EVOLA, JULIUS . Giulio Cesare Andrea Evola (Julius; 1898–1974) was a cultural, religious-historical, philosophical, esoteric, and political author. Evola was born in Rome, most likely to Sicilian aristocracy, and was raised Catholic. He came under the early spiritual influence of Arthur Rimbaud (1854–1891), Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), Carlo Michelstaedter (1887–1910), and Otto Weininger (1880–1903). After returning from service in Word War I, Evola experienced an existential crisis, which almost ended in suicide. According to his own statement, he was rescued by a sentence from the Buddhist Pali canon. Psychological experiments under the influence of ether led Evola to a transcendental experience of his self (Ego), which transformed him completely. He experienced his self as all-comprising and identical with the highest spiritual power in the universe. During this time he became friends with the futurist Giovanni Papini (1881–1956), who interested Evola in the Eastern wisdom teachings and the mystic Meister Eckhart (c. 1260–1328), whose extreme clarity always remained a model for Evola. Evola was also well acquainted with the futurist theorist and author Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876–1944), who might even have introduced him to Benito Mussolini.
Soon, however, Evola turned towards Dadaism and became friends with its main proponent, Tristan Tzara (1896–1963). Due to the quality of his paintings, poetry, and writings on the theory of modern art, Evola is considered the main representative of Italian Dadaism. He saw art as flowing from a "higher consciousness." All of Evola's work is incidentally characterized by his effort to elevate mere human existence to a supramundane level and to concentrate on transcendental principles. This concentration is marked, however, by a militantly active aspect, which drove the contemplative into the background.
In 1922 Evola abandoned his artistic activities, and in the same year, when he was just twenty-four, he completed a translation of the Dao de jing, influenced by idealist philosophy; he completely revised this translation in 1959. Evola dedicated himself subsequently to the construction of his own philosophical system, which he called "magical idealism," after Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg, 1772–1801). Based upon German idealism (mainly Friedrich Schelling, J. G. Fichte, and Novalis) and complemented by his own transcendent "ego experiences," as well as teachings from the Far East, Evola eventually formulated the notion of an "absolute self," related to the idea of the Hindu ātman. He postulated the "absolute self" as being free from all spiritual or material constraints, wherein freedom, power, and realization form a unity.
In 1926 Evola abandoned his extensive philosophical studies because he was searching for an actual breakthrough to transcendent "initiatic" levels. He had already formed close contacts with Ultra, an independent theosophical group in Rome, through which he got to know the most important Italian scholar of Asian religions, Giuseppe Tucci (1894–1984). He also came into contact with Tantrism, which he studied intensively, drawn by its practical emphasis and promise of direct transcendental experiences. Evola soon entered into correspondence with John Woodroffe (Arthur Avalon; 1865–1936), who had brought Kuṇḍalinī Yoga and Tantrism to the West. Evola's L'Uomo come Potenza (Man as power, 1925) followed. Although still having a strong Western philosophical tendency, this work was based on Woodroffe's research and translations from Sanskrit sources, and it thus became the first work to make Tantrism known in Italy.
At that time, through René Guénon (1886–1951), Evola received his first exposure to Integral Tradition, according to which all fundamental religions and cultures are said to arise out of a primordial tradition of transcendent origin. From 1927 to 1929, he led the magical-initiatory Group of Ur, in which both esotericists and representatives of general Italian spiritual life, including Emilio Servadio (1904–1995), the "father of Italian psychoanalysis," participated anonymously. The goal was complete human self-transformation and integration into transcendental regions by way of an experimental path, which Evola called initiation ; the Daoist wei wu wei (nonintentional doing) was a precondition for effective magical actions. The group's magazine published, besides its own reports, first Italian translations of the ancient Mithraic Apathanathismos, as well as excerpts from Avalon's texts, the Buddhist Pali canon, the biography of the Tibetan Mi la ras pa, the Chinese Tract of the Golden Flower, and an article by the French Orientalist Paul Masson-Oursel (1882–1956). After the Group of Ur disbanded, Evola founded the political and literary journal La Torre, which published, among others, an article by Paul Tillich (1886–1965) about the demonic and several excerpts from writings by Johann Jakob Bachofen (1815–1887). However, because of its uncompromising positions, La Torre had to cease publication at the behest of Mussolini after only ten issues.
