Welcome to Jan Olof Bengtsson: Spirituality – Arts & Humanities – Europe, my modest little WordPress blog. On this page is found some general information about me and my work, followed by a few comments on the blog. I write in English here and in some posts since I have friends and colleagues in other countries who do not speak Swedish, and since others abroad may also wish to read me.
I have tried to defend what I think must be understood as the absolute truth of spiritual reality and the path to spiritual self-realization, in accordance with certain interpretations of several converging traditional teachings, both Eastern and Western, beginning in the late 1970s. It is possible, and perhaps even probable, that I am ultimately a kind of vedantist.
There was nothing pretentious about this. It did not involve any particular claims to saintliness or advanced realization; I was not saying that anyone should regard me as a master or guru and become my disciple. I just happened to see these things clearly. Not to speak them, not to try to live them and to make life, as far as possible, a concrete manifestation and continuous, progressive revelation of them, would, I felt, be to withhold light from the world. A mere scholarly approach would have been irresponsible.
What distinguishes human life is not only the capacity for abstract, conceptual thought and the development of tools for controlling nature. Those are merely the subordinate products of the higher level of consciousness which produces in man a general broader reflection and an awareness of and insight regarding things that are for animals and plants “unconscious”. Further and higher human development, as I understand it, goes beyond psycho-physical evolution, improved material conditions, logic/mathematics, science, technology, morality, humanistic culture, and scholarship, and consists essentially in making conscious what still normally remains “unconscious” also in human life – the nature of death, and what lies beyond it and beyond humanity’s psycho-physically conditioned and confined states of awareness: our spiritual identity, the supreme truth, goodness, and beauty, the reality of the divine life. It leads to spiritual enlightenment and spiritual liberation.
This includes a kind of definitive, ultimate insight regarding the phenomenal world, transcendence, the absolute, and our relation to all of this. Both the emphasis on the need for or at least the desirability of a comparatively high level of precision in this insight, achieved through intellectual discipline in conjunction with the other standard spiritual practices, and the degree of what can be called soft traditionalism, set my use of the term spirituality apart from that of many others today.
I tried to teach these things primarily through direct presence and oral presentation, and I was much preoccupied with the question of the possible language for the expression and communication of this dimension of life under current Western cultural conditions.
Yet I sought also to promote East-West cultural and scholarly bridge-building with regard to spiritual traditions, and among my efforts in this respeect can be mentioned my attendance of conferences on interfaith dialogue and the transmission of Eastern spirituality to and its reception in the West, my participation in many seminars (including my own) at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, my teaching of Western philosophy at Bhaktivedanta College in Belgium, and my contributions to the moderated internet forum Vaishnava Advanced Studies (VAST). The latter is probably where most of my writing is found.
Arts & Humanities
This teaching on spirituality was closely connected to and partly, to the extent that it was possible, expressed in terms of the positions I defend within the framework of Western philosophy. The themes of the relation between spiritual traditionalism and the “institution” of Western philosophy as constituted and defined in large measure in ancient Greece, and of the gradual historical process of differentiation of European or Western culture from purely traditional cultures, were of necessity central for me.
But I also taught the coordination of the levels of spiritual and humanistic insight more broadly and generally, stressing the need for attention to be paid also to the latter. Here I advocated a creative, discerning restoration of the distinctive traditions of the arts and humanities, or humanistic culture in general, in Europe and the rest of the West to the extent that it is European.
I contributed articles to academic journals and other publications since the mid-1980s, and taught the history of ideas at Lund University for many years. I also presented papers at international conferences on idealism and personalism with some regularity. I am best known for my book The Worldview of Personalism: Origins and Early Development (2006). It was favourably received, which led to a lecture tour in the U.S. and panels on it at conferences there, including an author-meets-critics panel at the American Philosophical Association. In 2008, a special issue of the philosophical journal The Pluralist was devoted to the book.
I have sought to defend and transmit the legacy of the thought as well as the art, music, and literature of the West in terms of a philosophical worldview defined by means of the positions of personalism, idealism broadly defined, and value-centered historicism – a worldview in some dimensions confined to the humanistic level, but adjusted in accordance with, and thus coordinable with, the higher level of spiritual insight described in the previous section.
