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Aleister Crowley as Political Theorist, Part 2


Aleister Crowley, 1875–1947

2,949 words

Part 2 of 2. Read Part 1 here [2].

The Thelemic State

The form of Thelemic government is vaguely outlined in Liber Legis, suggesting the type of corporatism: “Let it be the state of manyhood bound and loathing: thou has no right but to do what thou will.”[1] Contrary to the anarchistic or nihilistic interpretation often given Thelema’s “do what thou wilt,” Crowley defined the Thelemic state as a free association for the common good. The individual will is accomplished through social co-operation. Individual will and social duty should be in accord, the individual “absolutely disciplined to serve his own, and the common purpose, without friction.”[2]

Crowley emphasized his meaning so as not to be confused with anarchism or liberalism. While his Liber Oz (“Rights of Man”)[3] seems to be a formula for total individual sovereignty devoid of social restraint, Crowley stated: This statement must not be regarded as individualism run wild.”[4]

In what might appear to be his own effort at a “papal encyclical” on good government, Crowley explains:

I have set limits to individual freedom. For each man in this state which I propose is fulfilling his own True Will by his eager Acquiescence in the Order necessary to the Welfare of all, and therefore of himself also.[5]

Crowley’s rejection of democracy and anything of what might be termed a “slave morality”[6] necessitated a new view of the state. Like others of his time, including fellow mystics such as Evola and Yeats,[7] Crowley was concerned with the future of culture under the reign of mercantilism, materialism, and industrialism. He feared that an epoch of mass uniformity was emerging. He saw equality as the harbinger of uniformity, again drawing on biology:

There is no creature on earth the same. All the members, let them be different in their qualities, and let there be no creature equal with another. Here also is the voice of true science, crying aloud: “Variety is the key of evolution.” Know then, o my son, that all laws, all systems, all customs, all ideals and standards which tend to produce uniformity, being in direct opposition to nature’s will to change and develop through variety, are accursed. Do thou with all thou might of manhood strive against these forces, for they resist change which is life, and they are of death.[8]

This biological rather than metaphysical approach was emphasized by reference to differences among humanity being caused by “race, climate, and other such conditions. And this standard shall be based upon a large interpretation of Facts Biological.”[9]

Referring to the passage in Liber Legis that states: “Ye are against the people, o my chosen!”[10] Crowley explained:

The cant of democracy condemned. It is useless to pretend that men are equal: facts are against it. And we are not going to stay dull and contended as oxen, in the ruck of humanity.”[11]

Thelema and Corporatism

The democratic state as a manifestation of equality and consequent uniformity was to be replaced by what is often termed the “organic state” or the “corporatist state.” This state conception may be viewed both biologically as in the organism of the body (hence “corporatist”) with the separate organs (individuals, families, crafts, etc) functioning according to their own nature while contributing to the health of the whole organism (society), with the state playing the role of the “brain,” the organ that coordinates the separate parts. In England corporatism was called “guild socialism,” among the Continental Left “syndicalism.”

Corporatism also had a metaphysical aspect, being the basis of social organization in traditional societies, including the guilds of Medieval Europe and the corporations of ancient Rome. In traditional societies, guild or corporatist social organization was, like all else, seen as a terrestrial manifestation of the cosmic order, the divine organism, and castes were primarily spiritual, ethical, and cultural organs, as distinct from the economic “classes” of debased secular societies. Hence, corporatism was advocated by Evola as the traditionalist answer to class society.[12]

Crowley’s conception of an organic state is described in De Ordine Rerum:

In the body every cell is subordinated to the general physiological Control, and we who will that Control do not ask whether each individual Unit of that Structure be consciously happy. But we do care that each shall fulfill its Function, with Contentment, respecting his own task as necessary and holy, not envious of another’s. For only mayst thou build up a Free State, whose directing will shall be to the Welfare of all.[13]

Hence Crowley, far from being a misanthrope, was concerned with freeing the individual from being part of a nebulous mass and providing sustenance for his material and thereafter cultural well-being as far as his nature allows. The deliberate cultivation of his image as “evil” must be viewed primarily as a perverse quirk, and in particular a result of his perverse sense of humor, his narcissistic personality, and his strict upbringing among the Plymouth Brethren, where he was delighted to have a mother who called him the Anti-Christ, which seems to have had a lasting effect on his thoughts and deeds throughout his life.