Evola's acquaintance with the then most important Italian philosophers, Benedetto Croce (1866–1952) and Giovanni Gentile (1875–1944), led to a collaboration on the Enciclopedia Italiana. In the 1930s Evola busied himself intensely with alchemy, a critical analysis of the then prevailing esoteric groups, and the myth of the Holy Grail. His underlying traditional philosophy did not see historical-cultural development as advancement, but rather as decay, a view that reflected Indian and ancient teachings on the cosmic cycles, at the "gloomy" end of which, known as the kaliyuga, people live today.
At the same time, Evola traveled throughout Europe to meet with representatives of political views that corresponded to his own sacral-holistic, antiliberalist, and antidemocratic ideas, including the revolutionary conservative Edgar Julius Jung (1894–1934), who was later murdered by the Nazis, the Catholic monarchist Karl Anton Prinz Rohan (1898–1975), and the founder of Romania's Iron Guard, Corneliu Codreanu (1899–1938). During his visit to Romania in 1937, Evola met Mircea Eliade (1907–1986), who belonged to the Iron Guard. Evola and Eliade had corresponded since the second half of the 1920s, but only several of Evola's and none of Eliade's letters have survived because Evola destroyed letters he received after answering them. Evola wrote five contributions for the German cultural journal Antaios, published by Ernst Jünger (1895–1998) and Eliade between 1960 and 1970. Evola's influence on Eliade is undeniable, even if Eliade cannot be regarded as belonging to the Integral Tradition school of thought. The parallels to Evola are particularly evident in Eliade's early alchemic works. After World War II, Evola introduced Eliade to Italian publishers and translated some of his works. Evola was also acquainted with Angelo Brelich (1913–1977), who published two articles (one about Jupiter and the Roman idea of state) in 1937 and 1940 in Diorama Filosofico, Evola's cultural supplement to the Regime Fascista magazine. The article on Jupiter and Rome testifies to Evola's great interest in Roman religion, which formed the spiritual foundation of the Imperium Romanum, which Evola hoped to see reestablished. Letters from Evola preserved in the archives of the great historian of religion Raffaele Pettazzoni (1883–1959) and the mythologist Karl Kerényi (1897–1973) show that he was also in contact with them.
Before and during World War II, Evola concentrated intensely on Buddhism, which he described as a path to spiritual freedom that maintained its validity even in modern times. Evola almost exclusively referred to the Pali canon, and he pointed out that the historical Buddha was a member of the warrior caste. Evola rejected the widespread teaching of modern Mahāyāna Buddhism, which sets peacefulness and universal love in the foreground, instead of clear initiatory knowledge through asceticism and exercise. Nevertheless, Anagarika Govinda (1898–1985), who was the first Westerner to receive the title of lama, praised Evola's work.
In 1940 Evola wrote an article for the magazine Asiatica, published by Tucci. This work was later continued in the subsequent renowned journal East and West, which Tucci also managed. Another well-known Orientalist with whom Evola had been closely connected since his youth was Pio Filippani-Ronconi (b. 1920) who taught at the University of Naples. A close friendship on the basis of common esoteric interests connected Evola with the Egyptologist Boris de Rachewiltz (1926–1997). He was also well acquainted with the historian and researcher of ancient Roman religion, Franz Altheim (1898–1976).
Evola's ambivalent attitude towards fascism, which he hoped would lead Italy back to a heathen-sacral Imperium Romanum, but which lacked any transcendent basis, led him closer to National Socialism, and in particular to the Schutzstaffeln (SS), which he considered a fighting spiritual order, at least in the beginning. However, by 1938 he was denounced as a "reactionary Roman and visionary" in an SS document, which led to an order that Evola's behavior was to be observed. Starting in the mid-1930s, Evola was heavily involved with questions of race, and he hoped that official recognition and influence would result from this work. After all, Mussolini had expressed positive thoughts about Evola's theses of "spiritual" racism, with which he wanted to oppose the "material-biologic" racism of Hitler's Germany. When American troops marched into Rome in 1944, Evola fled to Vienna, where he suffered a severe spinal injury in a bomb attack in 1945. He was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
After spending three years in hospitals and sanatoriums, Evola returned to Rome in 1948. In 1951 he was accused of being a "spiritual instigator" of secret neo-fascist terror groups and arrested. Following six months of investigative lockup, he was acquitted. Evola's political tendencies changed thereafter more and more into what he called "apolitia," by which he meant a firm spiritual-political position far above daily politics. He also became more heavily involved with Zen Buddhism, which he made widely known in Italy, especially after he began publishing other Zen Buddhist authors. In his last years of life he translated the first volume of Essays in Zen Buddhism by D.T. Suzuki, for which he also wrote the introduction. The other two volumes of these Essays appeared later on in the book series Orizzonti dello spirito, which Evola had founded and for which he selected works from Avalon, Eliade, Tucci, Scholem, and Lu K'uan Yu, among others.
