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Notre Dame des Fascistes,
Part III: Excursus on Evola

3,927 words

Part 1 [1], Part 2 [2]

All this anti-Masonry and TradCath stuff; there was something familiar with all this, until at some point I exclaimed again, “You’ve seen these films before, haven’t you, my man! [3]” It’s Baron Evola’s doppelganger!

Although to be honest, it may have been Will herself who clued me in. She’s well-read enough to cite Evola himself about two-thirds of the way in, on the subject of a United States of Europe, which, having “a communal spiritual identity and sense of direction,” would conduct a “revolt against the modern world in favor of what is nobler, higher, more truly human.”

She may have just picked up the quote from somewhere, as she gives a page number but no source for the essay (“United Europe: The Spiritual Prerequisite”); but those familiar with Evola’s work and life may note many points of similarity here with the trajectory of Evola’s career, especially if we include Stein as well. If Stein and Faÿ are “unlikely collaborators,” what can one make of Evola’s trajectory from Dada poet to Catholic Traditionalist?

Apart from his initial involvement with the avant-garde (Dada poetry and Futurist painting), Evola has admitted that his earliest influences were Oscar Wilde and Otto Weininger, [1] [4] a homosexual and a homosexual Jew — Stein was both. Weininger, moreover, provided Stein with her decisive self-conception as a “genius” — a concept that Will notes enabled Stein to escape an identification with her Jewishness since the “genius” is beyond all “types” — in turn, the latter concept, I think, might be usefully compared with Evola’s next avatar, the philosophy of the Absolute Individual, while even Evola’s turn from this Idealist philosophy to Guenon’s idea of Tradition parallels Stein’s view of Pétain as an avatar of her own genius. [2] [5]

Stein dies shortly after the war, but with the addition of Faÿ, we can continue to follow Evola’s trajectory. Both men (and Stein) sought to influence their respective native lands from the perspective of Fascism, and both wound up actually working for Germany instead: both members of the Gestapo, tasked with exploiting the captured “archives” of various secret societies. [3] [6] Both were tried after the war, Faÿ for collaboration, Evola in 1951 on charges of “glorifying fascism” and of having “attempted to reconstitute the dissolved Fascist Party.” Faÿ was convicted, underwent “national degradation” (loss of voting and other civil rights) and served several years in prison, [4] [7] eventually escaping to exile in Switzerland; Evola successfully defended himself, but, having been crippled during the war, spent the rest of his life in his Rome apartment. [5] [8] Both men spent their last years seeking to create a new cadre of Right-wing youth, during which period Evola seems to have concealed his contempt for Christianity and Catholicism in particular, and continued the conspiratorial view of Masonry shared with Faÿ.

You can buy James O’Meara’s book The Eldritch Evola here. [9]

The criticism directed at Evola (and by extension the other Traditionalists) by Piero Fenili applies here to Faÿ (and to a lesser extent Stein):

For all their nostalgia for authoritarian regimes and theocracies, they enjoyed a freedom of thought and expression that would never have been permitted had they been born into one. One of the pillars of such freedoms in modern times has been Freemasonry. Beside its philanthropic side, there is a spiritual and initiatic side to the craft of which Evola [if not Faÿ] was well aware. With its heritage from Rosicrucianism and its kinship with spiritual alchemy and the Grail quest, Freemasonry could have been a natural ally of his transcendent interests. [6] [10] Instead he [like Faÿ] blamed it as the perpetrator of revolutions and a mainspring of the democratic subversion. In the end, Evola’s greatest error may have been not being true to himself, for his personal equation was written from the start on the page of liberalism. [7] [11]

Fenili insists that “the most important part of Evola’s creative oeuvre consist[s] of the [earlier] works of esoteric, orientalist and philosophic character,” which include The Doctrine of Awakening, The Hermetic Tradition, The Yoga of Power, and Magic: Rituals and Practical Techniques for the Magus, [8] [12] rather than the later, explicitly “Traditionalist” or “fascist” writings, which result from a “wrong choice of traditions,” in effect a betrayal of the true Western or Roman Tradition. [9] [13]

As we’ve seen, this was Faÿ’s trajectory as well, from a nuanced view of Freemasonry, compatible with his personal equation, to paranoiac rejection, accompanied by a seemingly hypocritical embrace of “tradition.” What Evola lacked was his own Stein, who, “while she was alive, saved Faÿ from extremism in his thinking and writing. . . by [providing] countervailing tendencies toward democratic, liberal, and ‘enlightened’ ways of thinking.”

