THEOSOPHY, Vol. 34, No. 12, October, 1946
(Pages 451-456; Size: 29K)
(Number 10 of a 12-part series)
THE CYCLE'S NEED
FRUITS OF INDECISION
AMONG men of serious purpose, the disillusionments of the age, long suspected by a few, but precipitated beyond the region of doubt by the late war, have created the necessity of a search for new directions in social thinking. Massive historical events of the past twenty years have demonstrated the insufficiency of the familiar "liberal" ideals and methods of the Western world, and the intense pre-occupation of men of good will with so-called "social" problems -- involving theoretical and practical activity in the fields of politics and economics -- now leaves such individuals almost entirely without a sense of orientation. For there has been a loss of faith, not in a particular political theory or program, but in politics itself as a means of constructive activity. Time was when the reference of all problems to political action was a virtually instinctive response of humanitarians. Today, political solutions are more tentatively offered. Political action, as a social technique, is undergoing self-conscious revaluation.
While political techniques, long known only to specialists and paid party workers, are today receiving attention from ordinary citizens, the advance guard of social thought is turning away from practical politics, per se, and entering upon what may be called studies in sociology, moral philosophy, and even religion. One evidence of this tendency is the revival of interest in Anarchism as a fundamental philosophy of life. Anarchist thought has found young and vigorous advocates in both the United States and England. On the continent, the Existentialist movement is unmistakably tinged with anarchist conceptions, embodying also a stoic-like despair which is a natural effect of the recent cycle of European wars.
It seems hardly necessary to point out that the dynamic drive and optimism which characterized the socialist movement before the first world war are no longer apparent. There is a mechanical quality about contemporary doctrinaire socialist utterance; a Debs, in this cycle, one feels, would seek some other channel for altruistic striving; a Jaurés could not repeat, in the middle period of the twentieth century, the ideas which so aroused his highest feelings forty and fifty years ago.
The emergence of Russia as a great imperialist power and the indisputable absence of traditional civil liberties in lands under Soviet rule or influence have greatly weakened the familiar liberal enthusiasm for the Asiatic "workers' state." In the United States, many former admirers of Communist Russia have sought ideological security in the support of "free enterprise," arguing that the abuses of "economic freedom" must be accepted as the necessary price of political freedom.
Only the fiercely partisan politics of fascism offers a dynamic that has any freshness of appeal, and fascism can be adopted as a political credo only by those who are willing to give up even the pretense of believing in traditional liberal ideals and their historic protection of the individual. Fascism is materialism made politically explicit. As history continues to expose the real meaning of materialism in political terms, it is becoming increasingly difficult for intelligent people to remain allied to political platforms and attitudes which are founded, implicitly, on materialistic assumptions. The political situation of the present, therefore, presents an exoteric "moment of choice," at the level of social responsibility, for many thousands of intelligent individuals.
The difficult dilemma confronting such people is well described in a recent book, The Yogi and the Commissar. The writer, Arthur Koestler (see Lookout, February, 1944), now in vogue and widely read, has an exciting background of political intrigue and disappointment. Koestler offers no solution, nor is his contribution particularly creative. This book is an amazingly skillful formulation of the problem of the age, bringing out into the open the vague misgivings of many and stating the issues involved with lucid definition. [Note: A copy from the "On the Lookout" section, a section which is in every issue of THEOSOPHY magazine, that is referred to above by the editors, is found at the end of this article. --Compiler.]