In terms of global perspectives, I have defended what I describe as a qualified pluralism. It represents a vision of unity-in-diversity, a higher cosmopolitanism, which, in addition to the purely metaphysical understanding of universality, views universal values on the humanistic level not as abstractions and uniformities but as concretely manifested in and through various cultures, peoples, and traditions. This view allows both for the preservation of multiplicity and differences, and for bridge-building and new syntheses.
It is also in line with this understanding that I studied comparative (East-West) philosophy, religion, and spirituality. As an integral humanistic level within the comprehensive and ultimate metaphysics of my traditionalist spirituality, the described worldview provided a corrective with regard to the tendencies towards superficial modernist linear progressivism which, elsewhere, sometimes characterize its constituents.
Another area of interest – although hardly specialization – has been psychiatry and psychotherapy. Here I have sought to implement certain concrete applications of the restored humanities and humanistic philosophy, as supported by the spiritual teachings. I have provided dialogical advice to people with psychiatric disorders and their relatives, in and out of some organizations for such people, on the basis of my own familiarity with ”abnormal” psychological states gained in connection with some of my early spiritual and mystical experiences.
Having found my own experiences of this kind only occasionally painful and primarily interesting, I have advised against the use of certain antipsychotic drugs or neuroleptics, which I find to be often more destructive than the disorders themselves. As is today well known, such drugs can cause persistent adverse effects, like tardive dyskinesia.
In the last few decades, through the impact of anti-psychiatry psychiatrists like R. D. Laing, Thomas Szasz, and David Cooper, but also through figures like Michel Foucault, Félix Guattari and successful novelists and influential autobiographers, mental illness has become increasingly fashionable, something that confers aesthetic and intellectual status – to the point that some who speak of their illness can now be suspected of trying to exploit it for the purpose of making themselves interesting in the eyes of others.
I see this narcissistic phenomenon as yet another expression of the legacy of problematic forms of romanticism in one side of modernism, and insist on the need for rejecting the implied relativism and defending the existence sound criteria of mental health and disease. I also think the whole ideological and cultural climate of the contemporary West is to a considerable extent such as to contribute to the increase of mental disease and, above all, to make it much harder to cure, since, not least as manifested in the world of psychotherapy, it fails to teach patients how to deal properly with their own suffering and hence bring about their recovery.
But I have come to agree with some analyses of and to understand the problems with the philosophical errors and the ideological abuse (not just in the Soviet Union) represented by mainstream psychiatry, and this has influenced my political and cultural analysis of the contemporary society of which psychiatry is a part. The standards I defend are therefore not at all those of the other, rationalist and scientist side of modernity.
There is real, pathological mental illness; and there is good psychiatry alongside the bad. But I have tried to point to the potential value and deeper meaning of many psychiatric disorders. I have suggested that they can have the function of breaking down lower orders of the mind and the ego, and establishing higher ones of the spirit.
Adequately handled, and refined in accordance with a proper moral and humanistic understanding, experiences in abnormal states can be further developed in the direction of spiritual enlightenment and humane wisdom. I have recommended that they be understood in the perspective of wider historical, cultural, philosophical, and spiritual references than the ones currently available in psychiatric diagnosis and treatment and in psychological therapy and councelling.
The third level of my modest activity has been that of helping to save Europe, and it is wholly dependent on the first two levels. By saving Europe I mean three different but related things. First, I have in mind simply teaching spirituality to Europe, or the creative supplementation and modification of the constitutive European cultural, moral, and intellectual traditions, the legacy of Athens, Rome and Jerusalem, as combined with early Germanic and other influences, by the spiritual traditionalism described above, including much of the essence of some of its Eastern manifestations. This is a process which includes the strengthening and further development of the elements of Western thought that represent and express more or less of the same spiritual insights.
Second, I mean the saving, through selective restoration and renewal based on critical discernment, of the mentioned constitutive legacy in itself, as modified by and thus harmonizable with the new spiritual impulse. Here I move on the level of humanistic culture, stressing the central importance of the creative restoration of Europe’s traditions of the arts and humanities for the meaningful articulation and preservation of its identity.