Leisure, the Basis of Culture

Crowley addressed himself to a major problem for unorthodox economic and social theorists, that of the reduction of working hours when a new economic system had secured physical abundance for all, and freed humanity from the economic treadmill.

Once the obligations to the social order had been met, there should be “a surplus of leisure and energy” that can be spent “in pursuit of individual satisfaction.”[14] Sufficient amount of leisure time free from strictly material pursuits is the basis of culture, and a flowering of culture in the Medieval era for example was a product of this, coupled with the spiritual basis of society.

Crowley, like the Social Crediters and certain non-Marxian socialists or social reformers, wished to change the economic system to reduce working hours. His comments about the role of money are astute. Like the Social Crediters, Crowley believed that a change in the role of money is necessary for changing the social and economic system. He was certainly aware of A. R. Orage’s New Age magazine, where the minds of Social Crediters, guild socialists, and literati met. (Crowley referred to the journal in another context in his autobiography.[15]) Crowley rather perceptively set out his economic and financial policy:

What IS money? A means of exchange devised to facilitate the transaction of business. Oil in the engine. Very good then: if instead of letting it flow as smoothly and freely as possible, you baulk its very nature; you prevent it from doing its True Will. So every “restriction” on the exchange of wealth is a direct violation of the Law of Thelema.[16]

Once the material welfare of the citizen is secured, then the energy expended on economic necessities can be turned to the pursuit of culture. Under the Thelemic state the citizen would be directed by the ruling caste to pursue the higher aspects of life leading to the flowering of culture: “And because the people are oft-time unlearned, not understanding pleasure, let them be instructed on the Art of Life.”[17] From this regime would follow a high culture in which each citizen would have the capacity to participate or at least appreciate: “These things [economic welfare] being first secured, thou mayst afterward lead them to the Heavens of Poesy and Tale, of Music, Painting and Sculpture, and into the love of the mind itself, with its insatiable Joy of all Knowledge.”[18]

Under the Thelemic state every individual would be given the opportunity to fulfill his true will. Crowley maintained, however, that most true wills or “stars” would be content with a satisfying material existence, having no ambition beyond “ease and animal happiness,” and would thus be content to stay where they are in the hierarchy. Those whose true will was to pursue higher aims would be given opportunities to do so, to “establish a class of morally and intellectually superior men and women.” In this state, while the people “lack for nothing,” their abilities according to their natures would be utilized by the ruling caste in the pursuance of a higher policy and a higher culture.[19]

Crafts and Guilds

Crowley also addressed the problem of industrialization and the role of the machine in the process of dehumanization, or what might also be termed by Traditionalists desacralisation,[20]:

Machines have already nearly completed the destruction of craftsmanship. A man is no longer a worker, but a machine-feeder. The product is standardized; the result, mediocrity. . . . Instead of every man and every women being a star, we have an amorphous population of vermin.[21]

Consistent with his advocacy of an organic state and with the re-sacralization of work as craft, Crowley expounded the guild as the basis of a Thelemic social organization. The guild was the fundamental unit of his own esoteric order, Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO):

Before the face of the Areopagus stands an independent Parliament of the Guilds. Within the Order, irrespective of Grade, the members of each craft, trade, science, or profession form themselves into a Guild, making their own laws, and prosecute their own good, in all matters pertaining to their labor and means of livelihood. Each Guild chooses the man most eminent in it to represent it before the Areopagus of the Eighth Degree; and all disputes between the various Guild are argued before that Body, which will decide according to the grand principles of the Order. Its decisions pass for ratification to the Sanctuary of the Gnosis, and thence to the Throne.[22]