Serious periodical literature is now giving almost endless discussion to the dilemma discussed by Koestler. An editorial article in the New Statesman and Nation (June 15), reviewing a controversy in the British radical press, quotes from the physicist, J. D. Bernal, who takes the "Commissar" position:A radical change in morality is in any case required by the new social relations which men are already entering into in an organized and planned society. The relative importance of different virtues are bound to be affected. Old virtues may even appear as vices and new virtues instituted. Many of the basic virtues -- truthfulness and good fellowship -- are, of course, as old as humanity and need no changing, but those based on excessive concern with individual rectitude need reorienting in the direction of social responsibility.The New Statesman comments:Here the liberal and the Leninist meet in headlong collision. Bernal is saying that the interest of the group comes first, and that if one's private judgment conflicts with those interests then one must learn to subordinate his inward misgivings to the authoritative interpretation of group interest. This is the morality of the disciplined soldier in all countries, and it is also that of dutiful members of the Catholic Church or the Communist Party.The editorial further points out that once this ethic is accepted, and the infallibility of the Papal or Party line is no longer disputed, the loyal adherent does not violate his conscience when he stifles his misgivings: "he is acting morally in obeying." But since our whole basis of ethics is the individual's obligation to obey his conscience, absolute obedience to any Church, Party or State constitutes exactly a violation of one's own conscience, for "conscience has no meaning unrelated to individual judgment."
This basic problem is a minor theme in Silone's Bread and Wine, one of the few excellent novels of recent years. Koestler's fictionized analysis of the Moscow Trials, Darkness at Noon, was a brilliant presentation of the moral issue at stake in the struggle between "political necessity" and private morality.
The realizations implicit in these various expressions have made it impossible for men of intelligence to give blind allegiance to partisan causes on the assumption that partisanship can somehow grow into a program of universal benefit. Earlier works, such as Lincoln Steffens' Autobiography, Louis Adamic's My America and Dynamite, had already shown the futility of blind support of the labor movement. The question now before the responsible liberal is this: What are my ethical principles? Are they on behalf of a party or a program, or on behalf of mankind?
Meanwhile, on the side of the "free enterprise" school of thought, and traditional political and economic liberalism, the accelerated growth of state power is causing an almost hysterical concern. Joseph Spigelman, formerly a political analyst for Fortune, contributes to the July Harper's a study of the decline of individual freedom in the modern world. He writes:The individual has become dependent on his government and exposed, therefore, to the ramifying consequences of its errors, not because of what government has done or can do, but because he has lost his capacity for independence. The old bases of self-sufficiency and self-protection have been eroded beyond repair by influences for which neither the individual nor government is primarily responsible and which neither can control.Next in Mr. Spigelman's essay comes the serious error which appears in nearly all of contemporary analysis: he relieves both government and individuals of any real responsibility for the problem under consideration, assigning as its cause the numerous complications introduced by the progress of modern technology. The fact of the matter is that technology has made understanding of the problem difficult, but it is not the problem's cause. The intricate processes of a technological society in the age of power -- of atomic power, today -- obscure the moral factors which should be traced to human causation, and lack of familiarity with the philosophical outlook suggested by a consideration of reincarnation leaves the student without any effective stimulus to seek for a moral explanation of modern social problems.
The administrative difficulties created by developments in technology are unprecedented in Western history, leading to large-scale responsibilities on the part of government and reducing the area of individual "freedom" in many practical respects. Checks on the increasing power of government are virtually non-existent, and there is little prospect that the historic system of checks and balances in the United States will operate effectively in the future.
