Defining “Right-wing” is not an easy task. While Russell Kirk’s definition of conservatism is the rejection of ideology (which is materialist and, as Bradley J. Birzer puts it in “Russell Kirk on the Errors of Ideology,” falsely “promises mankind an earthly paradise”), the basic and general catch-all of “Right-wing” often includes movements which are explicitly ideological. For instance, the German Revolutionary Right, which had as its unofficial intellectual the egg-headed and bespectacled pessimist Oswald Spengler, advocated for what Spengler loudly called “Prussian socialism”—a type of authoritarian and nationalist socialism that was billed as the “organic” alternative to Marxist socialism.
Also in the “Right-wing” camp are so-called neoreactionaries, who seem preoccupied with squaring classical liberalism with the Old World conservatism of men like Metternich. This often proves to be a Herculean task, especially since the very term “reactionary” is more or less a Marxian coinage. “Reactionary” denotes someone opposed to change at all costs, and since the Marxist (and increasingly the liberal) view of history sees progression towards collectivization and socialism inevitable, then to be a “reactionary” is to be against history. For thinkers and those spiritually of the “Right-wing,” then there could be no greater insult than being labeled as “against history,” for history, or rather a somewhat romanticized view of it, lies as the heart of Radical Traditionalism—the philosophy and ideology espoused by Baron Julius Evola.
Born in Rome to a noble Sicilian family, Evola spent a large part of his youth living the life of a well-heeled decadent. Although he was born a little too late to have enjoyed the fabled fin desiècle, the baron did not let time nor fashion stop him from enjoying recreational drugs, crafting avant garde paintings (Evola was for a short period of time both a Futurist and a Dadaist), serving in the First World War as an artillery officer, and dabbling in yoga (a practice that would consume much of his later writing). Set against living the bourgeoisie life, the young Evola seems to have had all the vivacity of speeding car and little in the way of patience with eternal things.
Then, sometime in the 1920s, Evola delved deeper into mysticism. He became well-read in the occult as well as esoteric subjects, all the while further enhancing his interest in Buddhism and Eastern culture. Before long, this research became politicized, and after establishing the collection of Italian occult scholars and students known Gruppo di Ur as well as the group’s flagship magazine Ur, Evola tried to establish an elitist and pagan brand of Fascism—a type of Fascism that abhorred materialism and embraced a more mystical understanding of human societies. Eventually, Evola would grow to call this Traditionalism, and through his numerous publications and books he would later articulate a rather complex and at times indecipherable ideology which, as the website for the Julius Evola Society states, appeals “towards an eternal order…”
Just what this “eternal order” is is a tad bit foggy. Unquestionably, Indo-European tradition is a large piece of it, and so to is a hierarchical and even aristocratic view of social interactions. In his famous work Revolt Against the Modern World, Evola argued against the social and economic implications of capitalism by championing the superiority of older orders:
Prior to the advent of the civilization of the Third Estate (mercantilism, capitalism), the social ethics that was religiously sanctioned in the West consisted in realizing one’s being and in achieving one’s own individual nature and the group to which one belonged clearly defined. Economic activity, work, and profit were justified only in the measure in which they were necessary for sustenance and to ensure the dignity of an existence conformed to one’s own estate, without the lower instinct of self-interest or profit coming first.
A devout reactionary, a term that Evola embraced and called “the true test of courage” in Men Among the Ruins, Evola remained throughout his life a man apart and a natural creature of the opposition. Even during the reign of Fascism in Italy, Evola, who always supported an idiosyncratic brand of Fascism throughout his life, was a critic of Mussolini’s demagoguery and his appeals to mob politics. Furthermore, Evola disliked the Lateran Treaty of 1929, which recognized the full sovereignty of the Holy See in the independent state of Vatican City.
Somehow, despite Evola’s clear ties to Fascist Italy and his work in Austria with the SS Ahnenerbe (Himmler’s organization of Nazi intellectuals dedicated to proving the history and the biological superiority of the “Aryan” race), Evola lived out the rest of his days in Italy in relative peace. Only once, in 1951, did he stand trial for his Fascist writings, and even then his case was thrown out for lack of evidence (after all, Evola had never been a member of the National Fascist Party).
