In Revolt against the Modern World (1934), heroic spirituality was recognised as the path able to reconnect the man of the historical or ‘iron’ age to primordial spirituality (see, in the first part, the chapter ‘”Solarity” and Sacerdotal Spirit’ and, in the second part, ‘Tradition and Anti-Tradition’); in 1932, Evola had worked on the new edition of Il mondo magico degli Heroi by Della Rivera; in 1931, he had published The Hermetic Tradition, in which the ‘heroic path’ is conceived of as being even more dangerous than the ‘radical’ path, or Venus path. The review La Torre in 1930 and Ur/Krur from 1927 to 1930 contain fundamental contributions, in terms of orientations and of practice, on the specific motif of warlike ascesis. In Imperialismo pagano (1928) as well as in Heathen Imperialism (1930), heroes are the invisible leaders of a society to redeem. And the philosophical foreshadowing of the same paradigmatic figure, which probably appeared for the first time, at sporadic intervals, in the ‘aesthetic’ experiences led ‘in the middle of the war, high up in the mountains, 500 meters from the ennemy’ (Ur, 1927), can be found in L’Individuo assoluto. The Mystery of the Grail (1937) is entirely based on the figure of the medieval hero. Evola was the first in Europe, if we are not mistaken, to introduce in a systematical manner in the general context of the culture the motifs of war and of the warrior in a specifically metaphysical sense and – this was really an unheard-of claim – to present them as issues and as duties to the contemporary man.
This is how, in the introductory essay to Metafisica della guerra (Ar, 2001), Roberto Melchionda puts into perspective the sixteen texts published on the same motifs by J. Evola from 1935 to 1950 in various Italian papers. This anthology was translated in English in 2005 and published as Metaphysics of War: Battle, Victory and Death in the World of Tradition by Integral Tradition Publishing in 2007, with minor changes with respect to their original English translation. The two last articles – ‘Liberazioni’, La Stampa, 3 November 1943 and ‘Tramonto degli eroi’, Merididiano d’Italia, 1 October 1950 – are published below in their original translation.
It is a principle of ancient wisdom that situations as such never matter as much as the attitude that is assumed in front of them, and therefore the meaning that is attributed to them. Christianity, generalising from a similar viewpoint, has been able to speak of life as of a ‘test’ and has adopted the maxim, vita est militia super terram.
In the quiet and ordered periods of history, this wisdom is accessible only to a few chosen ones, since there are too many occasions to surrender and to sink, to consider the ephemeral to be the important, to forget the instability and contingency of what is irremediably such by nature. It is on this basis that what can be called in the broader sense the mentality of bourgeois life is organised: it is a life which does not know either heights or depths, and develops interests, affections, desires, and passions which, however important they may be from the merely earthly point of view, become petty and relative from the supra-individual and spiritual point of view, which must always be regarded as proper to any human existence worthy of the name.
The tragic and disrupted periods of history ensure, by force of circumstances, that a greater number of persons are led towards an awakening, towards a liberation. And, really and essentially, it is by this that the deepest vitality of a stock, its virility and its unshakability in the superior sense, can be measured. And today, in Italy, on that front which by now no longer knows any distinction between combatants and non-combatants, and has therefore seen so many tragic consequences, one should get used to looking at things from this higher perspective to a much greater extent than is usually possible or necessary.
From one day to the next, even from one hour to the next, as a result of a bombing raid, one can lose one’s home and everything one most loved, everything to which one had become most attached, the objects of one’s deepest affections. Human existence becomes relative – it is a tragic and cruel feeling, but it can also be the principle of a catharsis, and the means of bringing to light the only thing which can never be undermined and which can never be destroyed. We need to remember that, for a complex set of reasons, the superstition which attaches all value to purely individual and earthly human life has spread and rooted itself tenaciously – a superstition which, in other civilisations, was, and remains, almost unknown. The fact that, nominally, the West professes Christianity, has had only a minimal influence in this respect: the whole doctrine of the supernatural existence of the spirit, and of its survival beyond this world, has not undermined this superstition in any significant way; it has not made knowledge of what did not begin with birth, and cannot end with death, able to act practically in the daily, sentimental and biological life of a sufficient number of beings. Rather, people have clung convulsively to that small part of the whole which is the short period of this existence of individuals, and have made every effort to ignore the fact that the hold on reality afforded by individual life is no firmer than that of a tuft of grass which one might grab to save himself from being carried away by a wild current.
