Tradition isn't all bad. After all, it is just a kind of historically informed neo-Platonism. However, it does have some sketchy friends. Tradition is one of the elements that makes up esoteric fascism, the New Age occult revival of actual fascism. One nonetheless cannot equate esoteric fascism with Tradition. The postwar international fascists are not the only movement inspired by Evola. Catholic Integralism has some overlap with Tradition, but so does the Muslim Brotherhood, existentialist philosophy, and even the direct action anarchists that protest the WTO and provided the intellectual grounding for the Occupy Wall Street movement. As is often typical of the fringes, many of the movements that share some ideas in common hate each other.
Here, John is primarily interested in the intersection between Evola and Francis Parker Yockey, a less successful Fascist version of Kim Philby. There is some really weird New Age stuff that crept into fascism after the end of the Second World War, and you can blame Evola and Yockey for most of it.
After the Third Age
Eschatological Elements of
Postwar International Fascism
This topic got away from me. I had planned a simple historical account of how millennial-minded Nazis dealt with the end of the Second World War. Instead, I discovered the beginnings of trends that could have disturbing implications for ordinary politics in the 21st century.
For the most part, we are talking here about the evolution of "esoteric fascism." Which is what? Here's an example:
There is a book called "Imperium," 1 by an extraordinary figure named Francis Parker Yockey. He was an American renegade who spied for the Germans in the 1940s and for the Russians in the 1950s; in 1960 he killed himself in federal custody, after he was caught traveling under a false identity. "Imperium" was first published in 1948. Thanks in large part to Willis Carto, the book is a familiar text on the international Right and among Satanists: These are the first two sentences:
"This book is book is different from other books. First of all, it is only in form a book at all. In reality, it is a part of the life of action."
Well, "Imperium" certainly looks like a book; it's over 600 pages long. Yockey's thesis is that Oswald Spengler's model of history implied the appearance of a pan-European Nazi empire. Though Yockey did not say that had to happen (neither did Spengler, by the way), Yockey was confident that the outcome of the Second World War would be reversed before 2050.
This is odd political science, but there are odder things in the book than that. Spengler often spoke of cultures in vitalist terms, but Yockey treats them almost as hauntings, as if history were a combat of ghosts. A key feature of "Imperium" is an ontological antisemitism that interested Spengler not at all. The author almost certainly intended the book as an exercise in what is called "magical idealism." The "magic" here is not metaphorical. Certain ideas are supposed to compel action, whether or not they are logically persuasive. Secret societies, communities, even civilizations can form around such ideas. The principle is: "If we think it, they will come."
"Imperium" was an early point on the trajectory to the sort of outlandish notions that we find today on the occult Right. For instance, there is, or was until recently, a group called the Order of the Nine Angles, which claimed to represent something called "Traditional Satanism." Their specialty was "Aeonic Magick," 2 which seeks to found the next civilization by creating its archetypes now.
There are real ideological connections between groups like the Order of the Nine Angles and some factions of the German National Socialist Party, as well as with some circles in Mussolini's Italy and in the Balkans, notably in Romania. Still, though the people who ran Nazi Germany were often very strange, they were not that strange. So, where did the more exotic notions come from?
* * *
The history of esoteric fascism falls into five periods: The Primordial Age, the Third Reich, the early Cold War, the Late Cold War, and the Third Millennium.
The Primordial Age actually goes back no further than the last quarter of the 19th century. I believe there were three principle sources for what esoteric fascism later became.
The first was the occult revival. There was much more to it than Theosophy, but theosophical ideas are a handy place to start. The founder of Theosophy, the great Madame Blavatsky, divided world history into different ages of rise and decline, each dominated by a leading race. 3 This model is associated with apocalyptic expectations for the end of the current age, which is the age of the Aryan, and millenarian anticipation of the coming race. This model is, for the most part, consciously post-Christian, though under Blavatsky's successor, Annie Besant, Theosophy tended to simply cloak evangelical eschatology in Sanskrit terms. 4
This milieu of beliefs took different forms in different places. In the German-speaking world, it seemed to involve a bit less Cabala than in Anglo-Saxondom, and rather more mediumship and folk magic. The whole phenomenon is sometimes called "völkish," meaning just "folkish." Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, whose research I am stealing shamelessly for this paper, has written extensively on the importance of the folkish subculture for Nazism. 5 This is the source that provided most of esoteric fascism's antisemitic content, in large part as a reaction to large-scale Jewish immigration into German-speaking Europe. The class of ideas that most interested Goodrick-Clarke was the so-called "Ariosophy," particularly as represented by the Viennese mystics Guido von List and Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels. Lanz's project to found a new knightly "Order" to advance pan-Germanism clearly influenced Heinrich Himmler's model for the SS.
