Arthur Versluis, professor of religious studies at Michigan State University, is the author of many books and an expert on Western mysticism and esotericism, especially the Christian theosophic tradition. He's also an expert on the intellectual origins of totalitarianism, the subject of his excellent 2006 book, The New Inquisitions.

Today on MindMatters we talk with Arthur about a range of subjects: totalitarianism, ponerology, gnosis, Christian mystics, decentralization, and the "mystical state," a vision of politics informed not by dualistic and secular philosophy, but the mystical center of the spiritual life - the topic of his 2011 book of the same name. Arthur also talks about his latest book, a conversation with psychologist and Christian theosophist Robert J. Faas.

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Here is the transcript:

Harrison: Welcome back to Mind Matters everyone. Today we are pleased to have joining us Arthur Versluis. Arthur is quite a prolific author. Arthur, do you know how many books you've written, off the top of your head?

Arthur: I don't keep track of numbers, no.

Harrison: I think it's somewhere around 30 from what I can gather on your website and on Amazon. We recently read one of your books and some of us are still reading it. This is the one that I first read. This was a book from 2006 I believe. Let me just double check that. Yes, 2006. The New Inquisitions: Heretic Hunting and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Totalitarianism. Then I've been reading this one recently, The Mystical State: Politics, Gnosis, and Emergent Cultures. This one came out in 2011, somewhat of a sequel of sorts to The New Inquisitions. We can get into that. The only other one at the moment that I have, Secret History of Western Sexual Mysticism: Sacred Practices and Spiritual Marriage. This one was from 2008.

Now like I said, Arthur has written dozens of books so this is only a tiny selection of the ones he has written. Arthur, could you tell us a bit about your background? Just from the titles we can get an idea of what you specialize in - the western occult or esoteric tradition or mysticism or things like that. So just tell us a bit about what you study and how you got into your own field of study. How did that happen?

Arthur: Well I just follow up things that I find fascinating and that are under-studied. So really, that's what governs what I do. My work has always crossed over between religion and literature, the intersection of those two. And then more broadly, I'm interested in culture and how culture develops and what culture is. That's part of what underlies a number of the books. It's not always explicit but that is at least implicit.

I became interested in Christian mysticism quite a long time ago as one of my interests because the way Christianity was presented was typically confessional. So primarily it's presented as a confessional tradition and in other places, for example in Buddhism and Sufism, you have initiatory lineages. You have lines of teachers, so teachers and students who teach some kind of practice. I began to wonder where that wasn't in Christianity so that led me ultimately to Christian theosophy or Boehmean theosophy.

So that became the basis for a series of books and some of those are still ongoing. I have one that just came out which is a set of conversations with a practitioner of theosophy called Conversations in Apocalyptic Times and that's with Robert Foss who's a clinical psychologist but also a practitioner of Christian theosophic alchemical mysticism. So that's an interest that has gone from the 1990s when I published the first book, Wisdom's Children, 1999, to the present, the present being the co-authored book with Bob Foss.

Harrison: Let's get into that a little bit. I want to talk about several lines of your work, but let's zero in on that one a bit because I think because we live, in a sense, in a Christian culture, Christian history, even if a lot of people are very secular and wouldn't necessarily consider themselves Christians these days, within that confessional water that we're swimming in, some people might not even realize that there is a mystical, theosophic tradition in Christianity. So could you tell us a bit about what that is? Maybe talk about Jacob Boehme and where we can actually find traces of this stream within Christianity.

Arthur: Sure. We need to go a little further back than the origin of Christianity itself because really where I would point is initially the ancient mystery traditions. So for example, the island of Samothrace off the coast of Greece was a mystery center for several thousand years and had an initiatory complex on it. I've been there. I have a book about that called Entering the Mysteries.

So the ancient mysteries were a revelatory tradition that preceded Christianity and the mysteries were to some extent influential in Platonism. So the Platonic tradition drew from the ancient mystery tradition. And then when Christianity emerged, Christianity had a mystery religion dimension to it. Christ rose from the dead. Christ is identified with light. There also is a continuity with Platonic mysticism in that Platonic mysticism has as its center something called the negative way, which is pure transcendence. Pure transcendence is not sensory. It's not taste. It's not touch. It's not smell. It can't be identified conceptually other than by negation and that gets conveyed into Christianity by someone named Dionysius the Areopagite.

