Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The Unspeakable Experience

Considerations about ethics and mysticism on the basis of Jacques Ellul and Henri van den Bergh van Eysinga
The following is a speech, delivered on a seminar on mysticism and ethics, in Aberystwyth, 2002.
I can now add that reading the book by Chastenet mentioned below, particularly the non-story of Jacques Ellul's mystical experience to me dwelled on being such an experience itself - sitting and reading in the grass of a meadow on a hilltop in Wales, for a child of the Low Countries an Experience in its own right...
What I call the across-the-canal-experience must be the subject of Sheldrake's The sense of being stared at, which I have not managed to finish yet.

The first question to be asked when one speaks about mysticism and ethics is whether there can be any separation between the two. Or - putting it more practically: can there be any difference between experience and consequence?

Mysticism can only be based on experience. Most people will find this a disturbing statement. You need not be an atheist to react this way. Mysticism belongs to "the others", and it should not come nearer than the content of the New Age Shop in the High Street. It is Dorothée Soelle's idea, in Mystik und Widerstand, that every human being must have some experience with mysticism, and she wants it to be popularised, nay democratised. But you still must dispense with the idea of buying incense and practicing breathing meditation as a replacement (it may be a consequence).

The Dutch theologian Van den Bergh van Eysinga [1868-1920], on whose mystical ethics this contribution is based, equates religion totally with mysticism - and they cannot be separated from ethics either, but more on that later. You may well know that for example the Roman Catholic Church makes a difference between sainthood and "ordinary believers" - and mysticism to the general official practice is indeed something for the Others. This may be subject to change in the future, but that is as far as I know still the official Catholic standpoint. In the Eastern Orthodox churches mysticism is part of living religion, and generally speaking the same goes for Judaism and Islam. For the greater part of humanity the equation between mysticism and religion may be self-evident, when explained - if it can be explained in terms of separation between the two. Probably the problem of separation is a Roman Catholic speciality, and a Protestant one - and of course, of atheism, which is unmistakably an offshoot of both.

Etymologically, the word "religion" in itself already refers to what I shall call henceforth The Experience. The Latin word religiomeans: awe, deigning back in humility or even fear - taking a step backwards for Something beyond daily experience. This must have been part of life in what we call pagan Rome, as much as in any other part of the world. That the etymological explanation of the word has been "handled" in the Roman Catholic Church to suit a separation between Experience and official religion is part of the problem of this separation. Being united with the other and the Completely Different is implied in the original Latin meaning of religio, and yet the Experience can only be personal. It also means a call to doing what lies beyond daily practice: a call to ascesis, and in that way a call to ethics.

To Protestants, especially of the Reformed denomination - usually referred to by outsiders as Calvinist - the separation between Experience and official religion is even more complicated than in Roman Catholicism. The Reformed tradition asks, according to Scripture, everybody personally to be holy (Matth. 5:48). This is a task which from the start should be seen separated from Experience - reading the bible should be enough to teach you ethics and ascesis alike. I hope you can accept the simplification which is necessary in the framework of this communication. Real calvinists in the Netherlands, the bevindelijken [roughly translated: Those speaking from experience], certainly stress the importance of personal religious experience. They even do not object to mysticism - provided you do not call it that way. But the mainstream Reformed way is to abhor from anything which might bear the connotation of the original religio. One of the staunchest strugglers against mysticism I know is the French reformed sociologist-theologian Jacques Ellul. He is so much against it, that he blames the muslims for introducing it into Christianity - it does not belong there, to him it is some medieval invention which came to Christians through Spain - the trovadors apparently being the sinners in this respect. Ellul was anti-islamic before this became topical or fashionable. Being Reformed, and stressing the need to go back to the basic idea of being a follower of Christ, he can simply overlook a tradition as old as Christianity itself. His personalist approach brings him to stating that christianisme itself is anti-Christian.

Be this as it may - and fortunately I may still deem Ellul an interesting thinker without having to agree with him on this -, Ellul has his own story to tell, and I must say I was amazed to read it. It simply is not in line with his written thought. In a series of interviews with Patrick Chastenet (Entretiens avec Jacques Ellul. Paris: La Table Ronde, 1994) Ellul comes to the autobiographical point where he has to explain how he became a confessing Reformed himself. He is very reluctant to tell about it. Even in the context of something as immodest as being interviewed about your life and views there is something to retain modesty about. And this is it: Ellul has had an Experience. Apparently it happened to him whilst reading Goethe's Faust. And no, he does not tell what the experience was, except that he had to flee from home and get outside, running away from it seems to be the fitting expression. After that he was a confessing Christian. That is all he has to say about that.

I certainly would not like to advocate anything else but modesty about what I call The Experience. That might be explained with my own Reformed background, but I see no reason to look at it in any other way. In fact, the modesty Ellul expresses, to me makes it all the more convincing that he had this personal Experience. The amazing thing about it is, that his ethics apparently is based on this Experience, and yet it includes complete rejection of mysticism. Perhaps it means he does not accept the separation of religion and mystical experience, but that is not what he says. We might consider the modesty as religio in the original sense: the experience is so awesome that it is unspeakable. Soelle may be proven to be right again: an anti-mysticist turns out to be a mysticist himself. Perhaps we should have a new look on Karl Barth too, but I will not venture on that dangerous ground.

Some final remarks to this introduction, still, I hope, within the boundaries of well Reformed modesty. Sceptical reductionists may say that this Experience after all is only a neurophysical reaction. I might answer this with Schumacher's remark that the only thing scepticists are not sceptical about is - their scepticism. But that would be too easy in this case - a more adequate answer would be that it never can be proper to call any physical reaction "just a physical reaction". But, not knowing about neurophysiology, I shall try to say something about the Experience, approaching the general idea without crossing the line of modesty - and in passing yet answering a probable question.

