An Interview with Codreanu
Our car soon leaves the curious-looking centre of Bucharest behind: a collection of small skyscrapers and very modern buildings, chiefly of a ‘functional’ type, filled with exhibit halls and art studios reminiscent of Paris and America – the only exotic feature here being the many astrakhan hats worn by the local officials and bourgeoisie. After reaching the North station, we turn into a dusty county road skirting small buildings not unlike those in old Vienna. Extending in a straight line, this road leads us into the countryside. After a good thirty minutes, our car suddenly veers left into a country road, only to stop outside a building that stands almost alone, surrounded by fields. This is the so-called ‘Green House’, the dwelling of the leader of the Romanian Iron Guard.
‘We have built this with our own hands’, the Legionary escorting us proudly tells us. Intellectuals and artisans joined forces to build their leader’s dwelling, in what almost appears to have been a symbolic and ritual action. The style of the house is Romanian: on its two sides it extends to form a sort of porch, almost giving the impression of a cloister. We enter the building and reach the first floor. Here we are met by a tall and slender young man in casual attire. His open face immediately gives an impression of nobleness, strength and loyalty. This man is Corneliu Codreanu, the leader of the Iron Guard. He is a distinctly Aryo-Roman type – like a contemporary embodiment of the ancient Aryo-Italic world. While his grey-blue eyes convey the harshness and cool will of a leader, on the whole his contour is marked by a peculiar note of idealism, inwardness, strength, and human understand- ing. His manner of speech is also characteristic: before answering, it is as if he became absorbed in himself and removed; then suddenly he starts speaking, expressing himself with almost geometrical precision in clearly articulated and well-constructed sentences.
‘After having met an array of journalists of all nations and colours, who only knew how to ask me about strictly day-to-day politics, this is the first time’, Codreanu explains, ‘that —- to my satisfaction — I receive a visit from someone primarily interested in the soul and spiritual core of my movement. I had come up with a formula to satisfy a journalist without hardly explaining a thing: constructive nationalism.’
‘Man is comprised of an organism, which is to say an organised form, and of vital forces, as well as a soul. The same may be said of a people. The national construction of a state, while taking account of all three elements, for various reasons of qualification and heredity can nevertheless be chiefly based upon a single one of these elements.’
‘In my opinion, in the Fascist movement it is the state element that prevails, coinciding with organised force. What finds expression here is the shaping power of ancient Rome, that master of law and political organisation, the purest heirs to which are the Italians. National Socialism emphasises what is connected to vital forces: race, racial instinct, and the ethical and national element. The Romanian Legionary movement instead chiefly stresses what in a living organism corresponds to the soul: the spiritual and religious aspect.’
‘This is the reason for the distinctive character of each national movement, although ultimately all three elements are taken into account, and none is overlooked. The specific character of our movement derives from our distant heritage. Already Herodotus called our forefathers “the immortal Dacians”. Our Geto-Thracian ancestors, even before Christianity, already had faith in the immortality and indestructibility of the soul – something which proves their spiritual drive. Roman colonisation introduced the Roman sense of organisation and form. Later centuries made our people miserable and divided; yet, just as a sick and beaten horse will still show traces of its nobility of stock, so too the Romanian people of yesterday and today reveals the latent features of its two-fold heritage.’
‘It is this heritage that the Legionary movement seeks to awaken’, Codreanu continues. ‘It begins with the spirit: for the movement wishes to create a spiritually new man. Once we have met this goal as a “movement”, we must then awaken our second heritage – the politically shaping Roman power. The spirit and religion are thus our starting point; “constructive nationalism” is our point of arrival – almost a consequence. Joining these two points is the ascetic and at the same time heroic ethic of the Iron Guard.’
