Liberty in Aquarius?
While "New Age" can stand for a great variety of heterogeneous movements and worldviews, there are general features characterizing its followers, apart from clothing and food habits: a conviction of being part of a new planetary force that will contribute to or witness a spiritual transformation of humanity — taking a qualitative quantum leap to higher consciousness. Although many of the invoked spiritual beliefs and practices stem from ancient and geographically diverse origins, the New Age movement appears as a mass phenomenon only after the Second World War, or more exactly, in the wake of the "hippie" movement and the student revolutions of the 1960s, and is now present almost everywhere in popular culture and among the intelligentsia.
Apart from sporadic mentions (including in the works of Murray N. Rothbard), libertarian writers seem to have paid little attention to New Age philosophies. This may originate in the perception that spirituality involves matters (until now) not unanimously observable and objectively quantifiable. The libertarian position rests on the nonaggression principle against nonaggressors, which in turn builds on a clear definition of property rights. It remains however unclear whether spiritual matters like "aura," "vibrations," or "energy" are even scarce resources. As long as all behavior under the banner of New Age remains voluntary, it represents "capitalistic acts between consenting adults" (even without the necessity of chapters on "The Sex Guru," "The Channeling Medium," or "The Aura Healer" in a future sequel to Walter Block's Defending the Undefendable).
However, since the New Age literature includes thoughts on the state and on economic matters, it seems justifiable to examine the latter from an Austro-libertarian standpoint. In the following, we will quote spiritual "authorities" on those matters. Due to limitations of space, only a small number of New Age "thinkers" will be considered. The selection does not claim to be representative for the totality of New Age thought. There is no statistical data available for such decisions to be based upon, even if, for example, several worldly or esoteric publications compile ranking lists (like the Watkins Review's list of the 100 most spiritually influential living people). On the other hand, statistical representativeness is probably not a good measure for matters spiritual. After extensive reading of New Age literature as well as numerous conversations with individuals considering themselves as part of the New Age movement, the following commonalities of thought and opinion can be formulated as descriptive for most New Age philosophers: preferences for communal over private property, consumption over thrift, intuition over rationality, nature over technology, and the commune over the family; favorable views of world government; abolition of money; renouncement of the ego and greed; antirational thought; a new class theory and high time preference ("here and now!").
While declaredly nonpolitical, in terms of political organization many spiritual teachers seem to prefer some form of world government. Indian guru Osho (1931–1990, known also as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh) was one of them:
To make it [the United Nations] a success, the simple thing is to make it a World Government. All nations should surrender their armies, their arms, to the World Government. Certainly if there is only one government, neither armies are needed nor arms. With whom are you going to have a war?
Now each big country, each power, is loaded with nuclear weapons, so much so that if we want to, we can destroy seventy earths like this, right now.…
Politicians are basically, deep down, impotent — hence the urge to power.…
And the power is in such people's hands. Any crackpot can push a button and finish the whole of humanity — the whole of life on earth.…
Each prime minister of the existing countries will become a member of the World Government, and all the prime ministers of the countries which join into one World Government will continue to work functionally. They won't have any real power, because the question of anyone invading anyone else does not arise. They will simply run the railways and post offices, etc., of their countries.
There is a possibility that a few governments won't join the World Government; then they have to be boycotted completely as if they don't exist. There should be no relationship with them, no communication, because that is the only way to bring them to join. And they cannot stand against the World Government. They will have to surrender. It is better to surrender gracefully. And then they will have their government, they will have their internal guards, a national force which can manage internal affairs, but they will not have plants making nuclear weapons and millions of people engaged in the unnecessary exercise of killing man.
The members of the World Government will choose the world president. But the world president will be chosen not from the members of the World Government, but from outside. And one thing should be absolutely certain about him — that he is not a politician. He can be a poet, a painter, a mystic, a dancer, but not a politician. Anything except that. So in this way we will destroy the political power which has been the whole torture in the past.
The way the U.N. is now, with a few countries having veto power, should be dissolved.
It is again a power trip, and this has been the cause of many troubles: one single government can veto something for the whole world. Instead, each president from different nations will have voting power according to the nation's population of matriculates, of high school graduates.
This will change the whole power structure in the world. Then details can be worked out very easily.
While some of the sentences about politics may ring true to libertarians, this passage abounds of logical inconsistencies. Would a world government really have no use of its weapons? However, this may be compatible with a position that defies logical thought:
Question: Why are you so much against logic?
Osho: Because it is logical to be against logic. Logic proves nothing, that's why I am against logic. It only pretends to prove; it proves nothing. It is an empty game, verbal. But the pretension is such that millions of people are befooled by it, and down the ages we have been trained for logic, so it has appeal. But logic has never proved anything. Proof comes only through experience, never through logic.
This empiricist position, together with a denial of universal principles, may lead to the following statements (in 1989!):
I love the Soviet Union because it is a great experiment. It is a milestone in the history of man. Of course it is only half, but still — half is better than nothing. The other half can be raised on top of it.
