Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power

In ‘René Guénon: A Teacher For Modern Times’ (Holmes Publishing Group, 2004), Julius Evola writes that the supreme reference point of the ‘primordial tradition’ “is the convergence of the two powers, namely the spiritual principle and the royal principle; this convergence is indeed the heart of every social organism drawing from above the sap essential for its own life. Here one finds the peak of pure universality, and, in its external application, the principle of every Sacrum Imperium.” (p.18) Guénon, while theoretically agreeing with the traditional ideal of the primordial convergence of the two powers, nonetheless asserts that following their divergence, the royal principle had to assume a position of dependence upon the spiritual principle, allegedly the sole inheritor and proprietor of spiritual legitimacy. Evola, instead, affirms that the royal principle is as valid as the spiritual principle, action as valid as contemplation. Indeed, there is no legitimate reason to think that the regal nature should be subordinated to the priestly one, since prior to their divergence, they were uniformly and complementarily unified in a single universal entity. The question of their divergence is therefore not so much a question of dependence as much as it is one of different paths leading to different spiritual ideals, and of beings more spiritually predisposed to follow one path than the other. That being said, Evola points to the fact that it is not a coincidence if in the world of tradition the highest level of spiritual realisation was invariably represented by symbols and virtues that characterised the royal tradition—the sword, the sceptre, the bolt, the crown, the vulture, etc. Indeed, the most legitimate spiritual authority coincides with temporal power, and is not the property of a priestly caste that specialises in ossified rituals. Not without some irony, Guénon, who claimed the opposite, might not have realised the significance of the title of one of his books: ‘King of the World’. And for Evola, there could be no doubt that the entire Aryan tradition owes its soul to the solar, virile and regal path.

The traditional principle and ideal of the Universal Ruler was a focal point for Evola since ‘Heathen Imperialism’ (1928)—a work designed to rekindle the sense of that ideal in a degenerate Europe. One could even see traces of that traditional ideal in Evola’s earliest philosophical works—the ‘Individuo Assoluto’ (cf. ‘Teoria dell’Individuo Assoluto’, 1927) being in fact a philosophical formula of the Universal Ruler. In ‘Revolt Against the Modern World’ (1934), Evola gave a systematic and exhaustive description of that ideal of Regality as it was known in most traditional civilisations from East to West. The reader who will want a more exhaustive treatment of that and other ideas treated in the following essay with relative limitation is encouraged to refer to that book, especially chapters 2, 3, 4, 6, 10, 11, 12, 23, 30 and 32, and to ‘Heathen Imperialism’.

The following article can be found in the Tilopa and Melita editions of the writings of ‘Ur & Krur’. It was published in a French translation in issue 27 of ‘Totalité’ (1987). Incidentally, a text carrying the same title is included in the Mediterranee and Arché editions of the writings of ‘Ur & Krur’. That text is completely distinct from the one presented here.

As a side note, it might be worth noting that, as far as we know, Guénon, who was usually perceptive in answering his critics, never answered Evola on the following essay.



René Guénon has recently published a work dedicated to the problem of the relations between spiritual authority and temporal power (1). In fact, our readers, knowing already what we think of Guénon’s point of view (2), would be able to discern on their own between what, in such a book, can be accepted and what cannot be accepted – at least by people who, like us, have chosen and affirmed the tradition to which the West owes its particular spirit.

The importance of the problem nonetheless incites us to make a quick discrimination. Especially in the country we inhabit and in the actual political context, analysing from a superior point of view what are the foundations of this authority that each the State and the Church claims, is something of the highest significance. More generally, it is yet again the vexata quaestio of the relations between East and West which comes into play.

Let us say it frankly from the start, despite our esteem for Guénon, the thesis that he defends on such a subject is to be completely rejected. In fact, such a thesis expresses the brahmanical-sacerdotal point of view of an Oriental, which, as we have already exposed (3) and regardless of what Guénon may think, is but one of the possible points of view and by no means can pretend to have an absolute and exclusive value. The nub of the error lies in a misunderstanding of the spirituality that can be channelled by a « tradition of warriors » – royal or imperial – and in the gradual reduction of the latter to « temporal power », to administrative, juristic and military functions. (p. 32)

If that were the case, it would seem obvious that the Guelf thesis of the subordination of the State, as temporal power, to a spiritual authority monopolised by a sacerdotal caste, would be correct. But it is precisely the premise of this thesis that is not only erroneous but unacceptable because unilateral. Thus we must, in these circumstances, start again from zero.

