The Lost Wisdom of a New Thought Pioneer

Prosperity Comes From Serving the Highest Good of All

BY MARYJANE OSA

Annie Rix Militz, like Napoleon Hill and Norman Vincent Peale, believed in the power of thought to bring a person’s dreams of material success into reality. Her vision diverged from later positive thinking, however, in its embrace of a collective good as an important part of an individual’s prosperity.

Happy are the dispassionate: for they shall inherit the earth.” Matt. 5:5 (another translation)

When abstinence from [envy and covetousness] is complete in the devotee, he has the power to obtain all material wealth.” Patanjali, Yoga Sutras.

With these two quotes,  Rix Militz introduces the second of “Six Lessons on the Power of Right Thinking to Bring Success.”

Alexis DeToquville

The ideas of Annie Rix Militz, a student of Emma Curtis Hopkins and founder of the Homes of Truth, would have been seen as a quintessential expression of American individualism by Alexis de Tocqueville. In Tocqueville’s 1835 masterpiece, Democracy in America, he defined American individualism as a kind of enlightened egoism. He observed that

Americans are fond of explaining almost all the actions of their lives by the principle of self-interest rightly understood; they show how an enlightened regard for themselves constantly prompts them to assist each other and inclines them willingly to sacrifice a portion of their time and property to the welfare of the State.” (DIA, Vol.II, Ch. 8)

The Americans that Tocqueville met on his travels through the country in 1830 believed that their self-interest was served through their contributions to the community and the nation. Tocqueville considered this to be an American cultural trait that promoted democratic and economic expansion. He was also aware of the dangers that could arise from social complacency born of economic comfort.  Under certain conditions, it was possible for American individualism to devolve into unbridled egoism. Tocqueville writes:

If Americans become more ignorant and coarse, it is difficult to foresee to what pitch of stupid excesses their egotism may lead them; and no one can foretell into what disgrace and wretchedness they would plunge themselves, lest they should have to sacrifice something of their own well-being to the prosperity of their fellow-creatures. (Ibid.)

It is important to be aware of these two aspects of American individualism when we consider New Thought teachings on prosperity consciousness. One is focused solely on individual success, and the other sees success as a symbiosis between individual and collective good.

Annie Rix Militz

“Riches are a state of mind,” writes Annie Rix Militz in the February 1912 issue of The Master Mind magazine.

“You will observe that riches begin with a state of mind . . .” says Napoleon Hill in the 1937 best-seller Think and Grow Rich.

The overlap between Annie Rix Militz’ and Napoleon Hill’s writings on the Master Mind and success is worth noting. Both writers provide an explanation of mental processes and practical lessons on how to direct one’s thoughts towards success. They both discuss the ways in which unconscious fears and beliefs create negative mental programs that undermine an individual’s self-improvement efforts. They believed in the power of the Master Mind. Hill encouraged his readers to create small groups to help each other access this divine force; Rix Militz named her magazine after this principle. And their critics would consider Napoleon Hill and Annie Rix Militz to be selling the same brand of snake oil.

The divergences between these two, however, are revelatory.  For example, consider how prosperity and success are defined differently in the Rix Militz’ “Six Lessons” and Hill’s Think and Grow Rich.

Napoleon Hill by Tim Botta

In her 1911 prosperity course, Rix Militz taught that abundance was the birthright of each person and worldly success was a side effect of spiritual living. Her starting point was that “prosperity is the presence of God” and the rich mentality is the Divine Mind within. Rix Militz declared that it “is the divine will that you shall be a self-reliant, self-supporting being . . . able to command all the elements and to use and beautify all creation through knowledge of the Self.” Like Napoleon Hill, Annie Rix Militz offered practical lessons to help the individual cultivate mental habits that lead to a successful, abundant life. Unlike Hill, Mrs. Militz identified a path for people to claim their personal freedom while consciously serving the highest good of all. She reminded her students “that the one who is prospered by a knowledge of Truth brings prosperity to the whole earth, for he draws heaven into the earth, . . . causing him ever to lead his fellow-beings to the same law within themselves that he has found in himself.”

