We believe it will be of interest to provide an account of some new Germanic initiatives, designed to take over in a particular political form the tasks of “qualitative” education, which in the preceding era were mainly entrusted to a few private institutions. We will begin with an outline of the so-called “Napolas.”
Napolas is an abbreviation of Nationalpolitische Erziehungsanstalten, i.e., in translation, “institutes of national-political education.” They came into being in the following way. After the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was forced to abolish some schools of cadets; they were then transformed by the post-war German government into so-called “Staatliche Bildungsanstalten,” i.e., into state educational institutions used to house young people in need, or who were neglected by their families. They were standardized middle schools, providing an education mainly according to liberal and apolitical criteria, complemented by fairly advanced sports training.
When National Socialism came to power, these institutions were again transformed and became the Napolas. The purpose of the Napolas, which are controlled by the new state, is strictly political-selective. They admit particularly gifted youths and develop in them the qualities that will make them capable of exercising executive functions, not necessarily only in the Army or in the party, but in any area of life. The concept, then, is totalitarian, with particular concern that the strengthening of virile qualities is accompanied by a “social sense,” a habit of considering one’s actions in relation to a community.
The statements made personally to us by one of the general inspectors of these institutes — during one of our visits — are characteristic. He stressed the separation that must exist between private family education and political education. He denied that political education can be considered as a further development of the “natural” education that a youth may receive within the family. Instead, it is a separate phase with other presuppositions, following other principles, mainly that of the soldatische Gemeinschaft, the community and solidarity that can exist within a group of soldiers. It is in this way that the Napolas are to function: not as copies of, or continuations of the family. The young person is to feel that they belong to a different and larger order, an order with its own law and its own morality.
While admission to the Staatliche Bildungsanstalten, the previous, liberal form of the same institutions, was open to anyone wishing to attend them, the Napolas only admit those youths who have been selected in elementary schools and by youth organization leaders for their special and exceptional potential. Admission can take place at the ages of either 10 or 14, and in the case of the former, the full course lasts eight years, in the case of the latter six.
There is no fixed fee to be paid for admission to these boarding-schools. There is a donation, depending on the financial situation of the family of the youth who has been recognized as worthy of being admitted. Courses may not be repeated. If, in his studies or in any other aspect of education, the youth shows himself to be inadequate, he is definitively expelled.
Even in the Napolas, with regard to physical training and the strengthening of character, there are those “tests of courage” which we have already mentioned in reference to similar institutions in Germany. For example, even the youngest students, 10-year-olds, are asked to jump into water from a certain height, even if they do not know how to swim, and older students are, for example, asked to mount a spirited horse without a saddle; their behavior is carefully observed during “fighting practice,” and so on. This is for the individual side of such tests. With regard to the individual in his relations to the group, special attention is payed to qualities of camaraderie, both his capacity of command his companions and to a corresponding sense of responsibility. To facilitate the development of such qualities, the Napolas leave ample space for the principle of self-discipline, that is, the order entrusted to the young people themselves, who are given, according to their qualities, authority over a certain group of companions.
It is also according to these qualities that the youth is judged to be worthy or not of remaining in the institutions in question. Admission is first confirmed after a year of probation. But the youth is subjected to a succession of tests and must be aware that he can be expelled at any moment, should he fail to prove himself to be up to the ideals of the Napolas.
As for technical teaching, it must not be less demanding than what is imparted in other schools. In accordance with the idea of a totalitarian education, the aesthetic element is also not neglected, and instruction not only in drawing and painting, but also in singing, occupies, in this domain, an important place. Furthermore, there is the principle of entrusting the students to young teachers, so that, athletically, the latter are also able to be their teachers, or competitors, or leaders in sports and the tactical exercises which take place at regular intervals, and, once a year, together with the students of all the Napolas (about twenty) that exist in the Reich.
In terms of political education, the so-called “casuistic” method is used. Abstract concepts are avoided, and instead, the youths are confronted with concrete cases, and their judgment is evaluated. Thus, one tends to activate and refine a certain sensibility, rather than inculcating general schemes of political or social ideas.
One unusual and bold initiative of the Napolas consists of sending students to live with the families of workers for a period from six to eight weeks, in the case younger students with farming families, in the case of older students with the families of industrial workers. During this period, the youth is hired by those families as a paid laborer, lives with them, and must live only on his wages, since he is not allowed to receive money or parcels from his own family. Through this communal life, the youth is meant to develop his social feeling and directly learn to understand the problems of the workers’ existence. He should even be capable of serving as a model, through his conduct, for the families and the workers he finds himself with, and must not neglect to enlighten them on political issues and what he has learned through experience about the ideas of National Socialism.
All of this is organized through an agreement between the Napolas and the Arbeitsfront, i.e., with the so-called “German Labor Front,” a Party organization which controls the national work force, and in this case is charged with distributing individual students to environments appropriate for this new internship. In recent years of the institutes, educational trips abroad have also been organized.
Once the course has been completed, contrary to what might be expected, the youth does not receive any specially advantaged diploma. He finds himself in the same conditions as he would have had he attended an ordinary school, and his career is in no way facilitated. The reason for this is that it is thought that the youth must be capable of bringing to fruition, on his own, in the struggle for life, the superior qualities that this special, complex, and rigorous elite education has tested, confirmed, and developed. These qualities on their own must be capable of asserting themselves, in a virile and realistic way, through their very nature, without the slightest assistance, and lead the young man to the commanding position which they, in principle, make him worthy of.
It is not without importance that the principal elements that govern the education of youths in the Napolas, and that control these institutions, themselves belong to the SS (Schutz-Staffeln), that is, from the Germanic “black” corps, which has the ambition of being a guard and almost an Order — in the ancient sense of an organization of ascetic warriors — of the National Socialist revolution.
Regime fascista, 1941
Krössinsee (Pomerania), August 1939
In a kind of immense field opening up in the dense and unbroken mass of the Nordic forest, against the backdrop of the metallic colors of two large lakes, under a sky made particularly lofty by this constant horizontality and straightness, which, so to speak, constitutes the style of this Pomeranian landscape, stands a group of buildings. They are a singular mixture of the primordial, the archaic, and the modern. They, too, are linear, smooth, devoid of any ornamental superfluities, at once hard and clear. Large towers, fences and large huts with colonnades, a large semi-circular amphitheater, buildings with high trapezoidal roofs, long parallellepipeds, great slopes and arenas sharply set off by their particularly violent colors — blood-red and black — against the dark green of the surrounding grass, large squares and paths cut into the lawn and paved with irregularly shaped stones like ancient Roman roads, bleachers, antennas. Over it all ripples a long, red flame, emblazoned with the swastika.
This is Krössinsee, the first “Ordensburg,” the first “Castle of the Order” of the Germanic National Socialist movement.
The Castles of the Order are one of the most characteristic and significant initiatives of Nazism. They are an expression of an exigency of utmost importance for the new anti-Marxist movements: the systematic formation of the future political, governing class, of the men who tomorrow will command.
