What I am about to say does not concern the ordinary man of our day. On the contrary, I have in mind the man who finds himself involved in today’s world, even at its most problematic and paroxysimal points; yet he does not belong inwardly to such a world, nor will he give in to it. He feels himself, in essence, as belonging to a different race from that of the overwhelming majority of his contemporaries. ~ Julius Evola.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Julius Evola: The True Antithesis

Nowadays it is possible to speak of a demonic nature of the economy, because in both individual and collective life the economic factor is the most important, real, and decisive one. Moreover, the tendency to converge every value and interest on the economic and productive plane is not perceived by Western man as an unprecedented aberration, but instead as something normal and natural, and not as an eventual necessity, but as something that must be accepted, willed, developed, and praised.
As I have said before, when the right and primacy of interests higher than those of the socioeconomic plane are not upheld, there is no hierarchy, and even if there is one, it is only a counterfeit; this is also true when a higher authority is not accorded to those men, groups, and bodies representing and defending these values and interests. In this case, an economic era is already by definition a fundamentally anarchical and antihierarchical era; it represents a subversion of the normal order. The materialization and the soullessness of all the domains of life that characterize it divest of any higher meaning all those problems and conflicts that are regarded as important within it.
This subversive character is found both in Marxism and in its apparent nemesis, modern capitalism. Thus, it is absurd and deplorable for those who pretend to represent the political "Right" to fail to leave the dark and small circle that is determined by the demonic power of the economy—a circle including capitalism, Marxism, and all the intermediate economic degrees.
This should be firmly upheld by those who today are taking a stand against the forces of the Left. Nothing is more evident than that modern capitalism is just as subversive as Marxism. The materialistic view of life on which both systems are based is identical; both of their ideals are qualitatively identical, including the premises connected to a world the centre of which is constituted of technology, science, production, ''productivity'' and ''consumption.'' And as long as we only talk about economic classes, profit, salaries, and production, and as long as we believe that real human progress is determined by a particular system of distribution of wealth and goods, and that, generally speaking, human progress is measured by the degree of wealth or indigence—then we are not even close to what is essential, even though new theories, beyond Marxism and capitalism, might be formulated.
Das Eisenwalzwerk, Adolph Menzel (1875)
The starting point should be, instead, a firm rejection of the principle formulated by Marxism, which summarizes the entire subversion at work today: The economy is our destiny. We must declare in an uncompromising way that in a normal civilization the economy and economic interests—understood as the satisfaction of material needs and their more or less artificial appendices—have always played, and always will play, a subordinated function. We must also uphold that beyond the economic sphere an order of higher political, spiritual, and heroic values has to emerge, an order that neither knows nor tolerates merely economic classes and does not know the division between "capitalists" and "proletarians"; an order solely in terms of which are to be defined the things worth living and dying for [...]
But where is the battle waged today in these terms? The "social question" and various "political problems" are increasingly losing any higher meaning, and are being defined on the basis of the most primitive conditions of physical existence, conditions that are then made absolute and removed from any higher concern. The notion of justice is reduced to this or that system of distribution of economic goods; the notion of civilization is measured mostly by that of production; and the focus of people's attention tends to be on topics such as production, work, productivity, economic classes, salaries, private or public property, exploitation of the workers, and special-interest groups. According to supporters of capitalism and to Marxists, nothing else exists or matters in this world […]