That becomes the heart of Christian mysticism, really, that sheer transcendence and it's carried on all the way through the medieval period with figures like Meister Eckhart and Johannes Tauler, to give two major examples. That's about the 13th century. Then when you get to the 17th century, about 1600, you have a German shoemaker, a cobbler by the name of Jakob Böhme. He was an ordinary guy in many ways, but he was also absolutely extraordinary. What he did was synthesize - and it's an extraordinary story. He was living in a Lutheran town and he synthesized all of these different traditions and different esoteric currents including, for example, alchemy.

So he incorporated alchemical symbolism into his work. He incorporated all kinds of different things and created this entire, you could call, cosmological and metaphysical system, which is esoteric Christian and essentially summarizes, you could say, many different pre-existing currents and one of those is sheer transcendence.

So Böhme is very important because he, in these extraordinary books that he wrote, outlined this. One of the ones that refers to this line I'm referring to of sheer transcendence is Dialogues on the Super Sensual Life. In that particular work a master and a disciple are talking back and forth about what is the super sensual life? What is beyond the physical? That's a very helpful work.

Böhme is not easy to read. He's a complex author, but he has a lot to offer. The question becomes, what do you actually do. He gives you a lot of insights and I'm not going to go into all the details of that, but the question I would pose then is, 'Alright, given that he has all of these alchemical and other themes in his work and advice to practitioners and so forth, what does one actually do in this tradition?' That's the question mark because if you go back to earlier forms of Christian mysticism, it's actually kind of difficult to find how, for example, Meister Eckhart, probably the greatest mystic in certainly the Germanic tradition, but possibly in European tradition, gives really no indication of how he got to where he was, right?

It's all these gnomic utterances that are just clearly reflecting this tradition of sheer transcendence, but how did he get there? We're not sure. Böhme gives some advice. He does tell you some things but it's not a handbook in the sense of you start at point one and you end up at point 12. But he does give some advice.

So he then generated an entire school across Europe, in France and Germany and England. The library you see in the background actually is in Oxford and Oxford's library includes some of the manuscripts of these folks. I have it here because I've been there and I've consulted those manuscripts directly. I've drawn on the manuscripts. I've drawn on all kinds of different things.

So that's just a little thumbnail in terms of Böhme and his continuity with earlier traditions going actually fairly far back.

Harrison: In The Mystical State you go over some of the history. It's in the theme of politics. We'll get to that later. But you go back to some of the history and one of the earliest examples of this thread in Christianity was Basilides in the early 2nd century. But there were all of these, what came to be known as heretics and Gnostics in the Christian tradition and it seems like in the 2nd century there were a lot of potentially something akin to this initiatory lineage where there was a teacher and the teacher would have students.

After a century or two they all completely disappeared because of the anti-heretical bent that Christianity took with figures and writings like Tertullian and Epiphanes and Irenaeus, how you point out that Christianity took a very specific turn away from that to the point where, as you mention, those themes are few and far between in Christianity in pretty much the whole history of Christianity. We see these figures pop in and out and we can see threads of it, but as you mention in American Christianity for instance for the last 150 years there's been practically nothing of that sort whatsoever whereas even if you look at a lot of these other religions, you'll find a mystical tradition that is still alive.

You mentioned Sufism. We talked to a scholar on Ibn Arabi but if you look at the Sufi tradition, you've got tons of Sufi masters all over the place and their lineages. You've got all these different streams and things like that. But again, in Christianity it was almost blocked off from close to the very beginning and the few that have managed to come through don't have an easy time of it. Was noticing that perhaps one of the inspirations for The New Inquisitions or was that a connection that you made while doing that research and writing that book?

Arthur: Well you're putting your finger, pointing to something that's really quite important and the figures that I mentioned, for example Meister Eckhart, this extraordinary, spiritual genius whose work, when it became known in Japan, was recognized to be very similar by people who were practitioners within the Zen tradition especially a Zen philosophical tradition that emerged in the mid-20th century but also others. I met a Zen priest who would be an example of that. In fact he stayed at my house at one point.

They recognize this extraordinary dimension of Eckhart but Eckhart himself was posthumously condemned and lapsed into obscurity. Böhme, when he published his first work Aurora, was banned from publishing anything further by his own pastor in his own church. I just published a book in 2017 called Platonic Mysticism and in fact yesterday I gave a presentation and a symposium in Poland about that. There are some rather interesting people in Poland interested in this sort of thing. One of the aspects of that book is that Platonism has also been, to a large extent, distorted and suppressed. So it's not only that Christianity has pushed back largely against its own mystical tradition and suppressed it but also more broadly within the last 50-75 years, within academia and specifically within academic philosophy, you have also the concurrent exclusion of Platonism. These are both actually practical traditions and they're traditions that don't correspond to a materialistic worldview.

