Sometime in the early 1970s, William Pierce (1933–2002) — founder of the white nationalist organization the National Alliance — was invited to speak at a private high school in Maryland. That he was invited to speak at any school is surprising. That it was the Indian Spring Friends’ School, operated by Quakers is truly remarkable. Pierce spoke to his young audience about his belief that whites must form a strong sense of racial identity and pride if they are to survive as a people. After his talk, Pierce was rendered speechless by one young (white) man’s question: “Why do you think it’s so important for the white race to survive?” Now, one would think that Pierce, of all people, would have had a ready answer to this question. But in fact he didn’t — or didn’t yet.
The incident got Pierce thinking, and he came to the conclusion that he could not convince whites to save their race simply through an appeal to “love of one’s own.” No, whites needed a reason why their race should be saved. The race itself needed a justification; it needed to be justified to itself. That justification took the form of what Pierce came to call Cosmotheism.
He first set forth the thesis of Cosmotheism in a 1976 essay entitled “Our Cause” (in which he does not yet employ the term Cosmotheism itself). (Unless otherwise noted, all subsequent quotes are from this essay.) After a long lead-in (which includes the story of his visit to the Indian Spring Friends’ School), Pierce introduces Cosmotheism by first suggesting that it is a world-view of which all whites are unconsciously aware, just by virtue of being white:
We know it because deep inside all of us, in our race-soul, there is a source of divine wisdom, of ages-old wisdom, of wisdom as old as the universe. That is the wisdom, the truth, which we in the National Alliance want to make the basis of our national policy. It is a truth of which most of us have been largely unconscious all our lives, but which now we have the opportunity to understand clearly and precisely.
From there, Pierce goes on to speak of the cosmos as “the whole” — by which he means something more than the physical universe. “The universe,” he writes, “is the physical manifestation of the whole.” Nothing within the universe can be said to be an end-in-itself: not mankind, not the planets, nothing. Only the whole is an end-in-itself. Further, the whole is continuously changing and evolving toward more and more complex forms.
The development of life on earth from non-living matter was one step in this never-ending evolutionary process. The evolution of man-like creatures from more primitive forms of life was another step. The diversification of these creatures into the various races and sub-races, and the continued evolution of these different races in different parts of the world at different rates, have been continuations of this process.
Now it helps to know that Pierce was trained as a physicist. He earned a doctorate in physics from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1962, and subsequently taught for several years at Oregon State University before abandoning his academic career. Cosmotheism is very much a physicist’s philosophy (or, as we shall see, religion). In particular, Pierce seems to have been influenced in part by the “strong version” of a theory referred to by physicists as “the anthropic principle.” Interestingly, this theory first gained currency in the early 1970s — the very time when Pierce was looking for some kind of philosophy to ground his political movement. He continues:
The entire evolution of life on earth from its beginning some three billion years ago, and in a more general sense, the evolution of the universe over a much longer period before the appearance of life, is an evolution not only in the sense of yielding more and more highly developed physical forms, but also an evolution in consciousness. It is an evolution in the self-consciousness of the whole.
Essentially, Pierce argues that the whole — which he calls “the creator,” who is “self-created” — is evolving toward consciousness of itself. The evolution of new and ever more complex forms is to be understood as a process in which the whole is seeking to become aware of itself. In this process, the human race plays the crucial role, for it is over the course of human development that the creator (which, again, just means the whole) comes to know itself. This seems like an awfully strange idea, but it can be explained rather simply. Human beings are themselves manifestations of the whole — the result of billions of years of its evolution. We are ourselves of the whole. Therefore, our efforts to do science and philosophy and (in general) to seek knowledge of the whole constitutes the whole’s attaining knowledge of itself. The whole achieves self-awareness through us.
“Our purpose,” Pierce tells us, “is the purpose for which the earth was born out of the gas and the dust of the cosmos.” And our destiny “will be godhood.” This last remark adds a new wrinkle to things. If man plays the cosmic role of bringing the whole (the creator) to self-consciousness, this means that we complete God. And doesn’t that in a way make us divine beings ourselves? Pierce goes on to speak of our task as the achievement of “full consciousness of our oneness with the whole, achieving full consciousness that we are a part of the creator and that our destiny is to achieve the single purpose for which the universe exists — the self-realization of the creator.” And he tells us that implicit in this is our “recognition and acceptance of our responsibility for the future of the universe.”
But Pierce is not speaking of humanity generally. He believes that it is preeminently through white, European man that this cosmic purpose is achieved.
Our purpose, the purpose with which we must become obsessed, is that for which the best, the noblest, men and women of our race down through the ages have struggled and died whether they were fully conscious of it or not. It is the purpose for which they sought beauty and created beauty; the purpose for which they studied the heavens and taught themselves Nature’s mysteries; the purpose for which they fought the degenerative, the regressive, and the evil forces all around them; the purpose for which, instead of taking the easy path in life, the downward path, they chose the upward path, regardless of the pain, suffering, and sacrifice that this choice entailed. No other race can travel this path, our path, for us.
