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A Response to “Esotericism Studies and Far-Right Academic Networks”

By Marco Pasi

Because the text I am responding to[1] is very long, this response will also have to be long. But I have divided it into two parts. The gist of it can be found in the first part, so that things can be immediately clear for those who want to have a quick answer to these accusations. Those who are interested in a more complete argumentation should go on and read the second part as well.

1. My response in a nutshell

First of all, it is important to make the reader aware that these accusations had a history before they were posted on Doorbraak. The story shows that there was a clear intent to target me from the beginning and to damage my reputation as much as possible.

On 27 August, a close colleague of mine, then chair of the Religious Studies unit at the University of Amsterdam to which I am affiliated, received an email from a person calling herself “Lucie Demaine”. In this message, she presented herself as a student interested in the Master program in esotericism at the University of Amsterdam in which I teach, and she expressed concern at the fact that I had published the German translation of one of my books with a far-right Austrian publisher, Ares Verlag. My colleague responded by saying that he had worked at close contact with me for a long time and had never detected any far-right sympathies from my part. He also encouraged this person to get in contact with me and express her concerns directly to me, so that I could clarify my position. Needless to say, I was never contacted by Lucie Demaine. My colleague mentioned the episode to me at the time, but neither he nor I made much of it, since it didn’t seem to be of particular importance.

On 20 December 2021 I received an email from the General Secretary of the European Association for the Study of Religions, Prof. Jenny Berglund, telling me that she had received an email from a certain “Marie Kerschbaum” containing accusations against me and asking me whether I wanted to react to it.[2] The text referred to the publication with Ares Verlag, but then expanded also on several other issues. When I read it I was appalled. I immediately set out to write a long response that I sent to Prof. Berglund a few days later. The Executive Committee of the EASR found my response fully satisfactory and saw no ground for any further action. The author of the accusations was then notified of this outcome.[3] She was also invited to get directly in contact with me if she felt the need for further clarifications.[4] Needless to say, I never heard a word from her.

Then, on 16 January 2022, I received an email from the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities of the Universities of Amsterdam. I was informed that the Student Council of the Faculty (Facultaire Studentenraad) had received similar accusations against me and I was again asked to respond to them. In this case the name of the accuser was not disclosed to me, but it was clear that it was the same person who had earlier sent these accusations to the EASR. Once again, I immediately responded. Both my Dean and the Student Council found my response fully satisfactory and the author of the accusations was notified of this outcome as well. The result of these two episodes should have sent a clear message to my accuser: there was no ground to her accusations. If she wasn’t convinced of this, she should have contacted me and ask me direct questions about her suspicions. Instead, she decided to take a further step and to make her accusations public though the Doorbraak online platform. As I think it will be clear by now, “Lucie Demaine”, “Marie Kerschbaum”, and “Marie Lucille” are all pseudonyms for the same person (or, possibly, a group of persons). Her malicious intent is also clear. She has failed to convince any unprejudiced party of either the reality or relevance of her allegations, and yet she doesn’t stop harassing me.[5] Harming my reputation at any cost, while keeping her real identity undisclosed, seems to be her real goal, rather than an honest search for truth.

Now that the history of these accusations has been told (at least as far as it is known to me), I can make here a number of statements that are relevant for the matter under discussion:

  • I have never expressed anywhere ideas that could be characterised as far-right, neo-fascist, racist, or antisemitic. In fact these ideas could not be farther from, and are the total opposite of, my personal views.
  • I am not, and have never been, a member of any political group or movement that could be characterised as far-right, neo-fascist, racist, or antisemitic.[6]
  • I am not, and have never been, a political activist of any kind.

These statements are very simple, clear, and straightforward. They contradict, either directly or indirectly, the allegations made by my accuser against me. Although my accuser is trying very hard to say or imply the opposite, the truth of the matter is that she doesn’t bring a shred of evidence to prove that the above statements are false. The allegations are there, but the evidence is not. The reason for this absence is quite simple: such evidence does not exist.

The author of the text would of course disagree with this, because she thinks that the fact of having published something in a particular journal or with a particular publishing house allows her to draw conclusions about my political ideas. I will show in the second part of this response what I think we should make of this presumption, but the point is clear: when it comes to my actual political position, as can be inferred from my public statements and from the content of my publications, she is not able to find any evidence to support her accusations, and in fact she doesn’t even try. But even more damning for my accuser’s allegations is the fact that, as I will make clear in the second part of this response, I have expressed myself publicly in the past about my position, with statements that are the opposite of what is being imputed to me and are in fact very similar to the ones I made above.[7] My accuser is well aware of this, since she refers to some of these earlier statements herself, but she refuses to draw the obvious conclusion from them. The reality is that my position on such issues has actually been clear and openly accessible for a long time.

I made it clear that I have no sympathy whatsoever for far-right ideologies. But I can be even more explicit about my personal position. If I had to define myself politically, I would simply call myself a left-wing liberal. Anybody who has known me personally, has discussed politics with me, or has seen my posts on social media, is aware of this fact, or can figure that out.[8] My political ideas may have evolved over the years, or may have become clearer and better defined, but they have never gone very far from this political baseline. This means that the picture my accuser draws of me in her text has no relation whatsoever with reality, and is in fact the opposite of it.

With the above, I think I have addressed the core of the matter. So what about the far-right networks and publications which my accuser mentions in her text? This requires a lengthier response, which the reader can find in the second part of this response. But before we get there, there is still a point I would like to make.

It is puzzling, or perhaps significant, that my accuser did not think of doing the most simple, and also the most logical, thing to do before spreading her accusations: getting in touch with me and asking me direct questions about anything she felt relevant. This was also the advice that was given to her each time she tried to spread her allegations. But she has chosen not to give me that fair chance. Surely it wouldn’t have been difficult to contact me. In my career as a professional scholar I have attended a large number of conferences and academic events in many different countries over three decades, and I have met people of all ages and backgrounds. Every year, as the coordinator of the MA program in Religious Studies at the University of Amsterdam and as the Director of the HHP Centre, I receive a large number of queries from potential students and other interested persons. The idea that someone should find it difficult to get in touch with me is simply laughable. On the one hand my accuser didn’t want to hear about my perspective on the things she mentions in her text, and on the other she is hiding behind pseudonyms. Who is she really? What credit can be given to a person spreading accusations of this kind anonymously?

