Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Why is New Age spirituality (and Green economics) *always* Leftist?


Before I was a Christian, I was very interested by New Age type spirituality - myths, neo-shamanism, neo-paganism and the like. But I was also on 'the right' politically - or so I supposed - being a sort of conservative/ libertarian.

I was recurrently amazed that everybody in the New Age movement was on the Left, often very far on the Left - and even mildly Right-ish people (such as Republicans or Conservative) were extremely unusual.

But New Age ideas, if they were taken seriously, often seemed to imply, if not a Right wing political world, then at least certainly not the mainstream Left wing politics of our era.

Yet the New Age writers and gurus were mad keen on the actuality of modern mainstream Left wing politics - and would on the one hand sometimes endorse the specific political leadership of the West, when they were members of Leftist parties - but certainly would never endorse any Right wing political figures - would express utter disgust about them.


However, going back just a few decades, some of the originators of New Age spirituality has been 'of the Right'. For example, Joseph Campbell (the mythologist) was a Republican. And Fritz (Small is Beautiful) Schumacher ended his life as a strongly Thomistic, distributist Roman Catholic - with a radically reactionary vision of the good society.

The New Age legacy of these men (and others) was almost uniformly Leftist - The Joseph Campbell Society and the Schumacher Society/ College both exuding the absolutely characteristic behaviours and concerns of the modern Left, and excluding and Right wing ideas.


Going back further than a few decades, there was a strongly National Socialist element in New Age ideas - with neo-Paganism a significant part of the early Nazi movement on the one hand, and the ideas of CG Jung (the major New age theorist) on the other.

And back in the mid-1980s, Andrew Dobson wrote an interesting book called Green Economics in which he (rather boldly and honestly) suggested that if Green ideas were taken seriously, Fascist organization was one of the logical directions they could take. And this would, I think, apply to New Age spirituality as well.

IF they were taken seriously.


The simple reason for the Leftism of New Age (and the Green movement) is that the ideas are not taken seriously, the beliefs are very weakly held - therefore, New Age ideas do not provide people with a fundamental motivation for their lives - and this can be observed empirically by the fact that the actual behavior of New Agers conforms to the dominant Leftist ideology even where this contradict New Age ideals (which is, actually, in most places).

In sum, New Agers are fundamentally Leftist and only superficially dedicated to New Age spirituality. 


New Agers (and Green politics in general) is uniformly Leftist for the simple reason it is motivationally weak; therefore, adherents believe in Leftism more powerfully and deeply than they believe in New Age; therefore, whenever there is a conflict, Leftism wins - and wins easily, with barely any sense of a conflict.

New Age is merely a set of superficial therapeutic lifestyle ideas and entertainments and diversions - the movement is spiritually just too weak to do any serious work in the modern world.

And that is why it is Leftist. The writers, performers, artists, gurus of the New Age are Leftists first and firmly; and spiritual only when and where it fits in with Leftism.


Note: Exactly the same argument applied to Liberal Christianity. The reason why Liberals are all Leftists is because their Christianity is so weak - they do not feel sufficiently motivated by their supposed Christian beliefs - in fact their 'Christianity' is far too weak ever to win against the Leftism which is their true primary motivation.


Thursday said...

Thanks immensely for this. I have always been wondering why this was so.

One thing to remember is that modernity has two emphases: one is materialist scientism, and the other is pure subjective experience. The New Age types are the latter. Though apparently opposites, Jim Kalb has shown how these two things can actually reinforce each other.

Thursday said...

Some environmentalists have come to an at least partial realization of all this. See here:

Bruce Charlton said...

@Th - Back in 1987 I recall writing to Resurgence Magazine (Schumacher society) a longish, thoughtful letter about why they kept publishing radical ideas which were never analyzed, critiqued or followed up.The fact that I got no acknowledgement or reply struck me as significant - and that was when I read Andrew Dobson's book - at that time he was a Leftist, but honest.

JP said...

And back in the mid-1980s, Andrew Dobson wrote an interesting book called Green Economics in which he (rather boldly and honestly) suggested that if Green ideas were taken seriously, Fascist organization was one of the logical directions they could take. And this would, I think, apply to New Age spirituality as well.

They will indeed be Fascist. But, because Leftists run them, the Fascism will be called something else - something positive! - because everyone knows Fascism is Bad whereas environmentalist and New Age movements are Good.

The Left insists that accusations of Fascism are only leveled against progressive movements by Fascists like Rush Limbaugh.

Gabe Ruth said...

This is a good illustration of the folly of allies of convenience you've shown many times.