So there's a large set of questions here and the book New Inquisitions came about for a couple of different reasons. One, I've had a longstanding interest in both mysticism but also the suppression and why people seek to suppress and oppress and exclude. Those are things that interest me a great deal and in fact all of my work is aimed at opening a door into things that have been not so widely made available, to make them available. And that also includes discussion of the inquisitions, an inquisitional, pathological behavior. We see that in the inquisition I think, in the murder of someone like Giordano Bruno, for example by the inquisition. He was burned to death on Ash Wednesday, 1600, if you wanted the date. That kind of, I think pathological destruction of the vast requires some investigation, I guess you could say in the best and the worst.

Harrison: I share the same interests. That's what drew me to your book in the first place. Maybe fortunately, I bought your book, The New Inquisitions back probably around 2008, 2009 but I never actually ended up reading it until recently. I saw it on my shelf and realized, "Well I really should get around to that one. It sounds like I'd really enjoy it." So I read it and was very glad that I did. And then researching you a bit and finding out where your background is and just how much our interests aligned, what really struck me was the fact that you'd pick the subject of totalitarianism. I think you get to the heart of the matter in a way that few do I think in this book.

So I thought the juxtaposition was interesting. It makes sense to me that someone with your expertise would be able to look into this subject and see what's going on. But what New Inquisitions is, for those who aren't familiar with it because we haven't really discussed the book, the subtitle as I mentioned was Heretic Hunting and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Totalitarianism.

So it's a study of modern totalitarianism but then you track the intellectual lineage through several figures backwards and forwards. You look at the inquisition itself and the political theorists and philosophers who have drawn from inquisitional thinking and how it has seeped into their thought and how that basically forms a lineage directly from the inquisition to the philosophers and the shapers of modern totalitarianism in the 20th century. But you also go back to the figures I mentioned in early Christian history like Tertullian and Irenaeus and their anti-heretical works and how it's almost like the seeds of the inquisition were planted right back there in the 2nd and 3rd centuries and they come to fruition in both of the inquisitions as they manifested in France and I think probably especially in the Spanish inquisition where it was institutionalized to a greater degree I think.

But even then, in the 20th century, all of those features, all of those characteristics, all of those trends were almost amplified to a much more massive degree. So it's almost a progressive increase in amplification of all of these tendencies. It's almost like a snowball. It starts out as a little flake and as it rolls through history it just gets bigger and bigger and bigger until you get something like Nazi Germany or the USSR or Mao's China and you use all these examples to do that.

So just incidentally I want to know if you were also always interested in these secular totalitarianisms and your interests just aligned with that or did you start with the inquisition and trace it from then to now. How exactly did you form the thesis in that book?

Arthur: Well, there's a direct line that you can trace and you were alluding to that and as you say, I do show that in the book with some of these thinkers. What I would say about that book now with the benefit of what has happened in the last few years in particular, is that were I writing the book today, many aspects of it would stay the same and fundamentally the insights that are in there I would say time has confirmed them.

However, there also are things that have happened that would naturally fit in an additional chapter and that additional chapter would be about the shift from Christianity to a secular religion. I would give a couple of examples of that. One would be the French Revolution. The French Revolution is an example. It's a secular movement and one of the things that happened in the wake of the French Revolution was the murder of a vast number of peasants who were resistant to it. You can look up the history. I would include that and from that I would take a look at what's happening now, specifically in the United States because I think there are some things that are happening that reflect a kind of secular civil religion, but it's still a religion and it still has heretics.

Who are the heretics? This is easy to see. There's a Dilbert cartoon from a couple of days ago where a pointy-eared guy hires a guy as a human sacrifice and he hangs him out a window to the woke mob. So the woke mob is down below and they put this guy on a pole and hang him out the window and the guy says, "I'm not a racist" and the pointy-eared boss says, "Well you can't prove that." {laughter} Meaning you're still a good sacrifice. Who cares if you're a racist or not? We just need to appease the mob. That's a Dilbert cartoon.

So what are we talking about here? Well what is heresy in modern America? What's heresy? What's heretical to say? You can fill in those blanks. Those things are operative in contemporary society. There are things you can say, things you can't say and if you say some things, those things will hang you. So that would be similar to the theme we're talking about. So in some way I would have to do a chapter on this. I would be obligated to. I don't know how I would not do it because it seems to me evident that there is a kind of inquisitional thinking today. It manifests in different ways but it's still the same pattern. Really the book is about a pattern.

Harrison: Yeah.

