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The Legacy of Alan Watts

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wattsyoungJanuary 6, 2015 will be the 100th birthday of Alan Watts, the English-born writer on Eastern and Western religion whose work had an immense influence on the Beatniks of the 1950s and the hippies of the 1960s. Watts also had a tremendous influence on my thinking, and, when I published a pair of essays on him at Counter-Currents (here and here), I was delighted to learn that he had influenced a number of other writers in the New Right milieu.

In honor of Watts’s centenary, Counter-Currents will publish an online symposium, with a special focus on what is useful or problematic in his work for the New Right. Suggested topics include the relationship of Watts to Traditionalism, Social Credit, European neo-paganism, Dimitrije Mitrinovic, the recovery of European folkways, the critique of modernity, environmentalism and ecology, dandyism, the Beats and the Hippies, drugs and mysticism, the Left-hand path, etc.

If you would like to participate in the symposium please contact me at [email protected]. If you wish to offer a suggestion, email or post a comment below.

Greg Johnson


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  1. Eos
    Posted October 11, 2014 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    He is a dangerous author.

    Here is a critique of him and other ‘counterculture mystics’ (Krishnamurti, Huxley):

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted October 11, 2014 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

      I am unimpressed by Perry and other “fundamentalist” Traditionalist types. Watts’ departure from Traditionalism is basically the same as my own: Traditionalists deny that the Mosaic religions are founded on what Jan Assmann calls the Mosaic distinction between true and false religions. That is not an intellectually tenable position.

      • James O'Meara
        Posted October 13, 2014 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

        I think Perry actually made some good points, about Watts’ views on symbolism, but generally he, like most “Traditionalists”seems to think entirely on an intellectual level, without understanding, or even caring about, how people actually live. Up and down may be “equal” as symbols but people tend to feel entirely different about each.

        Watts’ time trying to be an Episcopal priest brought this home to him: even sophisticated Anglicans are just like barefoot born-agains when you get right down to it: “I’ve found what I need in Jesus and don’t need Krisha” as one of his bishops told Watts.

        That’s the Mosaic Principle: you can’t honestly BE a Christian and think that “all religions are valid.” Or, as he said in Beyond Theology, Hindus can understand and “accept” Christianity, but not vice versa; in that sense, Hindus can’t really “accept” Christianity as valid, as what they accept is NOT what Christians actually believe.

        • Jaego
          Posted October 14, 2014 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

          Yes, the Abrahamic Religions are rigid I must admit. And when one of these Episcopalians opens, he breaks. So you get some clergymen wearing a little buffalo horn (symbolic of White Calf Women of the Plains Indian Religion) instead of crucifix and/or raving about Diversity – as if that is a Tradition or the road to one. Contrast that with the Zen Buddhist who listened to the Gospel on the Mount who said, That is very beautiful. Whoever said that was a Bodhisattva or a Buddha. And that was it. The Zen Master then goes back to minding his own Tradition. But once a Christian accepts the validity of other Religions, he has to be restrained from going native. The Dalai Lama has to beat off Christian Priests and Clergy who want to jump ship. Very strange people we are lately.

  2. Guest
    Posted October 12, 2014 at 5:17 am | Permalink

    I note that there are a lecture series by him, on You Tube.

    A few observations pertaining to the cosmos, ecology and environmentalism

    The view of things as interrelated, continuous and so effecting each other, echoes, the view in ecology and by extension, in what is known as deep ecology, that ecological systems on a microscopic and macro level all interpenetrates, are interdependent effecting each other. So, ecological systems, earth, and mans relation to it and action upon it effects it and conversely, to some extent, the ecosystems of the body, environments, ecosystems, earth, planets and the cosmos in turn also effect him.

    He cites mans exertion of will over the earth, to control nature, to increasingly define his separateness from it, is in part , he suggests, as a reaction to the fear of nature , that fear that he would ‘return to it’ and is not much different from it. This exertion of will is part and parcel also of exploration, exploitation, and resource extraction and to seek to become greater than nature, resulting apparently, in negative effects on the environments Eco systems that then feed back to man.

    The current zeitgeists’ worship of words like ‘sustainability’ and environmentalism, seeking to ‘care for the earth’, is about preserving the earths resources. It is ironically just another imposition of power, use of resources, technology and control, that answers the environmental degradation that such exertions brought about in the first place. In any event nature does not care for man. And of we take Lovecraft’s ‘Cosmicdisinterestism’, as a given, the cosmos doesn’t care either and as been proved eco- systems can adapt and recover, as we as humans can , except when Caucasian DNA and spirit, our uniqueness, is all but destroyed…

