Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Evola, Heidegger, Sartre and Fascism

In response to several comments in the ongoing debate about Henry Ford, international bankers and anti-Semitism the name "Julius Evola" kept coming up.  I've been meaning to read Evola for some time and so this inspired me to check out his study of Buddhism, The Doctrine of Awakening.  While I'm still reading that book - and will probably have to reread it again to make sure I don't miss anything - I will definitely say that so far I am quite impressed by Evola's thought.  I note particularly that Evola's description of the descending chain of twelve nidāna which take the individual into the plane of samsāric existence.  It reminds me a great deal of Martin Heidegger's descriptions of Geworfenheit, or "thrownness." As Roy Hornsby describes it:
To Heidegger this concept is a primordial banality which had long been overlooked by metaphysical conjecture. Humans beings are thrown with neither prior knowledge nor individual option into a world that was there before and will remain there after they are gone (Steiner 1978). Heidegger wrote;
“This characteristic of Dasein’s Being – this ‘that it is’ – is veiled in its ‘whence’ and ‘whither’, yet disclosed in itself all the more unveiledly; we call it the ‘thrownness’ of this entity into its ‘there’; indeed, it is thrown in such a way that, as Being-in-the-world, it is the ‘there’. The expression ‘thrownness’ is meant to suggest the facticity of its being delivered over.”
Evola's descriptions of the life of the unenlightened versus enlightened mind also reminded me of Heidegger's authentic and inauthentic modes of Dasein (being-there). And when I read his description of the Buddha's highest attainment - the recognition of non-existence:
This summit must be apprehended by the "noble son," it must be his purpose. The strength and sureness of those who know no more anguish or fear is described as something that has a vertiginous and fearful effect on others, both human and superhuman; when they are faced by those who have conquered, and when they hear their truth, they become aware of their own unsuspected contingency, and the primordial anguish bursts forth unchecked. They see the abyss.
I was reminded of Heidegger's comments on the "fundamental experience of the oblivion of Being."  These ideas were later expanded (Martin H. would have said "misunderstood") by a chain-smoking Frenchman named Jean-Paul Sartre, who named his magnum opus L'etre et le neant or, in English, Being and Nothingness. According to Sartre, man was "condemned to be free" - forced to make arbitrary choices in a meaningless world into which he came ab nihilo, ex nihilo. Writing in early to midcentury 20th century Europe, all three of these visionaries found themselves staring into a void.

Another thing which all three had in common was a taste for dubious politics.  Evola's close if sometime contentious relationship with Mussolini and Italian fascism, Heidegger's affiliation with the Nazi party, and Sartre's apologetics for Stalinism are all well-documented.  Were these intellectual missteps by otherwise brilliant men? Were they irredeemable sins which taint everything they publish? Or is there another, and far more disquieting possibility - that they were visionaries who saw the cracks in the underpinnings of our modern idols, "Freedom" and "Democracy?"

Over the past two centuries, America has extended suffrage to landless peasants, women, blacks and other once-disenfranchised groups.  Yet today many Americans don't bother to vote: of those who do, how many are actually qualified to make an informed decision on their political future? Do you honestly think that "freedom" and "democracy" are served by giving the trolls who comment on most news stories a voice at the voting booth?  As we learn more about the science of mass psychology, it becomes easier to treat our audience like a target market: instead of battles between aristocratic factions, we have competing businesses selling politicians as products.  And instead of arguing one's case to an elite and educated few, we get demagogues and appeals to the mob instinct.

This is not to say that fascism is an answer; neither is it to minimize the very real excesses committed by each of these regimes. But it may be worthwhile to ask ourselves just what is meant by our chosen buzzwords "freedom" and "democracy," and in what ways they have improved our lives and the lives of those around us. It may also be worthwhile to consider to what extent our contemporary Western socialist/democratic political system is a product of the Enlightenment - and what political systems will take its place in a post-Enlightenment era.