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Modern Statism as Western Gnosticism – Part 1

Series: Modern Statism as Western Gnosticism

The birth of the modern state, with all its willful irresponsibility and elitism, can be traced back to the historical development of gnosticism and the esoteric societies connected to it.

This article, by the author of an up-and-coming Arktos title, The Uniqueness of Western Law: A Reactionary Manifesto, explores an important thesis asserted by Prof. Frank van Dun – that, in the past millennium at least, underlying tensions between fundamentally Catholic and gnostic paradigms in the Western mind have manifested the two clashing schools of Western jurisprudence, natural law and legal positivism. This article further provides a supplementary thesis: these competing mindsets might, ultimately, be manifestations of disparate psychologies seeking either greater or lesser responsibility, particularly regarding the exercise of reason in their decision-making and other actions. As such, Western gnosticism posits a deterministic worldview with the modern state as an immanent, positivistic conduit of societal destiny.

Modern positivism draws its zeal from the conviction that there is, and can be, no order among humans that is not itself a product of the power of the human imagination – that is to say, the imagination of the enlightened few (the intellectuals who know) and their power to impose it on the unenlightened many (the ordinary mortals who get by on belief). This is different from the old Hobbesian position that there can be no order in the world because everybody seeks power and consequently will be involved in a war of all against all until someone decisively wins that war. … [Rather] than merely averting the war of all against all, which is the universal bad, political power should restore ‘human dignity’ by liberating humanity from the baleful consequences of its nature and its history. That liberation is supposed to be the universal good; to seek it is the hallmark of the progressive mind … ‘the revolt against, and liberation from, history and nature’, which is the original motive of the religious movement called Gnosticism.1

— Frank van Dun

Introduction

According to Prof. Henrik Bogdan, during the Renaissance there was a distinct syncretism occurring across Europe between the traditions of Neoplatonism, Hermeticism and the Jewish Cabala, resulting in the emergence of what is referred to as Western esotericism.2 This term is, of course, a scholarly construct developed in large part by the prominent French scholar, Prof. Antoine Faivre, for the purpose of studying the commonality between these currents. More recent scholars, such as Prof. Arthur Versluis, would just as readily title the subject ‘Western gnosticism’, due to the more general, overarching beliefs of groups who lay claim to superior cosmological insight.3 I will use the two terms interchangeably hereafter.

This Western gnosticism was preserved in esoteric groups during the period of medieval Christendom – a time of essentially uniform belief across Europe – and into the modern period. Prof. Kucko von Stuckrad, as yet the foremost scholar on the subject, has suggested that Faivre’s taxonomy is ideal for understanding the development of this esotericism in the early modern period, but his own work reaches further, to the ancient and classical worlds, to garner a richer perspective on the influences at play before, during and well beyond the Renaissance – from the Rosicrucians and Freemasonry of early modernity to Carl Jung, Julius Evola, the New Age movement and other 20th century reverberations.

From this broader, historical perspective, Stuckrad is able to propose a more scholarly framework of analysis in which he identifies ‘the pivotal point of all esoteric traditions’ as twofold: 1. ‘claims to “real” or absolute knowledge’; and 2. ‘the means of making this knowledge available. This might be through an individual ascent as in Gnostic or Neo-Platonic texts, or through an initiatory event as in secret societies of the modern period’.4 Stuckrad notes that this supposed ‘higher knowledge’ or ‘wisdom that is superior to other interpretations of cosmos and history’ is perceived by its bearers as a ‘master key for answering all questions of humankind’.5 Immediately, we can see the similarity between the mindset of the elitist, esoteric inner-circle – those ‘distinguished persons’ and sages, as Stuckrad identifies them – who really know what is best for you and me, and those who occupy state offices and exercise the raison d’état on behalf of the citizens. This inescapable similarity is not so superficial, as we shall see.

Western gnosticism contradicts natural law and denies a natural order of the world, necessitating an artificial order posited by an elite body of enlightened ones.

We can also identify the denial of the doctrine of free will as essential to Western gnosticism – if not explicitly, then at least in the assertion of the ‘Semitic’ or nominalist view of God, or simply a voluntarist, essentially positivist, view of law;6 in this way, it contradicts natural law and denies a natural order of the world, especially the human world, necessitating an artificial order posited by an elite body of enlightened ones. We shall now explore this assertion by following Stuckrad’s broader perspective of the development of Western gnosticism into antiquity.

From Neoplatonism and Cabalism to Modern Statism

From where do denials of free will and the natural order of the world, and the proposed necessity of voluntarist or positivist legal systems emerge in Western thought? I will now provide a somewhat truncated account of the developments of Neoplatonism and Cabalism, and their influence on Christianity and Judaism, and also the emergence of Western gnostic schools. I will use the proper term Gnosticism to refer to those specific belief systems of late antiquity.