What Lenin and Stalin have produced has given a good foundation for anybody to raise the temple of consciousness. And this temple will not belong to any religion; it will belong to all individuals who want to enter into initiation, who want to enter on the path.…
It looks very cruel, inhuman. But it was Joseph Stalin who managed the Soviet Union, because it was confronting on enemies two sides. Enemies from within … the Russian Orthodox Church, the intellectuals, the people who did not want to share their property — even the poor masses. As I told you, a man who has only two hens will not share — that's all he has. The masses are the greatest enemy of their own welfare. So you will be surprised to know that one million Russians were killed by Joseph Stalin, and these were not the rich people. These were the poor people who were adamant, stubborn.
Without Joseph Stalin, communism would not have succeeded — although it succeeded out of violence, murder, massacre. First he had to finish all the enemies inside the country, and then he had to make an iron wall around the Soviet Union, because the whole world was against him. All the capitalist countries were against him, against communism, because if communism succeeds in one country it is going to succeed in every country. It is better to kill it in the beginning, because soon it will be gaining more and more strength and it will become impossible to stop it.
The whole credit for protecting the Soviet Union and communism goes to Joseph Stalin. But of course he had to use murder, no trials in the courts, no wastage of time. He had not much time to waste in fighting in the courts. Simply finishing people immediately, just on a suspicion.…
It used to be said, and is still said in every capitalist country, that "You cannot kill one innocent man, even if you have to leave ninety-nine criminals just to save one innocent man." Joseph Stalin turned the whole thing upside down. He said, "You cannot leave one criminal, even if you have to kill ninety-nine innocent men.
So it is not a question of individuals, it is not a question of innocence, it is a question of saving communism at any cost.
Another spiritual authority was Jiddu Krishnamurti(1895–1986), who in his book Education and the Significance of Life writes, "We have to create a world government which is radically different, which is not based on nationalism, on ideologies, or force" (p. 57).
Generally speaking, even if New Age figures may make statements in favor of some politicians (like Deepak Chopra, currently fifth on the Watkins Review's list, who fundraises for Obama), it seems that most of them do not focus on politics and the institution of the state directly. Instead, the latter's actions are perceived to be the results of humanity's collective consciousness, which can be improved only through spiritual practice of various kinds by the greatest possible number of individuals. Sending "positive" energy or vibrations to world leaders and thereby to have a peacemaking influence seems to be the method of choice — not overtly opposing government abuse, which from a spiritual perspective would only reinforce the present "negativity." There seems little understanding of the inherent dangers and the immorality of the state's monopolies of taxation and jurisdiction. As in Marxian ideology, the institution of the state is expected to be dissolved or transformed through a universal dialectic process.
On economics, New Age authorities seem to adopt a now-conventional position of a social-market economy or of moderate interventionism. Deepak Chopra, for example, promotes a "just" capitalism:
A society marked by repression and rigid authority — which is the general political picture in China — can enforce economic growth, but that's not America. Likewise, a completely unfettered free market of the kind that existed in the robber baron era, can generate profits galore, but that's not America, either. We decided long ago that people deserve dignity, a healthy workplace, a clean environment, and lack of ruthless exploitation by owners and bosses.
Many spiritual leaders favor a voluntary reduction of consumer behavior and teach detachment from material things. An ideal lifestyle for some would be that of a man who leaves no traces behind him — like a "bird in the open sky." Economically speaking, it reflects a preference of consumption ("here and now") over saving ("hoarding"), and its result, if consequently applied, would be less capital investment or even capital consumption. However, only a few New Age leaders are outspoken critics of capitalism and the market economy — probably also due to the fact that a considerable part of their followers are from among the wealthy.
There seems to be a consensus among spiritual teachers that greed and "money" caused the current economic crises, as the 14th Dalai Lama (currently second on the Watkins Review's list) explains in an interview with Business Week:
I'm telling people, including some businessmen who are my friends, what this global economic crisis was caused by too much greed, speculation, and hypocrisy — not being transparent. These are the moral and ethical issues.
According to Buddhism, these things happen due to their own causes and conditions. Through years or through decades this present crisis developed. All the causes and conditions were fully ripe. No force could stop it. It's the natural law. So you accept it.
While Austrian economists would readily subscribe to the fact that economic crises are "somehow" related to "greed and money," New Age teachers and their followers rarely show a more profound understanding of the underlying economic mechanisms. Their statements often remain on such a general level that readers may easily find confirmations for them (this may be a strategy similar to that producing the "Barnum effect" in astrology). In the following excerpt, Eckhart Tolle explains how "the present moment can heal the world economy":
We know that ego is the source of the Pain Body — that part of our consciousness that moves toward pleasure and rejects pain. We also know that attachment causes us to care more about things than qualities like Love, Compassion, and Loving Kindness.…
Every country in the world wants growth every year. That is like saying what goes up most never come down. Every politician and statesman is looking for ways to boost GDP to higher and higher levels. But what would happen if we had economic equanimity? What if President Obama as the head of the world's strongest economy began to talk about inner peace instead of economic growth at any cost? Did making more money ever bring anyone you know permanent happiness?
