The Politics of Thelema

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on December 20, 2016 by Alexander Duncan

“Look back upon the Middle Ages! Ignorance, poverty, dirt, disease; oppression, superstition and disorder. Yet, in their myriad ills, what beauty, what attainment! Each worker a proud craftsman; in his leisure, wrapt in music; his faith a living light, his love an eternal romance. His mind was not debauched by newspapers, with their incessant glorification of riches, crime ad fashion, their ghoulish clamour for war, their scandal-mongering as of barren hags, and their muck-raking as of unwholesome schoolboys. What was the secret of their essential happiness? This, that each man respected himself, believed in himself, sought to discover and develop in himself the deepest and the highest qualities of his own nature. He did not wish to be as rich as this duke, or richer than that bishop; but only, to be rich enough to carry out the purpose in life for which he believed himself ordained.” Aleister Crowley

Aleister Crowley’s first ambition in life when he attended Cambridge University was to enter the British Diplomatic Service. Crowley described himself at various times as a High Tory, a Jacobite, a bigoted legitimist, and a supporter of the Carlists; a British patriot; and an Irish nationalist.  As early as 1899, Crowley sang the praises of a global empire created by an alliance of Great Britain and America in his poem, An Appeal to the American Republic. About the time of the Cairo Working he wrote a letter craving revolution.[1] He described himself as an advocate of aristocratic revolution.

The foregoing approximates to Crowley’s state of mind at the time of the Great Revelation of 1904. Accordingly, we find Aiwaz in the Book of the Law calling for the establishment of an exclusive military government of secret chiefs:

The unveiling of the company of heaven.

Help me, o warrior lord of Thebes, in my unveiling before the Children of men.

Let my servants be few & secret: they shall rule the many and the known.

Now ye shall now that the chosen priest & apostle of infinite space is the prince-priest the Beast; and in his woman called the Scarlet Woman is all power given. They shall gather my children into their fold: they shall bring the glory of the stars into the hearts of men.

This shall regenerate the world, the little world my sister, my heart & my tongue, unto whom I send this kiss.

Ye shall gather goods and store of women and spices; ye shall wear rich jewels; ye shall exceed the nations of the earth in splendour & pride. …

Behold! these be grave mysteries; for there are also of my friends who be hermits. Now think not to find them in the forest or on the mountain; but in beds of purple, caressed by magnificent beasts of women with large limbs, and fire and light in their eyes, and masses of flaming hair about them; there shall ye find them. Ye shall see them at rule, at victorious armies, at all the joy; and there shall be in them a joy a million times greater than this. Beware lest any force another, King against King! Love one another with burning hearts; on the low men trample in the fierce lust of your pride, in the day of your wrath.  Ye are against the people, O my chosen!

I am unique & conqueror.

Now let it be first understood that I am a god of War & of Vengeance. I shall deal hardly with them. Choose ye an island! Fortify it! Dung it about with enginery of war! I will give you a war-engine. With it ye shall smite the peoples; and none shall stand before you. Lurk! Withdraw! Upon them! This is the Law of the Battle of Conquest: thus shall my worship be about my secret house.

I forbid argument. Conquer! That is enough.

Also ye shall be strong in war.

I am the warrior Lord of the Forties: the Eighties cower before me, & are abased. I will bring you to victory & joy: I will be at your arms in battle & ye shall delight to slay.

As brothers fight ye!

Hail! ye twin warriors about the pillars of the world! For your time is nigh at hand.

Aiwaz appears to predict the arising of a new transnational military order that will overwhelm the decadent remnants of democracy in favour of a new world order of “divine kings” based on individualism. This order will be established on an island and from there make war on the rest of the world using a new weapon of mass destruction. The focal points of this struggle appear to be the fourth and eighth decades of the 20th century, characterized by war and defeat respectively. In this remarkable book, Aiwaz seems to prophesy the rise and defeat of Nazism leading up to the Second World War in the 1940s – the greatest war in human history – followed by the Cold War, culminating in the collapse of Russian Communism in 1989. The island may be Great Britain, which held out against Hitler and arguably turned the tide of war against fascism along with Russia and America. Crowley refers to Nazism as an “abortion” of the new eon. The “pillars of the world” seem to refer to the strait of Gibraltar, which defined the western boundary of the ancient world (the Mediterranean), although metaphorically I suspect that the reference is to Great Britain (which owns Gibraltar) and America (which now defines the limit of the Western world, also referred to in the Book of the Law in the prophesy of the rich man from the West). Thus, Aiwaz, in the Book of the Law, demonstrates His existence by predicting the greatest armed conflict in human history 35 years before the event. Pretty good, eh?