    Of course, ‘sustainability ‘is largely a political term, allied with global corporations and global capitalism. Indeed, as many know the green movement such as it was, as long been co-opted by the former, that is harnessed to drive their agenda, of endless growth, profit, control over land and resource and a ‘global consumer communist universalism’. For as the Greens once suggested they don’t see mass immigration and therefore endless increase in third world population as effecting the environment, its just first world consumerism that is the problem, as long as the powers that be can manage the new consumer population influx into and colonization of the First world……

  3. Jaego
    Posted October 12, 2014 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    He was a playful writer, an aesthete and a “religious entertainer” as he himself once put it. If he had been content with that, I would have no problem with him. But of course people took him seriously as teacher of Zen and so he had to defend his position – which of course was at odds with real Zen. He caricatured real Zen practice as Square Zen as opposed to the Beat Zen of Ginsburg and Kerouac and of course to HIS simple or real Zen. Towards the end of his life as he became increasingly frail he admitted that Zen Meditation was real Zen. Asked why he drank so much, he said he didn’t like himself when he was sober. Not such an advanced fellow after all, but yes, a wonderful stylist. Did he ever write about politics or ethnicity? I had no idea that he did. He certainly had common sense when it came to ordinary life. I look forward to learning more.

    Watts always seemed to be a Pantheist. But as Santayana said, the Universe gains nothing by calling it God. The actual philosophy of the Traditions by contrast is PanENtheism. God is incarnate in the Universe as the Universe but is not limited to or equal with the physical or subtle Universe.

    In his “Three Pillars of Zen”, Zen Master Phillip Kapleau deconstructs Watt’s antics in a few terse paragraphs.

  4. R_Moreland
    Posted October 13, 2014 at 3:34 am | Permalink

    A few years back, overnight FM radio used to play Alan Watts lectures. One thing which struck me was that for all of his identification with the counterculture of the 1960s, Watts didn’t seem to be a particularly leftist kind of guy. While the hippies and such appropriated some of his ideas and name value, there was no particular reason the right couldn’t find similar inspiration.

    Today, the Alternative Right is the counterculture. And it is worth thinking about how we can use the works of Alan Watts to “expand” people’s minds (as the saying used to go). It might also be worth looking at some of the other rebels of that era to see what can be gleaned.

    One of the articles referenced cited the psychedelic experience. There’s some interesting things from Albert Hoffman and Timothy Leary (heaven help us!). Getting one to transcend the boundaries of the current Matrix ought to be on the agenda, and I have speculated that one reason for the US War on Drugs was to suppress things which (economic) man was not meant to know.

    I’d like to think that mankind was meant for more than mindless producing-consuming, so perhaps there is something here with which we can run.

    • James O'Meara
      Posted October 13, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      Watts took the “counter culture” to task when he criticized hippies who, despite their psychedelic experiences, thought being dirty and uncouth was “being real,” and hot tub therapists who’d say “show us the real — ie., the big slob — Alan.” Watts saw but did not quite recognize, at least publicly, the Jewish meme of “uncouth is real, all else is fake” that Cuddihy diagnosed as the Jewish reaction to contact with sophisticated Western society.

      As I’ve often pointed out, if you go back far enough, everyone is a “conservative” since they don’t adhere to the PC standards. For example, Watts’s critique of materialism leads him to promote “intelligent design” as hip and progressive (if we are intelligent, they the universe must be as well):…+Intelligent+Design%3F

  5. Posted October 13, 2014 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    I honestly think a culture is stronger with some kind of religion or spiritual basis. Even a movement like ours. Christianity, in my opinion, is harmful, but if Christians go along with us, fine. But if we simply talk about, encourage, “adopt” a synthesis of what Alan Watts writes about, this is a good thing for us. He’s fascinating and brilliant. But maybe because I’m getting so old, I have a hard time understanding these esoteric points that people keep making on this site. I’m happy for them, that they’re so freaking erudite, but I haven’t read 10 billion books, and I don’t have vast stores of knowledge about numerous subjects, and I don’t even care if the whole world thinks I’m ignorant and stupid. It’s possible that there are other people who come to this site and, like me, often think “Jeez! I have no idea what they’re talking about!” I actually don’t want to discourage the erudite comments at all, but maybe I’ll try to sprinkle in some of my more down-to-earth, marginally-useful comments every once in a while.

  6. Posted October 20, 2014 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    For what it’s worth Jan Irvin at Gnostic has been researchingt MK Ultra and the the ’60’s. He’s made an interesting case for Alan Watts being one Aldous Huxley’s first recruits into this CIA brainwashing research and social engineering experiment. Those interested can go here for a briefing and visit for current updates on Irvin and his team’s research into this. Unbeknownst to me Lyndon LaRouche’s EIR wfeatured a report about this very same subject and connected Watts to Project MK Ultra in l978. Irvon’s contribution to these revelations has been his linking of Watts’ entertaining explications of Zen Buddhism to OSS-CIA anthropologist asset Gregory Bateson’s Double Bind Theory of coercive confusion.

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