As my intent was to offer a bird’s-eye view of history, in the previous pages I have presented all the elements necessary to formulate an objective law at work in the various stages of the process of decadence, that is, the law of the regression of castes (1). A progressive shift of power and type of civilization has ocurred from one caste to the next since prehistoric times (from sacred leaders, to a warrior aristocracy, to the merchants, and finally to the serfs); these castes in traditional civilizations corresponded to the qualitative differentiation of the main human possibilities. In the face of this general movement anything concerning the various conflicts among peoples, the life of nations, or other historical accidents plays only a secondary and contingent role.
I have alredy discussed the dawn of the age of the first caste. In the West, the representatives of the divine royalty and the leaders who embody the two powers (spiritual and temporal), in what I have called “spiritual virility” and “Olympian sovereignity,” belong to a very distant and almost mythical past. We have seen how, through the gradual deterioration of the Light of the North, the process of decadence has unfolded; in the Ghibelline ideal of the Holy Roman Empire I have identified the last echo of the highest tradition.
Once the appex dissapeared, authority descended to the level inmediately below, that is, to the caste of the warriors. The stage was then set for monarchs who were mere military leaders, lords of temporal justice and, in more recent times, politically absolute sovereigns. In other words, regality of blood replaced regality of the spirit. In a few instances it is still posible to find the idea of “divine right,” but only as a formula lacking a real content. We find such rulers in antiquity behind institutions that retained the traits of the ancient sacred regime only in a formal way. In any event in the West, with the dissolution of the medieval ecumene, the passage into the second phase became all-enbracing and definitive. During this stage, the fides cementing the state no longer had a religious character, but only a warrior one; it meant loyalty, faithfulness, honor. This was essentially the age and the cycle of the Great European monarchies.
Then a second collapse ocurred as the aristocracies began to fall into decay and the monarchies to shake at the foundations; through revolutions and constitutions they became useless institutions subject to the “will of the nation,” and sometimes they were even ousted by different regimes. The principle characterizyng this state of affairs was: “The king reigns but he does not rule.” Together with parliamentary republics the formation of the capitalist oligarchies revealed the shift of power from the second caste (the warrior) to the modern equivalent of the third caste (the mercantile class). The kings of the coal, oil, and iron industries replace the previous kings of blood and of spirit. Antiquity, too, sometimes knew this phenomenon in sporadics forms; in Rome and in Greece the “aristocracy of welth” repatedly forced the han of the hierarchical structure by pursuing aristocratic positions, undermining sacred laws and traditional institutions, and inflitrating the militia, priesthood, or consulship. In later times what ocurred was the rebelion of the communes and the rise of the various madieval formations of mercantile power. The solemn proclamation of the “rights of the Third Estate” in France represented the decisive stage, followed by the varieties of “bourgeois revolution” of the third caste, which employed liberal and democratic ideologies for its own purposes. Correspondingly, this era was characterized by the theory of the social contract. At this time the social bond was no longer a fides of a warrior type based on relationships of faithfulness and honor. Instead, it took on a utilitarian and economic character; it consisted of an agreement based on personal convenience and on material interest that only a merchant could have conceived. Gold became a means ad powerful tool; those who knew how to acquire it and to multiply it (capitalism, high finance, industrial trusts), behind the appereances of democracy, virtually controlled political power and the instruments employed in the art of opinionmaking. Aristocracy gave way to plutocracy, the warrior, to the banker and industrialist. The economy triumphed on all fronts. Trafficking with money and charging interest, activities previouly confined to the ghettos, invaded the new civilisation. According to the expression of W. Sombart, in the promised land of Protestant puritanism, Americanism, capitalism, and the “destilled Jewish spirit” coexist. It is natural that given these congenial premises, the modern representatives of secularized Judaism saw the ways to achieve world domination open up before them. In this regard, Karl Marx wrote:
What are the mundane principles of Judaism? Practical necessity and the pursuit of one’s own advantage. What is its earthly god? Money. The Jew has emancipated himself in a typically Jewish fashion not only in that he has taken control of the power of money, but also in that through him, money has become a world power and the practical Jewish spirit of the Christian people. The Jews have emancipated themselves insofar as the Christians have become Jews. The god of the Jews has become secularized and has become the god of the earth. The exchange is the true god of the Jews. (2)
In reality, the codification of the traffic with gold as a loan charged with interest, to which the Jews had been previously devoted since they had no other means through which they could affirm themselves, may be said to be the very foundation of the acceptance of the aberrant development of all that is banking, high finance, and pure economy, which are spreading like a cancer in the modern world. This is the fundamental time in the “age of the merchants”.