However, I think it's important to understand that the always in your title is only almost right. Say rather that prominent or influential ones are always Leftist, and in addition to the priority issue you identify, there is also a filtering/selection process.

A secondary effect of this tendency is that people of a "conservative" tendency come to see concern for the environment as inherently Leftist, which it is certainly not.

Have you ever read anything by David Brin? He's an annoying libertarian futurist who styles himself as a scientifically literate apostle of the Enlightenment to the ignorant. It's quite funny to watch him try to square environmentalism, futurism (with interstellar travel), and democratic absolutism.

Bruce Charlton said...

@GK - Just as a matter of interest - could you name an exception to the 'always'?

Yes - I read Brin's book on Transparent Society but can't remember it. I also once sent him a politely critical e-mail about something and he replied with something extremely rude and aggressive - so I have essentially written him off!

Gabe Ruth said...

Jason Peters (writes at Front Porch Republic) is the first one that comes to mind whose non-Leftism and environmentalism are indisputable.

John Michael Greer (writes The Archdruid Report) is more ambiguous, but I don't believe it would be accurate to call him a leftist.

Dmitri Orlov is less ambiguous (he's a lefty flavored anarchist), but he recently has been writing a series on "communities that abide" in which he pulls no punches in criticizing feminism. So, while he is still a leftist, environmentalism is his priority.

I only recently encountered Brin's writing, and I enjoyed the skillful display of mental gymnastics. His response to you is telling. I believe somewhere in his head he knows what he's doing, and this subtle knowledge is the source of his shrillness.

Bruce Charlton said...

@GK - I'll take a look at those names. What will be interesting will be to see if they are popular - sell lots of books, speak at big conferences etc.

I get the impression that Brin is viscerally anti-Christian -

Gabe Ruth said...

I am in no way recommending Brin. Regardless of whether he's right about anything, he's a jerk and not worth the time. But a smart person proselyting in favor of the three things mentioned before makes for quite an amusing religion (JM Greer pointed this out, and he got huffy).

Arakawa said...

David Brin was actually a key data point in my coming to believe that purposive evil is an actual thing. (I listened through a 50-minute talk by him, ostensibly about the proper way to talk to religious people about the Singularity, but in reality it turned into a 50-minute paean to the Tower of Babel.) There's a gratuitous quality to much of the speech that's incongruent with the stated message, and left me with a weird and disturbing feeling that there was a subtext to his words that Brin himself didn't intend.

i.e. someone was delivering a carefully-thought-out message, and it wasn't Brin, since Brin is a person who ostensibly doesn't believe in religious symbols enough to take them seriously in the way the underlying message implies.

I'm not sure if I can more precisely explain.

As for an example of non-Leftist Environmentalist views, have you considered Tolkien, and his attitude towards nature and industry?

Bruce Charlton said...

@A - I know what you mean; although (given my background) I slightly suspected psychological illness - maybe hypomania, perhaps disinhibition secondary to pharmacology, early brain degeneration or something. But we could both be right...

" have you considered Tolkien, and his attitude towards nature and industry?"

Yes, maybe you misunderstood. I was talking about the environmental/ Green movement - obviously Tolkien was a real environmentalist and was on the religious Right. No contradiction.

But when modern environmentalists, who are Leftist, try to co-opt Tolkein, and try critique of modernity, that is nonsense; because when tough questions arise they simply follow current Leftism - e.g. Patrick Curry in Defending Middle Earth.

e.g. As Steve Sailer has pointed out, environmentalism absolutely entails strict immigration controls - and when Leftism was weaker it used to. However this policy has been dumped (and demonized) and now the (pseudo-)environmentalists follow the Leftist pro-uncontrolled-mass-immigration line; which makes no sense from any perspective - least of all environmentalism.

Ingemar said...

I once told a rather liberal co-worker that "Environmentalism is the tribute liberalism pays to conservatism." He quite agreed.

Liberal/Leftism is quite happy to demolish tradition, culture, sexuality, barriers, laws, customs and norms where they see fit... so why do they limit themselves to nature/

Thursday said...

Leftist gestures towards the pre-modern are nothing more than nostalgia. It's the same for liberal Christians, who often have a genuine affection for the Bible and traditional liturgy, but who capitulate to leftism whenever there is a conflict. The trappings of Christianity are so much a part of some people's childhoods that they just can't let go of them.

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

Very, very interesting, particularly your remark that the first New Age champions were not leftist and their legacy was. A couple of ideas came to my mind on the subject.