We're not talking about accepting less. We're talking about accepting. Part of living in harmony with the Universe is accepting its physical laws which include the economic cycles of nations. Regardless of the recklessness of banks and stock traders, the Universe cannot sustain continuous expansion. Even the Big Bang, which states that the Universe is constantly expanding, also says that in that expansion the Universe will cool down until all the stars burn out. The Universe will continue to get larger, but it will be a cold, lifeless, and Universe bereft of planets and suns.
This too is what could happen to countries obsessed with positive economic growth. The hapless search for profit at any cost bankrupts our values and quality of life.
Returning to the Present Moment shows us where our real wealth is. And that wealth does not derive from new trade agreements; it comes from the Power of Silence inside every moment; it comes from the infinity between each though; it comes from the heart when it is open and undefended.
A recurring theme in literature on positive thinking is a supposed material superabundance. Instead of having a central warehouse as socialists like Fourier described in their collectivist utopias, some New Age thinkers assume the existence of a universal warehouse, which by inextinguishable supply provides for all material wants — by spiritual mail order so to speak. This may be achieved by the means of visualizations and positive affirmations. In Human Action, Ludwig von Mises warns of the consequences of similar wishful thinking:
Such is the myth of potential plenty and abundance. Economics may leave it to the historians and psychologists to explain the popularity of this kind of wishful thinking and indulgence in daydreams. All that economics has to say about such idle talk is that economics deals with the problems man has to face on account of the fact that his life is conditioned by natural factors. It deals with action, i.e., with the conscious endeavors to remove as far as possible felt uneasiness. It has nothing to assert with regard to the state of affairs in an unrealizable and for human reason even inconceivable universe of unlimited opportunities. In such a world, it may be admitted, there will be no law of value, no scarcity, and no economic problems. These things will be absent because there will be no choices to be made, no action, and no tasks to be solved by reason. Beings which would have thrived in such a world would never have developed reasoning and thinking. If ever such a world were to be given to the descendants of the human race, these blessed beings would see their power to think wither away and would cease to be human. For the primary task of reason is to cope consciously with the limitations imposed upon man by nature, is to fight against scarcity. Acting and thinking man is the product of a universe of scarcity in which whatever well-being can be attained is the prize of toil and trouble, of conduct popularly called economic.
An extreme form of negating scarcity is a movement called breatharianism, which promotes "pranic" nourishment, that is nourishment by sunlight alone. Although its spiritual leader Jasmuheen (Australian-born Ellen Greve) failed to demonstrate her ability in an experiment for the Australian TV program 60 Minutes (excerpts are available on YouTube), there are cases where followers eventually starved themselves to death. In the hundred-page Global Harmonization Program from Jasmuheen's Embassy of Peace the word "economics" does not appear once, at the same time as the "embassy's" programs are supposed to have the "power to … help create a more balanced economic model that because of its altruistic and educational focus, will attract powerful forces of interdimensional support."
The Global Sufficiency Network "provides the practical tools needed to move away from the mindset of scarcity that fuels so many of our societal ills and into a new, more harmonious and sustainable way of life on the planet we all call home."
Can New Age "thought" be reconciled with a libertarian position? Since New Age thought does not contradict in principle the nonaggression axiom — on the contrary, peace and harmony representing its core values — there should be sufficient common ground for dialogue. However, rejection of formal, aprioristic logic in favor of "intuition" or empirical reasoning can make it difficult to sensitize New Age followers to the implications of the state's existence and the shortcomings of interventionism.
Since Taoist philosophy — and Asian culture in general — has been inspirational for several New Age movements, Murray Rothbard's article "The Ancient Chinese Libertarian Tradition" may resonate with New Age followers. Rothbard traces the roots of libertarianism to Chinese Taoist philosophers, for whom
Government, in sum, must be limited to the smallest possible minimum; "inaction" was the proper function of government, since only inaction can permit the individual to flourish and achieve happiness. Any intervention by government, Lao-tzu declared, would be counterproductive, and would lead to confusion and turmoil. After referring to the common experience of mankind with government, Lao-tzu came to this incisive conclusion: "The more artificial taboos and restrictions there are in the world, the more the people are impoverished…. The more that laws and regulations are given prominence, the more thieves and robbers there will be."
Even if New Agers do not acknowledge it, the market economy made much of the current New Age movement possible. Capital accumulation and economic growth allowed for time and resources to be freed up to be used for "spiritual" purposes. The appearance of spiritual professions — like aura healers, meditation coaches, or mediums supposedly channeling angels or other spirits — are just a consequence of the division of labor under the present (relatively) capitalistic conditions.
This article can only serve as a very superficial account of New Age economic and political thought, which would need to be continued by more extended research. Reasonable objections may be made about the selected authors and whether they represent the "real" New Age movement or not. Many spiritual leaders propose global solutions that cannot be falsified by aprioristic reasoning since they apply to energetic or spiritual phenomena. However, some of their statements regarding human action do not stand the rigors of formal logic and may lead to catastrophic consequences. Since New Age ideologies are influential in public life and the media, and are among others often linked to agendas of world government and environmentalism, their discussion from an Austro-libertarian standpoint is necessary to expose potentially dangerous fallacies.
Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.