Finally the crisis of bourgeois society, classs truggle, the proletarian revolt against capitalism, the manifest promulgated at the “Third International” in 1919, and the correlative organization of the groups and the masses in the cadres proper to a “socialist civilization of labor” -all these bear witness to the third collapse, in which power tends to pass into the hands of the lowest of the traditional castes, the caste of the beasts of burden and the standardized individuals. The result of this transfer of power was a reduction of horizon and value to the plane of matter, the machine, and the reign of quantity. The prelude to this was the Russian Revolution. Thus, the new ideal became the “proletarian” ideal of a universal and communist civilization. (3)
We may compare the above mentioned phaenomenon of the awakening and gushing forth of elemental subhuman forces within the structures of the modern world to a person who can no longer endure the tension of the spirit (first caste), and eventually not even the tension of the will as afree force that animates the body (warrior caste), and who thus gives in to the subpersonal forces of the organic system and all of a sudden reacts almost magnetically under the impulse of another life taht replaces his own. The ideas and the passions of the demos soon escape men´s control and they begin to act as if they had acquired an autonomous and dreadful life of their own. These passions pit nations and collectivities against each other and result in unprecedented conflicts and crises. At the end of the process, once the total collapse has ocurred, the awaits an international system under the brutal symbols of the hammer and the sickle.
Such are the horizons facing the contemporary world. Just as it is only by adhering to free activity that man can truly be free and realize his own self, likewise, by focusing on practical and utilitarian goals, economic achievements, and whatever was once the exclusive domain of the inferior castes man abdicates, desintegrates, loses his center, and opens himself to infernal forces of which he is destined to become the unwilling and unconscious instrument. Moreover, contemporary society looks like an organism that has shifted from a human to a subhuman type, in which every activity and reaction is determined by the needs of the dictate of purely physical life. Man’s dominating principles are those of the material part of traditional hierarchies: gold and work. This is how things are today; these two elements, almost without exception ,affect every possibility of existence and give shape to the ideoloies and myths that clearly testify to the gravity of he modern perversion of all values.
Not only has the quadripartite regression have a sociopolitical scope, but it also inverts every domain of civilization. In architecture the regression is symbolized by the shift from the temple (first caste) as the dominant building, to the fortress and castle (caste of warriors), to the citystate surrounded by protecting walls (age of the merchants) , to the factory, and finally to the rational and dull buildings that are the hives of the mass-man. The family, which in the origins has a sacred foundation, shifted to an authoritarian model (patria potestas in a mere juridical sense), then to a bourgeois and conventional one, until it will finally disolve when the party, the people, and society will supersede in importance and dignity. The notion of war underwent analogous phases: from the doctrine of the “sacred war” and of the mors triumpalis a shift occured to the war waged in the name of the right and of the honor of one’s lord (warrior caste); in the third stage conflicts are brought about by national ambitions that are contingent upon the plans and the interests of a supremacist economy and industry (caste of merchants); finally there arose the communist theory according to which war among nations is just a bourgeois residue, since the only just war is the world revolution of the proletarian class waged against the capitalist and the so-called imperialist world (caste of serfs). In the aesthetic dimension a shift occurred from a symbolic, sacred art closely related to the possibilities of predicing future evets and magic (first caste), to the predominance of epic art and poems (caste of the warriors); this was followed by a shift to a romantic, conventional, sentimentalist, erotic, and psychological art that is produced for the consumption of the bourgeois class, until finally, new “social” or “socially involved” views of art begin to emerge that advocate an art for the use and consumption of the masses. The traditional work knew the superindividual unity characterizing the orders: in the West first came ascetics, monastic orders; these were followed by knightly orders (caste of the warriors), which in turn were followed by the unity sworn to in Masonic lodges, which worked hard to prepare the revolution of the Third Estate and the advent of democracy. Finally there came the network of revolutionary and activist cadres of the Communist International (last caste), bent on the destruction of the previous sociopolitical order.
