(Eric Voeglin (1901-1985) was a German political philosopher, who narrowly escaped the Gestapo, and spent most of his life in America. He wrote voluminously, with a particular focus on the history of ideas, order, society, Gnosticism, faith, religion and the notion of transcendence, his best known works being The New Science of Politics, Order and History, and Science, Politics and Gnosticism, in multiple volumes. Here, Lorraine Labriola offers some insight into the thought of this great thinker, whose work itself transcends the ages).
We are accustomed to think that Gnosticism is a form of archaic religiosity and that, having been repeatedly discredited, is now a thing of the past. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Eric Voegelin, in his volume of two essays, Science, Politics and Gnosticism, and Ersatz Religion, reveals the consistent thread between the gnostic rhetoric of antiquity and its modernist counterparts elaborating on one fundamental difference. Where the early gnostics reconfigured or distorted the elements of belief, the modernists disavow the divine presence altogether.
Voegelin possesses both the wisdom and the shrewdness to reveal the occult rationale of modern idealogues by surveying their novel, unprecedented worldview which is manifestly a denial of the divine ground of reality. He pin-points the falsehoods and sleights-of-hand in the works of such notables as Auguste Comte, Friedrich Hegel, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, etc. noting that a key obstacle bedevils their inordinate endorsement of reason over faith; that is, they know they cannot eradicate the insatiable human attraction to the transcendent.
A solution had to be forged by way of a remedial substitution, and as successors of the Enlightenment, they chose to aggrandize and elevate the applied sciences to occasion their own desacralized dogmas. Voegelin analyzes the content of these modern ideologies and asserts that their influence is pre-eminently gnostic and the work of intellectual shapeshifters whom he summarily excoriates as “swindlers”, “charlatans” and “con artists”.
Issuing from a fusion of this moribund group is the bespoke alchemy of false redemption: Comte’s positivism, tailored to capitalize on the clinical pretensions of the social sciences for the inception of a so-called, humanist religion; Marxism, for spiritualizing a dominance of matter over the Divine essence; Freudianism for seeding human consciousness with moral haziness; fascism for its totalitarian sophistry and its eugenic mission; progressivism for beguiling the senses with a lust to possess the impossibly perfect earthly parousia. Voegelin’s essays pin-point the Luciferian patronage behind the application of the social sciences in its dogged progress towards a salvific plan for humanity. And the key to their cultural traction, Voegelin argues, rests firmly on one hard-and fast rule: no questions allowed.
The modernist potentates present religion as an illusion, and science as the way to illumination. So, in their exasperation with the intangible purview of religion, they chose to invalidate and then supersede Judeo-Christianity. The problem with this negation of religion is that it also negates the very purpose of the scientific method which, in its authentic disposition, is explorative and seeks truth beyond arbitrarily imposed limits.
The intellectual trend of the late nineteenth century conferred a grandiose status onto the applied sciences, not in respect for the disciplines but for the exploitive potential of their novelty for a spectacular cultural turnaround, which Voegelin describes in terms of a social engineering project to “immanentize the eschaton” – Edenize the world. In this bleak worldview God is re-imagined as one in a succession of phases of consciousness proceeding in dialectical development and now considered obsolete. Voegelin describes the spirit of the modernist project as antagonistic in temperament; an experiment replete with revolutionists proselytizing redemption by human, or rather, superhuman proxy. Thus, the grand conclusion was pronounced: God did not bring us into existence. Human consciousness imagined for itself a God.
By comparison, Voegelin turns to the fountainhead of philosophy and the emergence of political science in its Platonic-Aristotelean beginnings. The philosophical disposition of the classic thinkers was acutely circumspect in consideration of practical wisdom. The classicists gauged intellectual veracity according to the highest standards of human virtue and assessed their value in terms of human experience. It is no wonder that the cornerstone of western thought is the questioning mind, for it would have been unthinkable to Hellenic society to prohibit refutation or likewise, to cast disdain on the love of being or trivialize the search for truth. And that is exactly Voegelin’s critique of the modernists; that their work is a closed system; a gross indulgence in abstract theorizing and a deliberate betrayal of the fundamental philosophic code – to tackle challenges and criticism in a welcoming pursuit of higher wisdom.
Aquinas wrote of truth as the conforming the intellect to reality. But this revered prescript is inverted among modern intelligentsia in the course of their mischievous finagling. In each of Voegelin’s examples, notably Hegel, Thomas Hobbes and Thomas More, the intellectual leaders dissemble through linguistic trickery or in the deliberate distortion of the content and meaning of historic literary works by their reckoning, and in this way, strategically omit some crucial element of reality about human nature in exchange for a believable fantasy. Their aim is to incite revolt against God’s creative power. In Voegelin’s analysis, these are anti-philosophers and anti-scientists at the conceptual helm of overpowering but flawed corporate systems and dehumanizing movements. Here Voegelin turns to the poet/philosopher Friedrich Schelling who classified this behaviour as vain disorder and coined the term “pneumopathology” to designate this unique spiritual condition.
It is with the same talent for perceptivity that Voegelin exposes Marx’s sovereign impulse – to reduce the human person to “socialist man”, a speculation Marx contrived out of a web of weird and disordered logic in which humanity itself becomes the opposing force between nature and Marx’s ideal vision; that is, man as some kind of self-actualizing industrial marvel, a motif that strikes Voegelin as a reiteration of the Cabbalist legend of the Golem. In keeping with this basic trope, Voegelin impugns Nietzsche for masking a perverse delight in the re-creation of man as a humanoid fiction. And Comte, likewise, for reducing the complex nature of man to a merely social phenomenon. The metaphysical shape of human existence, in each instance, artfully excluded.
In his pithy economy of style, Voegelin extracts both the subtext and the mechanics of Nietzsche’s pronouncement – “God is dead”. He charges the gnostic intelligentsias with authorizing the prototype for modern man’s contempt for God. With sly intellectual cunning, modern gnosticism has laid claim to a “parousiastic” model, the template which is set to “reverse the order of being” and finally correct what has been deemed God’s defective creation. The fallout of this social project, Voegelin concludes, rather than elevating humanity, is instead responsible for the unparalleled lawlessness, authoritarian tyranny and sheer madness of present times.
And Voegelin himself, as a victim of Nazi persecution, had every reason for outrage. His revulsion was plainly his own authentic human response to the “demonic occlusions”, as he called them, which undergird modern gnostic methodology in its usurpation of both science and philosophy. As a young professor of political science, he was compelled to leave his native Germany for publicly exposing the vanities, lies and inconsistencies inherent in the ideology and the structural campaign of national socialism as it would most likely have led to his execution. He dared to question the narrative supremacy of the fascist system and their self-appointed permission to demonize anyone who opposed the design and purpose of their regime.
As contemporary readers we are invited to consider the current sway of secular ethics and the clustering of power systems politicking identity, sexuality, education, climate, nature and science – the headliners of the daily news – as a bleak endowment of the gnostic legacy turned fashionably secular.