The ordeals of the beginnings of those movements were already a form of selection. The struggle itself differentiated the best elements, setting them apart from the rest and investing them with a natural legitimacy and authority. But for the coming generation, other criteria of selection are needed, given the different circumstances. The question arises if a special education system can breed a stock from which to draw the elements most qualified to assume the leading positions in the party, as they gradually become vacant.
In response to this problem, in Germany, several initiatives have been undertaken. There are so-called “Institutes for social and political education” (Napolas), there are political schools for the leaders of the S.S. (“Schutzstaffeln,” the black corps, the “guard” and “order” of the Nazi revolution). Finally, there are the “Castles of the Order” and the “Adolf Hitler Schools” which are preparatory for the former: both are part of the “German Labor Front” directed by Ley and specifically concerned with the education of party elements.
The principle that informs these institutions is indicated by their name [“Ordensburg,” “Castle of the Order”]: i.e., the idea of an “Order,” on the basis of the ideal of an “elite” that combines a military vocation with special moral qualities. At least in principle, the education imparted by these institutions should be total, encompassing the body, the soul and the spirit in an indissoluble unity. There are, first of all, racial conditions that must be fulfilled: applicants must be perfectly “in order” with regard to race and physical type, and not only in the sense of being well-built — “Nordic,” if possible — and of perfect physical health. Any bodily defect is enough to preclude admission to the Ordensburgen. This institution has no intention of producing leaders who wear glasses, are missing a finger, or have flat feet — to the point of not even making exceptions for those whose physical defect is a consequence of having fought for the Nazi revolution.
The athletic and physical training at this school of future political leaders must not be less demanding than everything pertaining to education and knowledge. Candidates must all learn to ride, swim, box, fence and perform light athletics, row and sail small boats, play tennis, and so on — few varieties of sport are omitted. In addition to this, there is of course properly military training. A characteristic point are the so-called “tests of courage.” Already the Adolf Hitler Schulen, which admit the future cadets of the Ordensburgen when they are still children, demand certain tests: leaping into water from a certain height, even without knowing how to swim, mounting a horse without a saddle, dangerous climbs, and so on. Aspiring cadets of the Ordensburgen are sometimes asked to readily jump out of an airplane with a parachute. The principle in this regard is that physical courage and strength of inner resoluteness are closely related. In general, they want to get rid of the nineteenth-century bureaucratic-parliamentary, bourgeois, or romantic-humanitarian type of leader. Soldierly qualities are given a leading role.
As for the course work, it is characterized by the close connection of special disciplines with the National Socialist “worldview.” These special disciplines are racial theory, prehistory, ancient history, geopolitics and biology. An extensive library is available to cadets: at Krössinsee there is also a special center for study and information regarding the problems and legislation of racism. The general guidelines in terms of worldview are essentially based on the theories of Alfred Rosenberg — which is not without certain dangers, given the various simplifications and contingent adaptations that his theories present. But the institution of the Castles is, after all, very recent, and hence still open to further development even in this regard.
To provide a picture of the entire education system, we should mention that normally, as a preliminary condition for admission to the Ordensburgen, candidates must have attended one of the Adolf Hitler Schulen, to which they are admitted on the basis of special selection by the leaders of the Party youth organizations. The Adolf Hitler Schulen are attended at no cost by youths aged from 10 to 18, for studies combining political and athletic components up to the level of secondary school. After that, the youths must spend six months in the so-called “labor service,” and following that, two years in military service. After this, a period of freedom follows, in which each youth on his own may take up specialized higher studies or dedicate himself to some activity. After a period of about 5 years, i.e., at an age of between 25 and 27 years old, there are the “calls” for admission to Ordensburgen. and an initial selection is made from among those who apply. Three Castles of the Order are planned, along with an initial set of courses, each lasting a year, to be completed one after the other, first in Krössinsee — i.e., the castle we visited — then at Vogelsang, and finally in Sonthofen. For those wishing to become administrators or instructors at the Castles of the Order in their turn, a fourth center is being planned, to be established in Chiemsee, for even more specialized instruction.
As an interesting detail, we will mention that for each year of the normal courses, every cadet is sent for a certain period of time to the region he comes from, to temporarily take on a political office of the party, substituting whoever normally occupies it, in order to gain direct experience of its problems, tasks and responsibilities. This occurs three times, once per year, as an interlude between the courses in the three Castles.
Naturally, during these courses a further selection takes place. Whoever shows themselves to be inadequate in any respect, anyone who falls behind, is not allowed to catch up and is immediately sent back to ordinary life. Like the Adolf Hitler Schulen, the Castles are completely free, candidates are provided for as guests of the state. Needless to say, qualities of character are a decisive factor here, and are put to the test by every possible means. One does not neglect to provide candidates with an orientation in the field of social and even legal problems. For example, civil cases where problems arise that are particularly relevant to the ideas of honor, responsibility, etc. are summoned to the Castles: they take place in the presence of all candidates, who then have to express and discuss their point of view. Once the three courses have been completed, each student of the Castles is presented to the Party, so as to be assigned to responsibilities in conformity with the qualities and the special dispositions which he has demonstrated.
The students at these political schools are called “Junker,” not without a certain tendentiousness. “Junker” is in fact a term that refers to youths from noble German families who have begun a military career, and the “Junkertum” represented a kind of caste, the old aristocratic and military caste, which in the second Reich Germany had an importance that is well known. In giving the same name to the students of the Castles of the Order, who are recruited from all walks of life under the German Labor Front, one is clearly declaring the intention to replace one “elite” with another “elite,” formed on quite different premises, and, in particular, not on the basis of family tradition and caste, but on what is supposed to correspond to a given physical racial type, along with a declared faith in National Socialism.
As already mentioned, the establishment of the Ordensburgen is quite recent. Therefore, only time will tell to what extent this attempt to methodically, we would almost say rationally, create a nursery of future political leaders, a “seminary” of the future German ruling class, has positive potential and constitutes an example worthy of imitation.
Originally published in Corriere Padano, August 22, 1939
One of the most interesting, significant and perhaps least known creations of the German National Socialist revolution is the so-called SS corps.
SS is an abbreviation of Schutz-Staffeln: the “black”corps of defense of the Third Reich. Just as the army — the Reichswehr — is the organ of the external defense of the State, the SS is its internal organ of defense. In this unique organization, the characteristics of an ancient Order, of a political elite, of a biological and heroic elite, of a bodyguard of the Leader, of a “state secret police” in a higher sense, and finally, of a group intended to realize and defend, in the most direct manner, the basic ideas of the National Socialist worldview, come together in an ordered synthesis. It consists of two hundred thousand men, united by an unbreakable oath of loyalty and honor, who see themselves — in the words of their leader, Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler — as “a National Socialist Order of warriors.” They aspire to return to the origins: they strive to be a community in which the renewed contact with the original forces of their race and with the myths of the great primordial Nordic civilization forms the principle of a new, indomitable life; and in which the new feeling of blood establishes mysterious contacts with the ancestors and the dead, overcoming individualistic isolation and integrating the individual in the continuity of the race and a vital current that opens up new paths towards the future. The sacred symbols of pre-Christian Germanic antiquity are re-evoked: the “runes” are often to designate special divisions of the “black corps.”