It is on the plane of ethics that the process of degradation is particularly visible. While the first age was characterized by the ideal of “sipirital virility”, initiation, and an ethics aimed at overcoming all human bonds; and while the age of the warriors was characterized by the ideal of heroism, victory, and lorship, as well as by the aristocratic ethics of honor, faithfulness, and chevalry, during the age of the merchants the predominant ideals where of pure economics, profit prosperity, an of science as an instrument of a technical and industrial progress that propels production and new profits in a “consumer society”. Finally the advent of the serfs corresponds to the elevation of the slave’s principle -work- to the status of a religion. It is the hatred harbored by the slave that sadistically proclaims: “If anyone will not work, neither let him eat” (2 Thess, 3:10). The slave’s self-congratulating stupidity created sacred incenses with the exaltation of human sweat, hence expressions such as “Work ennobles man”; “The religion of work”; and “Work as a social and ethical duty”. We have previouly learned that the ancient world despised work only because it knew action; the opposition of action to work as an opposition between the spiritual, pure and free pole, and the material, impure pole impregnated only with human possibilities, was at the basis of that contempt. The loss of the sense of this opposition and the animal-like subordination of the former to the latter, characterizes the last ages. And when in ancient times every work, through an inner transfiguration owing to its purity and its meaning as an “offering” oriented upwards could redeem itself until it became a symbol of action, now, following an upheaval in the opposite direction (which can be observed during the age of the serfs), every residue of action tends to be degraded to the form of work. The degeneration of the ancient aristocratic and sacred ethics into the modern plebiean and materialistic morality is expressively characterized by such a shift from the plane of action to the plane of work. Superior men who lived in a not so distant past, eother acted or directed actions. Modern man works (4). The only real difference today is that which exists between the various kinds of work; there are “intellectual” workers and those whose their limbs and machines. In any event, the notion of “action” is dying out in the modern world, together with that of absolute personality. Moreover, among all the commissioned arts, antiquity regarded as most disgraceful those devoted to the pursuit of pleasure -minimaeque artes esa probandae, quae ministrae sunt voluptatum (5), this, after all, is precisely the kind of work respected the most in this day and age. Begining with the scientist, technician, and politician, and with the rationalyzed system of productive organization, “work” supposedly leads to the realization of an ideal more fitting for a human animal: an easier life that is more enjoyable and safer with the maximization of one’s well-being and physical comfort. The contemporary breed of artists and of “creative minds” of the burgoise is the equivalent of that class of “luxury servants” that catered to the pleasure and distractions of the Roman patriciate and later on, of the medieval feudal lords.
Then again, while the themes proper to this degradation find their most characteristics expressions on the social plane and in contemporary life, they do not fail to make an appearance on the ideal and speculative plane. It was precisely during the age of humanism that the antitraditional and plebeian theme emerged in the views of Giordano Bruno who, by inverting traditional values, extolled the age of human effort and work over and against the Golden Age (of which he knew absolutely nothing) in a masochistic fashion and with authentic stupidity. Bruno called “divine” the brutish drive of human need, since such a drive is responsible for producing “increasingly wonderful arts and inventions”, for removing mankind further from the Golden Age that he regarded as animalistic and lazy, and for drawing human beings closer to God (6). In all this we find an anticipation of those ideologies that, by virtue of being significantly connected to the age of the French Revolution, regarded work as the main element of the social myth and revived the messianic theme in terms of work and machines, all the while singing the praises of progress. Moreover, modern man, whether consciously or unconsciously, began to apply to the universe and project on an ideal plane the experiences that he nurtured in the workshops and factories and by which the soul became a product. Bergson, who exalted the élan vital, is the one who drew the analogy as only a modern could between technical productive activity inspired by a mere practical principle and the ways of intelligence itself. Having covered with ridicule the ancient “inert” idea of knowledge as contemplation,
The entire effort of modern epistemology in its most radical trajectories consists in assimilating knowledge to productive work, according to the postulates: “To know is to do” and “One can only really know what one does” (7).