2. A detailed refutation

I will now proceed to a detailed refutation of my accuser’s allegations. For someone who doesn’t know me personally and is not familiar with my field of research (the historical study of esotericism), it may be difficult at first to assess the value of her allegations. My accuser’s article is very long and the argument, if there really is one, is difficult to follow. Many names are mentioned and there are also some very long quotations that make the reading awkward and confusing. All these aspects being considered, I think it is important to respond to my accuser’s text in some detail, so that all important points are addressed and clarified.

2.1 Sources

I would like to start with a look at the sources my accuser is using and the way in which she is using them. Even a casual reader can immediately notice that she is practically using only second-hand online sources. With a single exception, she is never quoting or referring first-hand to the texts of the authors she is discussing.[9] As I will show later, there are strong reasons to believe that she never took the trouble to look for these primary sources, let alone read them. This would be a major problem for any research of course, but it is even more so when serious accusations are being based on such a sloppy way of proceeding. The problem becomes even bigger when one realises that many of her second-hand sources are very biased. In some cases the bias is political, either from the far-left or (astonishingly, given her accusations) from the far-right.[10] In other cases there is simply a hostile prejudice towards the subjects that are being discussed.[11] The problem is that these sources are used by my accuser without any critical distance. Whether one agrees politically with them is beside the point of course: the problem is that in these sources ideology is often more important than objective, factual reality. And, as if this were not enough, most of these sources are also very old (in some cases more than twenty years old) and contain outdated or incorrect information.

This is the way in which my accuser has proceeded in order to carry out her “research” and write her text. She has roamed around on the internet and has collected anything she thought could suit her purpose, independently from the quality and reliability of the sources, ignoring any contrary evidence, and not taking the trouble to directly read the publications of the persons she is accusing. And what is the result of this? A simulacrum of political righteousness that is completely hollow behind its false pretences.

At this point, I beg the reader to consider a crucial point: it is very remarkable that someone who has spent so much time searching for all possible damning evidence against me is not able to quote even a single line from any of my publications or public lectures (many of which are easily available online) to back up her allegations.[12] And in fact, the question should be asked: how is it possible that nothing I have ever written or said can be used by my accuser against me? The answer is quite simple: the political portrait she draws of me in her text has no basis whatsoever in reality. Can she really think that, despite my publications and teaching activity being scrutinised and reviewed over the past thirty years by a considerable number of colleagues, readers, and students with different backgrounds and political persuasions, nobody ever noticed the objectionable traits she is attributing to me? What do we have to think of this way of proceeding? I know for sure that if I had used these methods in my own scholarly work I would have never got a job or I would have lost it very quickly.

2.2 Conspiracy theories vs. facts

What we see in my accuser’s article is the typical logic of conspiracy theories, where a couple of true but not so significant facts are interwoven with all sorts of loose connections, in order to picture a threat that is in fact imaginary. I have seen such accusations against scholars of esotericism before, and I think they have to do with the volatile, inflammable nature of the subjects we study. I would argue that we can see here the cyclical return of the repulsion and suspicion that these subjects have historically suffered in Western culture, which has often led to the stigmatisation and marginalisation of persons who were associated with them, even if only as scholars studying them (as in this case).

As is well known, conspiracy theories are usually based on the reasoning fallacy of guilt by association. Because you have been in contact with that person, or have published in that place, then you must also share a particular ideology, which is clearly a false syllogism. But before we get into explanations, let’s have a look at the facts. I can be entirely transparent about them. If I take the text of my accuser in its entirety, I see only two facts that can be considered relevant with respect to me personally: 1) I have published two articles in an Italian journal called Orion in 1995 and 1996;[13] 2) The German translation of my book on Aleister Crowley and politics has been published by the Austrian publisher Ares Verlag in 2006.[14] Even without knowing anything about the context of these two facts, it can hardly be said that they account for a continuous relationship with right-wing publishers “over decades”, as my accuser claims. But of course the two facts do exist. So how do I account for them?

2.3 Orion

Let’s begin with the first one. We are dealing here with something that happened a long time ago, when I was in my middle twenties. A few words of contextualisation may be useful here. Orion was an Italian journal published between 1984 and 2007.[15] Although the founders originally had a radical right-wing background, in the early 1990s the journal started to break away from traditional political identities and to combine an opposition to liberalism and globalisation with an opening towards communism and the far left. Contributors, having very different personal and political backgrounds (including the radical left), presented a variety of ideas in the journal, often in contrast or polemicising with each other. I became acquainted with the journal through the professor who was the supervisor of my MA thesis at the University of Milan, Giorgio Galli.[16]

Galli was a political scientist who had written, among many other things, a very successful book on the influence of esotericism on Nazism that I had read with a lot of interest and that had become the starting point for my thesis.[17] When I started to carry out my research, which was going to focus on Aleister Crowley and politics, Galli encouraged me to visit a bookshop in Milan where I could find useful material. The bookshop specialised in esotericism, fantasy and science fiction, and also had a significant amount of books on radical politics. During my visits I discovered that the bookshop also served as the editorial base for a journal, Orion, and a publishing house, Società Editrice Barbarossa (SEB). This was all new to me, since I hadn’t been familiar with that kind of political scene until then. Galli, although a self-avowed socialist and a respected figure in Italian mainstream media, clearly didn’t seem to have a problem in having a dialogue with the journal. In fact, when his book on Nazism and esotericism came out, the journal published a long interview with him.[18] While never wavering from his left-wing liberal position, Galli was not only willing to openly discuss right-wing ideas that had been kept at the margins of mainstream culture in Italy since the end of World War II, but also to engage in a conversation with the actual milieus that supported such ideas.