It has become customary in Germany to designate various organizations with their acronyms (KdF, HJ, BdM, SA, etc.), but the abbreviation of the Schutz-Staffeln, SS, lent itself to a particularly significant transposition: due to the affinity of the two letters with the sign of the so-called “runes of victory” — Siegrunen — the latter have come to replace to the former. Today, the ancient Nordic “runes of victory,” with their zigzag marks, designate the SS on their uniforms, in quotations, in every circumstance. This is one of those cases in which modern man evokes the elemental — the true significance of which he only obscurely senses — drawing him into the premonition of a world where there are no longer “concepts” and “theories,” “values,” and “words,” but forces, powers, primordial meanings. The jagged zigzag signs of the “runes of victory” which are now the insignia of the SS uniform, are equivalent to the sign that, in ancient Egyptian symbolism, in the form of a scepter, designated the terrible solar power that consecrates and deifies the King and renders him invincible; through the allusion to lightning, they are also connected to the symbolism of the celestial force essentially used by the Olympian gods of the Aryan race in their perennial struggle against dark, titanic, telluric forces.
These are meanings which are now resurfacing in initial, confused intuitions, as, for example, when Himmler views the fight against Bolshevism as merely an episode in a perennial and almost metaphysical struggle, in which the forces of Aryan humanity clash with those of subhumanity. The SS, the bearer of the “runes of victory,” also takes upon itself the mission of being the principal anti-Bolshevik combat organization, conscious — in the words of Gruppenführer SS R. Heydrich, another leader of the “black corps” — of the tasks linked to the struggle not only against the visible enemy, but also against the invisible and masked enemy.
We will briefly touch upon the genesis of the SS. It originated in the so-called Stabswache created by National Socialism in March 1923, which then was followed by the “the Hitler assault troop,” or the Stosstrupp Hitler, which was made up of select militarily trained elements, put at the unconditional, personal disposition of the leader. Following the period during which the paramilitary organizations of the party were banned, a period during which the Stosstrupp Hitler went into latency, in the summer of 1925, the SS was created by Julius Schreck, a trusted collaborator of Hitler, and the current black uniform with a silver skull on the cap was introduced.
When, in January 6, 1929, Heinrich Himmler took command of this corps, it had only 270 men: but even then it developed an effective activity not only of external defense, but also of internal defense against dissident or dubious elements in the Party. By the time the movement had seized power, the “black corps” already counted one hundred thousand men. Its power, authority and prerogatives steadily increased, and it was definitively sanctioned in 1934. The SS were the organ mainly used by Hitler for the repressive measures taken in June 30, 1934, and in the liquidation of insurgent tendencies led by Ernst Röhm and von Schleicher. On the basis of the loyalty and merits demonstrated on that occasion, the SS, which until then was under the command of the SA (Sturmabteilungen, the “assault troops” in brown uniforms, of which Röhm was one of the main leaders), was turned into an independent organization, and completely entrusted with the role of “state secret police” or GSP (Geheimstaatspolizei). Its leader, Himmler, has the official title of “Führer of the SS and of the Reich and head of the German police.” With this, the SS became the most powerful organization of the party, connected directly to Hitler. One could say that it is the backbone of the movement, the organ that controls all of its parts and guarantees its security.
As for Germany in general, its other great pillar is the army, the Reichswehr, which, as we know, is not reducible to the merely military element, but has its own traditions and its own ideal, as well as direct connections with the nobility, especially the Prussian nobility. It is no exaggeration to say that, for the Germany of the future, the ways in which the relations between the SS and the Reichswehr will evolve will be of decisive importance: as for the remaining Nazi organizations, such as for example the Labour Front, or the SA, however important they may be, in this political regard and in the dynamics of the political forces that are decisive for the new Germany, they will always be marginal and subordinate.
Heinrich Himmler was responsible for the spiritual formation of the SS, the clarification of their duties and the defining of the principles and laws that must apply to them. The basic idea is the creation of a new elite, of a new nobility. Himmler asked himself who, in the ancient States, was prepared to give everything for their prince in order to defend him, sustain him and protect him, Himmler easily recognized that this function was always that of the nobility, of an elite, which was recognized as “noble” by that prince and his tradition. This nobility — which is the guarantor of the principle of sovereignty — when faced with the perils of capitalism and the enfeeblement brought on by nineteenth-century liberalism, had decayed, however, and in the post-war crisis proved to be no longer equal to its responsibilities.
The healthiest part of the nobility remained in the army, but as such it was essentially excluded from political struggle, since the army has executive functions and is responsible for external defense, functions that are independent of, if not indifferent to, the political form of the nation. It was therefore necessary to make the transition to an idea of an elite closely linked to the specific political idea of the new State, of an elite that is simultaneously political and military, once again the guarantor of the meaning and solidity of the national political order that had asserted itself through revolutionary means. This is the ideal genesis of the SS as the “revolutionary elite of the Third Reich.”
Its formation and organization are governed by biological-racist, ethical, and spiritual considerations.
Regarding the first point, Himmler starts from the premise that a people is capable of culture in the higher sense and of invincible resistance in the face of its enemies, to the precise extent that a sufficient quantity of Nordic blood flows in its veins. When this blood, from the prince to the peasant, is lacking, that people decays. For the construction of the new state and its elite, the selection and enhancement of the Nordic element will therefore play an essential part. In SS cadres, this selection takes place in two degrees.
The first degree is essentially biological. The SS admits all those of certain Aryan origin who, with respect to height, proportions, features, etc., are close to the pure Nordic type. They concede, of course, that, given the mixed state of all peoples, it is possible that in a physically Nordic type, character traits and forms of sensibility of a different race may be found; but they also assert that there is a greater likelihood of encountering Nordic qualities in a body of the Nordic type, than elsewhere. A further selection, moreover, is charged with the task of testing the candidate’s character. We also wish to emphasize that in the SS the Nordic-racist criterion is not restricted to the individual, but extends to a consideration of his family and his descendants. An SS man is not free to marry whomever he wishes. Under a law promulgated by Himmler in 1931, a special office must ascertain that the woman he has chosen will guarantee an offspring that conforms to the Nordic racial type. On this basis, the SS see themselves as a Sippenorden, i.e., as an “Order of the race,” and it is on this anti-individualistic basis, linked to blood, that they would like to develop. Already in the ability to submit to this law with regard to marriage, there is a first trial of a higher order, since it requires the candidate to prove that he is prepared to subordinate his purely personal feelings and passions to demands of a supra-individual order.
The second degree of the selection is based on the principle of affinities, as stated in the following words of Hitler: “When I ask something heroic, it is the heroic spirit that responds. But when I promise many benefits, to this chime of the bell, the mercantile spirit will answer.”
By asking for moral qualities that are attributed primarily to the Nordic race, one hopes to bring about a spontaneous, inner selection. Just as materials are subjected to “load tests,” so a man who aspires to be a member of the SS is placed in special situations, in which his racial qualities are supposed to manifest themselves.
