In the 1950s, several of Julius Evola’s essays were published in the English language journal, East and West, by the Istituto Italiano per l’Africa e l’Oriente. In January 1954, Evola’s review of Rene Guenon’s Crisis of the Modern World appeared. The particular topic that interests now is the notion of the elite. Guenon refers to them as the intellectual elite, although, of course, he does not mean “intellectual” as referring to any sort of academic discipline, and still less than the intelligentsia of writers, journalists, artists, professors, and so on. For Guenon, the intellect refers to a spiritual gnosis, a form of knowing superior to the rational or scientific mind. Evola describes it:
Guenon does not use the expression “intellectuality” in its generally accepted meaning: those to whom he refers are not “intellectuals”, but men of superior character whose formation has been on traditional lines and who possess a knowledge of metaphysics.
We won’t be surprised that Evola brings up the topic of action at this point. Rather than an intellectual order, per se, Evola would prefer to see an Order, along the lines of the Templars, Ismaelites, or the Teutonic Knights. He explains:
An Order represents a superior from of a life within the framework of a life of action, which may have a metaphysical and traditional “dimension” while at the same time remaining in a more direct touch with the world of reality and with historic facts.
So far, so good. Yet, once again, Evola muddles things a little by misunderstanding the proper relationship between contemplation and action. This bane goes on to affect his understanding of castes, the roles of priests, kings, etc. In order to be true to tradition, Evola often resorts to equivocal formulations. So while we are sympathetic to the idea of an Order acting in history, it is time to clear things up. According to Evola:
[Guenon] believes that one of the causes of the crisis of the modern world is to be found in the theoretical and practical denial of the priority that should be given to knowledge, contemplation and pure intellectuality over action.
First of all, we can agree with Evola that by “action”, he does not mean:
Disorderly activity, unenlightened and purposeless, dominated exclusively by contingent and material considerations, aiming only at worldly achievements, which is now the only form of action modern civilization recognizes and admires.
However, Evola is still not ready to conceive the priority of the intellect to action. Contemplation is the symbol of the priestly caste while action is that of the warrior caste and the king. It is true that Guenon claimed that there is a higher principle that unites the two, and this is manifested by the Priest-King of the Ancient City who embodied both principles. Evola concludes from this that neither of the two principles can claim priority over the other. This is clearly an erroneous conclusion, since the two principles needs be related in some way, and is especially puzzling coming from someone who rejects any form of egalitarianism. To understand why, it is necessary to identify the underlying unifying principle, something neither Guenon nor Evola bothered to do. Let’s start with this schema:
From this chart, we can immediately infer that the unifying principle is the One, in Neoplatonic terms, or God (Being), in medieval terms. By the metaphysical doctrine of divine simplicity, God, or the One, cannot be divided; it is nondual, hence Truth and Goodness are the same. However, as they manifest, they separate; it is there that we see their relationship. Let’s go back to Evola’s rejection of action as understood by the world.
- Disorderly Activity
- The opposite of this is orderly activity, i.e., activity in harmony with the Logos, or the Cosmic Law. It is the intellect that knows the Logos.
- The enlightened mind is the mind that “knows”
- Action cannot determine its own purpose; it is the intellect that chooses it.
- Aiming only at worldly achievements
- Of course, true action aims at supernatural achievements.
Clearly, the intellectual principle, in relationship to action, is the ordering principle, guiding enlightened action, providing it with a purpose and a superior aim. Another way to see this, is to use the doctrine of the symbolism of the cross, as described by Guenon. Action, in “the world of reality” “historic facts” represents the horizontal direction and the intellect represents the vertical direction.
Whatever Evola may have meant, Tradition does not accept the independence of the will in respect to the intellect. This is the false doctrine: Sic volo, sic jubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas. Since Evola has defended Reason, as long as its first principles are metaphysical doctrines, he cannot possibly mean that.
If he means that the active life in the world, if engaged in consciously, can lead to higher states of awareness, then we are in agreement. For there is a second way to understand action. Action, in the sense of bringing the potential into act, can be understood vertically. As Guenon states, it is a goal for some to actualize all their possibilities, i.e., to make real what exists only in potential. In that struggle against instinctive and inferior forces, both within and without, I simultaneously reveal myself, create myself, and know myself.