Here we cannot repeat ourselves by showing exhaustively why we have good reason to consider that at the state of domination, at the magic state, at the heroic state, consciousness can attain exactly the same metaphysical heights as those to which the eastern paths claiming sacerdotal symbols of the ‘sacred’ or animated by the idea of ‘pure knowledge’ and of ascesis can lead. This is for us a certain point which, among other things, clearly reveals the possibility of a spiritual significance of royalty, in virtue of which it can absorb and transcend in itself the sacerdotal function and be, beyond a temporal power, a spiritual authority.

Guénon, however, seems to have a most superficial sensibility for this superior reality of royalty – and this is not unrelated to his way, that we would almost call logistical, of apprehending certain suprarational notions. In what consist, in fact, « these principles that are the eternal and immutable essences present in the permanence actuality of the divine Intellect » (p. 22), principles that would provide « the highest knowledge » (p. 45), and constitute the axis of « traditional doctrine » and of the « orthodoxy » conserved and transmitted by the sacerdotal castes (p. 33), and the absolute foundation of these?

As a matter of fact, it seems to us that there is, in all of this, much more ‘religion’, and even ‘rationalism’ (4), than ‘metaphysics’. From the purely metaphysical viewpoint, we do not speak of ‘principles’ to know but of spiritual states to attain, of transcendent contacts to achieve owing to forces that, ultimately, do not cease to belong to the integral being of man. In the metaphysical and concrete sense, ‘tradition’ – we have sufficiently repeated over and again – is nothing more but the presence of such superior realisations as a continuity established from generations to generations by a chain of superior individualities. Wherever the royal tradition, defended by the warrior castes, has been correctly understood, it never had any other sense but that one. ‘Tradition’ reduced to a doctrine, to a tradition of ‘teachings’ and of ‘principles’, is, in most cases, nothing but a caput mortuum – the ‘letter’, much more than the ‘spirit’. And it is precisely on such grounds that ‘churches’ flourish, whereas the experience of heroism and of self-control is something which is far more engaging for it to give place as often to such ambiguities and to such falls of tension.

It should then be pointed out that, for the purpose at hand, that is to say to be able to show the subordination of the latter to the former, Guénon establishes between knowledge and action (as respective symbols of the sacerdotal caste and of the warrior or royal caste) an artificial differentiation which derives much more from a certain occidental philosophy than from the Orient. Since he understands correctly (insofar as it has always been the traditional teaching) that ‘knowledge’, in the metaphysical sense, and ‘realisation’ (action) are one and the same thing, are inseparable elements in the simplicity of an act, Guénon should not have any difficulty admitting that action – symbol of the warrior castes – can constitute a path just as metaphysical as ‘knowledge’. If this is not the case, it is because he prefers to consider and take for the whole an exclusively material type of action which in Sanskrit is termed sâkama-karma. Thus, for instance, when he speaks of will, he can write that it belongs to the material domain because « it is essentially oriented towards action » (p. 30). What is strange is that Guénon is always the first to recognise an action which, while indeed remaining an action, is of a completely different kind. And the very mode of what « affirms itself only by itself, independently of every sensible support and acts somewhat invisibly » (p. 30-31), how could it have become the privilege of a spiritual authority, erroneously taken as synonym of sacerdotal authority? The royal majesty, the irresistible power of command and the charisma of the leaders of men, that is hidden in the tradition of the supranatural halo surrounding the person of the heroes and of the conquerors – briefly, the fearsome virtue that embodies the mage – present themselves to us exactly in that way, all the while having action as common source. In the Hindu nishkema-karma considered as a path to « liberation », karma indeed signifies ‘action’ – and the technical term virya which refers to it is by far more related to the idea of force than to that of knowledge. And perhaps should we remind Guénon of the Bhagavad-Gita as an example of glorification of the warrior action that has nothing to do with the glorification of something material and temporal? And does not the very concept of ‘unmoved mover’ used by Guénon as characterising the pure spiritual authority and defined as « the thought of thought », does it not refer to a modality of action, through this very notion of ‘mover’ (5)?

