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Politics and the Occult: The Left, the Right, and the Radically Unseen Kindle Edition
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However, I found it less than satisfying.
Lachman purports to be trying to tie together conventional understandings of the history of ideas with esoteric movements and their influence on politics, but outside of the age of revolutions (where I think he inadequately covered the role of Freemasonry - though he did cover it), doesn't really manage to do so. He rightfully namedrops 20th century political philosophers Eric Voegelin and Leo Strauss and recognizes their significance as a link between esoteric history and conventional political theory, but then drops these lines of inquiry completely, never really establishing the esoteric links in their works- particularly Strauss, who is a goldmine for scholars who would connect the mainstream western tradition with the esoteric. He mentions a number of works on Nazi esotericism in passing, but insufficiently explores the geneaology and consequences of their ideas, preferring to dwell on the unsettling sympathies of Jung and Schwaller de Lubicz (both of whom he largely clears of accusations of fascism) and overt support of figures like Evola and Eliade. In this he contradicts his promise at the beginning of the book- which would be that it would primarily be about the ideas, and not the sympathies of particular figures. There seems to be a massive missed opportunity here, though one that would have required a much larger book to explore. But up until the middle of the 19th century, the book is very strong- though admittedly, the memetic thicket of politics and esotericism wasn't quite as dense at these points, before the rise of the quasi-gnostic politics of Marxism and reactionary Fascism arose and destroyed the traditional cultural context of Europe (and much of the world beyond).
Overall, Politics and the Occult is not a bad book, and I still consider it a worthy read, especially for fans of TOYM and people for whom esoteric history is a relatively new space. But for those of us who have studied it before, this work comes as a bit of a disappointment.
The occult and its societies have dropped away from accepted scientific method and society starting with the advent of Cartesian dualism and its influx throughout modern history signified by the Enlightenment, separating superstition and the spiritual from the material. Yet, while this occlusion of the spiritual grew there have been many behind the scenes of political movements that either secretly or openly engaged with the spirit world. Esoteric historian Gary Lachman has pieced together a comprehensive survey of the modern intertwining of the occult and the political in his latest book, Politics and the Occult.
Lachman begins his recounting of occult political influence by recounting the mysteries of the Rosicrucians and the many with influence over kings, queens and monarchical society that identified with Rosicrucian ideas. When the pamphlets from the Fraternity of the Rosy Cross hit Germany in 1614, it began the modern concept of the secret society, a group that may be in or outside of the nation's government aiming to have political influence and espousing illuminated politics. Illuminated politics being a political approach that has a religious complexion and obeys a transcendental scale of values.
Perhaps the most historically notorious connections between the occult and politics are through the legacy of the Masons. The primary vitriol against the Freemasons being inspired by the Protocols of the Elders of Zion published in Russia in 1905 which has since been debunked but remains the fuel for many right wing hate groups to this day. Linking the Freemasons to the Jews and communism, the Protocols inspired people from Hitler to American Conspiracy Theorist James Shelby Downard. Perhaps the most obvious links between the Freemasons and political systems are through their symbolisms in the Great Seal of the United States and on the US currency. But more subtle links between the US and Freemasonry may have existed, Lachman discusses that many European Freemasons saw the concepts of brotherhood, tolerance and the rights of man becoming real, Freemasonic generals chose to take special care that the US became independent from Britain.
The occult groups most feared and invoked by conspiracy theorists like William Cooper (who is responsible for much of the conspiracy theory mindset of the last 20 years), focus on a coming New World Order enacted through the political influence of a swath of secret societies but none more responsible than the Illuminati. The Illuminati were founded in Germany on May 1st, 1776 by Adam Weishaupt, a law professor who aimed to accelerate the adoption of Enlightenment ideals like science and atheism. What made the society strange were the means to its end, the use of occultism, religious belief and hierarchy to reach these goals. Weishaupt networked this group through various Masonic lodges in Europe aiming to remove princes and nations from the face of the earth so that, "the human race should attain its highest perfection, the capacity to judge itself." Eventually the society collapsed after Masonic lodges distanced themselves from Weishaupt's aims after Bavaria made all secret societies illegal in 1784.
I found the most fascinating part of the book to be the discussion of 19th-century occultist Saint-Yves d'Alveydre. After claiming to partake in astral travel to learn the secrets of Agartha, a secret city at the center of the earth, Saint Yves developed the concept of synarchy, the opposite of anarchy, the establishment of complete and total government, a government that functioned like the human body that divided its people to function like the human body. Saint-Yves' visions were detailed in his published work but were immediately retracted after their publication. He kept one copy and the printer secretly held another. Why he destroyed them we may never know. Speculation may lead you to think that he revealed a secret world before the inhabitants wanted him to.
Growing from the concept of synarchy came Rudolph Steiner's Threefoldness, the idea that since human bodies are composed of feeling, thinking and willing. Feeling being the breathing, circulation and heartbeat; Willing consisting of the metabolism and the limbs; Thinking being the head and nerve communications. The goal being the production of free individuals that were in a society supporting spiritual growth.
When most think occult politics, they think the overblown claims of Nazi Occultism and the Thule Society. To name a few, stories of Nazi mystic and dark rituals inspired the video game series Castle Wolfenstein and the comic book hero Hellboy. Some claims go so far to say that the entire Hitler led atrocities were undertaken to produce mass blood sacrifices that would open portals to other dark dimensions, dimensions which UFOs and the grey aliens emerged from. Lachman debunks these fantastical claims by laying down the actual (and much less colorful) history of the Thule society. The most surprising dark revelation for me had nothing to do with Nazi's, it was that shamanistic scholar Eliade was connected with political violence in his home country of Romania.
Lachman closes the book with some of his own thoughts on "illuminated politics" in the current years. His concerns about American Fascism are not overblown or misplaced. When the majority of a country is expecting a rapture or deliverance from above, its desires could be easily manipulated by overzealous demagogues. With an economic downturn in the US looking more prolonged by the day, most signs of recovery ignore the masses of unemployed. When a society is desperate it may look to any alternative that combines religion with political solutions. The far-right is continually laughable but has gained eerie power as exemplified by the recent resignation of Obama's Green Jobs Adviser Van Jones and the backlash against Obama's school address. Combine these concerns with Jacques Vallée's warnings of a UFO cult becoming a major religion and the next 20 years could be very interesting.
So now, I'm excited to read more about the occult influences on society and specifically on the United States... which is timely because after reading Mitch Horowitz's essay on Ouija I discovered he just wrote a book on the Occult in America! Hooray!