As it so happens, there is an interview of me in the new issue of What is Enlightenment? magazine, with which Wilber is closely associated. The interview doesn’t delve into politics, so I am quite sure they are going to receive a flood of angry and alarmed letters from people who check out the blog and discover to their horror that, not only am not a leftist "progressive," but that I consider leftism the greatest danger and impediment to the type of integral spirituality discussed in the magazine.
A few readers have already found their way here after reading the interview, and, to their credit, have kept an open mind. One of them in particular has asked me to clarify the difference between classical liberalism and leftism, which I am happy to do. This is a key distinction, because without it, you simply will not be able to think clearly about politics, for leftism, as it relates to classical American liberalism, is an illiberal philosophy. Therefore, it is quite confusing to call leftists liberals.
Let’s begin with some definitions. Spirituality is the quest to understand the Truth of our existence (“doctrine”) and to align our will and our being with that Truth (“method”). Politics has to do with one's philosophy of government, and more generally, of the relations between men and society. Economics, in the words of Thomas Sowell, has to do with the allocation of scarce resources which have alternatve uses, and more generally, with laws governing the creation of wealth.
There have obviously been countless political philosophies down through the ages, mostly bad ones. For that matter, there have been countless false or partial religions. Sometimes religion can swallow up politics (as in the case of Islam), while some bad political philosophies, such as Leftism, attempt to do away with religion and drain the world of its transcendent dimension, either in subtle ways, such as various "liberal theologies," or in more ham-handed ways, as in the case of the secular fundamentalists and metaphysical yahoos at the New York Times or ACLU. Once you have drained reality of its transcendent dimension, there is only a horizontal struggle below for mere animal existence. Their only ideal is that there are no ideals except that people with religious ideals are dangerous.
However, one cannot actually do away with religion, one can only displace it and insert false religion in its place. For example, to paraphrase an anonymous friend, if you are a secular leftist who sees reality as nothing more than a class struggle between exploiter and exploited, victim and oppressor, you are in fact a worshipper of an idol named Mars. This is nowhere more obvious than in the unrelieved rage of a light-free, ghost-dancing spiritual community such as dailykos or huffingtonpost. (A critical point: do not ever equate “spirit” with good; clearly, there is good spirituality and bad spirituality, i.e., Aztec, Nation of Islam, Scientology, etc.)
At the foundation of the secular leftist revolt against God is the attendant idea that there is no such thing as absolute Truth, for God, among other things, is the ground and possibility of Truth. One of the benefits of religion -- properly understood -- is that it prevents the mind from regressing into the magical worldview, the circular maze of pagan thought that preceded the major revelations. Sophisticated postmodern secularists believe they are making progress by leaving the "superstitions" of religion behind, but this is rarely the case. Instead of believing “nothing,” they tend to believe in “anything,” which is where the pseudo-religion of contemporary liberalism -- that is, leftism -- comes in. Secular leftists simply elevate relativism to the status of an absolute, and thereby circle around from “post-” to “premodern” in their thinking.
In genuine liberalism the emphasis is on liberty in its deepest spiritual sense, whereas in leftism the emphasis is on equality in a blandly horizontal, exterior, and ultimately soul-destroying sense. The purely secular world is a “flatland” prison where the human spirit is confined as a result of having foreclosed the wider world of vertical liberty. It is an elaborate cognitive system that has been constructed for the purposes of living in this man-made Dark Age. Its language is a sort of braille, it's ideology a cane for moving about in this subterranean world. Only the recovery of spiritual vision confers true freedom, because it allows one to move vertically.
Contrary to what you may have been taught, America’s truly liberal founders were steeped in Judeo-Christian metaphysics. As such, they did not believe in mere license, which comes down to meaningless freedom on the horizontal, exterior plane. Rather, they believed that horizontal history had a beginning and was guided by a purpose, and that only through the unfolding of human liberty could that vertical purpose be achieved. Our founders were progressive to the core, but unlike our contemporary leftist "progressives," they measured progress in relation to permanent standards that lay outside time -- metaphorically speaking, an eschatological "Kingdom of God," or "city on a hill" drawing us toward it.
Liberty -- understood in its spiritual sense -- was the key idea of our revolutionary founders. This cannot be overemphasized. According to Michael Novak, liberty was understood as the "axis of the universe," history as "the drama of human liberty." Thomas Jefferson wrote that "the God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time." It was for this reason that Jefferson chose for the design of the seal of the United States Moses leading the children of Israel out of the death-cult of Egypt, out of the horizontal wasteland of spiritual bondage and into the open circle of a higher life. America was quite consciously conceived as an opportunity to "relaunch" mankind after so many centuries of disappointment, underachievement, and spiritual stagnation.
Now the lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty. 2 Cor 3:17
As the contradictory ideals of liberty vs. equality began to ramify through history, it resulted in the very different nations and societies we see today, for the more liberty a nation has, the less her people will be equal, while the more equality is pursued by coercive state policy, the more liberty will necessarily be attenuated and diminished.
