A Tribute to My Friend & Partner Jim Turner

by Lawry Chickering

I was privileged to share a remarkable relationship with Jim Turner. Over the past few years, as we worked together, we spoke as many as four or five times a week, often at length. We complemented each other, bringing our different gifts, strengths, and talents to the table and were often able to complete each other’s sentences. Despite our political differences, we became – or so it seemed at times – one mind.

Jim had as wide and deep an intellect and spirit as anyone I ever met. He was a man for all seasons and a true partner – for which I am eternally grateful – with a quiet and unassuming genius, furthered by an astonishing memory for anyone he ever met, for anything he ever read, and for all he ever accomplished. His perspectives on life and current events were always fresh. How he had time for me and so many with whom he worked and loved while engaging in a full time, public interest law and consulting practice is still beyond me. As they say, “We may never see his like again!”

I first met Jim Turner in 1993 at an event hosted by Susan and John Marks for my book Beyond Left and Right (ICS Press, 1993). With Jim coming from ‘The Left’ and myself from ‘The Right’, an unusual collection of people were there: including Irving Kristol and Gertrude Himmelfarb from ‘The Right’; the hosts Susan and John Marks (founder of Search for Common Ground) and a number of others from ‘The Left’; and a third group who saw themselves as ‘Transpartisans’, resisting formal association with either side.

Our partnership first began when transpartisan activist and mutual friend John Steiner encouraged us to coauthor a sequel to Beyond Left and Right. The result was Voice of the People: The Transpartisan Imperative in American Life (Da Vinci Press), published in 2008. We focused on the Four-Quadrant Transpartisan Matrix, which became the central theme in our search for a transpartisan politics (as it was in Beyond Left and Right). Though we continued to explore political issues with the Transpartisan Matrix, we also used it to map values in individuals, discovering that any individual can be mapped to multiple quadrants based on their perspectives on different issues.

Jim was especially captivated by the Matrix, which highlighted the need of individuated, modern people to integrate their demand for freedom with a commitment to the larger good. He would often say, during our weekly Zoom calls, that he saw matrices in almost every article he read and would argue that each of us, to a greater or lesser degree, embodies all four quadrants.

We believed the current political spectrum was not intelligible as a binary spectrum of two conflicting positions (conservative and progressive), but as a matrix with four quadrants, with slightly different concepts of Order and Freedom on each side, Left and Right. Each Quadrant has truth in it, in our view, but each is incomplete.

Most of the current political debate is based on single-quadrant positions, and the struggle in the real world is reaching beyond individual quadrants, including insights from the other three. Jim and I agreed that the logic of the Transpartisan Matrix makes it hard to understand the words progressive and conservative as having any meaning at all. No wonder it is so hard to find anything that is working in promoting social change from single-quadrant Democratic and Republican governments.

Jim and I both loved the theater of our collaboration, integrating insights from both sides of the debate. Almost no one believes in the possibility of a transpartisan position integrating the best of both left and right. The first task is to integrate the quadrants within each side, which neither has accomplished. Without eliminating internal conflicts (which are concealed in the public debate), both sides are incoherent. It is important to understand that every successful social service program integrates all four. Many examples can be found in articles from The Transpartisan Review and our series of Transpartisan Notes.

Independently, Jim and I came to believe that the mechanistic/transactional world view needed to be replaced by a more organic one; that all people mattered in public policy decisions, not just elites and elected officials.  These sentiments brought us together to write our book in 2008, which we then followed up, in 2016, with The Transpartisan Review, our digital journal of politics, society, and culture dedicated to transpartisan thought. This collection of three printed issues, 150 essays, and multiple articles provided both an outlet and an opportunity for us to explore the Transpartisan Matrix, together, over the past six years.

We also shared an important philosophical and spiritual interest in the teachings of the Austrian mystic Rudolf Steiner. Many years ago, the New York psychiatrist Franz Winkler introduced me to Steiner’s writings and mentored me on his six spiritual exercises described in a paper published in 1905.1 One of Steiner’s central tenets, driving the whole history of literature, art, psychology, and politics was advancing consciousness of the subjective self. This subjectivity referring to the emergence of people as subjects. It is hard to exaggerate the importance of this insight in all of Jim’s and my writings.2

Along with Steiner’s work, we discovered a shared interest in the music and theories of Richard Wagner. Franz Winkler, in fact, wrote a book on Wagner’s Ring Cycle operas (based on Norse mythology) and Parsifal, which presented, in dramatic and musical form, mystical and spiritual themes very similar to those that Steiner would write about (Wagner died in 1883 when Steiner was in his early twenties). Jim and his partner Betsy Lehrfeld regularly attended meetings of the Wagner Society of Washington, DC. I had hoped to join them on my next trip from California, which is now, sadly, impossible.

Many leading figures in the transpartisan movement, including Jim, believe that a transpartisan vision is impossible without a concept of Spirit, beyond the self but, in the modern era, accessible only through the self. Several years ago, I sent Jim a draft paper entitled ‘Is a Transpartisan God Possible?’ It sketched a concept of the divine in terms of an underlying belief that, in conceiving his creation (Man), God’s overriding concern would have been to preserve a central position for the possibility of his significance. This required understanding that far from being a sin, Adam and Eve’s decision to leave the Garden of Eden was in Man’s Nature.  To remain in innocence (with undifferentiated selves) in The Garden would have consigned him (us) to lives as infants – not either very interesting or morally and spiritually significant.

While these themes may seem far removed from the extraordinary political troubles in our own time, Jim and I were convinced they are intimately related to the struggles we are having with how to find new sources of values and meaning to replace preconscious tradition, which has declined so much, especially since the end of World War II.

Our external conversations have now become internal ones. Jim can never be replaced in my life or in the lives of so many. There is and will always be a hole in my spiritual heart. I take comfort in knowing his great spirit lives on, and the love and respect we shared will continue to influence who I am and what I do.

 

NOTES


  1. R. Steiner, ‘The Stages of Higher Knowledge’, 1925. Psychologist Roberto Assagioli describes the same exercises in his 1973 book The Act of Will. Similar exercises, with subtle differences, also form an important foundation for the modern practice of Mindfulness.
  2. We are indebted to scholars and critics as diverse as Princeton psychologist Julian Jaynes, critic Lionel Trilling, and many others for tracking the emergence of consciousness and the subjective in The Old Testament (the oldest books versus more recent books); The Iliad versus The Odyssey; and in literature over the past four hundred years. The most dramatic illustration of advancing subjectivity may be found in two paintings in Room Two of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. (See Transpartisan Note #93.)

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