The second source of esoteric fascism was the basket of ideologies it shares with fascism in general, and for that matter with other forms of 20th century radicalism. The beginning of evils is Nietzsche's proposal that, if human society is not a divine artifact, then it is a product of human will. Maybe the will is collective, and grounded in culture or biology or something, but even the collective will speaks through an individual. This is the "artist politician," who creates reality rather than responds to it. 6 As Sorel and Pareto later said, you build reality through "myth," in the sense of a limit that defines the world. Often this is a "worst case," like Sorel's "General Strike." As a practical matter, General Strikes rarely succeed, but the prospect of a General Strike dictates how labor should be organized.
These ideas were part of the Conservative Revolution 7 . This was a mood more than a movement: anti-capitalist, anti-democratic, metaphysical but anti-religious, it was a substitute for conservatism that attracted people like Heidegger and Carl Schmitt, or for that matter Ezra Pound. Leo Strauss's contrast of Machiavelli's political theory to Aristotle's helps here. 8 Aristotle's statesman thinks in terms of the middle case, of the normal situation; Machiavelli's statesman thinks in terms of the extreme. The Conservative Revolution focused on the worst case, and so it tended to hysteria. This goes a long way to explaining Hitler's "death or glory" foreign policy, and even the Kaiser's. Existentialism applies the same sort of analysis, but at the personal level.
The third source of esoteric fascism grew out of the occult revival, but it is sufficiently distinct to be considered a separate influence. Very misleadingly, it is called Tradition.
The Primordial Traditionalist was the noted French occultist René Guénon. 9 In the years before the First World War, he abandoned the speculative occult in favor of a description of the perennial ideas that inform society and the spiritual life: just the sort of synthetic comparative mythology that Jung and Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell would do later. He used sources from all over the world, especially from esoteric Islam. Indeed, Guénon eventually became a Muslim and moved to Cairo.
Tradition has been defined as the world that never was, but always is. It has also been defined as the world of fairy stories. There are sacred kings and a caste system. There are numena that are not necessarily personal gods, but which can be invoked and manipulated. Tradition was the default position for mankind for most of history.
Traditionalists can be mere reactionaries; there are Catholic Integralists who think that what the world needs is a theocracy with a Latin liturgy. Very often, however, Traditionalists think that almost nothing can or should be saved from the coming collapse of the West.
In the second age of esoteric fascism, of fascism in power, these three sources mixed in different proportions in different countries. They never quite gelled. For that matter, esoteric fascism never quite gelled with fascism as a whole.
Steven Spielberg exaggerated in the "Indiana Jones" movies. There was an occult establishment in Nazi Germany, but it was only one aspect of the regime. 10 Yes, the German SS really did have a fellow named Otto Rahn out looking for the Holy Grail, or at least for traditions that would connect the Grail with Catharism. He was also a kind of Satanist, but that's another story. 11 Heinrich Himmler had his own folkish wizard, named Karl Maria Wiligut, who would issue oracles when the occasion required. The Nazi state used symbols like the swastika and the SS-runes that came out of the occult milieu. Quite un-mystical Nazis, such as Joseph Goebbels, might cite the apocalyptic World Ice Theory in their private papers. 12
On the other hand, the Nazi regime suppressed most commercial outlets for occult activity within a year of taking power. 13 Alfred Rosenberg, who was definitely in the metaphysical wing of the Party, went out of his way to combat the widespread notion that the Nazis' amazing successes were supernatural. 14 Even the term "Third Reich" is ambiguous. We know it can mean "millennium," as in Joachim of Fiore's Third Age, but it also meant simply the successor to Bismarck's Hohenzollern empire. In 1939, Goebbels actually banned the media from using the term. 15
In "The Myth of the 20th Century," 16 Rosenberg uses myth in the Sorelian sense. The "myth" is a Greater Germany that can trace its origins back to Atlantis. He suggests Atlantis may have been historical, but he says that is not essential to its symbolic role. He seems to have shared with other Nazis a sense of "already and not yet." The book was published before Hitler came to power in 1933, and it underwent revisions in its reprintings. However, Rosenberg never revised the section called "The Coming Reich." It was still coming, even in 1945. 17
The title of a collection of Rosenberg's occasional writings, "Tradition and the Present," is significant. 18 Rosenberg represented the dark, chthonic, mediumistic wing of esoteric fascism. He clearly hoped to de-universalize German spirituality, trading Christianity for a cult of the blood, almost a funerary cult. He bitterly opposed Tradition, which was relatively lucid and had a universal perspective. Its chief fascist proponent was the Italian baron, Julius Evola, who made esoteric fascism what it is today.
