Introduction to the Social and Political Thought of Julius Evola
by Paul Furlong
Routledge, 2011, 157 pages. $138.
With the opening of the 21st century, Julius Evola began his rise in the Anglosphere. New Right publishers have taken up the considerable task of importing his work from the Continent and translating it, with varying levels of success. On April 15, Arktos released the first official e-book edition of an Evola work on Kindle. This slowly growing familiarity with the New Right’s philosopher-king has in turn raised a problem for leftists, for, like Oswald Spengler before him, Evola is not a dismissible writer.
When a liberal wants to investigate the right wing, he usually settles for identifying the “right” with celebrities like Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter, and derives great satisfaction from discovering their errors or finding a book that claims to do so. It has nothing whatsoever to do with a search for truth, and everything to do with smug satisfaction.
The liberal investigator does not read Evola, because if he makes that mistake, he must realize he is dealing with a far bigger problem than he had previously thought. In fact, this is very similar to the approach “skeptics” take to parapsychology. It is great fun indeed to laugh at Uri Geller or John Edward. It is not fun whatsoever for a skeptic to read Randi’s Prize or Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation, because this shakes the deepest foundations of his world. To keep the peace the skeptical world keeps quiet about these books, and the liberal world similarly keeps quiet about the Nietzsche-Spengler-Evola tradition of modern world-seeing.
We can see in several instances a writer who maintained a solemn, academic neutrality throughout most of his book becoming noticeably shaken when he reaches the subject of Evola. Dreamer of the Day (1999), a mostly neutral biography of a totally unrelated person, has a tangent about Evola several chapters long, apparently because author Kevin Coogan was so concerned about the man’s “perverse” philosophy. In Mussolini’s Intellectuals (2005), which refers to Evola as ”bizarre and sinister figure” on its back cover, A.J. Gregor devotes an angry chapter to denouncing the idea that such a demon as Evola could have anything to do with real Fascism.
Other writers approach Evola by muting his spiritual program or attributing to him things he didn’t do.The earliest English biography of Evola, Myth and Violence: The Fascism of Julius Evola and Alain de Benoist (1981) by Thomas Sheehan, assures readers that Evola was merely concealing a secret racism, a complicated feat because Evola’s racism is quite open and well-explained in all his books. This attempt to deproblematize Evola’s views by merely pointing out their opposition to the norm is standard.
Some writers, such as Richard H. Drake in Julius Evola and the Ideological Origins of the Radical Right in Contemporary Italy (1986), have gone so far as to excise Evola’s entire oeuvre of meaningful content and reduce it to a series of political claims, although now that his work is more easily available in English this tactic will not work as well as it used to. Gary Lachman, writing in Politics and the Occult: The Left, the Right, and the Radically Unseen (2008), demonstrates a typical concern, and a typically vapid self-defense strategy:
I should point out that Evola’s many writings on a variety of esoteric subjects often warrant the acclaim they’ve received. Reading Evola can be bracing; his articles from the UR Group collected in Introduction to Magic, for instance, exhibit a clarity and rigor that is rare in such material. And while Evola’s esotericism and politics are really a “package deal,” as with Schwaller de Lubicz, one can glean much from his insights into a variety of occult themes without having to accept his politics. This, in fact, is the argument many Evola supporters make …
[The] danger becomes clear when we realize Evola’s intentions: to use fascism to inaugurate a society based on Tradition. … Evola agreed that liberalism, egalitarianism, individualism, freethinking, and the rest of modernity’s ills were the dry rot bringing down Western civilization. (215-6)
Note that Lachman, in his honesty, cannot avoid praise for Evola, and note again how flimsy his reflexive opposition becomes. He does not quote Evola at length, but instead brings out the big guns of political correctness: Fascist! Hater of democracy and freedom! You don’t want to read this guy, promise me! These epithets are blasted as if Lachman has “realized” a hidden agenda that none of Evola’s supporters were able to figure out. Really what he has “realized” is that it would be better not to think too hard about Evola, and instead the best use of his writing would be to distract readers with accusations about things Evola didn’t do.
The next three pages of Lachman’s book are occupied with a very silly biography, in which Evola is vaguely associated with the Holocaust and blamed directly for the 1980 Bologna massacre. This lazy charge is also made by Philip Rees in Biographical Dictionary of the Extreme Right (1991) and Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity (2001). The latter book opens its chapter about Evola with the words, “On August 2, 1980, Italian neo-fascist terrorists…” making an event that took place 6 years after Evola’s death the centerpiece of his life. This is as inane to me as blaming Marx for Stalin’s Purge, or Spengler for World War II. A radical philosophy that becomes reflected by the times does not imply that the philosopher approves of any and every kind of violence. Nevertheless, given the mainstream silence surrounding Evola up until now, is very easy to draw aspersions like this and thus ensure that readers will not investigate the Baron further on their own.
It is in this climate that the first book-length study of Evola in English has been released, Introduction to the Social and Political Thought of Julius Evola (2011) by Paul Furlong. Unfortunately this book was published for academic libraries only and at the price of $138 per copy, for a lukewarm and left-wing study, it is not likely to find its way into the libraries of many Traditionalists. Thankfully, my friend E.S.B. procured a copy and sent me this review under the condition that I do not publish his full name.