To begin with: forget the notion of anything supernatural or occult. I am inclined to deny the idea of a sixth sense, which should be the religious sense, an idea which I think can only be a manner of expressing, not referring to anything existing (since senses cannot exist separated from the living body I think postulating this sixth sense would mean introducing the supernatural again through a backdoor). Neurophysiologists may be able to explain what I call the across-the-canal-experience. Living in Amsterdam, indeed on a canal, I know sitting near the window when someone passes on the other side. It is a quiet, unknown canal, there are not many passers-by. I look out of the window, see the person walking on the other side, and if I look long enough he or she somehow will feel being watched, and will feel more or less exactly where the eyes are located which are watching him or her. What sense made me look nearly automatically, what sense made the passer-by look in return? The sense of the Experience must be akin to this - and if there is a convincing neurophysiological explanation for this experience (with lower case e) still the question will remain: how can one sense a Presence which sensible people will say is not there? I do not accept the verdict "hallucination" for this.

Which brings me to the last point: is this sensual Experience a human speciality? Intersubjective communication between humans about it may be difficult enough already, but when one does away with fear or modesty, it should be possible. Communicating with other conscious beings is nearly impossible, especially on this point. But human beings should certainly be modest about this. If hippopotami really have a mourning ritual, as was shown once in a television documentary which went beyond the usual chase-and-eat-spectacle (after all, hippopotami do not fit into that scheme), then they must have some idea or experience of what is beyond the visible. There is nothing more that can be said about that, other than that anthropocentrism makes talking about religion or mysticism more questionable than is necessary.

This is a long introduction to a Dutch reformed reverend who at the end of the nineteenth century went against the modernist current in his Church by equating mysticism with religion and with ethics and ascesis. This equation can be called dialectical. Indeed, the reverend was a dialectic, inspired mostly by Hegel, and by Von Hartmann and Schopenhauer. The man I refer to is Henri (H.W.Ph.E.) van den Bergh van Eysinga. Born in 1868, having studied theology and - as his name immediately betrays - if indeed social reality at the fin-de-siècle were not enough - a son of the ruling elite in the Netherlands, as several other modernist dominees he was touched deeper by the reality of class society than his elder colleagues. What these dominees, who called themselves "the young" as oppposed to the well-settled practised pastors, saw was a debased class of underfed, drinking, toiling mass which completely had lost any sense of living religion. The young accused the settled of having a materialist look at ethics. It seemed to be enough not stealing your neigbour's chickens to be holy and religious. But what if you were forced by hunger to indeed steal those chickens? And anyway, what kind of ethics could this be to inspire anyone? Christianity had become trite and tedious, and had incorporated atheist materialism itself.

Interestingly, most of the dominees I refer to identified themselves with anarchism - religious or as they called it then by this new name, Christian anarchism. As you can infer from their ideas, rejection of the powers that be, in state and church, to them was the exact opposite of atheism. The idea was helped by Tolstoy and - more on the background - Dostoyewsky (mostly The Brothers Karamazow). Outsiders called these Dutch Christian anarchists of the fin-de-siècle Tolstoyans, though only a few of them really were, and accepted this name reluctantly. This Christian anarchism in the Netherlands is an independent current of socialism alongside the parliamentary social-democracy and atheist anarchism. It emerged in the weekly De Hervorming, the paper of the radical modernist current in the Dutch Reformed Church. Going through the columns of this paper, I must say that the writings of the radical-liberal so-called older dominees look less dated than the angry young modernists, who want to add more feeling to all the intellectual writing. Alright, Bileam's donkey did not speak - what has that got to do with living religion, Van den Bergh asks. But what he had to offer instead probably was not less difficult to accept for the working masses he wanted to see organised for Sharing, Freedom and Fraternal Love - socialism, that is, according to his words.

He called supranaturalism actually equal to atheism, the mystical approach necessarily led to agnosticism. Accepting and using all the knowledge science has to offer you can stress the beauty of creation by evolution, the unfolding of the Divine Idea (Hegel!). And the best way to offer mysticism for the masses (these are my interpreting words) is by inspired poetry: Shelley, Tennyson, Whitman, Baudelaire, Goethe (Faust again), Dutch contemporaries like Gorter and Van Eeden and many others. The intersubjectively communicable experience is through poetry, Van den Bergh states - and indeed, the more conscious parts of the working class he wanted to enthuse were willing to take notice of poetry. These were the workers who also saw the need to organise, and who were not willing to be brought back to church. Those below, whom may be referred to not necessarily jokingly as the drinking class (de natte gemeente), were beyond poetry or church and maybe even organising - in fact, there should still be a task ahead nowadays, things have not changed in that respect.

In the early days of his reverendship Van den Bergh's mystical approach was based on the image of the Pale Suffering Young Man at the Cross (he refers to Him as being blonde as well). The living Christ would be that of Tolstoy. Not much later he rejects this as being too uncivilized an invention. The settled dominees of De Hervorming as good modernists could not accept this image, and they expressed mild and polite but still strong rejection of this "young idea". To Van den Bergh it was probably his reading of Hegel that brought him back from the idea of Christian anarchism in this style. The other young organised around a new bi-weekly Vrede [Peace]. Van den Bergh wrote his thesis and went his own way in the margin of social-democracy. This complete revolution inside and then outside the modernist tendency of the Dutch Reformed Church happened within four years: Christian anarchism was presented as such in 1893, Van den Bergh totally embraced Tolstoy's ideas in 1895 and in 1897 he rejected them. The speed of these developments justifies the word "revolution" - and by the way, the christian state authorities had it crushed in 1903, the last year which smelled of revolution in the Netherlands. Van den Bergh did not go along to the Vrede-groep since he apparently had discovered his own mystically based system of ethics, which I shall dwell upon now.

His thesis, Levensbeschouwing (A look at life - 1897), asks for Reason to be taken as the prime source of religious view. Believing in miracles means unnecessarily asking to do away with Reason. Yet, like Shumacher whom I mentioned earlier, he states that scepticism asks for one truth at least, so there is no point in denying the existence of Truth altogether. He rejects the possibility of consciousness ever knowing itself. We can only infer by belief that others have consciousness, and we must believe that there is an objective non-I, an objective world. The idea that there is no Beyond the discernible outside world is naive and childish. There must be Something transcending the material reality, a Something, or rather the Absolute which is the foundation of the sensually discernible world. We are indeed living in Plato's cave, there is no escaping. The consequence of this is that we can only interpret the Absolute in human terms, with the tools for thinking we have, but the Absolute continually asks us to cross borders in this respect.