We ask Codreanu about the relation between the spirituality of his movement and the Orthodox Christian religion. His answer is, “Generally, through the fostering of a national consciousness and through personal experience, we seek to rekindle features of the religion that have often become mummified and turned into the traditionalism of a slumbering clergy. We are lucky that our nationally-based religion ignores the dichotomy between faith and politics, and can provide ethical and spiritual support without imposing itself as a political entity. From our religion the Iron Guard movement has also derived a fundamental idea: ecumenism. This represents the positive transcendence of all internationalism and abstract, rationalistic universalism. The ecumenical idea envisages society as a unity of life, a living unity, and a way of living together not only with our people, but also our deceased and God. The implementing of this idea in actual experience lies at the centre of our movement; politics, the party, culture, etc. are merely consequences deriving from this. We must rekindle this central element in such a way as to renew the Romanian man first, and then move on to build the Romanian nation and state. One particular point to stress is the fact that the presence of the deceased in the ecumenic nation – our deceased, and particularly our heroes – is not an abstract thing for us but something real. We cannot cut ourselves off from the dead; as forces freed from the human condition, they pervade and support our highest existence. The Legionaries regularly meet in small groups, known as “nests”. In these gatherings they perform particular rites. What opens all meetings is the roll call of all our fallen comrades, whereby at each name those present answer with “Present!” This is no mere ceremony or allegory for us — it is a genuine evocation.’
‘We distinguish between individuals, the nation, and transcendent spirituality’, Codreanu continues. “When it comes to heroic devotion, we consider what leads from one element to the next, and ultimately to the attainment of a superior unity. We deny the principle of brute and materialistic utility in all its forms: not merely on an individual level, but also on that of the nation. Beyond the nation, we acknowledge those eternal and immutable principles in the name of which one must be ready to fight and die, subordinating all things to them, with no less readiness than if he were fighting for his own existence and right to life. Truth and honour, for instance, are metaphysical principles that we consider higher than our very nation.’
We learned that the ascetic character of the Iron Guard movement is not abstract, but rather something concrete and actually put into practice, so to speak. For instance, a rule is made for fasting: three days a week, around 800,000 men practice the so-called “black fast’, which consists in abstinence from all food, drink and tobacco. Likewise, prayer features prominently in the movement. The elite assault corps that bears the name of the two Legionary leaders fallen in Spain, Mota and Marin, even abides to the rule of celibacy. We ask Codreanu to explain the precise meaning of all this. Pausing to focus for a moment, he answers, “There are two aspects involved. To grasp them, we must bear in mind the dualism that marks each human being, which is comprised of a naturalistic material element and a spiritual one. When the former prevails over the latter, we have “hell”. Every form of balance between the two is then bound to be precarious and contingent. Only complete mastery of the spirit over the body can serve as the normal condition and prerequisite for genuine strength and heroism. We practice fasting because it fosters a condition of this sort by loosening bodily bonds, favouring self-liberation and the self-affirmation of pure will. When we add prayer, we ask the powers on high to join our forces and invisibly support us. This leads us to the second aspect in question: it is sheer superstition to believe that in all struggles only material and purely human forces are what count; for on the contrary, invisible, spiritual powers are also at play that are no less efficacious than the former. We are aware of the positive character and importance of these forces. For this reason, we have given the Legionary movement a clearly ascetic character. The ancient knightly orders also abided to the principle of chastity. I should note, however, that in our case this principle is only limited to the Assault Corps, not least because of practical considerations: for those who must be entirely committed to fighting and have no fear of death should not be encumbered by family duties. Besides, one can only stay in this unit up to the age of 30. One principle, though, always remains valid: on the one hand, we have those who only know “life” and thus search for prosperity, wealth, well-being, and opulence; on the other, those who aspire to something beyond life: glory and victory in a struggle that is internal as much as external. The Legionaries of the Iron Guard belong to the latter category. Their warrior asceticism is rendered complete by one final norm: the vow of poverty made by the elite of the leaders of the movement, who follow the precept of renouncing luxury, empty diversion, and so-called mundane entertainment an invitation to genuine change we make to each Legionary.’
Julius Evola (Originally published in I] Regime Fascista on 22 March 1938.)