Evola's efforts in popularizing Asian religions helped improve the European image of Asia at a time when a positive view of Asia was not customary. However, his quest was not scientific, although he remained as true to original sources as was possible at the time. For him, as in the case of his esoteric writings, his work in comparative religion was more about revealing paths that could extract modern humans from rampant materialism and lead them to spiritual freedom. Therefore, Evola's religious-historical works examine only selected aspects corresponding to this quest, and they are unsuitable as surveys. This can be seen most clearly in Evola's handling of Hinduism, where he highlighted only the warrior and ascetic aspects of the Bhagavadgītā. The same is true for Islam. Despite this intentional one-sidedness, his books are still appreciated in Orientalist circles, and such experts as Jean Varenne, Filippani-Ronconi, or Silvio Vietta have written forewords to new editions of his works. Academic circles have become increasingly interested in Evola, as evidenced by the numerous books, essays, conference proceedings, and dissertations written about him, and the many translations of his writings.
Although he was never a party member, Evola's involvement with fascism, National Socialism, and racism continues to make him an extremely controversial figure. Controversy has also resulted from the numerous anti-Semitic comments that he made, mainly in the fascist daily press, and from the introduction he wrote in 1937 for the Italian version of the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Evola saw in Judaism the modern materialist and economic dominance that he fought against, although he highly valued Orthodox and qabbalistic Judaism.
Evola passed away in 1974. He had expressly refused a Catholic burial, and his ashes were scattered in a crevasse of Monte Rosa.
Evola's writings comprise more than twenty books, approximately one hundred important essays, and some one thousand newspaper and journal articles, of which practically all have been published in various volumes and collected works. Evola was also an extraordinarily industrious translator. The most readily available bibliography, although not the most recent, is Renato del Ponte, "Julius Evola: Una bibliografia 1920–1994," in Futuro Presente 6 (1995): 28–70. The definitive editions of Evola's books are published by Gianfranco de Turris, the head of the Fondazione Julius Evola in Rome, in the Opere di Julius Evola series with Edizioni Mediterranee in Rome. His religious-historical works include La Tradizione Ermetica: Nei suoi Simboli, nella sua Dottrina e nella sua "Arte Regia" (Bari, Italy, 1931), which describes alchemy as a spiritual discipline on the basis of numerous original sources; this book was used and valued by C. G. Jung, and it was translated by E. E. Rehmus as The Hermetic Tradition: Symbols and Teachings of the Royal Art (Rochester, Vt., 1995). Rivolta contro il mondo moderno (Milan, 1934), which is considered Evola's main work, gives an overview of his general weltanschauung, which is based on Guénon's Integral Tradition. This work was positively evaluated by both Mircea Eliade and Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, the latter publishing a chapter in 1940 in English. This entire work was translated by Guido Stucco as Revolt against the Modern World: Politics, Religion, and Social Order of the Kali Yuga (Rochester, Vt., 1995). Evola's La Dottrina del Risveglio (Bari, Italy, 1943), translated by H. E. Musson as The Doctrine of Awakening: The Attainment of Self-Mastery according to the Earliest Buddhist Texts (London, 1951; reprint, Rochester, Vt., 1996), describes ancient Buddhism as an initiatory path. Lo Yoga della Potenza (Milan, 1949), translated by Guido Stucco as The Yoga of Power: Tantra, Shakti, and the Secret Way (Rochester, Vt., 1992), is a complete revision of Evola's first Tantra book, L'uomo come potenza, and is much more based on Avalon's writings than the original L'uomo come potenza, which had a strong Western philosophical bent. Metafisica del Sesso (Rome, 1958), translated as The Metaphysics of Sex (New York, 1983), describes the connections between religion, esotericism, and sexuality, whereby Evola sees sex as the only remaining force that lets modern humans perceive transcendental planes. Evola's autobiography, Il Cammino del Cinabro (Milan, 1963), largely ignores his private life and is useful mostly as an annotated autobibliography.
