Julius Evola’s ‘Ride the Tiger’

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.”

Nietzsche’s Zarathustra‘ by Basil Baroda

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.

On existentialism:

“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.

no one said it would be easy

6 thoughts on “Julius Evola’s ‘Ride the Tiger’

  1. Paul Furlong in his Social and Political Thought of Julius Evola wrote of his subject's prose style that “His core arguments could often be buried in masses of unstructured prose”. While not Evola's worst offender in this regard (that distinction belongs to the alternatively brilliant and frustrating The Hermetic Tradition), Ride the Tiger could have been organized better and its main points made more clear (as for the the somewhat smoother reading, we might credit the translator Joscelyn Godwin, who also worked on Introduction to Magic, also a smooth read for what must have been an astoundingly difficult text to translate).

    The key chapter, I think, is the 10th. There Evola sets out a two-step trial though self-knowledge, something he ought to have clearly made his overall thesis and to which he ought to have done a better job of relating the more concrete material in the second half of the book. The first step is “being oneself” to which the solution offered in this book (his others take a more esoteric and even magical route) is that of a “unification. Once one has discovered through experience which of one's manifold tendencies is the central one, one sets about identifying it with one's will, stabilizing it, and organizing all one's secondary or divergent tendencies around it. This is what it means to give oneself a law, one's own law”. [1] The second step is the connection to transcendence, a “proving oneself” through resolving “within him, in greater of lesser measure, of the higher dimension of transcendence. This is the unconditioned nucleus that in life does not belong to life's sphere, but to that of Being”. [2] Those familiar with Evola's more esoteric works might see this process as a more mundane version of the alchemical language Evola uses elsewhere (Black work, White work, Red work).

    Anyway, I can't find the page at the moment, but somewhere in Ride the Tiger he says that getting this process done and connecting to transcendence is pretty much the most important thing to do in this life; a little more guidance on how to use this world to do that would have been nice, and as it stands you'll have to leave his “core trilogy” and seek out his other works to learn how you might do that through magic, mountain climbing, his own interpretation of Buddhism, or, um, sex.

    [1] Page 61
    [2] Page 62


  2. Thanks for this succinct review. I'm embarrassed not to have read any complete work of Evola's yet, but have been toying with making the time to read one at long last. It sounds like this may be the better work upon which to start; from your description, “Revolt” seems like it will demand more focus and determination – something which can easily wane when one has several other things to be doing.

    By the by, I'm sorry to have left our conversation on Orthosphere some time ago; the Liturgical season wound up distracting me. Please forgive me, and, in the meantime, Хрїстосъ воскресе! I congratulate you in the joyful tide of the Feast of Feasts.


  3. Thanks Aurelius! Hope you are well. Many would disagree with me, but Ride the Tiger might not be the worst book to start with. As I said, if you have experience reading the kind of philosophical prose that Evola uses here, you will undoubtedly find it easier than Revolt. But I always say, before you read anything of his, you should tackle the short book 'The Crisis of the Modern World' by Rene Guenon.


  4. This is a helpful review. I read it four years ago and have forgotten some of it but should re-read in light of previous Evola works I have read since. I think Ride the Tiger is particularly helpful in the sense that it engages with post-war European problems. I had read Guenon's 'The Crisis of the Modern World' but nothing else by Evola, and it was not an ideal place to start but his critique of Nietzsche is one of the best I have read. “The Handbook of Traditional Living” carries on where Tiger left off, including practical advice on how to engage with the modern world, particularly in regards to political activism and certain religious movements.


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