bi-mat-kinh-thien-khien-tao-thao-khong-the-thong-nhat-thien-ha-hinh-2In “Thien Tao,” Crowley’s first political essay after the Cairo Working, Crowley blames the degeneration of society on the adulteration of the aristocracy, and prescribes its cure: “your aristocracy is not an aristocracy because it is not an aristocracy. … the aristocracy will be an aristocracy by becoming an aristocracy.” Crowley laments the loss of faith in such doctrines as the Divine Right of Kings and the theory of heredity, mocks the enfranchisement of women as promoting prostitution and social welfare laws as promoting ill-health, and praises the benefits of bureaucracy: “in practice the permanent officials, the real rulers of the country, were a distinguished and trustworthy body of men. Their interest was to govern well, for any civil or foreign disturbance would undoubtedly have fanned the sparks of discontent into the roaring flame of revolution.” “The shallow sophisms of the socialist” are rejected in favour of “the profounder and therefore unintelligible propositions of the Tory.” Crowley, speaking through the character of Kwaw, promotes an initiatory order (“the Synagogue of Satan”) consisting of grades of physical, intellectual, and spiritual development. Only those at the top would rule, but without any material benefit or reward. Needless to say, Crowley’s proposal was anti-democratic and neo-feudal in principle.[2] In all his subsequent writings, Crowley never wavered from this view. Crowley freely opined that the feudal age was the noblest in human history and clearly sought to restore it through the exercise of power. Thus, his politics are seditious in principle. The Chinese guise of Crowley’s manifesto is noteworthy, the Confucianism of which must have impressed Crowley as much as it impressed Ezra Pound and other fascists at that time.[3]

The secret order, which counts its members from more than one world, referring presumably to praeterhuman intelligences, is thus described by Crowley in “An Account of A∴A∴”:

Faithful to the spirit of truth, the members of the interior Order live in silence, but in real activity.

Yet, besides their secret holy work, they have from time to time decided upon political strategic action.

Thus, when the earth was nigh utterly corrupt by reason of the Great Sorcery, the Brethren send Mohammed to bring freedom to mankind by the sword.[4]

This being but partially a success, they raised up one Luther to teach freedom thought. Yet this freedom soon turned into a heavier bondage than before.

Then the Brethren delivered unto man the knowledge of nature, and the keys thereof; yet this also was prevented by the great Sorcery.

Now then finally in nameless ways, as one of our Brethren hath it now in mind to declare, have they raised up One to deliver unto men the keys of Spiritual Knowledge, and by His work shall He be judged.

The final reference is of course to Crowley himself.

Against this secret order Crowley posits the Black Brotherhood, a pseudo-order of failed adepts who seek to undermine the order of human society and bring about a totalitarian world order based on socialism. Crowley identifies Annie Besant, the successor to H.P. Blavatsky as the president of the Theosophical Society, and Krishnamurti, her nominee for World Teacher, as the leaders of this entity. Besant was of course closely aligned with Theravada Buddhism (itself not devoid of fascist tendencies), which Crowley rejected despite the conversion of Allan Bennett, Crowley’s first spiritual teacher, to Buddhism and Crowley’s own acceptance of Buddhism prior to the Cairo Working.

The transition to the new eon necessarily implies a “day of wrath,” entailing the wholesale collapse of human civilization, a period of anarchy, chaos, and war, and the reestablishment of civilization on the basis of truth. This event is also predicted in the Enochian revelations of Dee and Kelley.[5]

Crowley had never really been very interested in economics, which he regarded as ideology masquerading as science, but his increasing interest in the political implications of the Law of Thelema, stimulated no doubt by the rising tide of fascism in Europe, becomes evident in his writings during his American period (1914-1919), during much of which he wrote for the pro-German magazine, The International, owned by fascist businessman George Sylvester Viereck (Viereck interviewed Adolf Hitler in 1923 and went on to support the Nazi Party). For his part, Crowley rejected Hitler, calling Nazism an “abortion” of the eon and decisively separating the Law of Thelema from Nazism, despite the support for Hitler of Crowley’s German representative and Magister Templi of the A∴A∴, Martha Kuntzel. These writings included “Humanity First” (1917), “Concerning the Law of Thelema” (1919), “The Law of Liberty” (1919), and “The Message of the Master Therion” (1919).