Thus, we come to the ethical aspect of the SS. Let us now state what, according to Himmler, are the most important ethical qualities that are demanded. The first and most fundamental of all is loyalty: “everything can be forgiven,” says Himmler, “except betrayal.” Hitler himself, on the occasion of the events of June 30, 1934, gave the SS their slogan: “Man of the SS, your honor is loyalty” — in an obvious reference to the maxim of ancient German law: “All honor comes from loyalty.” Here, all types of loyalty are meant: loyalty, first of all, towards the Führer and the race, loyalty towards comrades and fidelity towards the maxims of decorum, honesty, and chivalry. And Himmler adds:
“One sins against loyalty and honor, not only when one offends one’s own honor or that of another SS man, but also and especially when one does not respect the honor of others, when one mocks things that are sacred to others or when one does not intervene manfully on behalf of those who are absent, on behalf of the weak and the defenseless. “
By a law instituted on November 9, 1935, Himmler has claimed for the SS not only the right, but the duty of fighting duels, whenever circumstances make it necessary.
After loyalty and honor comes obedience, which must be unlimited and unconditional. It is said that after the Prussian officer has sworn by his flag, he no longer has anything of his own. This tradition is continued by the SS. In the name of the Leader and of the National Socialist world view, one must be ready for anything, “even to sacrifice one’s pride, outer honors, and everything that may be personally dear and precious to us”: one must be able to abstain from action, when everything in us rebels and would like to force us to take action, just as one must be able to act at the slightest signal, even when one feels an aversion that seems insurmountable. Himmler considered this quality of absolute obedience as important not only in itself, but also in order to compensate for the keen sense of self and the irrepressible desire for freedom of Nordic and German man, characteristics that have been the cause of many of the calamities that have befallen him.
Other qualities required of the SS man are truthfulness, the ability to stick inflexibly to what has been thoughtfully and deliberately decided, complete uprightness, and of course, as a general foundation, a fighting spirit. In his speech in Magdeburg, June 12, 1937, on the occasion of a congregation of German nobility, Himmler stated that to each of these virtues, correspond a series of trials to which the SS are subjected, tests that complete the selection process. A candidate becomes a member of the Order of the SS when — after a trial period of a year and a half, after having taken the SS oath to the Führer and after having flawlessly completed both his military service and his “labor service” — he receives “the SS dagger of honor.”
Interestingly, according to a law enacted on November 9, 1936, every SS leader must ensure, under oath 1) that no applicant is admitted if he does not meet the relevant requirements, even if he be a son or relative; 2) that, in any given year, a quarter of the new members will not come from SS families or backgrounds. This is intended to prevent the SS from forming a kind of hereditary caste, in which other criteria prevail over actual qualifications; secondly, it aims to attract to the SS the right proportion of all the best elements, whatever their origin, so as to avoid having these elements form other groups detached from the central elite, as occurred, Himmler believes, in ancient Rome, when at a certain point the best blood was found outside of the Senate.
From what has been said about the characteristic qualities of the SS man, it will be clear that SS transcends the plane of a merely political body, realizing that of an Order in the ancient sense: and it is explicitly recognized that without the premise of a religiosity, of a purely spiritual point of reference, the aforementioned values of loyalty, honor, truth, and so on would be reduced to empty phrases and the unity of an Order bound by oath would be impossible. Hence, there is a third aspect of the SS, the spiritual one properly speaking.
In a brochure entitled “Fifty Questions and Answers for the SS Man,” after considering the wording of the solemn oath of loyalty and obedience, one asks, “Do you believe in a God, then?” — The answer is: “Yes, I believe in a sovereign God, and I consider the non-believer to be conceited, stupid, and unfit for us.” What is of interest here is less this generic profession of faith — made particularly vague out of respect for all religious faiths that do not interfere with politics — than the attempt to reawaken a precise form of spirituality, linked to the Nordic and, more generally Indo-Germanic tradition, endowing the SS with the character of a “shock troop of the National Socialist world view” — weltanschauliche Stosstrupp (Heydrich).
We mentioned earlier that the “return to origins” is an essential component of the attitude of the SS. This impulse takes concrete form in the so-called Ahnenerbe, a term that more or less means “ancestral heritage” and designates a special cultural organization of the SS. The main purpose of this institution is to re-establish contact between ancient traditions and the most conscious part of the elite involved in the rebirth of Germany; it starts from the premise that what arose unconsciously, as instinct, from the depths of the soul, is exposed to constant dangers and cannot be fully realized, if it is not protected by the strength of conscious spirit and of clear vision (Walther Wüst). Therefore, they aim to investigate “the Nordic Indo-Germanic spirit and actions,” to give “a living form to the results of this research,” and to transmit them to the German people.
In this regard, at least programmatically, the methods of “scientism” and rationalism are openly attacked and “naturalistic” interpretations of the ancient religions are rejected, while recognizing in myth and symbol the paths to a superior knowledge, to the point even of suspecting that so-called “objectivity” and “scientific accuracy” are the masks of the covert action of paralyzing and destructive forces (Heydrich). It is typical and very interesting that these SS leaders, who perform the most delicate and important political duties, who control the secret police of the German State and the bodyguard of the Führer and National Socialism, are at the same time men intensely interested in the world of symbols and ancient myths, men with whom one can discuss transcendent problems and the spiritual traditions of the origins. This is something that we have personally and repeatedly observed, and which has not been particularly encouraging, when we have considered the level of many Italian environments and a certain culture which the black shirts’ revolution has been unable to change; a culture, which even when it comes to that which is most sacred to us, like the the ancient Roman world, remains confined to the same patterns of a positivistic ignorance, decked out with academic conceitedness, which really belong to the Enlightenment and the rationalistic world of the previous century.
Still, since we wish to avoid being biased, we must remark that, with regard to this spiritual aspect of the SS, if the presence of a keen interest and suitable sensibility is incontestable, the same cannot always be said of their principles, if this term is taken in its true sense. When it comes to the reconstruction of the ancient traditional world, specious reference points are all too often used, and as a result, the meaning of many ideas is distorted and their scope limited, particularly as a consequence of a haste to draw political adaptations from them, and of the particularism of a certain racist-national attitude. These observations, moreover, apply in general to the various attempts made by the new Germany to integrate the National Socialist world view with a higher traditional and symbolic content: however, this must not lead us to make a overhasty judgment, since it is not easy, with regard to such matters, to get one’s bearings, and one cannot overnight destroy the deleterious effects of a wrong way of thinking and a false culture that have been those of Western man for several centuries. If, however, the SS — which is not a circle of “intellectuals,” but a body already firmly organized as an Order that controls one of Europe’s most powerful movements of renewal — will succeed in creating, from out of itself, an elite capable of actually realizing, with a solid knowledge of principles, the aspiration of a return to the origins, the importance of such a realization would be exceptional. At the first stage of such an integration in fact we would meet with forms of a spirituality and a civilization which, like that of the Ghibelline Middle Ages with its Orders of knights, already present a synthesis of the Nordic-Germanic and the Roman elements.
