Are We Criticizing Marianne Williamson For the Right Reasons?

Photograph Source: Gage Skidmore – CC BY-SA 2.0

“A tulip doesn’t strive to impress anyone. It doesn’t struggle to be different than a rose. It doesn’t have to. It is different. And there’s room in the garden for every flower. You didn’t have to struggle to make your face different than anyone else’s on earth. It just is. You are unique because you were created that way. Look at little children in kindergarten. They’re all different without trying to be. As long as they’re unselfconsciously being themselves, they can’t help but shine. It’s only later, when children are taught to compete, to strive to be better than others, that their natural light becomes distorted.”

—Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson is in trouble with the left for her reparations plan being too low. She should be in trouble for this. It is far too low. She is also in trouble for her support of Israel’s apartheid state. She should be in trouble for this too. The line for the left should be: liberation for Palestine. End the Israeli occupation. No excuses.

The left however is tagged with anti-Semitism for a reason. Not because it is a more anti-Semitic place than the right or center. Far from. But rather because we haven’t done a good enough job of separating our critique of capitalism from a critique of Jewish people.

At an event in South Carolina Marianne Williamson was challenged by an audience member on her reparations policy. See the interaction here:

The audience member refreshingly was not arguing that reparations would be unfair to white people (or the white “working class”). However, he quickly stumbled into a similar trap when he brought up the familiar spectrum of Judaism for the left. He claimed the United States gave victims of the Holocaust reparations. This was only a small amount to Jewish organizations and facilitation of German reparations. But specifics aside he undermined his important argument for expanding reparations by claiming Jews got too much.

Predictably the interaction turned ugly as both Marianne and her challenger claimed to be standing up for their ancestors. A similar protectionist argument for reparations is often used as Black people have to prove their ancestors were descendants of slaves. What about victims of colonialism, capitalism, imperialism, neoliberalism, de-industrialization, etc.? The arguments could go on.

This of course isn’t an argument against reparations for any specific group. Nor is it an argument against any specific protection for any group. Any policy will have exclusions and anything will progress. And it is worth being honest about which groups have gotten advantages and which have not.

But using these programs against one another is a right-wing framing. Point blank.

For example, the left is absolutely correct to critique the Israeli protests against the attack on their judicial system. Israelis should also be protesting for rights of Palestinians. Of course, I agree. But the same thing could be applied to the French protests against the rollback of retirement benefits. France, like Israel, should be held accountable not just for crimes against its own people but against the whole world. Where are the mass protests in France for the rights of migrants? Where are the mass protests in the US against the war machine?

The left does have the Jewish specter lingering because it is too often linked with the anti-capitalist struggle. We have to guard against this because we care about Jewish people but also because it is something the ruling class wisely employs against the left, not because it is 100% true about the left but because maybe it’s 10% true and that is still too much.

Of course, the same sort of thing could be applied to unions. What are unions but a way to protect a certain section of workers against the reserve army of the unemployed?

Like it or not globalization has employed certain segments of the working class and lifted them out of poverty. The politics of socialism is not against protecting the groups who have retirement benefits or unions. Far from. Protecting these folks is important for its own sake and also important because in theory at least, these people have enough rights to take risks to help the whole world.

Furthermore, they can teach the rest of the world about how to get these rights. Such a movement of empowerment and education goes beyond immediate charity and towards universal self-reliance by each community.

However, as soon as the left gets into the politics of protecting borders or jobs with the state or corporation there is a potential for allegiance to said state and corporation. There is a potential to defend one’s own country, job, skill set, identity group, etc, against the emancipation of the world.

A development project could be very good for the exploited workers, who have a bad job or no job at all. And yet what does it do to the environment of everyone else? These are the hard questions the left has to deal with. So the left already has a project that involves some sort of universalism against the individual right.

But the ultimate contradiction the left is here to square is that emancipation for the universal is emancipation for the individual. Building organizations is the only way to build the trust necessary so that we know we are stronger together than apart.

However, the first step has to be a hard-to-swallow pill. It is worth admitting that our project of universalism is potentially a hinderence to the individual but not necessarily so. If we have trust and faith and generosity generally it comes back to us. That may be denialist, that may be idealistic, those may be the same thing and that may be the only way to change the world.

Williamson does have bad politics. But no worse than Bernie Sanders did and her challenge to Biden should be welcome. I get the sense that Bernie had more credibility for the left because he claimed to represent some sort of nationalist working-class politics rather than being a hippy-dippy. If we have learned anything from history we are better off with the hippies than the nationalists. That being said supporting Israel’s apartheid is nationalist and we need to challenge it. We need to challenge it from the left.

Bernie may have effectively deflated the left’s enthusiasm for engagement with national movements. But that’s unfortunate. Biden is proving to be a far worse President than even Obama was and the left seems to be doing a lot of apologizing for him. This is puzzling and I welcome any challenge to the consensus. And no I don’t consider Donald Trump sticking it to the “deep state” to be a challenge to any sort of consensus whatsoever. Apologists for Bernie, Biden, and Trump alike all seem to be supporting a certain kind of nationalist vision. Jim Crow Joe fitting neatly into Bernie-Trump politics hopefully erases the idea of horseshoe politics.

The response to globalization can’t be nationalism. We are right to oppose globalization. We are right to oppose nationalism. Supporting one is a reaction to the other. Marianne Williamson is too nationalist for what our politics should be and not naturalist enough for what our politics are. Hopefully running up against this reality leads her (and all of us) back to peace, love and understanding.

Williamson is dismissed as not being serious because she talks about love too much. Perhaps this is why she is retreating into politics that aren’t clear in supporting Palestine. Perhaps it is simply because she has made too much money to be in touch with this part of the struggle. Regardless of our criticism, we need to take love very seriously. It is the most important part of the political struggle.

Far more important than anything else is the transformative power of love. Love is the only thing powerful enough to transcend historical materialism. Without love’s power to make us act for others, our script is already written. We can claim that we are acting on behalf of the oppressed but too often this claim, this race to vouch for a certain group at the expense of another, is just another attempt at competition.

Everyone is a victim. Everyone has a claim to a piece of the pie. That’s not our interest. Our interest is transforming people from those who see exploitation as the thing that defines their life (rightly or wrongly) and turning them into people who believe love can be the thing that emancipates them (rightly or wrongly).

Whenever we are taught something we tend to tune it out unless we are told why it is important. The best teachers are the ones who can say why they are doing what they are doing. We are for socialism because we are for love. We can’t just make a practical or moral argument for socialism. We do have to tell others why we are here.

Love is Marianne’s strength. Is she ready to lean into it? Are we?

Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at