THEOSOPHY, Vol. 44, No. 1, November, 1955
(Pages 17-21; Size: 15K)


[Part 28 of a 29-part series]

LAST month's discussion of the word "progress" leads quite naturally to consideration of the term radical. For "progress" has been given meaning in the modern world chiefly by those who have attached to it certain political and economic views of human society and destiny, with the perspective of the genuine radical in contrast to the philosophy of the "progressive." This distinction is illuminated in another portion of Dwight Macdonald's The Root is Man:

The Progressive makes History the center of his ideology. The Radical puts Man there. The Radical is more sensitive to the dual nature of man; he sees evil as well as good at the base of human nature; he is sceptical about the ability of science to explain things beyond a certain point; he is aware of the tragic element in man's fate not only today but in any conceivable kind of society. The Progressive thinks in collective terms (the interests of Society or the Working-class); the Radical stresses the individual conscience and sensibility. The Progressive starts off from what actually is happening; the Radical starts off from what he wants to happen. The former must have the feeling that History is "on his side." The latter goes along the road pointed out by his own individual conscience; if History is going his way, too, he is pleased; but he is quite stubborn about following "what ought to be" rather than "what is."
And there are a number of other reasons why the word radical is of peculiar significance to the theosophical student. In mathematics radical means the root -- that is, the origin, base, or point of departure. While in its Latin usage, radical also means "scrapings," and thus has been equated, as with the "scrapings of society," with those who are in violent opposition to the status quo, a radical, in the theosophic sense, is one who insists upon probing to the genesis of whatever matter is under discussion. A sentence from The Theosophical Movement suggests the relationship of this kind of radicalism to the Theosophical Movement: "It is only through the most careful and conscientious study and application of the teachings of Theosophy that the student can hope to penetrate beyond the visible aspects of the Theosophical Movement to the arcana of the intellectual and spiritual factors and forces which constitute the occult side of that Movement."

In William Q. Judge's Letters That Have Helped Me, we find the same point of view expressed, as when Judge remarks that "the inner eye, the power of seeing, looks deeper into the source of a man's knowledge and takes it at its true value." Another perspective is suggested by Judge in Letter VII, where he points out that "we must some day be able to stand any shock, and to get ready for that time we must be triumphant now over some smaller things. Among others is the very position you and I are now in; that is, standing our ground and feeling ourselves so much and so awfully alone."

Thomas Paine was undoubtedly a radical in the theosophic sense, his whole outlook standing revealed in the classic sentence: "We must go back and think as if we were the first men who ever thought," and, to this might be added, go back to the roots of every question -- moral, political, economic, religious, or ethical. The tools for the radical must be the tools of philosophy, for the philosopher, by definition, is one who is on an open-hearted quest for truth, forsaking any easy ready-made solution or tempting beliefs. H. P. Blavatsky's criticism of political "radicalism," as when she speaks of Theosophy being "hostile to the insane dreams of socialism and communism," is clearly based upon the fact that partisan politicos are never radical enough -- that is, their presumed return to the "root" of societal and economic disequilibrium soon branches off into a violent factionalism, thus embracing, psychologically, many of the ingredients that hold a corrupt status quo society together. The true radical finds, as did Dwight Macdonald, that "the root is man." While Marx stated the same thesis when he said that "to be radical is to grasp the matter by its root; now the root for mankind is man himself," what Marx actually meant, as revealed by the context of his Das Kapital, is that the "root" for probing the problems of society is economic man -- not man as individual truth-seeker, man as philosopher, man as mystic.

Let us consider for a moment in the light of Theosophy the possible application of the designation radical to various other terms, as, for instance, mysticism. The true mystic is the man who seeks the authority of direct experience for his conclusions on issues pertaining to philosophy and religion. He may use theories and philosophies, but his final crucible is that of his own intuition. In the relationship between the word radical and the word mystic we find ground for H. P. Blavatsky's assertion that the Theosophist is one who finds "an inspiration of his own to solve the universal problems."

In this view every great thinker and philosopher, especially every founder of a new religion, school of philosophy, or sect, is necessarily a Theosophist. Hence, Theosophy and Theosophists have existed ever since the first glimmering of nascent thought made man seek instinctively for the means of expressing his own independent opinions.

The search after man's diviner "self," so often and so erroneously interpreted as individual communion with a personal God, was the object of every mystic, and belief in its possibility seems to have been coeval with the genesis of humanity, each people giving it another name. Thus Plato and Plotinus call "Noëtic work" that which the Yogin and the Shrotriya term Vidya. "By reflection, self-knowledge and intellectual discipline, the soul can be raised to the vision of eternal truth, goodness, and beauty."

The true radical must be able to stand, think, and act alone, if necessary, but he does not do so in defiance of his inter-relatedness with other humans and with the rest of nature. In fact, the importance of the connection between ideal mysticism and ideal radicalism is that the mystic is often able to identify himself with the tides of evolving life, sense the beauty of internal evolution throughout what we call "the kingdoms of nature." It is at this point also that we begin to see the eternal significance of the basic theosophical propositions outlined by H. P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine. For these "Three Propositions" are not articles of faith, but guide-posts leading us to communion with nature and nature's laws. Since the ingredients of these propositions have been the core of every inspired philosophy and religion, they may be said to draw out from man's own inner resources his latent intuitions. Further, a study of these fundamental propositions establishes criteria which a "radical" may utilize in his evaluation of his society and time.

