What can the Right learn from the political philosophy of the great Florentine poet?
The Right is intrinsically the political and ideological embodiment of perennial values, albeit tempered by the landscape and the historical experiences that go to form a ‘people’ and a ‘civilization’. As Westerners concerned with either the regeneration of Western High Culture or bequeathing perennial values that might contribute to the emergence of a post-Western High Culture of the European peoples, Western Rightists look to their own heritage. While this should seem too obvious to mention, given the manner in which Western culture has been deconstructed, and the Western heritage buried or distorted, especially by academia, what was once obvious in an education system predicated on Western heritage, is today more difficult to discern. The Right draws on this legacy beyond the modern world in its search for origins. Indeed a ‘conservative revolution’ implies a return to origins.
Bizarrely, the Right is often identified with ideologies that are antithetical to what is traditional. Liberalism and English Whiggery are not ‘Right’. Capitalism and Free Trade are not ‘Right’. Julius Evola and Oswald Spengler as much as Karl Marx saw these as ‘subversive’; the first two men took a critical view of them, the latter considered them as part of the historical dialectic.i Thus a pseudo-Right, also called ‘neoconservatism’, looks for inspiration not in the High Culture of the West, what Spengler called the ‘Spring’ epoch, but to the Late West – Western Civilization in its terminal epoch of senility and decay. It is because our ‘modern’ historical thinking is based on a lineal, Darwinian ‘progressive’ notion that Late Western academic thinking sees the current and emerging epoch as the epitome of ‘progress’, the culmination of all hitherto existing history; and 19th century evolutionists such as Dr A.R. Wallace and present-day historians such as Francis Fukuyama share this optimistic and hubristic view.ii
Dante: Representative of Western High Culture
It is necessary for Rightists to seek inspiration from the Spring epoch of Western High Culture, along with those even in our own time who remain detached from the modern Zeitgeist. Spengler’s Decline of The West includes several convenient tables on analogous cultural epochs for several different civilizations, including the Indian, Chinese, Classical, Arabic, and Western. Among the individuals mentioned as representative of the unique Western world-feeling in its ‘Spring’ epoch, the birth of the West as a High Culture, is Dante Alighieri (1265–1321).iii
It would be easy (or more likely wilfully ignorant) to reinterpret Dante in the Zeitgeist of the Late West, as a liberal, a ‘progressive’, and an ‘internationalist. He believed in a ‘world state’, a world monarch, the unity of ‘humanity’, and happiness as humanity’s greatest aspiration. However, one must look at Dante as he was in his own times, during the Western Spring of High Culture, and not through the lenses of the hubris-ridden ‘modern’. It would also be easy to portray Dante as the continuation of the Roman-Classical civilization, which is in turn generally regarded, from the Renaissance onward, as the foundation of Western civilization. The West is supposed to owe its origins to the Graeco-Roman, as well as a common Judaeo-Christian heritage, and Spengler is criticized for his theory that the Classical and Western civilizations are not conjoined but are separate entities with distinctive world-feelings reflected in all their manifestations of culture. That Dante is a precursor of Renaissance thought, and a continuation of a Roman legacy, might be assumed on account of his constant references to the Roman Empire, to Rome as a God-ordained world-imperial order, and his citing Classical eminences such as in Aristotle and Virgil. However between the Gothic Western and the Classical there is no such commonality. Indeed the term ‘Gothic’ is a Renaissance disparaging of the early Medieval epoch, which it regarded as a ‘primitive’ era. It was coined by a Renaissance Italian architect in reference to the ‘barbarian’ Goth tribes.iv
Spengler cites Dante as repudiating the notion that the Western world-feeling – the ‘Gothic’ or ‘Faustian’ – is derived from the Classical. He refers to Dante’s Vita Nuova as a work of deep self-examination at the very outset of the spiritual history of the West. Hence, Dante is among the seminal figures who express, not a revival of the Graeco-Roman world-feeling, as the Renaissance and Enlightenment sought to re-establish, but rather a new, distinctly Western world-outlook. A culture both adapts and transforms elements from a foreign culture, or it is retarded by them. When Dante alludes to Classical Rome and its personalities, he makes these uniquely Western. He thus stands at the birth of Western High Culture. His creation of the Italian language was not a revival of the Classical, but a distinctly Western event. This is the epoch of the intuitive world-feeling, not the mechanistic, nor the Cartesian fracturing of the psyche. Life is inwardly grasped rather than dissected and analysed, a method revived by Goethe as ‘living nature’v and applied by Spengler as historical method. Thus while Dante references Aristotle throughout De Monarchia, it is the young Western world-feeling that he is expressing, not the revival of the old Classical. The Gothic world-view ‘transcends’ systemizing the world, dissolving into a ‘deep infinity of mysterious relationships. So felt Dante, and so felt Goethe.’vi ‘That which Dante saw before his spiritual eyes as the destiny of the world, he could not possibly have arrived at by ways of science, any more than Goethe could have attained by these ways to what he saw in the great moments of his “Faust” studies, any more than Plotinus and Giordano Bruno could have distilled their visions from researches. This contrast lies at the root of all dispute regarding the inner form of history’.vii This intuitive, mystical world-feeling is derided as superstition by the Renaissance scholars, by the Enlightenment and the ‘modern’ or ‘Winter’ epoch of the West, in which lies the destiny, hubris and tragedy of a Late civilization.