Verum et factum convertuntur. And since according to the unrealism typical of these currents, (a) “to be” means “to know”; (b) the spirit is identified with the idea; and (c) the productive and immanent knowing process is identified with the process of reality, the way of the fourth caste is reflected in the highest regions and posits itself as their foundational “truth”. Likewise, there is an activism on the plane of philosophical theories that_ appears to be in agreement with the world created by the advent of the last caste and its “civilization of work”.
Generally speaking, this advent is reflected in the abovementioned modern ideologies of “progress” and Evolution”, which have distorted a “scientific” irresponsibility any superior vision of history, promoted the definitive abandonment of traditional truths, and created the most specious alibis for the justification and glorification of modern man. The myth of evolutionism is nothing else but the profession of faith of the upstart. If in recent times the West no longer believes in the nobility of the origins but in the notion that civilization arises out of barbarism, religion from superstition, man from animal, (Darwin), thought from matter, and every spiritual form from the “sublimation” or transposition of the stuff that originates the instinct, libido, and complexes of the “collective unconscious” (Freud, Jung), and so on-we can see in all this not so much the result of a deviated quest, but rather, and above all, and alibi or something that a civilization created by both lower beings and the revolutions of the serfs and pariahs against the ancient aristocratic society necessarily had to believe in and wish to be true. There is not a dimension in which, in one form or another, the evolutionary myth had not succeeded in infiltrating with destructive consequences; the results have been the overthrow of every value, the suppression of all sense of truth, the elaboration and connecting together (as in an unbreakable magical circle) of the world inhabited by a deconsecrated and deluded mankind. In agreement with historicism, so-called post-Hegelian Idealism came to identify the essence of the “Absolute Spirit” with its “becoming” and its “self-creation” -this Spirit was no longer conceived as a Being that is, that dominates, and that possesses itself; the self-made man has almost become the new metaphysical model.
It is not easy to separate the process of regression along the way of gold (age of merchants) from the regression along the way of work (age of serfs), since these ways are interdependent. For all practical purposes, just as today work as a universal duty is no longer perceived as a repugnant, absurd, an unnatural value, likewise, to be paid does not seem repugnant but on the contrary it seems very natural. Money, which no longer “burns” the hands it touches, has established an invisible bond of slavery that is worse and more depraved than that which the high spiritual “stature” of lords and conquerors used to retain and justify.
Just as any form of action tends to become yet another form of work so is it always associated with payment. And while on the one hand action reduced to work is judged by its efficiency in contemporary societies, just as man is valued by his practical success and by his profit; and while, as someone has remarked, Calvin acted as a pimp by seeing that profit and wealth were shrouded in the mysticism of a divine election-on the other hand, the specter of hunger and unemployment lurks upon these new slaves as a more fearful threat than the threat of the whip in ancient times.
