Fascism as Anti-Modernism
F. Roger Devlin
Julius Evola’s Fascism Viewed from the Right
Fascism Viewed from the Right
Trans. E. Christian Kopff
London: Arktos, 2013
Evola’s reckoning with Italian Fascism is among his later works, first published in 1964, and reprinted with additional notes in 1970. This is the first English translation, produced for Arktos by classicist E. Christian Kopff.
The author begins with an account of what he means by the “right.” He points out that economic liberalism and procedural (as opposed to “social”) democracy were originally, and remain at heart, anti-traditional and subversive movements. In the time and place Evola was writing, as in the US today, partisans of these ideas had to devote most of their effort protecting their ideologies from the more recently dominant project of revolutionizing society from above, with the result that, for practical purposes, they find themselves counted among the forces of order. But, while it may be excusable to speak of a de facto “right” that includes classical liberalism and populism, such nomenclature also opens the way to a theoretical confusion which Evola is at pains to avoid. For him, the right “ought to be defined in terms of forces and traditions that acted formatively on a group of nations . . . before the advent of the Third Estate and the world of the masses, and before bourgeois and industrial culture.”
Such a definition involves special difficulties in an Italian context, the author believes, since “Italy was unified as a nation above all under the banner of ideologies that derive from the Revolution of the Third Estate and the ‘immortal principles’ of 1789.” The result was “a land of parliamentary democracy and a domesticated monarchy,” strongly influenced by Freemasonry, in which revolutionary movements flourished. It was this Italy which intervened in the Great War in 1915 on behalf of global democracy and against the Central powers where, in Evola’s view, a more authentic right (along with its social basis) survived. But the results for Italy itself were contrary to the intentions of the Italian interventionists:
Existentially . . . interventionism had its own autonomously revolutionary significance, and the war was an occasion for the awakening of forces that were intolerant of bourgeois Italy, forces like the veterans’ movement that nourished Fascism. By rejecting a return to “normalcy” in this climate, these forces changed poles ideologically and oriented themselves towards the Right, towards the ideal of the hierarchical state and the “military nation.”
In other words, the men who made the Fascist revolution had been forcibly torn from the pursuit of the bourgeois values of comfort and security by the war; and having experienced a life of self-overcoming, risk, sacrifice, courage and honor, they were unable to fit quietly back into the world they had left. Politically, they were looking for “a superior animating and formative idea that could have made of [the state] something more than a mere structure of public administration”—something Evola calls a “myth.” But they did not have entirely clear ideas; as Mussolini himself observed, “in Fascism, the deed has preceded doctrine.” Moreover, they had to reckon with the continuing influence of the preceding liberal democratic regime, as well as make practical compromises with the Catholic Church. Hence the need for a critique from the point of view of a philosophically consistent anti-modernism.
Mussolini characterized Fascism as a doctrine of “authority, order and justice,” a “categorical, definitive antithesis to the world of democracy, plutocracy, Freemasonry, to the world which still abides by the fundamental principles laid down in 1789.” As Evola remarks, “Fascism’s message should be considered, from the point of view of the Right, absolutely positive. We find ourselves right in the orbit of healthy, traditional political thought.”
Part of what Evola so strongly approved in Fascism was its doctrine of the state, “recognized” in his words, “as possessing pre-eminence in respect to people and nation, that is, the dignity of a single superior power through which the nation acquires a real self-awareness, possesses a form and a will, and participates in a supernatural order.”
In Mussolini’s phrasing:
Without the state there is no nation. There are merely human aggregations subject to all the disintegrations which history may inflict upon them. . . . The nation does not beget the state. . . . On the contrary, the nation is created by the state, which gives the people . . . will, and thereby an effective existence.
Such a doctrine might be especially attractive to an Italian, given both the ancient and modern histories of the peninsula. Italy was first unified by the city-state of Rome, having previously consisted of a congeries of tribes speaking sometimes wholly unrelated languages. Today, the Italian nation is among the most genetically diverse in Europe (even disregarding recent immigration). The unification of the country in the 19th century was a scheme carried out by intellectuals and politicians, not the democratic expression of a pre-existing Volk.
At the opposite extreme, one might consider the history of the Boer nation of South Africa, descended from only about 3,000 families, and always surrounded by quite alien peoples. At various times, the Boers have formed nation-states (the Boer Republics of the 19th century), have ruled imperially without confounding itself with those it ruled (the National Party period, 1948–94), and have been subsumed into larger states ruled by more or less hostile nations (the British following the Boer War and the blacks today). Would a Boer be likely to think of his people as the creation of a political regime?
