Not to draw superiority from power, but power from superiority – this is the principle.
Translated by John Bruce Leonard
What follows is a key essay by Julius Evola published in the first years of Fascist rule, in the magazine Critica fascista, IV, 17, 1 September 1926. I sincerely hope I am mistaken in supposing this to be its first English translation; however that may be, for its richness and complexity it certainly could bear several translations, comparison of which might bear interesting fruit. In this extraordinarily dense passage, a mere two and a half thousand words, Evola lays forth a mighty and, to modern eyes, shocking view of the state and its relation to power, including along the way his profound critiques of democracy, Christianity, and ‘realism’, and most suggestively indicating a way forward for the newly born regime of what would become the Ventennio, in one of the most important periodicals of the same. It thus stands out as a jewel, both from the standpoint of historical studies, Traditionalist studies, and philosophy itself, and might shed some interesting light on the Baron’s thought.
For us, the concept of hierarchy and of State as power1 is founded on the idea of an absolute liberty. To be absolute, it is necessary for this liberty to be unconditioned.
But there is evidently only one who is unconditionally free. Several free beings cannot help but limit one another and negate one another – save as there is in the depths of each one a law, by which individual freedoms are regulated and harmonized. But since a law does not cease to be a law for being internal, and given that this law is moreover, by definition, something that transcends every single individual, in this case the result is still not an unconditional liberty.
Therefore: it is either impossible to conceive of such a liberty, so that one compromises in ways which, as such, contradict it (liberalism: the liberty is negated in order to permit life to the many, single, atomistic liberties); or else one must conceive of a being which, for its interior superiority, ceases to be one force among many others within a dynamic system, namely the society of men,2 and actuates itself in that which, as determiner of the law of the aforementioned unity, is itself free from the law which others hold in authority. And so in the free legislator, in the dominator, the idea of State as power is formed.
And indeed: that hierarchy which is able to culminate and burn in a single being, reflects the value mentioned above, only when it is comparable to a unified organism synthesized in a soul, a spirit.
Such an organism converges in the unity of a higher life which is an end-in-and-of-itself, which does not live for the needs of the body, but takes the body rather as its instrument; which is not the product of the body, but vice versa, in the sense that the soul is the end, the deep organizing principle of the body itself (Aristotle). This means: the Lord3 will not be mere representative of his inferiors (the democratic thesis), the impersonal symbol of a self-organization of which these inferiors are already capable, but vice versa: the mass, the people are not organized; they receive form and order only by virtue of the superior man, who is qualitatively distinct from all others, whom he strenuously tends to express; and he, far from living for that people, would subordinate the interest of the masses to his own interest – to those vaster horizons that he alone can determine – and would recognize no man’s right to limit his law (in neat opposition to the democratic principles of popular limitations on power,4 and of the dedication of the government to the general interest). Otherwise at the apex there would not stand a free being, but rather the first among servants – not a spirit, but the voice of the body.
But to posit this much means also to posit that power is the least of the freedoms. As the soul – in which the various parts have their end, while is its own end – will consider the conditions and the limitations that come to it from the body as imperfections and will not tolerate them but will tend to overcome them in a perfect dominion and in an organism which is entirely malleable to the spirit, so the dominator will comport himself with regard to the various conditions (political, social, economic, etc.) that are proper to the masses.
His freedom, his right, his being a value – as an end in and of himself – will therefore extend precisely so far as he has the power5 to do as he is fain; for ‘responsibility’, in any sense of the word one pleases, has meaning only when one finds oneself before a stronger power. Losing such a power,6 he will lose to equal measure the right to command, and will have to give way to that man who, being stronger, will know how to impose his own law. Thus, without power,7 the legislator, the zenith of free being, has no foundation and, however he might succeed in subsisting, he will subsist in a contingent and precarious way, basing himself not on himself, but on the other, not on his own strength but on the other’s weakness (readiness to compromise8).
Violence, however, is the lower form of such power. Violence expresses, indeed, a ‘state of opposition’9 (and thus, a state on the same level) and never a ‘standing over’10; it presupposes that other wills might resist, and thus bears witness, in the last analysis, to an impotence, an extrinsic, polemical, dependent relation, which is not truly hierarchical and dominating. Whoever truly can, has no need of violence: he has no antithesis – he imposes himself, by virtue of his interior, individual superiority, directly on that which he commands – and so has it been with all real dominators revealed to us by history, all the more at the limits of this road, where it skirts upon the Master or the Creator of religions.