Arthur: At the time the book was published you had the war on terror happening and the development of the Patriot Act and all kinds of surveillance on American citizens and abrogation of various rights and different things that had happened during that time. That was at the time of the book's publication. Now we're in a different historical moment and we can see things that are happening. But the book is about patterns and there are a series of patterns. You can see the patterns historically. I would call it an exercise in pattern recognition.

For listeners it would be great to read the book and then apply those patterns to contemporary society and see what you think. What do you think?

Harrison: Yup.

Elan: I would say that is a virtue of the book. I'm reading it and I was looking at the beginning of the book and I was wondering, "When was this written again?!" 2006?! Amazing the patterns that you establish beginning with the Spanish inquisition that get carried through and expanded into the 20th century, 21st century, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Nazi movement. Incredible! There are five dimensions or characteristics that you call archetypal which define the way that an inquisition works, whether it be under a leftist regime or a far right regime. Roughly you mention that there is a juncture of religious and secular power and all of these can be qualified. This is just a rough, broad description of what you write.

The second is the criminalization of thought. The third is the imposition of torture and the death penalty. The fourth is to terrorize the population into compliance or the imposition of fear. The fifth is the secrecy of trials or proceedings. It is this kind of pattern. We see how they've come into full fruition under full-blown totalitarian regimes. But you can get the outline of some of these movements in contemporary culture and society right now. I think that is one of the virtues of the book, if you're paying attention to contemporary events, news and developments with a more or less objective perspective.

Harrison: Along those lines, the pattern that you mentioned and the pattern that Elan just went over, that's one of the virtues of the book I think. It's in the title and we mentioned tracking the intellectual lineage, but really I think that's secondary. The lineage is interesting and it's interesting to see how the ideas have influenced and cropped up throughout this period of time. But what really stands out is the pattern. The pattern can happen anywhere. It can happen in China, through Marxism. It can happen anywhere in the world with any ideology.

This reminds me of when we were corresponding before doing the interview, I mentioned a book to you, Political Ponerology by Andrew Lobaczewski. This is one of the central points that he makes. The ideology is just the clothing that this phenomenon wears. In your book I can't remember who you got the word from but ideocracy, which is funny because it at least sounds like Idiocracy the movie, the ridiculous movie. {laughter} So whenever I see that word I have both come to mind, the intellectual academic meaning of the word but also Idiocracy because there are a lot of stupid people.

But that is an essential component of this thing, whatever you want to call it. There's always this ideological component to it. Like you mention, when you wrote this book it was 2006. It was the war on terror. We were seeing the same things back then and talking about it and just how bad things seemed to have gotten and the direction things were going. There were several people at the time pointing out the trends of just what was happening. Naomi Wolfe, a famous feminist author had written a book called The End of America pointing out all of these things that what was happening in the US had in common with Germany during the rise of Adolph Hitler, just these trends that were quite disturbing.

But it seemed to me that what was lacking then was this actual almost tangible ideology to hold everything together. Now, 15 years later after this book was written we see this ideological framework that has emerged that has been around and has been shaping itself for 30+ years, depending on where you trace the beginnings of it. But in the universities, it was conceived in the universities and it's been birthed into the media and mainstream culture, especially in the last five years. You see this strong ideological component which provides that framework for this phenomenon, this pattern. It's almost as if this pattern is necessary for people to do those things that Elan mentioned in those five things - well more than five - but it's almost like there are people who are just itching to start torturing and killing people and once they've got the ideology that they can use to gain popular support and justify it, then, like that, they're going to do it and they've done it throughout history and it forms a pattern.

Do you have any comments on what Elan had said or anything that I just said?

Arthur: Well it's certainly the case that there are different historical examples to look at that are invariably really disturbing. Looking at the history of Cambodia, when the Khmer Rouge was bringing back the young people to get them to engage in this transformation of society and then all the murders that happened subsequent to that. How was that possible? I was recently reading a book and looking at photographs. It's called Forbidden Memory and it's by a Tibetan woman who discovered photographs in her father's desk and she started to look at the photographs and discovered that her father was complicit in the invasion of Tibet.

It's hard for me to actually look at the photographs and what's in that book. The thing is, there were Tibetans who were complicit. They were complicit in allowing what happened to happen and how's that possible, right? There are photographs of llamas, Tibetan practitioners being paraded through the streets with dunce hats on, being taken out back and murdered, kicked into ditches. It's horrific. Giant piles of manuscripts being burned and precious, completely irreplaceable history of meditation practices and all kinds of rituals and other things just being indiscriminately destroyed and melted down.

