March 3, 2023 - 3:00pm

Marianne Williamson, the bestselling self-help author and former Democratic primary candidate, is back in the race to become US President. She is due to announce officially tomorrow, which will make her the first Democrat to put their name in the ring for 2024, before even Joe Biden. In 2020, Williamson (a total political unknown at the time) vied for the progressive vote, but lost out to the better-known Senator Bernie Sanders. Yet since then she has grown a loyal following of young voters who call themselves the ‘Orb Gang’ in reference to her New Age spiritualism. Can a new generation of American voters take her to the White House? I spoke to her from the UnHerd studio to find out.

Williamson is on a crusade to cure the sickness in the soul of America, which she defines simply as economic disparity. The Left-Right dynamic playing out in the culture wars is, she says, an artificial creation used to distract from this class problem. To do this, the American system will have to undergo a radical overhaul. The President should be the psychic centre of America, she tells me, a philosopher king rather than a technocrat. I suggest that her nemesis Donald Trump was perhaps the closest to this ideal that the country has come in a few decades, like him or not. Williamson agrees: “Trump was a thought leader but his vision for America was a dark one.” In a 2020 televised debate she offered to meet his darkness on the ‘battlefield’ with the powers of light. 

I wonder if she believes Biden has lightened any of the “darkness” of the Trump years. Williamson says that he has, but enabling Americans to survive an unjust system versus ending an unjust system is what separates Biden from a true progressive. Popular mistrust of establishment systems is a symptom of this reluctance to make radical change. Mainstream media and the government are currently like an “alcoholic family system” where both parents are compulsive liars and the child becomes reasonably paranoid. 

So where do the disenfranchised get their leadership? Alternative self-help gurus like Jordan Peterson, I suggest, are booming for exactly the reasons Williamson is outlining. She puts this down to a lack of critical thinking, another sign of a sick society. I wonder if she sees the parallels between her effect on young liberals and Peterson’s on young conservatives.

The issue of Ukraine will inevitably become one of the key talking points of the primaries. After pledging to set up the ‘Department for Peace’ (a department dedicated to demilitarising foreign policy) in 2020, I wonder if Williamson would end aid to Zelensky’s war effort. That would be a disaster, she argues. In Ukraine “the disease is already full-blown” and the “imperialistic misadventures” of the US in NATO can be simultaneously acknowledged while committing to rebuff Putin’s imperial ambitions. I push her on what her red lines would be. She is less metaphorical on this: “no boots on the ground” and “no blank cheque”. 

In 2020, Williamson’s New Age language and religious zeal were roundly mocked in the press. She is still determined, it seems, to keep spirituality at the heart of her campaign. There used to be a vibrant religious Left, she reminds me, but it has become increasingly secular in recent decades. Williamson believes that Right-wing religiosity is too often used to cover up deeply un-Christian values whereas Christian morals like environmentalism or anti-racism are enacted by Leftists under the name of social justice. 

The recent partisan clashes around Roe v. Wade complicate this, I suggest. On abortion, the progressive Left has doubled down on the ‘no debate’ mantra, but for agnostics on the issue this comes across as morally troubling. Williamson says that this is a sticking point for her. She feels that the “mean girls” from her own side have shut down conversation about the ethical question of abortion, which she believes should be a free choice but one that deserves philosophical gravity.

I end by asking her about her detractors, who dismiss her as an unserious candidate or a peddler of ‘woo’.  These very same people, she responds, go to yoga and say affirmations only to mock her for bringing these ideas to politics. Rather than New Age language, this is the language of the contemporary present as opposed to the establishment past. Whether America is ready for it is another question. 

is UnHerd’s Producer and Presenter for UnHerd TV.