Take the question of "morality," for instance. While many who have been termed radicals have opposed, a priori, every form of conventional ethic, the theosophical radical is enjoined by his perspective to refrain from doing so. For the philosopher is neither "for" nor "against" any morality; he recognizes that the mores of a given age represent a common psychic denominator, reflecting not only the selfish snobbery of arch-conservatism and the theological prejudice of the times, but also something of the natural ethical intuitions of the majority. The true radical is not concerned with destroying conventional standards just because they exist. He is concerned with separating the wheat from the chaff -- the rescue from popular denunciation of idealistic standards of behavior of those whose personal ideas and behavior differ from that of the majority. The one great reality illuminated by the Three Fundamental Propositions of The Secret Doctrine is that of the evolution of the soul, and in this sight all beliefs, whether moral or religious, can be regarded as the stepping stones of a necessary evolution undertaken by each soul. Therefore, the Theosophist is neither prejudiced against nor prejudiced in favor of any particular religious formulation, and is thus psychologically equipped to represent the goal of non-sectarian education, "the ally of honest science and honest religion alike." A theosophical philosopher always seeks to return, in his thinking, to the root -- the evolution of man, the individual. Similarly, as an educator, the Theosophist should be able to lead the way out of factional political entanglements, and, in fact, away from every partisan disruption. For the Theosophist does not have a theory to apply to other people, but rather a respectful conception of individual man.

The British monthly, Encounter, recently printed an instructive article, "In Defense of Radicalism," which, in this context, illustrates the close connection between the theosophical point of view and that of the genuine radical. The writer, Stewart Hampshire, defines a radical as one who "will tend always to distrust those who speak of safeguarding our liberties. He will see in this phrase the conservative assumption that the degree and distribution of liberty already existing in a society is to be taken as the permanent standard."

Mr. Hampshire continues:

For a radical the right of each man to choose for himself his own manner of life, as long as he does not disregard the equal right of others to do the same, is the sole criterion in political decision. The fabric of political arrangements and institutions ought to be continuously adjusted with a view to securing the greatest possible freedom of choice to each individual equally and under an equal law. Any prohibition and assertion of power has to be justified, in the last analysis, as the extension of the area of choice open to some men so far too narrowly confined.
To go to the root of any matter means to be able to penetrate behind the curtain of obscurities thrown up by personal self-interest. The radical, then, must by definition be impartial, understanding, and sympathetic -- the last two qualities being unable to fully manifest whenever partisanship prevails. And reflection upon the universal principles outlined in The Secret Doctrine induces the impartial state of mind. Against the panorama of timeless soul evolution, the vagaries of prejudice and distorted opinion are seen in their proper light. Holding the idea of "the One Self" means, in a very practical sense, striving to recognize whatever basis for unity may exist with others, and consequently leaving constructive resolution of inevitable differences to the evolutionary process itself. An understanding of that inter-relationship of beings called karma is also a protection against the shallow doctrines of the "progressives" as discussed last month [Note: Part 27 in this series.--Compiler]; one need not try to "control history" by propaganda and pressure exerted upon groups or individuals, but rather can feel oneself integral with all movements of thought and constructive programs which move toward increasing the evolutionary opportunities of each individual. So the Theosophist should become something other than a professional "radical," radical though he may be; his "radicalism" is radical enough to be natural and constructive.

COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:


Man's attitude toward force is rooted in the very conditions of his existence. As physical beings we are subject to power -- to the power of nature and to the power of man. Physical force can deprive us of our freedom and kill us. Whether we can resist or overcome it depends on the accidental factors of our own physical strength and the strength of our weapons. Our mind, on the other hand, is not directly subject to power. The truth which we have recognized, the ideas in which we have faith, do not become invalidated by force. Might and reason exist on different planes, and force never disproves truth.

By submitting to power man loses his potency. He loses his power to make use of all those capacities which make him truly human; his reason ceases to operate; he may be intelligent, he may be capable of manipulating things and himself, but he accepts as truth that which those who have power over him call the truth. 


Next article:
[Theosophy. Theo-Sophia. A Body of Knowledge.
Gnosis. Belief. Blind Belief. Philosophical.
Psychology and the History of Theosophy.
Divine or Ultimate Mystery.
Basic Truth in All Religions.
Comparative Study. Synthesis.
Scientific Religion and Religious Science.
A Secret Doctrine. Fundamental Propositions.
The Theosophical Movement.
Cooperative Blending of Reason and Intuition.
A Portion of Divine Wisdom.
Soul Evolution Through Reincarnation and Karma.
Several "Theosophies" to be Considered by a Student.
Analysis. Painstaking Questioning.
Research Natural to the Scientific Temperament.
What One Truly Knows For Him or Her Self.]
[Part 29 of a 29-part series]

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