Written by: Manfredi Pozzoli/Edited by: Ewa Bialoglowska
The ideas of Julius Evola (1898-1974) have, in recent years, received an increasing level of media attention. After Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former chief campaign strategist, made a passing reference to the Traditionalist philosopher at a conference in 2014, the links between Evola and contemporary extreme right-wing movements have come under scrutiny. This attention was especially directed at online far-right communities – often categorised under the umbrella term ‘Alt-Right’. On online platforms and imageboards, writers observed, Evola’s ideas on race, spirit and modernity had become increasingly associated with a growing culture of ‘esoteric fascism’.
However, although the transfer of Evola’s ideas online represents a new phenomenon, the methods in which these ideas are employed are not unprecedented. Indeed, many similarities exist between the Alt-Right’s use of Evola’s philosophy, and that of the first wave of youth-based, European neofascist groups that arose in the 1960s. In both cases, Evola’s ideas were used to ‘appropriate’ popular culture products in order to create alternative narratives of politics, race and religion. This process of appropriation was rarely organised; rather, it was mostly conducted chaotically, often by single individuals or small groups. The result has been the creation of many different ‘countercultures’ that, although theoretically based on the philosopher’s ideas, have often developed in complex and contradictory ways. By comparing these processes of appropriation and re-elaboration, it is possible to understand many key characteristics in the development of extreme right-wing perspectives and identities.
Tradition, Fascism, and Hobbits: Evola in the Age of the New Right
The first major surge in the adoption of Evola’s ideas by European extremist groups happened between the 1950s and 1970s. This period saw the formation of a number of groups, such as Ordine Nuovo in Italy, and movements such as France’s Nouvelle Droite, which, often acting independently of their countries’ more established right-wing parties, developed unique ideologies that radically opposed the post-war liberal-democratic order.
In the context of the Cold War, many of these groups – which often branded themselves as ‘neofascist’– found Evola’s philosophy more relatable than that of pre-war writers like Gentile. Witnessing an unprecedented degree of technological progress and industrial development, as well as the cultural and Sexual Revolutions of the 1960s, neofascists found a frame for their rejection of the status quo in the philosopher’s anti-modernist message. In particular, they opposed the capitalist-socialist dichotomy and the superpowers’ high-modernism, advocating instead for a tradition-based ‘Third Position’. Similarly, they used Evola’s rejection of Christian doctrines to attack the Church, as well as the various Christian Democratic parties that – in Italy, France and West Germany – had become increasingly aligned with Washington. In reality, this process of adaptation often simplified Evola’s ideas to the point of distortion. Nevertheless, the ideological framework resulting from it still remained a key component in the structuring of these movements’ political identities.
Moreover, this transfer of Evola’s ideas to the Cold War context was also influential in the development of underground countercultural movements. Here, certain themes of Evola’s works – especially those concerning mythology and spiritualism – were separated from their original philosophical context, and, often arbitrarily, ‘superimposed’ on various media, such as music and visual arts. The late 1970s, for instance, saw the emergence of an underground ‘Euro-pagan’ scene, which combined Traditionalist themes and popular genres of music, such as folk or progressive rock. The extent to which Evolist and Traditionalist doctrines were adopted by these artists varied greatly. For instance, Hungarian band Scivias produced strongly ‘ideological’ material, which linked the rediscovery of the spirit of Tradition to a rejection of Soviet Communism. Conversely, other groups, such as Britain’s Sol Invictus, adopted Evolist symbols for merely ‘aesthetic’ purposes.
For the most part, these forms of artistic expression existed at the ‘periphery’ of the established parties and movements. Nevertheless, they were often tolerated, encouraged, and even platformed by the movements’ leaders. Indeed, because of the numerous young activists among their ranks, many of them saw ‘appropriated’ popular culture materials as useful tools to propagandise their ideas while making them more accessible.
However, there were also some exceptions to this framework. In certain cases, the movements themselves made deliberate and organised attempts at building alternative cultures over pre-existent media. One of the most comprehensive examples of this trend is the effort by Fronte della Gioventù, the youth-wing of the far-right Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI), at fascistizzare – “fascist-ify” –Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. After its publication in Italy in 1970, the book had become almost immediately popular in right-wing, Evolist circles. For figures like Pino Rauti – Ordine Nuovo’s founder– Tolkien’s work encapsulated the never-ending struggle between Tradition’s noble spirit and the advancing machinery of modernity. Building on this interpretation, MSI leaders began to employ Tolkien’s materialfor a diverse range of initiatives. For instance, between 1977 and 1980, they planned and organised a series of three Campi Hobbit. Presented as alternatives to contemporary left-wing festivals, these were weekend-long summer retreats for young activists, which mainly offered a combination of sports and seminars. Moreover, MSI activists also briefly published Eowyn, a periodical named after one of Tolkien’s characters. Predominantly written by – and aimed towards – young women, Eowyn strongly attacked feminism and the “depravity” of the Sexual Revolution.
