The Forms of Warlike Heroism

Sulle forme dell’eroismo guerriero - Julius Evola

The fundamental principle underlying all justifications of war, from the point of view of human personality, is ‘heroism’. War, it is said, offers man the opportunity to awaken the hero who sleeps within him. War breaks the routine of comfortable life; by means of its severe ordeals, it offers a transfiguring knowledge of life, life according to death.

The moment the individual succeeds in living as a hero, even if it is the final moment of his earthly life, weighs infinitely more on the scale of values than a protracted existence spent consuming monotonously among the trivialities of cities. From a spiritual point of view, these possibilities make up for the negative and destructive tendencies of war, which are one-sidedly and tendentiously highlighted by pacifist materialism. War makes one realise the relativity of human life and therefore also the law of a ‘more-than-life’, and thus war has always an anti-materialist value, a spiritual value.

Traditional civilisations

Such considerations have indisputable merit and cut off the chattering of humanitarianism, sentimental grizzling, the protests of the champions of the ‘immortal principles’, and of the ‘International’ of the heroes of the pen. Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that, in order to define fully the conditions under which the spiritual aspect of war actually becomes apparent, it is necessary to examine the matter further, and to outline a sort of ‘phenomenology of warrior experience’, distinguishing various forms and arranging them hierarchically so as to highlight the aspect which must be regarded as paramount for the heroic experience.

To arrive at this result, it is necessary to recall a doctrine which is not the product of some particular, personal, philosophical construction, but rather that of actual data, positive and objective in nature. It is the doctrine of the hierarchical quadri-partition, which interprets most recent history as an involutionary fall from each of the four hierarchical degrees to the next. This quadri-partition – it must be recalled – is what, in all traditional civilisations, gave rise to four different castes: the slaves, the bourgeois middle-class, the warrior aristocracy, and bearers of a pure, spiritual authority.



Here, ‘caste’ does not mean – as most assume – something artificial and arbitrary, but rather the ‘place’ where individuals, sharing the same nature, the same type of interest and vocation, the same primordial qualification, gather. A specific ‘truth’, a specific function, defines the castes, in their normal state, and not vice versa: this is not therefore a matter of privileges and ways of life being monopolised on the basis of a social constitution more or less artificially and unnaturally maintained.

The underlying principle behind all the formative institutions in such societies, at least in their more authentic historical forms, is that there does not exist one simple, universal way of living one’s life, but several distinct spiritual ways, appropriate respectively to the warrior, the bourgeois and the slave, and that, when the social functions and distributions actually correspond to this articulation, there is – according to the classic expression – an order secundum equum et bonum. (Latin: ‘according to truth and justice’.)

Hierachical order

This order is ‘hierarchical’ in that it implies a natural dependence of the inferior ways of life on the superior ones – and, along with dependence, co-operation; the task of the superior is to attain expression and personhood on a purely spiritual basis.

Only such cases, in which this straight and normal relationship of subordination and co-operation exists are healthy, as is made clear by the analogy of the human organism, which is unsound if, by some chance, the physical element (slaves) or the element of vegetative life (bourgeoisie) or that of the uncontrolled animal will (warriors) takes the primary and guiding place in the life of a man, and is sound only when spirit constitutes the central and ultimate point of reference for the remaining faculties – which, however, are not denied a partial autonomy, with lives and subordinate rights of their own within the unity of the whole.

Since we are not talking about just any old hierarchy, but about ‘true’ hierarchy, which means that what is above and rules is really what is superior, it is necessary to refer to systems of civilisation in which, at the centre, there is a spiritual elite, and the ways of life of the slaves, the bourgeois, and the warriors derive their ultimate meaning and supreme justification from reference to the principle which is the specific heritage of this spiritual elite, and manifest this principle in their material activity.

The degeneration

However, an abnormal state is arrived at if the centre shifts, so that the fundamental point of reference, instead of being the spiritual principle, is that of the servile caste, the bourgeoisie, or the warriors. Each of these castes manifests its own hierarchy and a certain code of co-operation, but each is more unnatural, more distorted, and more subversive than the last, until the process reaches its limit – that is, a system in which the vision of life characteristic of the slaves comes to orientate everything and to imbue itself with all the surviving elements of social wholeness.

Julius Evola

Politically, this involutionary process is quite visible in Western history, and it can be traced through into the most recent times. States of the aristocratic and sacred type have been succeeded by monarchical warrior States, to a large extent already secularised, which in turn have been replaced by states ruled by capitalist oligarchies (bourgeois or merchant caste) and, finally, we have witnessed tendencies towards socialist, collectivist and proletarian states, which have culminated in Russian Bolshevism (the caste of the slaves).

This process is paralleled by transitions from one type of civilisation to another, from one fundamental meaning of life to another. In each phase, every concept, every principle, every institution assumes a different meaning, reflecting the world-view of the predominant caste.

The varieties of meaning

This is also true of ‘war’, and thus we can approach the task we originally set ourselves, of specifying the varieties of meaning which battle and heroic death can acquire. War has a different face, in accordance with its being placed under the sign of one or another of the castes.

While, in the cycle of the first caste, war was justified by spiritual motives, and showed clearly its value as a path to supernatural accomplishment and the attainment of immortality by the hero (this being the motive of the ‘holy war’), in the cycle of the warrior aristocracies they fought for the honour and power of some particular prince, to whom they showed a loyalty which was willingly associated with the pleasure of war for war’s sake.

