In this article I would like to propose a possible connection between libertarian-socialist ideals and a spiritual world-view. Before I can do so, I shall first explain what I mean by libertarian socialist ideals and spirituality.
Definition By spirituality I here mean
an attitude towards life according to which life on earth is seen as
something that is connected to a broader spiritual reality. A reality,
which is not just the coincidental result of physical laws of
By libertarian socialism I mean a political philosophy which is centered on a maximum of solidarity between individuals while at the same time it guarantees personal freedom. Libertarian socialism is sometimes regarded as an approximation of a variant of anarchism. In anarchism, the main ideal boils down to the abolition of power relations and the abuse of power. At least it implies maximum freedom but not necessarily maximum solidarity. Besides, if it is carried through too strictly, anarchism may in time lead to avoidance of any form of hierarchical structure, even if this were functional, and therefore also of effective organisation. Libertarian socialism tries to approximate total individual freedom as much as possible, but without rejecting all forms of organisation and functional hierarchy by principle. Also, other than certain egoist or terrorist anarchists, it explicitly opts for the ideal of solidarity and thereby it shows its affinity with other forms of socialism such as social democracy and communism. In fact, it is the centrality of the ideal of solidarity, which connects left-wing movements.
In principle, solidarity can be conceived of in two ways, namely from the perspectives of collectivism and individualism. Collectivism stresses the idea of a general, abstract unity of a group that would be more important than the individuals that form that group. The general interest would be more important than the individual interest. Totalitarian and authoritarian systems by definition present themselves as collectivist and this is true for communist and right-wing (including fascist) dictatorships alike.
By spirituality I here mean an attitude towards life according to which life on earth is seen as something that is connected to a broader spiritual reality. A reality, which is not just the coincidental result of physical laws of nature.Collectivism versus the interest of the individual
There has always been a strong connection between many spiritual traditions and collectivist systems. Dictators have for a long time been seen as representatives of a higer order, regardless of whether they were called Ramses II, Adolf Hitler or Stalin. The same goes for priest castes that were exempt from physical labour because of their supposed ties with Heaven, which often led to the exploitation of others.
It is this phenomenon that has brought anarchist 'freethinkers' to distrust or even wholly reject any form of spirituality. This is because collectivist spiritualy aims at subjecting the individual to the greater whole, including in the spiritual sense. We may think of values as humility, self-denial and asceticism in favour of service to society. But also of ritual sacrifices of willing 'heroes' to bloodthirsty gods. In general of the destruction of notions that center on the individual rather than the collective. Thus, collectivist spirituality denies as much as possible the reality and value of the concept of personal survival after death.
A variant of collectivist spirituality can be found in certain branches of the ecological Gaia-movement (not to be confused with the animal rights organisation by this name) that does not center on a human collective but rather on Nature in general. Gaia, a name given to the Greek Mother Earth, would be divine and wise, and in comparison to her individual human beings (just as individual animals) would hardly be of any importance. Also, the merciless animal reality of 'to eat and to be eaten' can be magically transformed by collectivist spirituality into an example of the unfathomable wisdom of Nature.
The most extreme forms of collectivist spirituality can doubtlessly be found in Nazism, which among other things promotes genocide as an outright holy, higher duty. This degenerate spirituality can be found even today in certain occultist circles, albeit in milder, weakened forms. This has even been an argument against alternative types of spirituality more than once, because such ideas are erroneously believed to be representative for the 'paranormal' and 'esoterical' currents in general.
Thinking about fascist spirituality in its Nazi version I often recall a scene from a movie about the Holocaust. A female camp commander had saved a Jewish boy from the gruesome daily reality of a death camp and tried to protect him out of some motherly instinct. She continues to do so until she receives the insight that she should sacrifice her 'own' individual interest of protecting the boy to a higher, holier, collectivist goal of racial purity. The boy is ultimately being transferred to the crematorium.
The critics of collectivist spirituality are right to unmask it as a perverted form of justification of power relations and subjugation of individuals.
There are also forms of spirituality that possess elements which seems hard to reconcile with collectivism, but which lead to collectivism as soon as they are institutionalized.
In my view, a good example of this is Christian spirituality. On the one hand its message aims at individual salvation, but on the other hand in most Christian churches, believers are usually subdued to the power of some authority.
An individualist spirituality is not about collective entities, but about the interests of individuals and their relations with other individuals. Therefore it concentrates on spiritual concepts that put individuals first. Examples of such concepts are personal immortality, personal growth and personal love.
An example of a really individualist spirituality can be found in Latin variants of spiritualism, such as Kardecism, a Brasilian current based on the writings of Allan Kardec.
I think it is this kind of spirituality individualists (in my definition) should be interested in if they want to be spiritual.
But it is possible to strive for an even more solid form that is directly based on parapsychological (or 'psychical') research. Just like the spiritualists, within parapsychology there is a growing awareness of the evidence for a personal life after death and personal reincarnation. The great advantage of parapsychological research over spiritualism is that you can remain critical and do not need to accept anything on anybody's authority. If you want to take parapsychology as a basis for an individualist form of spirituality you will be more interested in personalist theories within parapsychology than in impersonalist ones. Fortunately reincarnation research and investigations into Near-Death Experiences clearly show how much sense such theories make.An elaboration
I do not pretend here to give a blueprint of individualist spirituality in general. However, I do want to share how I have tried to integrate such spirituality in my own life. Just like spiritualists I have an attitude towards life, which centers on individual people and animals.
In my view, reality is about our happiness and development, and life should be explicitly aiming at these. The emotional basis for this is a strong feeling of self-worth, but also connectedness, love and engagement with others. From these arises an urge to develop oneself but also to support others in their development.
From a moral point of view it means that you try to respect the rights of others to happiness and development, and therefore try to spare as much as possible the lives of individual animals (by vegetarianism, or better still, veganism).
Politically it naturally means choosing for libertarian socialism.
Apart from your own development and moral engagement, also personal relationships are central to my spirituality. These also have a meaning that goes beyond only the present life. Instead of regarding them as selfish obstacles for an impersonal universal love. Thus, within my spirituality personal love is seen as an important intrinsical value. I precisely reject the kind of collectivist sacrifice but also cold detachment.
Concerning the theory of values (axiology), my specific type of libertarian spirituality aims at a maximum tolerance. Everybody has a life of his or her own and chooses to do certain things or not as long as one does not hurt others. This goes for various areas of life such as music, religion, literature, art, sports, play, sexuality, humor, etc.
In this context, education amounts to teaching values such as self-esteem, love for others, engagement, urge to develop, vegetarianism/veganism, libertarian socialism, and tolerance.
Finally, the relation to the higher or sacred amounts to a faith in the Good, regardless of how this is conceived. I again derive this confidence from parapsychological research (especially into Near-Death Experiences) and personal experiences with meaningful coincidences. If I imagine that there is a God, as an individualist I imagine that being as a person. This would also hold for a plurality of gods and a whole pantheon of gods or angels can be harmonised with my concept of spirituality. Also a personal relationship with a divinity that corresponds with certain (personalist) mystical currents could be consistent with it, as long it does not harm one's self-worth or the relationship with other people and animals.
- Rivas, T. (2000) Parapsychologisch onderzoek naar reincarnatie en leven na de dood. Deventer: Ankh-Hermes.
Also see these relevant things:
- Papers in English of Athanasia Foundation
- Papers in English by Titus Rivas about animal and animal ethics