You look at this history, this is the flip side. I said the best and the worst, right? The best is, in my opinion, the practitioners, the people who are aiming for transformation or spiritual realization trying to make themselves better people, more realized people, more ethical people. That's one side. The other side is what we're talking about and I think it's an important thing to talk about. There are historical examples in what we're seeing now in the United States and elsewhere is alarming because when a range of views can't be voiced then what you have is a kind of enforced social code.

There's a discussion of that in a book Czesław Miłosz wrote called The Captive Mind. The Captive Mind is an extremely valuable book about how the intellectuals were compelled to live under communism, under communist hegemony and one of terms he uses is ketman. Ketman is a term which effectively means you create a second identity. You have the public identity, right, which is one way and you have to have that, this kind of false identity. And then your real identity is separate from that and that's how you have to live under an ideocracy.

Now I mention this in the book actually. The word ideocracy, I don't know whether I found it anywhere else, probably I just coined it, frankly. I don't know that I saw it somewhere. But the ideocracy, yes, you do have to laugh in thinking of the movie. {laughter} Thank you for that because it's a movie I've been meaning to go back to and watch again. I saw it years ago and it probably has a different resonance today, like many things do. But ideocracy - I-D-E-O-C-R, ruled by ideological fiat as it were - when you're thinking objectively about - here are some questions: what is the American civil religion? What are its elements? What are its characteristics? Historically and then today, what can be said? What can't be said?

I wouldn't make the argument that where we are today is quite like what Miłosz was describing in Captive Mind. I don't think it's at that point. You can talk about it as an analytical tool in terms of how things are in the United States today and that's a little surprising really, but that's the reality. So maybe that's a built-in characteristic of Marxist and Marxist-derived ideology. Maybe that ketman is part of how people have to cope under a certain kind of ideology like that, right?

Harrison: Well one of the interesting things I found out about ketman is that apparently the word itself I believe is a Persian word. It was a word used by the Persian heretics, so the Persian heterodox believers. I don't know the whole history of it but who might have had mystical beliefs or might have disagreed with the orthodoxy in some way and so ketman was their way of professing outwardly the exoteric official ideology or theology and then keeping their own beliefs, their own potentially mystical or heretical beliefs secret. You can probably imagine that a lot of Sufis might have had to do that at various times and in various places to avoid the mob. You profess belief. It's like in Nazi Germany, giving the salute just to keep away the wolves, to placate the crowd, the mob.

So I found that really interesting, that the phrase he used had that initial context of mysticism and heresy. It fits perfectly in New Inquisitions, in your book, that element. And that's an element that you developed further on in Mystical State. I think that you kind of considered this one a turning point. At the very end of New Inquisitions you say, "Well this is an interesting opening for potential research into the significance of gnosis in politics." As I read that I was thinking, "I hope he actually did that." So I found out, great! Five years later you did this book.

Well, can you talk a bit about how The Mystical State represented this turning point and how it fits into what you're talking about today and what you're thinking and writing about today?

Arthur: Yeah, that's an interesting thing to think aloud about. The Mystical State is a much more optimistic book, fundamentally. In New Inquisitions I discuss some things that are fairly dark, as the title would suggest. In Mystical State what I'm discussing is, how does a healthy culture emerge. What would it look like? What's it based on? In his book Lobaczewski talks about what he calls a pathocracy and New Inquisitions is really about pathocratic behavior. We're not seeing full-blown pathocracy but we're seeing pathocratic behavior. That's how I would describe it today.

What is the amplifier of that? You mentioned the amplifier. The amplifier is gigantism because if you're a gigantic apparatus, whether you grasp the levers of power or whether something is created, still it has to do with vastness. Mystical State came about in part by time that I spent in Switzerland. I was in Switzerland researching federalism. Federalism is a really understudied dimension of the American and the Swiss foundings.

The American and Swiss foundings were like twins, historically. The Swiss ramped up federalism to a slightly greater degree than the United States. The United States still has states and states have special powers and so on. But in Switzerland, the cantons and public referenda really have some force.

So what you have in a kind of confederated model is that power is much more decentralized. So your political structure being much more decentralized is much less likely to have the kind of thing that we're talking about and if it does happen, it happens on a level that can be overthrown whereas when it's at a gigantic level that's where you get genocide, right? Or a much larger level.

So decentralization, there's a history of political thinkers who emphasize decentralization. There's a whole line of those. Decentralization is one current that I've spent a lot of time studying and the importance of decentralization. Actually the American tradition is a decentralized federated tradition based on the idea originally of the yeoman farmer and the farm family and independence. That dimension is something that you see in Switzerland. You see that in the United States. They're twins, as it were.