Periodicals that published Evola's works include Ur (Rome, 1927–1928) and Krur (Rome, 1929), both of which were reprinted in Rome in heavily revised three-volume editions in 1955 and 1971 under the title Introduzione alla Magia quale Scienza dell'Io. An English edition of the first 1927 volume is available as Introduction into Magic (Rochester, Vt., 2000).
Studi Evoliani, published by Gianfranco de Turris, was inaugurated in 1998; though an erratic sequence, it contains extensive essays on Evola. Despite the many books, articles, and dissertations written about Evola, many aspects of his life and work remain unexplored due to the great variety of special fields involved, and there is still no comprehensive biography about him. The following are recommended.
Bonvecchio, Claudio, Richard Drake, Joscelyn Godwin, et al. Julius Evola : un pensiero per la fine del millennio. Rome, 2001. A volume of lectures held in Milan in 1998 on the occasion of Evola's 100th birthday.
Boutin, Christophe. Politique et tradition: Julius Evola dans le siècle (1898–1974). Paris, 1992. The most comprehensive work on Evola to date, it mainly discusses his political influence.
Consolato, Sandro. Julius Evola e il Buddhismo. Borzano, Italy, 1995. A sympathetic work explaining Evola's approach to Buddhism.
del Ponte, Renato. Evola e il magico "Gruppo di Ur." Borzano, Italy, 1994. A work that tries to shed light on the historical and personal background of the Group of Ur.
de Turris, Gianfranco, ed. Testimonianze su Evola. Rome, 1973; rev. ed., 1985. Various authors' personal memories of Evola written in honour of his seventy-fifth birthday.
di Dario, Beniamino M. La via romana al Divino : Julius Evola e la religione romana. Padua, Italy, 2001. Discusses Evola's perceptions of Roman religion, with heathen sacrality and the imperial idea as central themes.
di Vona, Piero. Evola, Guénon, di Giorgio. Borzano, Italy, 1993. The author, a Spinoza specialist at the University of Naples, describes the complex relationships between René Guénon and his two Italian disciples, Evola and di Giorgio.
Fraquelli, Marco. Il filosofo proibito: Tradizione e reazione nell'opera di Julius Evola. Milan, 1994. Discusses Evola's danger for democracy and the value of enlightenment.
Germinario, Francesco. Razza del Sangue, razza dello Spirito: Julius Evola, l'antisemitismo, e il nazionalsocialismo, 1930–1943. Turin, Italy, 2001. A critical but well-documented work on Evola's racist and anti-Semitic writings.
Guyot-Jeannin, Arnaud, ed. Julius Evola. Lausanne, Switzerland, 1997. A collection exploring various aspects of Evola; includes an interesting appendix with various documentary opinions on Evola.
Hansen, H. T. "Julius Evola's Political Endeavors." Preface to Men among the Ruins: Post-War Reflections of a Radical Traditionalist by Julius Evola, pp. 1–104. Rochester, Vt., 2001. Currently the most comprehensive English-language work on Evola; it strives to uncover Evola's most important intellectual sources.
Rossi, Marco. "Julius Evola and the Independent Theosophical Association of Rome." Theosophical History 6, no. 3 (1996–1997): 107–114.
Sheehan, Thomas. "Diventare Dio: Julius Evola and the Metaphysics of Fascism." Stanford Italian Review 6, nos. 1–2 (1986): 279–292. A critical survey of Evola's political ideas.
Spineto, Natale. "Mircea Eliade and Traditionalism." ARIES 1, no. 1 (2001): 62–87. A well-documented study about Eliade, which mainly shows how he integrated the influences of traditionalist authors, Evola included, without being a traditionalist himself.
Hans Thomas Hakl (2005)
Translated from German by Marvin C. Sterling
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