T. S. Eliot esteemed Dante as European and referred to him as representing the Western culture organism (Eliot was a proponent of European unity), a figure standing above provincialism at a time when the ruins of the World War were monuments to Western fracture:
Dante is, beyond all other poets of our continent, the most European. He is the least provincial –and yet that statement must be immediately protected by saying that he did not become the ‘least provincial’ by ceasing to be local. No one is more local; one never forgets that there is much in Dante’s poetry which escapes any reader whose native language is not Italian; but I think that the foreigner is less aware of any residuum that must for ever escape him, than any of us is in reading any other master of a language which is not our own. The Italian of Dante is somehow our language from the moment we begin to try to read it; and the lessons of craft, of speech and of exploration of sensibility are lessons which any European can take to heart and try to apply in his own tongue.viii
It would be easy to misrepresent or misunderstand Dante as a cosmopolitan and an internationalist. Hence, we find this written of Dante in 1921 in a full-length exposition on his political ideas:
The greatest war of all history has but recently been terminated and after this lamentable experience mankind has decided to enter on some course which would prevent the recurrence of such a catastrophe. The League of Nations is now a historical fact, and irrespective of whether it shall live or not, we cannot but observe that humanity has never more seriously approached the realization of the ideals of the great Florentine than in the present time. And for this reason, I believe that one can pay no greater tribute nor render greater homage to the memory of Dante than by drawing attention to his efforts in behalf of universal peace and the universal brotherhood of mankind.ix
Whether claiming Dante as the father of the League of Nations is the ‘greatest tribute and homage’ is debatable. To Rolbiecki, Dante is ‘ultra-modern’ in calling for a universal state to assure peace.x Dante advocated a universal empire with a world-emperor. But Dante was no precursors of a Woodrow Wilson nor a Dag Hammarskjöld. Dante thought in the Gothic manner. Rolbiecki did concede that ‘Dante advocates a universal monarchy, but not a universal language, he believes in unity, but not in entire uniformity.’xi
Embroiled in the bitter civil war between empire and papacy, Dante, in exile, wrote in defence of the Empire and the Emperor, placing him with the Ghibelline party against the Guelphs, and thrusting him at the same time amidst rivalries that made his position even more complex. This struggle for the soul of the Gothic West was of epochal importance to Julius Evola, who places Dante squarely in the traditionalist Ghibelline camp. Dante wrote of a universal Empire and Emperor at a time of great threat, and his treatise was to provide a philosophical foundation for these, and delineate the roles of empire and papacy. As Evola shows, a civilization in the traditional sense (the ‘Spring’ of Spengler’s scheme), is based around an axis mundi. W.B. Yeats refers to this when writing of civilization during its epoch of decay that ‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold’.xii The emperor is the world sustainer of civilization, the nexus between the divine and the terrestrial in maintaining that centre.xiii That was the philosophy expounded by Dante. Evola alludes to the ‘formative centre of all existence that gave a meaning of life’, holding together ‘more or less organic parts of a whole’. ‘The positive and necessary manifestation of this centre in the political level corresponded to the principle of the Empire, not only in its secular significance (that is, political in a limited sense), but spiritual as well, which is preserved in the medieval European ecumene and which was marked by a political theology of high Ghibellinism, as supported by Dante himself’. The ‘decline of the Empire and its authority’, that is, the Holy Roman Empire, was the first symptom of Western Gothic dissolution and ‘dissociation’.xiv
Dante was regarded by Eliot, Ezra Pound and Spengler as the epitome of the Western world-feeling. Julius Evola saw Dante as such, and alludes to him in Revolt Against the Modern World, Men Among the Ruins, Ride the Tiger and The Path of Cinnabar, in support of his transcendental, traditionalist conceptions of state and empire. Particularly in The Mystery of the Grail, Evola considers Dante to be an initiate of the cult of courtly love, as did Ezra Pound;xv Dante’s initiatory quest is described in The Divine Comedy.xvi Dante was the greatest influence on Ezra Pound,xvii the inspiration for Pound’s quest to write his own epic poem. We might ask whether it was Dante who also got Pound thinking about usury and the dissolutive impact of greed on high culture?