This has to be set against the very particular context of the time, in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. These major events had deep political consequences in Italy, with old parties coming from well-defined political traditions (the PCI from the communist side, and the MSI from the neo-fascist side) changing their names and ostensibly abandoning old ideologies, which was functional to having access to government coalitions for the first time in Italian post-war history. It was a period in which traditional political identities were perceived as superseded and were being challenged. Whatever the value of these transformations and of the public debates that accompanied them at the time, one thing is sure: there was a widespread feeling that the world had changed radically and it was not clear on which bases new political configurations should be built. In this sometimes confused and confusing context, left-wing intellectuals like Galli dropped the virtual ban that had existed until then against right-wing culture and began reading authors such as Julius Evola, while engaging in a direct dialogue with contemporary right-wing intellectuals. Signs of this phenomenon were already visible even before the end of the Cold War. To give an example, we already find Galli interviewed by Gianfranco de Turris, then as now President of the Evola Foundation, for the second edition of a collective volume dedicated to Julius Evola, published in 1985.[19] An interview with another prominent left-wing intellectual, Massimo Cacciari, who was a long-time member of the Italian Communist Party and was later involved in all the moderate left-wing parties that emerged from its successive transformations, was also included in the same volume.[20] Many other well-known intellectuals and academics who did not have a right-wing background, such as Stefano Zecchi, Franco Volpi, Massimo Donà, and Giorgio Galli himself, were later invited by Gianfranco de Turris to write introductory essays for a series of new editions of Julius Evola’s works.[21] Again, in 1997, when de Turris published an apologetical book on Julius Evola, Galli agreed to write a foreword for it.[22]

Intellectuals like Galli and Cacciari didn’t seem to be afraid to engage in this kind of conversations, and certainly never thought that their openness would be taken as evidence of right-wing sympathies. The backlash from more orthodox left-wing thinkers was actually quite mild in this respect.[23] Furthermore, for someone like Galli, a dialogue with right-wing culture was also motivated by his interest in esotericism as a subject of study, which in Italy like elsewhere had been cultivated far more in right-wing milieus than in left-wing ones at least since the end of the Second World War. Actually, mainstream left-wing culture, mainly represented in Italy by the Communist Party and its cultural ramifications throughout the post-war period and until the late 1980s, had considered any interest in esoteric subjects suspect by definition. Esotericism was simply equated with irrationalism or, in other words, with the most reactionary impulses of the bourgeoisie. One should not underestimate the influence that these suspicions had on mainstream culture. This made any intellectual interest in these subjects difficult to cultivate. Especially with respect to modern esotericism finding a respectable publisher even for serious scholarly research was far from being evident.[24]

This is the immediate context in which I, as a young student, published those two articles in Orion. They were the very first things I ever published and I could hardly imagine at the time that they would be used against me in this way more than twenty-five years later.  I can easily admit today that publishing them in that journal was not a very smart thing to do. I certainly didn’t have the status of a well-known public intellectual and university professor that Galli had at the time, a status that he had deservedly built up with scores of influential publications over the previous decades. Galli, who knew that I was going to publish those two articles, didn’t advise me not to  do it. It clearly never occurred to him that publishing something in that context could have long-term consequences for the young student I was then. He probably didn’t see the problem for me, just as he didn’t see it for himself. Other students of Galli, who were certainly no right-wing sympathisers, ended up in similar situations. A good example is the book by Nicola Fumagalli, Cultura politica e cultura esoterica nella sinistra russa (1880-1917), which was published by the Società Editrice Barbarossa around the same time as my two articles.[25] This was originally a thesis supervised by Galli at the University of Milan, and it focused on the influence of esoteric culture in Russia before the 1917 revolution. When it was published as a book, Galli accepted to write a foreword for it, as he was always willing to do for his former students. Exactly as with my two articles in Orion, it is not because the book defended any right-wing ideology – which the author simply didn’t have – that it was published by the Società Editrice Barbarossa. It is rather because its very subject (the connection between esotericism and political radicalism) was of obvious interest to them and they were happy to have a good scholarly work on such a subject in their catalogue. In the same way, my two articles didn’t contain anything that would characterise me as a right-wing thinker or that I would find inappropriate even today. Even if I should have thought twice about publishing them in that journal, there is no reason for me to be ashamed of them. In any case, after their publication in the mid-1990s, I never published anything in a politically-oriented journal of any kind again.

It can hardly be said that Orion’s attempts at bringing together right-wing and left-wing political cultures was very successful in the end. I lost interest in the journal in the late 1990s and I can see now that, after that period, there was a definite turn (or rather return) of the journal to a more marked radical right identity. In the mid-2000s both the journal and the bookshop that had been its editorial basis were closed, but I wasn’t following these developments at the time and only learned about them quite recently. The timing is relevant, because one of the problems with my accuser’s article is the fact that most of the links she gives about Orion and its associated publisher refer either to a much later period, which has nothing to do with me, or to other right-wing publishers with which I never had any contact.[26]

It should also be mentioned that the publication of my two articles had already been the object of an online exposé by a French radical left-wing group called “Cercle Social” as far back as 2001, to which my accuser refers.[27] I was not the main target of this exposé at the time, but since I was mentioned there by name in a way that I found defamatory, I felt obliged to respond.[28] The requests I made were accepted by the authors, who modified their online text, and my response was posted on their website.[29] The original website of the Cercle Social and possibly the group itself have long since disappeared, but one of its blogposts was later taken up by another online polemicist named Miguel Martinez, whose main target was the specialist of New Religious Movements Massimo Introvigne.[30] The text of my response to the Cercle Social, which can be found in the annexes in an English translation, speaks for itself, and should clarify where I stood at the time with respect to the allegations that were being made against me.

2.4 Ares Verlag

The second fact requires a much simpler and shorter explanation. It is the publication of the German translation of my book on Crowley and politics by Ares Verlag.[31] I can offer some context to this story as well. I didn’t ask this publisher to translate my book. I had actually never heard their name when I was approached by them in 2005, after a friend of mine had recommended my book to them. At the time, the publisher had just started its activity and there were practically no books in their catalogue. I should also add that I was not particularly familiar with the German-speaking publishing landscape and hadn’t even heard of Stocker Verlag, from which Ares Verlag apparently emanated around 2005. Although I understood that the publisher had a conservative orientation (but not an extremist one, as far as I could figure out at the time), I trusted the opinion of my friend. The publisher was willing to pay all the costs for the translation, which is something that doesn’t happen so often with academic books. I thought it would be a good thing to have my book accessible to a German-speaking audience and went ahead. If I look now at the books that this publisher has put out since then, I see things in a different light. I certainly don’t feel comfortable in such company at all, and although it is a bit of a mixed bag, the general trend of it could not be farther from my own personal ideas. There has never been any kind of ideological affinity between myself and this publisher, and to assume the contrary as my accuser does is completely unjustified. The German translation of my book was published in 2006, it is now long out of print and I assume the publisher doesn’t have plans to reprint it. I would be against such a plan, if it would ever come up.