All this is proof of the true pathology of our civilization. The economic factor exercises a hypnosis and a tyranny over modern man. And, as often occurs in hypnosis, what the mind focuses on eventually becomes real. Modern man is making possible what every normal and complete civilization has always regarded as an aberration or as a bad joke—namely, that the economy and the social problem in terms of the economy are his destiny.
Thus, in order to posit a new principle, what is needed is not to oppose one economic formula with another, but instead to radically change attitudes, to reject without compromise the materialistic premises from which the economic factor has been perceived as absolute.  What must be questioned is not the value of this or that economic system, but the value of the economy itself. Thus, despite the fact that the antithesis between capitalism and Marxism dominates the background of recent times, it must be regarded as a pseudo-antithesis. In free-market economies, as well as in Marxist societies, the myth of production and its corollaries (e.g. standardization, monopolies, cartels, technocracy) are subject to the ''hegemony'' of the economy, becoming the primary factor on which the material conditions of existence are based. Both systems regard as "backward" or as "underdeveloped" those civilizations that do not amount to "civilizations based on labour and production"—namely, those civilizations that, luckily for themselves, have not yet been caught up in the feverish industrial exploitation of every natural resource, the social and productive enslavement of all human possibilities, and the exaltation of technical and industrial standards; in other words, those civilizations that still enjoy a certain space and a relative freedom. Thus, the true antithesis is not between capitalism and Marxism, but between a system in which the economy rules supreme (no matter in what form) and a system in which the economy is subordinated to extra-economic factors, within a wider and more complete order, such as to bestow a deep meaning upon human life and foster the development of its highest possibilities. This is the premise for a true restorative reaction, beyond "Left" and "Right," beyond capitalism's abuses and Marxist subversion. The necessary conditions are an inner detoxification, a becoming "normal" again ("normal" in the higher meaning of the term), and a renewed capability to differentiate between base and noble interests. No intervention from the outside can help; any external action at best might accompany this process [...]

The pure homo economicus is a fiction or the by-product of an evidently degenerated specialization. Thus, in every normal civilization a purely economic man—that is, the one who sees the economy not as an order of means but rather as an order of ends to which he dedicates his main activities—was always rightly regarded as a man of lower social extraction: lower in a spiritual sense, and furthermore in a social or political one. In essence, it is necessary to return to normalcy, to restore the natural dependency of the economic factor on inner, moral factors and to act upon them.
Once this is acknowledged, it will be easy to recognize the inner causes in the actual world (which have the economy as their common denominator) that preclude any solution that does not translate into a steeper fall to a lower level. I have previously suggested that the uprising of the masses has mainly exist between mere economic classes and by the fact that under the aegis of antitraditional liberalism, property and wealth, once free from any bond or higher value, have become the only criteria of social differences. However, beyond the strict limitations that were established within the overall hierarchical system prior to the ascent of the economy, the superiority and the right of a class as a merely economic class may rightly be contested in the name of elementary human values. And it was precisely here that the subversive ideology introduced itself, by making an anomalous and degenerative situation into an absolute one and acting as if nothing else had previously existed or could exist outside economic classes, or besides external and unfair social conditions that are determined by wealth alone. However, all this is false, since such conditions could develop only within a truncated society: only in such a society may the concepts of "capitalist" and "proletarian" be defined. These terms lack any foundation in a normal civilization, because in such a civilization the counterpart constituted by extra-economic values portrays the corresponding human types as some-thing radically different from what today is categorized as "capitalist" or "proletarian." Even in the domain of the economy, a normal civilization provides specific justification for certain differences in condition, dignity, and function.[...] 

I am not espousing an "obscurantism" for the benefit of the "ruling classes"; as I have stated previously, I dispute the superiority and the rights of a merely economic class living in a materialistic fashion. Nevertheless, we need to side against the idea or myth of so-called social progress, which is another of the many pathological fixations of the economic era in general, and not the legacy of leftist movements alone. To this effect, the eschatological views of Marxism do not differ very much from the "Western" views of prosperity: both Weltanschauungen [worldviews] essentially coincide, as do their practical applications. In both Marxism and free-market economies we find the same materialistic, antipolitical, and social view detaching the social order and people from any higher order and higher goal, positing what it is "useful" as the only purpose (understood in a physical, vegetative, and earthly sense); by turning the "useful" into a criterion of progress, the values proper to every traditional structure are inverted. In fact, we should not forget that the law, meaning, and sufficient reason for these structures have always consisted in references for man to something beyond himself and beyond the economy, wealth, or material poverty, all these things having only a secondary importance. Thus, it can legitimately be claimed that the so-called improvement of social conditions should be regarded not as good but as evil, when its price consists of the enslavement of the single individual to the productive mechanism and to the social conglomerate; or in the degradation of the State to the "State based on work," and the degradation of society to "consumer society"; or in the elimination of every qualitative hierarchy; or in the atrophy of every spiritual sensibility and every "heroic" attitude. Hegel wrote, "Happiness is not to be found in the history of the world [in the sense of material comfort and social prosperity]; even the few happy periods found here and there are like white pages." But even at an individual level, the qualities that matter the most in a man and make him who he is often arise in harsh circumstances and even in conditions of indigence and injustice, since they represent a challenge to him, testing his spirit; what a sad contrast it is when the human animal is granted a maximum of comfort, an equal share in a mindless and bovine happiness, an easy and comfortable life filled with gadgets, radio and TV programs, planes, Hollywood, sports arenas, and popular culture at the level of Reader's Digest.