The Absolute is not an unchangeable Being, it is perenially in movement, it is a Becoming. And so striving for unity with the Absolute, which striving is called religion, must indeed be just that - it can only be striving. There is only this striving, and in this striving we are one with the Absolute, with God. This means that we never can accept the world as it seems to be given - we must reach for the harmonious, the reasonable, the ethical, the aesthetic. Yet again the consequence is that there can be no such thing - sit venia verbo - as Christianity. One can only a posteriori decide to comply with Christ's striving.

Like the other "young" in the radical-modernist Reformed Church Van den Bergh was very impressed with the "Parliament of religions" at the World Fair in Chicago, 1893. It showed them the deeper relationship between the religions, a common idea of the Absolute in all religions - which they saw as basically monotheistic. That is why they welcomed the Brahmo-Somaj movement in what we call "hinduism". Important for those days, and for these days as well, is the conclusion that there is no superiority in civilisations or race - this really meant going against the current in the heyday of imperialism or colonialism.

Striving can only work towards harmony, through dedication and ascesis to Beauty. And in this respect there is progress: we can look at humanity as a whole, and we will succeed in reaching this unity. It will not be the work of the masses, it is a cultural task - and culture, as Von Hartmann says, is always a matter of minorities. Despite the barbarism of the Great War Van den Bergh believed this harmonious socialism through culture could be reached. He was spared what might have been disillusionment, he died rather young in 1920.

This ethical-mystical world view had been developed rather cerebrally in his thesis, and it could not be otherwise. He was Reformed, which implies, as I said earlier, a tendency to keep silent about what looks like the Unreasonable. Can a lifelong work of looking for the meaning of the Absolute be based on The Experience? Van den Bergh does not mention any knowledge of it.

Yet I must conclude that in this silence there is eloquence on a Something which must have been beyond that which he thought Reasonable. It should have been unreasonable to spend a life looking for the Absolute and the harmony which It demands without an Encounter. The work is the proof. Giving this glimpse in a mystically based ethical idea is meant as an invitation to see what must have inspired any author or artist worthy of the name - The Unspeakable Experience. And so this essay ends where it really starts.

Mysticism and action: Christian anarchism as a paradigm

[This is a lecture given at the University of Bergen, Norway, August 2000. Perhaps - especially when readers would be twisting my arm about it - I will write about the circumstances surrounding the conference at which I gave it. For now I thank Dr. Horst Jesse for having given me the opportunity and a framework to study and speak about mysticism and Christian anarchism.]


Mysticism is generally associated with resignation, with calm observance "of that which is God's", not with action or with resistance. This is a mistaken or incomplete view.

Actually, only two years ago - it is documented, because it was what I reported at a Conference in Haifa - I thought there was a contradiction between action and mysticism. I inferred this from the history of Dutch Christian anarchism around 1900: after "having seen the light" it organized as a movement, people involved thought they could make see by giving the right example that the woes of the world could be solved. It ended in tears and regret, and a turning towards the mystical roots, especially toward protestant mysticism. Action, or resistance, seemed to precede mysticism. Of course, this was a simplification, because Ds. Louis Bähler, one of the main figures in Dutch Christian anarchism, stated that this "turning" towards mysticism meant recognizing "the mystic vein that ran through our movement all along". My idea of only two years ago was that "action" can only imply "doing things actively", which of course is etymologically a proper idea. Still, seeing it that way, one gets barred from the idea that mysticism is a call for action, for radical action even, but for action different from that of the Dutch Christian anarchists before they went to their "mystical roots".

I had been studying the lives of those who played a key role in the American Catholic Worker Movement and was already approaching my new way of looking at the relation between mysticism and action, when someone mentioned Dorothee Sölle's Mystik und Widerstand: Du stilles Geschrei to me. I am glad I was made attentive to this book, because I really would not have thought about ever taking note of Sölle's writings anyway - call it prejudice, or call it judgement based on criticism by writers I value. I must say I still think it is an irritating book by an irritating writer - but I must admit it is also a treasure of ideas of all kinds of thinkers whom I would have thought of even less than of ms. Sölle. And her idea of democratizing mysticism without trivializing it, and against the general trivialization of the world of "Western" consumer capitalism, appeals to me and seems completely compatible with the strivings of Peter Maurin, to whom I shall turn now.

Peter Maurin was born in 1877 as a peasants' son in Occitania. In his younger years he was a member of the Young Catholic Action group Le sillon, which advocated a stressing of good peasant ways of living and a turning away from industrialism. [Generally, such movements are being called "reactionary", which seems to suggest that there is a linear logic which dictates the direction human society is moving towards. Of course, there is not.] Whilst being a member of this catholic society Maurin read socialist and especially anarchist writers, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Peter Kropotkin being the most impressive to him. He leaves Le sillon and emigrates to Canada (1909), trying to work as a farmer, which does not succeed, he moves to the United States in 1911 and becomes an itinerant worker. For about twenty years he lives on the road for most of the time, talking to or arguing with anyone who wanted to listen or even did not want to listen and spreading his message of catholicism and anarchism, mixed with English guild socialism or Distributism and increasingly with French personalism.

It all adds up to a special message of elementary christian anarchism. It has been laid down in books mainly called Easy essays, or sometimes Green revolution. Although his ideas fit in completely with non-political "green" strivings, his "green" refers to the Emerald Isle: he calls for a return to the practice of Irish monks who in his view brought civilization to Europe. It means building hospices, places where the poor and the sick can stay, where round table discussions are being organized "for clarification of thought" and where people can learn a trade, be it agricultural or other. Cult, culture and cultivation, that is what these houses should be about. It is being realized, though not according to his ideas, in the Catholic Worker Movement, a pioneering lay movement on the edge of the Roman Catholic Church, and as far as I know the only movement which specifically combines catholicism and anarchism.

