Written in 1961, and given the subtitle of ‘A Survival Manual for the Aristocrats of the Soul’, Ride the Tiger may represent Evola’s best-known work, even if his magnum opus is indeed ‘Revolt Against the Modern World’. Here, rather than delving into ancient history and ruminations of esotericism, or fully involving himself in a crude ‘politics’, the author instead endeavors to provide his readers with a kind of self-help guide so that one can properly order their ideological convictions, rise above and beyond the errors of Modernity, and disconnect from the various encroaching dilemmas of social life.
Ride the Tiger is a short book, compared to the tome ‘Revolt‘. 227 pages long, I finished it in its entirety during one particularly drawn out bus trip during which I had the pleasure of listening to four Portuguese women laugh and jitter for hours on end. The very fact that I was able to maintain concentration is a testament to the book’s writing style. I can say categorically, that Evola’s writing is vastly improved from the previous work of his that I digested. Gone is a kind of halting and haphazard prose, replaced with something that flows nicely. There are moments where he tends to repeat himself or slide into indecipherable long sentences, but overall for a book tackling such an in-depth topic, it is remarkably readable.
To explain how the book is structured, one could only point to a sharp division about half way through, making it something of a bifurcated treatment of issues that were clearly playing on Evola’s mind at the time.
The first half discusses the idea of how to sustain yourself in a period that is devoid of Tradition. Evola usefully elucidates what he means by this, and makes clear that the book is intended for the ‘differentiated man’:
“As we recall, his differentiated character consists ίη facing the problems οf modern man without being a “modern man” himself; he belongs to a different world and preserves within himself a different existential dimension. Unlike the others, his problem is not the dramatic search for a basis (In principle, he already possesses one), but that οf his own expression and confirmation in the modern epoch, in his life here and now.”
A man is confronted with Modernity and must survive it. The vast majority of this first portion of the book is dedicated to an engagement with nihilism, particularly the works of Friedrich Nietzsche. He outlines the two stages of divorce from Tradition on the personal level, the phase of rebellion, and then the phase of misery as the cause for that rebellion is dissolved. Man wishes to be free, and yet his freedom has only fostered his destruction, because in practice, the ‘despotism’ of Tradition came principally from his innate instincts for that which is higher, rather than a top-down imposition.
“Man, at a given moment, wanted to “be free.” He was allowed to be so, and he was allowed to throw οff the chains that did not bind him so much as sustain him. Thereupon he was allowed to suffer all the consequences of his liberation, following ineluctably up to his present state in which “God is dead” (or “God has withdrawn,” as Bernanos says), and existence becomes the field of absurdity where everything is possible and everything is allowed.”
Neitzsche’s idea of the coming supermen is accurately deemed a betrayal of his base assumptions, and Evola is content to say that the infinitude of oneself, the non-finite nature of man within the cosmic design is enough to sustain his curiosity about his own path:
“Thus Nietzsche’s solution is only a pseudosolution. Α true nihilism does not spare even the doctrine of the superman. What is left, if one wants to be radical and follow a line of strict coherence, and what we can accept in our investigations, is the idea that Nietzsche expressed through the symbol οί the eternal return. It is the affirmation, now truly unconditional, οί all that is and οί all that one is, οί one’s own nature and one’s own situation. It is the attitude οί one whose self-affirmation and self-identity come from the very roots οί his being; who is not scared but exalted by the prospect that for an indefinite repetition οί identical cosmic cycles he has been what he is, and will be again, innumerable times.”
All told though, Evola has pessimist sympathies with Neitzsche’s constant appeals to man as an independent agent who can only find meaning through his own ruminations upon his fundamental character. He dismisses all perceived returns to religiosity for those who have come to nihilistic conclusions, which is overly unsympathetic to forms that continue to persevere through Kali Yuga. He is even less moved by Kantian attempts to fill the void. In fact, he reduces philosophers like Husserl to their Nietzschean bones to prove there is no there there. These represent a Spenglerian ‘second religiosity’ which is but a pale mask for nihilism.
I was surprised at how quickly I read through this, considering what others have said about its heavy nature, but that may be due to my background in reading a lot of apologetics work, which engages with similar questions. There was no abundance of obscure terminology, so if you have an intermediary grasp of philosophical argumentation, you won’t have trouble.
