Marianne Williamson connects in a way that regular pols can’t, like Trump

Last Update: August 1, 2019 at 4:11 pm

SOURCE: New York Post

DATE:  August 1st, 2019


Marianne Williamson connects in a way that regular pols can’t, like Trump


Marianne Williamson was the breakout star of the first night of this week’s Democratic presidential debate. Google announced that more people had searched for her name than for any other candidate’s.

This might seem strange. Williamson shared a stage with governors, senators and congressmen. She has no political experience. To this point, she has been a kind of spiritualist self-help guru to the yoga set, a Californian Oprah with a Mid-Atlantic accent.

But her candidacy in many ways resembles that of Donald Trump’s. Both are political outsiders who view politics as a field of conflict rather than of technocratic management. For Trump, the conflict was between us and them, the United States and China, workers and elites. For Williamson, it is between a “dark psychic force” and the spirit of love and light.

Instead of carefully crafted policy proposals, Trump offered a vivid (and unfulfilled) promise to build the Wall. Williamson has attacked outright the wonks who view politics as a matter of 10-point plans and charts.

“If you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country,” she said, “then I’m afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days.”

Trump and Williamson are right to reject technocratic politics. Aristotle defined the political community as a community directed toward the highest good. Saint Augustine said that every political community was defined by its common loves.

In her loopy and very American style, Williamson understands this. Her closing statement called on Americans to “live up to our own mistakes, atone for our mistakes, make amends for our own mistakes, love each other, love our democracy, love future generations.”

By defining the political community in terms of shared loves, she has ended up closer to the classical Western political tradition than any of our Ivy-educated wonks have.

Despite what many wonks seem to assume, the American people aren’t cold Benthamites. They seek more than the maximization of utility. They are moved not by cold reason, but by visions of beauty or solidarity and calls to sacrifice.

Pundits may insist that Williamson’s appeals to spirituality have no place in politics, but the truth is that men and women are spiritual animals. In any free society, their religious impulses will be expressed politically.

People inclined to dismiss Williamson’s attacks on wonkiness should also consider the success of Trump. I sometimes imagine that America’s constitutional regime will end with an Ivy-educated nerd pointing at a chart and saying, “Look, your incomes really have been going up!” while angry citizens swarm over the White House fence.

Yet what Trump and Williamson both seem at times to forget is that our moral sentiments and passions must be disciplined, corrected and confirmed by reason.

If rationalists too often deny the place of sentiment, sentimentalists are too quick to reject reason. As the feminist literary scholar Ann Douglas noted in “The Feminization of American Culture,” the rigorous, rational Calvinist theology that dominated American life at the nation’s founding soon gave way to a more literary and sentimental kind of faith. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” expresses hostility to rationality in terms that sound very much like Marianne Williamson’s attack on wonks.

Both these views were incomplete. Douglas admired the rational rigor of the Calvinists and showed the faults of American sentimentalism. But the Calvinists lost out to the sentimentalists for the same reason that today’s wonkish candidates risk being devoured, 10-point proposals and all, by people who appeal to voters in more elemental ways.

As John Henry Newman observed, “deductions have no power of persuasion. The heart is commonly reached, not through the reason, but through the imagination. . . . Persons influence us, voices melt us, looks subdue us, deeds inflame us.”

Newman, who famously shocked Victorian England by converting to Catholicism, ­devoted his life to the search for, and defense of, a kind of faith that unites imagination and deduction, sentiment and dogma, spirituality and rationality. As Williamson’s surprisingly broad ­appeal indicates, America’s restless soul is searching for the same thing — and has yet to find it.