One of Maurin's Easy essays says that for ordinary people "politics is just politics, and mysticism is the right spirit". His life after the start of the Catholilc Worker is very well documented, before that time it is not - and he seems not to have been willing to tell about it. Which makes it difficult to see if there was a particular moment of his meeting God, which we tend to associate mysticism with generally. His mysticism can be seen as living the life of whom he called "the Ambassadors of Christ", the poor. One of his maxims: if everybody wants to be the richest, everybody will be poor; if everyone tries to be the poorest, nobody will be poor". One of the others: "we must work for a society which makes it easier for people to be good". It is tempting to quote from his Easy essays, which leave so much to think about they really cannot be called that easy. Summing up: Maurin's mysticism is that of the identification with Christ in the poor.

The other founder member of the Catholic Worker Movement is Dorothy Day, a journalist of episcopalian descent, born in the US in 1897. In her late teens and twenties she belongs to the radical circles of New York and Chicago, apparently she was a member of the communist party for some time, later she was in touch with the anarchist minded Industrial Workers of the World (she does not mention having had her "Kronstadt", the affair with bolshevism seems to have been superficial). She is married to an anarchist artist and expecting a child when she gets the urge of becoming a Catholic. At least, she wants her child to be catholic, and she is told she has to convert herself too. This she does, and paradoxically it leads to her divorce, in 1927.

The mystical striving for unity with God seems to be this urge to become part of the Corpus mysticum of the Catholic Church. Why this, and not go back to the own tradition? I think it is not being explained satisfactorily, at least as far as the non-catholic onlooker can see - and that is why I choose this feverish urge to be part of Christ's mystical body to be the defining mystical moment in Dorothy Day's life. After she joined the Catholic church she still identifies with the radical worker movement, and regrets that the Church does not show any solidarity towards these movements - mysteriously she ignores the record of the Church's recent history e.g. in Spain. After she has joined the Catholic Church some quiet sets in, but not for long: the discontentment about the lack of a radical Catholic worker movement grows, which can only be strengthened by the Depression. And then she meets Peter Maurin, in 1932, who seems to share her idea about this catholic movement. They start a paper, the Catholic Worker, which is launched on May Day 1933. Peter Maurin wanted it to be called "Catholic Radical", but "Man proposes, woman disposes" as he sadly remarks.

Along with the paper a House of Hospitality is started, according to the idea of the Green Revolution. The Houses somehow do not work in the way Peter Maurin had proposed. The care for the poor, the function of soup kitchen and sleeping place for the Ambassadors of God turn out to be the main function of the houses. This, in combination with the own liturgy of the houses, is the Cult side of Maurin's idea. The Culture side has been developed gradually in later years: it seems to be the action against the preparing for war which goes alongside with welfare consumer capitalism. The Cultivation still has to make itself known.

Reading Dorothy Day is entering a different world: she writes about things which might be called trivial, but she never is trivial - and she blesses ordinary things and creatures with a spirit, given form by the (deuterocanonical) Canticle of the Three Young Men. This is her everyday mysticism: there are no ordinary things or creatures, there is no ordinary time, there is no ordinary work. Living the life of the poor, working for the poor, actively resisting preparations for war until the end of her days - in the protestant sense she certainly lives a sanctified life. Even during her life it was said that she ought to be declared a saint, to which she replied: "I do not want to be dismissed that easily." Let there be hope for the Catholic Church it does not need a special anarchist saint.

Thomas Merton may be called a Christian anarchist, but he did not have the time to consider if that would have been a branding that suited him. He would not have wanted "to be dismissed that easily", I suspect - even more than the Dutch christian anarchists or Dorothy Day he stresses that leading a saintly life and striving for peace is a general Christian idea. Christian, to him means Roman Catholic.

The story of his conversion is less acceptable still to a non-Catholic - to me at least - than Dorothy Day's story. Merton's background is anglican, while a student he is convinced that he is a non-believer, he joins the communist party (he does not mention anything about his membership except his party name), but gradually dissatisfaction and the realization of spiritual emptiness take control of him. Reading English literature he gets gripped by Love by George Herbert, he is inspired by William Blake on whom he writes a thesis, but what touches him most is Etienne Gilson's Gifford Lecture The spirit of mediaeval philosophy. I hope I see right when I conclude that reading this book does prepare him for the Catholic Church as against turning back to the church of his baptism.

From his autobiographical Seven storey mountain which I take as the prime source for his conversion one can hardly conclude that he leads even according to today's standards an immoral life. He does not mention it, one has to read it in a biography written by someone else. This omission indeed makes the "inner voice" which calls him to convert to catholicism and nothing else, and to become a monk, hardly bearable. We do not get to hear "the other voices". There had to be a "Nihil obstat. Imprimatur" in the book. It adds to the feverishness of his will to become a Catholic - again, to join the corpus mysticum. The pressing inner voice is what I would call his introduction to mysticism, if not his mysticism proper.

After his conversion quiet resignation takes the place of all the unrest - perhaps the most feverish about Merton after he joins the Trappist monastery of Gethsemani in 1941, is his wish to become a recluse. This wish is only granted in 1960, at a time when he has made the acquaintance of the Catholic Worker Movement, without which - as he stated later - he never would have been a real catholic. His hermits' days are also the hottest in the Cold War. Merton starts to speak out for catholic action against war, for non-violent opposition to the permanent preparing for mass murder - inspired by the Sermon of the Mount, of course, and by Thoreau and Gandhi. His writings in the Catholic Worker were a call to action for a whole new generation of catholics, the most well-known of whom are the Berrigan brothers, the faces of radical action against the war machinery at this moment. So having got his impulse to radical commitment to the peace movement from the Catholic Worker, he acts as an impulse too. Merton's radical action against war is prayer - he fully believes it makes a difference.

Allie Neill writes that he never met a man of 53 who did not know what he wanted to become. Thomas Merton died of an accident at this age, while on pilgrimage in Asia - and actually I wonder what might have become of this man had he had time and chance to get deeper into East and South Asian religion and perhaps into anarchism. We must conclude God did not want Merton to be a denial of what Neill said. He was born in 1915, so we still can see that he is being missed at this very day: for his role in the Church, for his passion for peace.

