born in Germany in 1901, and educated at the University of Vienna,
conntributed immensely to the American conservative revival
of the 1950's and 1960's. Avoiding Hitler, he and his wife migrated
to the United States in 1938, and both became citizens in 1944.
He spent the preponderance of his career as a political science
teacher and research professor at Lousiana State University,
the University of Munich and at Stanford's Hoover Institution.
His work is currently
being published (34 volumes so far) by the
University of Missouri Press. His "New Science of Politics,"
(NSP:1952) and his larger work, "Order and History"
(1956-1987) are his most ambitious and well-known.
Politics and Gnosticism" (SPG) was his first
lecture at the University of Munich in 1958 (published by Regnery
ten years later). In this lecture, in which two essays are extracted,
we are treated to the interesting nub of his thoughts as these
apply to the conservative critique of the Left.
saw communism as only the latest of man's attempt to "shortcut"
heaven and have it on earth. This Marxist ideology had ancient
roots, stemming from the medieval heresy called gnosticism.
Jeffrey Nelson, a traditionalist, and student of Russell Kirk,
thinks this notion of Voegelin as profound: "Voegelin argued
that one of the defining marks of modernity was the increasingly
popular view that politics was essentially about the pursuit
of secular salvation. Transcendental objectives and standards...(did
not)...define and guide political existence. Voegelin traced
connection between gnosticism and political ideologies that
have the key to history's laws and (so) promise happiness, peace
and fulfillment on this side of eternity." (Note to the
reader: Voegelin's use of the term, "transcendental"
does not refer to the ideas of such as Emerson and Thoreau.
I consider this New England palaver no more than immanency writ
Science, for Voegelin,
stems directly from the gnostic heresy and
produces scientism, which has powerfully influenced the "ersatz"
religions of Marxism, Progressivism (of the John Dewey type),
National Socialism, Hegelianism (the two valued dialectic),
Nietzchianism, Fruedian Psychoanalysis, and Heideggerism. Voegelin
sees scientism as "a study of reality (which) could qualify
as scientific only if it used the methods of the natural (and
mathematical) sciences, that other problems were illusory...that
these problems...in the extreme...did not exist."
an excellent Voegelian analyst, points out that the
age in which we live is dominated by scientism in that the dominant
maxim is "What is true for you isn't necessarily true for
Federici knocks it out of the park here: "Truth (becomes)
a purely relative matter of individual or cultural choice, and
the concept of a universal reality known to all humans through
participation in it has become increasingly alien to students,
intellectuals, and the larger culture."
is this beast, gnosticism? Voegelin traces its roots to the
Medieval heretic Joachim of Flora. In opposition to the great
Church Father, Augustine, who believed the current age of the
world was the sixth and last, Joachim proposed three stages:
.. the Father: from the Creation to Christ's birth;
.. the Son: from Christ to 1260 (!)
.. the Holy Spirit: the period after.
this last stage was to be one of a coming fulfillment. Man would
become truly human. Social problems would be solved. Man would
be free and equal. Heaven would reside on earth.
Voegelin shows Joachim's influence on More's "Utopia"
(who omits any such thing as Original Sin), Hobbes' "Leviathan"
(who omits any such idea as the "summum bonum") and
Hegel's historiography in which historical direction is a certainty,
and God's Will is moot if it exists at all. To sum up: the gnostic
is certain about the meaning of existence, knows about the future,
and creates a basis of action.
Through action, man is complete.. full.. a superman.
closes by explicating the gnostic attitude (IC readers contend
with this daily):
.. dissatisfaction with most things;
.. a belief that things are bad;
.. salvation from the evil of the world is possible (this in
contradistinction to the attitude of most conservatives that
is good, but human beings are inadequate);
.. a belief that the world must be changed;
.. a belief that this change is within human ability;
.. that certain people (leaders) have the task of seeking out
the method of altering the world for the better;
.. the method of altering the world is subject to change, since
truths emerge, as new discoveries of science emerge.
says much more, but the gist is here. Further gnostic attitudes
can be discerned on the Barbra Streisand website).
