The Defining Element of the Conservative Revolution
By Julius Evola
Considering the interpretation imposed by the Left, the term “conservative” is as intimidating as the term “reactionary.” Obviously, it is necessary to first establish as exactly as possible what needs to be “preserved”; today there is very little that deserves to be preserved, especially as far as social structures and political institutions are concerned. […] The formula “conservative revolution” was chosen by German intellectuals immediately after World War I, even with very recent historical references.  As far as everything else is concerned, we must acknowledge the reality of a situation that is an easy target for the polemics of the Left, according to which conservatives are not the champions of ideas, but rather of the interests of a particular economic class (i.e., the capitalist one), which organized itself politically in order to perpetuate, for its own advantage, what is alleged to be merely a regime of privileges and social injustices. Thus, it has become all too easy to lump together conservatives, “reactionaries,” capitalists, and bourgeoisie; in this way, a “faux target,” to use a military term employed in artillery barrages, was successfully chosen. Moreover, the same tactic was employed at a time when the avant-garde of world subversion did not yet wave the flag of Marxism and communism, but instead were represented by liberalism and by constitutionalism. The efficacy of this tactic was due to the fact that yesterday’s conservatives (not unlike the contemporary ones, even though the former were of an undeniably higher caliber) limited themselves to defending their sociopolitical positions and the material interests of a given class, of a given caste, instead of committing themselves to a stout defense of a higher right, dignity, and impersonal legacy of values, ideas, and principles. This was indeed their fundamental and most deplorable weakness.
Today we have sunk to an even lower level; therefore, the “conservative” idea to be defended must not only have no connection with the class that has replaced the fallen aristocracy and exclusively has the character of a mere economic class (i.e., the capitalist bourgeoisie)—but it must also be resolutely opposed to it. What needs to be “preserved” and defended in a “revolutionary fashion” is the general view of life and of the State that, being based on higher values and interests, definitely transcends the economic plane, and thus everything that can be defined in terms of economic classes. In regard to these values, what refers to concrete orientations, positive institutions, and historical situations is just a consequence; it is not the primary but rather the secondary element. If things were set up in this way, by absolutely refusing to set foot in the field where the Left trains its aim on the “faux target,” its polemics would be rendered totally ineffective.
Moreover, what is needed is not to artificially and coercively perpetuate particular forms tied to the past, despite having exhausted their vital possibilities and being out of touch with the times. For the authentic revolutionary conservative, what really counts is to be faithful not to past forms and institutions, but rather to principles of which such forms and institutions have been particular expressions, adequate for a specific period of time and in a specific geographical area. And just as these particular expressions ought to be regarded as changeable and ephemeral in themselves, since they are connected to historical circumstances that are often unrepeatable, likewise the corresponding principles animating them have a value that is unaffected by such contingencies, as they enjoy a perennial actuality. New forms, corresponding in essence to the old ones, are liable to emerge from them as if from a seed; thus, even as they eventually replace the old forms (even in a “revolutionary” manner), what remains is a certain continuity amid the changing historical, social, economic, and cultural factors.
In order to ensure this continuity, while holding fast to the underlying principles, it is necessary to eventually throw away everything that needs to be discarded, instead of stiffening, panicking, or confusedly seeking new ideas when crises occur and times change: this is indeed the essence of the true conservative spirit. Therefore, conservative spirit and traditional spirit are one and the same thing. According to its true, living meaning, Tradition is neither servile conformity to what has been, nor a sluggish perpetuation of the past into the present. Tradition, in its essence, is something simultaneously metahistorical and dynamic: it is an overall ordering force, in the service of principles that have the chrism of a superior legitimacy (we may even call them “principles from above”). This force acts through the generations, in continuity of spirit and inspiration, through institutions, laws, and social orders that may even display a remarkable variety and diversity. An analogous mistake to the one I have just condemned consists of identifying or in confusing the various formulations of a more or less distant past with the tradition itself.
Methodologically, in the quest for reference points, a given historical form must be considered exclusively as the exemplification and more or less faithful application of certain principles: this is a perfectly legitimate procedure, comparable to what in mathematics is called the shift from the differential to the integral. In such a case there is no anachronism or regression; nothing has been turned into an idol, or made absolute, that was not already so, since this is the nature of principles. Otherwise it would be like accusing of anachronism those who defend certain peculiar virtues of the soul merely because the latter are inspired by some person in the past, in whom those virtues were exhibited to a high degree. As Hegel himself said, “It is a matter of recognizing in the apparitions of temporal and transitory things, both the substance, which is immanent, and the eternal, which is actual.”
With this is mind, we can see the ultimate premises of two opposing attitudes. The axiom of the revolutionary-conservative or revolutionary-reactionary mentality is that the supreme values and the foundational principles of every healthy and normal institution are not liable to change and to becoming: among these values we may find, for instance, the true State, the imperium, the auctoritas [authority], hierarchy, justice, functional classes, and the primacy of the political element over the social and economic elements. In the domain of these values there is no “history,” and to think about them in historical terms is absurd. Such values and principles have an essentially normative character. In the public and political order they have the same dignity as, in private life, is typical of values and principles of absolute morality: they are imperative principles requiring a direct, intrinsic acknowledgment (it is the capacity for such an acknowledgment that differentiates existentially a certain category of beings from another). These principles are not compromised by the fact that in various instances an individual, out of weakness or due to other reasons, was unable to actualize them or to even implement them partially at one point in his life rather than another: as long as such an individual does not give up inwardly, he will be acknowledged even in abjection and in desperation. The ideas to which I am referring have the same nature: Vico called them “the natural laws of an eternal republic that varies in time and in different places.” Even where these principles are objectified in a historical reality, they are not at all conditioned by it; they always point to a higher, meta-historical plane, which is their natural domain and where there is no change. The ideas that I call “traditional” must be thought of along the same lines.
The fundamental premise always revealed, more or less distinctly, in the revolutionary mentality is the total opposite. The truths it professes are historicism and empiricism. According to the revolutionary mentality, “Becoming” rules in the spiritual realm as well: everything is believed to be conditioned and shaped by the age and by the times. According to the revolutionary mentality, there are no principles, systems, and norms with values independent from the period in which they have assumed a historical form, on the basis of contingent and very human aspects such as physical, social, economic, and irrational factors. According to the most extreme and up-to-date trajectory of this deviant mind-set, the truly determining factor of every structure, and of what resembles an autonomous value, is the contingency proper to the various forms and development of the means of production, according to its consequences and social repercussions.
 See the excellent study by A. Mohler, Die konservative Revolution in Deutschland, 1918—1932 (Stuttgart, 1950).
Excerpt from: Evola, Julius. Men Among the Ruins: Postwar Reflections of a Radical Traditionalist. Rochester: Inner Traditions, 2002, pp. 114-117.
Note on further reading: For other good introductions to Revolutionary Conservative thought (particularly of the German type from the interwar period), see the following articles on our site: “The German Conservative Revolution & its Legacy” by Lucian Tudor, “Arthur Moeller van den Bruck: The Man & His Thought” by Lucian Tudor, “Hans Freyer: The Quest for Collective Meaning” by Lucian Tudor, “Othmar Spann: A Catholic Radical Traditionalist” by Lucian Tudor, “Race, Identity, Community” by Lucian Tudor, “Liberalism or Democracy? Carl Schmitt and Apolitical Democracy” by Tomislav Sunic, “History & Decadence: Spengler’s Cultural Pessimism Today” by Tomislav Sunic, and the “Interview with Robert Steuckers” by Troy Southgate.