The “dilemma of Vichy” is the dilemma between the “peace” that Stein sought, or the richness of ancestral traditions that James and Eliot found lacking in America, and the freedom, artistic and otherwise, that each sought for himself [10] [14] — as well as with Faÿ, insofar as his homosexuality would make him an outsider in traditional society or Catholicism. It’s the “paradox” of “reactionary modernism,” and Mann’s archeofuturist nostalgia for the — possible mythical — aristocratic society, which would be authoritarian yet protect liberty from the bourgeoise. [11] [15] In an article toward the end of his life, Evola seems to have recognized this:

In England there still survives this healthy and basically apolitical aspect of liberalism not as a politico-social ideology but as the demand that the individual, irrespective of the particular form of political regime, should enjoy a maximum of liberty, that the sphere of his personal and private life should be respected and that no extraneous and collective power should interfere with it. In principle, this is an acceptable and positive aspect of liberalism, which should be distinguished from democracy. For in democracy the social and collectivizing pressure predominates over that of individual liberty. [12] [16]

Both Evola and Faÿ should have quit while they were ahead; a point we’ll come back to.

*  *  *

Will’s book is a smidgeon over 200 pages, ignoring the endnotes, [13] [17] but seems a lot longer, being what a reviewer calls [18] a “puffed-up and repetitive” version of an earlier journal article. One often has the sense, “Haven’t I read this already?” — and not in the good, “I’ve seen these films before” sense.  I found this discouraging.

I also tend to avoid reading “how could they be fascists” books like this, with their cookie-cutter rhetoric, [14] [19] their vertiginously un-self-aware propaganda against “propaganda,” and the easy resort to the ludicrous Frankfurt/Sontag notion of the masses engaged in a sadomasochistic relationship with the Leader (They always accuse you of what they are doing. And say, isn’t it time to cancel such “sex-negative notions anyway)? [15] [20]

Another tedious feature is the expected use of the “point and sputter” technique: “scare quotes” and invidious vocabulary whenever “bad guys” are under discussion. [16] [21] Fascists have “ideals” not ideals; use “logic” rather than logic; a coalition is a “motley crew”; vigorous support is “rabid,” to be influenced is to “parrot,” etc. But what else could be expected when “one of the points of this book” is:

To show how deeply fascist and profascist politics divided and severed human beings from one another, creating invidious, dehumanizing racial, national and religious distinctions that would eventually result in the “death world” of World War II.

After all, you couldn’t say that about communism, right? [17] [22]

As is usual when writing about an all-purpose boogeyman, the nature of the evil undergoes metamorphosis as required; take the French response to defeat, for example:

Chapter Four: “It is believed that close to forty million French people — the entire population of France — supported Philippe Pétain and his Vichy regime in the summer of 1940. . . . He was widely regarded as a hero. . . . The will to believe in his leadership was palpable in all corners of the population.”

Chapter Five: “In the first weeks of June 1940, as Parisians packed their precious belongings, joining long barely moving lines of refugees heading south and west and away from the city, desperation filled the air. [18] [23] In an empty Paris, only a few remained behind. . . .”

Well, which is it? Desperation or a New Hope?

And (if Hemingway can begin sentences with a conjunction so can I) a low point is reached when Will or her editor tries to create a Hailgate moment by cropping a photo of Stein enjoying a trip to Hitler’s captured lair with a group of enthusiastic GI’s, so as to give the impression of Stein leading them in a Roman salute. [19] [24]

Nevertheless, I would recommend this to Counter-Currents readers, for its surprising account of the political dimension of a somewhat forgotten American modernist, [20] [25] its equally surprising account of a really forgotten French historian of America, and its dissection of the conflicting groups that jockeyed for influence and control during the German occupation.

And finally, for its contemporary relevance. A commenter at Counter-Currents recently complained about “book reviews of texts no one care about.” So let me tease out some of the contemporary relevance of all this.