I find that Voegelin
links in with four segments of the conservative
movement: the Traditionalists, the Libertarians, the Evangelical
Christian Right, and the Communitarians.
Traditionalist link: Voegelin is part of the group of metaphysical
conservatives consisting of such as Frederick D. Wilhelmsen,
Thomas Molnar, Leo Strauss, Richard Weaver and Russell Kirk.
All these great conservative theorists reject relativism, secularism,
and politics based solely on ideology since this triad comes
from the immanentist mind. Transcendental truth from God is
rejected. The Left embodies mass-movement ideology as Truth.
The metaphysical conservative knows that Truth is not necessarily
rational - that it must be learned by logic and faith. For theorists
like Strauss and company, human beings attempt to lead moral
lives based on sanctions and by the awe created from a study
of Judeo-Christian symbols.
Libertarian link: Joseph Stromberg, the Distinguished Professor
at the Mises Institute, feels that Voegelin's ideas support
the Paleo case against the Neo's love of war since Voegelin
pinpoints the gnosticism inherent in "pietist" theology,
especially that part of the belief system that concentrates
on Dispensationalism. The pietist mission to translate Christ's
second coming onto a favored nation leads to the notion of a
U.S. mission -- the fervor of which is seen in the American
Revolution ( a combination of puritan gnosticism with federalism),
the Civil War, and the 2003 War in Iraq (honest, I'm not making
this up)! Stromberg says that all millenial thinking points
in the direction of war. He quotes Voegelin: "Gnostic politics
is self-defeating in so far as its disregard for the structure
of reality leads to continuous warfare. This system of chain
wars can end only in two ways: either it will result in horrible
physical destructions and concomitant revolutionary changes
of social order beyond reasonable guesses; or, with the natural
change of generations, it will lead to the abandoning of Gnostic
dreaming before the worst has happened." Stromberg is convinced
that Post-millenialism led to Comte(ism), which led to Hegelianism,
then to Darwinism, to pragmatism, and to ex-Trotskyism. This
reviewer wonders if Paul Wolfowitz knows he's a gnostic!
Evangelical Christian Right link:
Two very Popular books selling mostly in the Christian books
stores are "Mind Siege" by Tim LaHaye and Donald Noebel
and "True for You, But Not For Me" by Paul Copan.
These books take on the transcendental-Biblical case against
the "isms" Voegelin inveighed against. Whether or
not these authors directly used Voegelin while writing, I cannot
read the above works without construing his SPG as a prime inspiration.
Communitarian link: An excellent use of Voegelin's ideas is
to be found in the work of Jack Elliott and his Radical Preservation
group (www.radicalpreservation.com). Elliott bases his work
anthropological assumptions in SPG. For Elliott, " ...reality...(has
been reduced) to empirical 'facts' which has consequently reduced
human existence to material phenomena and blind random forces...the
achievements associated with the modern mind and
with modern science have been vast. Yet there have been losses
due to the narrowing perspective on reality...it has methodologically
excluded 'value judgments' as though the world could be viewed
from a detached perspective." Elliott's communitarian notion
of melding the scientific with the religious, the seen with
the unseen, and the historical with the mythical, is noteworthy
since it reinforces and expands the conservative notion that
goodness and justice stem from total human consciousness as
evidenced by the study of the locality in which humans operate.
I commend to the IC reader Elliott's fine essay, "Archaeology
and its Public" (http://www.radicalpreservation.com/archaeology_public.htm).
SPG, without question, deserves a spot on the IC "Best
of..." list due to the tremendous influence it had on the
conservative mind, especially during the movement's nascency.
It is difficult to go through magazines, periodicals and books
dealing with conservative issues in the third quarter of the
last century without spotting Voegelian thought.