In any event, it is possible to distinguish a general phase in which the yearning for profit displayed by single individuals who pursue wealth and power is the central motif (the phase that corresponds to the advent of the third caste) from a further phase that is still unfolding, characterized by a sovereign economy that has become almost independent or collectivized (the advent of the last caste)
In this regard, it is interesting to note that the regression of the principle of “action” to the form proper to the inferior caste (work, production) is often accompanied by an analogous regression with regard to the principle of “asceticism”. What arises is almost a new asceticism of gold and work, because as it is exemplified by representatives figures of this phase, to work and amass a fortune become things that are yearned for and loved for their own sake, as if they were a vocation. Thus we often see, specially in America, powerful capitalists who enjoy their wealth less that the last of their employees; rather than owing riches and being free from them and thus employing them to fund forms of magnificence, quality, and sensibility for various precious and privileged spectacles (as was the case in ancient aristocracies), these people appear to be merely managers of their fortunes. Rich though they may be, they pursue an increasing number of activities; it is almost as if they were impersonal and ascetical instruments whose activity is devoted to gathering, multiplying, and casting into ever wider nets (that sometimes affect the lives of millions of people and the destinies of entire nations) the faceless forces of money and of production (8). Fiat productio, pereat homo, Sombart correctly remarked when noticing that the spiritual destruction and emptiness that man has created around himself, after he became “homo economicus” and a great capitalist entrepreneur, force him to turn his activity (profit, business, prosperity) into an end in itself, to love it and will it for its own sake lest he fall victim to the vertigo of the abyss and the horror of a life is totally meaningless (9).
Even the relationship of the modern economy to the machines is significant with regard to the arousal of forces that surpass the plans of those who initially evoked them and carry everything along them. Once all interest for anything superior and transcendent was either lost or laughed at, the only reference point remaining was man’s need, in a purely material and animal sense. Moreover, the traditional principle of the limitation of one’s need within the context of a normal economy (a balanced economy based on consumption) was replaced with the principle of acceptance and multiplication of need, which paralleled the so-called Industrial Revolution and the advent of the age of the machines. Technological innovations have automatically led mankind from production to overproduction. After the “activist” frenzy as awoken and the frantic circulation of capital-which is multiplied through production in order to be put again in circulation through further productive investments-was set in motion, mankind has finally arrived at a point where the relationship between need and machine (or work) have been totally reversed; it is no longer need that requires mechanical work, but mechanical work (or production) that generates new needs. In a regime of superproduction, in order for all the products to be sold it is necessary that the needs of single individuals, far from being reduced, be maintained an even multiplied so that consumption may increase and the mechanism be kept running in order to avoid the fatal congestion that would bring about one of the following two consequences: either war, understood as the means for a violent affirmation by a greater economic and productive power that claims not to have “enough space”, or unemployment (industrial shutdowns as a response to the crisis on the job and market and in consumerism) with its ensuing crises and social tensions precipitating the insurrection of the Fourth Estate.
As a fire starts another fire until an entire area goes up in flames, this is how the economy has affected the inner essence of modern man through the world that he himself created.. This present “civilization”, starting from Western hotbeds, has extended the contagion to every land that was still healthy and has brought to all strata of society and all races the following “gifts”: restlessness, dissatisfaction, resentment, the need to go further and faster, and the inability to posses one’s life in simplicity, independence, and balance. Modern civilization has pushed man onward; it has generated in him the need for an increasingly greater number of things; it has made him more and more insufficient to himself and powerless. Thus, every new invention and technological discovery, rather than a conquest, really represents a defeat and a new whiplash in an ever faster race blindly taking place within a system of conditionings that are increasingly serious and irreversible and that for the most part go unnoticed. This is how the various paths converge: technological civilization, the dominant role of the economy, and the civilization of production and consumption all complement the exaltation of becoming and progress; in other words, they contribute to the manifestation of the “demonic” element in the modern world (10).
