The politics of Thelema is a mirror. One looks into it to find insight and only finds one’s ideals reflected back. One might say that in approaching Thelema with a democratic spirit, one will see a justification of democracy; in approaching Thelema with an aristocratic spirit, one will see a justification of aristocracy. What does Thelema really say about politics? It is a complex issue with many facets; to understand what Thelema does say, one has to separate away what Thelema doesn’t approve of politically.
Let’s first look at anarchy. People claim that if every person is doing their own Will there would be no order and it would be complete chaos. Against this, Crowley explains the nature of Will, “It has naturally been objected by economists that our Law, in declaring every man and every woman to be a star, reduces society to its elements, and makes hierarchy or even democracy impossible. The view is superficial. Each star has a function in its galaxy proper to its own nature. Much mischief has come from our ignorance in insisting, on the contrary, that each citizen is fit for any and every social duty” (The Law is for All, II:58). There is a general idea in Thelema that each star as a particular orbit or course. Thelema implies the freedom to do one’s Will but also the severe restriction of only doing one’s Will; “It is the apotheosis of Freedom; but it is also the strictest possible bond” (“Liber II: The Message of the Master Therion”), for “Thou hast no right but to do thy will” (Liber AL vel Legis I:42).
Crowley often makes the analogy that a person’s relationship to the state is like a muscle’s relationship to the body. It must perform the function it is effective at, not attempt to perform a function it is not fit for, and not concern itself with the functioning of the other parts. “For every Individual in the State must be perfect in his own Function, with Contentment, respecting his own Task as necessary and holy, not envious of another’s. For so only mayst thou build up a free state, whose directing Will shall be singly directed to the Welfare of all” (Liber Aleph, “De Ordins Rerum”). Therefore Thelema does not justify anarchy as a political system because each star as certain qualities, abilities, proclivities, etc. which make it fit for a certain function; each star must go its particular course, concentrate on its particular functioning, and essentially mind its own business. Just as the different organs perform different functions yet work together to produce a working body, so also does the concentration of each star on following its particular course allow for a functioning State – or even Mankind. As Crowley says, “It is generally understood by all men of education that the general welfare is necessary to the highest development of the particular” (“An Epistle Concerning the Law of Thelema”). Thelema does encourage the autonomy of every individual and the diversity of expressions, yet that does not exclude the possibility of people voluntarily being a part of various organizations (educational, recreational, governmental, etc.).
Let’s now look at democracy. The equality of all people, the problem of elected officials, and the similarity of all people are all things which Thelema does not accept. Firstly, many people quote “Every man and every woman is a star” as a justification of democracy. Since every man and every woman is a star, we are all equal. Thelema asserts that everyone is equal in their Essence; the quintessence of every Star is Godhead. Thelema does not assert that everyone is equal functionally: different people have different abilities, detriments, and possibilities. As Crowley puts succinctly, “It is useless to pretend that men are equal; facts are against it. And we are not going to stay, dull and contented as oxen, in the ruck of humanity” (The Law is For All, II:25). Although people are not equal in the sense of their abilities, Thelema does assert that every person has a right to live, die, eat, drink, move, think, create, and love as they will – every person has the absolute and equal right to accomplish their Wills. “The Law is for all,” after all (Liber AL vel Legis I:34)… Further, Thelema agrees with democracy in treating each individual as sovereign and responsible.
One reason that Crowley understands democracy to be ineffective is that it requires the mass, the mob, to elect representatives. Thelema is against mob-mentality and mob-morality. In Liber AL vel Legis(II:25) it plainly says, “Ye are against the people, O my chosen!” Crowley writes, “The average voter is a moron. He believes what he reads in newspapers, feeds his imagination and lulls his repressions on the cinema, and hopes to break away from his slavery by football pools, cross-word prizes, or spotting the winner of the 3.30. He is ignorant as no illiterate peasant is ignorant: he has no power of independent thought. He is the prey of panic. But he has the vote. The men in power can only govern by stampeding him into wars, playing on his fears and prejudices until he acquiesces in repressive legislation against his obvious interests, playing on his vanity until he is totally blind to his own misery and serfdom. The alternative method is undisguised dragooning. In brief, we govern by a mixture of lying and bullying” (“The Scientific Solution of the Problem of Government”). In this way, democracy (ironically) encourages rule by deception and coercion of the mob-mentality. It does not engender political progress.
