Socialism as the Political and Economic Form of Love
Glen T. Martin
(This article is derived from Chapter Seven of Glen Martin’s 2005 book Millennium Dawn: The Philosophy of Planetary Crisis and Human Liberation)
Democratic socialism is the political-economic form of love. In our present historical situation, we are ready to grasp the truth of this statement. But grasping this truth will require human beings growing to what I call “planetary maturity.” By “love” I mean what is called agape in Christianity and karuna in Buddhism. The religious and secular fundamentalisms tearing our world apart today are due to a great maturity-fear that has seized human beings. We are like adolescents resisting fearsomely the growth process inherent in human evolution and human history. Nevertheless, growth must come soon or we will destroy ourselves and our environment on this precious planet Earth.
With the advent of religious scholarship, scriptural analysis, and sophisticated translations of the world’s scriptures in the 19th and 20th centuries, all religions began a self-examination process. Many religious thinkers in the world’s traditions now distinguish authentic spirituality from blind, dogmatic belief in ancient myths, whether about Buddha, Krishna, Mohammed, or Christ. Fundamentalisms have reacted against this self-examination because they believe falsely that it leads to relativism and secularism. But relativism and secularism are themselves a fundamentalist reaction to modernity, denying the spiritual and depth-dimensions of human existence and the world and clinging to a superficial view of human experience.
Indian born spiritual philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti is one voice for a spirituality awakened to the religious dimensions inherent within our human situation. But there are many others – Islamic, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist. Krishnamurti insists that awakened religion or directly realized spirituality is a factor in the creation of a new civilization beyond the conflictive pseudo-realities of the past, “free of the dead momentum of the past.” Awakened spirituality has social, political, and economic implications.
Krishnamurti points out that to premise society on the living truth, the inviolability of persons, and love will require an awakening resembling a gestalt switch, a reversal of our egoistic and fractured mode of awareness to the transformative awareness of the inseparability of the whole and the part. It will not come about through an evolution of existing institutions in which the weight of domination perpetually grows (not diminishes) as the system flourishes economically and the oppressive accumulations of the past dominate, distort, and mythologize the thinking of the present. As Christian liberation thinker Dominique Barbe puts it, our politics and economics must be informed by “grace,” and the resulting organizational structures of authority must be informed by “grace.” This means that human beings must find ways of living with openness to the deepest sources of existence.
Spiritual awakening is inseparable from social awakening. Spiritual enlightenment and social enlightenment are inseparable halves of human awakening, of liberation. As German born philosopher Jurgen Habermas has pointed out, the heir of the Western enlightenment is reason: not absolute reason, in this case, expressing the immutable structure of being, but critical reason exposing the patterns of deception and exploitation on which societies are founded. Similarly, the birth-child of the critical study of religion, and the process of self-examination to which it leads, is spiritual awakening. To realize only critical reasoning without the spiritual awakening is to be half awake. To realize neither is to be lost in the nightmare of capitalism and egoism, two complementary sides of the limitless misery of planet Earth.
A fruit of spiritual awakening is an ever growing compassion and sense of solidarity with suffering creatures. We experience a growing realization that we are one at the deepest level, while at the same time we are absolutely unique and individually different from one another. We see that “unity-in-diversity” is the structure of all existence, something that 20th century ecology, biology, physics, and social science has revealed across the board. With this growing compassion, comes the realization that democratic socialism on a planetary scale is the only system that embodies the unity-in-diversity of human life on Earth.
I want to be clear that “compassionate planetary socialism” does not provide another blueprint for a better organization of society. It indicates a transformed world free of the oppressive momentum of the past with its structures of economic domination, exploitation, and dehumanization. Compassion is not sentimentality or pity, which is the most the egoistic orientation can generate. “I am so sorry you are suffering when, indeed, I have the good fortune not to be suffering.” Compassion is solidarity, oneness, in which your suffering is my suffering and your joy is my joy.
Social scientific critical analysis of ideology and study of the causal conditions of oppression, coming from the Marxist tradition, are also vital to the quest for human liberation. We must understand in what ways systems of capitalism are inherently exploitative and dehumanizing. We must understand in what ways capitalist institutions generate a self-justifying ideology to cover up what is really going on. We must comprehend that pure egoistic diversity without the unity of socialism will always result in “might makes right” systems in which the more powerful (nations, corporations, or individuals) dominate and exploit the less powerful.
In the final analysis, however, authentic transformation cannot be entirely organized or engineered. There is no clearly definable path to social transformation, just as there is no path to spiritual transformation. Historical analysis of the causes of present day institutions will in itself not break the momentum of these institutions. These institutions not only control the laws, the politicians, and the military, but condition new generations in the same ideological and egoistic framework that carries the momentum forward.
There is no absolute line between the egoistic, compulsive, conditioned mind and the mind that is creatively open to the sources of deeper awareness and compassion. In one sense, we may draw such a line, as Krishnamurti attempts to do repeatedly in his effort to emphasize the falsity of believing that a quest through time can result in a spiritual break-through. The ego is connected with the surface sense of time that ignores the depths of the present, so the setting of a goal for spiritual evolution (through time) only reinforces that ego. The seeing of the falsity of the conditioned mind, for Krishnamurti, is an immediate ending of that bondage. There is no path to freedom. Freedom itself is the only path. So in this sense a line can be drawn.
