Sanctuary and Commons

The Current Situation

Humanity stands at a critical juncture. The arc of development of the Saeculum –the metacivilizational project devoted to transcending finitude and contingency by means of innerworldly, civilizational progress– over the course of the past 500 years is forcing on us some difficult decisions which will shape profoundly what humanity is and will what we will become. And these decisions are, in fact, rather different than those which dominated spiritual and political discourse over the course of the past 150 years: i.e. the debates between capitalism and socialism, dictatorship and democracy, theism and atheism.

First, anthropogenic climate change, the product of an industrial technology depending on combustion of existing forms of matter, physical, biological, and social, in order to release energy to do work, has almost certainly progressed well past the point where significant and even catastrophic dislocations can be avoided. We have made our planet, while probably not uninhabitable, far less hospitable to the billions of human beings who call it home. A definitive solution to this problem will require the development of new sources of energy and a new technology which is no longer based on the combustion, but rather on tapping into the latent potential of matter for increased organization. Such a technology is not clearly within our sights.

At the same time, we are at the beginning, but only the beginning, of a new phase in technological progress which is gradually rendering human labor redundant–and possibly at the point of beginning to transform human nature and capacities fundamentally. Whether this represents at least a partial realization of the promise of the Saeculum, beginning at long last to free humanity from drudgery and to open up the possibility for the creative autonomy which was constitutive of the communist ideal, or simply extends marginalization and creates the conditions for passive or active genocide remains to be seen.

Second, while the global economy is still much further from definitive crisis than apocalyptic thinkers on both the left and the right are inclined to believe, both technological progress and globalization have created some new economic, political, and cultural problems. On the one hand the as technological progress drives the value of human labor power towards zero underconsumption tendencies are bound to increase. Capital will either have to create new income transfer mechanisms which allow the marginalized to participate in the consumer economy or else cease to be Capital and develop new mechanisms which allocate an ever expanding social product, whether just to a small elite or to the people as whole, outside of market mechanisms.

In the meanwhile globalization is leading to a gradual formation of a global market wage. This means a gradual improvement in living conditions in the developing world, though not to the same levels historically enjoyed by the old imperial metropoles, and a gradual decline in those metropoles, though more likely to levels comparable to Beijing and Bangalore than to Bangladesh.

Taken together, ecological, technological, and economic trends present a contradictory and uncertain demographic picture. Without significant breakthroughs on the energy front we may well face relative, if not absolute overpopulation, in the sense that the planet cannot support current or projected population levels at the standard of living which humanity is demanding. And this is not just a question of empty consumption. It is also a question of what people are actually able to do with their lives. At the same time technological progress and economic growth is creating demographic inversions which make it increasingly difficult for the wealthiest parts of the planet to support their aging, dependent populations, which are growing in advance of our ability to mobilize technological progress and adjust economic mechanisms to resolve the problems.

Politically these developments have altered fundamentally the East/West and North/South geopolitical dynamics which dominated the long twentieth century. The crisis of the Soviet Union and the option of the Communist Party of China for a political line which postpones communism into the far future and embraces a mixed social market economy has rendered the ideological struggle between capitalism and historical socialism moot. Struggles continue between North and South but they focus increasingly on who should pay the costs of mitigating climate change and on international terms of trade. The movement towards agrarian autarky and the strategy of surrounding the global city with the global countryside which dominated the Asian, African, and Latin American Left in the last century has receded if not disappeared entirely. Resistance to globalization has shifted from the old Third World to the deindustrializing metropoles of the old First World as formerly privileged workers find their labor power devalued and themselves redundant.

A laos which is increasingly at least nominally (but rarely very profoundly) literate increasingly demands higher and higher levels of direct democratic participation, often mobilizing new technologies to make this possible, while the concentration of Capital and its transformation into an impersonal force relatively independent of any national or global ruling class renders political authorities at all levels increasingly impotent. The growing divide between Capital and the managerial and technocratic elites on the one hand and the marginally productive proletariat on the other hand has, meanwhile led to the first movement –the so called alt-Right or Neoreaction– to question democracy explicitly since the fascist debacle of the 1920s and 1930s. The planet and its human inhabitants, meanwhile, desperately need effective global governance –the level at which authentic democracy seems most difficult— even as nationalisms and ethnic particularisms are resurgent and localist solutions seem the only ones to be even marginally effective.

