In the beginning the world was nothing but the Atman, in the form of a man. It looked around and saw nothing different to itself. Then it cried out once, ‘It is I.’ That is how the word ‘I’ came to be. That is why even at the present day, if any one is called, he answers, ‘It is I,’ and then recalls his other name, the one he bears.
In demonstrating the potential development of the increasing awareness of “I” consciousness, Evola builds on themes from the following books:
- Persuasion and Rhetoric, by Carlo Michelstaedter
- The World as Will and Representation, by Arthur Schopenhauer
- The Ego and its Own, by Max Stirner
- Sex and Character, by Otto Weininger
The last named book was translated by Evola into Italian. There is one particular chapter — The “I” Problem and Genius — that may be helpful before tackling Evola’s short book on The Individual and the Becoming of the World.
Stage One of Consciousness
In Stage One, man is in what we could call the “natural” state, that is, he functions in a state of Nature. As such, he performs just as Nature asks: he breathes, eats, reproduces, and dies. As far as Nature is concerned, the Stage One man is complete. Whether or not man develops his Will or gains Wisdom, makes no difference to Nature. There is no gene to encourage higher states of consciousness, there is no natural process that will lead to the “evolution” of the spirit.
In Stage One, there is no firm sense of the “I”, and the natural man is not autonomous. His instincts, his desires, his likes and dislikes, his opinions have their sources outside him and the I is passive in relation to them. For example, he won’t eat Brussels sprouts because that is just “the way I am”. Or if he desires something, he acts to fulfil it and does not question the desire itself. His opinions are absorbed from his milieu — family, church, clubs, friends, political parties — and serve more as a way to bond with his community or to maintain certain positions of power. His worldview comes from idle chitchat (Heidegger: “gerede“) with neighbours or commentary in the media.
Thus, for natural man, there is no burning issue of certainty. He seldom seeks to justify his opinions and beliefs. In debate, he is quick to begin with “I think” or “I believe” as though that were sufficient warrant for belief. He seldom sees a need to justify his opinion with facts or logic, nor to refute a contrary opinion. Even when through experience, he attempts such a justification, he argues as would a lawyer or sophist — that is, simply to defend a point of view — and not as a genuine seeker of knowledge. Nietzsche’s dictum that “the courage of one’s convictions is not sufficient, what is necessary is the courage for an attack on one’s convictions” has no impact on him.
In this passage, Evola uses the word “singolo” instead of “individuo“, both of which I have translated as individual (though I marked the former). A singolo is like one stick in a pile, whereas an individuo is an independent centre of awareness. The former type of individual is part of his environment and is not yet separated, that is, as a detached consciousness, the observer, Aristotle’s unmoved mover. Such a one has no Will as such, what he calls “free will” is merely a spontaneity, or what Goethe called “disorderly self will”.
Stage Two of Consciousness
In stage two, man begins to awaken from the naive realism of stage one that posits a “real” world “out there, right now” based on nothing but his animal faith. Evola describes the attempts to account for this, first in the metaphysico-religious realm and then in science. Finally he ties this in to the quest for certainty and proposes how to ground this certainty.
In the next section, Evola proposes science as the solution to the awakening into Stage Two. The attempt is made to tame the chaos of phenomena through scientific laws. Yet, by the nature of the scientific method, even these laws are uncertain, since new theories always arise to replace earlier ones. Furthermore, science cannot answer the fundamental question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?”
At this point, through self-awareness, the naive view of a “subject” knowing an “object’ is no longer tenable. Evola accepts Schopenhauer’s view that phenomena are simply representations in consciousness and there is no “real” thing standing behind phenomena or causing them. Then the only certainty left is this self-awareness of the “I”. This is the threshold to Stage Three.
Adapted from a 2008 commentary on The Individual and the Becoming of the World.