Fascist Hobbits?

Deciphering J.R.R. Tolkien’s World through Julius Evola’s philosophy

Von Tobias HofRSS-Newsfeed neuer Artikel von Tobias Hof

J.R.R. Tolkien’s (1892–1973) trilogy The Lord of the Rings, first published in 1954, saw increasing sales in the 1960s, thanks to its popularity among the left-wing counterculture in the United States and the United Kingdom. The Lord of the Rings was even referred to as the “hippy Bible.” While the trilogy offered its readers an escape from the real world, its story and figures also became highly politicized and in many Western countries the British writer became a symbol of left-wing student protest. Against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, Sauron became the personification of US imperialism, and slogans such as “Frodo Lives,” and “Gandalf for President” could be seen in New York and London metro stations.

Looking at today’s news headlines, the political adaptation of Tolkien’s fantasy novel seems to have turned into the opposite. Most prominently, right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni (*1977), a formerly outspoken admirer of fascist leader Benito Mussolini (1883–1945) and member of the neo-fascist youth movement, outed herself as a huge fan of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. For Meloni, Tolkien’s books represent “sacred texts” that heavily influenced her personal worldview. In November 2023 she opened a Tolkien exhibition in Rome, which was explicitly requested and supported by the Ministry of Culture and can be seen until February 2024. 

Yet, J.R.R. Tolkien’s incredible popularity in the Italian far-right milieu is not new. Rather, it dates back to the first Italian edition in 1970. Marco Tarchi (*1952), a leading figure of the Italian far-right youth movement in the 1970s and later a political science professor at the University of Florence, wrote in his 1975 review about the Lord of the Rings: The book is not only “the most phantasmagorical book we’ve ever had in our hands” but it is the first suitable book for right-wing youth that was not burdened by a fascist past.

Tolkien’s adaptation of different political extremes raises the issue of which narratives within Tolkien’s work particularly attracted the far-right in Italy. Moreover, the question arises as to why and how it came about that it was precisely in Italy that the first widespread adaptation of Tolkien’s novels by a far-right audience occurred – and adaptation that today seems a global phenomenon.

The search for answers first leads us to the first Italian edition of the Lord of the Rings – published by Rusconi Editrice, a newly founded publishing house with right-wing sympathies – and its preface which was written by the conservative philosopher Elémire Zolla (1926–2002). In contrast to Tolkien, who rejected any deeper contemporaneous meaning of his book, Zolla argued that the myths of The Lord of the Rings represented a perennial philosophy that must be viewed as an outright rejection of the modern world. In addition, the novel according to Zolla was a story about the ultimate triumph of good over evil.

Given Tolkien’s sociopolitical background, Zolla’s interpretation was not too far-fetched. Tolkien was a conservative writer, whose political and social ideas were grounded in a Catholic worldview that developed in opposition to the Anglican Church. He harbored skeptical opinions of economic and technological progress, both for the risk it poses to the human soul and for the damage it causes to its environment. Tolkien rejected socialism, Nazism and American capitalism and saw history as a long defeat. However, he still had hope. He identified among Western culture a strong romantic chivalric tradition of heroism and sacrifice, which would ultimately help to “turn the ship” around.

Yet, it was not only Zolla’s interpretation of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings that Tolkien’s world was discovered and adapted by the far-right. Tolkien’s fantasies overlapped in many instances with Julius Evola’s (1898–1974) philosophy.Evola, who died in 1974, became a guru-like figure for Italy’s right-wing youth – also known as “Evola’s nephews” – in the 1970s. Evola had never joined a political party despite his well-known affinity with Italian fascists, the National Socialists, and members of the Romanian Iron Guard. He rejected Benito Mussolini’s 1922 March on Rome as a “caricature of a revolution” and his fascist regime as too populistic and devoid of any spirituality. Consequently, he heavily criticized the Italian neo-fascist party’s nostalgia and its failure to create a unique ideology that embraced Evola’s own pagan and spiritual ideas. It was this uneasy relationship between Evola and the MSI that made him an ally of the disorientated radical youth who felt betrayed and abandoned by the party. 

When we look at and analyze the overlaps between Evola’s abstract and frequently vague ideology, which blended several schools of traditions, including Buddhism, eastern dogmas, Rene Guenon’s traditionalism and concepts of the German Konservative Revolution of the interwar period, and Tolkien’s world, we can decipher the messages and narratives within Tolkien’s work that could be used by the far-right to fit their cause. In the following, I would like to look at three aspects: the eternal fight between good and evil and the role of the underdog; masculinity and patriarchy; and anti-modernism.