From the story of these people around the Catholic Worker Movement might be distilled a model - I know, it is difficult, maybe even unbearable to conclude to some kind of model whilst talking about mysticism, but it is a way of applying some ordering to what we can know. It seems to be a scale or ladder according to which mysticism and action are integrated.

First there is the general call by the world's injustice: identification with the oppressed, the poor, the working class. For Dutch Christian anarchists - practicing modern Hervormd and for the most part even churchmen - these were the workers who seemed only to be able to forget their misery in alcohol. For people who seem to be estranged from their religion, like Day and Merton, this also is the phase in which they join radical atheist movements which promise "pies in the sky when you die" - socialism in some distant future.

The second stage is the inspiration by writers who represent both Gospel and struggle for a better world, or transcending this world - which may be the same. For Dorothy Day this writer seems to be Fëdor Dostoyewsky, especially his "Brothers Karamazov". For Thomas Merton it is both George Herbert and William Blake, completed by Etienne Gilson. For Dutch Christian anarchists this is, like for most Christian anarchists, mainly Lew Tolstoy. For them, not being estranged from religion in the first place, this also is the call to action for changing the world - not with the rancour or illusions movements like the communist party were selling, but still with the idea of "giving the good example for people to follow": starting self managed industries, living in communistic communities. It ended in proverbial disaster. This phase I call "dawning mysticism": the idea of living according to Christ's teachings takes root, but it makes a false start.

The third phase is that of "mystical union". Obviously, for Day and Merton it is joining the Catholic Church, for Dutch Christian anarchists it was rethinking their mystical roots. It is indeed followed by some resigned calm. For Dorothy Day and Dutch christian anarchists this period does not last long, for Thomas Merton it takes nearly twenty years. Then it is time for a crisis, accompanied by a second call from someone who could appropriately be called starets, having Zosima from the Brothers Karamazov in mind. For Dorothy Day this is Peter Maurin. For Thomas Merton it is Dorothy Day, and certainly pope John XXIII too. For Dutch Christian anarchists it is the World War, which later got its number, they have different startsy, the ones they have in common are - paradoxically - the younger people who join in with the movement against conscription, in 1915. Felix Ortt, one of the few who does not get jailed during the World War, turns to Lao Zi and tends to put Tao above Christianity in his long remaining years.

After this second calling the fifth phase - the crisis point being the fourth - sets in: the real integration of mysticism and action. It is a working in the realization that things can only be done in the here and now - the Kingdom of Heaven is amongst you or within you, but it is NOW, not in some illusory future. NOW it is time for poor to be given soup, coffee and bread. NOW is the time for peace, which can only be lived in prayer: there is no way to peace, peace is the way - this is the action all have in common in this phase. All the way to heaven is heaven, as Dorothy Day quoted Teresa de Avila. Of course, there is the possibility of making other people see what they have not seen yet, but this is being done without the idea of a future break in worldly history. Revolution is a process to be lived by living people, it is not to be made by a new form of worldly government, and the time is now. The process takes long, still, but there is the Certainty - mysticism as the right spirit.

As a postscript I can add that Dorothee Sölle in "Mystik und Widerstand" identifies mysticism with anarchy - not having any authority on earth, either government or church officials. Here indeed is where she seems to prove that christian anarchism is what she call the democratization of mysticism - not a paradox but a paradigm, and though I rather hate to admit it because I still take offense of her style of writing, and though I offer a different "scale" from hers - in the final analysis we seem to agree.

Parallels or influence - the Dutch Christian anarchist movement 1897-1907 and the Landauer connection

This was my first ever lecture on Christian anarchism, Haifa 1998, incorporated by the grace of God in a series on mysticism.
I noticed that neither Landauer's Aufruf zum Soialismus (Call to socialism) nor Tolstoy's Les temps sont proches (The end is nigh) have been published as books in English. An omission that still should be rectified.
I now doubt whether it would be useful to advocate the expression "transcendental anarchism". (AdR)

1. Cornershops

One of the most beautiful articles written by Gustav Landauer - at least in my opinion - is "Brot", Bread, in which he gets carried away by a bakers' strike which would have been forgotten if he had not written about it. The baking of bread is a craft, common to all humanity throughout history, which should not be left to factories, and which in the socialism of the future would again be a common skill. Reading about this most essential craft my thoughts go back to remote villages in this part of the world, where you will be given freshly baked bread from the communal oven: the most wonderful product of a still most common craft, and according to Landauer's article, ovens in such villages spell the future in stead of being a relict of a vanishing past. Why not, indeed?

About twenty years ago anarchists in England used a slogan: "We don't just want more bread, we want the whole bloody bakery", which reflects the situation in a country where people have got used to bread being an industrial product. But Britain seems to be unique among West-European countries in this respect. In Amsterdam there still are lots of independent craftsman-like bakeries, although legislation on working at night leads to furthering centralisation: most bakers bake off dough already supplied by factories, in stead of going through the whole process themselves. But probably the two most famous bakeries in my home town, visited by people from all over town who do not mind making queues which would remind you of - say - Poland not so long ago, are remnants of anarchist movements: one (Paul Année, as a service for future visitors) was started in the days of the short-lived Kabouter Movement of around 1970, and although the founder is dead the bakery is still alive and well. The other one celebrated its 100th anniversary this year, and I should have written a history about it probably, but this remark should do now: it is Bakkerij Hartog, known as "the pacifist bakery", and it advertised its products in the weekly of the christian anarchist movement, about which I will tell you more shortly.

Incidentally, just around the corner in my part of town there is a dairy shop (a trade which is on the verge of dying out in the Netherlands), and a cleaning company run by Moroccan immigrants, both called Nieuw Leven, New Life, which completely independent of each other still testify of the movement for worker's self-management and small industries run by the workers themselves, initiated by the aforementioned christian anarchists of a century ago. Ironically, that is where anarchist movements seem to end or where they survive anyway: in small cornershops. The Squatters Movement, which started in the Kabouter days about thirty years ago, but which lasted longer, also ended in quite a few small businesses - there is even a slogan going around: Make the world better, begin for yourself (Verbeter de wereld, begin voor jezelf). So after all it might seem, marxist critics were right about anarchism being a petty bourgeois ideology - it all ends in small cornershops. Maybe, but since we know now marxist socialism blew itself up with its own technology in the form of a nuclear power plant, there should be no argument about which kind of socialism has to be preferred and which still has a future ahead of it.