The third aspect I have in mind when I speak of saving Europe is the political. The worldview described above also includes political philosophy, which accounts for much of my interest in politics and some aspects of my interest in political history. My political positions are completely and exclusively determined by the insights on the spiritual and humanistic levels briefly indicated above.
Politically, I sometimes describe myself as a European post-paleoconservative. Paleoconservatism is a humorous term introduced by Paul Gottfried for the purpose of distinguishing a more genuine form of American conservatism from neoconservatism, but I use it as applicable, and needed, also in the European context. The term post-paleoconservatism too was first used by Gottfried. By this designation, I mean to say that, having gone through and assimilated most of paleoconservatism, I find it lacks political representation today and seems to be no longer politically viable as such. The conservative parties of Europe have long ago relinquished meaningful traditional conservatism altogether, and never even seriously tried properly to renew and develop it. Instead, we have seen a wholesale adoption on their part of the simplistic globalism, the multiculturalism and mass-immigrationism, the pseudo-moralism, and the general “political correctness” of the liberals and socialists.
Liberals have sometimes been justified in rejecting the right as oppressive and too rigid and inflexible in the face of new historical circumstances and scientific and other developments. Yet at the same time liberalism has for the most part been inseparable from the underlying, problematic cultural dynamic of Western modernity in its main form. It has effected needed, beneficent reform, but quite as often it has been an unscrupulous and violent instrument of mere centralization and control. As such it has rather enslaved the peoples and nations in new and insidious ways in the name of liberation, equality, and a base conception of democracy. It has systematically destroyed much of their cultures and traditions for the benefit of what can be called new pseudo-elites, i.e., of people who do not make creative use of the partial truths of modernity but affirm its stark ideological falsehoods, and whose work is thus predominantly anti- and countertraditional, in a general sense.
The partial truths floating about in the left’s view of corporate capitalism etc. need to be disentangled from their false theoretical setting (there is no historical, material, rational, metaphysical, theological or other necessity about the historical left’s particular conceptions of the processes of modernity or their implications), and related to the larger and deeper analytical whole in which alone the truths and the meaning of their valid perspectives can be fully understood. But I also find it important to note that the left-right paradigm can be exploited today for general ideological obfuscation, for dividing critics, and for thus consolidating problematic current power structures.
While some of the practical achievements of European social democracy should be affirmed and accepted, a viable creative supplementation of conservatism cannot come from the left itself, as such. It must still be part of a creative traditionalism, but it must constitute a new moment in its creativity, allowing it to develop more innovatively, in fresh and sometimes surprising ways, and to become more assertive. It must free conservatism from the tired spirit of undue compromise and politically correct drift that has so long dominated its mainstream. Not least, it must intelligently restore and renew some essential things which conservatism has relinquished and rejected in the course of that drift.
I believe one of the most significant political developments in Europe today is that essential elements of true conservatism, abandoned by the formerly conservative parties, have been taken over and inserted into their own political framework by some of the broadly, and more or less, “nationalist” or national conservative parties of Europe, and that this has provided some of the needed supplementation. This development often seems to me a sound reaction against and corrective to the ideological distortion and the exploitation and manipulation on the part of problematic interests of the idea of Europe and European unification (it seems to me all of the – very different – main twentieth-century visions of European union are more or less flawed in such respects, including those of the Paneuropean Union and personalist federalism). It already implies at least a potential, partial return to the legacy and a renewal and potential further development of the insights of the alternative modernity of the nineteenth century.
The radical nationalism of that century, although in some cases a historically understandable and inevitable phase in the development of Europe, contributed to some extent to the calamities of the twentieth. While national as well as regional distinctiveness and diversity have obvious and central values, nationalism must be replaced by the realization that the affirmation of such values is historically legitimate and sound only within the framework provided by a proper, historically informed idea of Europe. This was so in the nineteenth century, and it is even more so today. This alone can prevent and forestall calamities and ideological experiments of the kind that obscured the legacy of the alternative modernity and interrupted the realization of its true potential.
This legacy and potential can now, with the right intellectual and political leadership, be renewed and developed in terms of its own proper understanding of freedom, humanism, the moral order, and the identity of Europe. This, in turn, will be the necessary basis for the badly needed alternative European cooperation, the truly European union into which the current, to a very consideralbe extent anti-European EU must be developed and transformed.