The New Political Spectrum

All of this has, finally, lead to a recasting of the most fundamental question we have always faced: what it means to be, and above all to be human. On the one hand, what I have elsewhere called technocratic secularism is resurgent, especially in the form of transhumanism. This trend looks to technological progress to push back the limits of finitude to the point that it we approach, even if only asymptotically, the divinity to which we aspire, rendering not only religion, but also politics and economics effectively obsolete. This trend is, however, sharply divided between libertarian and social liberal, social democratic, and even communist trends. The first argue that free markets which allow natural selection across individuals and practices to operate unhindered provide the best promise for rapid technological progress. Recent years have witnessed the development of a substantial neo-reactionary trend which argues that the libertarian regime they believe is necessary to progress is incompatible with democracy and which explicitly favors enlightened absolutism on the model of the UAE or Singapore. Many also argue for what they call “human biodiversity,” by which they mean significant differences in the underlying genetic abilities of individuals or races, which they take as real, biological groups, while others argue that even if such differences exist they will soon be dwarfed by the distinction between technologically enhanced and unenhanced human beings.

Social liberal, social democratic, and communist transhumanists, on the other hand, argue that equity or even progress itself require significant state intervention. This is because they accept historical materialist or other (complexity theory) arguments that free markets do not naturally optimize innovation and/or because, based on traditional utilitarian reasoning, they believe that distribution of benefits is morally significant.

Transhumanists tend to be fundamentally secular in orientation, in the sense that they acknowledge only one world, or only one kind of world (a physical spacetime) in which human aspirations might be realized. But they differ among themselves regarding the evolutionary and adaptive value of religion, with many neoreactionaries and dark enlightenment thinks upholding its value, and New Atheists rejecting it. At its outer limits, of course, transhumanism becomes technological godbuilding.

There remain, however, numerous, diverse, and growing trends which are extremely skeptical of the technocratic ideal, even where they are not strictly opposed to secular science and technology. These trends fall broadly into three categories: 1) theistic secularists focused on an ideal of divine sovereignty, 2) those that remain faithful to various humanistic ideals focused on creating a political subject which can make humanity the master of its own destiny and 3) those focused on recovering axial ideals which recognize the priority of the spiritual.

We have argued elsewhere (Mansueto 2016) that fundamentalism, and indeed Protestantism and perhaps Asharite Sunni Islam generally are, in fact, simply theistic forms of the secular ideal. This is because they share with technocratic secularism a univocal metaphysics in which everything exists in the same way, essentially as contingent beings, and particular existents differ only in their power. Theistic secularism argues for the pre-existence of an infinitely powerful being to whom we must submit; technocratic secularism argues that we should do everything we can to create one. This is why literalism is so important to fundamentalists. They deny the reality of any higher degrees of being on which their spiritual ideal might be fulfilled. Things either happen in this world, in a way accessible to sense perception, or they doesn’t happen at all.

Fundamentalisms, we have argued, have a social base among left behind sectors across classes. This is a base shared with populists, especially those leaning to the right, and discerning the difference in the social base of these two groups is an important task. At present it seems that fundamentalisms have a stronger base in extractive sectors and populists in displaced industrial populations. This is probably because apocalyptic theologies help legitimate the exploitation of mineral and petroleum resources towards depletion, and tend to be universalist enough to support a global trade regime which allows the extractive sector to profit skyrocketing mineral rents as depletion approaches, while ethnonationalist populisms do a better job of legitimating protectionist regimes necessary to secure the position of redundant industrial capital and labor.

There remain, however, a number of liberal secular theists (mostly but not exclusively liberal Protestants) who see in technological and or political progress the realization of their spiritual ideal. These thinkers generally derive from post millennialist Calvinism, though they have often rejected many key Calvinist and even broader Christian doctrines, including not only predestination but original sin, the need for personal conversion, and even the doctrine of the Trinity and the Incarnation. What they keep is the core Reformed message that the elect are called to build God’s kingdom on earth, whether through technological progress, political reform, or both.