Proponents of new things, particularly of the religious or philosophical kind, are invariably educated people with time to devote to thinking and writing. To achieve this, they must be spared partly or entirely the concern for the necessities of life. Saint Thomas Aquinas said that himself. Most classical philosophers and great theologians were aristocrats or bourgeois, as well as the founders of New Age or Leftism. If they were poor, they had aristocrat or bourgeois patrons – Marx and Engels, for example.
Also, New Age roots go back well before the 20th century, even if it got its name only around the 1960s. Over at least three centuries, the New Age movement did its job perfectly well, which was to hollow out the truth content from the spiritual craving and drive men to an insidious form of apostasy. This often unconscious apostasy (many so-called Christians are New Agers) was designed to prepare the terrain and make way for a direct and avowed apostasy, an organized crypto-religion, which is Leftism (there is no God, man is god unto himself, and Utopia is going to happen when the classical world is utterly destroyed), combined or not with nihilism (God is either dead or nonexistent, and there is no meaning in anything).

Nicholas Fulford said...

The problem is that people rarely want to look at the problem, and it is a human problem.

We are too many, and consume far too much. We are stuck in the finger trap of progress--believing it holds the solution to the terrible damage that we do to the environment. What progress does is allows us to hold off the day of reckoning a weebit further, all the while introducing more problems. Today's technological innovations extend man's hand further, without taming the human capacity to consume, without dampening our drive to expand. The problem is not one of a need for technological breakthrough, but of controlling are all-consuming greed, to avoid becoming what Agent Smith said in the film, "The Matrix"

I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a plague and we are the cure.

We have to grapple successfully with ourselves to find ways to tame our destructive proclivities, and that is a lot tougher than advancing technology.

Titus Didius Tacitus said...

Based on what I've seen, this is true.

You can double up as pharaoh and voodoo priest, defraud the flock, fake the oracle, routinely invoke spirits definitely known not to be whom they claim to be, and deny the true existence of the gods entirely, and it's all in good fun.

Cut across leftist shibboleths, and you're looking at social sanctions, loss of status and respectability, banning and expulsion.

This just for denying that ancient laws and attitudes are incompatible with modern ones, and have right of way over them. For example: which ancient religions are compatible with moral vegetarianism, that says you can't kill animals? Think before you answer that question: it could lead to your exiting the organized / social practice of what you thought was your religion. The gods do not have right of way.

Why? Lack of religious belief. Not lack of belief altogether - leftist beliefs are solid. But lack of faith.

I've been shocked by private conversations I've had with people whom I at first shared with me the certainty that "who are the gods and what do they want?" is a real question but "is there any such thing as the supernatural or is this all just play-acting?" is not serious. That's not how they felt about it - and who put on the best public show had nothing to do with how people felt or what they believed and with what level of confidence.

Titus Didius Tacitus said...

Thursday: "Leftist gestures towards the pre-modern are nothing more than nostalgia. It's the same for liberal Christians, who often have a genuine affection for the Bible and traditional liturgy, but who capitulate to leftism whenever there is a conflict."

One reason is: they're sometimes the same people, that is liberal Christian and liberal pagan both, without concern for compatibility or consequences, but always devoutly liberal.

Titus Didius Tacitus said...

There is also a lack of the sense of taboo, and of dread and awe. People have no difficulty doing things that ought to raise the hairs on the backs of their arms to even talk about, if they believe what they say.

Without the feeling of taboo, of miasmas not to risk and boundaries not to transgress, religion falls into the hands of those who are shameless in making claims to their advantage. Religion becomes the sort of scam that atheist leftists claim it is. As with counterfeit money, the fake drives out the real.

Of course leftist social taboos are fully operative.

Anonymous said...

For greens: Pentti Linkola and the Unabomber are far from leftist in orientation.

For "Newage" (rhymes with sewage): Romuva, Asatru, Scientology, Gurdjieff; none are particularly left wing.

Of course, the facile leftist green/newage beliefs get the most press. Our ruling class are facile leftists after all.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SL - In the mass of mainstream (and also higher status) New Age, these names have no presence - except to some extent Gurdjieff, but in a way which proves my point - moderns focus on a Leftist selective version of G (as they do with Jung - who is a far more important influence - indeed the primary influence - on New Age).

Indeed, it is remarkable what modern Leftism can do with reactionaries - even a lifelong *literal* Nazi like Heidegger can be sanitized for Leftist use.

(Nietzsche is another example of the same kind.)

(But from my perspective, all of these people are on the Left, since the Right is intrinsically and necessarily Religious - and NOT to be traditionally religious is the primary form of Leftism. This means you too, obviously!)