That’s basically all that there is to say about this part of the story, with the exception of one important detail, which my accuser obviously avoids mentioning. In the introduction of my book I included a disclaimer, in which I made clear where I personally stand with respect to the extreme political ideologies I discuss in the book:

"The present study makes use of various sources that are often ‘committed’ – either in a political or in an esoteric sense. The reader must be aware that these sources have always been treated with the critical attitude that the scholar must possess and that their use does not imply any agreement with the opinions expressed therein. On the contrary, it must be made clear that the author’s [i.e., my] personal views are very far removed from ideologies based on violence, oppression, and discrimination against individuals or entire communities, whether these ideologies are ‘far-left’ or ‘far-right’. The author in fact condemns such ideologies in the strongest possible terms."[32]

This quotation shows that one of the statements made by my accuser is demonstrably false. She claims that “there has never been a distancing” by me from problematic political positions. But, as I have just shown, the opposite is true: there has been very explicit “distancing” by me over the years, even in the very publications she singles out for condemnation. But I guess no amount of distancing can ever be sufficient when persons don’t actually read the books they talk about.

These are the only two facts that, in my view, have some relevance to my accuser’s allegations and that require an explanation from me. I hope I made clear how I look at them today and what value I think should be given to them. Whether they can be used to paint me as a political extremist or to justify such an attempt at character assassination, I leave up to the reader to judge.

2.5 And what about the rest?

It would be fair to assume that, from the point of view of my accuser, a discussion of the above two facts wouldn’t exhaust her arguments. In fact, she also gives a lot of attention to my involvement in what she understands as “far-right networks”, which include other well-known scholars of esotericism (H.T. Hakl, J. Godwin, N. Goodrick-Clarke, C. McIntosh, and M. Introvigne). These are in fact all respected colleagues in the field of study in which I have been working for the whole of my academic career. If the charge against me is that I have been associated with them, then I should probably confess that I am guilty. Yes, I have been associated with all these persons for many years. I have attended scholarly conferences, published in academic books and journals, and participated in research projects and scholarly networks in which they were also involved. And so has the whole community of scholars of esotericism to which I belong, which is represented particularly by the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE). If association with these persons is a crime, then the scholarly community for the study of esotericism as a whole is guilty. What I do know is not only that these persons are respected scholars, but also that I have never read anything by them that I would find morally or politically unacceptable, such as racist, antisemitic, or Islamophobic ideas. I am quite sure that, if such things had been there to be found, our scholarly community would have reacted very strongly against them. The fact is that my accuser is applying to these scholars the same faulty logic of guilt by association that she has applied to me.

It is of course quite possible that some of these colleagues have frequented networks or persons that are very far from my personal tastes and convictions. So what? I have done it as well, as I have admitted above. But this shouldn’t allow anybody to draw false conclusions from this fact. What we have here is the same logic of guilt by association that can be found in conspiracy theories. Being in contact with a person doesn’t mean that you share this person’s opinions. Publishing something in a particular journal doesn’t mean that you share the ideas expressed by others in the same journal. Each person should only be held accountable for her own particular opinions as they are made available to the public.

Proximity with milieus that are connected to the subjects we study as scholars is often very difficult to avoid. This is the obvious point that was made by the European Association for the Study of Religions in their response to my accuser’s allegations, and which she seems to have missed entirely.[33] It is not because I have been in contact with Satanists that I am a Satanist, it is not because I have been in contact with sex magicians that I am a sex magician, and by the same token it is not because I have been in contact with right-wing extremists that I am a right-wing extremist. All of this should be absolutely clear to anybody who has a minimal understanding of how scapegoating and conspiracy theories function. My accuser’s elucubrations in this respect are in fact no better than the claim that I am one of the leaders of the Illuminati secret brotherhood.[34]

With the other scholars of esotericism mentioned by my accuser, we see the same way of proceeding as with me. There is practically no interest in what they have actually written or said, but only where or with whom. The only place where my accuser comes close to looking at the actual work of one of these scholars is where she quotes passages from a book by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Black Sun, published by New York University Press in 2002. I can say in all honesty that these passages express ideas that are very different from mine. But they are also taken completely out of context and are quoted second-hand from the blog of an American far-right activist, John Morgan.[35] I find it particularly unfair to uncritically read a respected scholar such as Goodrick-Clarke only through a politically biased lens such as this one. The fact that Morgan claims that Goodrick-Clarke is close to his position may be understandable, because from his perspective it could offer some degree of legitimation to someone who belongs to a marginal political scene. But it remains a form of political appropriation that doesn’t say anything about Goodrick-Clarke’s political position itself.

Once again, part of the problem is that my accuser doesn’t seem to have actually read Goodrick-Clarke’s book. If she had, she would have found other passages such as this one, which paint a much more nuanced picture:

"The risk of racist religiosity are great. By projecting grievances, fears and anxieties onto the “shadow” figures of other races, religious transcendence is stunted and perverted into the dynamics of delusion and hatred. Instead of genuine spirituality, there is partiality, separation, restriction. A rigid self-righteousness leads down into the spiritual basement of a primitive dualism, where pseudo-salvation depends on the elimination of the Other. The political projection of religious Manichaeism onto human differences inevitably leads to strife and violence. Whenever human groups are interpreted as absolute categories of good and evil, light and darkness, both the human community and humanity itself are diminished. Such degraded religion never leads to light but only to darkness. My hope is that an understanding of the substitute faiths documented in these pages, can help us avoid the recurrence of past conflagrations."[36]

This quotation shows how easy it is to paint a one-sided picture of an author by cherry-picking quotes and using them without any fair contextualisation.