Among the humanistic trends we find those who look primarily to the rationally autonomous individual, the people as a body of citizens, the working classes, and the people as ethnos, gender group, or some other identity group. Liberals, those who seek meaning in the rational autonomy of the individual human person, are divided between those who see the foundation of this autonomy primarily in the institutions of private property, those who look to the rule of law and an independent judiciary, those who look primarily to liberal education, and those who recognize the necessity of social institutions, private or public, which guarantee individuals the resources necessary to make effective use of their freedom, though these arepositions not, of course, mutually exclusive. Partisans of rational autonomy are, furthermore, increasingly divided between democratic liberals who, while recognizing that the ideals of freedom and democracy may come into conflict with each other also see it as an important guarantee against both the state and powerful private social actors and republican, neocameralist, and authoritarian and monarchic liberals who argue that democracy leads inevitably to restrictions on liberty, especially private property rights. At the far right of this liberal spectrum we are seeing the re-emergence of elements which regard the enslavement of those unable to support themselves productively as at least permissible if not advisable. These are all very old debates but the challenges of the present period have brought them to the surface once again.

Democrats, those who seek meaning in the collective self-determination of the body of citizens, through the mechanisms of the state, have always been divided between those who regard democracy as compatible with strong private property rights and those who regard the state as the only effective guarantee against coercion by more powerful individuals. A third position is constituted by those who regard the state a community of communities, building on the collective self-determination of the people through the institutions of civil society, which they distinguish sharply from capitalist enterprises.

This political space, which lies close to the center of the current political spectrum, includes elements with similar policy agendas but very different fundamental priorities. It is important to distinguish ideologically between democratic liberals, for whom democratic participation is a way of holding the state accountable, social liberals, for whom the state (presumably but not necessarily or primarily democratic) is primarily a way of guaranteeing individuals the means of acting effectively on their liberal rights, and liberal social democrats, for whom Capital is an obstacle to the exercise of both liberal and democratic rights.

All of these elements should be distinguished from socialists and communists for whom the subject of human self-determination is not the body of citizens but the working classes or more specifically the proletariat. For socialists this is exercised through a mass party of the proletariat and for populists in the narodniki or campesinista sense a mass party of the peasantry. For communists the self-determining authority of the proletariat is held in trust by the conscious leadership of the proletariat, which they understand as a vanguard revolutionary party, through the periods of revolution and socialist construction until technological and spiritual progress makes authentic communism, understood as the decommodification of labor and the withering away of the state, in which full creative autonomy and free cooperation become possible.

Communists remain divided over the reasons for the crisis of their project, with some focusing on a failure of socialism to catalyze the technological progress necessary to transcend scarcity and others focusing on the failure to achieve the spiritual conditions of communism, which some, in turn, believe should be pursued gradually in alliance with axial traditions and others through a militant cultural revolution in the Maoist manner. The failure of socialism to achieve its aims has led to the resurgence of autonomist tendencies which are struggling to envision a transition which evades state control of Capital entirely, by defending and extending the commons. The most important such vision is that put forward by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in Commonwealth. These are not, of course, exclusive diagnoses.

By axial trends we understand those which affirm the phenomenal world as a participation, but only a participation, in Being as such, Brahman, the tathagata-garbha, the Tao, or the first principle understood in some other way. Civilizations are attempts to realize, or at least help individuals participate as fully in this principle, but our human aspirations transcend the possibilities of space and time. In this sense axials regard the secular project, which attempts the full realization of human aspirations in this world, as fundamentally mistaken, though without thereby denying the authentic civilizational achievements of the saeculum. Axials are divided by their differing metaphysical doctrines and spiritual ways, but perhaps most fundamentally by the distinction between those with an emmantionist and those with an emergentist cosmology. The first supports a more conservative and pessimistic, the latter a more progressive and optimistic politics. There are also sharp differences between those who accept and those who do not accept feminist criticisms of the patriarchal residues in axial traditions. Axials rarely support unlimited private property or free markets, but differ over the relative merits of civil society and state constraints on markets. Axials are also divided over the degree of importance they attach to the differences between their fundamental metaphysical and soteriological doctrines, with perennialists arguing for a universal esoteric core to these traditions, pluralists arguing for competing but equally valid ways which may even lead to different spiritual ends, inclusivists arguing for a single common way that their own tradition understands better than others, but which does not exclude spiritual progress or even salvation for those who practice other ways, and exclusivists for whom their own correct understanding of the way is a necessary condition for salvation. This latter position, however, generally indicates significant movement in the direction of a univocal metaphysics if not to outright fundamentalism. One group of perennialists, the traditionalists de-emphasizes the axial break and embraces an understanding of unified esoteric truth which includes the wisdom of sacral monarchic warlord civilizations. Another group, which we might call primalists, aboriginalists or indigenistas, while generally open to diverse spiritualities calls attention to the special value of the spiritualities of band, tribal, and communitarian, hunter-gatherer and horticultural societies, especially as we move to heal the earth.

