We started last week to consider the left and the various new age movements. This essay below has done a lot of our work for us, an useful history. We see only Marxism now and not the many other contributions to socialism from a religious perspective. It is an understandable situation in some ways: Marx wanted to create a secular socialism, one that was scientific. But he failed to find a science and much of the complexity of ‘spiritual’ subjects and their histories was simply eliminated from discourse, a form of ‘cancel’ culture. We can be aggressive secular socialists, but the result in practice is a sterilized mindset that is woefully ignorant of a larger human nature and its histories and cultural complexity. You cannot now aver on the left any credence to Buddhism, say, or occultism, or a host of other historical givens, only partially indicated in this useful essay. On the one hand the new agist is a metaphysical mystic, and on the other a believer in the crude reductionist scientism of the onset of positivism. They have both essentially killed each other off. The problem clearly emerged in Hegel, but Kant is perhaps better here because he offers a discipline to caution metaphysics without necessarily rejecting it. And the legacy of Buddhism (and its related elements in the Hindu stream) are part of a global culture of man. And yet now anyone who even cites the path to enlightenment risks his life in a culture of intolerant and ignorant leftists. This is no laughing matter, and we hardly know the many who perished thus in the Stalinist era, and we have the gross example of the Chinese communist destruction of Tibet. You would think a tradition as rich as the Chinese who actually created Chan/Zen Buddhism might have informed the dim-witted brains of the Communist cadres of the Maoists.
There is a new future to be found here as Marxism and much New Age-ism slide into a shadowy oblivion (with however a very strong presence in both cases in general culture). We can foresee a new kind of conjoined left and a new kind of religious futurism, each with strong critiques of their limits and failures. The trend of secularism continues and if we say ‘religion’ we can see already that the new age is moving beyond that so far limited category to a new future beyond Christianity, while Marxism with its strange failures of realization also seeks a new future beyond itself. There are any number of ways to conceive a new left category that also has a significant understanding of the realities of consciousness, even the occult, and the practices of meditation, and much else. There is no real conflict here beyond the understandable suspicion on the left of much counterrevolutionary (with respect to democratic revolutions) antimodernism of decrepit and obsolete new-age ultra-conservatives. They have nothing to claim here since the elements of, say, raja yoga emerge in their own radical birth in the Neolithic period, and the classic Hindus were themselves revivalists of a new age movement, as with Buddhism. The issue of meditation thus has a strong tradition in the primordial legacy of man and perhaps goes back to the era of the shaman (which was what exactly?): it seems that greater nature constantly effects ‘meditative’ enrichment for its fragile homo sapiens with his strong yet limited consciousness, itself a mysterious gift of evolutionary directionality. It is hard to see how the human potential for altered consciousness could have arisen from natural selection. It is a mystery of evolution indeed and yet one can consider a dozen hypotheses as to how this might have happened, in the strange constellation of human ‘equipment’: the mind, the consciousness, language, and ethical reasoning, of a sort, and the sense of the reality of a larger dimension to man. And this need not be any conflict of materialism and the spiritual, a false dualism, long ago in the ‘materialism’ of the ancient Indic Samkhya, or the ‘new age’ version of J. G. Bennett. The real New Age is then the modern age itself and its incipient sense of the nature of consciousness, so boosted beyond itself by the era of cultural globalization and the encounter of greater antiquity and its legacies from Taoism to Buddhism/yoga, to Zoroastrianism/Israelitism, to the rich diversity of the early Hellenic age, with its own incipient ‘new agism’ of its pre-Socratic philosophers.
For most people today, socialism is associated with a secular or atheistic worldview. Since the October Revolution of 1917, most socialist regimes have built on Marxist doctrines, and taken clear anti-religious stances. From another perspective, however, secular or anti-religious socialism is exceptional, and religious socialism common. The vast majority of the socialist predecessors of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were acutely religious. Especially in France, socialists found religion integral to their political vision.After the mid-19th century, socialists even became founders of new spiritualist occultist religious movements. The role of socialism as a secularising force in the 19th and 20th centuries was coincidental, and not inherent to socialism itself. In fact, socialists had a vital and productive relationship with religion. In the 1820s, the French Saint-Simonians, the first influential socialist movement, declared themselves the apostles of their ‘church’ and preached a ‘New Christianity’. The Fourierists, who succeeded the Saint-Simonians as the most dynamic socialist school, demanded the ‘return to the Christianity of Jesus Christ’. In the 1840s, the leading communist Étienne Cabet identified communism with ‘the true Christianity according to Jesus Christ’. Pierre Leroux, who had coined the term socialisme, explained its meaning with ‘religious democracy’. Engels, in 1843, had marvelled at the Frenchmen’s ‘mysticism’, but later observers, who had usually been shaped by Marxism, dismissed the religion of the early socialists as superficial rhetoric or childish enthusiasm. However, that is simply not the case. Many early socialists looked to religion for ways to define society according to principles both religious and socialist.