Because of Dante’s greatness he is a conundrum for those who aim to deconstruct and obliterate Western culture. There are two options: bury or appropriate. In 2012 the Italian human rights organisation Gherush92, which advises UN bodies on human rights issues, urged the Dante’s Divine Comedy be ‘removed from school curriculums, or at least used with more caution, because it is “offensive and discriminatory” and young people lack the “filters” to understand it in context’.xviii
Gherush92 singled out some particular cantos from Dante’s masterwork for criticism: Inferno’s 34th, which tells of Judas, endlessly chewed in the teeth of Lucifer, and 28th, in which Mohammed is depicted torn ‘from the chin down to the part that gives out the foulest sound’, as well as Purgatorio’s 26th, which shows homosexuals under a rain of fire in purgatory. The work, it says, slanders the Jewish people, depicts Islam as a heresy and is homophobic. ‘We do not advocate censorship or burning but we would like it acknowledged, clearly and unambiguously, that in the Divine Comedy there is racist, Islamophobic and antisemitic content’, said Valentina Sereni, president of Gherush92, to the Adnkronos news agency. ‘Art cannot be above criticism’.xix
On the other hand in 2015 The Divine Comedy was the subject of reinterpretation by African artists at the Smithsonian’s Institute of African Art, entitled ‘The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists’. xx Perhaps the greatest of Western art is intrinsically ‘racist’ and ‘fascist’? The same quandary is now being meted out by academia to Puccini.
Dante is located within the organic tradition, in his world-feeling and in his description of the way the ideal state should be organized. His sociology is organic. It is particularly in De Monarchia that he describes the organic character of the civil order he is proposing:
Now, therefore, we must see what is the end of the whole civil order of men; and when we have found this, then, as the Philosopherxxi says in his book to Nicomachus, the half of our labour will have been accomplished. And to render the question clearer, we must observe that as there is a certain end for which nature makes the thumb, and another, different from this, for which she makes the whole hand, and again another for which she makes the arm, and another different from all for which she makes the whole man; so there is one end for which she orders the individual man, and another for which she orders the family, and another end for the city, and another for the kingdom, and finally an ultimate one for which the Everlasting God, by His art which is nature, brings into being the whole human race. And this is what we seek as a first principle to guide our whole inquiry.xxii
The organic social order is part of the perennial tradition.xxiii It is the means by which traditional man maintains the nexus between the cosmic and the terrestrial. Hence the organic conception of society transcends time and place in being the means of social order during the ‘Spring’ epoch of a High Culture, which is gradually broken down, as epochs proceed along decay. For the West, the last, decaying, corrupted remnants of traditional order were eliminated by decree by the Jacobin prohibition of the guilds.xxiv
The Gothic West inherited the guild structure, or corporations as they were called in Italy, from Rome, and made this ‘corporatism’, as it was known during its modern revival, the means by which the organic state was organized. Dante uses the analogy of the human organism to show how this is based. It is a metaphor used throughout history. Aristotle described the organic state in defining man as a ‘political animal’ while denouncing as brutish those who are ‘tribeless, lawless, hearthless’xxv or what we might call today the rootless individual, whether of the left or of globalized commerce:
Further the State is by nature prior to the family and to the individual, since the whole is of necessity prior to the part; for example, if the whole body be destroyed, there will be no foot or hand, except in an equivocal sense, as we might speaks of a stone hand; for when destroyed the hand will be no better than that. But things are defined by their working and power; and we ought not to say that they are the same when they no longer have their proper quality, but only that they are the same. The proof that the State is the creation of nature and prior to the individual is that the individual, when isolated, is not self-sufficing; and therefore he is like a part in relation to the whole.xxvi
However it is to Paul that we can readily trace a Christian foundation for the organic state, and the whole of Chapter 12 of Corinthians is a treatise on the organic state, amidst a description of the social organization of the early Church:
The eye cannot say to the hand ‘I don’t need you!’ And the hand cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary. Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable… Its parts should have equal concern for each other… Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is part of it.xxvii
Paul refers to a diversity of talents within the body of the Church, and hence he is no proto-Bolshevik or Jacobin demanding a levelling ‘equality’, but he does recognize in that inequality that there is nonetheless a transcendent relationship which makes each constitute part (the cells and the organs of an organism) indispensable each to the other. This is where actual social justice lies – in a recognition of differences as each necessary part of a totality, not in any levelling creed. The Church long maintained this traditional ethos in the face of capitalism and its Leftist counterparts; in reasserting its organic social doctrine, Pope Leo XIII stating in his 1891 encyclical on labour relations that
Just as the symmetry of the human frame is the result of the suitable arrangement of different parts of the body, so in a state is it organised by nature that these two classes should dwell in harmony and agreement, so as to maintain the balance of the body politic. Each needs the other: capital cannot do without labor, nor labor without capital.xxviii
Dante was a statist, not a libertarian, yet he also believed that the state must assure the free will of its citizens, giving each the opportunity to fulfil his divine purpose of Earth. Again this is not the precursor of capitalism or Marxism; it is the Medieval ethos based on Christian free will within the divine order. It is this duty that is the basis of ‘Right’, as he calls it:
