Julius Evola on Giovanni Gentile — Part 3

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This is the third and final installment of Julius Evola‘s commentary on Giovanni Gentile from Essays on Magical Idealism.

Although it is highly technical, we can cut to the main point. First, there is the distinction between spontaneity and freedom. In a free act, “I” make the choice. A spontaneous act seems to happen automatically, seemingly without the awareness or involvement of the I.

The application of this comes in the idea that the world is my representation. That is, I create in consciousness the sensation of the world: its colors, shapes, sounds, etc. The naive realist view, on the other hand, believes that there is a real world, out there, right now, that somehow impinges on my consciousness and that is the source of my representation of the world. No one can say exactly how that happens; besides, Kant seems to have demolished that as a possible explanation.

In opposition to that, previous idealists have instead proposed other sources for such representations, as Evola points out. Evola rejects them all. Instead, he claims that the spontaneous nature of the representation of the world is due only to a privation, i.e., it is due to my impotency.

This is important because almost all non-philosophers are naive realists; that is, they believe they are passive receptors of a true representation of the world in their mind. When restricted to the physical world alone, this is not so serious as people can get along in the world with this naive belief.

However, the mischief arises in regard to the human world. Naive realists falsely believe they have been given a true representation of the human, or moralized, world, that is, the world of action, motivation, desire, and so on. They are unaware of the extent to which they are projecting their own ideas, prejudices, errors, ignorance, etc., onto their representation of the world. That is, their representation is spontaneous, created without conscious awareness.

Here, the magical idealist has a way out. He takes possession of his own world representation in the awareness that he has freely chosen it.

It is clear that when the surpassing of the rational occurs in connection with that impulse to persuasion that was manifested in rationalism as the will to dominate every reality in thinking, only at the point of life experienced as autarchy is the principle restored, that can give to logic its justification. Therefore the further dimension in magical idealism must be understood, in which the positions of Gentilian philosophy are integrated.

That said, let’s definitively establish what is, in the last instance, the inherent value to modern idealism starting from Kant up to Royce, Weber, and Gentile. The fundamental principle is that spontaneity is one thing, and freedom another. The former is the activity whose principle one has simply in oneself (which is spontaneity, according to Aristotle’s definition); the latter is the activity whose principle the I has in itself, but stands to this in relationship of possession. In spontaneity the possible is identical to the real in the sense that the act has the form of an absolute being-tied-to-itself, of a nonconvertible compulsion, of a mindless occurrence: briefly, in it the principle is passive in respect to oneself. Instead, in freedom, the possible is not identical to the real, a moment of autarchy, of real possibility (not of dynamis, but rather of potestas) controls the act as the ultimate reason for its being or non-being, of its being this or that. Hence, it is that the real is contingent to the possible—and not through privation, but rather through perfection and through the possession of the principle of actuality. In conjunction: one thing is not having conditions from another (i.e., coerced non-being, negative freedom exactly characteristic of spontaneity, of the false Spinozan causa sui), another is the not having conditions absolutely, being positively free, which also implies the absence of internal determinations and arbitrariness (the non-inconvertibility) of the act. Now to the extent that a being is an I, to that extent and for that reason, it is freedom and not spontaneity.

Once that is understood, when the idealist, against any contingency of experience—for example, against an expanse—says that it was he who posited it, it is evident that he is referring not to freedom, but rather to spontaneity. He in fact refers to the simple representing, to that elementary assent so that, in general, this is to be aware of things, assent that, if it is the necessary condition for every reality, qua reality, then for the I, it is quite far from also being the sufficient condition. In fact, in representing there is not a subordination of reality to possibility; the I is passive to his own act, he does not so much affirm things, but rather these are affirmed in him. As passion or emotion, the representation is something of his, that is intimate to him and which he draws out of his own interiority (at this point the legitimacy of the application of idealism arrives, moreover satisfied by Leibniz), but it is not him, since the I cannot say he gives it freely to himself, since he is not at its determination in regard to unconditioned causality and possession.

Consequently, to the extent that the idealistic reduction of nature appears as a position of the I, it reduces the I itself to nature, i.e., insofar as that I, which is freedom, knows nothing or, better, acts as if he knew nothing, and, with obvious paralogism, it equates the concept of the I with that of the principle of spontaneity—which is then in truth that of nature. So that the meaning of the idealistic claim that “The I posits the non-I” is, in reality, “Nature posits itself” or more simply: “A world is”.

The crux of such a doctrine is therefore Spinozism. But Spinozism, dedogmatized, leads to phenomenalism. And this demonstrates the very history of idealism. In Kant if in the transposition of the individual I to the impersonal “I think” and to “consciousness in general”, there is the first step toward the dissolution of freedom, there nevertheless still remains a residue of interiority in virtue of the opposition of the limit of the thing-in-itself to the activity of the synthetic a priori. The progress of the theory of immanence about this dualism is moreover that of the détente of individual affirmation. The I of Fichte assimilates the non-I (the Kantian thing-in-itself) only by becoming the abstract egoity dispersing itself in the world of the preconscious. The Hegelian Idea does not reaffirm the logical principle on that totality of concrete determinations that Schelling’s monochrome “philosophy of identity” let fall outside of itself provided that it admits the “other” in itself, makes itself dialectic, calls rational and free those contingent determinations of things which, being simply given, standing to the I in a relationship of force, that justly can only be called irrational (in the Greek meaning of the word).

