1) The Discovery of Evola in Russia
Julius Evolaâ€™s works were discovered in the 1960s by the very esoteric group of anti-communist intellectual thinkers known as â€œthe dissidents of the right.â€ They were a small circle of people who had conscientiously refused to participate in the â€œcultural lifeâ€ of the USSR and who had instead chosen an underground existence for themselves. The disparity between the presented Soviet culture and the actual Soviet reality was almost entirely what made them seek out the fundamental principles that could explain the origins of that evil, absolutist idea. It was through their refusal of communism that they discovered certain works by anti-modernist and traditionalist authors: above all, the books by Rene Guenon and by Julius Evola. Two central personalities animated this group â€“ the Islamic philosopher Geidar Djemal and the nonconformist poet Eugene Golovine. Thanks to them, these â€œdissidents of the rightâ€ knew the names and the ideas of the two greatest traditionalists of our century. In the 1970s, one of the first translations of an Evola work (The Hermetic Tradition) appeared and it was distributed within the group according to the methods of Samizdat [note: Samizdat was the system in the former USSR through which officially â€œimpermissibleâ€ books made their way around the country; generally these were copies of copies and not well-produced, but they tended to get their point across.]. However, the original translations were particularly bad in quality because they were made by incompetent amateurs far removed from the group of authentic intellectual traditionalists.
In 1981, a translation of Heidnische Imperialismus appeared in a similar manner as the only book of its type available from the Library of Lenin in Moscow. This time around, the distribution through Samizdat had become much larger and the quality of the translation was much better. Little by little, they moved the true current of traditionalism away from anti-communism and towards anti-modernism by extending their complete refusal of Soviet existence to a rejection of the modern world, very much in accordance with the integral traditionalist vision. It should be noted, though, that the ideas of the traditionalists in question at this particular point in time were very far-removed from the other â€œdissidents of the rightâ€ who were generally orthodox Christians, monarchists, and nationalists. Evola, then, was more popular among those who were interested in spiritualism in a broader sense: yoga, theosophy [note: a religious/philosophical school of thought founded by Russian occultist Helena Blavatsky], psychism [note: a theosophic concept relating to all mental phenomena; C.G. Jung discussed it occasionally as well], and so forth.
Throughout Perestroika, all forms of anticommunist dissidence manifested themselves and from the â€œdissidents of the rightâ€ came the current political and cultural ideologies of the Right â€“ nationalist, nostalgic, anti-liberal, and anti-Western. In this context and after the development of strict traditionalist ideas as a result of Glasnost, the names of Guenon and Evola were introduced into Russiaâ€™s cultural ensemble. The first works of Evolaâ€™s appeared in the 1990s in widely-read parts of the press known to be â€œpatrioticâ€ or â€œconservativeâ€ and the subject of traditionalism became the theme among virulent polemics and was a very big issue in the Russian Right as a whole. Papers like Elementy, Nach Sovremennik, Mily Anguel, Den, etc., began to publish fragments of Evolaâ€™s writings or articles inspired by him or ones in which his name and quotes were referenced. Little by little, the â€œconservativeâ€ camp came to have an ideological structure that produced a separation between the old, nostalgic, monarchist Right and the other more open, non-conformist, and less-orthodox Right â€“ sometimes referred to as the â€œnovye pravyeâ€ in Russian, one may be inclined to draw parallels to the â€œnouvelle droite,â€ but it was a quite separate and altogether different phenomenon from the European ND. One could categorize this second group of â€œpatriotsâ€ as being part of the â€œThird Wayâ€ or â€œnational revolutionariesâ€ and so forth. The breaking point came exactly over the acceptance or rejection of Evolaâ€™s ideas or perhaps more appropriately over parts of Evolaâ€™s ideas that could not be considered â€œconservativeâ€ or â€œreactionaryâ€ in nature, as in the idea of the â€œConservative Revolutionâ€ and the â€œRevolt Against the Modern World.â€
Recently, the first book â€“ Heidnische Imperialismus â€“ had 50,000 copies published. A television show devoted to Evola has even been made for a popular channel. Thus, one can see that Russiaâ€™s discovery of Evola has taken place on a rather broad scale. He who once constituted the hypermarginal intellectual nucleus of Russia before Perestroika has now become a significant political and ideological phenomenon. But it is clear that Evola wrote his books and formulated his ideas in a very different temporal, cultural, historical, and ethnic context. This, therefore, poses a problem: what parts of Evolaâ€™s philosophy are relevant to modern Russia and what parts need to be reworked, improved, or even rejected in these circumstances? This requires a brief analysis comparing and contrasting the sacred traditionalism of Evola and the strictly Russian political phenomenon.