Further, whoever works for the good of the state, works with Right as his end. This may be shown as follows. Right is that proportion of man to man as to things, and as to persons, which, when it is preserved, preserves society, and when it is destroyed, destroys society.xxix
This duty towards the State is the essence of what Spengler would centuries later call ‘Prussian socialism’,xxx an organic socialism that heals the fractures created by capitalism and its Left-wing offspring; a socialism that is traditional and Gothic; an imperative towards reconnecting the earthly with the cosmic order. Spengler wrote of ‘liberating German socialism from Marx’. This German socialism is the Gothic organic state, and here too Spengler, who eschewed the notion of Western High Culture being a continuation of the Graeco-Roman, nonetheless, like Dante, uses the analogy of Rome, in calling for a German youth that ‘must be willing to accept obligations despite hardship and poverty, they must possess a Roman pride of service…’xxxi
‘Right’ is that which aims at the ‘common good’, which is to say, ‘the good of the state’.xxxii This means that by subjecting personal and other factional interests to the common good, and sublimating the selfish, and the sin of avarice, one had the freedom to serve:
They renounced all selfishness, a thing always contrary to the public weal; they cherished universal peace and liberty; and that sacred, pious, and glorious people are seen to have neglected their own private interests that they might follow public objects for the good of all mankind. Therefore was it well written: ‘The Roman Empire springs from the fountain of piety’.xxxiii
Within this traditional sociology Dante continues the metaphor of the human organism:
And as the part is to the whole, so is the order of parts to the order of the whole. The part is to the whole, as to an end and highest good which is aimed at; and, therefore, the order in the parts is to the order in the whole, as it is to the end and highest good aimed at. Hence we have it that the goodness of the order of parts does not exceed the goodness of the order of the whole, but that the converse of this is true. Therefore we find a double order in the world, namely, the order of parts in relation to each other, and their order in relation to some one thing which is not a part (as there is in the order of the parts of an army in relation to each other, and then in relation to the general); and the order of the parts in relation to the one thing which is not a part is the higher, for it is the end of the other order, and the other exists for the sake of it. Therefore, if the form of this order is found in the units of the mass of mankind, much more may we argue by our syllogism that it is found in mankind considered as a whole; for this latter order, or its form, is better. But as was said in the preceding chapter, and it is sufficiently plain, this order is found in all the units of the mass of mankind. Therefore it is, or should be, found in the mass considered as a whole. And therefore all the parts that we have mentioned, which are comprised in kingdoms, and the kingdoms themselves ought to be ordered with reference to one Prince or Princedom, that is, with reference to a Monarch or Monarchy.xxxiv
There is nothing of the republican about Dante, nor the democrat. He sees the individual as part of a social organism, just as the cell is part of an organ and the organ part of the biological organism. Each constituent part from cell to organ finds its fulfilment as an essential part of the whole. This was the rationale for the organic state for millennia, which reached its apex in the Gothic epoch, and broke down as other aspects of the Western culture started to fracture through the much acclaimed Renaissance, The Reformation, and The Enlightenment. Each is proclaimed as a ‘progressive’ step away from ‘superstition’ and ‘despotism’, but each was a step towards the fracturing of the Western social organism, and the Western psyche.
Dante saw even at the height of the Gothic ‘Spring’ the seeds of decay, a corruption within the Church. His ‘universalism’ is a call to organically re-concentrate against fracture. It is a universalism shared by cultures in their ‘Spring’ epoch in seeing themselves as the nexus between the world and the divine, of their universal mission, from Hopi Indians to Chinese emperors, to the Seat of Saint Peter, to the Russian Katechon, to serve in sustaining the axis mundi on which the stability of the world depends, and without which the world descends into chaos: into the Kali Yuga, Wolf Age, Iron Age.
To Dante, the Holy Roman (Gothic) Empire is the Universal Empire and the Universal Emperor; the world-sustainer. Christendom, meaning the Gothic West, has taken over that role from the Roman imperium which, although pagan, had been ordained by God with that world-mission, and in that context also the birth and death of Jesus Christ within the Roman empire was also significant.
The Roman Imperium, Dante stated, was not created primarily by martial means, but by a noble ethos, and a noble race. Success comes to the noblest by right of a divine order. Furthermore, honour and nobility are created and bequeathed to subsequent generations as a legacy. This is inherited nobility and honour; ‘ancestral wealth’, and ‘hereditary virtue’. It is a defence of the aristocratic, not the democratic – nor, as will be seen, the oligarchic.
My answer then to the question is, that it was by right, and not by usurpation, that the Roman people assumed to itself the office of Monarchy, or, as men call it, the Empire, over all mankind. For in the first place it is fitting that the noblest people should be preferred to all others; the Roman people was the noblest; therefore it is fitting that it should be preferred to all others. By this reasoning I make my proof; for since honour is the reward of goodness, and since to be preferred is always honour, therefore to be preferred is always the reward of goodness. It is plain that men are ennobled for their virtues; that is, for their own virtues or for those of their ancestors; for nobleness is virtue and ancestral wealth, according to Aristotle in his Politics; and according to Juvenal, ‘There is no nobleness of soul but virtue’, which two statements refer to two sorts of nobleness, our own and that of our ancestors.