Again, spiritual values and the higher degrees of human perfection have nothing to do with either the presence or the absence of socioeconomic prosperity. The notion that indigence is always a source of abjection and vice—and that "advanced" social conditions represent its opposite—is the fairy tale told by materialistic ideologies, which contradict themselves when they up-hold the other myth, according to which the "good guys" are on the side of the people and the oppressed workers and all the "bad guys" are to be found on the side of the wealthy classes, which are corrupt and exploitative. Both of these are fairy tales. In reality, true values bear no necessary relation to better or worse socioeconomic conditions; only when these values are put at the forefront is it possible to approximate an order of effective justice, even on the material plane. Among these values are: being oneself; the style of an active impersonality; love of discipline; and a generally heroic attitude toward life. Against all forms of resentment and social competition, every person should acknowledge and love his station in life, which best corresponds to his own nature, thus acknowledging the limits within which he can develop his potential; and should give an organic sense to his life and achieve its perfection, since an artisan who perfectly fulfils his function is certainly superior to a king who does not live up to his dignity. Only when such considerations have weight will this or that reform carried out on the socioeconomic plane be conceived and implemented without any negative consequence, according to true justice, without mistaking the essential for the accessory. Unless an ideological detoxification and a rectification of attitudes is carried out, every reform will be only superficial and fail to tackle the deeper roots of the crisis of contemporary society, to the advantage of subversive forces.

It has been reported that in a non-European country, which could boast an ancient and rich past, an American company, upon realizing the scarce participation of local inhabitants who had been hired for a certain project, believed that the right way to motivate them consisted in doubling their pay. The result was that a majority of the workers cut their working hours in half. Believing the initial pay was enough to satisfy their natural and normal needs, those people thought it was absurd to spend more time than necessary to procure their pay. It has also been reported that Renan, after visiting an industrial exposition, left, saying: "There are so many things in life that I can do perfectly well without!"
Compare these two views with contemporary Stakanovism, economic "activism," "civilization of wealth," and "consumer society" and its applications. These two examples, better than any abstract consideration, supply us with the criteria to distinguish between two fundamental attitudes, the former healthy and normal, the latter deviant and pathological.[...]
Sharing Stakhanovite Experience, A. P. Levitin (1951)
Prior to the advent in Europe of what textbooks call ''mercantile economy'' (the term is very appropriate, because it describes the tone given to the entire economy by the figures of the merchant and the moneylender), from which capitalism rapidly developed, the fundamental criteria of the economy were that the acquisition of external goods had to be restricted and that work and the quest for profit were justifiable only in order to acquire a level of wealth corresponding to one's status in life: this was the Thomist and, later, the Lutheran view.
The ancient corporative ethics shared this perspective: in this ethics the values of personality and quality were given priority, and the amount of work was always in relation to a specific level of natural needs and to a specific vocation. The fundamental idea was that work was meant not to bind man, but to free him and allow the pursuit of worthier interests, once the demands of existence were satisfied. No economic value was cherished enough to sacrifice one's independence to it, nor was the quest for the means of subsistence deemed worthy to consume one's entire life. Overall, the above-mentioned truth was acknowledged—that human progress must be defined not on an economic and social level, but rather on an inner plane; in other words, progress does not consist in leaving behind one's ranks "to become successful," or in increasing the amount of work in order to gain a position that one is not qualified for. At a higher level, the formula substine et abstine ["keep back, but stand firm"] was an axiom of wisdom that echoed through the Classical world; one of the possible interpretations of the Delphic saying "Nothing in excess" could also be applied to this order of considerations.

