Julius Evola on Giovanni Gentile — Part 1

Next: Giovanni Gentile Part 2 ⇒

This is Part 1 of probably four parts of Julius Evola‘s commentary on Giovanni Gentile in Saggi sull’Idealismo Magico (Essays in Magical Idealism). It has been difficult to translate, not just because of the difficulty of the subject matter, but more because there is no corresponding philosophical tradition in English from which to draw the requisite vocabulary and concepts.

As per his proclaimed method, Evola will point out an unexamined, and unresolved, problem in Gentile’s system of Actualism that can only then be resolved in his own system of Magical Idealism. According to him, as long as Gentile remains on the philosophical, rational, abstract level, Actualism will never reach its goal. What is therefore required, as its completion, is a method of self-realization that transcends that level. This is, as Evola points out, the “entire difference” between the two systems.

Our goal, in going through all this trouble, is the meagre hope that some young philosophy student will become interested in this and be willing to dedicate his career to moving such a line of thinking forward. If you are that one, please contact me in any way for some suggestions.

Now I understand there is a bit of excitement in some small circles among those who seem to have discovered “neo-reaction” a couple of years ago. Their writings have been described in various superlatives. But, in reading what follows, can any of them be said to have the ability to “play the game” at such a high level? The question is obviously rhetorical. They often make use of Evola’s political analysis, as though it arose fully formed from under a cabbage leaf. Rather, it is secondary and is the fruit of much deeper thinking.

That is the challenge, then, to neo-reaction, identical to Evola’s challenge to Gentile. As long as it remains on the plane of the rational, it will do no more than engender a torrent of abstractions. It will splinter into various sub-genres and devolve into a battle of personalities. What is required is a method of self-realization, a spiritual perspective, a religion. In other words, more than a Philosopher, we are awaiting a Prophet.

Contemporary idealism can be defined like this: a deep need for absolute self-realization, which, however, the I does not acquire immediately in its interiority, but rather that it simply knows, assimilating it from outside itself in the phenomena that it causes in the rational order in the abstract. In Giovanni Gentile, this situation appears in a particularly clear way: for him, the effort of embracing and dominating the whole of the world in an immanent principle reaches its perfection; but, on the other hand, this principle remains a simple ideal entity, it is the previously criticized “transcendental I” and expresses only a dull reflex of that deep individual power that was experienced, for example, in Michelstaedter. If Gentile could really call the I the “pure act” of his rationalism, then he would appear not as the university professor, whose “actualism” has the reform of the educational system as its goal, but rather as that cosmic centrality that esoterism shows, for example, in the types of the rishi, the yogi, Christ, and the Buddha. This is the entire difference between “actual idealism” and magical idealism. Now since the pure rational-in-itself can never have its own justification, it can be shown how Gentile’s system is based on an irrational fact, which, however, as such, contradicts his principle: from that a crisis arises, for which no solution can be given, if one does not pass from the first idealism to the second.

Gentile’s fundamental principle is derived from Hegel and is expressed in the claim that pure immediacy, pure being is gnoseologically absurd, that the condition of every being is an act that posits it for the I. The priority of the category of the act over any content whatsoever of experience follows from that. Such an act is naturally that of the gnoseological subject, of the impersonal thinking I. Now thinking implies something thought. Regarding the concept of the thought, Gentile falls into a compromise: he distinguishes a “logic of thought” with its own laws (relative to “nature”) from the “dialectic of thinking”, i.e., from the concrete and actual process of thinking and knowing. If nothing is, unless mediated, the “thought” is nothing outside a logic of the thought that mediates it, which in its turn is inconceivable outside the concrete process of thinking, that is, from the actuality of thinking itself. So there is no way to truly distinguish a logic of the thought (or “abstract logic”), supported by its own laws, from the process of thinking (or “concrete logic”): these laws can appear only as some particular formations of the concreteness of this.