2. Christian anarchism

There may be some confusion about the name of the movement of which I am writing a history: the Dutch christian anarchists. In 1987 the American theologist Vernard Eller wrote a book called Christian anarchy. He included in his gallery of honorable christian anarchists Jacques Ellul, to whom he dedicated his book, which is fair enough since Ellul was both Christian and anarchist, and has written Anarchie et christianisme to explain his position on both, in 1986. Others mentioned by Eller are: Sören Kierkegaard, the Blumhardts, Karl Barth (at least the younger Karl Barth), and to some extent Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A remarkable and honorable list indeed, and Eller succeeds in convincing at least this reader of his book that the qualifications are justified. Unfortunately, Eller claims in his book that it is the first in history with such a title. It is not. I would not dare to say Eugen Heinrich Schmitt, a German gnostic teaching in Budapest, was the first to use this qualification, Christliche Anarchie, but since the word "anarchy" was still young in this sense, more than a hundred years ago, it probably was the first with such a title.

The Christian Anarchy Schmitt writes about is the socio-political consequence of Tolstoy's teaching in The Kingdom of Heaven is within you, which in its turn deems the Sermon of the Mount to be the essence of Christianity. Both Schmitt's and Tolstoy's messages hit home with some modern theologists of the Dutch Reformed Church (Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk), some of whom got acquainted with what was called "the social question", in their student days: poverty, long working hours, alcoholism, prostitution and the diseases attached to it, the oppression of women. Tolstoy's idea of non-violent revolution, on the duty of refusing conscription, of non-resistance against evil men, was the definitive ingredient of what was to be Dutch Christian anarchism. The most important minister of this movement, maybe the one who started it all (1893: first translation), was Louis Adrien Bähler, reverend in several villages in the already free-thinking northern part of the Netherlands.

Historiography of the Dutch worker's or socialist movement is still heavily dominated by social-democrats who love to denounce anarchism, let us say according to the cornershop syndrome as mentioned before. In their writings in the Netherlands suddenly "Tolstoyans" prop up, and disappear again with the growth of glorious social democracy, but do not be fooled: there was no such thing as a "Tolstoyan" movement in the Netherlands, as opposed to England, where there was, and maybe still is. The only Tolstoyan in the Netherlands I know of is J.K. van der Veer, the first to refuse conscription, celebrated by Tolstoy in The end is nigh (the end of militarism, of course...). Van der Veer venerated everything about the Russian master, even went so far as to propagate the contents of the Kreutzer Sonata, which makes one wonder, since he was and remained married, was thrown out of the Christian anarchist printshop where he worked, because his Tolstoyan zeal got on the nerves of his colleagues, moved to England where he met with some real deep Tolstoyan asceticism and came back as a converted social democrat - and that is the unfortunate story of Dutch Tolstoyanism.

The movement or tendency which by the social-democrat historiogaphers is called "Tolstoyan" called itself Christian anarchist, and is in this respect treated fairly by their contemporaneous non-christian fellow-anarchists. The name was coined in the Netherlands by waterstaatkundig ingenieur (civil engineer of hydraulics) Felix Ortt, who wrote a book called Christelijk anarchisme (Christian anarchism) in 1897, the second printing of the same year was called however Het beginsel der liefde (The principle of love). Putting it short: the main message of this and other religious writings of Ortt was that love is the unifying principle of the universe, the all-encompassing sign of God's incomprehensible existence. Propagating love in the Paulinian sense was the foremost aim of the fledgling Christian anarchist movement. Probably the longest lasting legacy of their workings has been the tradition of conscientious objection, which in the Netherlands has been very strong and after quite a few cases of young men refusing to wear a uniform eventually ended in legislation granting the right to have his own conscience - conscience, from a mystical standpoint, being the voice of God in the Self. The finest hour of Dutch Christian anarchism was the Objector's Manifesto, an initiative of the Rev. Louis Bähler I mentioned before, in 1915 - several ministers went to jail for signing the manifesto, and it was supported by people to the left of social-democracy in general. It did not have lethal consequences for anyone, since the Netherlands stayed out of the First World War.

3. Inland colonisation

For the beginning movement itself the striving for Inland Colonisation was definitely the most important aim in the early days. Theirs is a sad story, of too high-reaching hopes, asking too much of people who were not always willing to live up to the high standards raised by the Christian anarchists - and then again, starting an agricultural colony on poor soil in a poor part of the country may be daring, but if skill is lacking, it becomes torment. The worst part was the enmity with which the colony was judged by farmers and fishermen of the neighbouring villages of Blaricum and Huizen. In 1903 the Netherlands had its only strike movement which might have had a revolutionary momentum - were it not for the stifling division between anarchists and social democrats, which was successfully exploited by the christian coalition government. The strikes were crushed down, and a drunken mob besieged the colony in Blaricum which had supported the strike movement. One of the houses was put on fire. Our anti-militarist, non-resisting Christian anarchists had to be saved from the drunken proletariat by the military - which meant the end of the idealistic colony. One craft practised at the colony in Blaricum survived, though - it was the bakery, which existed 'til in the 1940's, the best known product being sportbeschuit, I think this must be translated as 'wholemeal crispbake' - it is a Dutch speciality anyway, and it was the object of utmost mockery by especially the social-democrats: baking bread is not making revolution, was their joke which apparently they thought extremely funny.