Whence violence (and, with it, everything which is material force) will appear as naught but a rudimentary and provisional phase. Beyond it lies dominion through ideas, which are considered not as pallid abstractions, but rather as forces, as principles susceptible of unleashing energies and social currents through a variety of factors which are moral, suggestive, emotional, faith-based, etc. It remains the case, therefore, that the legislator will not assume the various ideas or myths (right, justice, etc.) insofar as he believes in them, insofar as he recognizes in them a superior validity to which he himself submits, but rather as pure means, as simple aspects of that power which must be dominated (anti-devotionalism,11 anti-idealism).
But even this step implies compromise and must be transcended. The various force-ideas or myths should not serve the dominator as a prop and a condition; rather, he alone must be the condition. Thus, such ideas – whose maximum culmination is in the idea of ‘fatherland’ – imply perforce something transcendent and impersonal, so that when others reveal social situations which correspond to these ideas more wholly than that of the ruling group, he can turn the forces upon which he bases his dominion against this group.
Whence the dominator, in the end, will abolish the very idea of ‘fatherland’; that is, he will make it immanent, and will spare nothing but his self, his nude being, the sufficient centre of every responsibility and of every value. ‘I am the State, the Fatherland’.12
And here commences the point of true power: not to draw superiority from power, but power from superiority – this is the principle.
The dominator is he who has at his disposal a greater quantity of being, by which others are fatally – almost without his, in a certain sense, even desiring it – kindled, attracted, impelled; he is the one who imposes himself, so to speak, with his mere presence, like that deeper and more fearful gaze which others do not know how to resist, like that calm greatness which magically paralyzes even armed, proud men13 and directly arouses respect, the need to obey, to sacrifice oneself, to place one’s truer life within this vaster life. In him an entire line, an entire tradition, and an entire history burn, as if in their act: they cease to be abstractions, they cease to be transcendent, generalities; they become individual reality, concreteness, life – an absolute life, because it is a life which is an end in and of itself, because it is pure liberty – spirit, light.
And thus, at the summit, it is this man who can say: ‘I am the way, the truth, the life’,14 and who gives to all the multitude of beings, to the entire system of lesser determinisms in practical life, his unity, his sense, his justification. For the higher never lives its own life so perfectly as when it has its end in the higher: the part, when it knows itself to be member of a body that exists not in itself, but in a soul – in a soul which is a reality, an I and not a pallid ideal or abstract law – has its own raison d’être.
The generic possibility for the achievement of all this, as for any other organization and hierarchy, lies in the so-called ‘principle of the indiscernibles’ (Leibniz),15 which is to say: Any being which was absolutely identical to another, would be one and the same thing with it. In the concept of multitude there is thus implicit the idea of a fundamental inequality of single individuals – and if of inequality, then also a possible hierarchy among them. The Christian principle of equality naturally leads to the opposite – to anti-authoritarianism, to democratism, to socialism, to anarchy – to disorganization (and this is precisely the way in which it operated on the Roman Empire).
Insofar as Christianity builds a hierarchy instead (as that of the Church, and, specifically, the Catholic Church), it must betray the principle of equality – but then it becomes an enemy of that State whose concept has been delineated, albeit in the roughest way, above. For it would constitute one authority against another, one empire against another – while the principle must be one. An empire whose dominion is purely material can coexist with a Church which gives it the soul which it lacks; but an empire which is what it is insofar as it is permeated with an immanent spirituality – a spirituality which however is not the matter of dreamy faith but of effective immanent value in an individual – must supplant, absorb, subordinate to itself every Church (anti-Guelphism).16 Such is the Roman concept of empire – the Caesar Augustus, the royal and priestly Dominator; concept which is every bit as much Pythagorian, Mithraic, Dantesque.