To be preferred, therefore, is, according to reason, the fitting reward of the noble. And since rewards must be measured by desert, according to that saying of the Gospel, ‘with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again’; therefore to the most noble the highest place should be given.xxxv
The Universal Monarch is the axis around which society revolves, from individual to family to national entity, within an imperium. Dante draws the parallel of the household patriarchy ascending upward to the monarch. ‘Happiness’ is realized through being part of this organic imperium; it emerges though a social order with a hierarchy. How different this is from the liberal-humanistic ideal of ‘happiness’ which is at times ascribed to Dante! The notion of ‘equality’ is specifically damnable, and democratic rule the precursor of disorder:
If we take the case of a single man, we shall see the same rule manifested in him: all his powers are ordered to gain happiness; but his understanding is what regulates and governs all the others; and otherwise he would never attain to happiness. Again, take a single household: its end is to fit the members thereof to live well; but there must be one to regulate and rule it, who is called the father of the family, or, it may be, one who holds his office. As the Philosopherxxxvi says: ‘Every house is ruled by the oldest’. And, as Homer says, it is his duty to make rules and laws for the rest. Hence the proverbial curse: ‘Mayst thou have an equal at home’. Take a single village: its end is suitable assistance as regards persons and goods, but one in it must be the ruler of the rest, either set over them by another, or with their consent, the head man amongst them. If it be not so, not only do its inhabitants fail of this mutual assistance, but the whole neighbourhood is sometimes wholly ruined by the ambition of many, who each of them wish to rule. If, again, we take a single city: its end is to secure a good and sufficient life to the citizens; but one man must be ruler in imperfect as well as in good forms of the state. If it is otherwise, not only is the end of civil life lost, but the city too ceases to be what it was. Lastly, if we take any one kingdom, of which the end is the same as that of a city, only with greater security for its tranquillity, there must be one king to rule and govern. For if this is not so, not only do his subjects miss their end, but the kingdom itself falls to destruction, according to that word of the infallible truth: ‘Every kingdom divided against itself shall be brought to desolation’. If then this holds good in these cases, and in each individual thing which is ordered to one certain end, what we have laid down is true.
Now it is plain that the whole human race is ordered to gain some end, as has been before shown. There must, therefore, be one to guide and govern, and the proper title for this office is Monarch or Emperor. And so it is plain that Monarchy or the Empire is necessary for the welfare of the world. xxxvii
While Dante writes of ‘mankind’ there is no aim of seeing it reduced to a nebulous, undifferentiated mass. He writes of national differences and their relationship to the Universal Empire. Specifically, he writes that different nations, or what are really different races, require different laws according to their temperament. There is no one law for mankind; no sense of what we today call globalization, nor any precursor to Woodrow Wilson’s ‘Fourteen Points’ or any United-Nations-type charter on human rights.
But it must be carefully observed that when we say that mankind may be ruled by one supreme prince, we do not mean that the most trifling judgments for each particular town are to proceed immediately from him. For municipal laws sometimes fail, and need guidance, as the Philosopher shows in his fifth book to Nicomachus, when he praises equity. For nations and kingdoms and states have, each of them, certain peculiarities which must be regulated by different laws. For law is the rule which directs life. Thus the Scythians need one rule, for they live beyond the seventh climate, and suffer cold which is almost unbearable, from the great inequality of their days and nights. But the Garamantesxxxviii need a different law, for their country is equinoctial, and they cannot wear many clothes, from the excessive heat of the air, because the day is as long as the darkness of the night. But our meaning is that it is in those matters which are common to all men, that men should be ruled by one Monarch, and be governed by a rule common to them all, with a view to their peace. And the individual princes must receive this rule of life or law from him, just as the practical intellect receives its major premiss from the speculative intellect, under which it places its own particular premiss, and then draws its particular conclusion, with a view to action. And it is not only possible for one man to act as we have described; it is necessary that it should proceed from one man only to avoid confusion in our first principle.xxxix
Moreover, despite his allusions to the common ‘genus of mankind’, he does not regard all races and nations as equal to govern themselves. Some entire races are born to govern and others to be subordinated to them. While Dante desires universal peace, it is a pax imperium, once Roman, now Gothic:
As the human race, then, has an end, and this end is a means necessary to the universal end of nature, it follows that nature must have the means in view. Wherefore the Philosopher well demonstrates in the second book Of Natural Learning that the action of nature is governed by its end. And as nature cannot attain through one man an end necessitating a multiplicity of actions and a multitude of men in action, nature must produce many men ordained for diverse activities. To this, beside the higher influence, the virtues and properties of the lower sphere contribute much. Hence we find individual men and whole nations born apt for government, and others for subjection and service, according to the statement of the Philosopher in his writings Concerning Politics; as he says, it is not only expedient that the latter should be governed, but it is just, although they be coerced thereto.xl
It is as a superior people that Romans created their empire, according to Dante. That legacy was assumed by the Holy ‘Roman’ Empire: the Gothic West. ‘If these things are true, there is no doubt but that nature set apart in the world a place and a people for universal sovereignty; otherwise she would be deficient in herself, which is impossible.’xli ‘Right’ was established by the superior qualities necessary to govern.