Among the other authors mentioned by my accuser, Wouter Hanegraaff has a special place, because he is, like me, a member of the Centre for the History of Hermetic philosophy and related currents at the University of Amsterdam. Apart from being one of my closest colleagues, he is also a personal friend. In the article he is the target of accusations that are as vicious and baseless as the ones against me. It is particularly ironic that my accuser gives a long quotation from a text Hanegraaff has posted on his Academia.edu page and which was the presidential speech he gave at the 2009 ESSWE conference in Strasbourg.[37] The text focuses precisely on the perverse mechanisms that lead someone like my accuser to consider scholars of esotericism politically suspect and to target them with all sorts of unfounded accusations. My accuser’s reasoning is circular: scholars who are politically suspect must necessarily be guilty, but you are defending scholars from political suspicions, therefore you are also politically suspect (and guilty). The remarks that my accuser makes about Hanegraaff’s social media posts are also incredibly naïve, as if one could equate a critique of postmodernism (which I find perfectly respectable and legitimate, whether or not I would agree with it) with fascism or far-right ideologies.[38]

I cannot discuss in detail all the other authors mentioned in the article, but I hope these two examples suffice for now to show how empty the arguments of my accuser are.

For the rest, what my accuser has put together is nothing more than a worthless hotchpotch of half-truths, plain lies, and gossip. Some scrupulous fact-checking can easily show that. Politica Hermetica is a respectable scholarly journal, in fact one of the oldest scholarly journals devoted to the academic study of esotericism, founded in 1985. I have been a member of its editorial board since 1999. One can get an idea of its contents through its official website: https://politicahermetica.wordpress.com/. Many important scholars, both from the field of esotericism and from neighbouring ones, have participated in its conferences and published in its issues. Some of them, such as Franco Ferraresi, Jean-Yves Camus,[39] Pierre-André Taguieff, and Emmanuel Kreis, are well known for their critical studies of right-wing extremism and antisemitism. It is true that, especially in the early issues of the journal, we find some contributors who were close to Traditionalist milieus, but describing the journal as “a very important link between esoteric groups and the New Right/Nouvelle Droite” is a gross mischaracterisation that is either based on bad faith or misguided information. Once again, my accuser’s information appears to be only based on very biased sources and I doubt that she has ever had a single issue of the journal in her hands. If she ever felt like reading something from it, I would warmly recommend Jean-Yves Camus’s article: “L’Étude de l’extrême-droite au risque du soupçon”, published in Politica Hermetica in 2009.[40] It could teach her a thing or two about the problems of the “reductio ad hitlerum” she seems so eager to practice.

To describe the Swiss publisher L’Age d’Homme, which has published Politica Hermetica for many years, as “an important far-right platform” is also grossly unfair. L’Age d’Homme has played an important cultural role in French-speaking countries since its foundation in the late 1960s, and its breadth of interests can be judged by having a look at its catalogue: https://www.lagedhomme.com/. A look at the Wikipedia entry devoted to it could also be useful: Éditions L'Âge d'Homme — Wikipédia (wikipedia.org). It may have published some authors that could be described as right-wing (as quite a few other mainstream European publishers have done and still do, with authors such as Céline and Ernst Jünger), but they are included in an ocean of literature that has no political colour and needs no particular apology. Furthermore, as a small detail, it should also be noted that since 2021 Politica Hermetica is not published by L’Age d’Homme anymore, but by the French generalist publisher L’Harmattan. This shows once again how poorly and superficially my accuser has collected her information.

The same goes for the reference to the so-called “Palladian Academy”, whose meetings I have indeed attended, and which has served between the late 1990s and the early 2000s as an informal laboratory for scholars of esotericism to set the basis of a viable academic field of research. It is from this laboratory that eventually emerged, among other things, the flagship journal of our field, Aries. Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism (published by Brill), and the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (https://www.esswe.org/). During those meetings, we never asked each other’s political pedigree and in fact we never discussed politics at all. If we had ever inquired about the political ideas of the colleagues involved, I am quite sure that we would have had a very diverse picture, as is often the case when people get together not because of shared political persuasions, but because of purely professional interests.

My accuser also mentions two students who graduated in our MA program a few years ago. Is she really not aware that we, like any other academic institution, don’t ask about the political opinions of students when we admit them to our teaching programs? We evaluate our students on the basis of the quality of their work, not of personal opinions that they are not even obliged to mention to us. We would certainly react if a student used our programs in order to promote particular ideologies (whether political or otherwise), but this hasn’t happened either with these two students or with any of the many other students we have had in the past. In fact, to single out only these two students from the hundreds we have had in the twenty-three years of existence of our HHP Centre is not just unfair, it is actually dishonest. The reality is that students in our programs have always had very diverse backgrounds and political orientations, including radical left-wing. If right-wing ideas had really been flying around in our HHP centre, as my accuser seems to imply, we would have been called out by our very students a long time ago.

I am not sure how to respond to other unsubstantiated, baseless statements – that I would simply find funny in other contexts, but take on a sinister tone here – such as the intimation that I am a “Crowley follower”. Well, the truth of the matter is easy to ascertain: I am not. But, even if I were, I am not sure what this would have to do with anything else or why it would serve the evident purpose of tarnishing my reputation. The same goes for the reference to a conference on Crowley in which I participated “in the 1990s“ (actually 1997), “where Introvigne, Pasi and others discussed ‘sexual magic’ and ‘sperm Gnosis’”. Should I justify myself for participating in conferences where I talked about the subjects I study as a professional scholar? Yes, I have done scholarly research on Aleister Crowley and the history of sexual magic as part of the broader history of esotericism. How is that really relevant or surprising? This makes me wonder: does my accuser really know what she is talking about? After reading these comments of her, how can one really believe that she has an honest interest in the study of esotericism, as she claims at the beginning of her article?