With the passage of power into the hands of the bourgeoisie, there was a deep transformation; at this point, the concept of the nation materialises and democratises itself, and an anti-aristocratic and naturalistic conception of the homeland is formed, so that the warrior is replaced by the soldier-citizen, who fights simply for the defence or the conquest of land; wars, however, generally remain slyly driven by supremacist motives or tendencies originating within the economic and industrial order.

Finally, the last stage, in which leadership passes into the hands of the slaves, has already been able to realise – in Bolshevism – another meaning of war, which finds expression in the following, characteristic words of Lenin: ‘The war between nations is a childish game, preoccupied by the survival of a middle class which does not concern us. True war, our war, is the world revolution for the destruction of the bourgeoisie and the triumph of the proletariat.’

canon fodder

Term Hero

Given all this, it is obvious that the term ‘hero’ is a common denominator which embraces very different types and meanings. The readiness to die, to sacrifice one’s own life, may be the sole prerequisite, from the technical and collectivist point of view, but also from the point of view of what today, rather brutally, has come to be referred to as ‘cannon fodder’.

However, it is also obvious that it is not from this point of view that war can claim any real spiritual value as regards the individual, once the latter does not appear as ‘fodder’ but as a personality – as is the Roman standpoint. This latter standpoint is only possible provided that there is a double relationship of means to ends – that is to say, when, on the one hand, the individual appears as a means with respect to a war and its material ends, but, simultaneously, when a war, in its turn, is a means for the individual, as an opportunity or path for the end of his spiritual accomplishment, favoured by heroic experience. There is then a synthesis, an energy and, with it, an utmost efficiency.

Human entity

If we proceed with this train of thought, it becomes rather clear from what has been said above that not all wars have the same possibilities. This is because of analogies, which are not merely abstractions, but which act positively along paths invisible to most people, between the collective character predominating in the various cycles of civilisation and the element which corresponds to this character in the whole of the human entity.

If, in the eras of the merchants and slaves, forces prevail which correspond to the energies which define man’s pre-personal, physical, instinctive, ‘telluric’, organic-vital part, then, in the eras of the warriors and spiritual leaders, forces find expression which correspond, respectively, to what in man is character and volitional personality, and what in him is spiritualised personality, personality realised according to its supernatural destiny.

Because of all the transcendent factors it arouses in them, it is obvious that, in a war, the majority cannot but collectively undergo an awakening, corresponding more or less to the predominant influence within the order of the causes which have been most decisive for the outbreak of that war. Individually, the heroic experience then leads to different points of arrival: more precisely, to three primary such points.

Supra life

These points correspond, basically, to three possible types of relation in which the warrior caste and its principle can find themselves with respect to the other manifestations already considered. In the normal state, they are subordinate to the spiritual principle, and then there breaks out a heroism which leads to supra-life, to supra-personhood.

The warrior principle may, however, construct its own form, refusing to recognise anything as superior to it, and then the heroic experience takes on a quality which is ‘tragic’: insolent, steel-tempered, but without light. Personality remains, and strengthens, but, at the same time, so does the limit constituted by its naturalistic and simply human nature. Nevertheless, this type of ‘hero’ shows a certain greatness, and, naturally, for the types hierarchically inferior to the warrior, i.e., the bourgeois and the slave types, this war and this heroism already mean overcoming, elevation, accomplishment.

The third case involves a degraded warrior principle, which has passed into the service of hierarchically inferior elements (the castes beneath it). In such cases, heroic experience is united, almost fatally, to an evocation, and an eruption, of instinctual, sub-personal, collective, irrational forces, so that there occurs, basically, a lesion and a regression of the personality of the individual, who can only live life in a passive manner, driven either by necessity or by the suggestive power of myths and passionate impulses.

For example, the notorious stories of Remarque (Erich Maria Remarque (1898-1970) author of “All Quiet on the Western Front“)  reflect only possibilities of this latter kind; they recount the stories of human types who, driven to war by fake idealisms, at last realise that reality is something very different – they do not become base, nor deserters, but all that impels them forward throughout the most terrible tests are elemental forces, impulses, instincts, and reactions, in which there is not much human remaining, and which do not know any moment of light.

book cover metaphysics of war Julius Evola - Heroism
Metaphysics of War by Julius Evola

The warrior principle

In a preparation for war which must be not only material, but also spiritual, it is necessary to recognise all of this with a clear and unflinching gaze in order to be able to orientate souls and energies towards the higher solution, the only one which corresponds to the ideals from which Fascism draws its inspiration.

Fascism appears to us as a reconstructive revolution, in that it affirms an aristocratic and spiritual concept of the nation, as against both socialist and internationalist collectivism, and the democratic and demagogic notion of the nation. In addition, its scorn for the economic myth and its elevation of the nation in practice to the degree of ‘warrior nation’, marks positively the first degree of this reconstruction, which is to re-subordinate the values of the ancient castes of the ‘merchants’ and ‘slaves’ to the values of the immediately higher caste.

The next step would be the spiritualisation of the warrior principle itself. The point of departure would then be present to develop a heroic experience in the sense of the highest of the three possibilities mentioned above. To understand how such a higher, spiritual possibility, which has been properly experienced in the greatest civilisations that have preceded us, and which, to speak the truth, is what makes apparent to us their constant and universal aspect, is more than just studious erudition. This is what we will deal with in our following writings, in which we shall focus essentially on the traditions peculiar to ancient and Medieval Romanity.

Source and Author:

Julius Evola – Originally published on May 25 – 1935

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