Evola shows that Dante’s universal ‘Monarch’ accords with the perennial tradition, as a type of Gothic analogue to the Hindu Kalki, and he hopes for an avenger against the corruption of the world; an avenging ‘hound’,xlii the symbolism of which is suggested by Evola,xliii who ‘restores’ ‘humbled Italy’.xliv This is the ‘retorating agent’, the ‘Universal Ruler’ of Dante’s De Monarchia,xlv who like other such avatars in the perennial tradition, comes at the darkest hour to restore the severed nexus between the divine and the terrestrial.
While even back in 1921 John J. Rolbiecki could only interpret Dante’s Universal Empire and Universal Monarch in profane terms as a prototype of the League of Nations and global pacifism,xlvi Evola, drawing on the perennial tradition across time and place, showed that Dante’s imperator pacificus, a title that had been bestowed on Charlemagne, ‘is not the profane and social peace pursued by a political government – but rather an inner and positive peace, which should not be divorced from the ‘triumphal’ element. […] It is a calm that reveals the supernatural.’xlvii This Gothic Emperor to which Dante devoted the entirety of De Monarchia is described in similar terms by Confucius as being ‘stable and unperturbed’, ‘virtuous’, and such virtue is so manifest that it brings others to subjection without the necessity of force. He is the ‘Lord of Peace’ and the ‘Lord of Justice’ of the Vedas, and Dante writes at length of both as characteristics of the Universal imperium. Indeed, Dante opined that it was due to her virtues and not her military, that Rome established her empire. Evola states that these principles of peace and justice are ‘fundamental attributes of royalty that have been preserved in Western civilization until the time of the Hohenstaufens and Dante, even though the political aspect predominated over the higher meaning presupposing it.’xlviii
Being, Unity and the Good
‘Good’ and a sense of ‘Being’ are predicated on ‘Unity’. That is the raison d’être of the organic state. It is part of the perennial tradition that we see in castes and ‘estates’, ordered as part of an organic totality, and not as competing factions, while the individual finds his sense of ‘happiness’ as part of this ‘Unity’. Class war and individual competition are anathema to the Gothic mentality.
I say also that Being, and Unity, and the Good come in order after the fifth mode of priority. For Being comes by nature before Unity, and Unity before Good. Where Being is most, there Unity is greatest; and where Unity is greatest, there Good is also greatest; and in proportion as anything is far from Being in its highest form, is it far from Unity, and therefore from Good. Therefore in every kind of things, that which is most one is best, as the Philosopher holds in the treatise about simple Being. Therefore it appears that to be one is the root of Good, and to be many the root of Evil. Therefore, Pythagoras in his parallel tables placed the one, or Unity, under the line of good, and the many under the line of Evil; as appears from the first book of the Metaphysic.xlix
Could there be any clearer traditionalist repudiation as ‘evil’ of the fracture that we today know as the ‘class war’ of the Left or the individualism of the Free Trade capitalist?
Avarice and Usury
In Dante’s Inferno there is no greater sin than avarice, deserving no sympathy or salvation. Greed, the accumulation of material wealth, the ‘worship’ of which is referred to in the Bible as the ‘root of all evil’ which causes the dissolution of the social order,l is presided over in the fourth circle by Plutus, the god of riches, who in Dante’s portrayal is degraded into a demon. Dante exhorts of those controlled by greed:
To the Fourth Cavern so we downward passed,
Winning new reaches of the doleful shore
Where all the vileness of the world is cast.
Justice of God! which pilest more and more
Pain as I saw, and travail manifold!
Why will we sin, to be thus wasted sore?li
The result of chasing after the ‘vileness of the world’ is divine justice afflicted upon the profane. They are both ‘squanderers’ and ‘hoarders’, but no amount of gold could ‘purchase peace’. It is divine justice that must assure that avarice is kept in reign, ‘Who holds all worldly riches in her claws.’ ‘O foolish creatures, lost in ignorance!’ While in modern epochs the wealthiest are equated with ‘success’, there is no such notion in the Gothic ethos. For the frauds, including usurers, the sixth circle of Hell assures some harsh punishments for what ‘God hates most’.
‘Sodomites’ can be found in the same hellish sector, bringing to mind a comment from Ezra Pound: ‘The Church condemns buggery and usury because both are against natural increase’. In Canto XLV, ‘With Usura’, Pound alludes to the Medieval dictum of usury as ‘contra naturam’. The belief that usury is a sin against nature is an important part of the Medieval ethos.
Simon Ravenscroft of Cambridge University discusses the Medieval outlook on money and usury and the identity of usury and sodomy as both unnatural. The Medieval outlook was that money is a means of exchange. This is the outlook of Dante. It became the avid stance of Dante’s modern devotee, Ezra Pound, who took up the theory of Social Credit with gusto as the means by which the traditional outlook on money could be restored, and who like Dante saw usury as the root of social decay.lii Pound refers to Dante in his 1942 pamphlet on money and credit, A Visiting Card: ‘The cultural tradition with regard to money, which should never have become separated from the main stream of literary culture, may be traced from Demosthenes to Dante, from Salmasius to M Butchart’s Money (an anthology of opinions of three centuries)…’liii Of the frauds, Dante writes:
All of them filled with spirits miserable.