Evola's books about magic and alchemy and Tantric sex are now widely known, but he is most interesting as a political theorist. His great work is "Revolt Against the Modern World," 19 first published in the 1930s, though his early postwar book, "Men Among the Ruins," 20 was more widely read. Another of his books, "Riding the Tiger," is supposed to have been important in Europe during the events of 1968. One Italian neo-Fascist famously called Evola: "our Marcuse, only better." Is "Riding the Tiger" related to the Jefferson Starship song of similar name? Maybe.
Evola said that, in Traditional society, the meaning of the state is not to serve or represent the people, but to house a link to the transcendent, which Evola conceived as an impersonal source of power. The link creates the state. It even creates the people, from the population that assembles spontaneously around it. This link was normally embodied in a divine king, or in an Order of initiates, whose authority was impersonal and non-contingent on their performance.
The most perfect examples of Traditional society have in some sense been universal empires. In such a system, there may be local kings, and even republics, but the basis of all legitimacy is the sacred empire and its unmoving ruler. He does not rule by force, but by transcendent right. One way to put Evola's hope for the constitution of Europe is that Hitler did not have the right idea, but maybe Frederick II Hohenstaufen did.
Evola's ethics were anti-utilitarian. He advocated the expression of the essential self, even if that conflicted with mere self-preservation. This sounds like garden-variety existentialism, but Evola derived it from alchemy and his theory of immortality. Human beings, in Evola's view, are not naturally immortal. A shadow of the dead may persist as a ghost for a while, but the soul is re-absorbed by the collective spirit of the folk. Rosenberg thought this, too, but did not have a problem with it. Evola did. In fact, his politics was a ritual designed to produce personal immortality.
Evola says that, to become immortal, the spirit must separate from the body in a conscious state. It can then be fixed with a preservative, and lose the ability to die. The result is the Philosopher's Stone, the goal of alchemy. Meditation can do this; Evola makes it sound like St. John of the Cross on hallucinogenic drugs. The other path is to harden the self through heroic action. Any acute stress can transform the daemon of the hero into an immortal body of light. Athletics can do this. So can the shock of death. In any case, the adept must be absolutely indifferent to the consequences of his actions. If you think this sounds like a formula for suicidal propaganda of the deed, you are onto something. Evola was tried in 1951 for inspiring his young admirers to do roughly that, though he was acquitted.
Baron Evola's immortals are called Those Who Are, or the Watchers. Only they can hope to survive the impending collapse of the current order of things, and become "Seed People" for the next cycle.
Evola expresses distain for apocalypticism, but there is a fair amount of it in his own system. His history is generically theosophical. The current cycle started in ancient Hyperborea, before the world's axis shifted, and passed through Atlantis. Like Rosenberg, Evola declares himself indifferent to the historicity of these eons. He is, however, quite clear that modernity is literally the Kali Yuga of Hindu metahistory. Not just the West will end in a generation or two, but every society of the current cycle.
Historical development is largely a process of running down. The history of each individual civilization begins with the establishment of a link to the transcendent; it passes through the weakening and final breaking of the link. He characterizes the process as "the regression of the castes," with each age in the story of decline characterized by a lower caste than the one before.
Evola prefers the Sanskrit terms for the castes, but basically he means priests, warriors, burghers and peasants. In the most perfect Traditional state, the sacred and regal functions are united in the same people. The early differentiation of a separate clerical estate in the West was the beginning of the secularization of politics. Once started, the process leads, almost inevitably, from sacred kingship to proletarian chaos. In the very last days, Gog and Magog are released and demons can walk in broad daylight, taking the form of members of secret societies who can at last work openly.