These positions do not for me imply that an alternative, higher globalization of sorts is not possible, an alternative along the lines suggested above, which rejects the heretofore predominant, controlling ideologies and interests. Because of my different philosophical presuppositions, I disagree in this and other regards not just with reductionistic racial identitarians but also more broadly – although I acknowledge some important partial truths – with the European nouvelle droite and its American counterparts. The variety and distinctions to which they point are not unimportant. Being an idealistic personalist and “spiritualist” does not imply that I deny there is also a dimension of nature and biology that must be taken into account, and, more generally, an ethnic diversity in humanity that, while certainly not absolute or wholly changeless, is important and has a value in itself; its significance in world affairs can only be denied by those who have lost all contact with reality through radical ideology. Thus I of course affirm this obvious dimension in my defence of what I consider central elements of the culture and history of the European peoples, to one of which I belong. Yet I also affirm that humanity, and indeed all life, is interrelated, and in a deeper sense than the globalists of the currently predominant variety think. It is certainly possible to achieve greater peace and harmony etc., on the condition of a higher degree of humane cultural development and spiritual enlightenment within a framework of renewed traditionalist recognition of the constitutive elements of order.
Because of his significant career as a leading intellectual in Swedish social democracy turning conservative due to growing doubts about socialist ideology and the moral, social, and cultural realities of modernity, as well as, later, under the influence of spiritual and religious experiences and insights, the traditionalist thinker Tage Lindbom became one of my most important theoretical inspirations in this field in the first half of the 1980s. We stayed in contact for the rest of his life, and in the mid-1990s, I was one of those who organized the evening meetings with Lindbom where mainly younger but, on occasion, also some prominent older intellectuals gathered to hear him speak about his life.
But the creative traditionalism I have sought to defend differs from Lindbom’s position – including his version of European federalism – precisely in affirming the possibility of the alternative, partial, selective modernity as one of its integral parts, a modernity defined in terms of the worldview outlined above, and thus making possible the higher, qualified forms of democracy and freedom within the framework of the Rechts- and Kulturstaat and its corresponding principles on the European level.
I have taught the history of political philosophy at the City University in Stockholm, and lectured for the Swedish conservative party and related organizations. Between 2010 and 2016, I was a member of the Sweden Democrats.
There are six other Pages listed in the header and the sidebar. Contents contains clickable titles of all posts, by category and in order of publication, with the most recent ones first. Publications contains information about some of my scholarly and other publications. References provides a bibliography with selected titles of relevance for my posts, by category, and with links, for those who wish to go deeper. Reviews will contain a list of, and some comments on, reviews of my scholarly works. Comments explains the rules for commentators and my criteria for the publication of comments. Contact is exclusively for personal contact with me; what is written there by readers is never published, never made public.
The Categories of posts, listed in the sidebar, are: Arts with the subcategories Architecture; Literature with the subcategory Poems; Music with the sub-subcategories Opera and Progressive Rock; Painting; and Plastic Arts; History; Philosophy with the subcategories Idealism, Personalism, and Value-Centered Historicism; Politics with the subcategory Economics; Psychiatry; and Spirituality. There are also Uncategorized posts; among them are found, as separate uncategorized categories, as it were, the References listed with clickable links on the References page (see above), and Republished posts.
The posts are thus not divided and classified according to the three general main themes of the blog described above. The reason for this is on the one hand that more differentiation and specificity are needed, and on the other that, at the same time, many posts, in different ways, belong to more than one and often all three of the closely interconnected themes.
Many photos in the Architecture subcategory can be enlarged by clicking on them, and some can be further enlarged by double-clicking.
YouTube videos, which appear in many posts, sometimes disappear from YouTube, and I then, when possible, replace them in old posts with newer ones with the same content.
I started the blog in 2009. Since then, I have also created two other, more specialized WordPress blogs – History of Ideas, and Philosophy – that are easily accessed through icons in the sidebar. The texts published there have also been published here.
In the sidebar are also found icons with links to my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. Those who wish to follow my day-to-day recommendations of articles and occasional comments on and discussion of current events are welcome to send friend requests or follow me there.