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Julius Evola examines the phenomenon of decadence in civilizations, emphasizing the role of spiritual authority and recognition in maintaining hierarchical structures and preventing subversive revolutions.

This is an excerpt from Julius Evola’s Recognitions.

Whoever rejects the myth of progressivism and of evolutionism, which is nowadays generally taken for granted; whoever, through an interpretation deriving from higher values of at least the most recent history, comes to ascertain that regression is the meaning of this history—such a one shall find himself standing before the “problem of decadence.” If evolution rests on a logical impossibility—since more cannot derive from less, nor the superior from the inferior—an analogous difficulty seems to introduce itself in any attempt to explain this modern regression. How is it possible that the superior might degenerate, that a given level of spirituality and of civilization might be lost?

The solution would not be difficult if one could rest content with simple analogies: the healthy man might grow ill; the virtuous can become vicious; by a natural law, which arouses surprise in no one, every organism, after its birth, its development, and the fullness of its life, grows old, grows weak, and dies. But this is an observation, not an explanation—even supposing that between the two orders there exists a complete analogy, which is dubious enough given that one is dealing here with civilizations and politico-social organizations, in which human will and human liberty play a very different role than in the naturalistic phenomena we have mentioned.

However, this objection comes up against the theory of Oswald Spengler, who employs precisely the analogy offered by these organic facts. He assumes that, just as each organism, each civilization has its dawn, its phase of full unfolding, then an autumnal aging, a sclerosis, and, finally, death and dissolution.

… decadence appears as the meaning of history, due to the fact that one ascertains in this history the failure of civilizations of the traditional kind, and the ever more precise, general, planetary advent of a new common civilization of the “modern” kind.

The cycle proceeds from the originating organic, spiritual and heroic forms of what Spengler calls Kultur, to the materialized, inorganic, massified and disanimated forms of what he calls Zivilisation. Such a theory repeats in part another theory of traditional character regarding the so-called “cyclical laws.” These refer, moreover, to a considerably vaster realm, one might even say a metaphysical realm, which is capable of carrying us a little deeper in the analysis of our problem. It offers, effectively, the beginning of an explanation as to why one must here refer to the manifestation of a force which little by little exhausts itself—just as the pumping force of a piston, which provokes an expansive movement that gradually slows and recedes unless a new input arrives (an input which would give rise, in our case, to a new cycle). We must specify that on the plane of human reality, the form in question should be understood as a superior organizing force which binds the inferior forces, imprinting them with form. When the originating tension weakens, these lower forces release and gradually gain the upper hand, making way for phenomena of a disintegrating character.

This view appears to be relevant for that specific framework within which we would like to limit the problem of decadence. Its point of departure, similar in part to Spengler’s, is a dualism of the types of civilization, and consequently also of State. On one hand, there are the traditional civilizations, differing amongst themselves in form and in everything contingent, but identical in their principle: these are civilizations in which spiritual and super-individual forces and values constitute the axis and the supreme point of reference for the general organization, for the formation and for the justification of every subordinate reality.

On the other hand, there is civilization of the modern type, identical to anti-tradition, built of merely human, terrestrial, individualistic and collectivistic works and factors; it is the complete development of everything that a life disassociated from overlife might attain. And decadence appears as the meaning of history, due to the fact that one ascertains in this history the failure of civilizations of the traditional kind, and the ever more precise, general, planetary advent of a new common civilization of the “modern” kind.

The specific problem, therefore, is how such a thing is possible. Let us restrict the field of our inquiry yet again; let us consider that which has real bearing on hierarchical structure and on the principle of authority, since, at bottom, this constitutes the key to everything else. In the case of traditional hierarchies and of that formative action which we have just introduced in reference to cyclical laws, we must contest the idea that the fundamental and exclusive factor of these hierarchies was a species of imposition, of direct control and violent dominion, on the part of those who at least believed themselves superior over that which was inferior. One must grant an essential weight to spiritual action. Thus, traditionally one could speak of “acting without acting”; one used the symbolism of the “unmoved mover” (in the Aristotelian sense)1 and of the “pole”—the immutable axis around which every ordering motion of the subject forces is performed. The “Olympian” attribute of true authority and sovereignty was underlined, its way of directly affirming itself, not by violence but by presence. At times, finally, the image of the magnet was used, which, as we shall see, provides the key to all the problems presently under examination. The conception of the violent origin of every hierarchical and civil order, which is dear to the historiography and the ideology of the left, should be rejected, being as it is primitive, false, or at least incomplete.

In general, it is absurd to believe that the representatives of a true spiritual authority and of the tradition, who had some direct interest in creating and maintaining those hierarchical relations by virtue of which they could appear even visibly as the masters, set about running after men to grab them and to tie each one to his post. Not simply submission, but adhesion and recognition on the part of the inferior are rather the fundamental basis of every normal and traditional hierarchy. It is not the superior who has need of the inferior, but the inferior who has need of the superior; it is not the master that has need of the minion, it is the minion that has need of a master.

Has one not perhaps heard it repeated that, if a revolution triumphs, it is sign that the ancient masters were enfeebled and the ancient ruling classes were degenerate?

The essence of hierarchy is to be found in the fact that in certain beings there lives, in the form of presence and of actuated reality, that which exists in others only as confused aspiration, as presentiment, as tendency; for this, the latter are fatally attracted by the former, naturally subordinate themselves to the former, subordinating themselves less to something exterior than to their own truest “I.” Here we can find the secret of every readiness in sacrifice, every lucid heroism, every free virile devotion within the world of the ancient hierarchies—and, on the other hand, we can find here also the origin of a prestige, of an authority, of a calm potency and of an influence, which not even the best-armed tyrant could ever guarantee to himself.