Pierce speaks of the tremendous responsibility and burden that following this path places upon the race. His is a cosmological vision of “the white man’s burden”:
The acceptance of our truth not only burdens us with the responsibility that other men have shunned throughout history, it bestows on us a mantle of moral authority that goes along with the responsibility, the moral authority to do whatever is necessary in carrying out our responsibility. Furthermore, it is an acceptance of our destiny, an unlimited destiny, a destiny glorious beyond imagination, if we truly have the courage of our convictions. If we truly abide by the demands that our truth places upon us, it means that while other men continue to live only for the day, continue to seek only self-gratification, and continue to live lives which are essentially without meaning and that leave no trace behind them when they are over, we are living and working for the sake of eternity. In so doing, we are becoming a part of that eternity.
Satisfied that he had found a philosophical basis for his movement, Pierce took things one step further and declared Cosmotheism to be a religion. In 1976 he founded the “Cosmotheist Community Church.” Nine years later Pierce acquired nearly 400 acres in Mill Point, West Virginia as a location for the National Alliance and his Cosmotheist church. He apparently tried to have the land declared exempt from federal, state, and local taxes on the grounds that it was a church. In the end, only sixty acres of the property were declared tax exempt, and had to be used exclusively for Cosmotheist church-related activities (the rest of the land was used for National Alliance operations).
Pierce continued to set forth his Cosmotheist ideas in three further essays: “The Path” (1977), “On Living Things” (1979), and “On Society” (1984). In these essays he adopted an oracular tone that sounds at times like the Bible or Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. “The Path,” for example, begins with the words “LIFE IS SHORT, our brothers and sisters. Must it also be empty? Must it also be bitter? Must its passing hold terror?” The ideas expounded in these essays do not greatly amplify those set forth in “Our Cause.” However, in “The Path” greater emphasis is placed on the idea of (white) man’s potential divinization through the achievement of knowledge of the whole:
Man stands between sub-man and higher man, between immanent consciousness and awakened consciousness, between unawareness of his identity and his mission and a state of Divine Consciousness. Some men will cross the threshold, and some will not. Those who attain Divine Consciousness will ascend the Path of Life toward their Destiny, which is Godhood; which is to say, the Path of Life leads upward through a never-ending succession of states, the next of which is that of higher man, and the ultimate that of the Self-realized Creator. . . . Eternal nothingness is the destiny of those who are spiritually empty. But he who has attained a state of Divine Consciousness partakes of the immortality of the Whole in the way of higher man: his body perishes, but his spirit remains with the Whole. (“The Path”)
This makes it sound as if Pierce believes in immortality of the soul. No doubt, on one level, he wanted some of his followers to believe that that is indeed what Cosmotheism promises. He makes it clear, however, that this “immortality” is actually achieved through the continuance of the race and its cosmic mission:
He who is a member of the Community of Divine Consciousness is not annihilated by death, because his consciousness is one with that of the Community. So long as the Community lives, his consciousness lives; and so long as the Community serves the One True Purpose, he who served that Purpose before the perishing of his body serves it in eternity. . . . The Community of Divine Consciousness is the Community of the Awakened, the Community of the Climbers of the Path, the Community of the People of the Rune of Life, the Community of the Ordained Ones.
“On Living Things” emphasizes the hierarchical nature of life; how some creatures — as well as some men — are more advanced and better able to serve the One True Purpose than others. “On Society” sets forth Pierce’s thoughts on the basic organization of society. Here, as one would expect, he emphasizes that the main role of government is protection of the race. And this calls for a certain ruthlessness. Pierce writes: “If a man teaches others that the mixing of stocks is permissible or that all men are of equal value or that human life has no purpose, then the Community shall make him an outlaw and drive him out” (“On Society”). However, the race is not protected as an end-in-itself: its future is secured so that it may continue to perform its cosmic mission.
Now, whatever one may think of Pierce and his political views, this is a fascinating, audacious, and strange theory. It is by no means original, however. Essentially, Cosmotheism is identical (in broadest outline) to the philosophy of G. W. F. Hegel — right down to the racialist component. Cosmotheism is, in truth, a philosophical theory which Pierce chose to put forward as a religion.
But considering it first as a philosophy (and setting Hegel aside), what evidence is there to support Cosmotheism? Pierce, in fact, presents no arguments for the basic tenets of Cosmotheism. He presents no arguments for why we should consider “the whole” to be God. Cosmotheism does not rest on a set of arguments at all. It is a vision — a grand vision — which we are either captivated by, or we are not.
Thus, in the final analysis it might indeed be better to see Cosmotheism as religion rather than as philosophy. But here too there are serious problems.
