Marxism, Buddhism and Politics

Our public affairs are in crisis at almost every level. Governments proclaiming democracy and free markets are unable to deal with injustice, corruption, inter-communal violence, poverty, global exploitation and environmental degradation.

Some claim that the problems are technical issues of economic management, while religious communities focus on the need for greater spiritual authority and guidance. Others see the problem in terms of a deep-seated moral uncertainty, created by the lack of an agreed basis for secular ethics in a culture devoted to economic growth and individual ambition. But the debate between these competing perspectives leaves us only with rhetorical justifications of the very institutions at the heart of the crisis, or with an endless, usually circular series of questions, or with calls to ‘faith’.

In contrast, my book Power, Freedom, Compassion: Transformations For A Better World, published in 2011, approaches these issues through a comprehensive and radical synthesis of Marxist and Buddhist thinking, showing the essential links between questions of political equity, interpersonal ethics and individual self-understanding. The main argument is two-fold. Firstly, that a full understanding of contemporary injustices and sufferings requires a Marxist analysis of our political and economic institutions. Secondly, that any attempt to transform our institutions needs to draw on Buddhist teachings that show how we can, in practical terms, transform our psychological and moral capacities.

Although the book is a serious contribution to current debates about the ‘renewal’ of democratic socialism and the nature of ‘socially engaged’ Buddhism, it is addressed to a general readership and assumes that most readers will approach both Marxist and Buddhist ideas with a degree of scepticism. The account of Marxist and Buddhist ideas is presented in non-technical language, and the argument is clearly distanced from the errors of twentieth-century communism and from the elements of mysticism and escapism in some Buddhist traditions. The final chapter outlines the implications of a synthesis of Marxist and Buddhist thinking for the transformation of education.

The book is addressed to anyone seeking fresh light on their feelings of dismay at the state of contemporary politics, and those who sense a personal relevance in current debates about the role of spirituality, ethics and religion in secular affairs. There is evidence that this is a fairly large constituency. Richard Dawkins’ critique of religion has provoked extensive debate, often coupled with political polemic, and my local bookstore has a separate section, comparable in size to ‘Computing’, that includes radical political critiques of conventional economics alongside books on how to be happy.

Sales proceeds, other than costs and booksellers' "mark-up", will be donated to charity.

To download a copy of the information sheet for the book, which includes details of how to obtain a copy, click on:
Power, Freedom, Compassion Information Sheet [below]

To download a a copy of the 'Contents' of the book, click on:
Power, Freedom, Compassion Contents [below]

To download a copy of Chapter One ('Introduction') of the book, click on:
Power, Freedom, Compassion Introduction [below]

To download John Green's review of the book in 'Working USA: The Journal of labour and Society' (June 2012) click on:
Review by John Green [below]

For a series of updates of the argument of the book, click on Updates