One of the most popular ideas developed by Julius Evola is to “ride the tiger,” a reference to a Hindu parable about a tiger running toward someone. Rather than being attacked, the person jumps on the tiger and rides it, until the tiger is tired of running. Such an action has parallels to walking the razor’s edge when following the left-hand path.
The phrase is bandied about frequently, but what does riding the tiger in the modern world actually entail? And what are the other options Evola describes for men of tradition in the modern world? This article outlines the answers Evola gave to these questions in one of his last books.
The Man of Tradition
Evola’s book Ride the Tiger is written for the man who’s at home in the world of Tradition. A society is Traditional “when it is ruled by principles that transcend what is merely human and individual, and when all its sectors are formed and ordered from above, and directed to what is above” (RTT, p. 2; emphasis mine). But today, in the Kali Yuga, the structures that formerly supported the “man of tradition” are no longer in place. He is an outsider in the modern world. In this sense, Tradition has nothing to do with 1950s America when nuclear families lived pleasant lives in the suburbs.
Evola describes how this type of man is anchored to the transcendent:
In an epoch of dissolution, this is the essential basis of a vision of life that is appropriate for the man reduced to himself, who must prove his own strength. Its counterpart is to be central or to make oneself so, to know or discover the supreme identity with oneself. It is to perceive the dimension of transcendence within, and to anchor oneself in it, making of it the hinge that stays immobile even when the door slams . . . it is the calm sense of a presence and an intangible possession, of a superiority to life whilst in the very bosom of life. (RTT, 57; emphasis mine)
In chapter 29, Evola discusses the type of initiation available in modern world, this time using the analogy of magnetism to explain being oriented toward the transcendent. By this, Evola is saying that one may become a man of tradition via a legitimate initiation:
One can compare this effect to the induction of magnetism into a piece of iron—an induction that also imprints on it a direction. Afterwards one can suspend the iron and move it about as one wishes, but after oscillating for a certain time and amplitude, it will always return to point toward the pole. When the orientation toward the transcendent no longer has a merely mental or emotional character, but has come to penetrate a person’s being, the most essential work is done, the seed has penetrated the earth . . . All the experiences and actions that, when one lives in the world, especially in an epoch like ours, may have the character of a diversion and be tied to various contingencies, will then have the same irrelevant effect as the displacing of the magnetized needle, after which it resumes its direction. (RTT, 216-217)
The “man of tradition” is the same as the “special human type”:
. . . his differentiated character consists in facing the problems of 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 of his own expression and confirmation in the modern epoch, in the here and now. (RTT, 35)
Traditional Paths Are Not Available in the Kali Yuga
Now that he’s defined the man of tradition, Evola looks at how this special type may find some kind of salvation or enlightenment in the modern world.
Evola outlines two main paths to enlightenment, for lack of a better word, that were available in the Traditional world: the path of action (the warrior) and the path of contemplation (the ascetic). Both of these involve “being a principle to oneself” rather than being tossed about by the winds of Fate or emotions.
According to Evola, these paths are no longer efficacious in the Kali Yuga. Not only are humans constituted differently than they were in the Traditional world, but the world itself is different. This leads Evola to assert that “because of the different historical and even planetary circumstances, such precepts, even if followed, would not yield the same results” (RTT, 9).
Of course, many people disagree with Evola here and maintain the existence of any number of Traditional life paths available today. The point is that in Ride the Tiger, Evola claimed they didn’t work. This is his starting point for the concept of riding the tiger.
Riding the Tiger
With no paths available for the man of tradition, a common tactic—and one Evola certainly engaged in—is trying to directly resist the decline of civilization. But this is not viable because “the current is too strong; one would be overwhelmed.” And it’s essential to not let oneself become overwhelmed by the apparent triumph of the forces prevalent today in the Kali Yuga.
To combat this, rather than focusing on how hopeless things seem now, one should keep in mind how they will change in the future. With this in mind, one can remain fixed in the transcendent while letting the world collapse around him:
. . . the principle to follow could be that of letting the forces and processes of this epoch take their own course, while keeping oneself firm and ready to intervene when ‘the tiger, which cannot leap on the person riding it, is tired of running.’ . . . One abandons direct action and retreats to a more internal position.” (RTT, 10)
Evola goes on to clarify that he doesn’t advise this route for the ordinary man, but only the one who feels himself as “belonging to a different race from that of the overwhelming majority of his contemporaries.” This is an important consideration because some people use “riding the tiger” as an excuse to indulge in degeneracy to which they’re already predisposed. The man Evola has in mind “does not belong inwardly to such a world, nor will he give in to it.”
For such a man, Evola says that rather than fighting losing battles it may be better to let the forces of the Dark Age take their course. We know one day the Golden Age will return, and we know things will get worse before they get better, so why bother trying to fight it?
He continues, saying that it actually may be better to go even further and contribute to the fall rather than trying to prop up any remnants of Tradition. Contributing to the fall also is useful as a means of control—this way at least “the final crisis” won’t be the work of the opposition. This is an interesting strategy, and worthy of discussion among the New Right.
Revolt Against the Bourgeois World
Evola takes pains to distinguish between the world of Tradition and what many today call “traditional.” Cavalcare la tigre was first published in Italian in 1961, but to Evola, at that time the West was already far gone into degeneracy, as exemplified in the bourgeois lifestyle. Much of the Ride the Tiger details how institutions like marriage no longer function the way they did in the Traditional world.