Sanctuary and Commons

Where does the alternative we propose stand in the context of this spectrum?

First, regarding the fundamental question of the aims of human life, we affirm that humanity is the desire to be God. The aims of human life, in other words, while they can be advanced within the secular realm, by definition radically transcend it, because the God we desire to become –the power of Being as such– by definition transcends spacetime and thus any possible world. At the same time we affirm that the cosmohistorical process is the school of matter, the process through which we pursue what is ultimately an impossible aim, and grow towards our end in spite of our endless failure to achieve it. In this sense, we affirm with the axial traditions the transcendent nature of the ends of human life and affirm with the Saeculum the intensely meaningful nature and soteriological value of this world cosmos.

More specifically, we argue that by trying to build or become God, matter (at the level of sapient being and higher) discovers that Being is neither substance (impassive immunity to change) nor Subject (pure self-determination) but rather relationship, generativity, and transformation. It is precisely by failing to achieve divinity as substance or subject that we become the relational, generative, transformative Being we have sought all along. This process is, as we have argued at length elsewhere, expressed at the cosmological and civilizational historical levels, as well as in the spiritual trajectory of individuals.

This recognition in turn implies a very specific position in relationship to technocratic and humanistic, secular and axial alternatives. On the one hand, we regard technology as a real participation in the creative power of Being and welcome its potential to push back the limits of finitude, making routine, uncreative labor no longer necessary and perhaps significantly enhancing what humanity can accomplish. On the other hand, we regard the absolute transcendence of scarcity required by communism to be impossible, for the simple reason that our aspirations being unlimited, they can, by definition, never be met. Furthermore, we believe that even unlimited extension of contingent human capacities would never allow us to realize our authentic aim, which is to be Being as such. Technology, therefore, while it partly defines our humanity, will never fundamentally alter the human predicament.

Regarding specific technological regimes, we are argue that industrial technology, based on the combustion of existing organization in order to release energy and do work is inherently destructive and must give way to new hortic and neoalchemical technologies which tap into and catalyze the self-organizing potential of matter. Our ability to develop such technologies will likely play a major role in our ability to contain the effects of climate change and resource depletion in coming centuries.

At the economic level, we affirm the dialectical and historical materialist analysis of the alienation engendered by the commodification of labor power and the contradictions of capitalism which hold back technological progress. No one who is required to sell their labor power in order to survive can fully realize their creative potential. And the tendency of the rate of profit to decline as technological progress advances means that capitalism is inherently unfriendly to extended technological progress. Most technological progress over the course of the past five centuries has been the product of a complex interaction of market, civil society, and state mechanisms.

At the same time, we reject fundamentally the idea that socialism, a system in which they state replaces the capital markets as the principal allocator of resources for production without thereby addressing the commodification of labor power, in any sense represents a transition to communism as Marx understood it. On the contrary, it merely generalizes commodification and constitutes a new form of the primitive accumulation of capital. And socialism has its own distinctive contradictions, specifically the “scissors crisis,” in which a still alienated peasantry or proletariat refuses to produce more than it needs to survive because the civilization building priorities of the party have limited options for consumption. It is this contradiction which ultimately undermined the Soviet economy and which the Chinese, after trying to eradicate selfishness essentially overnight through a totalitarian regime of forced “study and struggle” have managed to evade only by largely abandoning not only egalitarianism but even a rudimentary social safety net and allow market pressures to mobilize essentially the entire population.

Our alternative vision of a transition centers around gradually decommodifying labor by restoring and expanding the Commons. This would take the form of a guaranteed minimum or basic income which acknowledges both the declining demand for and value of human labor power (and thus the fact that there will be many who cannot sustain themselves through their labor) and the difficult to monetize contributions made by every human being on the planet to the Commonwealth, coupled with strongly socialized access to shelter, food, clothing, transportation, healthcare, and education. The idea is that by gradually and incrementally freeing people from the necessity of selling their labor power creative autonomy would be restored without attempting a globally planned economy or eliminating free enterprise.

This restoration of basic subsistence rights would be accompanied by free or highly subsidized, but not unlimited (because of continuing limits on available resources) access to support for higher education, entrepreneurship, and other activities which contribute to human development and civilizational progress, which would be allocated using a mixture of substantively rational and market criteria. Projects would have to demonstrate both their potential contribution to human development and civilizational progress and their economic viability (according to what would likely be gradually changing measures).