There were other colonies, some of them very short-lived, others struggling on for a few decades, none surviving. The most well-known is Walden, named after Thoreau's book and specifically led by one of the charismatic figures of the Dutch socialist movement of a century ago, author and psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden - the fact that it was being led unequivocally was the main reason why there were very few working contacts between the main Christian anarchist colony and Walden; they were not far apart, geographically speaking. The one thing they did together oddly enough was a kind of festival during which the remainder of the strawberry harvest was finished together. The best working colony was probably that of the village of Nieuwe-Niedorp in Noord-Holland, the place where the rev. N.J.C. Schermerhorn preached, christian and anarchist, but not willing to be called christian anarchist (I will return to the matter of classifying all these different anarchists shortly). Nieuwe-Niedorp, small though it was, had the greatest number of conscientious objectors (relatively speaking, if not at one time absolutely) of the Netherlands. The colony fared rather well, but when colonists wanted to start small industries in the colony they were confronted with the non-colonising inhabitants of the village, who did not want competition under the flag of anti-capitalism - and who could blame them? This colony, though it did not face the internal and external problems the other ones had, saw just as well many people coming and going again, so eventually it became a private agricultural enterprise.

The Christian anarchist colonial undertakings were financed by their own Federatief Fonds (Federative Fund), and they were only loosely connected to the larger union Gemeenschappelijk Grondbezit (G.G.B.), which they supported cordially but which was not Christian anarchist: it aimed at uniting all willing to support the idea, irrespective of any attachment to religious ideals. The people this movement attracted were mostly socalled freethinking or atheistic anarchists, called vrije socialisten (free socialists) in the Netherlands, liberal-socialists as the supporters of the ideas of Henry George were called, and a special but important category, people attracted to or brought in by the writer Frederik van Eeden. It is with Van Eeden that the Landauer-connection might come in: they were corresponding, Van Eeden wrote several articles for Der Sozialist and he certainly admired Landauer very much (I do not think the feeling was mutual). Gemeenschappelijk Grondbezit (Common Ownership of Land) purported - in its own words - to create the Archimedal point from which capitalism could be abolished: by starting self-managed productive units, industrial or agriculural or both, on "liberated" land - liberated not by occupation or guerrilla warfare, which I do not think you would have expected anyway, but by buying it. You do not have to be a social-democrat to see some inconsistency here, but certainly they were very much propagating against this movement. There are still surviving production units, and the organisation continued in a different way after World War Two as a union of co-operatives, which the social-democrats had abandoned with their last surviving ideal of socialism. Frankly, I could not tell you in what way this union still works, it certainly is not propagating anything spectacularly. They are kept out of sight by the ideological onslaught about "market economics" which is sweeping across the world, and in the Netherlands probably worse than anywhere else.

A particularly interesting aim of the movement, which should have been integrated in the colonising movement, but came nowhere to completion, was the abolishing of the contradiction between city and countryside - the city being the main focus of capitalism. The colonies should take the form of garden cities, a model also propagated by the Christian anarchists. This was, and still is, the point all those not supporting the movement thought the laughing stock of it all: "you cannot go back to Nature" still is the catchword phrase against movements with such an aim, progress cannot be halted. Christian anarchists and members of G.G.B. simply did not think of following the logic of capitalist technological development as being Progress, or at least as the new kind of Nature passed beyond a point of no return.

The most outspoken ideologue at this point probably was S. (Sam) van den Berg, one of the Jewish Christian anarchists. (If you wonder about this: as modernist protestants the Christian anarchists did not think of Jesus as being God's only Son, but as the prophet whose main message was to love thy neighbour as thyself; so the movement attracted Jews who could agree with this). Van den Berg particularly argued against the introduction of grain elevators in the Rotterdam docks, where he was working (he was one of the very few proletarians in the movement, too). Machinery that would rob workers of their livelihood should not be introduced under capitalist conditions and the workers should fight against it - and so they did, but as usual in these cases, the social-democrats turned against their fellow workers who would stand in the way of Progress, which for them was and is symbolized by anything capitalist technology will come up with. So the Rotterdam strikes of 1905 and 1906 were crushed with "help from within the worker's movement" so to speak - and since Van den Berg actually did not get any backing from his fellow Christian anarchists he left the movement, after which it was declared dead anyway, in 1907.

The ideal of Christian anarchism of course survived, and after World War I it took a revived organisational form, being renamed religious anarchism - but I shall not go into that history here and now.

4. A new name?

Before coming upon the apparent point where Landauer comes into the story of the Dutch Christian anarchists I would like to dwell upon the question how to classify anarchists like Landauer, the Dutch Christian anarchists, Tolstoy and his followers, Buber, Kierkegaard, Barth, Ellul and all others, some of whom would either disagree with being called anarchists at all or who simply lived before this word was introduced in any language. Christian thinkers, be they protestant, Roman-Catholic or Eastern Orthodox probably will not mind being called Christian or Christian anarchists. I realize I have not mentioned any Roman Catholics yet - which is unfair, because the American Catholic Worker Movement, the De-fence Movement or Swords into Ploughshares, the Berrigan Brothers, some Franciscan activists I know in the Netherlands even, are proud of being called Christian and anarchists.

I already mentioned the fact that in the Dutch christian or religious anarchist movement there were Jews, who did not mind about the label of their organisation. But Martin Buber and Gustav Landauer certainly would not want to be called Christian anarchists, even though they looked with respect upon the Jesus of the Gospel. And how about for example buddhist or taoïst, or islamic anarchists? I admit having no knowledge about any of them, but still they are bound to exist. If we want to stress what they have in common with the Jewish or Christian anarchists, what name shall we give them? Mystical anarchists? But I doubt if this is what they really have in common - and for one, I know Jacques Ellul explicitly rejects both the concept of Christianity as a religion and mysticism, so to keep him aboard we have to do away with the term "religious anarchism" too. I know the Dutch Christian anarchists would not agree with being called "metaphysical" - and personally I strongly reject the label which probably comes to mind with most people, which reflects current fashions and quests, which will make these anarchists being sold to the millions maybe: "spiritual anarchism". Not only for this reason, because it tastes of the idiocies of consumer society - I would not like Dutch Christian anarchist to be labelled under a name which could be associated with alcoholic drinks, and quite a few others who would not agree with a name that could make them look as being spiritist or spiritualist.