In these works Crowley supported internationalism, rejecting patriotism, racism, the popular media, and democracy, and advocated a new world order based on a theory of scientific organization run by experts strongly suggestive of the Technocracy Movement, which flourished in the United States in the early 1930s but had precursors in the work of economist Thomas Veblen and others. Crowley advocated a progressive theory of childhood education, by which the “true will” of the child might be gradually identified and developed through “scientific methods” while respecting the child’s individuality and basic freedom. Some of Crowley’s views resemble libertarianism, rejecting any restriction of the sovereignty of the individual if the equal right of others is also recognized, while allowing healthy competition to maintain the physical and mental fitness of individuals and the body politic. On the other hand, Crowley constantly warns us that “Do what thou wilt” does not mean “do as you like.” Crowley also supported the right to own property (although he did not believe that property rights are absolute, and considered the possibility that some people’s property might have to be expropriated by the state) and the free flow of money. Crowley was not, however, a capitalist in the modern sense.[6] He repudiated consumerism, disdained the mercantile classes, and suspected that technology would end up destroying itself as a function of its increasing complexity and the consequent risk of systemic breakdown.[7] Unlike modern libertarians, however, Crowley was a committed statist: he believed that an autocratic state would need to maintain the type of social order that would guarantee individual liberty, and thus a very high degree of complexity, and he rejected popular democracy outright, which he identified with mob rule, referring to “the unthinking and unknowing multitude.”[8] The rejection of popular democracy, the media, and elections are of course underlying premises of fascism. Thus, despite his opposition to National Socialism and his mockery of Mussolini, Crowley’s Law of Thelema must be classified as an inherently fascist system (how one feels about this is of course a personal decision).[9]

The problem for Crowley thus becomes the problem of developing “an immense and universal technique” by which the state may guarantee rather than restrict the universal liberty of the individual. An early attempt to address this paradox was his essay entitled “Duty: A Note on the Chief Rules of Practical Conduct to Be Observed by Those Who Accept the Law of Thelema.” Other essays that address these questions include “The Beginning of the New World” (1925), “On Thelema” (1926-27), “The Method of Thelema” (1925), and “A Letter to Henry Ford” (1926), culminating in “The Scientific Solution of the Problem of Government” (c. 1937) and Liber OZ (1941). In these works, Crowley outlines an administrative and management theory in which the fiat of the state would, in theory, be a function of the liberty of each individual will, thus power exercised in the pursuit of liberty, as distinct from the exclusive power of the individual: “The work of formulating the plans for the administration of the Law will fall within the province of subcommittees, directed by the central Council, composed of men of the less abstract sciences, and of the professions, trades, arts and crafts, which afford constant experience of practical problems.” Thus, the only regulations allowed would be those that actually foster, promote, and protect the liberty of the individual, including (unlike modern libertarians) environmental legislation. Individuals who violate such laws would be subject to prosecution by a special judiciary trained to recognize through the application of strict scientific methods what the “true will” of any individual is in any given circumstance. Civil disagreements would also be adjudicated according to these principles. This extension of Crowley’s proposals for progressive education to jurisprudence seems more problematic though, and Crowley himself never really elaborated how it would work in detail. Crowley went so far as to write to the industrialist Henry Ford, also admired by the Technocrats and inventor and polymath Buckminister Fuller, to apply his genius and wealth to working out the practical social implications of the Law of Thelema along strict scientific lines. Curiously, Crowley lectures Ford, the inventor of the assembly line, in this letter about the evils of consumerism and industrial standardization! Ford was a prominent anti-Semite whose industrial ideology of Fordism (and its precursor, Taylorism) was adopted by the Soviet Union: “the slaves shall serve.” The Marxists picked up Fordism in the 1930s.

