The following is an email reply to someone inquiring about Aleisterianism.
I think I still haven’t been clear about something. Let me try it this way. Control, isolation, and conflict are, in and of themselves, neither detrimental nor sociopathic. There are appropriate times for all three. What is striking about Aleisterianism is how they are so ubiquitous throughout the system. Rather than being conditional, they lie at the very root of both praxis and belief.
My critique presumes that these themes, rather than being dangerous (I don’t think they’re dangerous because I don’t see Aleisterianism as being robust or influential enough to lead to extreme behavior) they instead result in limits that weaken it. Such limits include the number of people who will be attracted to the system, the degree to which the system can be beneficially integrated into real life, it’s ability to galvanize group action, and how relevant it is to modern circumstances.
Further, Aleisterianism is based in large part upon assumptions about human history, psychology, and biology that are either wrong or profoundly outmoded, mostly because they are grounded in Victorian-era science and politics, as well as in AC’s personal prejudices and preferences. Unfortunately, because AC made himself the final arbiter of his system, it is too rigid to make up for lost time…at least, not without making substantial modifications that either ignore or change many of his teachings (those who do this are what I refer to as either liberal or heterodox Aleisterians).
The good news is that the truly profound and robust elements of his system exist independently of him. The idea that people have a unique Will that stems from God is hardly new…it exists in some form in nearly every major religion. The same goes for the Qabalah, Yoga, transcendental meditation, divination, ceremonial ritual, and many of the other tools that AC used. What AC did was wrap it all up in a thin coating of mythology that made him the sacred Priest-Father-Teacher-Prophet-Beast for all of mankind.
If that mythology is meaningful and beneficial for someone on their spiritual journey, then I honestly think that’s great, and I have no interest in talking them out of it. Similarly, I’ve always maintained that sacred texts can be wonderful for inspiration and guidance, and AL is no different. But no one needs AL in order to live a more Willful life. AL is not needed to develop critical thinking, an independent spirit, a zeal for living, or the desire to fight for freedom against the forces of tyranny and superstition. If we accept that Will is a universal force of nature, then adopting a small book simply isn’t needed to manifest that force via personal exploration, the development of one’s talents and abilities, the strengthening of good character, or the mystical expansion of one’s consciousness.
If a single person, or even a single group, chooses to emphasize the “importance and primacy of Liber AL”, I can make no argument as to why they should not. After all, I am a strong advocate of religious freedom, and I support people believing in whatever they want to believe in, whether it be a guy with a hawk’s head, an intergalactic space tyrant, or a Flying Spaghetti Monster. My position, however, states that Thelema as a meta-system does not require the primacy or even the existence of ALâ€”I propose instead that AL be seen a single example of Thelemic expression by a single Thelemite….again, potentially wonderful for inspiration and guidance, but not necessary for spiritual legitimacy. It is a branch, not the seed.
To summarize, I do not think Aleisterianism, as a system and movement, is dangerous; I think it is anemic. It is weak because it is constrained by the work of a single man who died 60 years ago who grounded his ideas in control, isolation, and conflict. Those themes simply will not inspire more than a handful of people, most of whom will be folks on the edge of society but with enough resources and interest to buy and study arcane texts. Yes, there are always exceptions, but not enough to make Aleisterianism a robust movement (example: after a full century, the largest and most powerful Aleisterian organization in the world barely maintains 3000 or so members with rapid turnover, owns no real property, has no paid staff, and has virtually zero influence culturally or politically…I do not blame the leadership for this, I blame Aleisterianism).
And because AC was misogynistic, anti-family, and focused on emotionally-detached sex, there is no generational growth—too many people leave the system when they get older or have kids. Let’s face it—the main reason Aleisterianism is still around is because of Crowley himself; his large and curious personality draws just enough people to keep his books in publication. If the same basic precepts had been written by someone who had lived a fulfilling, drama-free life, I suspect no one today except Rabelais scholars would recognize the word Thelema.
To reiterate, I’m drawing a strong distinction between Thelema as a meta-system and the systems adopted by individuals and groups. My focus is on the former; the latter is not my business, except insofar as I support people’s right to believe whatever they want. If you want AL at the center of your personal system, great! If OTO wants that, then so be it. But I maintain that Thelema as a whole does not require it, and my future work will be building on that proposition.