The nations of the European Union are, of course, the embodiment of the perennial leftist dream of a cradle-to-grave welfare system. But in order to achieve the goal of radical equality, the Europeans must maintain a confiscatory tax system that undermines liberty, since they begin with the assumption that neither your property nor the fruit of your labors belongs to you, but to the state: to the collective.
This flawed understanding of equality is an atavistic and deeply pernicious holdover from our most primitive social arrangements. While it might have made sense in the archaic environment of psychobiological evolution in small face-to-face groups, in order for human beings to evolve psychohistorically, it was necessary for human beings to overcome their "envy barrier" and to tolerate the painful idea that some might possess more than others.
Human beings evolved as a group animal long prior to ever producing “individuals” with their own unique interior. All primitive cultures have collective defense mechanisms that prevent individuation, but these defenses are also present in more subtle form in modern societies.
In his classic work, Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior, Helmut Schoeck notes that our most persistently misguided economic ideas stem from the futile attempt to eliminate envy. In order to placate the envious individual, government must intervene with policies that do achieve the desired end of of creating more equality, but at the cost of inefficiency, lack of economic growth, and ultimately far less wealth for everyone.
Only by tolerating one’s envy is economic development possible: "the more both private individuals and the custodians of political power in a given society are able to act as though there were no such thing as envy, the greater will be the rate of economic growth and the number of innovations in general." A society is best able to achieve its creative potential if it functions "as if the envious person could be ignored." Likewise, well-meaning leftists who seek the completely "just society" are doomed to failure because of an implicit belief that it is possible to eliminate envy. But human beings will inevitably find something new to envy.
Ironically, the pursuit of equality achieves its goal in a perverse sort of way, by dragging everyone down to a lower level of prosperity. In the Fall 2005 Claremont Review of Books, an article by Gerard Alexander spells out some of the dire results of the pursuit of equality over liberty. For example, on average, U.S. per capita income is 55% higher than the average of the 15 core countries of the European Union. In fact, the largest E.U. countries "have per capita incomes comparable to America's poorest states." Alexander points out that if France, Italy or the U.K. were admitted to the American union, "any one of them would rank as the 5th poorest of the 50 states, ahead only of West Virginia, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Montana." Ireland, which is currently the richest E.U. country, "would be the 13th poorest state, Sweden the 6th poorest.... 40% of all Swedish households would classify as low-income by American standards."
In addition to impeding a nation's wealth-producing capacity, the mindless pursuit of equality results in chronically high unemployment. France has lived with unemployment between 8-12% for some 25 years, and if anything, this underestimates the true figure because of forced early retirement and extensive but futile job-training programs. And there is a disproportionately negative impact on the poorest sectors of society, since a high unemployment rate pushes aside the least skilled workers first.
But the narcissism that is nurtured in the entitlement society means that its victims will inevitably feel entitled to more entitlements, thus resulting in even worse conditions. This is just part of the underlying dynamic of what we saw with the Muslim riots in France. Attempting to “buy them off" with yet more social programs will only result in a greater sense of entitlement and more unrest, since, once the spigot of a person's unlimited sense of entitlement is opened, it is very hard to shut it off. This is partly because our sense of entitlement is rooted in the earliest infantile experience, when we are, for the only time in our lives, actually "entitled" to mother's magical ministering of our every need and whim. The universe revolves around the moment-to-moment needs of the baby, which is as it should be. For a baby.
If there is a "human-animal" spiritual realm, then it is actually the purely immanent-horizontal space occupied by socialist Left of Western Europe. Although they think of us as "selfish" because of our low taxes and smaller government, it is actually the other way around. Although superficially socialism may appear to be more humane, Mark Steyn points out that "nothing makes a citizen more selfish than socially equitable communitarianism.” Once a fellow is “enjoying the fruits of government health care and all the rest, he couldn't give a hoot about the broader social interest; he's got his, and if it's going to bankrupt the state a generation hence, well, as long as they can keep the checks coming till he's dead, it's fine by him." In this sense, Social democracy is eventually "explicitly antisocial.”
There is a further corrosion of the soul that takes place with European style socialism, in that, because it elevates material desires to the highest, it cynically cuts the heart out of any transcendent view of the world. As Steyn explains, it perversely elevates secondary priorities such as mandated six week vacations over primary ones such as family and national defense. And change is almost impossible, because the great majority has become dependent on government, which causes a sort of "adherence" to horizontal. You cannot rouse the ideals of a nation that has lost its ideals. Any politician who threatens the entitlement system cannot get elected in Western Europe. The situation is analogous to an addict who has given over his power to the pusher.
By attempting to create the perfect society on earth through government coercion, it actually diminishes our humanity, since it relieves human beings of having to exert the continual moral effort to make the world a better place, as this is only possible by maintaining contact with the realm of transcendent moral ideals. In other words, European socialism is actually a flight from morality, thereby making people less humane, not more. It is a bogus kind of freedom, because it merely frees one from the vertical while condemning one to the horizontal. As the Pope has written, "the destruction of transcendence is the actual amputation of human beings from which all other sicknesses flow. Robbed of their real greatness they can only find escape in illusory hopes.... The loss of transcendence evokes the flight to utopia."
Part Two tomorrow.