Crowley sought to reform the O.T.O. along Thelemic lines in  the “Manifesto of the O.T.O.,” “An Open Letter to Those Who May Wish to Join the Order,” and “An Intimation with Reference to the Constitution of the Order” (all published in the United States in 1919). In these works, Crowley adumbrates an international and secret order of initiates. Crowley claims that the O.T.O. possesses a secret capable of realizing the age-old dream of the brotherhood of man, thus aligning the mission of the O.T.O. with that of the Theosophical Society. The international chief of the O.T.O., the Frater Superior or Outer Head of the Order (O.H.O.) is also secret, and is elected by the Supreme and Most Holy Kings, who are essentially national autocrats.[10] Since the O.T.O. is an international order, this body would effectively become a World Government. Thus, the whole system is ultimately an international dictatorship of the national autocrats.  Membership in the Third Degree of the O.T.O. is open in principle to all applicants. Above that are six degrees of initiation that are only accessible by invitation from the governing body of each grade, the members of which are appointed from above. Interestingly in view of Crowley’s views on socialism (despite the similarity of his own system to “scientific socialism”), Crowley adds to this structure an insurance scheme (for members of the Fourth Degree and above) designed to alleviate hardships due to unforeseeable eventualities. Members of the Ninth Degree would also become “part proprietors” of the property of the order. The structure is that of an Egyptian pyramid (see n. 2).

How “praeterhuman intelligences” of the sort that govern the Thelemic order plan to reform humanity is revealed by Crowley in a very instructive passage in Magick Without Tears:

Aiwass is of a different Order of Being from ourselves. Consider a gold-refiner.  ‘Analysis shows 20% of copper in this sample; I’ll beat it in a current of oxygen; that will oxidize the copper.  Shake it up with sulphuric acid; then we wash away the copper sulphate, and that’s that.’ He does not consider how the copper feels about it; indeed, he doesn’t believe that the copper knows about it at all.

The Book of the Law and the Law of Thelema are very real prophecies of the advent of fascism in Europe, including Stalinism, which seems closer to the Technocracy of Thelema than the irrationalist Nazi mysticism that Crowley derided. Crowley argued that fascism itself will force us to adopt the same methods, and offered his Law of Thelema as both the result and the alternative.

Notes 

[1] “After five years of folly and weakness, miscalled politeness, tact, discretion, care for the feeling of others, I am weary of it. I say today: the hell with Christianity, Rationalism, Buddhism, all the lumber of the centuries. I bring you a positive and primaeval fact, Magick by name; and with this I will build me a new Heaven and a new Earth. I want none of your faint approval or faint dispraise; I want blasphemy, murder, rape, revolution, anything, bad or good, but strong.” (Letter to Gerald Kelly)

[2] “Make power and splendour incompatible, and the social problem is solved…. Authority and prestige in the Order are absolute, but while the lower grades give increase of privilege, the higher give increase of service. Power in the Order depends, therefore, directly on the willingness to aid others.” Crowley’s political ideas resemble those of the French writer Marquis Alexandre Saint-Yves d’Alveydre (1842-1909), who advocated the political philosophy of Synarchism: “The synarchical government was a pyramid composed of three layers. The top leadership was a group of priests who controlled advanced science and technology. The second layer consisted of the initiated ones and the third of the common people” (Andrew Znamenski, Red Shambhala (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 2011), p. 51).

[3] Crowley compares the Law of Thelema to the rules of chivalry and Bushido, the code of conduct of the Japanese Samurai.

[4] The Great Sorcery refers to Christianity, which destroyed classical civilization and inaugurated the Dark Ages. It is perhaps significant that Crowley gives pride of place to Mohammed, the founder of Islam, which Crowley admired, which underwent a renascence of sorts in the first century of the New Eon, culminating in the Islamist resistance to American global imperialism.

[5] “The reasonable creatures of the earth, let them vex and weed out one another; and the dwelling places, let them forget their names. The works of man and his pomp, let them be defaced. The buildings of her, let them become caves for the beasts of the field; confound her understanding with darkness. Why? I regret that I made man…. Govern those that govern; cast down such as fall; bring forth with those that increase, and destroy the rotten. No place let it remain in one number; add and diminish, until the stars be numbered.” (Call of the 30 Aethyrs)

[6] “Industrialism, the mother and nurse of socialism, [is] destroying the soul of the people.” See also “Letter to Henry Ford” in The Revival of Magick and Other Essays, pp. 189f. The “free flow of money” would also keep capital small and local, since it is accumulated savings that finance large capital enterprises.