There remain now a couple of observations. The first one is that I have learned long ago that there is always something to learn from these situations, even when they can be so annoying or painful. It is certainly an interesting question to ask why, if I am so alien to far-right political ideas, I found myself close at one point or another to such political milieus, as seems to have been also the case also for quite a few of my colleagues. I think I have given already a first answer by suggesting that it is difficult to study certain subjects while avoiding all contact with them as they present themselves in real life. Contemporary far-right political milieus have an evident interest in and fascination for esotericism, which is of course a phenomenon worthy of study in itself. This can create situations of proximity between those who professionally study those subjects and those who “practice” them that it can be difficult to disentangle socially, even while intellectual differences remain clear. If we allow the logic of absolute purity from any social contamination to prevail, then most scholars who work on non-mainstream, radical forms of culture will probably be guilty at some point or another, and their work will become tainted by default. The only alternative to this would be either to have extremely biased, stigmatising discourses about the things we don’t like personally, which would inevitably reduce our ability to understand them, or to study only “benign” and “acceptable” subjects. But what emerges in fact from my accuser’s article is a much older, deeper prejudice not so much against fascism per se, but against non-normative, irrational, and non-hegemonic subjects, a prejudice with which the study of esotericism has had to struggle practically from the very moment it came into existence. We can see this prejudice creeping in almost unconsciously when the author accuses me of being a “Crowley follower” or of participating in conferences where “sperm Gnosis” is discussed, as if doing my job as a scholar of esotericism would already be a guilt in itself.

I can easily understand the more pragmatic issue of being savvy enough to avoid unfitting contexts for the publication of my works. Here, errors of judgment can be made, as it tends to happen to human beings, and I have no difficulty in acknowledging mine. But the problem here is not whether I can justify myself against my accuser’s allegations, or whether these allegations can simply be dismissed as an example of paranoid thinking. It is also the essentially anti-liberal, inquisitorial attitude underlying them that has to be rejected if we believe in the values of an open, democratic society. Giving in to these attitudes means creating a culture of fear that is in fact very much akin to the ideologies that my accuser claims to be fighting against.

My old professor Galli cared very much for his intellectual freedom and never asked anybody’s permission to talk with whomever he found worthy of attention, even when political differences were extreme. Like a few other Italian left-wing intellectuals, he made a choice at some point and decided that the antifascist conventio ad excludendum against right-wing milieus, which had been in vigour in Italy for so long, didn’t apply for him anymore. So he freely engaged in conversations with these milieus on a number of occasions. Was it a good idea? Is it still practicable today in a world that is experiencing intense political polarisation? It is difficult to give a definite answer. The problem is not so much about the colleagues of mine my accuser mentions in her text, who are accused no less unfairly than me and with whom I will continue to have normal collegial relations in the future as I have done in the past. The problem is about real radical right-wing milieus, with respect to which the field of esotericism should indeed reflect at some point. Scholars of esotericism share with these milieus an obvious interest in the same subject, even if their ways of looking at it is (or should be) very different. It is quite obvious to me that one cannot make compromises with ideologies based on discrimination or exploitation, and one has to be quite guarded also with the persons who carry those ideas around. At the same time, I reject the implicit logic of absolute purity of my accuser, because it evidently clashes with my deep-seated liberal convictions. This remains true even when my opinions (political or otherwise) differ significantly from those of the persons I may have a conversation with. My accuser is of course free to frequent only people whose political views are exactly identical to hers and to engage in passionate, but probably also very predictable, conversations with them. As for me, I prefer to live in a slightly more diverse, intellectually challenging world. A world where differences, and possibly even mistakes, cannot be used to persecute or suppress the other.

Amsterdam, 11.7.2022

 

[1] https://www.doorbraak.eu/esotericism-studies-and-far-right-academic-networks/. The text is in English but a Dutch translation is also available on the same website. Although I have read the Dutch version, my response is based on the English one.

[2] I have been a member of the Executive Committee of the EASR for twelve years, first as Treasurer (2008-2013) and then as General Secretary (2014-2019). Prof. Berglund is my direct successor in the latter position.

[3] “Marie Lucille”, a.k.a. “Marie Kerschbaum”, refers to this herself in the Doorbraak article.

[4] I am using the female gender for my accuser in a purely conventional way, because she is consistently using female names to sign her text. It seems evident enough that these names are all pseudonyms. A search of a person with these names on the internet doesn’t give any significant result either (no social media accounts, no mentions on any online platform). Her real identity, or the gender she identifies with, remain at this moment unknown to me.

[5] It is also significant that my accuser says that she has sent these accusations to other persons before. This obviously refers at least to the close colleague of mine who first received the allegations in August 2021. There might be other such cases which I have not been made aware of. In any case my accuser herself states that the outcome has been always the same: nobody found the accusations convincing enough to encourage her in her intent.

[6] In fact I have never been a member of any political group or movement whatsoever.

[7] See the discussion of my 2001 letter to the Cercle Social in the second part of this response.

[8] I have personal accounts on Facebook and Instagram and what I post there is normally visible to all users of these media.

[9] The exception is Wouter Hanegraaff’s “Politics and the Study of Western Esotericism (2009, unpublished)”, which is available on his Academia.edu page: Politics and the Study of Western Esotericism (2009, unpublished) | Wouter J. Hanegraaff - Academia.edu.

[10] With respect to radical left-wing sources we have “Le Cercle Social”, a group active in France between 2003 and 2004 with its own blog “Tout pour déplaire”. The original blog is no longer available online, but its contents can still be found here: http://mondialisme.org/spip.php?rubrique2. One of the blog posts of this group has been re-posted by the anti-CESNUR website created by the former member of New Acropolis Miguel Martinez (http://www.kelebekler.com/cesnur/txt/poler-fr.htm). With respect to radical right-wing sources, there is a long quotation from John Morgan, taken from the white nationalist “Counter-Currents” blog to which he is a regular contributor (https://counter-currents.com/2012/09/nicholas-goodrick-clarke-r-i-p/). I will return to these sources in the course of my discussion. The immediate context of the published version of my accuser’s text, which is a Dutch left-wing blog called “Doorbraak”, is also significant.

[11] This is the case especially with Miguel Martinez’s anti-CESNUR website, which I have mentioned in the previous note and to which my accuser refers several times. Judging from the dates given in Martinez’s website itself, most of its contents were posted between 1998 and 2004.

