The Irony of Apoliticism in Theosophy | Socialism, Communism, and Globalism
The irony of apoliticism is not to say, we cannot write about politics. This is a dilemma with my audience, so I am trying to expand my audience, because present-day theosophists do not appear to enjoy discussing politics and social issues. I have showed the importance of this type of discussion with The Politics of Divine Wisdom: How Theosophy influenced Indonesian and South Asian Nationalisms. However, with the reintroduction of theosophical research in the mainstream comes opportunities to get the history of the Theosophical Movement right. What Thomas Mace-Archer-Miles, Chairman of the British Monarchist Society stated to The Economist in an interview on monarchism is similar to the role of theosophy, where he describes the role of the British constitutional monarchy as being apolitical. Apolitical here being believed to be “above partisan politics,” and therefore a unifying factor and identity between multiple parties, and forces. However, in the literature of the Theosophical Society, there’s an overabundance of vague universalistic language, that from observing the history, makes it simple for anyone to adapt it, or mix modern Theosophical ideas into their socialist, or internationalist, or authoritarian leanings. History however shows, that a diverse range of persons of different political persuasion were still drawn to Theosophy. Alice A. Bailey was once a theosophical member, who later devises her own system and organization. She considered the function of government was to be one controlled by a “spiritual” hierarchy of beings. These political ideas of Alice A. Bailey were rejected in Theosophy before she ever entered the society.
There are political implications in the ideological substance of Theosophy that must be analyzed, as I’ve shown to make comparisons. To say that this is a “material concern” is delusional. Herman de Tollenaere asked two central questions when he wrote The Politics of Divine Wisdom: Theosophy and labour, national, and women’s movements in Indonesia and South Asia, 1875-1947. A summary is published online on the Netherlands site, about the relationship between theosophists and political involvement. The politics of members was always separate outside of the Theosophical Society, but a study of the history of members and how ideas in Theosophy played in them are valuable. He states, that “my two central questions are: (1) What were the Theosophical Society’s relationships to three political movements: labour, national, and women’s movements; and (2) How did outsiders, linked to these movements’ fields of activity, agree, or clash with the theosophists’ approach to them?”
“Often, authors see theosophists’ occult views as politically irrelevant; this shows in the little attention political history pays to them. On the other hand, authors connect them to progressive political views. James Webb associated occultism with ‘Nationalisms, Socialisms.’ Daniel Bell linked ‘gnostic esotericism’ to ‘anarchism’ without explaining this. Authors both left and right in the political spectrum, opponents and supporters of theosophy, often took one of these two views. This book questions both. I limited the complex notion ‘nationalism’ to nationalism in a colonial rule situation. (…)
“The great majority of supporters belonged to more or less privileged strata like the nobility, business, and officers. Theosophy, promising an international élite, inter alia worked as ideological support for some sections of groups who felt they might lose privileges. (…)”
“In theory, theosophy was for everyone. However, attempts to reach workers or peasants were infrequent and unsuccessful.”
“TS’ relationship to three tendencies in the labour movement: social democracy, communism and anarchism. From the beginning, the relationship was strained, as showed in Madame Blavatsky‘s anti-socialist declaration of intent in the first issue of her monthly The Theosophist in 1879. Marx and Engels referred quite often briefly, and not in a very complimentary way, to spiritualism. Engels once, in a 1890 private letter to Kautsky, referred, not in a positive sense, to the Theosophical Society. This set a pattern for later Marxists: reactions to viewpoints of theosophists mostly came only where these views were influential.
Opposition to revolution, as in the czar’s empire in 1905, to anarchism, to communism, was consistent in theosophists’ writings. The relationship with moderate social democrats was more complex. On the one hand, there were quite some links; on the other hand, a basic principle like universal suffrage was a problem with theosophists.” (see The Politics of Divine Wisdom: How Theosophy influenced Indonesian and South Asian Nationalisms for more information.)