This guild organization of the OTO thus represents society as a microcosm as the ideal social order that Crowley would have established under a Thelemic regime: “For, in True Things, all are but images one of another; man is but a map of the universe, and Society is but the same on a larger scale.”[23]

In Crowley’s blueprint of the corporatist state, each self-governing profession is represented in a “parliament of guilds.” This corporatist system was widely supported as an alternative to both capitalism and Marxism and was  advocated by Evola and D’Annunzio, syndicalists, and Catholic traditionalists. It was embryonically inaugurated under Mussolini. Ironically from a Crowleyan perspective, Dollfuss’ Austria and Salazar’s Portugal embraced corporatism as applications of Catholic social doctrine.

The Hierarchy of the Thelemic State

Crowley calls the mass of people under his system of governance “the Men of the Earth” who have not yet reached a stage of development to participate in government, and would be represented before the Kingly head of state by those who are committed to service.[24] The governing caste comprises a Senate drawn from an Electoral College,[25] those individuals committed to service through personal “renunciation,” including the renunciation of property and wealth, having taken a “vow of poverty.”[26] Of course the universal franchise has no place in the selection of Thelemic government:

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.[27]

The Electoral College is selected by the King from volunteers who must show acumen in athletics and learning, a “profound general knowledge” of history and the art of government and a knowledge of philosophy.[28]

This corporatist and monarchical system was designed to “gather up all the threads of human passion and interest, and weave them into a harmonious tapestry . . .” reflecting the order of the cosmos.[29]

Crowley and Fascism

The Italian poet and war veteran D’Annunzio might have come closest to the Thelemite ideal with his short-lived Free City of Fiume, a regime governed by the arts that attracted numerous rebels, from anarchists and syndicalists to nationalists.[30] Crowley does not mention D’Annunzio in his autobiography, even though Crowley was in Italy in 1920, and D’Annunzio’s enterprise ended in December of that year.[31]

As for the Italian Fascists, Crowley wrote: “For some time I had interested myself in Fascismo which I regarded with entire sympathy even excluding its illegitimacy on the ground that constitutional authority had become to all intents and purposes a dead letter.”[32] Crowley saw the Fascisti in a characteristically poetic way, describing the blackshirts patrolling the railway as “delightful.” “They had all the picturesqueness of opera brigands.” As for the “March on Rome,” Crowley stated that he thought the behavior of the Fascisiti “admirable.”

Crowley quickly became disillusioned, however, and regarded Mussolini as a typical politico who compromised his principles for popular support. The mass nature of Fascism caused suspicion among many of the literati who had originally supported it, such as Wyndham Lewis and W. B. Yeats. Crowley observed developments in Rome for three days, and was disappointed with Mussolini’s compromises with the Catholic Church, which Crowley regarded as Mussolini’s “most dangerous foe.”[33] Of course such criticisms are common among observers of events rather than participants. Critics from afar can afford the luxury of theorizing without having to test their theories, and themselves, in the practicalities of office.

Crowley moved to Cefalu where he established his “Abbey of Thelema” in a ramshackle house. The death of follower Raoul Loveday resulted in Crowley’s expulsion from Italy in 1923, by which time he had become an embarrassment to the Fascist regime.[34]

However, one eminent individual who must have discerned a proto-fascist element in Thelema, before himself becoming one of the more significant spokesmen of Sir Oswald Mosley’s British fascism was J. F. C. Fuller, who achieved fame as the architect of modern tank warfare and as a military historian. Fuller had heard of Crowley in 1905, and was therefore one of Crowley’s earliest devotees. He was, like Crowley, a Nietzschean with occult interests who regarded socialism as a leveling creed: “the scum on the democratic cauldron.” His opposition to Christianity was likewise Nietzschean.[35]

Fuller met Crowley in London in 1906 and wrote Crowley’s first biography, The Star in the West, which was the winner (and only entrant) of a competition to promote Crowley’s poetry. Although Fuller’s interest in the occult and mysticism was life-long, he had broken with Crowley in 1911, embarrassed by Crowley’s escapades that drew blazing headlines from the tabloid press.