Democracy can lead to the ‘bully’ gaining power but it can also lead to the mediocre gaining power. Crowley writes, “The principle of popular election is a fatal folly; its results are visible in every so-called democracy. The elected man is always the mediocrity; he is the safe man, the sound man, the man who displeases the majority less than any other; and therefore never the genius, the man of progress and illumination” (“Liber CXCIV: An Initimation with Reference to the Constitution of the Order”). When the majority is in power – it is mob-rule – and the “efficient eccentrics,” who are the real men and women of “progress and illumination” are never elected because the majority will always elect the common denominator. This is also not conducive to political progress.
Coming back to the idea that each person has a particular function for it to fulfill – a star with a certain course to run – Thelema would be against the general leveling of all people to uniformity that is associated with democracy. We tell our kids they can grow up to be anything but again, “Each star has a function in its galaxy proper to its own nature. Much mischief has come from our ignorance in insisting, on the contrary, that each citizen is fit for any and every social duty” (The Law is for All, II:58). Although in theory, there are potentially infinite possible courses of action, each person must understand their own tendencies, drives, and proclivities to find that ‘function’ which fits them. This large variation of many types of people allows for progress. Crowley writes, “Here also is the voice of true Science, crying aloud that Variation is the Key of Evolution. Thereunto Art cometh the third, perceiving Beauty in the Harmony of the Diverse. Know then, o my Son, that all Laws, all Systems, all Customs, all Ideals and Standards which tend to produce uniformity, are in direct opposition to Nature’s Will to change and to develop through Variety, and are accursed. Do thou with all thy Might of Manhood strive against these Forces, for they resist Change, which is Life; and thus they are of Death.” (Liber Aleph, “De Lege Motus”) Basically, Thelema encourages maximum possible variation for the accomplishment of diverse functions.
Now we turn to aristocracy – might Thelema align with aristocracy in some way? Many will most likely point to “Let my servants be few & secret: they shall rule the many & the known” (Liber AL vel LegisI:10) to justify the aristocratic tendencies of Thelema. Firstly, Crowley writes, “The theories of Divine Right, aristocratic superiority, the moral order of Nature, are all today exploded bluffs. Even those of us who believe in supernatural sanctions for our privileges to browbeat and rob the people no longer delude ourselves with the thought that our victims share our superstitions. Even dictators understand this. Mussolini has tried to induce the ghost of Ancient Rome to strut the stage in the image of Julius Caesar; Hitler has invented a farrago of nonsense about Nordics and Aryans; nobody even pretends to believe either, except through the “will-to-believe.” And the pretence is visibly breaking down everywhere.”(The Scientific Solution of the Problem of Government”). In this sense, Thelema certainly doesn’t approve of aristocracy founded on various superstitions. Coming back to the idea that Thelema focuses on the fitness of each person for their particular function, its possible that a meritocracy (a system where progress is based on accomplishments) could align closely. In this case, people would theoretically progress in the areas where they showed aptitude for advancement.
Further, the aristocracy may turn into a tyranny. Thelema is certainly against the tyrant who denies others their rights to their own advantage – everyone has the absolute right to accomplish their Wills. Crowley even mentions “the safefuard tyrannicide” (Letter to G. Yorke 9/13/1941) in relation to the line in “Liber OZ” which states “Man has the right to kill those who would thwart these rights.” In short, Thelema recognizes the right of man to fight for his own freedom in the face of tyranny. If anything, Thelema would approve of the Taoist king or the Socratic philosopher-king for their rule is based on their ability to fit each person to their respective functions, yet “it is impossible in practice to assure the good-will of those in power” (“Liber CLXI: Concerning the Law of Thelema”). For this reason, we must guard against tyrants of all types, especially the wolf who appears in sheeps clothing – that is, those who promise benevolence only to gain power over others.