It is hardly worth pointing out that abstract logic is only the comprehension or abstract thinking of concrete logic, since here it would represent the difficulty in the question of knowing how such abstract thinking is possible since it, not thought, evaporates in the nothing; thought stops being abstract, and becomes a type of category of concrete logic itself. The concept of “thought” and of “fact” thus ends up affected by the same contradiction of the Kantian noumenon and is resolved in the concept of determination in general of thinking.

Thus we end up in this situation: on the one hand, thinking or “pure act” remains the only category, capable of reclaiming every phenomena into itself; on the other hand, it is necessary to try to deduce from it a principle of determination, so that it effectively takes into account the multiplicity and diversity of the phenomena themselves, that it goes on to absorb. Gentile then considers the “dialectic of concrete logic” for such a goal. To think, he says, inasmuch as it is self-positing, is to discern itself, i.e., to abolish the abstract, precise identity of the I in an object or non-I, (i.e., to determine itself) and, in then recognizing itself in this determination or object, mediates itself, to be like the I, like self-knowledge. But the recognition restoring immediate, precise identity, results in its process hurling toward the infinite.

The internal self-separation relative to autosynthesis, to the self-positing of the I as such, would therefore explain the genesis of determination: but the bad thing is that it does not explain itself. Gentile does not in fact give any foundation to that, because the I, in general, separates from itself “another”, and then also because is not exactly reflected in this “other”, as, for example, in the divine trinity of Athanasius. In other words, there is in Gentile a simple, exposition of becoming, not a transcendental deduction, its meaning does not become obvious in any way; it remains a being of fact, not a being of law and the necessity that is connected to it apodictically can then only derive from an empirical suggestion. That is, it shows that from the Logic there is a problem of value, which, however, is absolutely neglected by Gentile.

Since the concept of the Aristotelian God that is used in the eternal identity of his act and that of the unmanifested Shakti of Tantra do not offer any inconceivability a priori, the question must be asked why the spirit must become (or is becoming). If one responds that a spirit that would not be objectified and therefore is not becoming, would not be self-consciousness, spirit, but rather nature, one retorts that since when was such a reaction something more than question begging; in reality nature would instead be spirit that, as such, being eternally constrained to self-objectification and becoming, would not be dissimilar in any way from the plant that, as such, can only vegetate.

Now every “nature” presupposes, in its essential definiteness a law, so that it is that determined nature and not another, but every law is a legislator that, as such, cannot itself be subject to a law. For Gentile, stuck on the plane of abstract speculation, the character of the legislator cannot have any meaning: believing that the problems are resolved through simply transporting them from the “metaphysics of being” to that of “knowing”, believing that a certain determination of experience should turn out more comprehensible when the place of substance is called “thought”, he then restores becoming as the unavoidable nature of thinking, not realizing that a thousand questionable points then arise in order to substitute for them a thousand more. Does he notice that the objection presupposes the abstract point of view which, making the act an object, precludes the way of understanding it? Then one will reply that such an instance, rather dear to Gentile, has no value, because he gratuitously claims what he assumes as explanatory principle what is made by his opponents the matter of the problem. In the second place, that in the inebriated coalescence of the I to its act the problems are not only not resolved, does not even reach up to them, and that by basking in the obscurity he deceived himself that he has dispelled it.

Since “actual consciousness” is understood as the form that collects every phenomenon, the adherence to it absolutely means, as we say, to adhere to the same world, letting oneself live from it and therefore to go on to end up in a type of passive mysticism that then, in the concrete, is identified with an absolute, perplexed phenomenalism. On the other hand, according to his own principles, Genitle could well assume the noted objectification exactly because “abstract” (and an objection, insofar as it is not identified with his doctrine, for the actualist will always, and a priori, be “abstract”) for, on the other hand, taken as the antithesis, it creates itself “concretely” in a new synthesis. But this is precisely the critical point: since when the actualist really does that, he would be constrained to transcend the plane of the rational and to affirm the principle of the arbitrary.

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