This is the conclusion of a three part essay on conservatism, liberalism, and their relationship to NeoPagan spirituality. Part I described what liberalism and conservatism have been historically and philosophically and argued there is considerable truth in both views. Part II explored their relationship to Christian and Pagan spirituality and how Pagan insights enabled us better to understand their competitive but ultimately symbiotic relationship.Now, Part III examines why neither, but especially conservatism, resembles what they have been historically and why those Pagan insights are so critically important to everyone today.
The argument is more complex than the preceding two, but I hope you will bear with me. I am happy to elaborate points that seem undeveloped in the discussion to follow. Exceptions exist to much of what I am arguing, my larger argument is that the exceptions are minor themes today.
As my readers know, this column frequently has a political orientation.Some people object a religious site should not have political content.But historically spirituality has never been purely private except when viewed from a secular perspective that relegates it to the purely subjective, like preferring chocolate ice cream over vanilla. Interestingly, this secular outlook imports powerful monotheistic assumptions under the surface.
However to say that religion has unavoidable political implications is not to make the next jump and say that religion leads to One Right Way politically. This totalitarian conclusion has roots in religions dominating societies and also claiming there is only One Right Way. Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism are tragic examples. By contrast, religions emphasizing sacred immanence, that divinity is within the world wherever else it might be, generally recognize many valid spiritual paths, and more easily live at peace with a diverse political landscape.
I closed the second of my open letter to Pagan libertarians with a few comments as to what is right about libertarianism. Since discussing the issue continues on this site, I want to explore libertarianism’s positive dimensions a little more. This is complex because the good is interwoven with the not very good, and the interweaving is hidden by popular words covering both, such as “individualism” and “private property.”
Along the way I will also try and make clear where we Pagans have something important to add in enriching libertarian thinking.
What does religion have to do with a particular political party? Not much. Political parties are fluid, and politicians are more interested in power than in a particular moral stance. Reagan gave a nod to fundamentalist Christians, and they leapt to align themselves with the Republican party. But now the GOP is getting pressure from many of its members to change its stance on marriage. What will these Christians do then?
My fellow blogger here at Witches and Pagans, Gus DiZerega, would have us be convinced that being Pagan is quite incompatible with being Libertarian. I’m not convinced. Gus spent many years being a Libertarian and has offered considerable philosophic reading in his links. But ultimately, I didn’t come to my interest in Libetarianism through philosophy and scholarly study, but through politics and economics.* My interest in Libertarianism is that it is all about getting government to be smaller and less intrusive. This means fewer laws, and a trust that the market will be better for humans and Nature than will government. Since Gus brought it up, I started thinking more deeply about what spiritual values might underlie our political choices (if any). From there I considered the connections between compassion and responsibility, and personal happiness.
Libertarians have a long history with modern NeoPaganism. In the early years of our rapid growth science fiction writer Robert Heinlein ‘s Stranger in a Strange Land,helped inspire creating the Church of All Worlds. and the libertarian spirit and strong female characters in his The Moon is a Harsh Mistress was popular with many.Historically the connection between libertarians and Pagans is deep.Today many Pagans are libertarians and still more are sympathetic to what they imagine that philosophy to be.
On the surface that connection makes a lot of sense because libertarianism’s ethical principle is remarkably compatible with the Wiccan Rede. Libertarians generally say no one has a right to coerce a peaceful person and our rede states “An it harm none, do as ye will.”
In thinking about how my religion informs my political choices, I realize that it only does so in the most general sense. Paganism values Nature not because there was a political movement called Environmentalism, but because our ancestors couldn’t get away from it, and because the poets and artists of the Romantic era placed Her in stark contrast to the burgeoning industrial complex.
As a movement, Environmentalism has some massive failings that I’ve written about here. Gus diZerega advocated voting Democratic in the last election, not because the Democrats were friends of the environment, but because they had a slightly better record. Hardly a ringing endorsement, and certainly not one that touches my religious sensibilities or values. And perhaps it shouldn’t. But I’ll get to that.