Wage labor would probably not disappear entirely, but would be an option for those engaged in work which provided training and experience (apprentices and journeymen) and those who wanted more income than the Commons itself could provide and more flexibility (and less accountability) than would be available to them were they undertake an independent enterprise.

Existing private enterprise at various scales could continue to exist, but would be under increasing pressure to pay higher wages, include workers in ownership of capital, and behave in a way which was at least compatible with, and preferably advanced, the common good –while allowing significant room for the nature of that common good to remain open and contested.

In the context of such an economy, educational, religious, scientific, literary and charitable institutions would play a critical role. Their endowments, the expansion of which would be promoted by both “private” initiative in civil society and public policy, would support activities which served the common good, but which were either inherently unprofitable or which the laos, acting through either the market or the state, could not reasonably be expected to understand and/or support.

The political authority, in addition to its properly political functions, would have the responsibility for creating and maintaining the physical and legal infrastructure which the larger system would require, for defending both individuals and the commons against encroachments from private enterprises and charitable institutions, and to provide goods which require a level of centralization of resources beyond what charitable institutions could manage.

At the political level, our aim is to reconcile axial and humanistic values. This means, on the one hand, recognizing that political decisions follow from deliberation regarding fundamental questions of meaning and value as well as questions of means, and thus inevitably invoke the sacred, and that that some people are more capable of such deliberation than others (though all have something to contribute). This means that politics is irreducible sacral (though not necessarily theistic) and that monarchic representation of the sacred is inevitable and the presence of an aristocratic element within the polity –in the sense of elders with superior wisdom and prudence, NOT an hereditary elite– is valuable and to be encouraged and sought after. At the same time, our perspective is radically pluralistic, recognizing not merely the permissibility but the actual value of competing ways of being human –an element of the axial revolution (the problematization of meaning and value) which was only rarely realized, even partially, during the Axial and Silk Road Eras.

We affirm, furthermore, the definitive contributions of the liberal, democratic, and communist traditions to humanity’s understanding of politics. More specifically, we affirm the rational autonomy of the individual, whose right to act in accord with conscience must be respected as far as the the right of public order and the common good permit. We affirm as well that human institutions are social projects, subject to transformation through political action, as well as the value of democratic participation in public deliberation and the democratic accountability of the state to the people it serves. We affirm that rational autonomy and democratic self-determination are incompatible with the commodification of labor power and the concentration of Capital (though they are also incompatible with the displacement of Capital by the State). And we recognize the necessity of a conscious leadership which understands the aims of human life and the means to their achievement. What we reject in the humanistic project is the idea that legal guarantees of human rights, the creation of a democratic state, or the decommodification of labor power can by themselves make humanity the master of its own destiny, “the unique subject-object” of the cosmohistorical evolutionary process, solving the riddle of history and resolving the conflict between existence and essence, creating God by political means. More broadly, we reject the claim that the state is a privileged instrument for achieving social justice or other dimensions of the common good. It is one institution among many, necessary but not sufficient, with its own distinctive capacities and its own distinctive limitations.

The rational autonomy of the individual is best guaranteed by a combination of rule of law guaranteed by an independent judiciary, limited private property rights which gives people access to the resources necessary to act independently of others, broad access to liberal education which allows people to decide for themselves what it means to be human and a basic income and social wage which allows people to make effective use of their freedom.

Democratic participation and accountability work best when decision making is decentralized and citizens participate directly in decision making at the lowest level (e.g. hamlet or urban precinct), electing representatives to higher village/neighborhood, ward/township, urban district/county, city/prefecture, metropolitan/provincial, world city, and global levels, respecting the central role of villages and cities (with their hinterlands) as the basic units of civilization and while recognizing that the historic legacy of nation states will take a long time to transcend. This system of local council representation should be balanced by direct elections to larger jurisdictions at the city and higher levels using a format of representation which privileges debate around fundamental questions, such as a party list proportional representational system. Power by its nature involving consent, the capacity to make laws and elect the government of the day would be vested in legislatures at each level of jurisdiction constituted in this way.

Conscious leadership should take the dual form of 1) “private” political-theological or ideological leadership organizations with no formal constitutional status which aim to shape society in accord with their visions but in dialogue with others and 2) an authentic Senate representing the most accomplished and advanced leaders across all traditions and all sectors of society.

