Friday, February 13, 2015

A note on libertarianism and Illuminatus!

Lysander Spooner. For an essay on his thoughts on alternative currencies, and the discussions by other anarchists on the subject, see Appendix Vau in Illuminatus!

fireflye asked an interesting question in the comments in the last Illuminatus! online reading group entry, and while I attempted a short answer in the comments, I want to go on at greater length here.

He asked, Just an honest question for those of you who've read Illuminatus! more times than I have.
Does the word "libertarian" appear anywhere in
the novel(s)? About how many times? Where? How about "anarchy"/"anarchist"/"anarchism"?

I responded, This interesting question is worth an entire blog post (and will get one soon) but briefly: I ran a search in an electronic text and the word "libertarian" appears 13 times, not just in the appendix but in various places in the novels (it was not a well-known term when Illuminatus was written, 1969-1971); "anarchist" or "anarchists" appear 41 times in the text; the folks name-checked in the text include Lysander Spooner, Ayn Rand and Benjamin Tucker.

There is, in fact, a great deal of political discussion in Illuminatus! and I'm confident that I'm not reading something into the text that isn't there.

I've commented on the libertarian aspects of the work in many of my postings, but we can also consider the comments of the authors. Robert Shea, for example, when accepting a Prometheus Hall of Fame Award for Illuminatus!, talked about the work as a political document.   Here is a relevant quote: "I hope and think it is plain that the message of ILLUMINATUS! is an anarchist message. The novel stands as a record of the anarchists we were in the 1960s and 70s." Not a lot of wiggle room there.

Wilson was less prone to labeling himself as a libertarian or an anarchist all of the time -- he only did it part of the time -- but I don't think he was unclear, either, when he talked about the politics of Illuminatus! Here is a quote from the 1976 "New Libertarian Notes" interview with RAW, which naturally is largely about Illuminatus!: "I'm the kind of anarchist whose chief objection to the State is that it kills so many people. Government is the epitome of the deathist philosophy I reject." This is exactly the antiwar and libertarian message in Illuminatus! and it helps explain why so many antiwar libertarians are fond of RAW.

As this article explains, Wilson ran for governor of California in 2003 under the auspices of the Guns and Dope Party, a libertarian party which drew on the ideas of Lysander Spooner, who as I mentioned above is cited by name in Illuminatus! So far as I know, this was the only time Wilson sought elective office. (For more on the Guns and Dope Party, see RAW's last book, Email to the Universe.)

I could go on, but let me pose and answer a related question that could be addressed to me:

Q. Do you talk too much about libertarianism in your Illuminatus! posts, and not enough about other subjects?

A. The answer is almost certainly "yes."

I don't want to look more like a Cosmic Schmuck than is absolutely necessary, so of course I write more about the subjects that I know something about, and less about the subjects I know nothing about. So I write about libertarianism, history, literary references, and other topics that I'm (relatively) well-informed about. I don't know much about Kabbalah and magick, and thank heavens folks such as Oz Fritz help me out in the comments. Adam Gorightly knows WAY more about Discordianism than I do. So far, he has contributed to the Illuminatus! discussions with 16 separate blog posts discussing the Discordian aspects of the work (and for your convenience, I have linked to all of them.)

I set about doing weekly blog posts about Illuminatus! not because I saw myself as the "expert" (I can easily think of better people to lead the discussion) but because I was willing to make the time commitment, and provide a platform where other people could contribute. The comments and blog postings from people who bring other perspectives have been a necessary part from the beginning. I'm going to guess that if Oz Fritz had chosen to discuss Illuminatus! bit by bit, he would have concentrated on Kabbalah, magick, Aleister Crowley and related topics, and I'd be in the comments talking about libertarianism.

After I thought of that last bit, I went back to the comments for the last online discussion entry, and I see Oz wrote, "Along with fyreflye, the political philosophy in Illuminatus! doesn't appear that obvious to me." Well, who is the master who makes the grass green? The references to Lysander Spooner seem "obvious" to me, but when I first read Illuminatus! I didn't know who Aleister Crowley was and I no doubt missed many references to Crowley's work. All of us bring something to the table.


fyreflye said...