Coming back to aristocracy, one could say that Thelema adopts many facets of the “aristocratic attitude.” Crowley writes, “The key of all conduct, generally speaking, is to make every common thing noble, every small thing great” (“Of Eden and the Sacred Oak”). He constantly makes references to Thelemites seeing themselves as Kings and Queens, seeing everyone as royal, noble, and perfect. For example, “Live as the kings and princes, crowned and uncrowned, of this world, have always lived, as masters always live” (“The Law of Liberty”). Every person is the Crowned and Conquering Child, divinity Itself – what could be a more noble attitude? Further, Liber AL vel Legis exhorts the reader to be strong, healthy, beautiful, powerful; the moral, social, and sexual freedom implied by this might be said to be “aristrocratic.” Also, “chivalry” or “bushido” is similar to Thelema’s attitude in that people can compete, contend, debate, etc. and still maintain respect for each other. Liber AL vel Legis describes this attitude succinctly: “As brothers fight ye!” (Liber AL vel Legis III:59) This again springs out of the “noble attitude” engendered in Thelema.
But what about “the slaves shall serve” (Liber AL vel Legis II:58)? If Thelema views all as free, sovereign, responsible, and noble then why the mention of slaves? It is true that “‘There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt:’ but it is only the greatest of the race who have the strength and courage to obey it” (“De Lege Libellum”). In short, there are those who are too riddled with fear to accept the Law along with the freedom and responsibility it entails. Crowley writes, “our Law teaches that a star often veils itself from its nature. Thus the vast bulk of humanity is obsessed by an abject fear of freedom; the principal objections hitherto urged against my Law have been those of people who cannot bear to imagine the horrors which would result if they were free to do their own wills. The sense of sin, shame, self-distrust, this is what makes folk cling to Christianity-slavery… Now “the Law is for all”; but such defectives will refuse it” (The Law is For All, II:58). Again he writes, “In my ideal state everyone is respected for what he is. There will always be slaves, and the slave is to be defined as he who acquiesces in being a slave” (Confessions, ch.60). Therefore slaves in Thelema are not physical servants but rather those who have slavish spirits: those who cannot accept the Law of Thelema because of fear of revealing their own natures, fear of the great freedom allowed, and fear of the great responsibility needed to do only one’s Will.
In short, “The main ethical principle [of The Book of the Law] is that each human being has his own definite object in life. He has every right to fulfil this purpose, and none to do anything else. It is the business of the community to help each of its members to achieve this aim; in consequence all rules should be made, and all questions of policy decided, by the application of this principle to the circumstances.” (Confessions, ch.87) Thelema constantly asserts the need to understand the diverse needs & proclivities of each system so that each part may fulfill its particular function with maximum effectiveness. “Success is your proof” (Liber AL vel Legis III:46). In this sense, it is highly elastic. It adopts several tenets of anarchy, democracy, and aristocracy while admonishing others; it contains their elements but is not limited to them. The individual freedom and autonomy of anarchy are propounded but its lack of structuralization is admonished. The individual sovereignty and equal rights of democracy are propounded but its herd-mentality, uniformity, and tendency to lead rulers to use deception are admonished. The noble spirit and moral freedom of aristocracy are propounded but its claims of inherent superiority (by Divine Right, birth, lineage, etc.) and its tendency towards tyranny are admonished.
Crowley writes, “[The Law of Thelema] admits that each member of the human race is unique, sovereign and responsible only to himself. In this way it is the logical climax of the idea of democracy. Yet at the same time it is the climax of aristocracy by asserting each individual equally to be the centre of the universe” (Confessions, ch.87). Essentially, Thelema is about fitting each part to its particular function in the whole for maximum effectiveness. Thelema may draw upon major political ideas like anarchy, democracy, and aristocracy but it is not limited to them. It seems, Necessity will dictate the politics of Thelema in the end.