“Taken as a whole, the existential balance adds uρ to a negative. It acknowledges the structural duality of existence and transcendence, but the center of gravity of the Ι does not fall on the transcendent, but on the existent side. Transcendence is basically conceived as the “other,” whereas one ought rather to conceive it the other way around, with one’s own determined, “situational” being, one’s Dasein, as ”other” to the true Self that one is.”
Existentialism of such a type denies the higher nature of man most certainly, and he later condemns the sloth and alienation inspired by such bleak visions of man, Evola wishes to cultivate internal invulnerability in the place of detachment, especially in response to the idea of living only for death.
The second portion of the book addresses matters more contemporary to Evola’s time period, and we are treated to a lucid condemnation of various aspects of the Modern World from jazz music, to recreational drugs and ski lifts.
“Ιn the end, the phase of nature for the plebeians arrives, with the breakout of the masses, the common people everywhere with or without their automobiles, the travel agencies, the dopolavori, and all the rest; nothing is spared. The naturists and nudists form the extreme of this phenomenon. The beaches-teeming insect-like with thousands and thousands of male and female bodies, offering to the glance an insipid, almost complete nudity-are another symptom. Still another is the assault οn the mountains by cable cars, funiculars, chair lifts, and ski lifts. Αll this is part of the regime of final disintegration of our epoch. There is no point in dwelling on it.”
One area of contention was Evola’s discussion of marriage and the family. Now, Evola does correctly criticize the abundance of divorce, hypocrisies surrounding widows, and in my opinion correctly sets true marriage on the Paulian glide-path declaring it to be better described as a mystery than a sacrament, but then takes his gripes about the applicability of Roman Catholic marriage a little too far.
“Ιn speaking of making the sacred profane, Ι alluded to the fact that the concept of an indissoluble sacramental union, “written in the heavens” (as opposed to one οn the naturalistic plane that is generically sentimental, and even at base merely social), has been applied to, or rather imposed on, every couple who must join themselves in church rather than in civil marriage, only to conform to their social environment. It is pretended that οη this exterior and prosaic plane, on this plane of the Nietzschean “human, all too human,” the attributes of truly sacred marriage, of marriage as a “mystery,” can and must be valid. When divorce is not permitted in a society like the present, one can expect this hypocritical regime and the rise of grave personal and social problems.”
There is such a thing as being too aristocratic. The contention seems to be that plebs do not conduct marriage well, and so the sacramental nature of marriage ought to be reserved only for those who have an “absolute, almost heroic” dedication. While I agree that the quality of a marriage is often determined by the quality of the individuals involved, this is not always the case, especially for pre-Moderns. There is certainly nothing wrong with strong social and legal pressures to hammer down the nails that stick up, and yet Evola raises objections to this that seem ill-founded. Such is good for the society as a whole, and after his foray into the necessary individualism that the dissident finds himself enraptured in during this time period when the supporting structures of transcendence have been cut out from beneath him, Evola overlooks the ability of Tradition to bring out great things even from the lesser, while acknowledging at this point that such is only a matter for future speculation and past romanticizing.
I’ll stop here, and leave you with my general impressions, that this is not a difficult book to get through if you are familiar with the kind of dialectic Evola uses to engage figures such as Sartre and Nietzsche. It is quite different from the voice he uses in Revolt, and many will find that something of a relief. At times, the book can be a little repetitive and abstract, but this is part of the author’s calling card. By the end you will have come away understanding why nihilism ought to be overcome, even if Evola’s solutions don’t seem immediately apparent, and that alone makes it worth the read. It also helps flesh out some of the problems unique to the 50s-60s era, giving a critique which can be expanded upon today, with the benefit of hindsight. I said in the beginning that Evola had intended to provide a self-help guide with Ride the Tiger, and I’m not sure how much self-help you will get out of it. The book is a little too academic, a little too clinical for that. I got the sense that the impeccably thorough analyses slammed shut a lot of doors, but left more than a few open, leaving the reader with at least some autonomy in terms of how to proceed. I suppose it is up to us to figure out which patch of fur we need to grab a hold of in order to survive the current Dark Age. Then again, our volition to do that might just represent the inner liberation that Evola was talking about.