The Irony of Apoliticism
Modern Theosophy aims at a moral and spiritual regeneration of human civilization. It cannot be strictly defined as progressive, nor can it be strictly defined as traditionalist. Theosophists think in both manners, as forward thinking and critical of modernity. The entire nature of Theosophy is unmistakably built on Tradition (Lat. tradere), and the discernment of a metaphysical unity underlying the varied expressions of the world’s religions, called the Primordial Tradition. The Theosophical Movement aimed to strengthen the bonds between nations, and so forth, when H.P.B. compared their mission to the Alexandrian Neoplatonists. However, this is practically impossible to conduct without being politically biased. Real international diplomacy and peace-keeping is not so simple. Not everyone, as time has proven, likes such ideas. In order to involve oneself in such work, one must have the ability to be capable of articulating or producing a solution to the most basic of political, social, and economic issues and questions.
As to authoritarianism within the society, the looming esoteric autocracy of the Theosophical Movement right after Helena P. Blavatsky’s death was embodied in aims expressed at the T.S. Jubilee Convention in 1925 to establish a World Government on the spiritual basis of the restoration of the ancient mysteries under self-declared “Mahatma” Leadbeater and Besant under the direction of a spiritual “World Teacher.” This is exactly what the conspiracists accuse Theosophy of being a harbinger of, but this was not the original aim of the Theosophical Movement. If you ask me, it is the conspiracists who believe such beings exist far more than we do, though we as theosophists regard their ideas as delusions and far more fantastical and contradictory to the sponsors of of the original movement. When Annie Besant attempted to orient the T.S. in India towards a theistic cult with the organization begun by George Arundale, its timid cult leader, Krishnamurti, Krishnamurti later rejected it all as a lie. Though Krishnamurti appears to have carried on his own interpretation of the role of a literal “world teacher” in his own way. Looking back then, Krishnamurti referred to Leadbeater as evil. The Theosophical Society, already reeling from the Hodgson Report declaring H.P.B. a fraud, and in the next generation, Leadbeater’s rape charges, had dealt the final blow to the enthusiasm for and credibility of the Theosophical Movement. Many believed Theosophy was an idea that ran counter to tradition. Rene Guenon defended theosophy, but criticized the modern Theosophists, referring to it as a theosophism and ‘anti-tradition,’ although his condemnation is based on a conflation of the conflicting ideas between the two time periods in the Theosophical Society.
Annie Besant view of Theosophy in her words, was that Theosophy had answers for all questions, explanations for all phenomena, and has no unsolved problems. H.P. Blavatsky presented Theosophy in a similar manner, as a ‘solution to everything.’ Besant wrote, that Theosophy is supra-religion and supra-science, but if this is so, is it also supra-political? If the T.S. became a political body of action, would it had functioned like the Italian Carbonari? What does it become in practice? Strange controversial “race doctrines” and racial politics would be begotten by a social movement manifested out of even Blavatsky’s writings if misunderstood, like the Austrian theosophist, Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels — founder of the Ostara.
In this instance, concerning the ‘Veddas, Bushmen, and few African tribes,’ she or her teachers believed the “sacred spark” misses in them, and nothing may develop them. A few lines are what interest people far more than the many passages, which appear to contradict the notion of racism. Never does H.P.B. advocate selective breeding, euthanasia, eugenics, abortion, and racial segregation, but to the contrary.
Yes, all life is interdependent. It is a fact, but how does that work for an economy and the concept of the State? Since, all life is interdependent, then what does that mean for individual freedoms, liberty, law, and does it mean we should now all become one global federal union — one world government? You see how much political questions factor into this. . .
Muslims believe the same thing about Islam. Islam is not a religion, but a totalist system. The Muslim believes Islam is the best religion and the most complete system. All actions are for the glory of Islam, and to please Allah. Islam and Sharia deals with every aspect of life, from finances to the governing of human behavior to the most minute detail of one’s life. I did not even mention Christendom, or the relation of ancient India or China to questions of religion, law and war – when religion and politics are fused. Bhagavan Das, Indian theosophist and socialist, advocated an all-inclusive World Religion, and this is seen as Theosophy.
George Arundale also believed Theosophy to solve all problems of politics — nationalism and internationalism. Then explain, why theosophists avoid political dialogue, then hide under apoliticism, or pretend to be above bias — an impossibility. Does not Wisdom apply to all these aspects? Was not Athena (Greek Sophia) Goddess of Wisdom, also the Goddess of War? Are not the Adepts patriots of their respective countries? Were not the early Buddhists very missionary in effort, even influencing rulers? Have we ever heard of Kong Fuzi, who applied his sagely wisdom to governing? Why not just be honest? Unlike the Marxists and Catholic Party of the Netherlands, or any other political and religious organization of that day, theosophists claimed both religious and scientific truth.