First of all, Cosmotheism is really a form of monotheism, and it exhibits many of the same problems we see in other monotheistic religions. Chief among these is a highly abstract conception of God divorced from lived experience, and divorced from nature. According to Cosmotheism, we do not find God within nature (as we do in the paganism of our ancestors). Nature is “part of the whole,” but it is not the whole itself. Thus, the God of Cosmotheism transcends nature and the senses entirely. In this regard, Cosmotheism is actually a worse form of monotheism than Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, since it presents us with a God completely without any personal properties. Worse yet, an “incomplete” God on whom we must put the finishing touches. This is truly a “God of the philosophers” and not the stuff of religion. It is not the sort of thing that could be believed in (let alone understood) by people of all walks of life.
Further, there are more similarities between Cosmotheism and the Judeo-Christian tradition than the simple fact that both are monotheist. Pierce’s Cosmotheism speaks of a specific race charged with a special mission vis-à-vis God. What can this remind us of except God’s covenant with the Israelites, the Chosen People? In fact, certain forms of Jewish Kabbalism actually claim that it is the task of the Jewish people to “complete” God’s creation through the observance of the Law. In recent times the Israeli writer Mordekhay Nesiyahu formulated a kind of secularized version of this doctrine, which he actually termed “Cosmotheism”! (I have no idea if William Pierce knew about this, but if he did I’m sure he must have found it disturbing.)
In sum, Pierce’s theory is very much in the Judeo-Christian spirit. It is monotheist. It sees a particular people as (in effect) entering into a special covenant with God and playing a role of cosmic importance. It has a linear conception of time: it raises the history of scientific progress up into the dimension of the sacred. It even promises a kind of immortality to the members of the race who accept this mission and take part. If we find the Judeo-Christian tradition problematic, then we must find theories like Cosmotheism problematic as well.
And, like Christianity, Cosmotheism is de facto a universalistic religion. Now, this will seem a strange claim since Pierce offers it as an ethnic religion — a religion for whites exclusively. But consider the following. Pierce would certainly have acknowledged that there are members of other races who have the ability to advance scientific knowledge. He might have argued that their numbers are small, but he would have conceded that they exist. In Pierce’s terms, such non-whites are therefore capable of playing a role in “completing God.”
If whites adopted Cosmotheism, eventually — far into the future — this point would be made. Eventually the pietistic teenaged sons and daughters of affluent white Cosmotheists would argue that it is unfair to exclude so-and-so from the great cosmic project since, after all, isn’t he exceptional? Hasn’t he proved himself to be a gifted physicist, or what have you? Can’t he help advance the self-consciousness of the Creator? And in this way what had begun as an ethnic religion would morph into a universalistic one.
But let’s now set aside the details of the Cosmotheist theory and consider first the remarkable fact that it was put forward at all. When we do, we find that Pierce’s Cosmotheism — for all its flaws — reveals something very unusual about white people. Pierce arrived at Cosmotheism as a result of his realization that he needed to offer white people a justification for saving their race. If we stop and think about it, this ought to seem very peculiar. Other peoples do not seem to need to “justify” protecting and preferring their own. They simply feel a natural affinity for their own kind and seek to promote the interests of others like themselves.
A race or ethnicity is simply a group of genetically-similar people. So is a family. Suppose that a man needed a “justification” for preferring his own family to others or for protecting his family and promoting its interests. Suppose that John Smith saw his wife and children in harm’s way and said “Can you give me any good reason to protect them? Are they worth saving?” Or suppose that when faced with the necessity of providing for their future he said “But why should I set aside money for my own family, and not someone else’s? Perhaps some other family deserves it more.” We would consider such a man to be oddly twisted and defective. We would think that he is missing something very important. And that something is, of course, a feeling of love of one’s own — something felt by most people in the absence of any “justifications” or rational arguments.
On one level, Pierce’s Cosmotheism and his conviction that it is necessary reveal something very singular about white, European people: they have a tendency to feel that they must justify their very existence, in one way or another. To be sure, this is not true of all of them. But generally the greater their intelligence and their capacity for abstract reasoning (especially reasoning in terms of moral principles) the more they feel that in order to love their own people and protect them, their people must be worth loving and worth protecting. Again, my impression is that this is not so true of other peoples – even the intelligentsia of other peoples. They seem to have a stronger tendency to identify with and promote the interests of their own people, just because they are like each other. This is, arguably, a much healthier mindset – at least if one thinks that the survival and flourishing of one’s own group is a value.
One wants to say to William Pierce, “If your mission is saving your race, why don’t you just encourage them to be like other peoples and love their own simply because it is their own? Why do you set forth this grand philosophical (or religious) vision — open to a whole host of queries and objections — and have everything hinge on that?” But the answer is, again, that white Europeans are different. Needing to become worthy of being saved, needing a mission that justifies us, is simply part of our nature. There is no getting around this. Arguably, it is a terrible flaw. Of course, one can also argue that it is a great virtue. Either way, it looks like we Europeans are stuck with it.
And so we can imagine Pierce responding to the above criticism by saying “All right, if not Cosmotheism, what then?” It is an excellent question, to which I have no answer.