors themselves really aren’t the problem. To speak only of Evola and Heidegger, the works of neither author—whose true ideas are often extremely distant from those of the “Evolians” and “Heideggerians”—are susceptible to the criticisms that apply to their right-wing “disciples” who are in question here.
How do we characterize this “deviation” of metaphysical traditionalism, and what are the arguments against it? This mentality is characterized by three axiomatic presuppositions:
1. Social life must be governed by “Tradition,” the forgetting of which brings about decadence.
2. All that relates to our time is darkened by this decadence. The further back one goes in the past, the less decadence there is, and vice versa.
3. Ultimately, the only things that matter are “inner” preoccupations and activities, turned towards the contemplation of a certain something usually called “being.”
Without lingering over the relatively pretentious superficiality of this outlook which prefers, instead of true reflection and clarity, the facile obscurity of the unverifiable and the free play of words, which—under the pretext of depth (and even, in certain authors with strong narcissistic tendencies, of “poetry”)—ignores the very essence of all philosophy and all lyricism, one should especially recognize that this metaphysical traditionalism is in profound contradiction with the very values it generally claims to defend, i.e., counteracting the modern ideologies, the spirit known as the “European tradition,” anti-egalitarianism, etc.
Indeed, in the first place, the obsession with decadence and the dogmatic nostalgia that it induces make it seem like a reverse progressivism, an “inverted” linear vision of history: the same frame of mind, inherited from Christian finalism, of all “modern” progressivist ideologies. History does not ascend from the past to the present but descends.
Only, contrary to the progressivist doctrines, traditionalism cultivates a profoundly demoralizing pessimism toward the world. This pessimism is of exactly the same type as the naive optimism of the progressivists. It proceeds from the same mentality and incorporates the same type of vanity, namely a propensity to verbose prophecies and to set oneself up as a judge of society, history, and the like.
This type of traditionalism, in its tendency to hate and denigrate everything in the “present day,” does not only lead its authors to bitterness and an often unjustifiable self-conceit, but reveals serious contradictions that make its discourse incoherent and unbelievable.
This hatred of the present day, the “modern age,” is absolutely not put into practice in day to day life, unlike what one often sees, for example, in Christianity. Our anti-moderns can perfectly well benefit from the conveniences of modern life.
By this they reveal the true meaning of their discourse: the expression of a guilty conscience, a “compensation” carried out by deeply bourgeois souls relatively ill at ease in the current world, but nevertheless unable to get beyond it.
In the second place, this type of traditionalism usually leads to an exaggerated individualism, the very individualism that their “communitarian” vision of the world claims to denounce in modernity.
Under the pretext that the world is “bad,” that their contemporaries are patent decadents and imbeciles, that this materialist society “corrupted by science and technology” cannot understand the higher values of inwardness, the traditionalist, who always thinks of himself as standing on the mountain tops, does not deign to descend and accept the necessity of combat in the world, but rejects any discipline, any solidarity with his people, any interest in politics.
He is interested only in his hypertrophied self.
He transmits “his” thought to future generations like a bottle in the ocean—without seeing the contradiction, since they are supposedly incapable of understanding it because of increasing decadence.
This individualism thus leads logically to the very reverse of the original ideology, i.e., to universalism and implicit globalism.
Indeed, the metaphysical traditionalist is tempted to believe that the only associations that count are “spiritual,” the communication of great thinkers, which is similar throughout the world, regardless of their origin and source, provided that they seem to reject “Western modernity.” They replace the service of the people, of politics, of community, of knowledge, of a cause, not only with the service and contemplation of the self, but with the service of mere abstractions.
They defend “values,” no matter what their place of incarnation. From this, for some, comes a captivation with Orientalism; for others, a militant globalism; and for all of them, a disillusioned disinterest in the destiny of their people.
One even arrives at straightforwardly Christian attitudes—on the part of “philosophers” who usually busy themselves fighting Christianity.
Some random examples: the choice to prize the intention over the result; the choice to judge an idea or a value in terms of their intrinsic characteristics rather than their efficacy; a spiritualistic mentality that judges all cultures and projects in terms of their spiritual “value” rather than their material effects.
This last attitude, moreover, obviously has very little to do with the European “paganism” that our traditionalists often profess.