Where then are the great scientific discoveries? You see the weakness of uber-romantic enthusiasm, and ignorantly portraying modern Theosophy as this COMPLETE TRUTH. The Theosophical Masters never said, that what was being presented as “Theosophy” was the COMPLETE TRUTH, the full system as embodied in their “Catechism.” One could not hardly have a Catechism, if Theosophy was not a system. Yet, some contemporaries say Theosophy is not a system, but is a vague universal thing that can be re-appropriated by anyone. How is this so, when the originators of the Movement have such bold opinions about what is and what is not Theosophy, or ethically ‘Theosophical.’ By the 1890’s, the tendency of theosophical writers is in speaking of world organizations, in which all nationalities, and all forms of governance or political persuasion can participate. Yes, quite Mazzinian in direction. These were ideas growing then, and following that, succeeding Post-War. Thus, this attitude was being driven by the post-war geopolitical and metapolitical machinations. The Indian Theosophists thought within the context of nation-states, but their mission involved the globalization of the idea. Although, the Indian Nationalists were fighting to liberate their countries from imperialistic forces, and therefore, choosing to take over their own destinies, they spoke of the bonds of humanity stretching beyond nation. The republican nationalists of the Mazzinian type were yet democratic and cosmopolitan, but not anti-sovereignty. This was how the theosophists thought, as they were able to gather natives and representatives of all nations, religions and creed.
There are instances, when H.P.B. declared she was “not a thirty-third degree Mason” of any Western Masonic Lodge, and kicked out Charles Sotheran for being a “political wrangler,” and socialist revolutionary engaged in rioting. So, then why did she join the political wranglings of the Red Shirt revolutionaries with Garibaldi in Italy years prior then? By 1879, she has changed, and states, that social reforms must come before political reforms.
“Unconcerned about politics; hostile to the insane dreams of Socialism and of Communism, which it abhors—as both are but disguised conspiracies of brutal force and sluggishness against honest labour; the Society cares but little about the outward human management of the material world. The whole of its aspirations are directed towards the occult truths of the visible and invisible worlds. Whether the physical man be under the rule of an empire or a republic, concerns only the man of matter. His body may be enslaved; as to his Soul, he has the right to give to his rulers the proud answer of Socrates to his Judges. They have no sway over the inner man.”H.P.B., WHAT ARE THE THEOSOPHISTS, OCTOBER, 1879
“Make men feel and recognize in their innermost hearts what is their real, true duty to all men, and every old abuse of power, every iniquitous law in the national policy, based on human, social or political selfishness, will disappear of itself. Foolish is the gardener who seeks to weed his flower-bed of poisonous plants by cutting them off from the surface of the soil, instead of tearing them out by the roots. No lasting political reform can be ever achieved with the same selfish men at the head of affairs as of old.”H.P.B., THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY, 229
H.P. Blavatsky clearly had an outlook on complex social and political events. This strong stance is similar to her condemnation of the Russian Nihilists that sprung up before the Bolsheviks, and because of this, I wonder what she would have thought of Gustav Le Bon’s analysis of the masses, of Giovanni Gentile’s Idealism and Mazzinianism, and Friedrich Nietzsche’s writings on the will in comparison to hers.