Quite evidently, the swing of orthodox analysis is away from moralistic attacks on social evils, and in the direction of a better understanding of the technical aspects and functions of modern industrial society. Radical oversimplification and utopianism are under eclipse; revolutionary ardor is being replaced by an unemotional scientific approach. For example, Stuart Chase, in the Nation for May 4, writes a panegyric on the researches of Dr. Elton Mayo, of Harvard, "who has been studying people in industry for a quarter of a century." Mr. Chase does not compose a diatribe against the wicked capitalists, but concerns himself with the human effects of the impersonal processes of the industrial system. Dr. Mayo's latest book, The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilization, is presented as a study of crucial importance in that it exposes the fallacies in traditional political and economic doctrine. Classical economics is constructed upon the proposition that self-interest is a fundamental "law" of human behavior in economic relations, but Dr. Mayo asserts:If one observes either industrial workers or university students with sufficient care and continuity, one finds that the proportionate number activated by motives of self-interest logically elaborated is exceedingly small. They have relapsed upon self-interest only when social association has failed them.This kind of review of conventional conceptions is also taking place in academic social science. In Science for June 21, Gregory Bateson of the Institute for Intercultural Studies in New York candidly admits the ignorance of social science as presently constituted -- parading its lack of basic principles and correlative information. He writes:There is a mass of basic research to be done, and yet we are pressed by real emergency to apply the little that we already know. We have not enough basic knowledge of the mechanics of individual aspiration and large-scale political inter-relationships to plan the steps which must be taken to adjust human societies to the availability of atomic weapons.Meanwhile, the energy that thirty or forty years ago would have gone into political and reform movements is now being absorbed by another sort of attempt at social betterment. Decentralization, politically and economically, in terms of smaller units of social and economic independence, is claiming the attention of thousands of thoughtful persons. The researches of Ralph Borsodi, the inspiring leadership of Arthur E. Morgan, and the pioneer work in conscious community living by scores of others, have gained a type of moral devotion which is increasingly dynamic as well as practical. Paralleling such efforts are the intellectual investigations of social processes, as compared with liberal and radical "campaigning" of past years. Basic research in regional or "organizational" human behavior is of intense interest to the student of Theosophy from the viewpoint of cultural, sectional, and national Karma. Witness the spirit and the writings of Louis Adamic, whose impartiality and acute perception of moral values make his work peculiarly congenial to the theosophical reader. Such writers are busy "finding out" more about man, before adopting any of the currently available panaceas. They have realized that much more must be known about social processes and human motivations, if workable programs of social change are to be inaugurated.
The radical movement itself seems to be undergoing an extraordinary transformation. After a century of reliance on the materialistic interpretation of history, radicals reached a moral nadir of theory in Trotsky's pamphlet, Their Morals and Ours, in which the policies and methods of the Jesuits are consciously adopted as suitable for Bolshevist revolutionary activity. The symptoms of an awakening from this dark dream of anti-human revolution have already been mentioned -- occurring in Koestler's Darkness at Noon and appearing also in small independent radical publications such as Retort and Enquiry. Climax of the moral reaction of former Marxists was reached this year in publication by Dwight Macdonald, editor of Politics, of "The Root Is Man" (reviewed in THEOSOPHY last month). [Note: The Editors are referring to the 9th of the 12 articles in this series, subtitled "Politics in Transition", which is the one before this 10th one that you are now reading --Compiler.] In these articles, Macdonald calls into question all the basic assumptions of materialistic radical ideology, and defines the socialist objective as "a classless society in which the State has disappeared, production is cooperative, and no man has political or economic power over another. The touchstone would be the extent to which each individual could develop his own talents and personality." (A similar principle is proposed by John Middleton Murry, English thinker, who postulates as an "axiom" that "freedom, apart from real experience of personal responsibility, is illusory.")
All these social and moral tendencies, of necessity but briefly mentioned, constitute a profound and far-reaching alteration in human attitudes. They are the positive fruits of disenchantment with specious short-cuts to social progress, the beginnings of a new type of social investigation and social philosophy. The growing concern of economists and political scientists with the processes that received distorted and over-simplified descriptions by the classical economists will have the effect of reducing, in some measure, the authority of traditional slogans and shibboleths. Scholars and workers in research will be reluctant to support popular programs which exploit doctrines that both history and scientific investigation have shown to be without anthropological foundation. At the same time, the advance guard of serious thinkers are wary of all political movements, as such, and are entering upon a phase of sociological studies which have more than abstract scientific curiosity as their motivation -- they are the product of a definite humanitarian concern, of a sympathy which gives them a meaning in terms of social purpose. Finally, the revolutionary movement is discovering its need for a moral center of gravity, leading to redefinition of ends and basic reconsideration of means.
The present, therefore, despite the foreboding aspects of the cycle's destiny, is above all a time of open-minded inquiry among the few -- those who will play a part in building the culture of the next great age; it is a time, also, of growing camaraderie among all those who feel the common moral impulse in this interval of transition.