Political-theological/ideological leadership organizations would be formed by those who seek perfection in following a specific way and commit themselves to advancing it by understanding its social analysis, principles, and strategy and building institutions which embody its values, while recognizing the validity and value of other ways and rejecting any attempt at monopoly. The idea is to integrate the best aspects of the religious order and vanguard party while stripping away the aspiration to monopoly which generates authoritarian and totalitarian tendencies internally and externally.

The Senate would play the critical role in assuring that laws passed by the popular power conformed to the principles of natural law as interpreted in an ideologically, culturally, and religiously pluralistic society. Their auctoritas would be required to validate all laws and they could veto any, but they would not have the authority to make laws except by declaring a state of exception for a limited period of time when the polity faced existential threat. The Senate (or rather senates, at each level of jurisdiction) would be composed of the leaders of the various ways and the institutions they have created, with membership based on defined levels of achievement and/or indirect election, in accord with the principles of the various ways and the political dynamics of the institutions in question.

Representation of the sacral character of politics in a pluralistic context is a complex problem. One must simultaneously acknowledge that political decisions are decisions about questions of meaning and value and recognize the validity and value of plural ways. Here it is useful to invoke the ancient Athenian institution of the basileus and epynomous archons. Originally an sacred king and the high priest of the cult of Athena, the basileus became, after the democratic revolutions of the axial age, an elected magistrate who performed these same functions and, together with the epynomous archon, who was responsible for the feast of Dionysus, coordinated the liturgical calendar and acted jointly as chief magistrate in a context in which questions of meaning and value were increasingly contested and participation in deliberation increasingly democratic. The office is related to the Roman rex sacrorum and pontifex maximus from which the papacy derives.

Ideally the person filling such an office would be both an exemplar whose virtue is recognized across competing ways and demonstrate outstanding pastoral and political prudence. An indirect election by a Senate representing the leaders of the various ways, preferably for life, would ensure full autonomy in leading public deliberation regarding questions of meaning and value and guaranteeing the right and capacity of each individual and community to pursue their own way. Where such an election seems unlikely or where attempting it would induce more discord than it would heal –or conversely might create the danger of a cult of personality or of dynastic rule– the office could be rotated among senior members of the senate would would then constitute a kind of standing committee which exercised the function of sacral representation collectively.

This approach to political authority clear reflects a break with the dominance of the nation state model and emphasizes the village, the city, and certain not-necessarily urban institutions such as the temple complex, the monastery, and the liberal arts college as drivers of civilization. As noted above, however, the legacy of the nation state cannot simply be ignored and the rights of people’s to pursue distinctly nonurban ways whether aboriginal or simply rural must be respected.

It should be clear that central to our vision is a restoration of the primacy of the spiritual in a way which does not diminish the value of the secular as a participation in the creative power of Being as such. Specifically, Sanctuary and Commons represents a dual commitment in the cultural sphere. First, as noted above, we affirm both the validity and value of plural ways, religious and secular, excluding only those which promote oppression and exploitation and thus contradict the natural law accessible to and shared by all ways. Central to our vision for the future is a vigorous network of autonomous cultural institutions which develop and promote distinct and competing ways of being human, forming individuals and institutions in accord with those ways. It is, indeed, this function of sapiential and spiritual leadership, and not the political authority or the state, that we regard as the most important and leading function in human civilization, though for it to flourish the state must remain independent of control by any one spiritual authority or any coalition between them and defend and protect the right of each individual to find and pursue their own way.

Second, Sanctuary and Commons itself proposes, as a natural response to the creation of a unified global civilization, a syncretic way of ways which represents a synthesis across the axial and secular (especially humanistic) traditions. We have charted this way briefly in the The Ways of Wisdom, and it will be elaborated in greater detail in our Summa Sapientiae Gentium. We have, finally already summarized this way briefly above, at the beginning of this essay:

Humanity is the desire to be God. The aims of human life, in other words, while they can be advanced within the secular realm, by definition radically transcend it, because the God we desire to become –the power of Being as such– by definition transcends spacetime and thus any possible world. At the same time we affirm that the cosmohistorical process is the school of matter, the process through which we pursue what is ultimately an impossible aim, and grow towards our end in spite of our endless failure to achieve it. In this sense, we affirm with the axial traditions the transcendent nature of the ends of human life and affirm with the Saeculum the intensely meaningful nature and soteriological value of this world.