A further stage would bring us to the general Indo-Germanic primordial spirituality and its solar traditions; in other words, to the origin of all that — in the cycle in which we live, which may be the object of historical knowledge — we can consider to be civilization in the higher sense. Clearly, this means that an elite really capable of realizing something of that kind would be of value not only to their own nation, but also for all other Aryan peoples who are fighting the same enemy and have realized that this struggle cannot be truly decisive, unless it is integrated by an idea, by symbols and knowledge that are, ultimately, already metaphysical. While the Jewish-Communist press tries to depict the SS as a sort of GPU, we, considering these possibilities and in the hope that in the near future they will be, even only partially, realized, are instead inclined to see in the “black corps,” the guard of the revolution of the swastika, the men of the “rune of victory,” the “lightning rune,” and the skull symbolizing the oath of loyalty to the death, the seed of an Order in the higher, traditional sense, and hence of a spiritual solidarity that could become supranational. This would mean a unity capable of encompassing tested and similarly attuned nuclei of various nations, all of which would draw from the great heroic and metaphysical visions of Aryan and Nordic spirituality, together making up the front we need, when as today and in the imminent future, a decisive struggle is being waged against the tide of dark forces tied to the symbols of the various internationals.
1. With the recently established “Ordensburgen” or “Castles of the Order,” there has also been, within the framework of the “Front of Labor,” an attempt to create an elite and almost a “seminary” for those who in the future will hold political offices and, in general, positions of leadership. However, they do not constitute an organized body like the SS.
2. Characteristic statements by Himmler: “That which is possible in Japan, i.e., that a gold coin can remain on the ground without being picked up, must also be how things are among us.” Or this: one can forbid an SS man to drink alcohol. If he makes the promise to abstain, and then fails to keep his promise, “the only thing that remains for him is his pistol.” If he refuses to make the promise, he is expelled.
3. The president of the Ahnenerbe is the Sturmbannführer Walther Wüst. The organization oversees various publications, and its official organ is the monthly magazine Germanien, edited by Dr. J. O. Plassmann.
Translated by G. A. Malvicini
In the domain of inner reactions and characterology, two basic forms may be distinguished. They can be designated, respectively, with the expressions “love of the close” and “love of the distant” (Nietzsche’s “Liebe der Ferne”). In the former case, one is attracted to that which is close to one, in the second, to what is distant. The former is related to “democracy” in the broadest, and especially the existential sense; the second is related to a higher human type, found mostly in the world of Tradition.
In the first case, in order for a person, a leader, be followed, he has to be seen as “one of us.” Someone has coined a felicitous term for this attitude: “nostrism” [the term was coined by the Austrian National Socialist Walther Pembauer in his book Nationalismus und Ethik]. It is obviously connected with “popularity,” “reaching out the people,” or “being among the people,” as well as, on the other hand, with an intolerance for every qualitative difference. Recent aspects of this orientation are known to all; including the insipid circulating and “traveling” of the Pontiffs, when the only normal thing would be the quasi-inaccessibility that once made certain sovereigns appear to the people as “solitary peaks.” Here, the pathos of the situation should be noted, since there is such a thing as physical proximity which does not preclude, but instead maintains, interior distance.
We know of the significant part played by “nostrism” in totalitarian regimes of the past and present. The scenes of dictators who are pleased to appear among “the people,” scenes which are then recorded and publicized, are pathetic. If the basis of power is more or less demagogic, such scenes are, indeed, almost a necessity. The “great comrade” (Stalin) is still a comrade. All this corresponds to a specific collective climate. Already more than a century and a half ago, Juan Donoso Cortés, the Spanish philosopher and statesman, wrote bitterly that there are no more rulers who wish to really present themselves as such; if they did, perhaps hardly anyone would follow them. Thus, a kind of prostitution imposes itself in the world of politics, as pointed out by Otto Weininger. It would be no exaggeration to say that if today there were leaders in an authentic aristocratic sense, they would often be forced to conceal their nature and to present themselves as democratic agitators of the masses, if they wanted to be able to exert any influence. The only area that has remained partially immune to this contamination is the army, although it is not always easy to find in it the stern and impersonal style that characterized Prussianism, for example.
The type of man that corresponds to “nostrism” is essentially plebeian. The opposite type is the one associated with the expression “love of the distant.” Not “human” proximity, but distance, arouses a deeply uplifting feeling in this kind of man, and at the same time pushes him to follow and obey, but in terms very different from the plebeian type. In ancient times, one could speak of the magic or fascination of “Olympian superiority.” Here, other strings in the soul vibrate. In another domain, we certainly cannot see any progress in the transition from the god-man of the classical world (even if only a symbol or ideal) to the man-god of Christianity, to the God who became a man and founded a human religion, with a love that is supposed to unite all men, bringing them close to one other. Not without reason, Nietzsche pointed out that this was the opposite of what he called vornehm (a term that can be translated as “distinguished” or “aristocratic”).
The starry night sky above exhilarated Kant through its unspeakable distance, and this feeling is experienced by many non-vulgar beings in a completely natural way. Here we are at the limit. However, a reflection of this can also be detected on infinitely more conditioned planes. To “anagogical” distance (i.e., the distance that uplifts), one can oppose something that instead is often concealed under the guise of humility. Seneca said that there is no more detestable pride than that of the humble. This saying comes from a keen analysis of what lies at the bottom of the humility flaunted by people who, deep down, are complacent about themselves, and who harbor feelings of loathing for anyone who is superior to them. The feeling of being together [il sentirsi insieme] is natural to such people, and points back to what we said above about “nostrism.”
As in many other cases, the considerations set forth here are intended to fix discriminating criteria of measurement and, naturally, go against the main current of our time [controcorrente].
Regarding the craze of leaders descending to the level of the people, we cannot resist the temptation to recount a personal anecdote. Years ago, we sent one of our books to a certain sovereign [Umberto II], respecting the normal rules of etiquette, i.e., sending it to him not directly, but through an intermediary. Well, we are stating the complete truth when we say that we were quite shocked to receive a letter of thanks that began with the words “Dear (!) Evola,” even though I had never met him in person or ever spoken to him. This “democratic” spirit seems to be bon ton. But it disgusts anyone who still has a feeling for the old values.
In a completely everyday domain, one can recall, as an indicator of the same kind, a very widespread practice in the United States, the most plebeian country in the world. Especially among the younger generations, one cannot have a simple chat with someone without being invited by them to set aside formalities and call them by their first name, Al, Joe, etc. In contrast, we can remember certain children who addressed their own parents with the formal “Lei” [the Italian equivalent of “vous” in French or “Sie” in German], and a certain person, quite “close” to us, who continued to address girls (respectable girls) with the “Lei” even after having been to bed with them, while in films that surely reflect American mores present us with the stereotype of the “he” who after a simple, insipid kiss immediately is on informal terms with the woman.
Source: Julius Evola, Ricognizioni: uomini e problemi (Rome: Edizioni Mediterranee, 1974).
Translated by G. A. Malvicini
They say that in a non-European country, but with an old civilization, an American company, lamenting the lack of assiduousness of the local work force, thought it had come up with an effective incentive: doubling the workers’ hourly wages. The incentive failed: most of the workers showed up to work for half of the previous number of hours. Considering the original remuneration sufficient for the natural needs of their lives, they now thought it wholly absurd to apply themselves more than what, according to the new policy, was enough to procure it.
This is the antithesis of what is called Stakhanovism. This anecdote can be taken as a touchstone for two worlds, two mentalities, two civilizations, one of which should be be considered healthy and normal, the other aberrant and psychotic.