When H.P. Blavatsky was naturalized as a U.S. citizen, she renounces her Russian citizenship and the aristocracy in 1878, stating that she abjures “all titles of nobility upon being naturalized (…) I am too democratic, and I love and respect the people sufficiently, having devoted all my sympathy to them, and this without distinction of race or color…”
THEOSOPHY HAS NO POLITICAL OR SOCIOECONOMIC DOCTRINE
Correct. Theosophy has no political, or socioeconomic doctrine, and is built on the idea of a Primordial Wisdom Tradition. H.P.B. said, that if Theosophy may be designated anything else, it may be called Pre-Vedic Budhism or Wisdom Tradition, and this tradition it claims survives and the origins and nature of the Mysteries, the exoteric religions, priesthoods and sects can all be figured as a tree with branches and roots; and spiritual problems could solved like a problem of Euclid. The Theosophy explained through the writings of H.P.B., her masters and colleagues could not be considered that Wisdom-Tradition. It is like a commentary and an exposition of a few fundamental propositions of that Tradition, along with the Stanzas and Kalachakra. Yet, there are theo-political ideas in connection with even the Kalachakra itself. We all know that the teachings of the Vedas precede the Vedas, which was merely compiled by its rishis, legends tell us. Theosophy is therefore a body of principles, doctrines, and values about man, God, and Nature. K.H., Morya, and the Chohan (their chief) in The Mahatma Letters explain Theosophy as this new ideal, that had to be spread to curb the direction of humanity from entering basically an age of nihilism, hopelessness, and despotism—swinging between extreme sacerdotalism and extreme atheism.
H.P. Blavatsky notes, that neither “the Tibetan nor the modern Hindu Mahatmas for the matter of that, ever meddle with politics, though they may bring their influence to bear upon more than one momentous question in the history of a nation—their mother country especially.” Theosophy may not meddle with politics, but it must confront it. The second-generation leaders of the movement in their newfound scheme and Messianic enthusiasm after the 1890’s (1900-1930) do meddle with politics, directly. In the second generation, there are open political undertones of Utopian fantasy built on the ‘Maitreya-Krishnamurti scheme.’
Theosophists broke boundaries, because it was not overtaken by members squabbling about politics, as in a Congress, but it was not above politics. It mostly sought to curtail the influence of materialism. The most important and influential philosopher to date, is Karl Marx—a contemporary of Helena P. Blavatsky. Karl Marx’s critical theory of society and industrial capitalism advocated Socialism as a panacea of recurrent weaknesses of Capitalism, and Communism as its end result. Karl Marx, and those whom adapted Marxism into a system of governance, have considerably influenced the West, beginning in the 20th century, with the expanded power of the Soviets into Europe; though Socialism and Anarchism precede Marx’s influence. Several theosophists have tried to adapt theosophy into their socialist model, but the T.S. was not a national political organization, despite some theosophists trying to advocate such a thing at the T.S. annual convention of 1884.
It was the ideas of Theosophy that the British colony feared. Theosophy inspired the native religions and cultures in India, and would generally, wherever it were to be. It invoked pride in those who sought to remember former glory and traditional wisdom of their ancestors. Everywhere Theosophists went, a chapter or society was founded, and it could speak to every people and their tradition. The efforts of the Theosophical Movement aided in part in the destabilization of British rule in India. The Raj feared the Society, and kept H.P.B. and Olcott under police surveillance, while H.P.B. was accused, or suspected of being a Russian (or to others — British) spy.
J. Brailsford-Bright’s gives an appraisal of Socialism in the Theosophical Siftings (Vol. 2, No. 7), Theosophy and Modern Socialism. The appraisal was quite romantic about socialism. You never find a Theosophist giving an appraisal of Capitalism. It is like asking if Buddhism is Marxist. Hence, we can see the difficulty of bringing politics into any lodge, which is forbidden, but still can a fellow student be ever assured, that his brother, or sister-member remains his comrade and compatriot in person and in heart, if discovered to be of different political persuasions? If so, one could hardly say, a theosophist is incapable of bias. Socialists also spoke much of brotherhood and peace, and yet still, splintered in so many directions. H.P.B. did not deal with economics, and the T.S. never developed a political doctrine and socioeconomic system.
H.S. Olcott stated, that Theosophists were focused on the scientific study of the occult and philanthropic efforts. I say, that the vagueness of ‘modern Theosophy’ led it open to be easily co-opted, because it is a kind of method or approach. The theosophists were not in fact simply open to just anyone. You had to be of certain inclination and good mind. This is why it is necessary to do research on the early history about the original mission and aim, rather than purely relying on poetic statements about brotherhood and altruism. This is how the wolves in sheep clothing and the impatient, feverish messianic, or apocalyptic millenarian maniacs come in.
- The Politics of Divine Wisdom: How Theosophy Influenced Indonesian and South Asian Nationalisms that includes K. Paul Johnson’s article on General Mikhail Kotkov and H.P.B.’s Political Loyalties.