Mircea Eliade, Carl Schmitt, & René GuénonGreg Johnson
Mircea Eliade’s The Portugal Journal, trans. Mac Linscott Ricketts (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 2010) covers the years 1941 to 1945 when Eliade was a Romanian diplomat in Portugal. It is thus a prequel to Eliade’s four-volume Journal (Vol. 1: 1945–1955, Vol. 2: 1957–1969, Vol. 3: 1970–1978, and Vol. 4: 1979–1985), which begins with his arrival in Paris in September of 1945 and continues for the rest of his life.
Eliade’s journals are not mere diaries of events, although they do chronicle and comment on the major events of his life and times. Their primary focus, instead, is Eliade’s intellectual life. I will review The Portugal Journal later at length. Here I wish to share a few entries revealing surprising connections between Eliade, Carl Schmitt, and René Guénon.
The material in square brackets was added by Eliade himself at a later date.
1. The first selection reveals three facts of interest: the mutual esteem of Carl Schmitt and Eliade, the fact that Schmitt regarded René Guénon as “the most interesting man alive today,” and the fact that Eliade agreed.
Gorneanu [a member of the Legation] takes me today to Carl Schmitt, who has wanted for a long time to know the true story about Nae Ionescu’s philosophy. A house in Dahlem, with very un-Germanic furniture, several modern paintings, and a library rich in old books. Carl Schmitt is a small man with a face not very impressive but luminous, animated. He speaks fluent French. I tell him that of his books I know only Die romantische Politik, which influenced Nae Ionescu, Tutea, and others very much. But instead of beginning a discussion about Nae, he asks me about Salazar, about Portugal, about maritime cultures—and we talk for three hours. He is writing a book about “land and sea,” and he has read enormously concerning aquatic art, culture, and symbolism. He says that Moby-Dick is the greatest creation of the maritime spirit after the Odyssey. He shows me several curious paintings by a modern German artist whose name I promptly forget: underwater, cosmological visions.
Since for many years I too have been studying such problems (Matraguna), I let myself be drawn into interpretations of Austroasiatic symbols and myths that might interest him. I promise to send him Zalmoxis, vol. II, where I have published “Notes sur le symbolisme aquatique.” What impresses me about Schmitt is his metaphysical courage, his nonconformism, his breadth of vision. He reminds me of Nae [but with a more solid culture].
He offers us a bottle of Rhine wine. He is delighted to have met me and he regrets that I’m leaving tomorrow for Madrid. He says the most interesting man alive today is René Guénon [and he is happy that I agree]. He escorts us as far as the metro station, talking about aviation as a “terrestrial” symbol.
2. The second selection is most significant when read alongside selection 6 below, which reveals that Eliade himself was interested in the occult and Traditionalism but was afraid to talk about it.
October 12, 1942
I talk with Picky Pogoneanu about occultism (India, Guénon, etc.). The Costes, who are present too, tell me about a curious American who has traveled in strange places, knows secret things, etc. Once again I verify an old observation of mine: that interest in the occult is more widespread, even among more lucid people, than is commonly believed. It’s just that they’re all afraid to talk about it. You have to provoke them in order to discover it.
3. The third selection reveals that Ernst Jünger, who was a friend of Schmitt, also esteemed Eliade’s work.
December 27, 1942
Goruneanu writes me from Berlin that Ernst Jünger, en route to the Russian front, stopped two days at Carl Schmitt’s place, and there he read Zalmoxis, “deeply impressed,” making numerous notes. Schmitt sends me his little book Land und Meer [Land and Sea], about which he spoke to me last summer, with the following dedication: “Mircea Eliade, als kleine Gegengabe fur seinen grossen Zalmoxis” [To M. E., as a little gift in return for his great Zalmoxis].
4. The fourth selection reveals that one Dr. Mario, an Austrian journalist, also esteemed Guénon as “the most interesting person of our time.” Eliade adds that he does not always think this, but he often does.