Regarding the degenerated forms of asceticism, I would lie o point out the spirit of a phenomenon that is ore properly connected to the plane of “work” (that is, of the fourth caste). The modern world knows a sublimated version of work in which the latter becomes “desinterested”, disjoined from the economic factor and from the idea of a practical or productive goal an takes an almost ascetic form; I am talking about sport. Sport is a way of working in which the productive objective no longer matters; thus, sport is willed for its own sake as mere activity. Someone has rightly pointed out that sport is the “blue collar” religion (11). Sport is a typical counterfeit of action in the traditional sense of the word. A pointless activity, it is nevertheless still characterized by the same triviality of work and belongs to the same physical and lightless group of activities that are pursued at the various crossroads in which plebeian contamination occurs. Although through the practice of sport it is possible to achieve a temporary evocation of deep forces, what this amounts to is the enjoyment of sensations and a sense of vertigo and at most, the excitement derived from directing one’s energies and winning a competition-without any higher and transfiguring reference, any sense of “sacrifice” or deindividualizing offering being present. Physical individuality is cherished and strengthened by sport; thus the chain is confirmed and every residue of subtler sensibility is suffocated. The human being, instead of growing into an organic being, tends to be reduced to a bundle of reflexes, an almost to a mechanism. It is also very significant that the lower strata of society are the ones that show more enthusiasm for sports, displaying their enthusiasm in great collective forms. Sport may be identified as one of the forewarning signs of that type of society represented by Chigalev in Dostoyevsky’s The Obsessed; after the required time has elapsed for a methodical and reasoned education aimed at extirpating the evil represented by the “I” and by free will, and no longer realizing they are slaves, all the Chigalevs will return to experience the innocence and the happiness of a new Eden. This “Eden” differs from the biblical one only because work will be the dominating universal law. Work as sport and sport as work in a world that has lost the sense of historical cycles, as well as the sense of true personality, would probably be the best way to implement such a messianic idea. Thus, it is not a coincidence that in several societies, whether spontaneously or thanks to the state, great sports organizations have arisen as the appendices of various classes of workers, and vice versa.
* This artícle is the chapter XIV, 2º Part, of Revolt against the modern world, Inner Traditions International, Rochester, USA, 1995. Trad. by Guido Stucco.
1. The idea of regression of the castes, which I had previosly referred to in my pamphlet Imperialismo Pagano (Rome, 1927), was detailed by V. Vezzani and by R. Guénon in his Autorité spirituelle et pouvoir temporel (Paris, 1929); finally, it has been expounded in an independent fashion by H. Berls in Die Heraufkunst des funften Standes (Karlsruhe, 1931). This idea has an analogical correspondence with the tradtional doctrine of the four ages, since each of the four traditional castes embodies the values that have predominated during the quadripartite process of regression.
2. Deutsch-französiche Jahrbücher, Paris, 1844, pp. 190-212.
3. D. Merezhkovsky, Les Mysteres de l’Orient: “The word “proletarian” comes from Latin
proles, which means posterity, generation. Proletarians ‘produce’ and generate with their bodies, but are spiritual eunuchs. They are not men or women, but anonymous ‘comrades’, impersonal ants which are part of the human anthill”.
4. O. Spengler, Untergang des Abendlandes (Wien-Leipzig, 1919, vol. I, pp. 513, 619). Eng. trad.: The decline of the West. The term “action” is here used as synomymous with a spiritual and desinterested activity; thus it may be applied to contemplation, which in the clasical idea was often regarded as the most pure form of activity; it had its object and goal in itself and did not need “anything else” in order to be implemented.
5. Cicero, De offic., I, 42.
6. Giordano Bruno, Spacio della Bestia trionfante, dialogue III.
7. See A. Tilgher, Homo faber, pp. 120-121, 87.
8. See M. Weber, The Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism, in which the Protestant roots of such an “ascetical” version of capitalism are discussed. Originally there was a separation between earning as a “vocation” and the enjoyment of the riches, the latter being looked down upon as a sinful element of the deification and pride of the human creature. Naturally, in the course of the history the original religious considerations were eliminated; today we only find purely secular and unscrupulous forms.
9. W. Sombart, Il borghese.
10. The word “demonic” is obviously not to be understood in the Christian sense of the word. The expression “demonic people” found in the Bhagavadgita applies very much to our contemporaries: “Thus they are beset with innumerable cares which last long, all their life, until death. Their highest aim is sensual enjoyment, and they firmly think that this is all.” (16, 11).
11. A. Tigher, Homo Faber, p. 162.
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