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.