Saturday, March 26, 2022

Evola as one of five philosophers of the Radical Right

A new book looks again at Julius Evola and his significance for today’s radical right. This is Matthew Rose, A World after Liberalism: Philosophers of the Radical Right (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021).

Evola is one of five philosophers who Rose discusses. The first is Oswald Spengler as a representative of the Conservative Revolution, and Evola is the second. Alain de Benoist is the fourth. This selection and sequence is sensible, though one might perhaps argue for Carl Schmitt or Ernst Jünger as an alternative representative of the Conservative Revolution. The remaining two philosophers are both American, and slightly less obvious figures: Francis Parker Yockey, who comes between Evola and Benoist, and Samuel Francis, who comes after Benoist. The book then closes with a chapter on the relationship between the radical right and Christianity that is perhaps of more interest to those who are concerned with Christianity than to those who are concerned with the radical right.

The treatment of all five philosophers is comprehensive and fair, and the book is well written. Rose sees Evola as “without question the most interesting utopian thinker on the right” and as someone who “dreamed of a world of absolutely fixed and certain meanings, where human identities, in all their forms, bore the indelible chrism of sacred destiny.” This, thinks Rose, came from René Guénon, who imagined “a community in which human beings continued to live in the uninterrupted tranquility of sacred order, and in which uncertainty and disagreement find no place.” Evola “sought to revive the assumption of natural human inequality as essential to any political order. He did so through a form of mythic thinking that collapsed the distance between the archaic past and present. Through esoteric readings of ancient and modern texts, he claimed to reveal the permanent constitution of human society, which he envisioned as a form of sacred hierarchy led by an elite order of men.” This is a reasonable summary, though it emphasizes the contemporary reception of Evola (and Guénon) more than the internal logic of their own thought.

Rose makes an interesting connection between Yockey, Evola, and Benoist. Evola reviewed Yockey’s main early work, Imperium, approvingly, and many of Yockey’s ideas indeed echo Evola’s. Both emphasized empire and spirit, and both condemned narrow nationalism and racism. Given this, it is not quite clear why Rose characterizes Yockey as “the Anti-Semite,” since this was not his real point, and the characterization risks supporting the common and mistaken over-association of the radical right with historical Fascism and Nazism. Evola, incidentally, is characterized as “the Fantasist” because he imagined a new sort of utopia. I suppose this is OK as a chapter heading. In the other direction, Rose claims not only Evola but also Yockey as an influence on and inspiration for Benoist. This deserves fuller investigation, and Yockey should probably be read more carefully.

It is easy to see why Rose ends with Samuel Francis, who drew on James Burnham’s important 1941 book The Managerial Revolution and, in Rose’s words, “synthesized nationalist populism with brewing racial resentments over the shrinking demographic majority of white Americans.” This indeed provides the link to the Trump movement, as Rose says, and also perhaps to European phenomena such as Brexit. What is less clear is how Francis relates to Spengler, Evola, Yockey, and Benoist.

A World after Liberalism is a good book that seems to be being generally well received and that succeeds in showing that “The alt-right is not stupid; it is deep. Its ideas are not ridiculous; they are serious.” Those who already know Evola will not discover much that they did not know before, but the book puts his contemporary reception in a new context (rather as I did in my Key Thinkers of the Radical Right). The book is also recommended for those who know Evola but do not know all of the other philosophers discussed.

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