But then there's something else that I discuss in this book which is gnosis. The term gnosis means spiritual insight or wisdom or awareness in particular of what I termed earlier sheer transcendence or I alluded to it in terms of the negative way. What I'm referring to here by the term gnosis is defined in the book Platonic Mysticism and I think it's a good definition. It refers to union or transcendence of subject and object. That's a way of describing it in a kind of thumbnail phrase. The transcendence of subject and object and that is historically the heart also of the Swiss state because I talk in the book about an extraordinary hermi figuret, a recluse figure who was actually at the heart of the founding of the Swiss political state and political theory to a considerable extent.

But you see something very similar to this in other places as well. I've been studying for the last several years. I have quite an array of sources on the Himalayan region and especially on pre-Buddhist Tibet. I'm very interested in archaic religion and archaic traditions. So I've read a vast amount of material actually at this point concerning that. So one of the things that I'm looking at it to reflect on is the difference between a decentralized model and a more centralized imperial model and also how that ties into power dynamics.

So those are things that interest me quite a bit. To give you a very brief summary of what I'm alluding to in terms of the book, gnosis, the idea within the book, is that a state in which you have a polis - because I think a polis is a better term - a community in which you have some people who are focusing their lives on spirituality, inner life and transformative practice, that forms a nucleus for a stable cultural entity or a stable cultural polis.

So I would argue, that's at the heart of a healthy culture. It has that at its heart and if the culture doesn't have any avenue of that, then you get very unhealthy things. And those unhealthy things could take any number of manifestations. For example, the French Revolution would be, I think, an extremely unhealthy manifestation. Why did that come about and so forth? These are kind of ancillary questions.

But in Mystical State, I'm alluding at the end to a vision of what a healthy culture looks like and that's something that we don't really think about that much actually. In that book I reflect on that. That's a turning point as a book for a number of reasons and I'm not sure we'll have time to go into all of those.

Harrison: Yeah, we will have to have another conversation because there's so much that I want to talk about and that we can get into. Do you have time for a couple more questions and then we'll call it a day? Is that cool Arthur?

Arthur: Yeah, I think we certainly could continue for a bit. We had a brief break in there.

Harrison: I wanted to make a couple of comments on what you just mentioned. One was the aspect of gigantism. That reminded me of something that Lobaczewski writes about in his book. He calls it macropathy. His recommendation is - this was in the 1980s that he was writing this - but he thought the United States should revert back to the 13 colonies, basically divide the US up into 13 mini nations and that any country greater than a certain number of tens of millions of people is just too big. The center is too far away from the people and on the periphery and it creates its own kind of societal disease.

I think that that was a great insight that you had, that it seems to have been the combination of gigantism with this pathocratic ponerogenic element that creates these massive systems that we've seen, essentially evil empires. The USSR was an empire. The USA today is an empire and it has these pathocratic elements that are at work but it hasn't finalized into that crystalline pathocratic structure like you had in the USSR or Nazi Germany.

That's just an interesting combination or an interesting insight into the things that potentially need to come together to have that archetype come to fruition. On the subject of the United States and Lobaczewski's idea, I think he's the guy who originated it. I can't remember for sure, Colin Woodard is his name. He wrote a book called American Nations and he identified I believe 13 distinct American cultures based on their history and their geography, the waves of immigration into the original colonies. So you have different and fairly unique - with overlap of course - cultures.

For example, you have what he calls Yankeedom. So you have the Yankee culture, the culture tracing back to the Puritans, the culture tracing back to the Quakers. Then you have the Appalachian mountain people who are very difficult people with a history of essentially inter-tribal warfare and...

Elan: Rebelliousness.

Harrison: ...rebelliousness and just very individualistic. You hear stories about the mountain people. You just don't go up on the mountain because of the kind of people you'll meet. But then you've got the New Orleans and the Cuban culture in southern Florida. Then you've got the left coast, the tiny strip of the western coast of the United States. Western California might be very different from some of the parts of eastern California.

It seems to me that there are a lot of things that would need to happen, let's say in the United States for instance, in order to approach that more healthy element of what you're saying, a healthier culture. You would probably need to have something to increase the federalization, to increase the decentralization. You'd need to have these centers of gnostic culture, the nuclei of what you might be able to call the spiritual center of the nation and of the culture. It brings to mind the term the Sufis used, 'the poles of the world', well the poles of the polis, the poles of the nation, the center around which the positive elements of the culture can grow and thrive.