But there is something, which actually should not be called something, but human language is not fit for adequately expressing it, which binds all these anarchists, with all their apparent differences and yet with more in common than the rejection of the wielding of and yielding for worldly powers. I propose the classification "transcendental anarchists" and the correspondending "transcendental anarchism". Or transcendental libertarians, for those who would still be afraid of the anarchist label, because in the language of the media "anarchism" is commonly associated with a disorderly collective shoot-out, as in Albania 1997.

Maybe it sounds awkward, maybe it would take time to get used to it so the awkwardness would vanish, and what I like about the classification is the built-in ambiguity. Does not what all anarchists have in common, the rejection of authority unwanted by any human being, transcend the existing order or disorder? Indeed, that is why I propose this seemingly pleonastic classification - maybe it is just another phrase for what Landauer saw as the religious message of anarchism in general - atheists, agnostics and others I cannot think of now can be welcomed under this label as well. I have forgotten to mention the spinozist Dutch anarchists, and those who wanted to be called "humanitarian anarchists" and who certainly had a tendency towards mysticism, like Jan Hof, who did much to popularize the study of nature in the Netherlands. They can be included under the label I propose, for example. In other countries other or comparable tendencies may be found. Anyway,, on the subject of atheism: Dutch Christian anarchists at one point spoke of Bakunin and Kropotkin as bearers of the Spirit of Christ, and I mention the phrase of Sam van den Berg, the Dutch Jewish Christian anarcho-syndicalist, about "the great anarchist of love from Nazareth", and leave the subject of classification with this quotation to think about.

5. The Eckehart connection

Now we got the possibility to classify philosophers, theologians and teaching masters this way, expanding back in time as far as we can, it should be of no relevance who was first with bringing in mediaeval mysticism in the anarchist movement, under its contemporary name. Indeed, quite probably it was Gustav Landauer, who took up the task of translating some homilies and treatises of the then recently rediscovered Meister Eckehart into modern High German. After all, he had already written Skepsis und Mystik, in which he celebrated Eckehart. But I shall grant the English Tolstoyans the benefit of the doubt: they started issuing a series on Christian mystics in the same year Landauer's translation came out, 1903.

After the traumatic experience of the besieged colony, of which they had expected so much, the Christian anarchists who never could organise a working group of any size (their journal had about two thousand readers, but these seem to have been happy with reading the message and did not want any organisation) were at a loss about what to do. They started schools which stressed individual development and universal love for all creatures, and which still exist today in a very watered-down way. But apart from syndicalist Van den Berg, whom I mentioned earlier, and some followers of the apparently charismatic professor Jacob van Rees, generally people around the journal Vrede did not feel like organising and even hated the idea. "Ours is a spiritual movement," wrote Lodewijk van Mierop, one of the members of the old colony, and Felix Ortt, leading figure in the colony and amongst many other things publisher and printer of "the movement" at that moment, declared, more or less in disgust, that he did not want to have to do with anything like "propaganda for the masses." Not joining a movement, but being converted to the real human ideal was what counted. Der Geist is entscheidend, as Landauer said, but you have to get this Geist individually, not collectively, because that would be of no value.

Amidst this "organisational" confusion rev. Louis Bähler, the most mystical christian anarchist and at that moment editor of the journal Vrede discovered both the series of Christian Mystics of W.P. Swainson from England, and through a translation by Dutch vrije socialist Joan Nieuwenhuis Landauer's version of Meister Eckehart. Apparently this struck the right chord: Bähler started reading what was then considered the original Eckehart text (we had to wait till about 1960 for a textcritical edition). A complete own series and a translation of Swainson's books was announced. Bähler was proud in offering the first of these translations, a Life of St. Francis, a most completely Holy Man (Bïählers sincere admiration still sounds remarkable from a Reformed minister). And there was the own series, dedicated to the Inward Word or the Inward Life: Geschriften van het ingekeerde leven. It opened with a catechism on the Inner Word by Johannes Tennhard, a second hand translation on The Presence of God by Berniïères de Louvigni and a Dutch treatise from the seventeenth century Dutch reformed mysticist Johannes Teellinck.

The Eckehart-effect had its own peculiar working within Dutch Christian anarchism, but we have to bear in mind that this switch to mysticism came in stead of any idea of reaching the masses, the working class or anyone striving for imminent change. Even the support of conscientious objectors had stopped, apparently after some bad experience with someone who did not have the right Spirit. So mysticism was not the starting point for something new, if I may use these words, it appeared as a dead end street - and it certainly hastened the downfall of the own publishing company the Christian anarchists still had. Mysticism as the spiritual guidance for a movement towards renewal of society did not get support in the Netherlands, and it took several decades until after Landauer's death that anything apart from his Eckehart-translation was translated into Dutch - so I must say his legacy has to be sought in the future, not in the past, as far as the Netherlands are concerned.

The reverend Bähler, who caused the "right wing" of the Dutch Reformed Church to organise separately within the Church, stopped being a minister in 1911, and became a theosophist. Van Mierop launched an idea of new spiritual communities in 1909, but this never came to be practised, and he and Ortt gave their energy to all kind of adjacent causes which were neither expressly anarchist nor Christian, let alone Christian anarchist, though never abandoning the original idea. Yet here are the issues where the workings of the Dutch Christian anarchists went far beyond their small numbers: apart from the movement for conscientious objection and the still radical Reformed peace movement, which would not have existed in this way without the christian anarchists, it is on humanitarian issues, like the protection of animal rights, the idea of abandoning criminal justice in general and jails in particular (although I must admit, this idea has been silenced at the moment) that the ideas of Christian anarchism have continued.

The religious anarchist movement which resurrected in 1919 hardly survived high mounting discussions on how to act against Spanish fascism, during the Civil War, and at the point where it could be revived Nazi Germany occupied the Netherlands, the event that left little else but Hope. Van Mierop did not live to see it, I do not yet know about the fate of Van den Berg (I hope he emigrated as he had already planned in 1911), Bähler died of old age during the occupation, and Ortt kept writing and still had fourteen years ahead afterwards of spreading the message on his own, which he did. When he died in 1959 anarchism, Christian or not, seemed to be a thing of the remote past in the Netherlands - but here too is a legacy that is for the future even more than for the past, rich though it may be.

(Speech delivered at the University of Haifa, August 1998)