[Note: Here is the copy of the item that was the first of the two things referred to by the Editors in the above article. This "On the Lookout" section of THEOSOPHY magazine is in every issue, and always reviews and comments on various subjects. Only the specific part referred to is copied and presented here. --Compiler.]
THEOSOPHY, Vol. 33, No. 4, February, 1944
ON THE LOOKOUT
THE OPTIMISM OF A "PESSIMIST"
Arthur Koestler, an Hungarian-born newspaper man, suffered imprisonment in Spain during the civil war, and later in France, before he finally escaped to England, where he is now living. His harsh experiences seem not to have embittered him, however, for as one reviewer has said, "Koestler has survived disillusionment after disillusionment without losing the ultimate inner serenity that enables the human race to endure through the darkest ages." The author of Darkness at Noon, and other books, Koestler recently wrote an "assessment of future trends," under the title, "We Need a Fraternity of Pessimists" (New York Times Magazine, November 7, 1943). His forecast is scientific enough to be realistic, and mystical enough to be true, a combination which is in itself rather wonderful and rare. We venture to predict that his "pessimism" will be for some the most optimistic sign of the times.
After surveying the immediate past and the immediate present, the half-truths of our social philosophy, and our ratio of idealistic achievement and failure, Koestler moves on to a discussion of "interregnums," which he defines as "periods of transitory chaos which follow the collapse of the traditional values of a civilization." We will give the greater part of his "argument," reserving our comments till the end.
"A SPIRITUAL SPRINGTIDE"
Interregnums, says Koestler, are of limited duration:I believe that the day is not far when the present interregnum will end, and a new "horizontal" ferment will arise -- not a new party or sect, but an irresistible global mood, a spiritual springtide like early Christianity or the Renaissance. It will probably mark the end of our historical era, the period which began with Galileo, Newton and Columbus, the period of human adolescence, the age of scientific formulations and quantitative measurements, of utility values, of the ascendancy of reason over spirit."NEW ETHICAL VALUES"
Its achievements were gigantic; the spasms of its death struggle are terrifying. But they cannot last much longer. As the frequency of the convulsions increases, the amplitude of their violence grows; the point of exhaustion has come within almost measurable range. There might be one or two more world wars but not a dozen. It is a question of decades, not centuries.
What will the new age after the interregnum be like? One thing is certain: It will not be the Brave New World with which Aldous Huxley frightened us. It is Hitler's historic merit that he immunized us against totalitarian utopias, as a dose of cholera vaccine immunizes against cholera. I do not mean that similar attempts will not be made in other parts of the world during the remaining decades of the interregnum. But they will be mere episodes.The clue to the values of the coming new global mood is provided by historical analogy. We can discern in the past a succession of levels of social awareness, like an ascending staircase. The age of religious wars ended when secular politics began to dominate human consciousness; feudal politics ended when economic factors assumed over-riding importance; the struggles of economic man will end by the emergence of the new ethical values of the new age. The great disputes are never settled on their own level, but on the next higher one...."FRATERNITY OF PESSIMISTS"
Seen from the perspective of the next higher historical level, the old controversies lose interest, appear drained of their meaning; and conversely, the exact properties of the succeeding period cannot be formulated from the lower level. Such attempts lead to mystic dilettantism, like Heard's Yogi journalese. All we can say is that the new movement will re-establish the disturbed balance between rational and spiritual values, or, in Auden's words, "rally the lost and trembling forces of the will, gather them up and let them loose upon the earth." But as yet we live in the interregnum.Those who are basically optimists can afford to face facts and to be pessimistic in their short-term predictions; only basic pessimists need the dope of the half-truth. The interregnum of the next decades will be a time of distress and of gnashing of teeth. We shall live in the hollow of the historical wave. Does this mean that we should lie low and wait fatalistically until the time is ripe?INTUITIONS VERIFIED
I believe the contrary. What we need is an active fraternity of pessimists (I mean short-term pessimists). They will not aim at immediate racial solutions, because they know that these cannot be achieved in the hollow of the wave. They will not brandish the surgeon's knife at the social body, because they know that their own instruments are polluted. They will watch with open eyes and without sectarian blinkers for the first signs of the new horizontal movement. When it comes, they will assist its birth. But if it does not come in their lifetime, they will not despair. They will not necessarily expect the new movement to arise from this or that section of the working or professional classes; but certainly from the ranks of the poor, from those who have suffered most. And meanwhile their chief aim will be to create oases in the interregnum desert.
