For aware Pagans the Sacred encompasses us all, rivers and mountains, oceans and deserts, grasses and trees, fish and fungi, birds and animals. Understanding the implications of what this means, and how to experience it first hand, involves our growing individually and as a community well beyond the limits of this world-pathic civilization. All Our Relations exists to help fertilize this transition.
Open Letter to Pagan Libertarians, Part II
continued from part I.
What is wrong with libertarianism as a philosophy for Pagans?
While my chapter demolishing libertarianism treats every aspect of its ideology as failing its core ethical principles, I think its basic heartlessness should give any person pause if they adhere to any tradition holding values like love, compassion, harmony, and kindness. For Pagans who see that our world as a whole is more than just a pile of goodies for the powerful to use, the lack of fit is even more fundamental.
The libertarian ideological conception of an individual is a fascinating mix of a deeply Protestant, and even Calvinist ethic united in strange cohabitation with European nihilism. Transcendental monotheism separates us from the world, which was supposedly created just for us. We are superior to it even if we are inferior to God. This strain becomes even stronger in the Protestant, and especially Calvinist, emphasis on each person’s isolated soul which wins or loses salvation on its own. This view separates each person still farther from others. The result, particularly in secular form, is a kind of a-social individualism, a caricature of real human beings.
Libertarianism’s connection to European nihilism is largely through the influence of Ayn Rand, who was powerfully influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche. Her philosophy provides not so much a doctrine of rights as a doctrine of the superiority of the super man over the inferior. They should not “mooch” because that makes them dependent on the weak, but they can legitimately run roughshod over those who stand in the way of their plans, as the Indians did. Indians had no rights. This is NOT a doctrine of rights, it is a justification of domination if you have the right qualities.
Libertarianism swings uneasily between Rand’s nihilism and secularized Protestantism, the precise mix varying with the libertarian. Many are fundamentally good people, but their intellectual understanding has become divorced from their humanity. People attracted to libertarianism because they favor legalizing pot and are anti-war assume the larger context for their thinking as a whole is OK. It is not.
Religion by definition situates us in a more-than-human context. It might be purely transcendental, separating us from the earth and ultimately from others because all important relations are hierarchical. But any religion like ours which includes the world in the more-than-human cannot coherently conceive of individuals as libertarians do. From a perspective friendly to a Pagan outlook individualism grows out of our relations with others and with the world, as captured in Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s poem.
In any man who dies there dies with him
his first snow and kiss and fight.
It goes with him.
There are left books and bridges
and painted canvas and machinery.
Whose fate is to survive.
But what has gone is also not nothing:
by the rule of the game something has gone.
Not people die but worlds die in them.
I think universally the Pagan ideal is harmony rather than salvation or enlightenement. Harmony involves relationships whereas we are saved or enlightened in isolation.
Pagan religions focus on our relationships with our deities, and with their manifesting within and through the world. Modern NeoPagans such as Wiccans see our world and its cycles as sacred and not simply resources to be used as we wish without regard for anything else. The only exceptions of which I am aware are some moderns from Christian cultures trying to reconstruct older traditions without thinking about the cultural and spiritual contexts in which those traditions existed. In other words, they are focusing on the icing and ignoring the cake. (I do not include all reconstructionists in this statement, but some to my mind fit it very well.)
So is there anything right about libertarianism?
There is, a lot, and this is why I was once attracted, why so many others are, and why I still have happy relationships with some. The part that is in genuine harmony with the nonaggression principle is praiseworthy. The part of libertarianism that is in genuine harmony with the Wiccan rede is praiseworthy. Work by contemporary libertarians such as Radley Balko defending civil liberties and openness in government is valuable to us all. Others such as Kevin Carson are trenchant critics of the corporate military political alliance that is destroying American freedom. Libertarianism in the 60s, when its Pagan connections were forged, was in many cases allied with broad humanistic movements against the Vietnam War, properly suspicious of arrogant bureaucracies, and interested in the expansions of consciousness drugs were making possible. Libertarians in those days did not have to think seriously about environmental issues, which are especially hard to make sense of within a libertarian framework. Those problems mostly arose later. But libertarianism’s valid insights are now deeply enmeshed with subtle misunderstandings and distortions that over time have led a philosophy of liberty to justifying voluntary slavery and allowing children to die out of convenience.
The heart was expelled. Once the heart was expelled from uniting with the mind, it was only a matter of time until the libertarian Koch brothers were allying themselves with the most vicious forces on the Republican right and finding no significant violation of liberty in government’s minute regulation of women and their bodies. Indeed, North Dakota, which takes those violations farther than about anywhere in the country, is described by libertarians as America’s freest state.
Once libertarians decide to really comprehend their ultimate moral principle, they will have much in common with a Pagan outlook. Until they do when push comes to shove, with few exceptions they are no friends of either Pagan religion or individual freedom.
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