That sight of them may thee henceforth suffice.
Hear how and wherefore in these groups they dwell.
Whate’er in Heaven’s abhorred as wickedness
Has injury for its end; in others’ bane
By fraud resulting or in violent wise.
Since fraud to man alone doth appertain,
God hates it most; and hence the fraudulent band,
Set lowest down, endure a fiercer pain
Of the violent is the circle next at handliv
This economic fraudulence including usury, ‘false coining’ and ‘simony’,lv are particularly injurious of the organic social order; ‘of natural bonds’:
The other form of fraud makes nullity
Of natural bonds; and, what is more than those,
The special trust whence men on men rely.lvi
Ravenscroft writes of Dante’s outlook:
Dante appears to draw on these arguments from the nature of money when he links usury with the sins of blasphemy and sodomy in the final section of hell’s seventh circle. These three sins are located together as sins of violence against God, and they are all punished in like manner, the perpetrators suffering from burning sand beneath them and a rain of fire falling from above. Dealing with the connection between sodomy and usury first, the relationship is one of inversion, as for Dante, sodomy is the making sterile of that which is naturally productive (the sexual act), whereas in contrast, usury is the making productive of that which is naturally sterile (money).lvii
In this thoroughly Dantesque, Gothic tradition, Ezra Pound wrote ‘With Usura’:
with usura, sin against nature,
is thy bread ever more of stale rags
is thy bread dry as paper,
with no mountain wheat, no strong flour
with usura the line grows thick
with usura is no clear demarcation
and no man can find site for his dwelling.
Stonecutter is kept from his tone
weaver is kept from his loom
The Florence of Dante’s time was noted for its commerce, including the extensive usury practised by wealthy families. Jeremy Catto writes that ‘The bankers of Florence had established, by 1300, an astonishingly precocious system of international credit.’lix It is this greed-ridden Florence, run by merchant-princes that Dante condemns as epitomizing the corruption of the social order:
Be joyful, Florence, since you are so great
that your outstretched wings beat over land and sea,
and your name is spread throughout the realm of Hell!lx
Because we are living in a profane and decaying epoch, and have been for centuries, our perspective is profane, and we are apt to interpret everything from within the Zeitgeist in which we live. Even opposition to that Zeitgeist will tend to be a reflection of it. Hence, Marx did not transcend capitalism but appropriated it, as Spengler pointed out in The Decline of The West, Prussianism and Socialism, The Hour of Decision, and elsewhere. If the Right sees in Dante’s Universal Imperium a precursor of globalization, it is because its lenses are as profane as those of that liberal who interprets Dante the same way. In particular Dante could be seen as an affront to the Rightist’s hallowed notion of the nation-state. The nationalism of much of the Right rests unwittingly on liberal-humanist foundations, which make the Declaration of Independence a sacrosanct document of American nationalism, while French Rightists uphold the ideas and symbols of Jacobinism. If Dante was anti-nationalist, it was because he thought as a traditionalist, not as a proto-globalist nor as a liberal-democrat. Nationalism was another means of the dissolution of the Gothic West. Dante’s virtuous and heroic Universal Emperor was substituted by the cunning of Machiavelli’s ‘Prince’,lxi the petty ruler of petty states; and from the Renaissance there proceeded ‘a scattering of forces that follows the disintegration of an organism,’ and there ceased to be ‘a unitary axis’.lxii
Contrary to the organic unity that Dante espoused throughout De Monarchia, and which was the basis of the organic social order of Medieval life, albeit one persisting as a shallow remnant until the French Revolution, ‘the centre no longer directed the individual parts, not only in the political but in the cultural context as well.’ There was no longer a ‘common organizing force’, represented by empire. lxiii To Evola the ‘national state’ was a ‘new and subversive idea’, part of the process of dissolution, alluding to Dante’s description of the traditional plurality of political autonomy where the parts are constituents of a social organism. lxiv The national state brought centralization, whereas Medieval feudalism maintained group autonomies within imperium by a transcendent ethos that sought a just peace, as described by Dante. The centralizing, statist tendencies of Jacobin France, in the name of ‘human rights’, might be recalled here, upholding the rights of the individual over the rights of group association, and on the ruins of the last of the traditional regimes, which were called ‘tyrannical’.
