Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

Anarchism and Mysticism

Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

Anarchism and Mysticism

Article excerpt

Anarchism and Mysticism Paul Cudenec, The Anarchist Revelation: Being What We're Meant to Be Sussex: Winter Oak Press, 2013; 144pp; ISBN 978-0957656604.

As I opened this present book, with a cover embellished with an anarchist symbol, two thoughts came to mind. One was that I noticed the book was prefaced with a quotation from the Bhagavad Gita, implying that humans were 'immortal' beings. What on earth, I thought, had such nonsense to do with anarchism? A second thought was evoked by the memory of a banner hung at the recent anarchist bookfair; it read: 'Religion is stupid; murderous, bigoted and sexist crap'.

Why then was a book purporting to be about anarchism trumpeting Hindu mysticism?

This book, in fact, consists of two quite separate themes, or rather, it is about two ideologies that the author Paul Cudenec seeks to promote and unite, namely anarchism and mysticism. The first offers his reflections on anarchism as a political tradition and movement which, quite misleadingly, Cudenec tends to equate with primitivism, thus heralding a blanket dismissal of 'civilisation' in all its aspects. The second is on religious mysticism to which he aligns Jung's psychology and thoughts on existentialism, mostly of religious existentialists such as Karl Jaspers and Colin Wilson. The work purports to forge a new and profound philosophy for the twentyfirst century. In reality Cudenec simply regurgitates, with endless quotations, a rather sterile version of medieval religious mysticism - otherwise known as 'traditionalism', 'perennial philosophy', 'theosophy' or 'esotericism' - a mysticism that entails a 'metaphysical' account of some 'divine reality' that transcends our earthly existence. Cudenec thus outlines and advocates a form of religious mysticism associated with such reactionary scholars as René Guénon, Seyyed Hossein Nasr (who doesn't get a mention), Martin Lings, Frithjof Schuon and Ananda Coomaraswamy, none of whom can really be described as anarchists, although they may have been associated with the cultural avant-garde.

Anyone who is conversant with the history of the real anarchist movement, welldescribed in Michael Schmidt's recent book, Cartography of Revolutionary Anarchism (2013), will recognise that there has hardly been a connection between anarchism and mysticism. Although, of course, many mystics may have expressed an anarchist sensibility - Lao Tzu, William Blake, Nicolai Berdyaev, Aurobindo Ghose and Leo Tolstoy are examples. Indeed over thirty years ago (1981), my essay on 'Lao Tzu and Anarchism' was published in the pages of the Freedom magazine (see my Ecology and Anarchism, which also includes essays on the mystics Tolstoy, Aurobindo and Gandhi.1)

This book is well-researched and written in a lively style. It is thus highly readable and engaging, and being a kind of manifesto, it reads rather like a religious tract out to convert people, who, according to the spiritually enlightened Cudenec, are still living in a state of social malaise. But the book does not advocate an ecological world view, for nature takes a back-seat to the purported 'universal spirit'. What Cudenec promotes therefore is not our empirical engagement with a 'fecund and grubby earth' but, on the contrary, a 'pure and lofty esotericism' (p 15). All power is therefore given to a divine reality, with respect to which everybody and everything is but an impure manifestation. All this is just a replication or re-invention of Plato's religious metaphysics.

Cudenec's lively discussion of anarchism and his critique of industrial capitalism and the state are very worthwhile, and full of interest. He gives us an array of quotations from a wide range of anarchists to make his points, from Godwin and Bakunin to Herbert Read (who is clearly a favourite). But he seems to equate anarchism with primitivism and thus in totalising fashion completely repudiates anything to do with 'civilisation', oblivious to the fact that 'esotericism' itself is largely a product, not of some divine spirit, but of scholars living and researching within a civilisation. …

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