Introduction to the Social and Political Thought of Julius Evola
Paul Furlong, London: Routledge, 2011. 157 pg. $138.
Review by E.S.B.
Abstract: Attempting to understand Evola from the perspective of a liberal modern seems like a fool’s endeavor, but here it is. The results of this exercise are somewhat mixed.
Paul Furlong, a professor at Cardiff University in Wales, has attempted to condense the long writing career of Baron Julius Evola into a single very slim volume and explain his interpretation of the Baron’s teachings. As this is part of a series called “extremism and democracy,” one can predict the results. Furlong’s essential thesis is that the study of Evola is valuable because he “shows the position of the anti-modern intellectual exists” (157). I believe that contrary to his statement that Evola’s “ideas and arguments are not usually cogent enough for us to say we should study him because what he has to say is interesting in itself” (136), Furlong is genuinely fascinated with the difference between Evola’s thought and mainstream thought, both that of Evola’s day and of the present.
While it is impossible to deny that Evola is “elitist, racist, anti-semitic, misogynist, anti-democratic, authoritarian, and deeply anti-liberal” (149), Furlong, who no doubt finds all these qualities very objectionable, nevertheless sees a kind of worthy depth in Evola’s career, and it is by this fascination that Furlong can approach the Baron in a generous spirit. Although he plainly believes Evola to be intellectually inferior to some degree, he nevertheless snaps at people who would perform “logical short circuits” by simply declaring Evola to be racist and therefore not worthy of any sort of consideration (113). What is most interesting in Furlong’s dissection of Evola is not his dull illustrations of his influences, which are completely open and even written about to a great extent by Evola himself in Il Cammino del Cinabro, but his sensitive and very exacting reading of the change of tone in Evola over his career. Furlong has gone to great lengths to procure earlier editions of Evola’s major works and compared them with the state that somebody buying an Inner Traditions edition might find them in. There are even a few attempts to look at Evola philologically and to correct some of the infelicities of translation common to the English versions of his works.
One notable example E.S.B. provided to me: “Evola regarded himself as l’uomo differenziato’ — sometimes translated as ‘the man who is different’ but more precisely as ‘the man who has become different.’” (10) The “sometimes” translation is that of Inner Traditions. I would translate this more smoothly as “differentiated man”, but the emphasis Evola gives to differentness as an arisen state and not an inherent one is quite important, and its mistranslation a major slip by Inner Traditions.
The difficulty with the book is that Furlong, as indicated by the title, attempts to analyze Evola from the perspective of the political, or even the social. One of the major tenents of Evola’s thinking is that these factors are totally contingent on the spiritual. Thus, in fact, Evola might be better regarded as a kind of religious teacher. As Furlong notes, Evola is primarily influenced by Guenon, Neoplatonism, and Hinduism, and is centrally concerned with the accomplishment of self-mastery, and when he presents a political plan, he only provides the barest outlines. Furlong presents two theories for why this is: either that Evola means this as a purely contemplative exercise or that he is trying to leave the field wide-open for any kind of political action. It is easy to imagine another version of this book with a different title that treats Evola as a kind of Western paṇḍitaḥ, bringing the gospel of non-duality to the West.
Unfortunately, Furlong decided to focus on his much more sensational political thought, such as it is, which as far as I can tell is only in Evola because of his realization, which I believe to be correct, that religion, politics, art, and the rest are all really just different names for the same thing— although some modes fit some ideas better than others. Evola’s political thought, Furlong admits, is largely derivative of Gentile and other thinkers of the time, distinguished only by its extreme degree, but the difference comes from the way that it is supported. One does not need to agree with Evola to see that the true value of the Baron’s thought is to once again reunite these separated fields, not to simply prove that intellectuality does not need to be yoked to the idea of progress, which is only surprising to the most temporally provincial type of intellectual.
Furlong in general provides a good, if uninspired, reading of Evola. His concern with the political aspects of his thought, especially his supposed personal connexion to political violence, which he finds to be mostly bogus, if perhaps morally connectable because of his unwillingness to disown violence perpetrated with his ideas as justification— “From his point of view, there is no reason why he should. The path to wisdom is individual” (102). Probably the most significant single fact gleaned by Furlong in his work is the realization that Ride the Tiger and Men Among the Ruins were written together, not, as previously understood, that the former is a sequel to the latter. Furlong’s unwillingness to jump into the pool, as it were, seriously held back his efforts in this book. He even throws in an absurd saw about how Evola failed “to speak out against the Holocaust after the war” (115)— apparently momentarily forgetting the Baron’s total disregard for all historical events of any nature, well-established by Furlong elsewhere in the book.
But once somebody gets a taste of Evola, they are almost sure to want more. I doubt Furlong will ever find himself an Evolian, but his restraint in his criticism of an author upon whom it is popular to heap abuse and slander means that this work actually is valuable to those interested in Evola on his own terms. Inner Traditions would be well to heed some of Furlong’s points about their translations. However, the very high cost of the volume, which is printed by British academic publisher Routledge, should discourage any but the most serious students of the Baron, or at least those without access to an academic library with a generous interlibrary loan policy.
Thanks to the reviewer for his patience with my stupid revisions.