New Media, Same Message: Between the New Right and the Alt-Right
The emergence of the online Alt-Right has often been described as a unique and new phenomenon. During the 2016 US Presidential Campaign, extreme right-wing content, which had previously been limited to remote corners of the Internet, seemed to flood social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube. This material often borrowed concepts and terms put forward by Evola and other Traditionalists: consequently, Alt-Right content shares numerous similarities with the type produced by the New Right.
Firstly, the Alt-Right often strongly attacks the “degeneracy” of the modern world. Like the New Right movements, Alt-Right communities portray modernity as inherently responsible for the West’s downfall. Contemporary progressive successes, such as increased recognition for LGBTQ rights, are thus viewed as symptoms of a long-standing process of decay, which began during the 1960s social revolutions. This view of spiritual decline is particularly associated with figures, like Russian “neo-Euroasianist” Aleksandr Dugin, who are strongly linked to New Right traditions. Likewise, the old ‘Third-Positionist’ discourses are also retained, although ‘translated’ to a domestic framework: here, institutions such as academia, news media, and corporations are portrayed as conspiring to destroy the West by promoting a culture which combines extreme “cultural-Marxist” progressivism and capitalism.
Moreover, the New Right and the Alt-Right share similar interests in employing Evola’s ideas to appropriate popular culture. The most well-known example of this trend concerns the use of the 1999 movie The Matrix – and especially the concepts derived from the idea of the “red pill”. In its most common form, “to take the red pill” simply refers to the adoption of right-wing ideals; however, the phrase has also been associated with the notion of a spiritual awakening – leading to the rejection of modernity’s lies, and to the discovery of the “truth” on issues of politics and, usually, race. According to the study reported by Tuters, on 4chan’s /pol/ board, this idea of awakening was frequently paired with the Evolist concept of ‘Kali Yuga’, interpreted as referring to the West’s failure to “preserve its own roots”.
However, Alt-Right cultural material also has certain unique characteristics. First, irony is practically omnipresent. On platforms such as 4chan, ‘esoteric fascist’ symbols are often presented through comedy (as in the case of “fashwave” memes, which combine Traditionalist motifs with a retro aesthetic derived from 1980s videogames and electronic music). Through this process, the links between these symbols and their original philosophical contexts are almost completely severed, thus allowing for the creation of new and independent interpretations. Second, because of social media’s decentralised and anonymity-based structure, Alt-Right countercultures tend to be even more heterogeneous and numerous than those put forward by the New Right. A display of these characteristics can be found in the 2019 Christchurch Mosque Shooter’s manifesto. By employing a combination of quasi-ironic material, mostly originating from 4chan and 8chan, and Evolist-Traditionalist concepts, the Shooter created a uniquely personal ‘extremist perspective’, which highlighted his beliefs while simultaneously mixing them with a foundation of seemingly comedic content.
The Utility of Comparison
Drawing comparisons between the New- and Alt-Right movements may seem like a mostly ‘academic’ exercise. However, it provides a series of advantages to those studying the current developments in the sphere of online extremism. Primarily, it allows to avoid common misconceptions about the nature of contemporary fascist movements. Although they may appear – and in many respects are – completely “new”, these movements stand on the shoulders of a long historical and ideological tradition.
Within this tradition, trends regarding the process of adopting, reimagining and transforming the ideas of thinkers like Evola show the common characteristics in the perspectives of “old” and “new” extremists. Today, like fifty years ago, Evola’s ideas remain relevant as ‘lenses’ through which some extreme right-wing identities are created and shared.
Tuters, Marc, “Esoteric Fascism Online.” In Far Right Revisionism and the End of History, edited by L.D. Valencia-Garcia. New York: Routledge, 2020.
Ferraresi, Franco, “Julius Evola: Tradition, Reaction, and the Radical Right,” European Journal of Sociology 28, no. 1 (1987): 107-151.
François, Stephane and Ariel Godwin, “The Euro-Pagan Scene: Between Paganism and Radical Right,” Journal for the Study of Radicalism 1, no. 2 (2007): 35-54.
Ross, Alexander R. and Emmi Bevensee, “Confronting the Rise of Eco-Fascism Means Grappling with Complex Systems,” Centre For the Analysis of the Radical Right, (2020).