The right of the warrior caste brought back to its just place, it is absolutely wrong to affirm: « we see the warriors (…) after having initially been under the spiritual authority, revolting against it, declaring themselves independent from this superior power, or even looking to subordinate this authority the power of which, however, they had initially recognised » (p. 29). The antagonism, which we already see manifesting in the penumbra of prehistory between the royal tradition and the sacerdotal tradition, has a completely different signification. It is not about a conflict between a spiritual authority and a rebellious temporal power but, on the contrary, a conflict between two distinct forms of authority equally spiritual and yet irreducible. Here again, we cannot repeat ourselves. Our readers know what we are talking about.

Guénon speaks of an original phase when both powers were not divided but « each one contained (…) in the common principle from which both proceed, and of which they represented two indivisible aspects, insolubly linked in the unity of a synthesis at the same time superior and anterior to their distinction » (p. 14). However, it is a fact that the unique caste corresponding to that primordial phase has a character by far more royal and magical than ‘sacerdotal’. And does Guénon himself not refer to the « Autonomous Individuals » of Lao-Tzu, the svecchacari – a term which designates, in India, « those who can do anything they want » – and to « those who are their own law » of Islamic esotericism (cf. note 1, p. 14-15) (*) ? Why would we not be able to refer equally to the « Heroes » of whom the Greek mysteries said they were free and stripped from bonds, and to the « kingless and autonomous race » of which speak the Gnostics and the Hermetists?

Such a race is, first and foremost, royal: and it is not possible to reduce its particular path to the narrow context of a religious worldview of a universal order in which knowledge is limited to the identification to ‘eternal principles’ contained in the spirit of ‘God’ (6). By far more than the sacerdotal title of ‘saint’, it is that of Lord which, of all times, was used by all people to designate ‘God’ – as symbol of the highest metaphysical state in which the human being can integrate. Also Guénon, when he uses the title ‘King of the World’ to designate the supreme centre of spiritual authority, is he not himself referring to a non-sacerdotal dignity? Does he not himself note (p. 137) the symbolic relation between the sceptre, emblem of royal dignity, and the ‘axis of the world’?

If we go back over more ancient phases, that is to say closer to the ‘indifferentiation’ of which we have previously spoken – whether directly, or by ‘integration’ by referring to that which was retained, under a degenerate form, among ‘primitive’ peoples – we would likewise come across chiefly magical or royal forms. The brahmana of the earliest Vedic ages is essentially a mage: he is the Lord of brahman, not according to the Vedantic acceptation, but as pure magical force. He is the holder of formulae to which every divinity, as eminent as it may be, is submitted by function of an inflexible necessity. In China, there was no sacerdotal caste whatsoever: the ‘mandate of Heaven’ was directly assumed by the Emperor; his magical dignity manifested in the idea that his behaviour influenced the very forces of Heaven, to which were often associated, in that tradition, feminine symbols. In the centre of ancient Egypt, we find, once again, a royal figure. The first Kings of Rome (as well as the Emperors later) incarnated directly the pontifical authority: and the indigitamenta, the use of which they regulated, convey a very similar spirit to the magical formulae of the first Vedic period.

If we now come to ‘primitive’ cultures, they confirm the original character of a magical relation with the metaphysical world – a reflection of a primordial state – while informing us on the true sense of consecration. The consecration of the King or of the Chief does not have the sense of a subordination to the sacerdotal caste. Through consecration, more than receiving, the King assumes power – a power of a superior type that endows him with a spiritual influence of which the sacerdotal castes can certainly be the depositaries and the favourers, however which they possess but in a diffuse state, as it were – being rather much more the guardians than the proprietors. It is in the person of the King, understood as superior individuality, that such an influence is hailed, that it individualises and that it can assert itself with a real efficacy to the point of establishing it exactly in this function, evoked many times, which is the prerogative, etymologically, of the pontifex. In summary, the royal type is the male, and the force of consecration around him is nothing but the Shakti, the garment of power, which finds in him that which, as we have recalled, is contained in the symbolical relation between the sceptre and the ‘soul of the world’. To the hermetical affirmation, « Beyond God, we will glorify those who offer his image and who hold his sceptre (…) and whose statues are beacons in the storm » (7), echoes the Upanishad teaching according to which Brahman created « a more perfect and higher form than himself, the warrior nobility as well as the warrior gods » – whence « there is none that is superior to the warrior nobility and such is the reason the pope humbly venerates the warrior at the consecration of the King » (8). In the same text, the associations of the sacerdotal caste to the warrior are those of a Mother, or of a maternal womb – and this brings us back to what we said with regard to those existing between the gynaecocratic vision and the heroic vision (9). The royal type is – once again – the type of male that determines and dominates the original substance conceived of as mother and female. The Mediterranean myths concerning sons who become the husbands and lords of their mothers confirm this idea and affirm themselves as symbols of a specific metaphysical tradition which is precisely the transcendental base of the royal and warrior tradition.