In 1932 Fuller was still writing in Nietzschean terms of socialism and democracy as products of Christianity. Joining the British Union of Fascists and becoming Mosley’s military adviser, Fuller remained a lifelong Mosleyite, even after World War II, but refused any further contact with Crowley.

* * *

While Fascists (particularly “clerical-fascists”), guild socialists, Social Crediters, Distributists, syndicalists et al. attempted to resolve the problems of the machine age, and Evola offered something of a practical plan in his Men Among the Ruins, Crowley’s Thelemic social conceptions remained as otherworldly as his mysticism, and few of his followers seem to have given much attention to the political implications or implementation of Thelema.

Crowley, a poet and a mystic, not an agitator or a politician, had his own conception of historical cycles, albeit somewhat limited, in which the Aeon of Horus, a the new age of “force and fire,” would emerge with Crowley as its “prophet.” As Marx assured us that the victory of communism was the end of an inexorable historical process, Crowley thought the Thelemic world order would arise as a product of inexorable cosmic laws. Nonetheless, like Marx who called upon socialists to become active agents of this historical process, Crowley envisioned that the ordeals demanded by his Holy Order would give rise to Thelemic Knights who would wage  jihad against all old creeds:

We have to fight for freedom against oppressors, religious, social or industrial, and we are utterly opposed to compromise, every fight is to be a fight to the finish; each one of us for himself, to do his own will, and all of us for all, to establish the law of Liberty. . . . Let every man bear arms, swift to resent oppression . . . generous and ardent to draw sword in any cause, if justice or freedom summon him.[36]


[1] Liber Legis, 1: 42.

[2] The Law is for all, p. 101.

[3] The Law is for all, p. 321 Liber Oz.

[4] The Law is for all, p. 321

[5] Crowley, The Book of Wisdom or Folly (Maine: Samuel Weiser., Maine 1991), clause 39, Liber Aleph Vel CXI.

[6] Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1991), p. 175.

[7] K. R. Bolton, Thinkers of the Right (Luton: Luton Publications, 2003).

[8] The Law is for all, p. 228.

[9] The Law is for all, p. 228.

[10] Liber Legis 2: 25

[11] The Law is for all, p. 192.

[12] Evola, Men Among the Ruins, pp. 224-34

[13] The Law is for all, pp.251-52

[14] The Law is for all, p. 230.

[15] Crowley, The Confessions of Aleister Crowley (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul,1986), p.544.

[16] Crowley, Magick Without Tears (Arizona: Falcon Press, 1983), p. 346

[17] The Law is for all, p. 251

[18] The Law is for all, p. 251

[19] The Law is for all, p.227

[20] Evola, Men among the ruins (Vermont: Inner Traditions, 2002), p. 224

[21] Crowley, The Law is for all, p. 281.

[22] Crowley, Liber CXCIV, “O.T.O. An Intimation with Reference to the Constitution of the Order,” paragraph 21, The Equinox, vol. III, no. 1, 1919.

[23] An Intimation, paragraph 1.

[24] An Intimation, paragraph 5.

[25] An Intimation, paragraph 9.

[26] An Intimation, paragraph 30.

[27] An Intimation, paragraph 10.

[28] An Intimation, paragraph 12 and 13.

[29] An Intimation, concluding remarks.

[30] Anthony Rhodes, The Poet As Superman – D’Annunzio (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1959).

[31] Rhodes, p. 221

[32] Crowley, Confessions, p.911

[33] Crowley, Confessions, p. 911

[34] Wilson, Aleister Crowley: The Nature of the Beast, p.133

[35] Anthony Trythall, Boney Fuller: The Intellectual General (London: Cassell, 1977).

[36] The Law is for all, p. 317