Reviews

Strange Drugs make for Strange Bedfellows

Strange Drugs make for Strange Bedfellows


Reviewed by Tom Roberts:

Strange Drugs
Make for Strange Bedfellows: Ernst Junger, Albert Hofmann and the Politics of Psychedelics. Book Review

Strange Drugs Make for Strange Bedfellows: Ernst Jünger, Albert Hofmann and the Politics of Psychedelics
Alan Piper
Invisible College Publishing, Portland, OR, USA
2015, large format paperback, 45 + [x] pages, b&w photographs and drawings, footnotes, bibliography, discography, Alan Piper’s biography

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In order to have a full view of psychedelics, those of us with a serious interest in this topic need to be realistic about psychedelics’ downside as well as their upside. While the mental heath “casualties” of misuse are well known and often exaggerated, we tend to focus on psychedelics’ benefits and ignore that they might also be used for undesirable political purposes by people whose motivations we disagree with, even abhor.

Like it or not, in Strange Bedfellows, Piper helps us rebalance our views to include links among early psychedelic pioneers such as Albert Hofmann and German novelist Ernst Jünger whose early writings supported Nazism; although they later disapproved of his later works. The link, according to Piper, was not primarily political; because Jünger had written about experiences that resembled Hofmann’s, he turned to Jünger for advice about them and even wrote a chapter in LSD: My Problem Child about Jünger.

While most current psychedelicists and commentators about psychedelic trends often claim that psychedelics naturally lead people to take leftist political views and promote social care, Piper points out that those connections may arise from psychedelics illegal status. Illegality attracts people who are countercultural. The association between psychedelics and social concerns may be an accident of social history: by making psychedelics illegal, government policies give psychedelics a counter-cultural appeal to rebellious minds and revolutionaries.

Pointing to an as-yet to be made political-social connection, the section “Psychedelics, Fascism and the ‘Cultic Milieu’” points to overlapping interests. The psychedelic literature about the supposed uses of psychedelics among Baltic and Nordic peoples can also appeal to pro-white, neo-Nazi, the pagan New Right, and similar groups.

Piper does a service to psychedelia by alerting us to facts we’d just as soon ignore, and since one purpose of psychedelics is to expose the truth and follow it wherever it takes us, this applies not only to truths we like but also to those we’d rather not face.

Pull quotes

First acknowledging the magical transformative and humanistic qualities of these drugs, Alan Piper introduces the concept of “entryism,” and begins to reveal a shadow to the psychedelic movement, just in time for it to be addressed in expanding public discourse about these drugs.
Robert Forte author and editor of Entheogens and the Future of Religion and Timothy Leary: Outside Looking In. page 1.

I was particularly concerned that it [this paper] might be seen as an attack on Albert Hofmann, a venerated icon of the psychedelic community, in my relation to my treatment of his close relationship with the German conservative revolutionary author Ernst Jünger. In that respect, I have to point out that a close friendship does not mean shared views or ideologies, many friendships flourish on the basis of divergent or even opposing views. However, Albert Hofmann clearly did seek out Ernst Jünger when he needed guidance regarding the esoteric rather than the medical or scientific aspects of the psychedelic experience. page 6.

Firstly, I was curious to know exactly who Ernst Jünger was. Albert Hofmann dedicated a whole chapter of his scientific biography LSD: My Problem Child in celebration of Junger’s ‘radiance’. Secondly, I wanted to know why the major New Age publisher Inner Traditions had published the works of Italian occultist and philosopher Julius Evola, many in English for the first time, when Evola had close relations with the Nazism and Italian Fascism. These two facts may appear unrelated, but Ernst Jünger and Julius Evola were both icons of the neo-fascist movements that have emerged since World War II. page 12

Neo-Volkish movements seek to revive or imitate the Volkish movement of the 19th and early 20th century Germany which affirmed national or ethnic identity against modernity and liberalism, often looking back to an idealized past and espousing pre-Christian Nordic spiritual traditions. page 14

What, then, of psychedelics and fascism? In my presentation I choose to focus on four premises: That psychedelic culture functions within something called the ‘cultic milieu’; that history reveals both Right and Left Wing aspects of psychedelic culture; that the convergence of reactionary and liberal elements within the counter-culture facilitates ‘entryism’; and finally that psychedelic experience does not inevitably lead to liberal values. page 17

The significance of Campbell’s cultic milieu in relation to psychedelic culture lies in its description of its characteristics and the way in which ideas are shared within it. Among the characteristics of the ‘cultic milieu’ that Campbell identifies, are:
1. That it is composed of loosely structured ephemeral collectives
2. Its members have fluctuating belief systems that are often highly syncretic
3. There is a continuous formation and collapse of groups of rudimentary organization
4. It makes low demands on its membership
The importance of these characteristics, in relation to fringe and New Age culture in general and psychedelic culture in particular, is that it renders fringe groups and broader movements vulnerable to ‘entryism’, a political or ideological strategy in which members of one group or faction join another, usually larger, group or organization in an attempt to expand their own influence, ideas and programs. The entrants may engage in various methods or subterfuge to conceal their strategy. Conversely, an ideological group may use the strategy of adopting or emphasizing a popular cultural element that is not actually central to its ideological aims, but by including it in its programme draw new adherents to its fold. page 19

Not every aspect of psychedelic culture, which is itself a broad church, necessarily sits within the cultic milieu. However, the eclectic and syncretic nature of popular psychedelic culture’s mix certainly does, embracing altered states, parapsychology, neo-shamanism, quantum psychology, alien intelligences, and spiritual gnosis. page 20

Two years later at the beginning of February 1951, Hofmann shared an LSD trip with Ernst Jünger. It is notable that, at this very early stage of knowledge concerning the properties of LSD, Hofmann choose to share his discoveries of LSD and its properties together with what little scientific investigation into its effects were available, with First World War hero and former Wermacht officer, Ernst Jünger, also famous as a diarist, essayist and novelist. This can only have been because Hofmann felt that Jünger’s descriptions of nature and the dreamlike sequences in The Adventurous Heart related to Hofmann’s own spontaneous transcendent appreciations of nature and LSD experiences. According to Hofmann, Jünger’s book contained references to drug experiences, but these are hardly explicit. page 28

To assume that the wide availability of psychedelics or the psychedelic experience promises a world of tolerance, egalitarianism and diversity is naïve, when there is clear evidence to the contrary. The principal outcomes of the psychedelic experience, such as a holistic and ecological view of the cosmos and man’s place in nature, are not the property or uniquely characteristic of the political left or right, nor necessarily of authoritarian or libertarian values. If, as many in the psychedelic culture hope, psychedelics gradually become accommodated to and integrated into the social and political status quo through increased medicalization and liberalized drug laws, and thus cease to be the property largely of a liberal left bohemia, this does not necessarily promise a general liberalism of social or political values or even world peace. Enthusiasts for psychedelics who hold left liberal values may find that they have to share the psychedelic milieu with companions of the Right, including Nordic neo-pagans who embrace a politics of ethnic identity. page 45

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