The “answer” to the “question” [21] [26] of why Stein, Faÿ, or anyone would support fascism is, to use one of Stein’s favorite words, simple. [22] [27]

The “answer” is that 1. Fascism is the normal response of normal people to social chaos, and 2. Some artists, including Eliot W. Lewis, Pound, and — surprisingly — Gertrude Stein — are normal people. As a Christopher Chantrill put it [28] a while back:

You can buy James O’Meara’s book Green Nazis in Space! here. [29]

But after World War I the politicians made a hash of things. In Germany they failed to match spending with revenue (a real problem for all social-democratic regimes) and put the nation through a ruinous inflation. In Britain they tried to return the pound to its pre-war parity with a ruinous deflation. In the US the politicians and placemen at the new Federal Reserve Board mucked up their first stock market crash by not acting as the lender of last resort, and thus precipitated the Great Depression. Great going, guys!

So the average person was looking for someone to get them out of this mess. I suspect this urge is embedded deeply in the human consciousness: when your patch of land is threatened by an existential peril your little tribe unites around a strong leader that can mobilize the tribe in a fight for survival. That is all that is needed to explain interwar fascism.

And further [30]:

That is what has happened in post crash America and so the lower middle class is looking for a leader to Make America Great Again. This has nothing to do with authoritarian personalities, but a natural and instinctive human response to things going wrong. When you are stuck in a jam, you look for a leader to get you out of the jam.

What the saga of Stein and Faÿ says is that the response should be simple as well; it could be as simple as this [31]:

Selling Whitopia to whites shouldn’t be that hard, but it is turning out to be far harder than it needs to be. We must reassure folks that life will be very similar to the life we all know except without the people who hate us and want us dead. The laws will remain stable during a period of transition, and after an interval, we will open them up to modification through a fair and just process. Christianity will be respected again while non-Christians will be free of vexation for not practicing the majority religion. In other words, the new nation will be what we thought America was, only much much better.

And the thing is, if you need an ideology to do this, we don’t need a new one, or a foreign one (or one that’s both: looking at you, NazBol Satanists). In line with Faÿ’s own (but rather Nietzschean or Spenglerian) idea that “reading the messages of history” is needed to produce a history we can use today, the Dissident Right could learn a thing or two from this Frenchman’s fascination with America.

Faÿ would have done better for himself, and for France, if he had stuck with his original (however personally motivated) view of America, rather than wandering off back into the quarrels and obsessions of French Right-wing traditionalism. As Americans ourselves, we have no excuse for following him. [23] [32]

Rather than using the current crisis as an excuse to promote their weird, un-American ideological hobby horses — “Traditionalism,” sedevacantist Catholicism, Austrian freemarketism, etc. — while taking morose delectation in the “Judeo-Masonic Enlightenment project” of America getting its comeuppance, I suggest they set their sights a little lower than a “revolt against the modern world,” and concentrate on a re-imagining of the real, true American tradition. [24] [33]

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[1] [36] The Path of Cinnabar: An Intellectual Autobiography; translated by Sergio Knipe (London: Arktos Media, 2009): pp. 19-25 (Dada and Futurism); p. 8 (Wilde) and Weininger, p. 8 and throughout.

[2] [37] “Stein saw someone who seemed to embody the imaginative and subjective reach of the high modernist writer or artist, but with real-world, transformative power.” Evola: “My theory of the Absolute Individual underwent a ‘mutation’: a shift that might appear paradoxical. . . . The process I now envisaged was a descent of the Absolute Individual from its solitary, abstract and rarefied heights to the concreteness of historical reality, [finding] a perceptible form, almost an embodiment, [in those] individuals who acted as the axis and absolute legislators of their civilizations.” Cinnabar, pp. 97-98. Faÿ played along; when writing for Je Suis Partout, “Stein’s ‘greatness’ is portrayed as that of a fascist leader, and her ‘triumph ‘is like that of a Mussolini.”

[3] [38] The Reich Main Security Office (RSHA) was the chief intelligence and security service for the SS; its Amt VII was a library of occult and esoteric research. Evola was officially involved with the RSHA by the end of the war, but what exactly he was doing is shrouded in mystery.

. . . Historian Richard Drake says that while he was in Vienna, “Evola performed vital liaison services for the SS as Nazi Germany sought to recruit a European army for the defense of the Continent against the Soviet Union and the United States.” According to his own account, Evola spent his time living incognito while doing “intellectual” research. But what kind of research? While Evola was in Vienna, the SD supplied him with a series of arcane texts plundered from private libraries and rare book collections. The SD bureau that provided him with these documents was Amt VII, an obscure branch that served as an RSHA research library. With this precious archive, Evola closely studied masonic rituals and translated certain “esoteric texts” for a book called Historie Secrete des Societes Secretes.  It never appeared because Evola claimed that all his documents were lost during the Russian bombardment.