February 17, 1943
At the German Press Counselor Klein’s place, I met a very interesting man: Dr. Mario, correspondent at Paris for the Kolnische Zeitung. He was correspondent for Cuvantul in 1938, and I remember that I even translated an article of his once. Of course, I no longer remember its title. He tells me that Nae Ionescu and he were good friends. He had forewarned him, in Paris in January 1938, of all that was going to happen, because he, being Austrian, knew how serious governmental repression could be. (He had lost his best friends—shot. By whom?) [. . .]
We talked a long time. He has just come from Paris. He doesn’t seem to be much of a fan of Hitler. He believes René Guénon is the most interesting person of our time. (I don’t believe this always, but often I do. Although I believe Aurobindo Ghose more “perfected.”) Very well-read, speaking perfect French. He asks me for news about Nae’s works. I tell him that the first two volumes of his philosophical works have been published. He seems excited. I mention my conversation with Carl Schmitt of last summer. He is surprised that Schmitt esteems Guénon. What impresses me is that he finds the era in which we are living “thrilling,” although he is well aware of the fact that we could sink into an apocalyptic cataclysm. I speak to him about the “Pre-Nicopolean Era”; we are on the threshold of Nicopolis, when Europe could still have been saved from the Turks. But I don’t see any sign anywhere that this time it will be saved.
5. The fifth selection adds new details to the intellectual friendship of Eliade and Schmitt.
May 24, 1944
The past three days have been spent with Carl Schmitt, invited to Portugal to give several lectures: Sunday morning we go together to Janelas Verdas Museum, where we spend more than an hour gazing at Bosch’s The Temptation of St. Anthony. He tells me that interpreting the symbolism of Bosch is the latest fashion in Germany, that everyone is interested in him, although very few speak and even fewer publish. The air raids and the insecurity help the Germans to understand Bosch and to rediscover themselves in him. His work is not so “fantastic” as is believed, but it is full of biographical details and contemporary history. (For example, Schmitt tells me about the secret societies that enjoyed the Emperor’s protection, and that executed corrupt magistrates after a preliminary trial and a sentencing to death according to all the legal formalities. In The Temptation of St. Anthony, at the bottom, to the left, the bird—symbol of justice—is carrying in its beak a sealed envelope, probably containing the death sentence.) A friend of Schmitt, Wilhelm Fraenger, has been working for some ten years on the decipherment of Bosch and has written a huge monograph of over a thousand pages—as yet unpublished.
I dine several times with Schmitt. I believe I saw him more than anyone else in Lisbon did. He tells me he regrets that he didn’t meet Blaga at Bucharest; he is sure that in the Blagan conception of space there are some interesting things to be found. We both comment on his Land und Meer. For the book that he is creating about the nomos of the earth, I offer him several historical-ethnographical parallels.
He tells me he is an optimist about the fate of Europe. Nationalism as well as internationalism are outmoded forms.
6. The sixth selection deals with Eliade’s novel New Life in which Tuliu is a character. Tuliu, who has a serious interest in the occult, is a mouthpiece for Eliade’s own “Traditionalist” views, which he has “never had the courage to express publicly.”
July 27, 1941
I absolutely must return to Tuliu, in a special chapter, where I explain his philosophy, lest the reader think that he’s nothing but a simple sideshow “occultist.” Actually, his theories are not entirely foreign to me. Tuliu will say things that, for various reasons (there isn’t space to elaborate here), I’ve never had the courage to express publicly. I have just, at times, confessed to a few friends my “Traditionalist” views (to use René Guénon’s term).
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Thanks for posting these very interesting excerpts, Greg. Eliade’s interest in traditionalism was not exactly a secret – he even has an essay on Guenon in his anthology, “Occultism, Witchcraft and Cultural Fashions.” Although it does seem to be the case that he was hesitant to make this interest explicit very often, even though he was a long-term correspondent with both Evola and Guenon (and even visited the former in Rome on several occasions). I recall reading somewhere that Evola once rebuked Eliade in a letter for not citing his work more often (which perhaps shows that Evola did not eschew an academic reputation as much as he claimed) – Evola frequently cited Eliade. Very possibly this was due to Evola’s “fascist” reputation, and since Eliade was busy trying to keep people from discovering his own youthful involvement with the Iron Guard, he was no doubt very careful about whom he associated with publicly!