But there's a lot of work to do. When you're thinking about these things, when you wrote this book, do you see what you're doing as kind of a plan to actually put into action or an idea that can just be planted for some future post-apocalyptic society that's recreating society {laughter} and it's like, "Okay, we can implement this"? Do you see it more as an academic exercise and something that just needs to be done or something that's practical at the moment? Maybe we can leave it on this question: what is your vision for what can change and how things can change?

Arthur: Well there are a couple of things I'd say. One is that, in response to the early part of what you said, there is a history of people, and I've met one of them, in fact I published a conversation with him, Kirkpatrick Sale, an author who has been pushing for years for the secession movement in the United States. Secession is real. It is something that actually could happen. It has happened in other places in the world and it can happen. There are actually provisions to some extent for that politically.

So that represents not only a kind of pipe dream but something that actually I think does ultimately have some legs I think at some point. Certainly there's a history of people who have written about that and have been advocating for it and have analyzed the history of giant states that failed and why they failed. I have a couple of books on the shelf about that. There are also theorists who actually looked at what makes something healthy, a polis healthy and that's something that goes way back to Plato. Plato actually held that for a polis to really be healthy it should be quite small, like a city state, much smaller than 13 giant entities within the United States. Actually he thought you should know everybody!

In a healthy polis you know everybody. A friend of mine said that's completely infeasible. That's not a feasible theory and maybe it's not. Who said Plato was a rational guy after all. {laughter} But there is some value in thinking small and I think that that's self-evident.

In terms of my vision for my own work, there are a couple of ways I can respond to that. One, a few years ago I founded a non-profit called Hieros. There are a few of us who are involved in that and there are some things that we're in the process of developing at Hieros. That's for the relatively immediate future, the next few years.

Then there's the other aspect which is the short view and the long view. The short view is you do what you can, right? You do what you can. You publish books. You do great conversations on podcasts and you do the different things that are possible to do today. If it's possible to develop a local community, to develop roots in a particular area in a more profound way than to simply go to the local McDonalds or something, but really a deeper, more profound connection, not only to the physical world but to the less visible aspects of our world which is something that Tibetans specialized in. These are things that people can do now. Hieros is intended to help encourage that.

But the long vision, what's the long vision? Well a long vision is what you're alluding to and that is, alright, we see signs of pathocracy. That is true and given history, it may very well turn south {laughing}, in a very, very unpleasant way. That is NOT impossible. We know that because we can look at history. That's just looking at things more or less objectively. But then beyond that, there are things in human nature, in who we are, that we are here to realize, that need to be realized and those things concern what is true, things that are true. It has to do with beauty. It has to do with what is good. What is the good? The great question Socrates asked. What is the good?

The good in the sense of flourishing, human flourishing. Human flourishing, you can look at history and you can see human flourishing, when people flourished and what made them flourish. That's something that I think, regardless of the time and regardless of the circumstance, you can look toward and reflect on and ultimately, maybe not tomorrow, but at some point, realize in a more substantive way.

So I would say yes to both of those questions really, all three of them because of course I'm an academic so in that sense that's one of my roles. But before I was an academic I was an author. Writing books for me is something that I do because I love to do it. A lot of people write and complain, they're complaining about writing. I don't complain about it. I don't always do it, that is write. But when I do write, there are cycles. Sometimes you write. Sometimes it's a fallow cycle where things are gestating and developing. But I love to do it.

Then once it has gone out into the world after editing and those other things, then it takes on its own life beyond you and it has its own surprising course through the world sometimes and you just don't know. You just don't know.

For example, the other day I got a call from somebody who's the son of an author who's fairly well known and he wanted to do an event and he said he had read The Mystical State {laughing}, of all books and wanted to talk about it. This happened just a few days ago and I thought, "Huh, okay." So there's a natural kind of organic pattern to different things, including my getting five podcast interview requests in a week-and-a-half.

Harrison: Oh wow!

Arthur: Why? I have no idea really. Where would he have come across Mystical State? I'm not sure. My point is, he just did and it resonated with him and so now we're going to have this conversation. So you have this kind of life of ideas in the world. I see that as extremely valuable because it's very easy to become depressed nowadays actually and to see what's happening and you shake your head. Yeah, there are things that are positive happening right at this moment and things that we can engage in that are positive in a vision that's positive.