We have delineated the present concept of the State in a rather a priori manner, independently of any historical reality. But ‘apriorism’ does not signify abstractionism. The idea must judge reality, not vice versa. The task of speculation is not to observe that which is, but to determine, in the uncertain world of men, that which, as value, must be. And if that which must be does not correspond with reality, one must not for this reason call it abstract; we must rather call abstract and indolent that will and power of men, which are insufficient to their own realization.
Whence it would not be privy of interest to examine to what point the concept of the State which today has been reaffirmed in Italy might be reflected in the views which we have so summarily presented here, or might consider these same views in its possible attempt at further fulfilment.
1(All notes are translator’s.) Italian: Stato secondo potenza, which could also be translated as ‘the State according to power’. The word potenza is one Italian word for ‘power’; more common is potere, which Evola also uses here, though, as is not unusual for him, he prefers the less common potenza. It is difficult to say whether there is any difference intended between these two very similar words, or whether they are used synonymously. I offer a supposition regarding a potential distinction that Evola might be encouraging us to draw. The two terms derive from two different Latin roots, potere coming from the identical antique Latin verb, meaning ‘to be able’ or ‘to have the power to’ or even ‘to be powerful’, and thus is connected to the Latin potestas, the Roman juridical concept of ‘that power which can effect its will through coercion’, and which culminated in the highest form of potestas, the imperium. Potestas is thus necessarily linked to the political, and more than anything to the structural or official power of the state. Potenza comes rather from the Latin potentia, a kind of immanent power or might, which suggests the real presence of power, quite separate from the question of its formal presence or proper institutional framework. Potenza by this understanding would thus bring one back most emphatically to the powerful individual, his inherent, his immanent power, his might, not primarily of body, but primarily of soul. Unfortunately, it is difficult to render this word in English, because ‘might’ has implications of physicality, and ‘potency’, our nearest derivative, while it sometimes can suggest ‘the state of being potent’, on the other hand suggests a mere potentiality, an inherent capacity which may or may not be realized in full. It is moreover somewhat awkward to use in many contexts; the ‘State as potency’ is not quite so clear as one would like, and confuses rather than clarifying. I have therefore translated both of these words as ‘power’. For the benefit of the reader, however, I have noted the two instances in this essay in which Evola recurs to potere. It is interesting to note both the context of these appearances, and the fact that Evola chooses to emphasize them; facts both of which, in my opinion, suggest some validity to these considerations.
2Italian: umanità sociale, literally ‘social humanity’.
3Italian: capo. This word can mean ‘lord’, ‘head’, ‘leader’, and is most commonly used today in the sense of ‘boss’.
4Italian: sanzione popolare, lit. ‘popular sanction’ or ‘popular penalty’.
8Italian: compromessismo, or ‘compromisism’. This neologism does not work quite so well in English as in Italian.
9Italian: star di contro.
10Italian: star di sopra.
11Italian: antirettorismo, a curious neologism evidently indicating opposition to ‘rettori’, which might mean the rector of an institution or university, a ruler, or an officiating priest. This last alone would make sense in the present context; the meaning appears to be that the single ruler will not subject himself to the peculiar and peculiarizing tendencies of any specific faith or church.
12This last sentence echoes the (possibly apocryphal) statement of Luois XIV: ‘L’état, c’est moi.’
13When Napoleon broke his exile on Elba and landed on the shores of France, to all appearances a wretched and desperate adventurer invading a massive sovereign state with a rag-tag contingent of men, he was immediately confronted by the French military. He approached the entire French army alone and entered into its gunfire range, inviting them to shoot their Emperor if they would. The army submitted to him with cries of ‘Vive L’Empereur!’ and side by side with him marched on Paris.
14This is an evident reference to the Gospels: John 14:6; the musical key in which Evola sings this tune, however, is decidedly another.
15This is also known as Leibniz’ Law. See his Discourse on Metaphysics, § 9.
16Reference to the long contest between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines which framed so much of the last period of the High Middle Ages, particularly in Italy. The struggle was between the Pope, to whose favour fell the Guelphs, and the Holy Roman Emperor, supported by the Ghibellines. Evola often references this question. Dante was a staunch Ghibelline – fact which caused him no end of mischief. For further information, see Kerry Bolton’s inaugural essay for Arktos Journal, ‘Dante Alighieri and the Philosophy of the Right’.