The fact that the example we referred to is non-European, is no reason for anyone to bring up clichés about the inertia or laziness of races that are not of the “active” and “dynamic” Western type. In this, as in other domains, such objections are baseless: it is enough to detach oneself from the paradigm of “modern” civilization to find, here in the West, the same conception of life, the same attitude, the same way of according value to money and work.
Before the advent in Europe of what has been called, officially and significantly, the “market economy” [l’economia mercantile] (significantly, because we know what the status of the “merchant” [mercante] and the money lender was in the traditional social hierarchy), from which modern capitalism was rapidly to develop, a fundamental criterion in the economy was that external goods should be subject to a certain measure or limit, that the pursuit of profit is licit and excusable only when it serves to secure a livelihood appropriate to one’s station. Consequently, a normal economy was essentially a consumer economy. This was also the Thomist view and, later, that of Luther. The important thing was that the individual recognize his membership in a given group and the existence of certain fixed limits or frameworks within which to develop his possibilities, realize his vocation and tend towards a partial, specific perfection. The old corporatist ethic was no different: it emphasized the values of personality and quality, and in any case, always viewed the quantity of work as a function of a certain degree of natural needs. In general, the concept of progress was applied to an essentially inner plane, and did not mean exceeding the boundaries of one’s rank in order to seek profit, or increasing the quantity of work in order to achieve an outer, economic and social, status that was not one’s own.
All of these, then, were perfectly Western views: the views of European man, when he was still healthy, not yet “bitten by the tarantula,” not yet possessed by the insane agitation and hypnotic trance of the “economy,” which were to lead him to the disorder, crises and paroxysms of current civilization. Today, one proposes this or that system, tries this or that palliative, but no one goes back to the source. To recognize that even in economics, the fundamental factors are spiritual factors, that a change of attitude, a true metanoia is the only effective means if one is still to conceive the possibility of halting our rush down this slope — that is an insight that goes beyond the intellect of the technocrats who have now reached the point of proclaiming that “the economy is our destiny.”
But we know where this path leads, a path on which man betrays himself, subverts every just hierarchy of values and interests, focusing on exteriority, the pursuit of profit and “production,” making the economic factor the dominant driving force of his soul. Werner Sombart has perhaps analyzed the whole process better than anyone else. It leads inevitably to those forms of high industrial capitalism, in which one is doomed to a race without respite and an unlimited expansion of production, because any halt would immediately be a step backward, and often means being undermined or overwhelmed. Whence the chain of economic processes which seize the great entrepreneur body and soul, that bind him more than the last of his workmen, while the current, which has become almost autonomous, drags with it thousands of beings and ends up dictating laws to peoples and governments. Fiat productio, pereat homo [let there be production, though man may perish], as Sombart wrote.
This reveals, among other things, what is behind the American “liberation” and economic aid in the world. Truman, overflowing with disinterested love, wants the “economic elevation of less developed areas of the earth”: in other words, he wants to bring the new barbarian invasions to their conclusion, debasing, in the paltriness of economy, all those countries that a happy combination of circumstances still preserved from the bite of the tarantula, safeguarded until today in a traditional form of life, shielded from economic and “productive” exploitation beyond every capacity of man and nature. Mutatis mutandis, America continues to use the old methods: commercial companies accompanied by cannons to “persuade” those who had no interest in trading . . .
The ethic summed up in the principle “abstine et substine” [abstain and endure] was once Western, just as it was the West that betrayed this ethic with a conception of life which, rather than keeping needs within natural limits with a view to the pursuit of what is truly worthy of human effort, instead made an ideal of the increase and artificial multiplication of needs, and hence also of the means to satisfy them, without regard for the ever increasing slavery this implacably leads to — first for the individual, then for the community. There is nothing surprising about the fact that under such conditions, there can be no more stability, that everything falls apart and that the so-called “social question,” already compromised from the start by impossible premises, is exasperated to precisely the point desired by communism and Bolshevism . . .
However, today things have gone so far that every differing view seems “anachronistic” and “ahistorical.” Beautiful, priceless words! But wherever there will be a return to normality, it will become obvious that for the individual, there is no outward, “economic” growth that is worthwhile, and the enticements of which he should not absolutely resist whenever it means the essential impairment of his freedom; that no amount of money is worth giving up a free space, the room to breathe, so as to find oneself again, be oneself, and achieve all that is possible for each man beyond the sphere conditioned by matter and the necessities of ordinary life.
The same principle holds true for nations, especially when their resources are limited. Here, “autarky” is an ethical principle, since what must weigh heavier on the scale of value is identical for both the individual and for the State: better to renounce the fantasy of an illusory improvement in general conditions and adopt, when necessary, a system of “austerity” rather than submit to the yoke of foreign interests, rather than let oneself be dragged into the global processes of economic hegemony and aimless productivity, processes that in the end, when they collapse, will turn against those who set them in motion.
All this, no less, will become evident to those who reflect on the “moral” of the simple anecdote recounted at the beginning of this text. Two worlds, two mentalities, two destinies. Against those “bitten by the tarantula” stand those who still remember what is right activity, worthwhile effort, what is worthy of being pursued, what loyalty to oneself is. Only they are truly “active,” only they are beings which remain standing.
Source: Julius Evola, Ricognizioni: uomini e problemi (Rome: Edizioni Mediterranee, 1974).
Translated by G. A. Malvicini
One of the episodes that best characterizes the spirit of Bolshevism is the so-called “Vavilov case.” Professor Nikolai Vavilov was a Russian biologist who was deported to Siberia along with other colleagues of his, not for strictly political reasons, but simply for being an exponent of the theory of genetics. Genetics is a branch of biology that admits the existence of pre-formation in human beings, i.e., of predispositions and traits that are internal, congenital (based on “genes”), not derived from external factors.
Genetics was declared “counter-revolutionary.” Marxism has it that everything that a man is, is the result of environmental factors — economic and social forces and conditions in particular. On this basis, communists seriously believe they can create a new humanity, a collective proletarian man, liberated from “the individualistic accidents of the bourgeois era.” This assumption, however, would be thwarted if one were to admit that man has an inner form, that persons exist, with their own nature, their own quality and, so to speak, their own fate, rather than the atoms of a mass ready to be subjected to an external, mechanical action, through which the desired collective would be produced. A timely campaign, led by a Marxist biologist, Trofim Lysenko, exposed the dangerous seed of heresy contained in the theory (albeit merely anthropological) of genetics, and Professor Vavilov was whisked off to Siberia, the place where minds are “re-educated” in Russia today.
One of the theories that best expresses the North American mindset is “behaviorism,” in combination with the views of John Dewey. According to this theory, anyone can become whatever they want, by undergoing an appropriate pedagogical and technical process. If a particular person is what he is, if he has certain talents, if he is, say, a thinker, or an artist, or a statesman, it does not depend on his nature, and is not the sign of any real difference. Anyone can be like him, if they only really want to, and if only they know how to “train themselves.” This, clearly, is the truth of the self-made man, extended from the level of practical success and social climbing to all other domains, corroborating the egalitarian dogma of democracy. If such a theory is valid, one can no longer speak of real differences, differences in nature and of dignity. Every man can presume to possess, virtually, everything that another man is, the terms “superior” and “inferior” lose their meaning, every feeling of distance and respect becomes unjustified, every path is open to all, one really is in a condition of “freedom.”