The German and Italian governments had mixed feelings about these ideas. Evola composed the Fascist government's race policy in terms of elites rather than eugenics. On the other hand, he was both too anti-socialist and too anticlerical for most Fascists. In Germany, Evola had his admirers. His pan-Europeanism won some support among the Waffen SS. However, this was just the sort of universalism that Rosenberg was trying to suppress. The Black SS decided his ideas were too Latin and too aristocratic. Nonetheless, Germany gave him refuge after the Allies occupied Rome. He was crippled during a Russian artillery bombardment of Vienna at the end of the war, where he was doing research for the SS into the history of secret societies. He lived until 1974, in a wheelchair, as his influence grew.
During the early Cold War period, wonderful rumors sprang up. Hitler was still alive, and not just as a human being. In the opinion of the European convert to Hinduism, Savitri Devi, Hitler was Kalki, the tenth and last incarnation of Vishnu. There were supposed to be German bases in the Arctic or the Antarctic, where super weapons were stored. These rumors quickly merged with UFO mythology. The "Black Sun" symbol appeared. Himmler had actually used it in the 1930s, referring perhaps to Madame Blavatsky's spiritual "Invisible Sun," and also to the stage of death before resurrection in the alchemical process. In later years, the Black Sun would become the symbol of neo-Nazism.
Postwar esoteric fascism benefited from the eclipse of German chauvinism. Several international fascist networks grew up, with extensive contacts in Europe and the Middle East. We should note once again that Islamicism, as represented by groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, is a modern phenomenon. Early Islamicists like Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb were influenced by Italian fascism. After the war, German exiles arrived in the Middle East as part of the apparat of an anti-Zionist network in contact with the Kremlin.
This is the milieu in which Francis Parker Yockey lived, writing propaganda in Egypt and Europe and Latin America. He helped revive old notions from the 1920s, like Karl Haushofer's proposal for a geopolitical league of Germany and Russia, and the Strasser brothers' "National Bolshevism." The idea of a Red-Brown coalition had few takers in the 1950s, but it has many in Russia today, where Yockey is fairly well-known. 21
Despite the spies and flying saucers, neo-fascism was essentially backward-looking into the 1960s. People like George Lincoln Rockwell and his American Nazi Party would dress up like storm troopers and go get beaten up. James Madole and his National Renaissance Party tried to promulgate a novel synthesis of theosophy, science fiction and fascism, but they were just street-corner cranks.
In the 1970s, the situation changed. Nazi Germany became Atlantis, a magical society that had sunk out of sight, but which might someday rise again. There had always been a literature about the role of the occult in the Third Reich. With the rise of the New Age Movement, this kind of interpretation became not just popular but plausible. Pseudo-historical accounts like Trevor Ravencroft's "Spear of Destiny," 22 in which Hitler is portrayed as an evil magician, were wildly inaccurate on their face, but they are fun to read, so many people did.
To some extent, the magical Reich was just a new story device; Nazi villains had something new to be villainous about. On the other hand, a wing of the budding Satanist movement decided that, if the Nazis were that evil, then they must have been onto something, so they began a revival of folkish magic and Nazi themes. These became important in Black Metal and Industrial music. 23 On the less extreme end, pro-Nazi science fiction began to appear. Those mythological postwar Nazi bases played a role, as did the hidden underground realms of Agarthi and Shambalah, and hollow-earth theories having to do with secret entrances in the Arctic to the land of the Titans. 24
As Goodrick-Clarke points out, another factor that favored the expansion of esoteric fascism was the beginning of large-scale immigration into Western Europe. In his analysis, it was the immigration into central Europe in the late 19th century that gave the earlier occult revival its popular traction. Political terrorism and vandalism in the '60s and '70s had been largely a leftist activity. In the '80s and '90s, it increasingly became a right-wing affair. Goodrick-Clarke suggests that neo-Nazism is a form of multiculturalism; it's just another instance of people making up an ethnic identity and clinging to it for dear life. 25
The New Age was less innocent than it seemed. It was not an accident, as the Marxists used to say, that Mircea Eliade was Julius Evola's long-time correspondent. Back in the 1970s, William Irwin Thompson and David Spangler and the Lindisfarne Foundation were clearly getting ready for the end of Evola's Kali Yuga. 26 Actually, the best fictional presentation of the whole esoteric scenario I know of is in Doris Lessing's forays into science fiction, particularly "Shikasta" 27 and "The Sirian Experiments." Even "The Lord of the Rings" starts to look fishy, because there are few more attractive portrayals of the world of Tradition. Italian fascists use the books for recruiting, to the continuing horror of the Tolkien Society. 28
Esoteric fascism is not the cause of all the world's troubles, but its agenda is much with us. Consider antiglobalist anarchism, as represented by Hardt & Negri's book "Empire." 29 Negri's analysis of modern history follows Evola's point by point, even when it makes no sense, as in the assertion that America is the first country whose political system wholly excludes the transcendent. 30 Modern anarchism embraces the Traditional prediction that capitalism will be brought down by a post-modern multitude, not by economic forces.