Plato held to a certain metaphysical dualism between the physical and the spiritual, but also that there was a oneness at the core of existence. The school of Plato would go through a scepticist phase and would merge various doctrines of Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics into what is called Middle-Platonism (1st century B.C.); this school taught that God produced nous (mind or intellect) which was the demiurge – creator of the various subsidiary layers of the cosmos, working through intermediary gods or daemons. This school had a profound effect on Judaism at this time, and continued to do so, as it would on Christianity when it later emerged.

By the 3rd century A.D., we see three closely related, competing schools of thought: Christianity, Neoplatonism and Gnosticism. Whatever their true, oriental origins, esoteric groups had been a strong influence in Judaism, just as they had in Greek thought, with Gnosticism manifesting strongly in non-rabbinical, 1st century Judaism. Despite influencing Christians, such as 2nd century figures, Marcion and Valentinus – who was a candidate for Bishop of Rome at one point – Gnosticism couldn’t maintain a home within the Church, which was gradually clarifying doctrines against it. By the 3rd century, many of its ideas found refuge in Manichaeism; Mani’s religion remained, stretching from China to Europe, until the medieval period.

Unlike the Neoplatonists, Gnostic groups taught that matter was evil or antagonistic to man and some even went so far as to suggest that the creator God of the Old Testament was Plato’s demiurge and was actually evil; Christ was the manifestation of the true, good God. The Gnostic cries, ‘Deliver us from the darkness of this world into which we are flung.’ Eric Voegelin observes that the Gnostic world ‘is no longer the well-ordered, the cosmos, in which Hellenic man felt at home; nor is it the Judaeo-Christian world that God created and found good.’7

Determinism lends itself to elitism in those predestined with a superior nature, who develop this nonpareil knowledge of themselves and the cosmos.

Neoplatonism is often considered a reform movement, headed by Plotinus, who wanted to purify centuries of Hellenistic thought, to compete with the schools of Epicureanism and Stoicism; he also rejected Gnosticism as a corruption of Plato’s teaching and so sought a more orthodox Platonism. More accurately, the Neoplatonists believed they were reaching to an ancient wisdom, preserved by Plato, transcending Ancient Greece, Persia and even India – a wisdom which was being corrupted by Gnostics and Christians. Gnosticism was a series of attempts to reconcile such Hellenistic themes with Christian ones, to the dissatisfaction of them both.

Nevertheless, just as Gnosticism moved within the Church, the Nag Hammadi collection ‘show how tightly Platonism and Gnosticism were intertwined in the early centuries of our era.’8 For this reason, the great authority on the esoteric, George Benjamin Walker, remarks that the Neoplatonists ‘all had gnostic pupils, and in fact the whole movement was saturated’.9 The late, great historian of Gnosticism, Gilles Quispel, who spent most of his career on the Nag Hammadi library, went so far as to declare, ‘The friends of Plotinus were Jewish gnostics. It now appears that Plotinus adopted a lot of their views and was himself in fact a gnostic.’10 This is hardly surprising – the problem they were trying to resolve, raised by Plato, was the same: there is a dichotomy between the realm of true, unchanging Being, and ever-changing Becoming. But, the Greek Platonists sought a connection or unity, as opposed to the Gnostic accentuation of the disparity – labelling matter evil and spirit good.

Christianity also rejected such a dichotomy, affirming a sacramental world in which there was harmony between the spiritual and the material; St. Augustine, converted from pseudo-Gnostic Manichaeism to Neoplatonism, and finally to Christianity, whereupon he synthesised Christianity and Platonism sufficiently enough for the Greco-Roman world that even Albert Camus could say, ‘The miracle is that the two may not be contradictory.’11

Whilst accepting a natural order of the world, with the One as, in a sense, separate to the material universe, certain Neoplatonist teachings contradicted this and contributed significantly to Western esotericism. For instance, by sharing Gnosticism’s view of emanating, lower levels of reality which, as they moved further from the One, lost divinity and therefore goodness – instead of evil, there was distance from the One – i.e. being more material – and sin was rather ignorance of the One. The One, for Plotinus, was an ineffable subsistence; at the very least it could be described as producing ‘intellect’, which then subsequently produced the cosmic layer of ‘soul’, which then produced the world soul and the material world, containing the souls of humans. Camus muses,

divine emanation does not take form until Intelligence, descended from God, turns back toward him and receives his reflection, and until the Soul, in its turn, contemplates the intelligible sun and is illuminated by it. It is therefore through contemplation of the superior hypostasis that each principle is fully realized. Here God allows only his admirers to live.12