Thus, we are faced with a fundamental view in which Bolshevism and Americanism coincide. Like the Bolshevik-Marxist ideology, the American theory expresses an intolerance with regard to everything in man that has a face, an internal form, a distinctive and unmistakable quality. Correspondingly, the organic conception is countered with a mechanistic conception, since everything that can be set up starting from almost nothing can only have the character of something “constructed.”
It is true that in the American view, there is an appearance of activism and individualism which can be misleading. But in practice, one sees what this really means, in Americans. They are the living refutation of the Cartesian axiom, “I think, therefore I am,” since “they do not think, and yet they are.” Infantile and “natural,” the way a vegetable is natural, the American psyche is perhaps even more formless than the Slavic psyche. It is open to every form of standardization, from the Reader’s Digest type of culture to social conformity, manipulated public opinion, advertising and the delusion of democratic progress. It is against this background that the theory mentioned previously must be understood. The counterpart of “I can be what anyone is” and egalitarian education is a qualitative regression: the man who has become inwardly formless.
This man, then, is what both communism and Americanism want — setting aside differences which do not concern the essential. The two views which we have spoken of have both a symbolic value and an aggressive vector of efficacy. They are both a categorical contradiction of the traditional ideal of personality, and they attack, at its foundation, everything in which man today can still find a defense and a means of reacting against the chaos of his civilization.
Indeed, at a time in which not only idols have fallen, but many ideas and values are compromised by rhetoric and inherent insincerity, only one way still remains open: to look within oneself for that order and that law, which have become problematic in the surrounding world. But this also means: being able to find in oneself a form and a truth, and impose it on oneself, realize it. “Know thyself in order to be thyself” — this was once the watchword of classical civilization. “May our thoughts and our actions be ours, may the actions of each man belong to him” — wrote Plotinus, and the Roman-Germanic world, up to Nietzsche, upheld the ideal of inner form, of difference, of fidelity to what one is, in opposition to every tendency towards disorder.
Does all this pertain only to the domain of individual ethics? Hardly. If we look for the root causes of the current disorder, rampant in the economic and social field to the point of precluding any possibility of a healthy, balanced existence, we find them in the mass betrayal of the aforementioned traditional ideal. Men do not know and no longer want to know what they are, and hence no longer know the place appropriate to them in the whole, in the fixed framework within which they can, without being distracted, develop their being and its possibilities and realize their own perfection, enough to really endow their lives with meaning and interiority, and at the same time actualize the part that corresponds to them in a hierarchically ordered world. Is this not what paved the way for the “economic era,” culminating, on the one hand, in the paroxysm of unbridled capitalism, and on the other, in livid class hatred? Is it not in this way that we have arrived at a world composed mainly of the agitated and the displaced, a world in which what matters is no longer “being,” but getting to this or that position?
But if that is the case — and if one reflects a little, it is impossible not to recognize it — is one not deluding oneself and deluding others when one sets one’s hopes in the power of one system or another, before there has been a detoxification and rectification in the internal domain of attitudes, interests, and the meaning of life?
Of course, this cannot be expected of the majority, and it cannot occur instantaneously. It is, however, always possible to provide the best men with an orientation. One can show that when one no longer has one’s own path, when one gives in to the fascination of external forms of growth, self-affirmation and production, one opens oneself to the forces that, even on the biological plane, turn the Marxist and democratic doctrine into a reality: the doctrine of formless being, of a world of atoms, of masses and mud, instead of men and faces. Whether to stop, and find once again the foundation for a just strength in one’s own way of being and in one’s own balanced tension, or — despite believing that one is doing something completely different — to give new fuel to a collectivizing process that is now consuming the world everywhere, is what each man must decide for himself, but it is also a premise, if what he might represent in political struggle is to acquire a real basis, a form and a prestige and, ultimately, determine the structures that must exist between men and the leaders of men.
Source: Julius Evola, Ricognizioni: uomini e problemi (Rome: Edizioni Mediterranee, 1974).
Translated by G. A. Malvicini
As outlined in one of Friedrich Nietzsche’s first works, the very suggestive Birth of Tragedy, the concepts of Dionysus and Apollo correspond very little to the meaning these entities had in antiquity, especially their esoteric meaning. Nevertheless, we will use their Nietzschean interpretation as a starting point in this text, in order to define certain fundamental existential orientations.
We will begin by presenting a myth.
Immersed in the luminosity and fabulous innocence of Eden, man was beatific and immortal. In him, the Tree of Life flowered, and he himself was this luminous life. But now a new, unheard of vocation emerges: the will to dominate life, to go beyond Being, to possess both the power to be and not to be, the power of Yes and No. That is the Tree of Good and Evil. In the name of this second Tree, man breaks away from the Tree of Life, leading to the collapse of a whole world, in a flash that reveals the realm of him who, according to a hermetic maxim, is superior to the gods themselves, since along with the immortal nature, to which the gods are bound, he also has within his power a mortal nature, and hence, both finitude and infinity, both affirmation and negation (this condition was referred to with the expression “Lord of the Two Natures”).
But man was not equal to this act; a terror seized him, overcame him and broke him. Like a lamp burning too brightly — it is said in a Cabbalistic text — like a circuit charged with an excessively powerful current, the essences were fractured. This was the meaning of the “fall” and of man’s “guilt.” Unchained by terror, the spiritual powers that would have served, instantly precipitated and froze into the form of autonomous, fatal, objective existences. Passively suffered, externalized, and eluding itself, power took on the aspect of autonomous objective existence, and freedom — the dizzying peak that would have initiated the glory of a superdivine life — became the indomitable contingency of phenomena, among which man stumbles, now a fearful and miserable shadow of himself. One can say that this was the curse hurled by the ”murdered God” at the man who was incapable of taking his place.
With Apollo, still understood in Nietzschean terms, the consequences that derive from this failure are further developed. In his basic function, Apollo is the will separated from itself, no longer experiencing itself as will, but rather as “eye” and as “form” — as vision, representation, knowledge. He is the maker of the objective world, the transcendental foundation of the “category of space.” Space, understood as the mode of exteriority, in which things are no longer experienced as functions of the will, but as visible images, is the primordial objectification of fear, of the disgregation of the will and the discharging of its tension: transcendentally, the vision of a thing is the fear and suffering experienced with regard to that thing. And the “manifold,” the infinite divisibility of space confirms this, since it reflects the loss of tension, the disgregation of the unity of the absolute act.
But just as the eye does not have self-awareness, except as a function of what it sees, a being made external to itself by the “Apollonian” function of space is essentially dependent, bound: it is a being in need of external supports, deriving its reality from something outside of itself. This need for external support generates the “category of the limit”: the tangibility and solidity of material things embody it, they are almost the fear-induced caesura that holds the insufficient being suspended at the limits of the “Dionysian” world. It could be called the “fact” of this fear, of which space is the act. A special case of the limit is the law. While he who exists absolutely, without external supports, does not fear the infinite, does not fear chaos, does not fear what the Greeks called apeiron — because he sees reflected in it his own deepest nature as a being whose very substance is freedom — he who is transcendentally insufficient abhors the infinite, flees from it and looks to the law, to the constancy of causal sequences, to predictability and order, for a surrogate for the absolute certainty and possession which he has fallen from. Positive science and every kind of morality could, in a certain sense, fall under the same category of surrogates.