By considering Dante’s ‘philosophy of Right’ the profane lenses might be discarded and an insight gained into the traditional world prior to the profane might be discerned. Nothing is more superfluous than to call such ideas ‘outmoded’. The Right does not assume the mantle of modernism, progressivism and positivism, but is a repudiation of these, and a return to eternal values. It is not for the Right to adopt the doctrines of the epoch of decay, such as liberalism, capitalism and free trade. The Right holds that certain ideas remain eternally valid, and are no more liable to historical redundancy than the laws of gravity. Rather, the need for the return to an organic social order and a repudiation of usury and of ‘avarice’, condemned as sin in Dante’s epoch, but defined now as the foundation of modern economics, is as valid today as it was during the 13th century. It is the Right’s call for a return to origins.
iK. R. Bolton, ‘Marx Contra Marx: A Traditionalist Conservative Critique of The Communist Manifesto’, Anamnesis Journal, March 2, 2012; http://anamnesisjournal.com/2012/03/kr-bolton/ (accessed August 13, 2018).
iiK. R. Bolton, The Rise and Fall of Civilisations (London: Black House Publishing 2017), ‘Progress and its Dissidents’, 45–74.
iiiOswald Spengler, The Decline of the West (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1971), ‘Table I: ‘Contemporary’ Spiritual Epochs’, ‘Spring II: Earliest Mystical-Metaphysical Shaping of the New World-Outlook, Zenith of Scholasticism: ‘Western (from 900)’’.
ivPaul B. Newman, Daily Life in the Middle Ages (London: MacFarlane & Co., 2001), ‘Styles of Cathedral: Romanesque and Gothic’, 82.
vSpengler, op. cit., Vol. I, 56.
viSpengler, ibid., 158.
viiiT. S. Eliot, ‘What Dante means to me’, originally given as a speech at the Italian Institute of London, July 4, 1950.
ixJohn J. Rolbiecki, The Political Philosophy of Dante Alighieri (Washington: Salva Regina Press, 1921), 7.
xiiW. B. Yeats, The Second Coming (1919).
xiiiK. R. Bolton, The Decline and Fall of Civilisations, op. cit., 13–20.
xivJulius Evola, Ride the Tiger (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 2003), 150.
xvE Fuller Torrey, The Roots of Treason: Ezra Pound and the Secrets of St Elizabeth’s (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1984), 34.
xviJulius Evola, The Mystery of the Grail (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 1997), 50–53, 144–149.
xviiE. Fuller Torrey, op. cit., passim.
xviii‘Dante Comedy is “offensive and discriminatory” says Italian NGO’, The Guardian, March 14, 2012
xx‘In DC blockbuster African artists put their spin on “Divine Comedy”’, Observer, March 3, 2015; http://observer.com/2015/03/african-contemporary-art/ (accessed August 12, 2018).
xxiiDante, De Monarchia, I: III.
xxiiiK. R. Bolton, ‘Corporatism as a Perennial Method of Traditional Social Organisation’, Aristokratia, Vol. II, (Manticore Press, 201), 40–61.
xxivLe Chapelier Law, 1791.
xxvAristotle, Politics, Part II.
xxviiPaul, I Corinthians, 12: 21–27.
xxviiiPius XIII, Rerum Novarum: Rights and Duties of Capital and Labour (Vatican City, 1891), 1–2.
xxixDante, De Monarchia, II: V.
xxxOswald Spengler, ‘Prussian Socialism’ (1919) in Prussian Socialism and Other Essays by Oswald Spengler; annotated and introduced by K R Bolton (London: Black House Publishing, 2018).
xxxiOswald Spengler, ‘Prussian Socialism’, ibid., 25.
xxxiiDante, De Monarchia, II: V.
xxxiiiDante, De Monarchia, II: V.
xxxivDante, De Monarchia, I: VI.
xxxvDante, De Monarchia, II: III.
xxxviiDante, De Monarchia, I: V.
xxxixDante, De Monarchia, I: XIV.
xlDante, De Monarchia, II: VII: 3.
xliDante, De Monarchia, II: VII: 4.
xliiDante, The Inferno, Canto I: 101
xliiiEvola, The Mystery of the Grail, op. cit., 52.
xlivDante, The Inferno, Canto I: 107.
xlvEvola, op. cit., 52.
xlviJohn J Rolbiecki, The Political Philosophy of Dante Alighieri, op. cit.
xlviiJ Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World (Rochester: Inner Traditions, 1995), 18.
xlixDante, De Monarchia I: XV.
lI Timothy, 50.
liDante, The Divine Comedy: The Inferno, Canto VII, 16–20. James Romanes Sibbald translator.
liiEzra Pound, Social Credit: An Impact (1935), What is Money For? (1939), A Visiting Card (1942), Gold and Work (1944).
liiiEzra Pound, A Visiting Card (1942), 12.
livDante, The Divine Comedy, Canto XI, 19–28.
lvThe selling of sacred objects.
lviDante, Inferno, op. cit., 61–63.
lviiSimon Ravenscroft, ‘Usury in the Inferno: Auditing Dante’s Debt to the Scholastics’, Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Vol. 42, (2011), 97; https://philpapers.org/archive/RAVUIT (accessed August 13, 2018).
lviiiEzra Pound, ‘Canto XLV’ from The Cantos of Ezra Pound; https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/54319/canto-xlv (accessed August 13, 2018).
lixJeremy Catto, ‘Florence, Tuscany And The World Of Dante’, in The World Of Dante: Essays On Dante & His Times, ed. Cecil Grayson (Oxford University Press, 1980), 12
lxDante, op. cit., Canto XXVI, 1–3.
lxiJ Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World, 308.