Therefore, all these were Western views too: they were the views of European man when he was still healthy, before he was bitten by the tarantula, so to speak, or not yet dominated by an insane restlessness that was destined to distort every criterion of value and to lead to the paroxysms of contemporary civilization. The "demonic nature of the economy" has developed from this distortion, following a chain of processes: thus, morally speaking, the responsibility falls squarely on the shoulder of the individual. The turning point was the advent of a view of life that, instead of keeping human needs within natural limits in view of what is truly worthy of pursuit, adopted as its highest ideal an artificial increase and multiplication of human needs and the necessary means to satisfy them, in total disregard for the growing slavery this would inexorably constitute for the individual and the collective whole. The limit of this deviation consists of the inner situation out of which the forms of industrial capitalism have developed: here the activity aimed at profit and at production has turned from a means to an end, ensnaring man's heart and soul, condemning him to a nonstop race and an unlimited growth of frantic activity and production. This race is imposed from the outside, because to stop, in the economic system, means to regress or even to be undermined and swept away. In this race, which is not "activism" but pure and senseless restlessness, the economy puts thousands of workers in "chains" just as it does the ambitious entrepreneur, the ''producer of goods, and the ''owner of the means of production,'' occasioning concordant actions and reactions that in turn generate increasingly wider spiritual destruction. The background of the "selfless" love of that American politician who put as the basis of his international political program the "economic improvement of the most underdeveloped countries of the world" can be seen in this light: its meaning consists of completing the new barbaric invasions (the only ones worthy of this name), and generating an obsession with economic concerns in some peoples whom so far have been spared the "tarantula's bite"—all this because the growing amount of capital seeks to be utilized and invested and the degenerated productive mechanism seeks wider and new markets for its overproduction. Lenin saw clearly through all this and how, in such upheavals, one of the traits of "dying capitalism" consists of digging its own grave, being forced by the mechanism it set in motion to unleash (through industrialization, proletarianization, and Europeanization) forces that eventually will react against it and against the white man's societies: the representatives of "progress" are not aware of it, and so the process snowballs. In the socialist systems that claim to be the rightful heirs of a capitalism doomed to perish because of its inner contradiction, the enslavement of the single individual is reaffirmed rather than alleviated; it is sanctioned no longer simply de facto, but de jure as well. In socialist regimes this enslavement obeys a collective imperative. If the great entrepreneur devotes his entire self to economic activity, turning it into some kind of drug that has a vital importance to him—the consequence of an unconscious self-defense mechanism, for he suspects that if he ceased the activity he would see the emptiness surrounding him and feel the utter horror of a life devoid of meaning—in the ideologies of the opposing side an analogous situation is made to correspond to an ethical imperative. This imperative is also accompanied by anathemas and repressive measures against those who intend to raise their heads and reclaim their freedom from everything that is work, production, productivity, and social ties.
At this point it is necessary to denounce another pathological fixation of the economic age, or one of its fundamental slogans: I am referring to the modern superstition of work that has become common to both left-wing and right-wing movements. Just like the notion of "the people," "work" too has become one of those sacred cows and intangible entities that modern man dares only to praise and exalt. One of the characteristics of the economic era, considered in its most plebeian and shallow aspect, is this kind of self-inflicted sadism that consists of glorifying work as an ethical value and as an essential duty, and in conceiving every form of activity as some kind of work. A future and perhaps more normal mankind will regard the notion in which the means becomes an end as a peculiar perversion. Thus, work ceases to signify something that is imposed only in view of the material needs of existence, and to which no more room should be given than is required according to the individual and the status of his rank; on the contrary, work is absolutized and seen as a value in itself, and is associated simultaneously with the myth of paroxysmal and productive activity. Moreover, we come to a real inversion. The term work has always designated the lowest forms of human activity, those that are more exclusively conditioned by the economic factor. It is illegitimate to label as "work" anything that is not reduced to these forms; rather, the word to be used is action: action, not work, is what is performed by the leader, the explorer, the ascetic, the pure scientist, the warrior, the artist, the diplomat, the theologian, the one who makes or breaks a law, the one who is motivated by an elementary passion or guided by a principle. But while every normal civilization, thanks to its upward orientation, intended to bestow a character of action, creation and ''art'' even upon work (see, for instance, the corporations in the ancient world), exactly the opposite is happening in the present economic civilization: even action (or what-ever is still worthy of the term) is increasingly attributed the character of "work (i.e., an economic and proletarian character), almost out of a masochistic pleasure in degradation and contamination.[...]
The proletarian spirit, the quality that is spiritually proletarian, subsists when no higher human type than the "worker" is conceived; when one describes "the ethical character of work"; when one praises "society" or the "State based on work"; when one does not have the courage to take a resolute stand against all these new contaminating myths.