That's really where Mystical State comes in. It's that positive vision of what can be healthy. What can a healthy culture look like? What can a healthy society look like? I think part of it is that it needs a spiritual path. If a society is engaged in persecuting people who are engaged in spiritual life, that's a pretty good sign that it is a pathocracy, okay? I don't care what society it is. I don't care. It doesn't make any difference to me frankly. It doesn't matter whether it's the burning of Giordano Bruno in Italy or the mob attacking the Theosophic Society, the mystical practitioners in London. There are many examples but in the end, a healthy society has a spiritual path or paths for people to realize their true nature, right? That is a signal indicator. If it doesn't have that and if it persecutes that, that is a really good sign that something is seriously wrong.

There's actually a long history. When you go back to the death of Socrates, there's a long history of not creating an avenue for wisdom in life to flourish. We need to be more mindful of that and that's part of what my work does. I'm not sure that that's necessarily a popular theme. I'm not sure that what I'm talking about that we've discussed during this is necessarily the most popular thing to be talking about but that's just how it is. {laughter}

Elan: I'd like to comment on that because there's so much in what you just said and the undercurrents of your book that I do hear echoed and shared in our more open-minded spheres of thinking and media and writing. It seems to me that your ideas - you had invitations to five podcasts in this short span of time - it's as though with all of the totalitarian, pathocratic flourishings and pressures that are now coming to bear and are breaching the surface and becoming more obvious to many and more visceral in the experience of many, that the time has come in a sense for what you see and what you understand to be shared with a greater audience for those who have the eyes to see and the ears to hear your message.

So I propose that there is this kind of balancing force that seems to exist among people, among societies, that emerges at just the moment it's required the most. Heck, we have these god-awful examples of how the counteracting forces haven't been able to triumph and succeed against the encroaching forms of totalitarianism. But who knows? Maybe this time we have with the hindsight of many people uniting in this shared understanding, a better chance, a better opportunity to respond constructively and to make a show of what we know and care about in a way that is felt and can be grown.

Adam: If I can interject, along those lines, humanity has been around for several thousand years. We had a podcast that we just did last week with Philip Barlag where we were going over the evil Roman emperors and the sheer brutality of some of the Roman rulers as just mind boggling. So you consider that that is the state of affairs generally throughout history, so even with all of the millennia of horrors here we are, talking about...

Harrison: We made it this far.

Adam: We made it this far. They haven't killed us yet. That's inspiration in itself.

Harrison: Well I think the point that you just made Arthur is a great place to end for today. I want to again go over some of your books. We were talking today about New Inquisitions and The Mystical State but you did mention your latest book that I believe just came out this year, just a month or two ago. That is Conversations in Apocalyptic Times with Robert J. Foss. We haven't read that one yet but I'll be getting it pretty soon and we can read it and then maybe we can talk about that one some time in the near future and continue the conversation that we're having today. How does that sound Arthur?

Arthur: That sounds great. I really appreciate your observations and your thinking. I think we've come to very similar places in terms of how we perceive things. Conversations in Apocalyptic Times in many ways pulls together the different strands that we've shared during this conversation. The reason that I did that book with him is I've known him for a long time and he's the only practitioner of Christian theosophic mysticism, alchemical practitioner that I've met and he also has a very clear awareness, as you'll see in the book, of you could say criminal dynamics because he was actually for some time the consulting psychologist for the entire region, for criminal psychology. So every time somebody was brought in for some heinous act, he would be the one who would be doing the evaluation.

Harrison: Oh wow!

Arthur: So he's had a close look. Then later he went into private clinical practice for many decades and leads a group. So we did this book in order to essentially make available his perspective, in part to answer the question at a very simple level. What do you actually do? What do you do? How do you start? So that's why the subtitle of that book is 'A Guide for the Spiritual Seeker'.

And here we're not talking about complex processes of visualizing this. The first thing in the book is actually to give yourself some space for silence in your life because we have all this stuff beeping at us and honking at us and flashing at us and shouting at us all the time, right? How do you start? Well that's a good place to start. So it starts on that level and then it moves through transformative practice and that's informed by his decades of clinical work as a practicing psychologist but also from a mystical perspective.

So it's a very unusual book and it's in dialogue form so it's really a conversation. I look forward to talking about it with you because it was a challenging book to create for a whole variety of reasons but I'm very happy that it came out and I'd love to discuss it with you. I think we could bring together all of the themes plus the question of the nature of evil because that's something that he and I have some things to say about. In the next conversation that's something we could really talk about.

Harrison: Alright. A sneak peak. Can't wait to read it and can't wait to talk to you again Arthur. So once again, we've been talking to Arthur Versluis. It's been a pleasure Arthur. Hope you have a great day, great week, great month, great year and I hope you publish many more books.

Arthur: Thank you. I appreciate it. It's been a great conversation. Talk to you later.

Harrison: Alright, take care.

Arthur: Bye.