It is singular that a man of Guénon’s culture should not have properly taken all this into account and should have limited the possibilities of the warrior tradition to this simple notion of greatness, which is linked with the ideas of nobility, of honour and of loyalty (p. 55). Above all, it is surprising that he should not have taken any notice of that on which, as far as we are concerned, we have shed light regarding myths, institutions and western symbols in which the sacred significance of action and of heroism can be found (10). Yet, what we have said with regards to this issue is very little compared to what still can be said – which we will not neglect to do once the opportunity offers itself to demonstrate the existence, at the heart of the western world, of a tradition of a non-sacerdotal and, above all, non-religious, yet metaphysical type. The Art claimed by the hermetical tradition, is it not principally called Ars Regia? To affirm that the royal initiation corresponds to the « physical » and the sacerdotal initiation to the « metaphysical » is something completely unilateral. At Eleusis, for instance, the exact opposite was thought insofar as it was considered that the initiation bestowed on a King a superior dignity to that of philosopher-priests (11). The Archon – as, later, in Rome, the Emperor – was assimilated to Zeus and sometimes to Heracles, conceived of as a mystical hero (12). Moreover, the spirit which animated the Mithraic mysteriosophy is not different from that one.

For whoever can see it, what may vary from one symbolism to the other in the western and eastern initiatic teaching embodies, in addition, a precise significance as to the ‘differentiation’ in this domain also. We will just mention two examples: in the hierarchy of elements, we find in the East Air first and then Fire – whereas in the West, on the contrary, first comes Fire (in the sense of a superior dignity), representing the active power, and then Air. In the East, to the highest of the three gunas, sattva, is attributed the white colour – whereas to the rajas, which is inferior to the former, is attributed the red colour; as far as « knowledge » is concerned, its most popular symbol is that of the white Moon. All the western hermetic tradition is, on the other hand, unanimous in affirming the opposite relation: the white work – also called « of the Lady » or « of the Moon » – is a grade below in relation to the Red work whose symbols are the royal purple and the Fire element. Even in the purely initiatic domain, a significance which shows two directions and two opposite ‘values’ becomes clear: one belonging to the Orient, the other to the West. Whoever understands this begins to anticipate what we have been saying: that is to say that the conflict between the two castes, far from being reduced simply to a rebellion of temporal power against spiritual authority, conceals, in fact, the conflict of the two spiritual traditions: traditions which our readers know hereafter that correspond respectively to the nordic-uranian principle and to the demetrico-meridional principle.

Whoever cannot see this is, from the start, condemned to an incomplete and tendentious vision, and his deductions, with regard to the crisis and the solution to the crisis of the modern world, will always be inadequate and – it must be said – insidious. This world – we have said and repeat it once again – is a world of kshatriya, a world of warriors: as such, it cannot recognise the sacerdotal ‘truth’ and even less let itself be evaluated by this standard: it would be, as an Easterner would say, contrary to his dharma. Too long has the West been subjected to a soul which is not its own: too long that has it borne the religious infection; too long that, believing to have been converted, has it lingered over an impossible compromise. But today, there is a new turn, and the time has come to say: Enough! The integral return to its own tradition imposes itself.

And if Fascism would finally decide to take seriously the specifically warrior symbols such as the Eagle and the Fasces and to finally destroy the huge corpse which, from the Vatican, suffocates and paralyses the Italian consciousness – it would lay down the principle of liberation, thus virtually opening the path to the restoration of the only spiritual authority to which the West, without violence or alteration, could obey.

Guénon notess a progressive downfall, on the social plane, through the four ancient castes: initiates, warriors, merchants and plebeians. Succeeding the sacerdotal and – we add – the royal States, are the secular monarchies ruled by ‘warriors’ who merely possess the temporal power. With the fall of the great European monarchies, with the constitutional regime the power passes virtually to the bourgeoisie – equivalent to the mediaeval ‘third estate’ and to the Hindu Vaisa. Bolshevism, communism and Americanism are, finally, but the harbingers of the unconditional domination of the mass element, the reign of a purely collective entity reducing in fact all the ‘standards of living’ (**) to purely social and material measures.