The recognition of this fact sheds a different light not only on the problem of decadence but also on the possibility, in general, of every subversive revolution. Has one not perhaps heard it repeated that, if a revolution triumphs, it is sign that the ancient masters were enfeebled and the ancient ruling classes were degenerate? That might be true, but it is ex parte. One should certainly keep such an idea in mind, for example, wherever there are wild dogs at the chain which end up biting someone: this evidently would prove that the hands which hold these animals firm are not, or are no longer, strong enough. But things stand otherwise if one contests the exclusively violent origin of the true State, when the point of departure is that hierarchy whose most essential foundation we have just now indicated. Such a hierarchy can be overthrown in one case alone: when the individual degenerates, when he uses his fundamental liberty to deprive his life of every higher reference and to constitute himself to himself almost as if he were a lump of flesh. Then the points of contact are fatally interrupted, the tension slackens which unified the traditional organization and made the political process into the counterpart of a process of elevation and of integration of the single individual, of the realization of latent higher possibilities; then every force vacillates in its orbit, and finally—perhaps after a vain attempt to substitute the lost tradition with rationalistic or utilitarian constructs—flies free. The apices might even remain pure and intact on high, but the rest, which hung before as if suspended from them, shall now be like an avalanche. With a motion at first imperceptible, then growing in speed, it loses its stability and precipitates down, to the bottom, to the leveling of the valleys: liberalism, socialism, collectivism en masse, communism.

This is the mystery of decadence in the restricted compass to which we have limited our reflections; this is the mystery of every subversive revolution. The revolutionary commences by killing the hierarchy in himself, mutilating in himself those possibilities which correspond to the interior foundation of order—and he then proceeds to demolish the order outside himself as well. Without a preliminary interior destruction, no revolution—in the sense of anti-hierarchical and antitraditional subversion—can be possible. And since this preliminary phase escapes the notice of the superficial observer and of the myope who does not know how to see or evaluate anything but “facts,” so one is accustomed to considering revolutions as irrational phenomena, or to explaining them exclusively by material or social considerations, which in any normal civilization have never been anything but secondary and subordinate.

When the Catholic mythology, speaking of the primordial fall of man and the very “revolt of the angels,”2 relates all this to freedom of the will, at bottom this carries us back to the same explanatory principle. One treats of the fearful power inherent in man to use his liberty toward spiritual destruction, toward repulsion of all that which might guarantee him a higher dignity. This is a metaphysical decision; and the current which snakes throughout history in the various forms of the anti-traditional, revolutionary, individualistic, humanistic, secularistic, and in the end “modern” spirit, is nothing but the manifestation, and so to speak the phenomenology, of this decision. This decision is the primary effective and determinate cause in the mystery of decadence and of the destruction of the traditional.

In comprehending this, we are near to penetrating the sense of ancient traditions, whose nature is sufficiently enigmatic, relative to those masters who, in a certain sense, still exist, not ever having ceased to be, and who can be rediscovered (they themselves, or else their “abodes”) by means of actions described in various ways but always symbolically; the search for them is equivalent in fact to reintegrating oneself, creating a given attitude, whose virtue is analogous to those essential qualities by which a given metal immediately feels (so to speak) the magnet, discovers the magnet and orients itself and moves irresistibly toward it. We limit ourselves to this hint, for whomever wishes to develop it.

But looking to our present times, a profound pessimism arises in this connection. Even were such true masters to appear today, they would not be recognized unless they concealed their quality, and presented themselves essentially as a species of demagogues and agitators of social myths. It is for this too that the epoch of the monarchies has closed, when previously, while order subsisted, even a simple symbol might have sufficed; it was not necessary that he who incarnated this symbol was always up to its height.


1The “unmoved mover” (Greek: ὃ οὐ κινούμενος κινεῖ) was conceived by Aristotle as being the prime cause of the cosmos. It is the originator of causality, but itself is not subject to causality. In the Metaphysics, it is identified with the divinity which contemplates itself. Aristotle considered this the necessary ultimate consequence of the principle that “nothing comes from nothing.” For more, see Aristotle, Book VIII of the Physics and Book XII of the Metaphysics. Evola gives considerable attention to all of these problems in the first part of Revolt Against the Modern World. (See especially Chapter 3.)

2References to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden (See the Old Testament, Genesis 3) and the fall of Lucifer from Heaven, originating from Lucifer’s attempt to overthrow the throne of God with a contingent of angels, and resulting in the casting down of the rebels into hell. The Biblical basis for this tale is somewhat slight. See Isaiah 14:12-17 and 2 Enoch 29:3. The Catholic Encyclopedia entry for “Devil” contains the following: “The authoritative teaching of the Church on this topic is set forth in the decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council (cap. i, ‘Firmiter credimus’), wherein, after saying that God in the beginning had created together two creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal, that is to say the angelic and the earthly, and lastly man, who was made of both spirit and body, the council continues:

‘Diabolus enim et alii dæmones a Deo quidem naturâ creati sunt boni, sed ipsi per se facti sunt mali.’ (‘the Devil and the other demons were created by God good in their nature but they by themselves have made themselves evil.’)” Cf. also Milton, Paradise Lost, Book I.

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Julius Evola

Julius Evola (1898-1974) was Italy's foremost traditionalist philosopher, as well as a metaphysician, social thinker, and activist. Evola was an authority on the world's esoteric traditions and one of the greatest critics of modernity.

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7 months ago

It is not the superior who has need of the inferior, but the inferior who has need of the superior; it is not the master that has need of the minion, it is the minion that has need of a master.

Peak Evola. Sometimes he goes too deep for me, but if I stick around a bit he delivers gems like this.

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