Oases may be small or big. They may consist of only a few friends as in Silone's great book "The Seed Beneath the Snow." Or they may embrace whole countries.... During an earlier interregnum, in the so-called Dark Ages between the decline of Rome and the dawn of the Renaissance, such oases assured the continuity of civilization: The monasteries first, and later the universities with their more or less extraterritorial Alma Mater on which no gendarme could set foot....
Interregnums are downward slopes of history; and at this point of our journey the brakes of the train are more important than the engine. During the last century, our ethical brakes were more and more neglected, until totalitarian dynamism made the engine run amok.
In 1917 Utopia seemed at hand, today it is postponed for the duration of the interregnum. Let us plant oases.
Koestler calls his analysis a "purely subjective assessment," but theosophists can look at it objectively and find many of his intuitions verified by definite theosophical teachings. A history of the greater Theosophical Movement, in the first place, would account for the "ascending staircase" of humanity's progress, for it is that Movement, working behind the scenes all the time, and on the scene at regular cyclic intervals, that is the source of the forward impulses which have encouraged men to spiral ever upward. Koestler's perception that "the great disputes" are never solved on their own plane, but always on a higher one, receives its rationale in the theosophical doctrine of race evolution, together with the teaching of the seven principles of man. "The new ethical values of the new age," for instance, will be generally recognized only when the Buddhi-Manas-Kama relationship in man's nature has been solved by the individual, and in this fact inheres the special advantages as well as the special perils of our era.
"Yogi journalese" is not the answer, as Koestler points out. What is needed is rational spiritual philosophy in which the logic of science is combined with the axioms of philosophy, and in which spiritual vision is checked, compared and corroborated by mankind's unanimous and collective experience. This is what the future, nay, the present calls for. Madame Blavatsky gave out in her books a portion of the Secret Doctrine of the Masters of Wisdom, so that as many students as possible would be forearmed against the day -- not too far off -- when not a few men here and there, but many men everywhere will demand the Truth.
INNOVATIONS AND INNOVATORS
The dire need for nuclei of spiritual endeavor, or "oases" of civilization, in Koestler's phrase, was seen by the theosophical teachers, for they reiterated the injunction to establish centers of practical Theosophy, lest our Western culture go "down" in history as having gone "out" in reality. Such active fraternities have their work cut out for them today, as all United Lodges of Theosophists are aware. No "sectarian blinkers" confine the vision of U.L.T., or narrow its influence, and the value of its principle of voluntary association is proved anew every year.
The theosophist recognizes that "those who are basically optimistic can afford to face facts and to be pessimistic in their short-term predictions," for he has long known of friends of man whose understanding of cycles enables them to select the optimum time and conditions for aiding their fellow-men, and who are also prepared, by the same law, for regular set-backs. These highly evolved men say--we know something of human nature, for the experience of long centuries -- ay, ages, has taught us. And we know that so long as science has anything to learn, and a shadow of religious dogmatism lingers in the hearts of the multitudes, the world's prejudices have to be conquered step by step, not at a rush. As hoary antiquity had more than one Socrates, so the dim future will give birth to more than one martyr.Another statement by these Elder Brothers is well-known to students: "The inexorable shadow which follows all human innovations moves on, yet few are they who are ever conscious of its approach and dangers." The slow but certain progress of Their efforts, called, collectively, "The Theosophical Movement," carries its own warrant for the wisdom of the "Prime Movers."
THE CYCLE'S NEED
(Part 11 of a 12-part series)
"THE CYCLE'S NEED"
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