Indeed, by looking at a work, project, or culture from an exclusively “spiritual” point of view, one posits the Christian principle of the separation of matter and spirit, the dualistic dissociation between the pure idea and the concrete product.
A culture, a project, a work are nothing but products, in the concrete and dynamic sense of the term.
From our point of view there is no separation between the “value” and its “product.” The lyrical, poetic, aesthetic qualities of a culture, work, or project are intimately incorporated in its form, in its material production. Spirit and matter are one and the same thing. The value of a man or a culture lies in their acts, not in their “being” or their past.
It is precisely this idea, going back to the most ancient sources of the European tradition, that our metaphysical traditionalists—so imbued with their spiritualism and their monotheism of the “tradition” or their quest for “Being”—readily betray.
Paradox: nobody is further from European traditions than the traditionalists. Nobody is closer to the Near Eastern spirit of the monastery.
Everything that characterizes the European tradition, everything the cults from the East tried to abolish, is exactly the reverse of what today’s European traditionalists defend.
The European spirit, or that in it which is the greatest and the most civilizing, was optimistic and not pessimistic, exteriorized and not interiorized, constructivist and not spiritualistic, philosophical and not theological, open to change not settled and complacent, creator of its own traditions and forms or immutable ideas, conquering and not contemplative, technical and urban and not pastoral, attached to cities, ports, palaces, and temples and not to the countryside (the domain of necessity), etc.
In reality, the spirit of today’s traditionalists is an integral part of Western, commercial civilization, as the museums are part of the civilization of the supermarket. Traditionalism is the shadow self, the justification, the living cemetery of the modern bourgeois.
It serves as a spiritual supplement. It makes him believe that it doesn’t matter if he likes New York, television serials, and rock ’n’ roll, provided that he has sufficient “inwardness.”
The traditionalist is superficial: the slave of his pure ideas and contemplation, of the intellectual games of philosophical poseurs, at bottom he believes thought is a distraction, an agreeable but ultimately pointless exercise, like collecting stamps or butterflies—and not a means of action, of the transformation of the world, of the construction of culture.
The traditionalist believes that values and ideas preexist action. He does not understand that action precedes all, as Goethe said, and that it is through the dynamic combination of will and action that all ideas and values are born a posteriori.
This shows us the true function of traditionalist ideologies in the anti-liberal “right.” Metaphysical traditionalism is a justification to give up any combat, any concrete project of creating a European reality different from the present day’s.
It is the ideological expression of pseudo-revolutionaries. Its regressive utopias, hazy and obscure considerations, and pointless metaphysics do more than cause fatalism, inaction, and enervation. They also reinforce bourgeois individualism by implicitly preaching the ideal type of the “thinker”—if possible contemplative and disembodied—as the pivot of history. Men of action—the true historical personalities—are thus devalued.
Because the traditionalist ultimately does not support the “community,” he declares it impossible hic et nunc and turns it into a utopian and regressive fancy lost in the mists of who knows what “tradition.”
In this sense, “anti-modern” and “antibourgeois” traditionalism belongs objectively to the system of bourgeois ideologies. Like these ideologies, its hatred of the “present” is a good way, a skilful pretext, to reject as impossible any concrete historical construction, even those opposed to the present.
At the heart of its discourse, traditionalism maintains an absurd confusion between the “modernity” of European technological-industrial civilization and the “modern spirit” of egalitarian and Western ideologies (which are arbitrarily linked to each other). Thus traditionalism disfigures, devalues (sometimes to the profit of an idealized “traditional” Third World), and abandons the Western and American spirit, the very genius of European civilization.
Like Judeo-Christianity, but for different reasons, the traditionalist says “No” to the world and consequently undermines the tradition of his own culture. Ultimately, a traditionalist is someone who always already knows that there is only one tradition, as an idealist always already knows that everything is an idea.
Finally, from the point of view of “thought”—that war-horse of metaphysical traditionalism—what could be more detrimental to the spirit, more incompatible with the quality of intellectual debate and the reflection that makes one free and contemplative, than to disembody them from all “political” projects (in the Nietzschean sense) and divert them into the elitism of bibliophiles and salaried autodidacts?
Let us dare to liquidate the Evolians and Heideggerians.
But let us read Evola and Heidegger: to put them in perspective, rather than mount them on waxed paper.
“Le traditionalisme: voilà l’ennemi,” Lutte du Peuple, no. 32, 1996.