Kevin Coogan, Dreamer of the Day, pgs. 319-320. We recall Faÿ’s founding membership in the SSS: Service des Societes Secretes. The recently translated work of Gianfranco de Turris: Julius Evola: The Philosopher and Magician in War: 1943–1945 (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2020) would seem to provide more detail, but I haven’t been able to consult it yet; see Collin Cleary’s review here [39].

[4] [40] Will notes that by the time they got around to Faÿ, tempers had subsided, so although Faÿ’s doxing as arguably more serious than the actions of his friend and fellow prisoner, Robert Brasillach (editor of Je Suis Partout), Faÿ himself escaped the death penalty. “It is Brasillach’s fate mainly to be remembered for being the only collaborateur sentenced to death (by firing squad) for ‘intellectual crimes.’” — Margot Metroland, “Robert Brasillach & Notre avant-guerre: Remembering Robert Brasillach, March 31, 1909–February 6, 1945 [41].”

[5] [42] Cinnabar, 185-87. While Faÿ could not claim to have never joined the Fascist party, he would have agreed with Evola’s ”Autodifensa [43]”: his ideas “belong to the heritage of the hierarchical, aristocratic, and traditional conception of the State, a conception having a universal character and maintained in Europe up to the French Revolution. . . . In the same spirit as a Metternich, a Bismarck, or the great Catholic philosophers of the principle of authority, De Maistre and Donoso Cortes, I reject all that which derives, directly or indirectly, from the French Revolution and which, in my opinion, has as its extreme consequence bolshevism; to which I counterpose the ‘world of Tradition.’”

[6] [44] Will notes, regarding Faÿ’s main anti-Masonic treatise, Revolution and Freemasonry, 1680–1800 (1935), that “one of the ironies of the book is that it proceeds through a form of dialectical argumentation not unlike that practiced by the early free-thinking Masons themselves.”

[7] [45] Piero Fenili, “Gli errori di Julius Evola. III – L’allontamento dalla Tradizione degli antichi Padri,” Ignis n.s. 3 (1992), at page 50; see Jocelyn Godwin, “Politica Romana Pro and Contra Evola,” in Arthur Versluis, Lee Irwin, and Melinda Phillips (eds.), Esotericism, Religion, and Politics (Minneapolis, MI: New Cultures Press 2012). I want to thank Peter D. Bredon for calling Godwin’s account to my attention [46]. Will suggests that Faÿ’s “personal equation” was his need to obfuscate his homosexuality, as a consequence of which he perceived Masonic enlightenment and secrecy as both threats, defined by “possibility and prohibition.” We have seen, in Martel’s book [47], how such maneuvers led the followers of French Personalist philosopher Maritain to corrupt the Catholic Church itself.

[8] [48] After the fall of Rome, when Evola fled the Allied authorities, “the one thing he took with him was a suitcase containing the materials that would eventually become the three-volume Introduction to Magic.” — Collin Cleary, op. cit.

[9] [49] Fenili points out that of the four protagonists who were left at the end of the Western Empire in 476, only the Roman Senate and the Eastern Empire had authentic Roman roots. The other two players were the Church, whose origin was in the Near East, and the Germanic peoples of the north, and it was with these enemies of Romanity that Evola chose to align himself; as did Faÿ.

[10] [50] “We had installed electric radiators in the studio, we were as our finnish [sic] servant would say getting modern. She finds it difficult to understand why we are not more modern. Gertrude Stein says that if you are way ahead with your head you naturally are old fashioned and regular in your daily life. And Picasso adds, do you suppose Michel Angelo would have been grateful for a gift of a piece of renaissance furniture, no he wanted a greek coin.” – Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.

[11] [51] Stein: “[In Italy under Mussolini] they do let you work and live in the country and be peaceful . . . and nobody thinks you can live and be quiet under communism, nor under constitutional government as made today.”

[12] [52] “The Two Faces of Liberalism,” in Il Borghese, October 10, 1968; quoted from Godwin, op. cit., pp. 50-51; not to be confused with John Gray’s Two Faces of Liberalism (New Press, 2002).

