After Marianne Williamson garnered enough support to land her on the Democratic debate stage twice, politically engaged people had little choice but to take her half-seriously, and look into what her “politics of love” was all about. Many were horrified by what they found. In the critics’ view: an ableist, anti-science fat-shamer who has achieved celebrity peddling a coldhearted individualism cloaked in a disingenuous celebration of love and spirituality.
This assessment, circulated widely on the internet alongside incriminating old tweets and highlighted passages from her many books, shines a light on the whole self-help industry, as well as the woo-woo West Coast variety that Williamson has helped make mainstream. Since the 18th century, boosters of self-improvement strategies have posited that sheer personal will—or, in religious variants, prayer—are the solutions to problems better understood as structural and complex. The fact that Williamson’s teachings ground these dubious principles in the esoteric religious text A Course in Miracles, said to be dictated directly by Jesus Christ to the New York City doctor Helen Schucman in the 1970s, hardly gives her more gravitas.
But the attacks on Williamson miss an important aspect of her appeal as a candidate. Like other self-help figures, she overemphasizes the power of individuals to solve intractable issues. Yet she is rare in applying this ideology to the political sphere, particularly to promote progressive policy. In Williamson’s view, self-help can heal the whole body politic; what benefits one can and should be directed to benefit all.