Thanks, Tom, for amplifying your original
answer to my question.
I do think it takes more than a few references to Lysander Spooner to link RAW to the contemporary Libertarian Party and its policy arm the Cato Institute.
Though Illuminatus! was published during the same decade as the formation of the LP I don't recall him mentioning it or anyone like Murray Bookchin (an LP founder), or other libertarians like Proudhon, Henry George or Voltarine de Cleyre. He (or Illuminatus!) may have mentioned Benjamin Tucker. I don't ever recall him stating that he'd voted for any LP candidates, or even that he voted at all. Did he? Though he lived in Berkeley during the '80's (as did I) I don't recall him ever participating in any anti-war demonstrations. Did he?

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Hi fyreflye,

There's several things to respond to here:

(1) As to linking RAW "to the contemporary Libertarian Party and its policy arm the Cato Insitute," I didn't link RAW to either one. That said, RAW did attend some Libertarian Party meetings (see for example this posting: The Cato Institute is a Washington think tank and a 501(c)3 nonprofit, not the "policy arm of the Libertarian Party." There are plenty of libertarians who have no connection to the party or to Cato, including rather prominent ones.

(2) The LIbertarian Party was just getting started when Illuminatus was written. If you search the text of Illuminatus, you'll find mentions of Proudhon and Tucker, as I noted above. RAW mentioned Henry George; see for example RAW's "Recommended Book List" He was interested in George's land value tax ideas.

(3) RAW apparently often did not vote, although in 1980 he stated that he did not vote for Ed Clark, the Libertarian Party candidate, explaining "I am not that kind of Libertarian, really; I don't hate poor people." Clark's running mate, by the way, was David Koch.

Actually, the full RAW statement is worth quoting, because it relates to the "was he a libertarian" debate: "Ideologically, of course, I should have voted for Ed Clark, the Libertarian Party candidate, but I am not that kind of Libertarian, really; I don't hate poor people. I finally voted for John Anderson ... " "Ecology, Malthus and Machiavelli," from RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE SITTING NOW.

Many libertarians don't vote and don't believe in voting.

(4) Antiwar demonstrations in the 1980s, I don't know. He spoke out against war and mentioned being active in the antiwar movement in the 1960s.

Chad N. said...

Favorite quote in the whole series:

"We're anarchists and outlaws, goddam it. Didn't you understand that much? We've got nothing to do with right-wing, left-wing or any other half-assed political category. If you work within the system, you come to one of the either/or choices that were implicit in the system from the beginning. You're talking like a medieval serf, asking the first agnostic whether he worships God or the Devil. We're outside the system's categories. You'll never get the hang of our game if you keep thinking in flat-earth imagery of right and left, good and evil, up and down. If you need a group label for us, we're political non-Euclideans. But even that's not true. Sink me, nobody of this tub agrees with anybody else about anything, except maybe what the fellow with the horns told the old man in the clouds: Non serviam."

Oz Fritz said...

@ Chad, thank-you, exactly the kind of example from the text I asked for.

@Tom, thanks for clarifying your views. Sorry I don't see the grass the same political color others do. I've not read Appendix Vau for a long time or remember coming across Spooner in what we have read of Illuminatus! Haven't noticed that much of what I'd call political discussion so far in the pages we've read. Chad's quote seems to consider anarchy as going beyond conventional politics. I don't auto connect anarchy with politics, the word gets used in many contexts. I don't interpret Sheas statement of an anarchist message as limited to political anarchy

Chad N. said...

The quote was from Hagbard after he was asked whether he and the others on the sub were a gang of objectivists. A question that appalled him.

Hagbard seems to consistently drive home anarchy as a way of life and as a means of social interaction. He refers to not wanting to be worshipped aboard the sub, or to become anyone's "Big Daddy". This is anarchy the way I perceive it, in its literal sense: without rulers. This certainly has a political element to it, but is just as much about how individuals relate in groups, as the LDD does on the sub.

