Can a Spiritual Outlook Regenerate Our Social Institutions?

Another Way of Seeing: Essays on Transforming Law, Politics and Culture
by Peter Gabel
Quid Pro Books, 2013

False hope can be dangerous, personally and politically. After centuries of utopian dreams and “scientific” understandings, I find it hard to believe that we can transform the world. I approached Peter Gabel’s important book with some skepticism. Show me that we can change the world. Persuade me that a spiritual outlook, “another way of seeing,” can be powerful enough to regenerate our social institutions.

Gabel’s intent in this collection of essays and occasional pieces is to shift our attention from the material world to the spiritual dimension of social life. He hopes to show that this spiritual engagement can be a main shaping influence on society. It is a big claim, and he pursues it with zeal and conviction: “Human beings actually exist in a psycho-spiritual world in which they seek not primarily food, shelter, or the satisfaction of material needs, but rather the love and recognition of other human beings, and the sense of elevated meaning and purpose that comes from bringing the world of inter-subjective connection into being.”

Love as a Historical Force

It is quite a step to see the longing for love and recognition as a key historical force. Yes, it inspired the movements of the 1960s, and Gabel is wonderful at describing how it felt to be lifted up out of alienation and isolation into the shared optimism of that time. But those very movements, although they have made a serious impact on the world, have not achieved the sweeping transformations their participants hoped for. Their aftermath tends to be a pronounced weariness, withdrawal, and rage, out of which their adherents must begin all over again to “come into existence as an idealistic, hopeful, potentially loving community.” No wonder the seasoned warriors of this struggle are inclined to leave the remaining work to the next generation. Is this despair? Perhaps not.
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