2) Against the Modern West
From the very beginning, it is obvious that the rejection of the profane and venal modern world that manifested itself in Western Civilization in the last few centuries is common to both Evola and the entirety of the intellectual tradition of Russian slavophilia. Russian authors like Homyakov, Kirievsky, Aksakov, Leontiev, and Danilevsky among philosophers as well as Dostoevsky, Gogol, and Merejkovsky among novelists criticized the Western world in almost the exact same language as did Evola. One can see that they all had the same hate for the rule of the mob â€“ that is to say, the modern democratic system â€“ and that they regarded it as spiritual degradation and total profanity. Similarly, one can also see the same diagnoses for the sickness of the modern world â€“ profane Freemasonry, deviant Judaism, the advancement of the plebeian, the deification of â€œreasonâ€ â€“ in Evola and the â€œconservativeâ€ Russian culture. Obviously, the reactionary tendency here is shared, and thus Evolaâ€™s criticism of the West is totally in-step with and acceptable to the party line of Russian conservatism.
More often than not, one can see that Evolaâ€™s criticisms are more closely related to the Russian mentality rather than the broader European one â€“ the same type of generalization, the frequent evocation of mythological and mystical goals, the distinct notion that the internal spirit world is organically separated from the immediate modern realities of perversion and deviance. In general, the Russian conservative tradition of contemporarily explaining historical events in a mythological sense is somewhat obligatory. The appeal of the supernatural/irrational level here is in perfect step with the Russian mindset that renders rational explanation the exception rather than the rule.
One may also note the influence that Russian conservatives exercised on Evola: in his works, he often cites Dostoevsky, Merejkovsky (whom he personally knew) and several other Russian authors. On the other hand, the frequent references he makes to Malynsky and Leon de Poncins partially carry on the counter-revolutionary tradition so typical of being European. One can also cite his references to Serge Nilus, the compiler of the famous Protocols of the Elders Of Zion, which Evola reedited in Italy.
At the same time, itâ€™s clear that Evola knew relatively little about the Russian conservative milieu, and in fact he was not even particularly interested in it owing to his antichristian idiosyncrasy. A propos of the Orthodox tradition, he only made a few insignificant comments. Yet the similarity between his position towards the crisis of the modern world and the anti-modernism of the Russian authors is due largely to the community of organic reactions â€“ Great Men and â€˜individualsâ€™ in the case of Evola and heroes in the case of the Russians. But thanks to this spontaneity of anti-modern convergences, the gravity of Evolaâ€™s deviation is made all the more interesting and all the more critical.
At any rate, this interpretation of Evolaâ€™s ideas fits perfectly within the framework of the modern â€œnovye pravyeâ€ ideology to the extent that the latter actually brings more to his vision of the degradation of modernity by sometimes applying his ideas more globally, more radically, and more deeply. In this regard, Evolaâ€™s theories are very much accepted in modern Russia, where anti-Westernism is an extremely potent ideological and political factor.