The cooperative vision of Annie Rix Militz exemplified the early American idea of “self-interest properly understood” that so impressed Tocqueville. Her writing is infused with the enthusiasm and optimism that was widespread during the Progressive era. By contrast, Napoleon Hill was writing for a very different audience during the depths of the Great Depression. Hill intended to provide a solution for unemployed men on the bread lines. He lauded captains of industry and inventors such as Henry Ford and Thomas Edison as rags-to-riches exemplars. Hill asserted that these men exercised the mental principles related in his book as a method to achieve great wealth. (While Hill claimed his practical techniques were gathered from dozens of interviews with successful men, the ideas he presented were not original; they had been staples of the mental-science literature for over half a century. Also, historians have been unable to document the meetings between Hill, Carnegie and others who allegedly provided the impetus for his writing.)

Mrs. Militz wanted to prosper her students by developing their confidence, spiritual and social awareness. Napoleon Hill wanted to help unemployed men who were desperate for money. These different goals are understandable in the context of their times. But they lead in different directions. Annie Rix Militz’ vision flowed from her studies with Emma Curtis Hopkins, her involvement with the Fillmores in the early days of Unity, and her organizing work in the nascent institutions of the New Thought movement. All her efforts were aimed at broadening the social base of New Thought and bringing its techniques to any person experiencing hardship. Mrs. Militz’ idea of success was a world in which each person had access to their inner Truth.

Napoleon Hill infiltrated New Thought principles and techniques into standard American cultural myths: rags-to-riches, rugged individualism, and manifest destiny. Hill rearranged the mystical and anti-authoritarian ideas of the mind-cure healers and mental-science teachers to create a marketable collage—the image of American capitalist success. His narrative presented the individual as a creator whose supreme creation was his own personal wealth. In essence, Napoleon Hill monetized New Thought.

Maryjane Osa is a sociologist, author and educator. She belongs to a number of New Thought groups and is committed to daily spiritual practice. You can visit her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dr.maryjane.osa or at her websitewww.maryjaneosa.com.

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4 thoughts on “The Lost Wisdom of a New Thought Pioneer

  1. Very nice post!

    I think that you can also view some of these dynamics through a cultural evolutionary lens. In the Spiral Dynamics™ Model, the Tradtionalist (4th level – Blue), Modernist (5th level – Orange) and Postmodernist (6th level – Green), have been the dominant and emerging levels of existence in the 20th & 21st Century.

    Much of New Thought and Mental Science arose with the wave of Modernist-Orange values in America – rugged individualism and entrepreneurship especially. Traditionalist-Blue and Postmodernist-Green are more communal, self-sacrificing values systems by contrast. As Blue faded and Orange gained more prominence in the the 20th Century, it was often difficult to keep the healthy Blue level values in play.

    I would say that this is just what Mrs. Militz was trying to do by incorporating the larger public good into individual prosperity. To the degree that she succeeded, we are all better off.

  2. Great post by Dr. Osa. It’s interesting that this dichotomy between the individual and the collective is still very much present in modern New Thought – and American politics for that matter.

    Hill and others helped to transform Mental Science into what could be described as a wholly owned subsidiary of American capitalism. It’s as if the measure of our spiritual worth is defined by our contribution to the GNP. As a result, Tocqueville’s observation on “the pitch of stupid excesses” of American egotism seems to have come to full flower.

    Sadly, we’ve taken the simple idea that our thoughts create our reality and made it simple minded. From this view, we are totally responsible for my circumstances. If I’m rich that means I’m superior because I’m using the principle well. If I’m poor it’s my own doing and thus I deserve it. Same if I get cancer. I should have thought better thoughts.

    It’s why Obama’s comment (distorted and taken out of context) that “you didn’t build that” generated such raged The more successful one is the harder it is to admit the role that chance, circumstances, genetics and collective action play in that success. There’s a tendency to answer the question of “am I my brother’s keeper?” with a resounding no. It’s a common theme among New Age-type authors that helping someone is interfering with their “spiritual path” and thus a bad thing.

    Militz’s idea that the individual contributes to the common good and the common good serves the individual is a more realistic view of spiritual (and practical) reality in the world. It’s also very much at odds with the kind of corporate and crony capitalism that pervades America today. It’s still not clear which side will win.