I don't want to dwell on Islamicist ideology; I don't know that much about it. Still, we should note that recent Islamicist terrorists quote Evola with facility. 31
Then there is pan-Europeanism. Esoteric fascists generally supported European solidarity, provided it was anti-American. This take on the subject is no longer confined to heavy-metal enthusiasts. There was, maybe there still is, an annual colloquium called the Politica Hermetica, 32 hosted by the School for Applied Advanced Studies at the Sorbonne. It deals largely with Evola and Guénon, and not particularly critically. The old New Right even has a postmodern version of Tradition in the thought of Alain de Benoist. 33 This sort of thing is too esoteric to find a wide audience, but it does leak into elite opinion.
Finally, there are the new, progressive forms of anti-Zionism, made possible by the internationalization of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. After nearly seventy years of propaganda, America and the Jews are finally linked as joint targets of progressive opinion throughout the West. Francis Parker Yockey would have been so pleased.
The theologian Owen C. Thomas wrote something a few years ago that may illuminate our current condition. 34 He suggested that, in retrospect, the real alternative in the West to the Biblical religions was never Marxism or scientific materialism. The alternative has always been "the perennial philosophy," which is basically a historically informed neoplatonism. The perennial philosophy is actually very powerful, and for the most part it is a good thing. Tradition is a form of the perennial philosophy, and how scary are Huston Smith and T.S. Eliot? Esoteric fascism, however, is a perversion of the perennial philosophy, and that is a very bad thing indeed.
3 The Occult Underground, by James Webb, Open Court Publishing Company, La Salle, Il. 1974, p. 92
4 Webb, p. 100
5 The Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology, by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, New York University Press, 1985, 1992
8 "Definitions, Doctrines and Divergences" by Pierre Hassner, The National Interest, Fall 2002, p. 32 footnote
9 Coogan, p. 293
12 Final Entries 1945: The Diaries of Joseph Goebbels, edited by Hugh Trevor-Roper, G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1978, p. 1. For an account of the "Welteislehre" to be taken with a grain of salt, see The Morning of the Magicians, by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier, Dorset Press, New York, 1988 (First Published as "Le Matin des Magiciens" 1960), p. 153.
14 The Myth of the Master Race: Alfred Rosenberg and Nazi Ideology, by Robert Cecil, Dodd Mead & Company, New York, 1972, p. 96
16 Der mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts: Eine Wertung der seelish-geistiger Gestalten Kaempfe unserer Zeit by Alfred Rosenberg, Hoheneichen-Verlag Muenchen, 1932
22 The Spear of Destiny, by Trevor Ravenscroft, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1973
25 Goodrick-Clarke "Black Sun," pp. 5-7.
26 Passages about Earth: An Exploration of the New Planetary Culture, by William Irwin Thompson, Harper & Row, New York, 1973, p. 150 et seq.
27 Shikasta, by Doris Lessing, Alfred A. Knopf Publisher, 1979.
28 Thomas Sheehan, "Myth and Violence: The Fascism of Julius Evola and Alain de Benoist," Social Research 48: 45-73 Spring 1981
30 I am scarcely the first person to notice the parallels between Negri and Evola. See Sheehan, op. cit.
31 Boroumand, op. cit.
33 Sheehan, op cit.
34 Theology Today, "Christianity and Perennial Philosophy," Vol. 43, No. 2, July 1986, pp. 259-266
Copyright © 2002 by John J. Reilly