The third creature of “Apollo” is purpose. For a god, purposes can have no meaning, since he has nothing outside of himself — neither the good, nor the true, nor the rational, the pleasant, or the just — on which to base norms or motivations; instead, whatever he wills is good, true, rational, pleasant, and just, simply because he wills it. In philosophical terms, we could say that the “sufficient reasons” of his affirmations are the affirmations themselves.
In contrast, in order to act, beings that are exterior to themselves are in need of a correlation, a motive or, rather, the semblance of a motive. In fact, in decisive matters, apart from trivially empirical contexts, man does not will a thing because he considers it, for example, right or rational, but considers it right and rational simply because he wills it (even psychoanalysis has, in this respect, provided some valuable insights). But he is afraid to descend into the depths where the will or impulse nakedly affirms itself. And now “Apollonian” prudence saves him from the dizziness of something that could occur without a cause and without a purpose, that is, only for itself, and with the same movement with which it liberated the will in the visible world, through the categories of “causality” and so-called “sufficient reason,” it now makes the deep affirmations of the will appear as functions of purposes, practical utility, ideal, and moral motives that justify them and support them.
Thus, the whole life of the great mass of men takes on the meaning of an escape from the center, of a desire to benumb themselves and elude knowledge of the fire that burns within them, and that they know not how to endure. Cut off from Being, they talk, flutter about, seek each other, love each other, and copulate in a reciprocal demand for recognition. They accumulate illusions and erect a vast pyramid of idols: this is the constitution of society, of morality, of ideals, of metaphysical purposes, of the realm of the gods or a consoling providence, all to make up for the nonexistence of a central reason, of a basic meaning. All “shining spots intended to heal the eye which dire night has seared,” in the words of Nietzsche.
However, since the other — whether object, cause, reason, etc. — does not exist in itself, being only a symbolic manifestation of the deficiency of the will with respect to itself, the act through which the will demands recognition from the other, really only confirms this deficiency. Thus, man wanders, chasing his own shadow, eternally hungry and eternally disappointed, incessantly creating and devouring forms that ”are and are not” (Plotinus). The “solidity” of things, the Apollonian limit, is ambiguous; it eludes every grasp, again and again deferring to a later moment the reality that it appeared to guarantee, and through which it enticed desire and need. Thus, besides the category of space, there is the category of time, the law of becoming of forms that arise and dissolve — indefinitely — since if for just one instant of hiatus, man did not act, did not speak, did not desire, he would feel everything disintegrate. His feeling of security among things, forms and idols is as phantasmal as that of a sleepwalker on the brink of an abyss.
Nevertheless, this world might not be the ultimate instance. The I, not being rooted in anything else, being solely responsible for and containing within itself the causes of its predicament, has, in principle, the possibility of resolving it. A tradition is attested concerning the great work, the creation of a “second Tree of Life.” This is the expression used by Cesare della Riviera, in his book The Magical World of the Heroes (Il mondo magico degli Heroi, 2nd ed. Milan, 1605), where this task is associated with “magic,” and generally with the hermetic and magical tradition. Here, the so-called “Left-Hand Path” is of interest. It involves the courage to tear away the veils and masks with which “Apollo” conceals primal reality, transcending forms in order to enter into contact with an elemental world in which good and evil, divine and human, rational and irrational, right and wrong no longer have any meaning. At the same time, it entails knowing how to raise to its peak everything through which the primal terror is exacerbated, and which our natural and instinctive being does not want; knowing how to break through the limit and dig deeper and deeper, inflaming the feeling of a dizzying abyss, and to endure, to persevere in the destructive overcoming that would break other men. Hence the possibility of establishing a connection with the historical cult of Dionysus, not in its “mystical” and “Orphic,” but rather its Thracian form, which had savage, orgiastic, and destructive aspects. And if Dionysus reveals himself in moments of the crisis and collapse of the law, “transgression” can also be included in this existential field. In transgression, the Apollonian veil is torn asunder, and man, confronted with primordial power, plays the game of his perdition or his rising above life and death. Interestingly, the German word for “crime” includes the sense of “to break” (ver-brechen). An act can be said to be guilty as long as it is an act that one fears, that one feels that one cannot take absolute responsibility for, so that one breaks down before it: one unconsciously recognizes that it exceeds one’s strength. But active, positive transgression possesses something transcendent. Novalis wrote: “When man wanted to become God, he sinned, as if that were the condition.” In the Mithraic mysteries the ability to kill or impassively witness killing (even if simulated) was an initiatory test. To this domain belong certain aspects of sacrificial rites, in which the victim was identified with the divinity, yet the sacrificer, transcending accursedness and calamity, had to kill it in order to liberate the absolute and allow it to pass into him, as well as into the community that magically converged in him: transcendence through the tragedy of sacrifice and guilt.
The act may also be directed against oneself, as in certain varieties of “initiatiatory death“: to do violence to life in oneself, in evoking something elemental. Thus, the path that in some forms of tantric yoga is opened to kundalini is called the one in which “blazes the fire of death.” The tragic act of the sacrificer is here internalized and becomes the practice through which organic life at its root is deprived of all support, suspended and dragged beyond itself on the “Royal Path“ of the so-called sushumna, “devourer of time.“
It is well known that historically, the cult of Dionysus was sometimes associated with forms of frenzied, destructive and orgiastic fury, as in the classic type of the bacchante (Dionysus = Bacchus), the maenad, and the corybant. But here it is difficult to separate what actually belongs to the field of experiences mentioned above, on the one hand, from, on the other, mere phenomena of possession, especially when we are not dealing with institutionalized forms connected with a tradition. However, we must always remember that we are concerned with the “Left-Hand Path,” which runs along the edge of the abyss, and, as stated in some texts, resembles walking on a the edge of a sword. The presupposition, both of these practices and in the sovereign vision of life, is the knowledge of the mystery of the transformation of poison into medicine, which constitutes the highest form of alchemy.
1. In this context we could recall Henri Bergson’s theory, which explains space precisely as “the undoing of a gesture,” in a process that is the reverse of that through which multiple elements in an élan are gathered and fused together in a qualitative simplicity.
2. To this one could associate the deepest sense of the patristic doctrine, according to which the body, the material vehicle, was created at the moment of the “fall” in order to prevent the further fall of souls (see, eg., Origen, De princip., I, 7, 5). Apollo is such a prudent god. Also think of a paralysis due to a fright: it is like a retreat, a backwards leap of the ego, through which what was dominated and understood organically as a living and pulsating body becomes an inert, rigid, alien thing. The objective world is our paralyzed “great body” — frozen or fixed by the condition of the limit, through fear.
3. Cf. C. Michelstaedter, Persuasion and Rhetoric, Part II and passim.