Satanism and Libertarianism

posted by Cliff Kuang May 27, 2008

Hold on, don't worry. I'm not about to write about how you should eat your children. And I'm not going to advocate either Satanism or Libertarianism. I don't subscribe to either.

But like a lot of people, the Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey caught my imagination in the 1980s, for morbid, adolescent reasons. Yet when I finally got a copy and cracked it, I was always surprised at how mainstream its precepts were. That's probably unavoidable, since you can't really found a self-sustaining creed on psychopathic principles. Who would want to join up, if there were simply the promise of being betrayed and injured? Recently, I got interested in the Satanic Bible again, because of this profile of Gaahl, a prominent Satanist in Norway, and the singer in a notorious black metal band. And what's striking is that its philosophy, more than anything else, resembles libertarianism with some magic thrown in. It's less Jeffrey Dahmer, and more Ayn Rand. To wit, from the excellent Wikipedia entry:

LaVey makes it very clear that although Satanism is an uncompromisingly selfish religion, he defines selfishness according to what an individual truly wants. Therefore, if a person should honestly care for another person and wishes to express love, then he should do so wholeheartedly; a truly selfish person can acknowledge that if a person is loved by him, then they are important by virtue of his love. This can be compared favorably to the arguments of ethical egoism—that what sometimes benefits others can be beneficial to oneself, but that one must always have one's own interests first in mind. LaVey never suggests that love is not a natural emotion in man, and on the contrary suggests that loving select individuals is very natural, but he does claim that to love all people is not only a philosophical mistake but is in fact impossible and even damaging to the ability to truly love those few individuals who deserve it.

LaVey explains that hatred is likewise a natural emotion in man and therefore not to be shunned. He makes clear that hatred should be directed at those who deserve it by virtue of their actions to offend the individual, and like love, it is senseless to universally apply hatred to all mankind. He muses that while Satanism strongly advocates both individual love and hate, because white-light religion has such a strong aversion to acknowledging hate as a natural feeling in man that to merely mention that Satanism permits individuals to hate their enemies, Satanism is automatically portrayed as a hateful religion, a claim he maintains is false and ignorant of the true ethics of Satanism.

Reader comments

jonathanMay 27, 2008 at 1:40PM

It's interesting how this fits in as an anti-buddhism, which also sees hatred as a natural state arising from suffering, but suggests that an all-reaching compassion (which eliminates passion and hatred) is the ideal state.

Nathan BorrorMay 27, 2008 at 1:51PM

Ayn Rand wasn't a libertarian.

ZackMay 27, 2008 at 1:52PM

I was surprised that Jason published something well... so... un-kottke, then I noticed the guest author.

Nick HusherMay 27, 2008 at 2:05PM

Ayn Rand was an Objectivist (although she never used the term to describe herself, it fits her philosophy) which is decidedly more libertarian than anything else.

@jonathan: I hadn't thought about Satanism as an anti-Buddhism, but now that you mention it, it's surprisingly fitting. Neat. I had always placed Satanism as the adolescent, contrarian, younger brother of Christianity, perpetually Bershon, with thick emo frames and a "nuh-uh" attitude.

judson May 27, 2008 at 2:16PM

Ayn Rand was a Randian.

Mark JaquithMay 27, 2008 at 3:17PM

"he defines selfishness according to what an individual truly wants"

But Ayn Rand didn't. She talked about rational self interest, which wasn't what you truly wanted, but what was truly in your best interest. The difference between Objectivism and Libertarianism can be found in that that you can freely choose to do things against your best interest.

bc9b89May 27, 2008 at 4:49PM

Hay, does anyone have a paperback of John Hodgman's book The Areas of My Expertise? I think he calls satanists in that objectivists on goat blood or something when he explained the story behind the quote on the back cover "Many wishes on bringing more laughter in the world" - Peter H. Gilmore, High Priest Church of Satan. I'd find it myself but I gave my copy of the book to a friend.

RossMay 27, 2008 at 4:59PM

So do you find LaVey's Satanism to be a wholly independent religion, or some kind of quasi-anti-Christianity, a gloss on the Bible and such? (For context, I would affirm that the likes of Pat Robertson could qualify as anti-Christians, they certainly don't seem to be following the teachings of their proclaimed Saviour even as they posture for effect.)

I ask because the phrase "libertarianism with some magic thrown in" also works (for me) as a description of atheism, which seems (in its most popular form) another form of religious dogma shaped in opposition to Christianity. For example, when St. Dawkins wants to "scientifically disprove" a religion a la The God Delusion, he doesn't go after Ganesha or Vishnu or Ife or Legba.

CliffMay 27, 2008 at 6:18PM

Hey bc9b89--Couldn't find the quote you mention, though I found the blurb from Peter Gilmore on the dust jacket. Used Amazon's Search Inside, too. Any other possible sources? Sounds like a funny bit.

And Ross--I figure that more than anything, LaVey's Satanism seems like a straight forward rip-off of Ayn Rand, which itself was pretty stringently (and explicitly) anti-Christian, if I recall right.

Thanks for reading guys.

EvanMay 27, 2008 at 7:35PM

@ Ross -- I'm not sure I understand the parallel between said magical Libertarianism and Atheism. To me, it seems as though Atheism is the end-all of anti-magics. I understand the similarities with Libertarianism, but I was wondering if you could elaborate (if you ever come back) on your statement.

Kafele MinkabhMay 27, 2008 at 10:56PM

Nice post, Cliff, but I thought I should mention that the opening line "I'm not about to write about how you should eat your children" is perpetuating a myth that has proved to be very dangerous for those who are Satanists in the community. We don't eat children, we don't break the law. It's important to remember that as ridiculous as you may find it, Satanism is another religion, with real followers, that is peaceful and law-abiding. If you had made a joke about all Catholics molesting children, that would cause an outrage and for good reason - this is no different.

I've known Satanists who have been beaten to a pulp and left to dry on a sidewalk for their beliefs, despite living in a peaceful and law-abiding way. Please help us to live safe lives :)

Nathan BowersMay 28, 2008 at 2:05AM

Damn, I've been looking for evidence that Kottke is a libertarian (what with all his links to Marginal Revolution), then, like Zach, I noticed that he didn't write this post.

Oh well, next time.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.