But, though I am
not (heaven forfend)! a PostModernist, I must
did not propund God-given truth as the antidote to
gnosticism, as the only reality upon which to build political
The great conservative theoretician, Frederick D. Wilhelmsen
criticized Voegelin (and rightly so I think) for writing that
the ultimate truth about God is not answerable. Wilhelmsen says:
" ...the entire question of the 'historicity' of Christ
Resurrection annoys Voegelin; he finds it vulgar...(Voegelin)
cranky about the Resurrection but unless it happened his entire
speculation about history is worthless..." Craig Schiller
"Voegelin may be compared to a master quarterback, who,
having marched his team triumphantly down the field, fumbles
the ball away with first and goal to go from the one. (His)
treatment of the truthfulness of Judeo-Christian teachings ...must
rank as the most significant philosphical fumble that the conservative
team has had to endure in a long time."
"gnosticism" is ubiquitous. Tinder, in the periodical,
"First Things," states that..."Voegelin applies
the concept of gnosticism so broadly that it seems to take in
everything...This tells us nothing at all. Puritanism, positivism,
progressivism, Marxism, psychoanalysis, communism and fascism
were all, in his eyes, gnostic, or seriously infected with gnosticism...He
even suggested that liberalism (of the classical type) and totalitarianism...were
fundamentally forms of gnosticism. Did his all-inclusive categories
obscure vital differences?...There is a greatness to Voegelin,
but also a singularity that makes him difficult to comprehend."
to many conservative movement historians (Most notably, Nisbet),
Voegelin was not a Burkean. He said on occasion that tradition
did not embody much in the area of human wisdom.
the conservatives of the 1950's and the 1960's (particularly
the National Review staffers) created through Voegelin a cult-like
adoration of the transcendental eschaton, the Voegelinian God
who would judge human matters was the "ground of being."
Voegelin was clearly influenced by the radical branch of utheranism
typified by the theologies of Tillich, Bultmann, and Bonhoefer.
In the early 60's Anglican Bishop John A.T. Robinson synthesized
the ideas of the three in what became the forerunner of the
"Death of God" books. Robinson's work, "Honest
to God" became famous and controversial and in my eyes
could have easily been subtitled,
"A Gnostic Primer."
the 1970's and up to his death in 1985, Voegelin had pretty
much broadened his analysis of modern man. In his Hoover Institution
files were found twelve "languages or order." In addition
to the language of gnosis, he listed other problems of the system
of thought ("culprits" if you will): ancient-oriental
myth, Hellenic myth,
Revelation, Philosophy, Metaphysics, Theology, Apocalypticism,
Neo-Platonic systems, mysticism, ideology, and the philosophy
consciousness. At a Philadelphia Society retrospective of Voegelin's
work, which took place in 1975, Voegelin said: "Gnosis
is one element in the modern compound, bu there are other elements
of which we can talk later, for instance the apocalyptic traditions
and Neoplatonic experiences and symbolizations. So gnosis is
not some panacea for dealing with modernity." To be fair
to Voegelin, the use of gnosticism to explain the modern Leftist
experience had become so commonplace that the argument had become
weakened. I think Voegelin saw this and recoiled.
Voegelin (especially his "Science, Politics and Gnosticism")
was of great worth to the conservative movement. The later Voegelin
became a victim of his own analysis. He no longer saw the meaning
Dr. Eric Voegelin
succumbed to the gnawing gambit of gnosticity.
is the third of 25 books Dr. Peppe will be reviewing as part
of the top 25 conservative books on political philosophy and
ideology. Seminal books such as "The Federalist Papers"
and "The Wealth of Nations" are not included in this
list because they are already on most lists of the top books.
here for the rest of IC's top
Enrico Peppe is a retired educator who runs the website The
Third Way. A widower with too much time on his hands, he
spends most of his time reading and thinking about the conservative
movement, studying Catholic theology, working on his "Third
Way" website, listening to Sinatra and Miles Davis, and
admiring Ann Coulter.
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