[12] In my accuser’s text, there is only one short quotation from one of my publications. It is from an article I published in 1996 in the journal Orion (“Esoterismo e nuova religiosità”), to which I will return. In the quoted passage I am not expressing any personal view, but I am just reporting what the Italian sociologist of New Religious Movements Massimo Introvigne said during a conference on contemporary paganism held in Paris in 1996. As in most other instances, the quotation is taken by my accuser from a second-hand source without checking the original text. As a side-note, one can mention a number of errors made by my accuser, which derive precisely from the uncritical use of her sources: the 1996 conference on contemporary paganism took place in Paris, not in Lyons, and there is no reason to believe that some of the persons mentioned by her, such as Rémy Boyer and Charles Antoni, have ever been right-wing extremists.

[13] Marco Pasi, “A proposito di Fernando Pessoa”, Orion, 2 (February 1995), pp. 46-52; and id., “Esoterismo e nuova religiosità”, Orion, 3-4 (March-April 1996), pp. 49-54. As I pointed out above, my accuser quotes a passage from the latter article, but only from a second-hand source. There is no reason to believe that she has actually seen or read these articles.

[14] Marco Pasi, Aleister Crowley und die Versuchung der Politik, Ares Verlag: Graz 2006.

[15] For a critical, but not prejudicially hostile, historical analysis of Orion and its political context, see Marco Fraquelli, A destra di Porto Alegre. Perché la destra è più noglobal della sinistra, Rubbettino Editore: Soveria Mannelli 2005, pp. 63-78. See also the book review by Matteo Luca Andriola, “La destra radicale noglobal. Antimondialismo e capitalismo” in Sinistrainrete. Archivio di documenti e articoli per la discussione politica nella sinistra, 14 August 2019 (https://sinistrainrete.info/politica/15613-matteo-luca-andriola-la-destra-radicale-noglobal-antimondialismo-e-capitalismo.html).

[16] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giorgio_Galli_(historian). Galli died on 27 December 2020. I posted my obituary of him on my Facebook wall two days later, where I talk about my relationship with him and discuss his role as a public intellectual in Italy. The post is accessible to all Facebook users.

[17]Giorgio Galli, Hitler e il nazismo magico, Rizzoli: Milano 1989.

[18] See e.g. the conversation between Galli and Renato Del Ponte, “Le origini occulte del nazionalsocialismo”, published in Orion, 7 (July 1989), pp. 411-419.

[19] Giorgio Galli, “Evola: esoterismo e politica”, in: Testimonianze su Evola, ed. by G. De Turris, Edizioni Mediterranee: Rome 1985, pp. 271-275. Unsurprisingly, the volume also includes well-known right-wing authors, such as Alain de Benoist and Marcello Veneziani, apart from de Turris himself. The Edizioni Mediterranee have a long standing collaboration with the Evola Foundation and have published most of Evola’s works in Italy since the 1970s. We should also add that Galli’s interest in Evola goes even further back in time, since he had discussed him already without negative prejudice more than ten years earlier in his La crisi Italiana e la destra internazionale, Mondadori: Milan 1974, p. 20.

[20] Massimo Cacciari, “Un’avventura emblematica”, in Testimonianze su Evola, ed. by G. De Turris, Edizioni Mediterranee: Rome 1985, pp. 220-223. Before his retirement, Cacciari has been a professor of aesthetics at the IUAV University of Venice and at the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University in Milan. Politically active for most of his life and very present in Italian media even today, he was elected to the Italian parliament with the Communist Party twice between 1976 and 1983, and was mayor of the city of Venice with a left-wing coalition between 1993 and 2000.

[21] See Julius Evola, L’arco e la clava, with an introductory essay by Giorgio Galli, Edizioni Mediterranee: Rome 1995; Id., Saggi sull’idealismo magico, with an introductory essay by Franco Volpi, Rome, Edizioni Mediterranee: Rome 2006; Id., Fenomenologia dell’Individuo assoluto, with an introductory essay by Massimo Donà, Edizioni Mediterranee: Rome 2007; and Id., Cavalcare la tigre, with an introductory essay by Stefano Zecchi, Edizioni Mediterranee: Rome 2009. Zecchi was a professor of aesthetics at the University of Milan when I was a student there (1987-1994), and I took some of his courses. He then became, like Cacciari, a very famous public intellectual, being often invited to popular talk shows.

[22] Gianfranco de Turris, Elogio e difesa di Julius Evola. Il barone e i terroristi, with a foreword by Giorgio Galli, Edizioni Mediterranee: Rome 1997.

[23] See for instance Franco Ferraresi’s criticism of Galli in Michele Brambilla, “Evola riabilitato da sinistra. ‘Non fu un cattivo maestro’”, Corriere della Sera, 9 July 1997, p. 31. In an important book first published in 1979, Furio Jesi was probably the first left-wing intellectual to criticise Galli, as well as the historian of fascism Renzo de Felice, for being too soft towards Evola and right-wing culture (see Furio Jesi, Cultura di destra, Garzanti: Milan 1993, pp. 92-97). Jesi referred there to Galli’s book La crisi Italiana e la destra internazionale (1974), which I have already mentioned.

[24] Things would be different for studies on esotericism in the Renaissance and earlier historical periods.

[25] Nicola Fumagalli, Cultura politica e cultura esoterica nella sinistra russa (1880-1917), Società Editrice Barbarossa: Milan 1996, with a foreword by Giorgio Galli. See also here:  Cultura politica e cultura esoterica nella sinistra russa (1880-1917) | Orion Libri.

[26] For instance, my accuser gives links to these pages: http://www.orionlibri.net/negozio/europa-nazione-jean-thiriart-il-cavaliere-eurasiatico-e-la-giovane-europa/; and http://www.orionlibri.net/product-tag/esoterismo/, which present books from AGA Editrice or Settimo Sigillo, published many years after my articles in Orion, and that have nothing to do with me.

[27] http://www.kelebekler.com/cesnur/txt/poler-fr.htm. See also above, n. 10.

[28] The main target of the attack was the scholarly journal Politica Hermetica, to which I will return later.

[29] It can now be found here: http://www.kelebekler.com/cesnur/txt/lettrepasi.htm. For an English translation of this text, see annex 1.