All this is a true fact. But Guénon’s interpretation of the cause of such a downfall does not at all win our favour. The cause cannot reside in the upper hand that, at a certain point, temporal power took spiritual authority. How can such a thing be possible in the first place? Should the hierarchy of which Guénon speaks thus be conceived as something so abstract, to the point of admitting that the superior does not also have the task of being the strongest? And if this were not the case, how could the inferior have imposed itself on the superior and thus paralysed the irresistible power of spiritual authority and supplanted it with temporal power?

The truth must therefore be different. In history, contingence plays a much more important role than the vision supposed by Guénon to conform to ‘tradition’ admits it. The cause of the obscuring of light is not due to the triumph of darkness, but rather to the fact that darkness prevails only the moment light dims itself, or – according to the esotericist conception – when it passes to another plane of manifestation. And this image already indicates the base of a right interpretation.

The domination of a warrior tradition over the sacerdotal castes, the primacy of action over contemplation, do not themselves represent a drop of level at all: it is, on the contrary, the loss of contact with the metaphysical reality which constitutes one – whether it manifests in the form of a materialisation of the sacred concept of royalty in the concept of ‘temporal power’, or in the form of a decadence of the sacerdotal function degenerating into ecclesiastical residues, dogmatic formality and mere ‘religion’.

Whether it takes this or that form, decadence reigns today over the Western world. To react against it by means of all that derives from a metaphysical tradition, this is the first step. But, beyond it, it is not in the sacerdotal vision but in the warrior and imperial vision – and by claiming the occult wisdom which, as ‘Ars Regia’, is linked to such a vision and has perpetuated in the very heart of the West – that must be sought the symbols of our affirmation and of our liberation.

And if, regarding the first point, we feel close to René Guénon and ready to collaborate with him, with respect to the second point, we are his declared opponents.

Julius EVOLA

(1) Autorité Spirituelle et Pouvoir temporel, Paris, 1929, éd. J. Vrin. [English translation : René Guénon, Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power, 2004, Sophia Perennis]

(2) Cf. ‘UR ‘, 1928, n°. 11-12 (Sull’Eroico e il Sapienziale e sulla Tradizione Occidentale)

(3) Loc. cit.

(4) We have already said what, conforming to its ‘speculative’ use, we mean by this term. On the speculative plane, it is given a much larger sense than does Guénon (cf., for instance: L. Rougier, Les paralogismes du rationalisme, Paris, 1920)

(5) If we transpose the concept of ‘unmoved mover’ from the plane of speculative abstraction to that of a mode of being, it is not strange at all to speak of unmoved movers in the plural with reference to beings who analogically incarnate such a function and such a form of action. There is thus nothing but the naïveté of certain blockheads to think that, in things, there is anything…singular!

(*) In reality, the terms used by Guénon to render the expressions of these two oriental traditions are: « he who follows his own will » and « he who is his own law ».

(6) Let us mention in passing that the aforementioned citations should allow Guénon to understand to which level we refer when we defend individualism, which, in these circumstances, is no more anti-metaphysical than it is anti-initiatic. With regards, on the other hand, to the individualism of modern Westerners, it is as much ‘profane’ as are certain traditionalisms and certain ‘religious’ residues.

(7) Corpus Hermeticum, XVIII, 10, 16. The peace attribute linked to the royal and particularly imperial power (cf. the pax profunda of Augustus) confirms this power in this central and immutable function, which explains that the same attribute was traditionally referred to as ‘the axis of the world’.

(8) Brhadâranyaka-Upanishad I, IV, 11.

(9) Cf. « Krur » 1929 – (The Dawn of the West)

(10) Cf. Ibidem and also n° 5 (‘Simboli eroici e sport’) ; n° 8-7 (‘La Magia della Vittoria’) ; cf. also, in n.8 of Vita Nuova, 1929: ‘Simboli eroici della tradizione romana’.

(11) V. MAGNIEN, Les Mystères d’Eleusis, Paris, 1929, p. 193-194.

(12) Ibid. p. 195 and G. COSTA, Giove ed Ercole (Contributi allo studio della religione romana nell’Impero), Rome, 1919.

(**) [In English in the original-Translator’s note]