First, Evola’s philosophy was heavily influenced by Norse and Germanic legends and mythology. He used these myths to showcase the eternal fight between the forces of good and evil. According to him, a compromise between these forces was not possible. The only way to establish a new order that approximated the imagined land of “Hyperborea” with its spiritual traditions was to completely destroy and supplant the modern world by the forces of good. Yet, according to his books Revolt Against the Modern World (Rivolta contro il mondo moderno, 1934/1951) and Ride the Tiger: A Survival Manual for the Aristocrats of the Soul (Cavalcare la Tigre, 1961), the forces of good – i. e. the radical right that followed his philosophy – were marginalized. In order to survive this hostile environment, they have to adopt a position of what Evola called apoliteia. While other traditionalist thinkers preferred absolute political passivity, Evola’s apoliteia was much more ambivalent and could best be described as a “wait and see” approach. He argued that the aristocratic elite, the only force capable of fighting against the forces of darkness, did not currently wield enough power. Thus, the right-wing avant-garde has to be ready to intervene as soon as the “tiger”—an analogy for the modern world— “is tired of running.”

This interpretation was mirrored in Tolkien’s saga of Middle-Earth with its eternal fight between good – the Hobbits, the elves, the dwarves, and righteous men – and evil, personified by Sauron and the Orcs. Thereby, the Hobbits were the most unlikely hero, an outsider in the world of heroes. Yet, it was exactly this outsider-status the far-right youth could associate with given their marginalization in politics and society. As Generoso Simeone (1944–2000), one of the organizers of Italy’s first right-wing festival Campo Hobbit in 1977 stated: “By resorting to the characters created by Tolkien’s fantasy and his fairy tales […], we wanted to show […] [that] we did not want and accept the state of the world. Looking to the future, let us evoke from Tolkien’s fairy tales those images that enrich our imagination […]. We are inhabitants of the mythical Middle Earth, also struggling with dragons, orcs, and other creatures.” 

Mario Bortoluzzi, the lead singer of the right-wing alternative band Compagnia dell’Anello (Fellowship of the Ring) – a band which was founded specifically for the Campo Hobbit festival and named after the first book in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy – added that according to Tolkien, even the smallest and most unlikely person can become a hero and wage a “war of liberation,” defeat the forces of capitalism and industrialism, and return to a traditionalist society. Many young right-wing radicals, Bortoluzzi continued, felt like those Hobbits: “Small but tough, resilient, combative and, in the end, victorious.” Their most famous song Il domani appartiene a noi (Tomorrow Will Belong to Us) was a rallying cry to fight against the forces of “darkness,” and ultimately became the hymn of the neo-fascist Youth Front. 

In her autobiography, Georgia Meloni wrote that her favorite hobbit had always been Sam Gamgee. Sam, she argued, neither strong, fast, nor majestic like other protagonists in the story, he is just a hobbit. But without him – and thus without the help of ordinary people – Frodo would not have been able to complete his mission.

Second, Evola preached a patriarchal worldview with male-dominated, traditional gender models. In several texts, including Woman as a Thing (“La donna come cosa,” 1925), Eros and the Mysteries of Love: The Metaphysics of Sex (“Metafisica del sesso,” 1958), and Revolt Against the Modern World, Evola stressed the superiority of men, called the emancipation of women a “plague,” and argued that matriarchy was a sign of cultural and societal decline. He argued that it was the role of women to be conquered and dominated by men, the hyper-masculine warrior, and that this subjugation of women was essential for the reestablishment of a society based on “tradition.” Furthermore, according to Evola only men could belong to the elite warriors who would overcome the materialist decadent modern world and ascent to true spirituality. 

Tolkien’s texts may include some powerful female characters, such as the elf Galadriel or the Rohan noblewoman Ewoyn (the namesake of an Italian right-wing feminist journal in the 1970s), but they were dominated by male heroes. The protagonists of The Hobbit were nine male dwarves and the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, while the Fellowship of the Ring also only consisted of men. The women in those novels were reduced to supporting roles. Tolkien’s and Evola’s male-dominated worldviews appealed – and still appeal today – to young men who grew up in Italy’s patriarchal society, but who felt challenged in their social standing and emasculated by circumstances ranging from Italy’s defeat in the Second World War to the sexual revolution. The promise of a male dominated, elitist, and patriarchal society helped to restore their self-esteem.

Image 1: The Fellowship of the Ring (still frame taken from the movie The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship
of the Ring, Director: Peter Jackson, 2001, New Line Cinema / Warner Home Videos)

And third, in Revolt Against the Modern World, Julius Evola argued that history was not a process of evolution, but rather devolution and decline from imagined spiritual traditions that had their roots in the mythical land of “Hyperborea”. In addition to praising the Knights Templar and the SS for their efforts to arrest further descent into “anarchy,” he characterized the Renaissance, the French Revolution, individualism, liberalism, and Italy’s post-war economic miracle as “false myths” that were leading to a world of chaos. Evola warned his followers of being deceived by “a civilization of matter and machines.” Moreover, he argued that modernity could never gradually transition into what he considered the traditional order, as each embraced entirely different concepts of time, value, and the sacred.