However the question of priority may be decided, the goal of Fascism was to make use of the state to raise the nation above material interests and values, defining the political, as Evola writes,
in terms of “transcendence.” Here the question arises of the “heroic” or military content, of service as honor and loyalty. . . . We are dealing with a certain ideal high tension that brings us not only beyond hedonistic values (those of simple material well-being) but also eudaimonistic ones (including spiritual well-being). It is a question of how to confront a certain impulse of “self-transcendence” that can be repressed and silenced, but never completely eliminated [without] degrading people into a bovine state.
Within the framework of strictly modern, liberal and post-liberal thought, there is simply no place for concepts like honor and loyalty. An illustrative anecdote: the Dutch philosopher Andreas Kinneging was preparing to write on the subject of loyalty; doing a Lexis search to learn whether anyone else was writing about the subject, he was surprised to find that “dozens of books and articles are published each year discussing loyalty.” But further examination revealed that all this outpouring of reflection belonged to the field of marketing; it was concerned with what is called “brand loyalty,” viz., the tendency of consumers to buy a particular brand of toothpaste because they have done so in the past. This, of course, is not a species of loyalty properly so called: no one is prepared to throw aside personal considerations and make sacrifices for the company which manufactures his toothpaste. But furthermore, such “loyalty” must be seen within the framework of market thought as a negative phenomenon, a slight irrationality standing in the way of perfect market efficiency. This is how far we have sunk.
As Evola notes, when the natural human impulse of self-transcendence is denied or suppressed long enough, it re-emerges in unhealthy and destructive forms:
The early signs of this crisis are already apparent. They consist of all those forms of blind, anarchic and destructive revolts embraced by a youth that, precisely in the most prosperous nations, notices the absurdity and senselessness of an existence that is socialized, rationalized, materialistic, and dominated by the so-called consumer culture.
Perhaps the Red Brigades of the Italian ’70s were unconsciously in search of something like Fascism.
Evola was not a believer in the “separation of Church and State.” He points out that “there has always existed a certain liturgy or mystique of power and sovereignty that was an integral part of [the traditional state] system.” The kings of early Rome and Athens carried out religious functions, so that even after the adoption of republican constitutions a ceremonial office of “king” had to be maintained in order to perform those functions. In Evola’s view, the trouble began when Christ enjoined the rendering unto Caesar of what was Caesar’s, which “desecrat[es] and reduc[es] to the material all that is politics, power and authority.” The Catholic Church, therefore, remained an anomaly within the Fascist system, a standing rebuke to Mussolini’s attempt to resolve the tension between politics and spirituality (or, in the words of his opponents, to “deify the state”).
Attributing a sacral or transcendent dimension to the state is not the same thing as “totalitarianism,” which Evola rejects as much as any liberal, although for different reasons. He approves the formulation of a German theorist that the state should be omnia potens, not omnia faciens. The regulation of private behavior, including historical Fascism’s Comstockian campaigns, he sees as beneath the state’s proper dignity. Evola refers also “to what in chemistry is called catalytic action and in the Far East has the designation, which is only apparently paradoxical, of ‘acting without acting,’ or acting by means of spiritual influence, not with extrinsic and invasive measures.” This is sometimes expressed by the contrast between power and authority. Evola is also careful to note that the postwar “Italian democratic state has show that it can be, under ‘social’ pretexts, much more invasive into private life and capable of expanding state power than the regime that preceded it.”
Yet Evola has little interest in the “negative freedom” of liberalism, a mere freedom from external hindrance. This is because he accepts the teaching of Plato that a man can be a slave to his own desires. Such a man will not even know what to do with his own (external) freedom, writes the author, “given the lack of direction and absurdity of modern society.”
In truth, personality and liberty can be conceived only on the basis of the individual’s freeing himself, to a certain degree, from the naturalistic, biological and primitively individualist bonds that characterize the pre-state and pre-political forms in a purely social, utilitarian and contractual sense. Then it is possible to conceive that the true state, the state characterized by the ‘transcendence’ of the political level that we have discussed, furnishes a propitious environment for the development of personality and true liberty in the sense of virtus, according to the classical understanding. With its climate of high tensions, it issues a continual appeal to the individual to carry himself beyond himself, beyond simple vegetative life.
The true state has an “anagogic” or upward-leading function, and culminates in an elite. Evola contrasts this “reign of quality” with the modern “reign of quantity” which instead valorizes the “. . . demographic overflow of the dispossessed and pariahs flooding over the lands of the rich with no other right but their poverty and procreative incontinence.” (Remember, he wrote these words no later than 1970!)
I finished Fascism Viewed from the Right with a sense that the Left is probably correct—given its ignorance of premodern thought and tradition—in characterizing what it opposes as “fascism.” Italy’s interwar experiment was an (admittedly very imperfect) attempt to turn the world rightside-up again. As such, it remains instructive today.
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