Precisely it arouses this awareness, not as something cerebral or ‘devotional’, but rather as a living fact and liberating feeling, everything which today is tragic and destructive can have, at least for the best of us, creative value. We are not recommending insensitivity, or some misconceived stoicism. Far from it: it is a matter of acquiring and developing a sense of detachment towards oneself, towards things, and towards persons, which should instill a calm, an incomparable certainty, and even, as we have before stated, an indomitability. It is like simplifying oneself, divesting oneself, in a state of waiting, with a firm, whole mind, with an awareness of something which exists beyond all existence. From this state, the capacity will also be found of always being able to recommence, as if ex nihilo, with a new and fresh mind, forgetting what has been, and what has been lost, focusing only on what positive and creative can still be done.
A radical destruction of the ‘bourgeois’ who exists in every man is possible in these disrupted times, more than in any other. In these times, man can find himself again, can really stand in front of himself, and get used to watching everything according to the look of the other shore, so as to restore to importance, to essential significance, what should be so in any normal existence: the relationship between life and the ‘more than life’, between the human and the eternal, between the short-lived and the incorruptible.
And to find ways, over and above mere assertion and gimmickry, for these values to be positively lived and to find forceful expression in the greatest possible number of persons in these hours of trial, is undoubtedly one of the main tasks facing the politico-spiritual élite of our nation.
THE DECLINE OF HEROISM
War and rearmament in the world of the ‘Westerners’ are once again rising securities. Intensive propaganda, with a crusading tone, using all its tried and tested methods, is in the air. Here, we cannot go thoroughly into the concrete questions which concern our specific interests, but rather hint at something more general, one of the inner contradictions of the notion of war, which undermines the foundations of the so-called ‘West’.
The technicist error, of thinking of ‘war potential’ primarily in terms of arms and armaments, special technical-industrial equipment, and the like, and
assessing man – according to the brutal expression now widespread in military literature – simply as ‘human material’ – has already been widely criticised. The quality and spirit of the men to whom the arms, the means of offense and destruction, are given, have represented, still represent, and will always represent the basic element of ‘war potential’. No mobilisation will ever be ‘total’ if men whose spirit and vocation are up to the tests which they must face cannot be created.
How are things, in this respect, in the world of the ‘democracies’? They now want, for the third time this century, to lead humanity to war, in the name of ‘the war against war’. This requires men to fight at the same time that war as such is criticised. It demands heroes while proclaiming pacifism as the highest ideal. It demands warriors, while it has made ‘warrior’ a synonym for attacker and criminal, since it has reduced the moral basis of ‘the just war’ to that of a large-scale police operation, and it has reduced the meaning of the spirit of combat to that of having to defend oneself as a last resort.
The Bourgeois Ideal
Let us examine this problem more closely. In what cause should the man of ‘the Western bloc’ go to war and face death? It is obviously nonsensical to say, in the name of the bourgeois ideal, the carefully maintained ‘security’ of existence which abhors risk, which promises that the maximum comfort of the human animal shall be easily accessible to all. Few will be deluded enough to imagine that, by sacrificing themselves, they can secure all this for future generations. Some will try to make others go and fight instead of them, offering as inducements beautiful words about humanitarianism, glory, and patriotism. Apart from this, the only thing a man in such a world will fight for is his own skin.
His skin in Curzio Malaparte’s sense, as here: ‘Certainly, only the skin is undeniable and tangible. One no longer fights for honour, for freedom, for justice. One fights for this disgusting skin. You cannot even imagine what man is capable of, of what heroisms and infamies, to save his skin.’