3) Rome and Third Rome
One particular layer of Evola’s thoughts is felt by the Russians to be of imminent and extreme importance: his praise for the Imperial Ideal. Rome represents the focal point of Evola’s worldview. This sacred living power which had manifested itself all across the Empire was to Evola the very essence of the West’s traditional heritage. To Evola, the ruins of Nero’s palace and of Roman buildings were like a direct testament to a physical, organic sanctity whose integrity and continuity had been shattered by the Kafkaesque “castle” of the Catholic Vatican Guelph. [NOTE: For those not familiar with Kafka’s work, this is a reference to his book entitled “the Castle,” which is about a man who takes what should be a relatively simple job in a distant place surveying the land of a local noble, but who is unable to begin — much less complete — his job owing to the opposition from the bureaucracy of his own employer (whom he never meets in-person and only through a proxy or a proxy of a proxy) and who is further frustrated by the fact that the Count’s huge, oppressive castle is always visible from any part of the town but that he can never actually go there to begin his task. Obviously this is a metaphorical indictment against the overall judeo-christian system and how it relates to seemingly unattainable salvation. Similarly, Guelph refers to a German/Italian coalition of the Middle Ages that supported the royal house of Guelph against the Imperial German Ghibelline dynasty that was hostile to the Pope and to Catholicism.] His Ghibelline train of thought was clear: Imperium against Church, Rome against the Vatican, the immenent and organic sacrality against the devotational and sentimental abstractions of faith, implicitly dualist and Phariseean.
But a similar line of thought is seemingly naturally felt by the Russians, whose historical destiny has always been profoundly tied to that of Imperium. This notion was dogmatically rooted in the Orthodox Concept of staret [NOTE: the starets were spiritual advisers, but not priests: Rasputin could be considered one of these] philosophy – “Moscow: the Third Rome.” It should be noted that the “first Rome” in this cyclic orthodox interpretation was not Christian Rome, but rather Imperial Rome, because the second Rome (or the “new Rome”) was Constantinople, the capital of the Christian Empire. Thus the same idea of “Rome” held by the Orthodox Russians corresponds to the understanding of sacrality like the importance of that which is Sacred and such as the necessary and inseparable â€œsymphonyâ€ between the spiritual authority and the temporal realm. For traditional orthodoxy, the catholic separation between the King and the Pope is simply unimaginable and close to blasphemy, and this very concept is actually called the â€œLatin heresy.â€
Again, one can see the perfect convergence between Evola’s dogma and the commonplace mindset of Russian conservative thought. And still again, the clear spiritual exaltation of Imperium in Evola’s books is of inestimable value to the Russians in terms of what they view as their true and traditional identity. The “symphonic imperialism” of the Orthodox Russians easily brings to mind Julius Evola’s concept of “pagan imperialism,” or rather “Ghibelline imperialism.”
There is one other important detail that bears mentioning here. It’s known that the “author of the Third Reich,” Artur MÃ¼ller van den Bruck, was deeply influenced by the writings of Feodor Dostoevsky, for whom the concept of “the Third Rome” was vitally significant. One can see van den Bruck’s same eschatological vision of “the Final Empire,” born from a metaphorical convergence between the ideas of the paracletic montanists [NOTE: montanists were the ancient forerunners of the contemporary pentecostal sects, i.e., the ones who believe in personal divine revelation and speaking in tongues] and the prophecies of Joachim de Flora [NOTE: de Flora was the abbot of Corazzo who authored a very prescient essay about the “age of reason” around the year 1200 in which he wrote “in the new day, man would not have to rely on faith, for everything would be founded on knowledge and reason.”]. Van den Bruck — whose ideas were sometimes cited by Evola — adapted the concept of the Third Rome from the Russian Orthodox tradition and applied it to Germany, where it was subsequently elaborated upon spiritually and socially by the National Socialists. One interesting fact is that Erich Mueller, the protegÃ© of Nikisch [NOTE: Ernst Nikisch, a German nationalist of the same era] — who was greatly inspired by van den Bruck — once remarked that if the First Reich had been Catholic [NOTE: ie, the Holy Roman Empire], the Second Reich Protestant [NOTE: ie, Prussia under Friedrich the Great], the Third Reich would have to be exactly Orthodox! But Evola himself participated largely in the intellectual debates of German conservative-revolutionary circles (he was a member of von Gleichen’s “Herrenklub,” which itself was a continuation of the “Juniklub”founded by van den Bruck) where similary subjects were discussed in a very lively manner. It’s now easy to see another way in which the Russian conservative mindset is linked to Evola’s theories. Obviously, it’s not possible to say their ideas on these particular issues were identical, but at the same time, there are extraordinary connections between the two that help to explain the assimilation of Evola’s ideas into Russia’s mindset, where its views are far less “extravagant” than those belonging of traditional conservative Europe, which is by and large contemporarily Catholic and Nationalist, and is quite rarely Imperialist.