An ancient image, taken from a Buddhist text, is that of a man running breathlessly under the burning sun. At a certain point this man may ask himself: "Why am I running? What if I were to slow down?" and then, walking more slowly, he asks: "Why am I walking in this heat? What if I paused under a tree?"—and in doing so he may come to see that his previous running was caused by a foolish and feverish state of mind. Such an image indicates the inner transformation, or metanoia, required to strike at the heart of the "hegemony" of work and to regain inner freedom: this, however, not in order to shift to a renunciatory, utopian, and miserable civilization, but in order to clear every domain of life of insane tensions and to restore a real hierarchy of values. 
Here the fundamental point is to be able to recognize that there is no external economic improvement or social prosperity worthy enough (and the temptations of which should not be absolutely resisted) when its counterpart is an essential limitation of freedom and of the space necessary for everyone to realize his possibilities beyond the dimension conditioned by matter and by the needs of ordinary life.
Moreover, this does not apply only to the single individual, but to the collective whole and the State as well, especially when its material resources are limited and foreign economic forces are pressuring it. Here autarchy may be an ethical precept, because what weighs more on the scale of values must be the same for a single individual and for a State: it is better to renounce the allure of improving general social and economic conditions and to adopt a regime of austerity than to become enslaved to foreign interests or to become caught up in world processes of reckless economic hegemony and productivity that are destined to sweep away those who have set them in motion.

The overall contemporary situation is naturally such that my considerations mean nothing less than swimming against the current; while this does not affect their intrinsic value, it must nonetheless be acknowledged that the single individual cannot react and subtract himself from the overall mechanism of the economic era other than in a restricted and limited way, and also given certain more or less privileged conditions. A general change may occur only if a super-ordained power intervenes. After acknowledging the fundamental principle of the primacy and sovereignty of State over economy, the State can then produce an action of limiting and ordering the economic domain; this action will be able to facilitate what derives from the essential and unavoidable factor, that of the detoxification, the change of mentality, and the return to normalcy for people who have learned anew what is sensible activity, right effort, values to he upheld, and loyalty to oneself.
Only on such a basis can one simultaneously be a “protester” in an integral and legitimate sense and an “achiever” in a higher sense.

I will again discuss the relationship between State and economy. Here I want to recall Nietzsche's words as a parting shot regarding the social question: "The workers shall live one day as the bourgeois do now—but above them, distinguished by their freedom from wants, the higher caste: that is to say, poorer and simpler, but in possession of power.'' A differentiation on this basis will act as the principle for the rectification of the inversion I have lamented, and as the principle for defence of the idea of the State and for the resurgence of a different type of dignity and superiority. Such dignity and superiority must be consolidated and validated beyond the world of the economy, through a continuous struggle, both inner and outer, through the confirmation of one's being and the conquest of each moment.

[From Men Among the Ruins, chapter six 'Work - The Demonic Nature of the Economy', Julius Evola, 1953.  English translation by Guido Stucco for the 2002 edition published by Inner Traditions]