In his last major work, called Ride the Tiger, Evola essentially gives up on the idea of ever reviving the “eternal order” of Tradition through political means. In its stead, Ride the Tiger serves as a manual for mentally and spiritually transcending the Kali Yuga—the “age of vice” and the fourth and final cycle of the world in the scriptures of the Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs. Evola considered the modern world the Kali Yuga, and this theory is arguably his greatest and his most lasting contribution to the various segments of the “Right-wing.”
Here’s where Evola’s second life becomes important. Since the advent of the Internet as a forum for open and unlimited conversation, all kinds of political wonks and esoteric thinkers have taken up Evola’s standard of Radical Traditionalism. His views and work are regularly discussed on the websites Amerika and Alternative Right, while three of his books are proudly listed on the Dark Enlightenment’s reading list under the heading of “Reactionary Thought.”
The Dark Enlightenment, which is like plenty of other “movements” strung all across the Internet, has been in the press’s eye lately. Over at Taki’s Mag, author Nicholas James Pell describes the Dark Enlightenment as “a plucky collection of backward-looking upstarts” who are unified by “hysteria and a complete inability to get the point,” while the Daily Telegraph’s Dr. Tim Stanley calls the whole mess “more tragic than it is scary.” On the Left, the Dark Enlightenment is mostly known for being racist, which, like “Right-wing,” has become a smothering blanket for “Things Leftists Would Rather Not Talk About.” The Dark Enlightenment is as hard-to-define as Evola himself, but the one thing for sure is that it does not necessarily view Fascism as a dirty word.
Writing for Standpoint in 2013, Hugo Schmidt pronounces that: “the crucial argument of the 21st century will not between Right and Left, but between the democratic Right and the fascist Right.” The Left, which has been gutted because of the historic failure of Marxist socialism, is no longer the intellectual force that it once was, and with an increasingly pessimistic view among those caught on the lower end of America and Europe’s slow recovery from fiscal collapse, then fears that many may turn to neo-Fascism no longer seem so wild. Besides the appeal of thinkers such as Alain de Benoist and Guillaume Faye, several New Right parties in Europe (Belgium’s Vlaams Belang and France’s increasingly popular National Front) and India (most notably Shiv Sena and the RSS) have recently captured the world’s attention.
Then of course there is Russia. Putin’s Russia has long been a bastion of New Right thinking. Besides Putin himself, the other public face of Russian Fascism is Aleksandr Dugin: a Eurasian supremacist and apologist for Stalin who looks strikingly like a young Fyodor Dostoevsky. Since the recent conflagration in Crimea and Ukraine, many journalists have speculated about Dugin’s clout within Putin’s administration, and some have come up with startling finds. None are more jarring than Robert Zubrin’s National Review Online article entitled “Putin Adviser Publishes Plan for Domination of Europe,” which presents a translated communique from Dugin (whom Zubrin calls “a very influential geostratic and ideological adviser”) about a so-called “Russian Spring.” In each scenario, Dugin outlines the various outcomes of the crises in Crimea and Ukraine. Most if not all favor Russia, and in one, Russia leads a “European Conservative Revolution” that unites Lisbon with Vladivostok. In this matrix, Dugin sees Russia as the preeminent power of Tradition and new conservatism, or what he labels “the Fourth Political Theory.” Ultimately this scenario ends with a process of “de-Americanization” throughout Europe and Asia and the collective rebuke of “Atlanticism, liberalism and financial oligarchy.” Dugin, in echoing the words of Evola, places a Russian chauvinist spin on the Kali Yuga, but instead of turning inward in order to “ride the tiger,” Dugin and his numerous followers in Russia argue for a very political reaction to what they see as the ever-encroaching scourge of America and the European Union.
As tempting as some of Evola’s ideas can be, true conservatives should not be wooed by him or the New Right. The New Right is not a conservative enterprise, and Fascism is not conservatism by another name. Even Evola’s more obscure brand of Fascism would require an all-expansive state, while Dugin’s brand of Russian reaction is composed of three elements: 1) war, 2) empire, and 3) anti-Americanism. None of these elements appeal to the natural order of things, and worse still these ideals, which typically extract God and the Christian faith from the equation, can only led to further human unhappiness and destabilization. Ideology is truly a pour substitute.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.