Finally, among the ruins of the “philosophy of nature” and the heterological of the Ohnmach der Natur [impotence of nature] on the one hand, on the other by falling short of the ideal of a priori knowledge in the order of positive science (to the reduction of geometry and mechanics by deductive science prior to experimental sciences – so that the presupposition collapses from Kant’s criticism) there is the final collapse of the individual in the irrational becoming of phenomena, with which he makes self-knowledge itself coincide, without residue and further mediation. The I does not make itself the form that dominates (gnoseologically) the contingency of the phenomena—Schlegel’s “Chaos outside of the system” —that as the current awareness of Gentile’s philosophy, i.e., that as the absolute adhesion of the act in spontaneity according to which things become and assert themselves in the I – however, just as it was said, for a type of passive mysticism that in practice is identified with an absolute, perplexed phenomenalism.

We pointed out in the second essay that beyond the identification of reality and will (= possibility) the question remains, whether the will is the criterion of reality or whether reality is the criterion of the will. That is, if what happens is called real because it is willed (however real only in the measure in which it can be called willed, moreover that correlative of a privation of the will remaining not real), or else if it is called willed because it is real, i.e., for the simple irrational fact of its being there (Dasein), of its brute to oti: it was shown that only the second alternative meets actualism insofar as it is not elevated to a doctrine of power or magical idealism. The being that it rightly posits does not posit it that way because it finds it de facto: “Mustness” is the truth and the foundation of its “shouldness”. Analogously, since a great number of the events of experience in general cannot be connected back to a beginning of informed deliberation, of intentional predetermination on behalf of the real I (and this I can prove at every instance to the idealist, since he does not want to deceive himself purposely), from that subjective activity from which things are posited, it is necessary to abstract the natures of finality and conscious predetermination – at long as one does not prefer to pass (as was the logical consequences of the premises of transcendental philosophy that Hartmann precisely dealt with) to a philosophy of the unconscious.

Finally, since one cannot even give a posteriori a logical-axiological construction of such a vast complex of phenomena (Prof Krug’s pen is still waiting to be deduced), the logicality proper to this cosmogonic function of the I must be reduced to a minimum, to an abstract generality, to an empty universal that is equally adequate to the specificity of infinite distinctions – to which the character of logic characteristic of the pure Gentilian act responds exactly, which being able to be called everything indifferently, is as if it is called nothing; it is a sack that can equally well contain everything. Empty indetermination from the logical point of view—however, materialiter, irrationality – intentionality, afinalism, passivity, pure spontaneity exhausting itself all in the variety of “here and now” — such are therefore the marks that define the function, in which the doctrine of immanence believed it recognized its supreme celebration, since it has the courage of thinking it down to the foundations.

In Spinoza that blind spontaneity of that which can be only what it is, of that which is passive in respect to its own nature – so that the I is reduced to a vain and incomprehensible shadow — was God; in Gentile this God is known in its truthfulness and is made explicitly nature, the uncoercible folly of phenomena so that the relevant doctrine is identified, beyond all the logical paraphernalia, with Bergson’s. In the one as in the other, the individual does not consist but surrenders, does not dominate things but loses himself there and is dissolved in an intoxicated coalescence that recedes into a demonical principle. Such is the way of corruption, the self-lampooning of the immanentistic application.

In conclusion. I said that mere representative activity is the necessary, but not sufficient, condition of the reality of things, since these are related to an I. I can say I posited things, but insofar as I am spontaneity, not insofar as I am an I, and that is freedom. Now to say that I, as I or sufficient principle, cannot recognize myself as the unconditioned cause of the representations (i.e., of nature), it does not at all mean that these representation are caused by “another” (by real things or existing in themselves) but, simply that I am insufficient for a part of my activity, which is still spontaneity – that such a part is still not moralized, that the I, as freedom, suffers a privation in it. So that it is realism, as we said, that must be pushed back for a goal of not receiving. When then will one be able to truly affirm the principle of idealism, that the I posits things? That the individual has transformed the dark passion of the world into a body of freedom, i.e., when he has made the form pass by which he lives the activity represented by spontaneity, by connection of reality and possibility, to unconditioned, arbitrary causality – to potency. In the face of this task, the idealist flees instead: to the real or magical act, to the act that, by possessing them, abolishes things. He substitutes the discursive act that recognizes them and is supported on them. He calls being his non-being, he calls real that which, being real that, as the privation of his power, should instead correctly be called unreal, and so confirms this privation, adulates it, and incestuously feeds on it. Insufficient at the point of the I, he abdicates and dissolves himself in things; and rationality, historicity, concrete liberty, the transcendental I, etc., are only so many names of this flight, are only the symbols of his impotency, that the values given by force to that which, in relation to the point of the I and morality (in Weininger’s and Michelstaedter’s sense of the word) is non-value = death and obscurity: nature.

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