Eliade’s relationship with Evola is better documented in English. Eliade describes his meetings with Evola and some of his thoughts on him in the various volumes of his Journal, which has been translated. Some of Evola’s letters to Eliade have been translated at Gornahoor. There is also a long and interesting recent academic article, “The difficult encounter in Rome. Mircea Eliade’s post-war relation with Julius Evola – new letters and data,” available at http://academia.edu/1158765/The_difficult_encounter_in_Rome._Mircea_Eliades_post-war_relation_with_Julius_Evola_-_new_letters_and_data_International_Journal_on_Humanistic_Ideology_IV_no._2_Autumn-Winter_2011_pp._125-158_
What is perhaps more interesting is the fact that Carl Schmitt was very interested in Guenon. That surprises me. The fact that a German journalist was also a “fan” of Guenon at that time is also surprising – I didn’t realize he had been that well-known in the Third Reich (at least among the semi-dissidents like Schmitt). Although the fact that Eliade believed Sri Aurobindo (a self-made guru who tried to combine Hinduism with modernity in a way that seems very “New Age” to me, and who eventually turned the leadership of his organization over to a French-Jewish woman) to be more “perfected” than Guenon tells us a lot about Eliade’s (lack of) judgment!
It’s also quite significant, although not surprising, I think, that Schmitt had already come to the conclusion that nationalism was “outmoded” even before the end of the Third Reich.
There is an article in French about the relationship between Eliade, Guenon and Schmitt here: http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/rhr_0035-1423_2002_num_219_3_959
Eliade’s hidden connections with Traditionalism were known before the publication of these journals, but Schmitt’s admiration for Guenon is news to me, and I will have to read Schmitt with new eyes.
Ok, in looking at the letter at Gornahoor, I may have been unfair to Evola. The letter regarding citations from Evola to Eliade actually complains about Eliade’s lack of references to Guenon, not to his own work (although I suppose that is also implied). What he actually wrote is: ‘The fact is stRiki-Eiking that your work are so overly concerned not to mention in your works any author that does not strictly belong to the official university literature, of the type that in your works is found, e.g., that lovable good man Pettazzoni [Italian professor of religion] is abundantly cited, while not a single word is found about Guenon, but not even other authors whose ideas are much closer to those that permit you to certainly orient yourself in the material that you write about. It stands to reason that this is something that concerns only you, but it would be the chance to ask yourself if, all things considered, if imposing these “academic” limitations is a game that is worth the candle.’
The link to the letter in question: http://www.gornahoor.net/?p=5462
Petre Tutea’s statement to Emile Cioran. Both were in the Criterion group of students surrounding Nae Ionescu.
Often Schmitt is painted as not fitting the Conservative Revolution trajectory, that he was some kind of bourgeois conservative. This shows quite the opposite; fascinating stuff. Thanks for transcribing, Greg.
Thanks for bringing these very informative selections from Mircea Eliade’s journal to attention. I should say that Eliade was indeed a Traditionalist, although as I understand it he always remained an Orthodox Christian and had his own understanding of religion that, even though basically “Traditionalist,” is distinguishable from that of Evola and Guenon in some respects (some would say better too). It may seem paradoxical, but Eliade found a way to reconcile interest in and respect for other religious ideas and their understanding of the Sacred while simultaneously remaining a Christian (which has its own particular understanding of the Sacred).
The excerpts above also show fascinating connections and contact between these different intellectuals of the Right who initially seemed so unconnected. I would not have imagined that Carl Schmitt had an interest in Nae Ionescu, who is barely known outside of Romania (except, perhaps, when the Legionary Movement/Iron Guard is under study, since he played a role in its history). In this regard, I wonder what the reference to “the true story about Nae Ionescu’s philosophy” means?
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