[7] “Adjustments ask too much. Observe my knife; ’tis dull? A stone mends that. But my typewriter? I must take it at great cost and trouble to Palermo; and then they probably make a mess of the job. A little more annoyance, and I shall scrap it and go back to a quill from the first goose I meet! I think that this is a good analogy of what will happen to civilization. The machinery will break down beyond repair, and only the simple will survive.” (The Magical Record of the Beast)

[8] “It is necessary for the development of freedom itself to have an organization; and every organization must have a highly centralized control. In order to obtain freedom to do your will, it is necessary to submit voluntarily to discipline and organization. Evolution implies structuralization. The power of man is greater than the power of the amoeba, because he has specialized the function of our protoplasm of which he is composed. In order to do the one thing which you will truly you must therefore renounce all those other things which may tempt you to swerve from the one purpose of your sojourn amongst us.  In the body every cell is subordinated to the general physiological control, and we who will that control do not ask whether each individual unit of that structure be consciously happy. But we do care that each shall fulfil its function, and the failure of even a few cells, or their revolt, may involve the death of the whole organism. Yet even here the complaint of a few, which we call pain, is a warning of general danger. Many cells fulfil their destiny by swift death, and this being their function, they in no wise resent it. Should haemoglobin resist the attack of oxygen, the body would perish, and the haemoglobin would not thereby save itself. For every individual in the State must be perfect in his own function, with contentment, respecting his own task as necessary and holy, not envious of another’s. For so only mayst thou build up a free State, whose directing will shall be singly directed to the welfare of all. Say not that in this argument I have set limits to individual freedom. For each man in this State which I propose is fulfilling his own True Will by his eager acquiescence in the order necessary to the welfare of all, and therefore of himself also. The problem of government is therefore to find a scientific formula with an ethical implication. This formula must be rigidly applicable to all sane men soever without reference to the individual qualities of any one of them.”

[9] Fascist elements within Thelema include the use of patriotic use of mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia; disdain for human rights; identification of enemies or scapegoats as a unifying cause; militarism; rampant sexism; suppression of the mass media; a state religion; elitism; suppression of labour and the people; obsession with crime and punishment; rampant cronyism and corruption; and rejection of the electoral process. See Lawrence Britt, “The Fourteen Characteristics of Fascism.”

[10] The 1985 election of William Breeze as Frater Superior of the O.T.O., calling himself “Hymenaeus Beta,” by the members of the Ninth Degree of the spurious Caliphate pseudo-O.T.O. is clearly a grievous and unthelemic breach of the constitution of the order and as such, illegal and illegitimate.

References 

“An Account of A∴A∴” (1909)
“Aleister Crowley on Politics” (n.d.)
“Antecedents of Thelema” (1926)
“An Appeal to the American Republic” (1899)
Atlantis: The Lost Continent (1913)
“The Beginning of the New World” (1925)
“Concerning the Law of Thelema” (1919)
The Confessions of Aleister Crowley (1929)
“De Lege Libellum” (1919)
The Diary of a Drug Fiend (1922)
“Duty: A Note on the Chief Rules of Practical Conduct to Be Observed by Those Who Accept the Law of Thelema” (n.d.)
The Heart of the Master (1938)
“Humanity First” (1917)
“An Intimation with Reference to the Constitution of the O.T.O.” (1919)
“Khabs Am Pekht” (1919)
The Law Is for All, ed. Israel Regardie (1920)
“The Law of Liberty” (1919)
“Letter to Henry Ford” (1926)
Liber AL vel Legis (the Book of the Law) (1904)
Liber Aleph: the Book of Wisdom or Folly (1921)
Liber OZ (1941)
“Liber Porta Lucis” (1911)
“Liber Trigrammaton” (1907)
“Liber Tzaddi vel Hamus Hermeticus” (1911)
The Magical Record of the Beast 666 (1914-20)
Magick in Theory and Practice (1929)
Magick Without Tears (1943)
“The Manifesto of the O.T.O.” (1919)
“The Message of the Master Therion” (1919)
“The Method of Thelema” (1925)
Moonchild (1917)
“On Sexual Freedom” (1921)
“On the Education of Children” (1921)
“On Thelema” (1926-27)
“An Open Letter to Those Who May Wish to Join the Order” (1919)
The Scientific Solution of the Problem of Government (1936/37)
The Secret Rituals of the O.T.O., ed. Francis King (1973)
“Thien Tao” (1907)

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