In the Lord of the Rings Tolkien’s own skepticism and criticism of technological innovation were most evident in the person of Saruman. Blinded by greed and megalomania, he created a new, stronger race of orcs by exploiting and destroying natural resources in the process. Saruman was defeated by the so-called Ents (tree-shepherds), a species of sentient beings who closely resemble trees, as well as the Hobbits, and thus by a people committed to traditional values. Thus, Saruman – and with him modern technology, concrete political objectives and “modern idolatry” like consumerism, individualism, and technological mania were defeated by natural forces – trees and water – and by traditional values such as “courage,” “heroism,” and “camaraderie”.

Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings offered messages and narratives that appealed – and still appeal – to the far-right and the far-left. The story of Tolkien’s adaptation by Italy’s far-right highlights the importance of figures – or organizations – that translate these ambivalent narratives into simplified messages that appeal to the far-right. In Italy, it was Elémire Zolla’s interpretation that made Tolkien’s story accessible for the far-right by linking its main ideas that were expressed by Julius Evola. Tolkien and Evola were both heavily influenced by Old English and Germanic legends, the similarities between Evola’s Revolt against the Modern World and Tolkien’s texts, including his mythopoeic work The Silmarillion, which Rusconi Editrice published in Italy in 1978, are not particularly surprising. 

But while Evola’s philosophy was complex and difficult to decipher, Tolkien’s saga of Middle Earth with its eternal fight between good and evil, its bygone era of a golden age full of spirituality, and its heroic, self-sacrificing fight for a seemingly lost cause was quite straightforward. These similarities made Evola’s key points much more accessible for a broader audience. Many right-wing radicals encountered Evola’s philosophy for the first time during the Campo Hobbitfestivals.

Today, Zolla’s interpretation might be long forgotten. But new interpretations have appeared that once again turn Tolkien’s fantasy world – no matter what eminent Tolkien scholars argue – into a fan favorite of the far-right. The best example is the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy by Peter Jackson, which was release between 2001 and 2003, right after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Jackson added content and dialogues to his films that were not – or at least not explicitly – part of Tolkien’s original story; yet some of these additions particularly appealed to the far-right. In the third film, right before the final battle, Aragorn gave the following speech to his scared soldiers:  

Sons of Gondor! Of Rohan! My brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me! A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship. But it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the age of Men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand! Men of the West!

Image 2: Speech by Aragorn in front of the Black Gate (still frame taken from the movie The Lord of the Rings:
The Return of the King, Director: Peter Jackson, 2003, New Line Cinema / Warner Home Videos)

Against the backdrop of the ‘War on Terror’, Islamic motivated terrorism, and migration crises – in short, a world in chaos and disorder like Tolkien’s Middle-Earth – this speech to the ‘men of the West’ could be used by the far-right as a rallying cry to their cause. Only if the white, Christian, civilized people stand together, they would be victorious in the “clash of civilization” (Samuel P. Huntington) against the “barbarian hordes” of Muslims from Africa and the Middle East. Thus, intended or not by the film makers, Tolkien’s world once again resonated with the far-right – and thanks to the global reach and success of the film trilogy this fascination was and is not limited to Italy. 

Selected Bibliography

Evola, Julius, Revolt Against the Modern World, Rochester 1969.

Evola, Julius, Eros and the Mysteries of Love: The Metaphysics of Sex, New York 1983. 

Evola, Julius, Ride the Tiger. A Survival Manual for The Aristocrats of The Soul, New York 2003.

Evola, Julius, A Traditionalist Confronts Fascism. Selected Essays, London 2015.

Hof, Tobias (2022). “Of Hobbits and Tigers: Right-wing extremism and terrorism in Italy since the mid-1970s,” in A Transnational History of Right-wing Terrorism. Political Violence and the Far Right in Eastern and Western Europe since 1900, edited by Johannes Dafinger, Moritz Florin, London: Routledge, pp. 174–196.

Horowitz, Jason (2022). Hobbits and the Hard Right: How Fantasy Inspires Italy’s Potential New Leader. Giorgia Meloni, the nationalist politician who is the front-runner to become prime minister, sees ‘The Lord of the Rings’ as not just a series of novels, but also a sacred text. New York Times, Sep. 21.

Meloni, Giorgia, Io sono Giorgia: Le mie radici le mie idee, Milano 2021.

Stuart, Robert, Tolkien, Race, and Racism in Middle Earth, New York 2022.

Tolkien, J.R.R., Il Signore degli anelli, 3 Vol., Milano 1970.