More specifically, we argue that by trying to build or become God, matter (at the level of sapient being and higher) discovers that Being is neither substance (impassive immunity to change) nor Subject (pure self-determination) but rather relationship, generativity, and transformation. It is precisely by failing to achieve divinity as substance or subject that we become the relational, generative, transformative Being we have sought all along. This process is, as we have argued at length elsewhere, expressed at the cosmological and civilizational historical levels, as well as in the spiritual trajectory of individuals.

Strategy for the Longue Durée

How do we propose to advance this vision? As should already be apparent, we reject secular strategies which focus almost exclusively on the state, control of which is assumed to provide a privileged position from which all other social institutions can be transformed. We propose, instead, a spiritual/civilizational/institutional strategy in which the state is treated as one institution among many, critical, to be sure, to certain key structural transformations, such as the restoration of the commons, but by no means the authentic commanding heights of a civilizational project which, we argue, in fact has no such privileged site.

The first stage in such a strategy is the construction of a conscious political-theological leadership. By a conscious leadership we mean a group of individuals who 1) engage questions of meaning and value and the highest levels, independently choosing for themselves where they stand on such questions in the context of a mastery of historic and contemporary debates, 2) seek perfection within the context of their chosen way, through disciplined spiritual practice individually and/or in community, and 3) have mastered political and/or pastoral prudence and historic and contemporary debates around strategy in such a way as to enable them to contribute to developing and advancing the work of identifying, cultivating, and mentoring emerging, established, and high value leaders and building, conserving, and transforming institutions. Such leadership is ideally pursued in community and indeed in the context of a an organization which allows coordinated action, but unlike past efforts to create such a leadership, which centered on founding a religious order or vanguard political party of some kind, our focus is not on establishing an organization but on identifying and building relationships with individuals and cultivating each other’s capacities, with the expectation that community and organization will emerge organically from the resulting network, avoiding sectarian disputes over ideology, leadership, or collective resources.

What such a conscious leadership does is, fundamentally, to 1) forge a vision of what it means to be human, and a strategy for realizing that vision, 2) to seek perfection in accord with that vision and to help each other and other human beings achieve that same perfection, through teaching, spiritual direction, liturgy, and community building, and 3) to identify, cultivate and mentor other leaders and build, conserve, transform other organizations and institutions.

In this context each institutional structure or sector constitutes a theatre in our struggle and each organization a battlefield. The aim, however, is not control but power, not the ability to determine exactly what does and does not happen, but rather the ability to realize our vision individually and collectively.

Ours is a longue duree strategy. We work at a scale of centuries, millennia, and aeons, not election cycles or decades. We work across multiple generations and lifetimes. And while we recognize certain key strategic aims the realization of which we believe are essential to the next steps in the human civilizational project (a new alchemical technology, the decommodification of labor power, a new polity integrating global governance with subsidiarity, conscious leadership with democratic participation and rational autonomy, and a new way of ways which recognizes the fundamentally theotic character of the human project and the fact that it is precisely through frustration of this aim that we progress along the way), we envision no final solution to the riddle of history.

While we believe that the challenges faced by humanity are profound and the crisis of secular civilization –and especially of its technological and economic regimes– are real, we reject apocalyptic thinking and the insurrectional politics, armed, pacifist, or electoral which it encourages. Bad things are going to happen, but there will also be good. The transformation we need will take centuries at a minimum and the results of that transformation will be unsatisfactory. But we will grow along the way. Indeed, the results will be unsatisfactory in significant measure because we will grow along the way and know better than we do now, though still far less than we someday will.

As we approach the present period we focus our efforts on the arenas in which we enjoy a comparative advantage: forging a vision and strategy and identifying, cultivating, and mentoring emerging, established, and high value leaders. Where we can, we work to build, conserve, and transform institutions. This is our own particular calling and contribution. But we regard all with a commitment to human development and civilizational progress as potential allies, even where their understanding of those aims and the means of realizing them is different from our own. We refuse cooperation only with those who teach the hatred of other ways and other peoples and/or the necessity and the inevitability of the exploitation labor and the oppression of women, which we believe is the foundation of all other forms of oppression.

The historic moment in which we find ourselves is dangerous. But it is also pregnant with possibilities. Which possibilities are realized and how is up to us.

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