On the other hand, the unconditioned truth of unity-in-diversity is the pure, primary awareness that is always present, permeating our lives. There is only one reality and one world. This pure awareness breaks through continually in moments of silence, simplicity, or wonder. We only have to recall ourselves to a few seconds of quietness, or become still in the encounter with beauty, or allow authentic compassion to flow into our hearts, or step aside in moments of quiet reflection and meditation. Zen mind is always there, as Japanese Zen Master Eihei Dogen insists, waiting to manifest itself.
We need only awaken to the fullness of life and the present moment. If this were not the case, we would have no idea of what Krishnamurti is saying or what they are talking about in Zen. We would be incapable of genuine compassion, of a deep encounter with beauty, or of astonishment, wonder, or awe at the sublime. The fact that these moments occur means that the primal awareness is always “knocking,” so to speak, always asking, to become manifest and fulfill our lives. The Christian concept of God’s ever-present offer of “grace” involves a similar dynamic.
We can observe that some modes of attention, some kinds of activity, make these moments more likely than others. There is the persistent intuition that the moments of revelation that punctuate our lives could be the dominant mode of awareness. These moments of revelation give us the possibility of authentic social action directed to ending the falsity of the institutionalized past and making possible the emergence of the genuinely new. The point to planetary democratic socialism.
We often fail to notice what little joy, celebration, unity, freedom, democracy, solidarity, communication, worship, or love we can experience within the framework of capitalist society and the militarized nation-state system. The aspects of authentic social wholeness that I am describing also diametrically oppose the perverted unity of fascism, which is fragmentation: a regression into fear and hatred and merely the projection of a collective egoism, not freedom from the ego. The flow of love or compassion into our lives is blocked by both capitalism and fascism. Neither the anarchic individualism of capitalism nor the perverted unity of fascism expresses unity-in-diversity. Both are immature reactions to human life. Only compassionate socialism expresses planetary maturity.
Compassionate socialism already exists, in a sense, as the primal awareness, we need only to negate the false so that it may spontaneously emerge. From the point of view of the totalizing drive, or the related drive for egoistic domination of life and the world through language, all so-called “utopian” thinking will be dismissed as unrealistic and hopelessly idealistic. But “realism” is precisely what is defined by the egoistic drive to domination and exploitation, and whatever is outside its possible sphere of control, “whatever” is outside language, is automatically discounted as subjective illusion.
Similarly, we are told it does not “work.” This is why we must see that the totalizing-egoistic drive to domination through engineering, organizing, and manipulating life and the world is the opposite of an authentically practical and sane “realism.” For the history of the past five centuries of capitalism has shown that the egoistic drive to domination does not “work” – it does not create beauty, freedom, goodness, or peace. It “works” to create wealth, power, and a moral callousness for the few, and misery for the many. We need only look clearly at the world created over the past several centuries since Sir Francis Bacon claimed that “knowledge is power.”. It is a world of war, conquest, pillage, militarism, exploitation, slavery, colonialism, chaos, misery, starvation, hatred, conflict, and unredeemed struggle. This world has not “worked,” and its dominant institutions are not legitimate.
To speak of a “sinful” or corrupt “human nature” is to ignore the moral and spiritual possibilities present in all of us and to justify the wealth and privilege of the few at the expense of the many. It is to blaspheme the sacred wholeness of our lives that is intimated by any normal adult willing to pay real attention to his or her experience. It should be clear that something is seriously wrong with the way we are living. To speak of a “fallen” human nature is to mistake the result of our egoistic mode of relating to life for the cause of our misery.
Human beings are “evil” only to the extent that we are lost within an orientation of egoistic struggle and domination and see no limits to language, which in our era is the expression of this struggle. We allow no “silence,” “emptiness,” or pure “flame of attention” to enter our compulsive, fear-driven lives. We allow no redeeming “grace” to enter our lives from which to see the pitiful limitations of this orientation. But the sacred wholeness encompasses us nevertheless, and we have but to drop our drive for domination to experience it and to experience the social transformation that arises from it.
I want to emphasize that I am not speaking here about any form of irrationalism. Rationality is vital and essential, and this has been worked out in great detail by such thinkers as Habermas. The traditional Platonic eros for the fullness of being, of which reason is an essential component, is fundamental to the human project. But the impulse to reason, to understand, and communicate must lead to a wisdom that sees the proper role and limits of reason. At present the defenders of reason see themselves as holding the dike against the potential flood of unreason in the form of hatred, nationalism, religious fundamentalism, racism, sexism, capitalism, and so on.
But these irrational passions are the obverse of a reason impotent to bring wholeness to our fragmented human situation. If reason were to recognize its own limits and we were to move beyond reason (now in the service of egoism) to an era in which we were in proper relationship to the unsayable depths and wholeness of our being-in-the-world, then reason would find its fulfillment in practical planning in relation to these depths. The problem is not reason, but institutions that block both healthy reasoning and spiritual growth.
Institutions (material conditions) don’t merely arise from human consciousness, as Karl Marx correctly insisted. They also condition human consciousness. However, like individual consciousness, they can be spontaneously transformed if what is false in them is recognized as illegitimate and abandoned. Planetary maturity recognizes the illegitimacy of all that is fragmentary, divisive, and ego-driven. Its wholeness flows forth in compassion and in “purity of thought and action.” The dropping of the false, Krishnamurti says, leads immediately to compassion and love, a unity-in-diversity born of wholeness. The same is true of human institutions. Seeing the falsity of capitalism and the militarized nation-state, their destruction of unity-in-diversity, leads immediately to democratic socialism. Our reason and our compassion understand that democratic socialism is the political-economic form of love.
(Dr. Glen T. Martin is professor of philosophy and religious studies at Radford University, President of International Philosophers for Peace, and Secretary-General of the World Constitution and Parliament Association.)