Chad N. said...

Here is Celine on anarchism making it political. My second favorite passage in the books:
Privilege implies exclusion from privilege, just as advantage implies disadvantage," Celine went on. "In the same mathematically reciprocal way, profit implies loss. If you and I exchange equal goods, that is trade: neither of us profits and neither of us loses. But if we exchange unequal goods, one of us profits and the other loses. Mathematically. Certainly. Now, such mathematically unequal exchanges will always occur because some traders will be shrewder than others. But in total freedom— in anarchy— such unequal exchanges will be sporadic and irregular. A phenomenon of unpredictable periodicity, mathematically speaking. Now look about you, professor— raise yournose from your great books and survey the actual world as it is— and you will not observe such unpredictable functions. You will observe, instead, a mathematically smooth function, a steady profit accruing to one group and an equally steady loss accumulating for all others. Why is this, professor? Because the system is not free or random, any mathematician would tell you a priori. Well, then, where is the determining function, the factor that controls the other variables? You have named it yourself, or Mr. Adler has: the Great Tradition. Privilege, I prefer to call it. When A meets B in the marketplace, they do not bargain as equals. A bargains from a position of privilege; hence, he always profits and B always loses. There is no more Free Market here than there is on the other side of the Iron Curtain. The privileges, or Private Laws— the rules of the game, as promulgated by the Politburo and the General Congress of the Communist Party on that side and by the U.S. government and the Federal Reserve Board on this side— are slightly different; that's all. And it is this that is threatened by anarchists, and by the repressed anarchist in each of us," he concluded, strongly emphasizing the last clause, staring at Drake, not at the professor.

Chad N. said...

Thanks, Tom, for linking to that G&D Party background. I enjoyed that.

Is it still active anywhere to your knowledge?

Chad N. said...

FTR: while I love the second Celine passage I quoted, I disagree strongly with parts of it. I.e.--profit implies loss; trade being inevitably unfair.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Oz, I'll try to be more clear and offer more examples.

More on that RAW "non-Euclidean" stuff:

Bobby Campbell said...

I very much agree w/ and appreciate that "all of us bring something to the table."

chas said...

Tom--Thanks for your willingness "to make the time commitment, and provide a platform where other people could contribute."

Super valuable to me, even after 5x reading this "damned thing".

chas said...

Also, regarding the multiple ways of reading Illuminatus, I feel lucky to have stumbled upon it at a relatively young age, while still in college and successfully resisting the forces of specialization. I first read Neal Wilgus's The Illuminoids, a beautifully just-paranoid-enough history of the Bavarian Illuminati, which just happened to have a forward written by RAW himself. Cosmic Trigger seemed like the next logical step, and the generalized psychedelic tone of that book made it easy to see Illuminatus as a paean to anarchist political thought, creepy Ambrose Bierce type monster lit, Timothy Leary style space migration intelligence increase life extension polemics, Crowley style magick, Dick-like science fiction, Bucky Fuller-esque alt-science futurism--the whole ball of wax! I never got the Joyce and Pound stuff that early on however.

And what I have always loved about that astounding mix is how everything reflects everything else, hologramatically, like Reich's reflection that physical posture reveals mental and emotional habits and attitudes. I can't separate the politics from the magic from the Discfnordianism from the sex & drugs & rock-n-roll.

A final observation on the magickal energy this book conjured up:

Because I am reading along in a discomBOBulated manner (I currently have 4 bookmarks running) I get to enjoy a wide range of synchronicities when interacting with the comments. For example I have a bookmark on page 86, which is the last page I read, just 2 nights ago, and which opens with Chad N's favorite passage in the book, the one ending with "non serviam". And 9 days ago I made a note to myself to dig further in to page 551 and Hagbard's speech regarding privilege, Chad's 2nd favorite passage. So keep on posting, people--I can't wait to see what happens next!

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