Given the abnormality of modern society, Evola can’t recommend that the man of tradition find salvation via actions that are normative in a Traditional civilization (presumably marriage, church, and children, along with the paths of the warrior and ascetic mentioned above). Today these institutions are completely bourgeois, and to Evola the bourgeois world is not worth preserving:
there is one solution to be eliminated right away: the solution of those who want to rely on what is left of the bourgeois world, defending and using it as a bastion against the more extreme currents of dissolution and subversion, even if they have tried to reanimate or reinforce these remnants with some higher and more traditional values (RTT, 5)
A life of bovine comfort is not a good option either, for the type Evola has in mind. The man of tradition feels completely outside of society, and in addition:
. . . he recognizes no moral claim that requires his inclusion in an absurd system; he can understand not only those who are outside, but even those who are against ‘society’—meaning against this society. (RTT, 180)
As Jonathan Bowden touched on this in a talk on Evola:
This is a society which always looks downwards. “What will other people think? What will one’s neighbors think? What will people out there think? What will all this BBC audience think? What do the masses, Left, Right, Center, pressing their buttons on panels and consoles think?” The sort of Evolian response is what they think is of no importance and they ought to think what the aristocrats of the world, in accordance with the traditions, which are largely religious, out of which their social order comes, think.
Rather than trying to build anything on remnants of the bourgeois world, Evola says “It is good to sever every link with all that which is destined sooner or later to collapse.” Instead one has to find one’s orientation inwardly, what he describes as maintaining continuity on an essential plane (i.e., being anchored in the transcendent). As sad as it can be to realize, everything bourgeois, even everything in nature, is transient and cannot form the anchor in the life of the man of tradition.
As an aside: Part of transcending the binds of bourgeois society is arriving at a point beyond good and evil. But in doing so, Evola makes clear that you must unite with the transcendent, and not something below—an all-too-common pitfall in traversing a left-hand path.
A Cabin in the Woods
At the beginning of Ride the Tiger, Evola proposes isolation as a solution to life in the modern world. But wealth is necessary to completely detach from society:
For others, it is a matter of completely isolating themselves, which demands an inner character as well as privileged material conditions, which grow scarcer every day. All the same, this is the second possible solution. (RTT, 3)
Besides the fact that to be “blessed with the opportunity for material isolation” requires adequate funds, it also requires a certain type of person. Not everyone is willing to sever ties with the world. But remaining in the world means the man of tradition has a difficult task in deciding how to conduct their existence “even on the level of the most elementary reactions and human relations” (RTT, 3).
Evola is not a Romantic and generally sees no authentic solution in merging with nature. The exception is when nature “has a character of distance and foreignness,” then it might allow some connection to the transcendent (RTT, 125). (See Evola’s Meditations on the Peaks: Mountain Climbing as Metaphor for the Spiritual Quest for more on types of nature.)
To have further opportunities to interact with nature, as it affords an experience of the transcendent, the man of tradition in today’s world should expand his view of nature to the industrial world:
. . . the human type that concerns us must consider nature as part of a larger and more objective whole: nature for him includes countrysides, mountains, forests, and seacoasts, but also dams, turbines, and foundries, the tentacular system of ladders and cranes of a great modern port or a complex of functional skyscrapers. This is the space for a higher freedom. He remains free and self-aware before both types of nature—being no less secure in the middle of a steppe or on an alpine peak than amid Western city nightlife. (RTT, 123-124)
Some aspects of nature are actually more a part of the final disintegration of this cycle than a dam or turbine. Here, Evola is referring to crowded beaches “with almost naked people,” ski resorts crowded with people and chairlifts (RTT, 124), or a bourgeois picnic.
The Possibility for Political Action
Despite all his warnings, Evola says there are some men of this type who are still drawn to political action (see Men Among the Ruins). Though he certainly did enough political writing in his younger days, in his later age Evola viewed political work as mostly useless in the present time, viewing the democratic West as hardly better than the communist East. Besides that, if it is indeed the Kali Yuga, then no human action will have any effect on slowing its tide or returning us faster to the next Golden Age.
(I think such a belief system is self-defeating. It could be that the current Dark Age will end precisely because of the efforts of these men. Not to mention that other Traditionalists have written about the need for small groups of men to hold on to the golden thread of Tradition in the Kali Yuga as a foundation for the next Golden Age.)
In Ride the Tiger, Evola assumes the man of tradition is disinterested in what passes for “politics” today, given that it’s become decidedly anti-metaphysical. But he doesn’t completely discount politics as a type of action one can undertake. Only, it should be done for the love of action in itself, without expecting any outcome. Thus, political work in the Kali Yuga should be done with detachment:
. . . if this is how one dedicates oneself to political activity, clearly all that matters is the action and the impersonal perfection in acting for its own sake. (RTT, 174-175)
We’re thus presented with the option of engaging in political work much like Arjuna engages in battle in the Bhagavad Gita—as a kind of sacred duty. The key here would be maintaining “impersonal perfection” rather than engaging emotionally.
We’ve seen that “riding the tiger” is something exclusive to the Kali Yuga. But it’s not just throwing caution to the wind and engaging in modern life however one desires. It requires a certain type of man; perhaps he is born a man of tradition or he may become one through some type of initiation. Such a man must be anchored in the transcendent. Then there are several options available to him: he can withdraw completely from society, or ride the tiger. For the latter path, it really matters not what one chooses to pursue. It could be politics or nearly anything, so long as one is anchored in the transcendent.
I realize this interpretation based on the book Ride the Tiger is somewhat autistic. I thought it would be useful considering how many people are just now getting into Evola and looking to learn more about his ideas. I look forward to hearing others’ viewpoints.