On the face of it, Plotinus would seem to affirm free will, but it is implicitly denied in the doctrine of the One; the One is in a sense separate from all things, yet not; it pervades or gives essence to all things, rather like a branch being separate yet dependent on and part of the tree or an army being comprised of individual men. As such, men have free will in the Aristotelian sense of acting according to their nature, rational or otherwise, but they can either grow closer to the One through rigorous philosophical contemplation or else fall deeper into their material bodies and into ignorance of the One – which is in a sense, their true inner-selves, as the One is the essence of every soul. Yet, their will is also, in essence, the will of the One, and so souls are predestined to either grow toward the One or fall into their ‘tainted, tarnished, gross and dark’ material nature,13 as Plotinus clearly states:

The Ineluctable, the Cosmic Law … is, thus, rooted in a natural principle under which each several entity is overruled to go, duly and in order, towards that place and Kind to which it characteristically tends, that is towards the image of its primal choice and constitution. … The souls go forth neither under compulsion nor of freewill … like is destined unfailingly to like, and each moves hither and thither at its fixed moment.14

This determinism lends itself to elitism in those predestined with a superior nature, who develop this nonpareil knowledge of themselves and the cosmos, as emanating from the One, being able to grow closer to it, and possessing the philosophical knowledge and exercises necessary to do so. This is very much an example of Stuckrad’s framework of Western gnosticism. Indeed, these features and the pervasiveness of the One, as Bogdan observes, are important commonalities in Western gnosticism: ‘there usually is a strong holistic trait in esotericism where the godhead is considered manifest in the natural [interconnected] world. … Man is seen as a microcosm of the macrocosm, the divine universe.’15

Also, ‘the cross-fertilization between [Plotinus] and the Gnostics did not extend beyond metaphysics and mysticism’, leading to the expulsion of certain eschatological or apocalyptic ideas. Consequently, Neoplatonism’s lack of focus on a future eschatological event leads to a sort of immanentization of heaven – that is, to propose a model of heaven on earth. Voegelin went so far as to identify Neoplatonism as the major source of this, of all the currents of Western esotericism: ‘neither the apocalyptic nor the gnostic strand completely accounts for the process of immanentization. This factor has independent origins in the revival of neo-Platonism in Florence in the late fifteenth century.’16

The Neoplatonic Academy was closed by Roman Emperor, Justinian I, in 529 A.D., but was distinctly revived in Renaissance Italy by writers, Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, and a century later by Giordano Bruno. More Platonic writings, especially of Plato himself, had become available, following the Islamic conquest of Constantinople and the influx of Eastern, Greek scholars and their manuscripts. The popularity of Western esotericism grew, as exotic, almost Hermetic ideas of an ancient, enlightening gnosis, from beyond the magi of Persia, the Pythagoreans and Jewish mystics, erupted on the scene of uniform, Western Catholicism. But, to understand the rise of Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry and other esoteric groups, which acted as catalysts for the Enlightenment, we must first understand the rise of Cabalism in the late medieval and early modern periods.

Jewish mysticism has perennially had a major influence in Western gnosticism, though there is often debate about whether it was the primary influence in certain cases. There are some instances where no direct connection can be confirmed, such as the prevalence of Cabalists in Provence at the same time that the Gnostic Cathars problematically arose to trouble the unity of the Church in Southern France. But, if we might begin with Gnosticism proper, ‘the unsolvability of the problem of Gnostic origins should not deter students of Gnosticism from raising the issue, mostly sounded by scholars of Judaism, of the relationship between Gnosticism and early Jewish mysticism.’17 The Jewish Encyclopedia asserts that ‘Gnosticism was Jewish in character long before it became Christian.’ Though bearing some later influences from Neoplatonism, it was around at least from the 2nd century B.C. and claims descent to the time of Moses, from whence it was passed down to ‘the elect’ or Tzadikim – an elite, select few; nevertheless, despite being a supposed oral tradition aside from the Torah, it was forbade from being taught publicly.18

Prof. David Malkiel seems in agreement with Roni Weinstein, author of Kabbalah and Jewish Modernity, that the ‘Kabbalah penetrated Jewish society more by means of rituals than doctrine’, as it did within the secret societies of Renaissance Europe; he disagrees, however, with the idea that this was part of any unified plot: ‘The direction of kabbalistic doctrine toward an ever-widening audience is indisputable, but it was hardly a calculated stratagem.’ Rather, he sees emergent trends towards a well-defined secular sphere and modernism in Judaism as well as Christendom, often parallel and in response to similar cultural prompts. For Weinstein especially, the early modern period presented needs, beliefs and fears met by a changing world. ‘Both the culture of early modern (especially Catholic) Europe and that of Safedian (especially Lurianic) Kabbalah targeted this same set of issues.’ For example, in the 16th century’s Protestant Reformation and the consequent Monarchical Revolution, there was a general

perceived need for greater unity and social control in the religious and political realms, among Europe’s Protestants as well as Catholics, and among its nascent nation-states. New institutions and mechanisms, such as the Inquisition, were created to supervise behavior. The Jews of Safed [likewise] had a committee for investigating transgressions, with antecedents in medieval Spain.