[13] [53] The e-book, produced by Columbia University Press, randomly switches between popup footnotes and links to endnotes, something I wasn’t even aware could be done, even by accident. And for this quality they want to charge over $20!

[14] [54] The poor proof-reading in the section on wartime Paris suggests that the staff at the publisher skimmed it as more boilerplate.

[15] [55] “To invoke Susan Sontag: Stein appears ‘fixated’ or ‘fascinated’ by Pétain, mesmerized and rendered passive by an almost masochistic desire for the figure of the authoritarian dictator.”

[16] [56] A recent example [57]: “Speaking of the words used to form narratives, this open letter features yet another of the alimentary verbs SJWs love, love, love — i.e. J. K. Rowling ‘spouted transphobic and transmisogynist rhetoric.’ Whenever you see verbs such as spouted, belched, regurgitated, etc., used to describe speech or ideas, you can be pretty sure the writer has frothed while penning them.”

[17] [58] The “death world” — she doesn’t give a source for it to be a quote, but surely those aren’t scare quotes? — reminded me of George Steiner’s brief Editor’s Preface for his “Roots of the Right” series. Steiner wrote that “reliable estimates put at about seventy million the figure of those dead through war, revolution, and famine in Europe and Russia between 1914 and 1945.” It is clear from the context that the author was loosely tallying the total number of victims of both Communism and Nazism. But his series was not about Communism, nor did Steiner so much as mention the word Communist or the name of a single Communist in his preface. Instead, everything was Fascism, Nazism, the Falange, Gobineau, de Maistre, Maurras, Primo de Rivera, France, Germany, Italy, Spain. Steiner deliberately and falsely conveyed the impression to his readers that the 70 million dead were murdered solely by the Right with its “often lunatic and nakedly barbaric” vision. Steiner continued, “The most ‘radical’ attack — ’radical’ in that it demands a total revaluation of man’s place in society and of the status of the different races in the general scheme of power and human dignity — has come from the Right.” And because the political and philosophical program of the Right “has come so near to destroying our civilization and is so still alive, it must be studied.” Hence the supposed desperate need for this series of what Steiner called “black books,” which were literally bound in black; the series was subtitled “Readings in Fascist, Racist and Elitist Ideology,” the whole presentation of course making it irresistible to those with a taste for what would later be supplied by the likes of Adam Parfrey [59]. The helpful but absurd inclusion of Max Stirner [60] (“Mussolini read him!”) only confirmed the impression that this Cambridge don had no idea of what he was talking about.

[18] [61] I’ve seen this movie [62] too!

[19] [63] This is on a half-title page, and the full photo is also included later, where it is clear that another GI in front (cropped out) is pointing to something in the distance and Stein and others are doing likewise, while others in the back (also cropped out) are doing nothing, since pointing in the back, unlike saluting, would be, um, pointless.

[20] [64] “Stein’s own ‘modernist’ novels, memoirs, lectures, and plays — once celebrated as stylishly avant-garde — have not aged well. Today she is remembered almost as much for who she was as for what she wrote.” Mark Weber, op. cit.

[21] [65] “What is the answer?” she asked, and when no answer came she laughed and said: “Then, what is the question?” Stein’s last words, according to Elizabeth Sprigge, Gertrude Stein, Her Life and Work, p. 265 (1957). “What is the answer? . . . In that case . . . what is the question?” is the version in What Is Remembered (1963) by Alice B. Toklas, p. 173, though these are not specifically labeled Stein’s last words.

[22] [66] Stein describes Petain’s actions as “really wonderful so simple so natural so complete and extraordinary.” Wars I Have Seen, p. 68; quoted in Will, p. 116.

[23] [67] Remarkably, the Zman seems to have, I suppose unconsciously, described our current situation [68] in a way that echoes our verdict on the errors of Evola and Faÿ: “The Biden camp suddenly wheeling around on the police issue is a good example of why the Left usually wins. Despite their rhetoric, and they very well may believe the conspiracy theories they spout, they act as if they are riding the tiger. They move and adjust to stay on the back of whatever is happening. The Right, in contrast, acts as if they are sure some secret cabal is at the center of events, manipulating everyone like a master chess player controlling the board.

[24] [69] On the related North American Literary or Spiritual Tradition, see Peter D. Bredon’s “The Native American Nietzsche: Camille Paglia, Frontier Philosopher [70].”