If one wants a profession of faith from the democratic world, beyond all its pretenses, it is contained in these words. They express the only credo, leaving aside mere verbiage and lies, with which it can spiritually equip its army. This means, to rush to the crusade against the Communist threat only out of physical terror, of terror for the skin, for the frightening, wavering ideal of Babbitt, of bourgeois safety, of the ‘civilisation’ of the domesticated and standardised human animal, which eats and copulates, and the limits of whose horizon are the Reader’s Digest, Hollywood, and the sports stadiums.
Thus, those who are fundamentally lacking in heroism will seek to awaken warriors for the ‘defence of the West’, by playing upon the complex of anxiety. Since they have deeply demoralised the true Western soul, since they have debased and demeaned, firstly, the true basis of the State, hierarchy, and virile solidarity, and secondly, the notion of war and combat, they must now play the ‘trump card’ of the anti-Bolshevik crusade.
Enough of Illusions
Not many illusions can remain concerning the sort of ‘morality’ which can support this endeavour, and which no industrial mobilisation, with atomic bombs, flying super-fortresses, supersonic fighters, and so on, can replace. It is with these ‘trump cards’ alone that the ‘Western world’ now stands on the threshold of a possible third world-wide cataclysm, having broken down and insulted everything which had survived from the authentic warrior traditions of Europe and the Far East.
In the opposing bloc, there are forces which combine technology with the elemental force of fanaticism, of dark and savage determination, and of the contempt for individual life found among masses which, whether through their own ancient traditions or through the exaltation of the collectivist ideology, hardly value their own existence. This is the tide which will swell forth, not only from the red East, but from the whole of a contaminated and unleashed Asia.
However, what is really required, to defend ‘the West’ against the sudden rise of these barbaric and elemental forces, is the strengthening, to an extent perhaps still unknown to Western man, of a heroic vision of life. Apart from the military-technical apparatus, the world of the ‘Westerners’ has at its disposal only a limp and shapeless substance – and the cult of the skin, the myth of ‘safety’ and of ‘war on war’, and the ideal of the long, comfortable, guaranteed, ‘democratic’ existence, which is preferred to the ideal of the fulfillment which can be grasped only on the frontiers between life and death, in the meeting of the essence of living with the extreme of danger.
Some will object that, after all that Europe has been through, we have had enough of ‘militarism’ and war-mongering, and ‘total war’ should be left in the past and forgotten. Granted, ‘militarism’ can be left behind us, since it is only a degraded, inferior echo of a heroic (and far from exclusively belligerent) conception, and to condemn all heroism as ‘militarism’ is one of the expedients of ‘democratic’ propaganda, an expedient which has now begun to backfire on its proponents. In any case, unfortunately, there probably won’t be any choice. It will be hard for the forces already in motion to stop (in general, irrespective of the outcome of the current Korean affair) and there will only remain one course of action: to ride the tiger, as the Hindu expression puts it.
One the most highly praised contemporary writers in Europe has written things about modern war, which he experienced thoroughly and actively (he volunteered, was injured eighteen times, and was awarded the highest German distinction of merit), whose value will become more and more obvious in the times to come. He has said that modern man, by creating the world of technology and putting it to work, has signed his name to a debt which he is now required to pay. Technology, his creature, turns against him, reduces him to its own instrument, and threatens him with destruction. This fact manifests itself most clearly in modern war: total, elemental war, the merciless struggle with materiality itself. Man has no choice but to confront this force, to render himself fit to answer this challenge, to find in himself hitherto unsuspected spiritual dimensions, to awake to forms of extreme, essentialised, heroism, forms which, while caring nothing for his person, nevertheless actualise what the aforementioned author calls the ‘absolute person’ within him, thus justifying the whole experience.
There is nothing else one can say. Perhaps this challenge will constitute the positive side of the game, for especially qualified men, given that game must be accepted and played out anyway. The preponderance of the negative part, of pure destruction, may be frightening, infernal. But no other choice is given to modern man, since he himself is the sole author of the destiny the aspect of which he is now starting to see.
This is not the moment to dwell on such prospects. Besides, what we have said does not concern any nation in particular, nor even the present time. It concerns the time when things will become serious, globally, not merely for the interests of the bourgeois, capitalist world, and what those men must know, who, at that point, will still be able to gather in an unshakeable bloc.