[30] http://www.kelebekler.com/cesnur/eng.htm. See also above, nn. 10 and 11.

[31] Pasi, Aleister Crowley und die Versuchung, cit.

[32] Marco Pasi, Aleister Crowley und die Versuchung der Politik, Ares Verlag: Graz 2006, pp. 20-21. My translation. The original German text can be found in annex 2.

[33] See above, n. 3.

[34] I am afraid this has been claimed as well, and it is not clear to me whether we are dealing here with commercial exploitation or sheer craziness. Probably a little bit of both. See Leo Lyon Zagami, Confessions of an Illuminati, Volume I. The Whole Truth About the Illuminati and the New World Order, n.p.: Consortium of Collective Consciousness, 2015, pp. 74-86.

[35] https://counter-currents.com/2012/09/nicholas-goodrick-clarke-r-i-p/

[36] Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Black Sun. Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity, New York University Press: New York 2002, p. 6.

[37] See n. 9 above.

[38] I would add that, in my view, the idea that a critique of postmodernism should necessarily be associated with a right-wing or reactionary perspective is also terribly naïve. It is actually quite possible to formulate such a critique from a left-wing perspective, as it has been done by famous left-wing intellectuals such as Umberto Eco and Carlo Ginzburg.

[39] The case of Camus is particularly interesting. In a book on far-right movements in France published with René Monzat in 1992 (Les droites nationales et radicales en France. Répertoire critique, Presses universitaires de Lyon: Lyon 1992, p. 360), he had expressed some prudent criticism of Politica Hermetica. This was one of the bases of the later attack on the journal from Le Cercle Social, to which I have referred above (see nn. 10 and 26). However, Camus later changed his mind, and published in this very journal an illuminating analysis of the dangers of simplistic political accusations that use fascism as a catch-all category to delegitimise their targets. See Jean-Yves Camus’s “L’Étude de l’extrême-droite au risque du soupçon” in Politica Hermetica, 23 (2009), pp. 73-80.

[40] See the preceding note.

Annexes

 

Annex 1: English translation of my letter to the Cercle Social

Cercle Social
circlesocial@altern.org
unknown physical address

Dear sirs,

I noticed that your webzine Tout pour déplaire (www.crosswinds.net/~minerval/), after an interruption that I cannot quantify, is available again on the web. After believing for a while that your website had disappeared, I now see myself obliged to write to you. This is because in two articles published in your webzine there are some statements about me which, while having no basis in reality, seriously harm my reputation. I am referring to the following articles: “Politica Hermetica, analysis of an ideological laboratory of the new right”, et “Negationism and the New Right: a professor above all suspicion”.

I do not intend here to argue with you, nor to challenge the two articles as a whole. I obviously do not agree with several points you make in your analysis, but these can simply be seen as legitimate opinions. I also notice that there are a lot of inaccuracies about other persons, but here I am not concerned with that either. What does concern me, and very seriously, is what you write about me in the following passages (my emphasis):

The Religious Studies department of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes is an institution that is being lenient towards some personalities of the extreme right. It opens its doors to them and lets them enrol for doctorates or degrees recognized and validated by the Ministry of Research. Armed with these academic credentials, it is then much easier to let themselves be invited to scholarly conferences, publish and obtain public funding. So Marco Pasi and Arnaud d´Apremont…
(“Politica Hermetica, analysis of an ideological laboratory of the new right”)

However, Pierre-André Taguieff has been a member of the editorial board of the above-mentioned journal Politica Hermetica since its creation in 1986, alongside, among others, the exegete of Evola Philippe Baillet, the neo-fascist Marco Pasi…
(“Negationism and the New Right: a professor above all suspicion”)

In the first quotation I am implicitly defined as “a personality of the extreme right”, in the second explicitly as a “neo-fascist”. However, both statements are false, without any foundation, and I consider them seriously defamatory. Please note the following facts: I have never been part of a political group of any orientation whatsoever, and therefore - a fortiori - right-wing, far-right, or neo-fascist ; I have never been involved in activism, political or otherwise, in my life; I have never made public statements or published anything of a political nature, and so - a fortiori - of a right-wing, far-right, or neo-fascist orientation. Politics as such does not interest me and has never been a part of my life.

It’s not hard to imagine what, in the type of reasoning you have, induced you to include me in your articles. These are obviously two articles that I published in the Italian magazine Orion in 1995 and 1996. However, you should have taken the trouble to read them: you would no doubt have noticed that in these articles I neither take nor defend any political position of any kind. I can add to this that, at least at the time that I published these articles, Orion explicitly rejected defining itself as an “far-right” or “neo-fascist” journal and that people from the left also collaborated with this journal. This should be enough to make you understand that, if this is the basis for calling me a “far-right personality” and “neo-fascist”, it is a very thin and fragile one.

 

Annex 2: Excerpt from the German edition of my book on Crowley and politics

From: Marco Pasi, Aleister Crowley und die Versuchung der Politik, Ares Verlag: Graz 2006, pp. 20-21.

Auch scheint es angebracht, eine Bemerkung hinzuzufügen, die in einer wissenschaftlichen Untersuchung normalerweise nicht nötig wäre, in diesem Fall aber angesichts des behandelten Gegenstands vielleicht nicht überflüssig ist. Die vorliegende Untersuchung bedient sich mehrfach Quellen, die häufig „belastet“ sind – entweder in politischer oder aber in esoterischer Hinsicht. Es muß dem Leser bewußt sein, daß diese Quellen stets mit der für den wissenschaftlichen Forscher nötigen kritischen Haltung behandelt wurden und daß deren Auswertung durchaus kein Einverständnis mit den darin geäußerten Meinungen voraussetzt. Im Gegenteil, es muß deutlich ausgesprochen werden, daß die persönlichen Ansichten des Verfassers denkbar weit entfernt sind von Ideologien, die auf Gewalt, auf Unterdrückung und Diskriminierung von Einzelnen oder ganzen Gemeinschaften beruhen, seien diese Ideologien nun „linksextremistisch“ oder „rechtsextremistisch“. Deshalb verurteilt der Verfasser derartige Ideologien auf das entschiedenste.