Malkiel is keen to point out the influences which the Jewish Cabala and Neoplatonistic doctrine, in vogue in Renaissance Europe, had on each other. Neither of these had wide acceptance or popularity and would not begin to until the 16th and 17th century growth in mass-publication; the Cabala was mostly confined to the Jewish confraternities and, similarly, the esoteric to secret societies amongst the Christians. However, the growth was still notable in the early modern period.

In terms of how Christendom influenced Judaism, the ‘rise of Jewish saint worship’ is something Malkiel acknowledges as influenced, yes, partly by ‘a popular Sufi custom throughout the Ottoman Empire’, but also the Catholic world, despite the significant differences between the worship of the cabalistic sages and the Catholic pilgrimages. Also, the ‘kabbalistic theosophical structure … by the sixteenth century was far more complex than it had been in medieval Spanish Kabbalah’, leading both Malkiel and Weinstein to associate this development with ‘the tendency to articulate increasingly ramified structures … [and] the organization of knowledge in early modern Europe’; they provide ‘the microscope and telescope … invented around 1600’ as an example of the revelation in the early modern mindset that ‘reality consists of many more components and layers than meet the eye.’ Likewise, the discovery of the New World would probably have increased openness in thought amongst Jews and Christians alike.19

The political and cultural influence of esoteric societies should not be underestimated by scholars, having caused, at the very least, the French Revolution and having defined modern government to this day.

In short, we can speak of Western gnosticism developing the modernist mindset in both the Christian and Jewish world. Cabala seems to derive a doctrine, similar to Neoplatonism, of two aspects of God – an unknowable simplicity and an immanence of God in the world, made up of different levels, emanating from the transcendent essence. Likewise, esoteric groups were borrowing cabalistic ideas, such as the Sephirot – the Rosicrucian’s Tree of Life – an illustration of the emanations from God, and the paths to enlightenment an initiate must take.20 A good example is the 16th century figure, John Dee – famous magus, astrologer and adviser to Queen Elizabeth I of England. He was a cabalist and the first Rosicrucian manifesto quotes him in its opening, followed by a series of other manifestos containing cabalistic symbolism.

Men of wealth and influence were affected too – Francis Bacon, among others, was a Rosicrucian – revealing the popularity of esoteric ideas beyond those of just alchemy. However, this is nothing compared to the number of leaders of the Enlightenment, in the following two centuries, who would be involved in esoteric societies. The political and cultural influence of these groups should not be underestimated by scholars, having caused, at the very least, the French Revolution and having defined modern government to this day. Jews, such as Spinoza were not exempt; he would become a panentheist and advocate a denial of free will in the form of determinism. The denial of free will was also taken up by Hasidic thinkers, as Judaism had no defined doctrine of free will.21 Of course, the Cabala denied it implicitly in much the same way as Neoplatonism. Gentile philosophers too, most notably, Leibniz, would be greatly influenced by various cabalists of the 17th century, such as Christian Knorr von Rosenroth and Francis Mercury van Helmont.22

In the 17th century, groups were developing from amongst the clergy which adopted various gnostic traits; notably, los Alumbrados of Spain, whose views spread to les Illuminés of France. But, we can see how the Neoplatonic conception of the divine could lend itself so readily to a more deistic, secular exaltation of man: ‘The One … produces Intellect and being as fire gives off heat or a flower its fragrance. And it is as an object of contemplation that the One gives Intelligence the forms in which it is clothed.’ Across Europe, les philosophes spread their Enlightenment views typified in the anti-monarchical, anti-clerical values of the French Revolution – liberté, égalité, fraternité – in a variety of social environments and platforms, including the scientific academies, literary salons, coffee shops, and through tracts and books. Secret societies were also fundamental in this development, such as the Rosicrucians, whose basis was more esoteric and less political than the Freemasons; albeit, the Masonic lodges were not as openly political as spin-off groups, such as the Bavarian Illuminati, which was shutdown for that very reason. Until the French Revolution, a more clandestine growth of the political manifestations of Western gnosticism occurred from the early 17th century, which many scholars are beginning to recognize as the start of the Enlightenment period.

Nevertheless, the political goals of these groups cannot be ignored, given how widespread Freemasonry had become and given the fact that so many of the leaders of the Enlightenment were Freemasons. Furthermore, the invention of historical origins lent the lodges to esoteric beliefs. Leading Templar historian, Prof. Malcolm Barber, has written, for example, of the ‘pseudo-histories’ and ‘a belief in knightly antecedents’ which became popular among French masons by the 1730s. Andrew Michael Ramsay, the then Chancellor of the Grand Lodge in France, outlined a history in which the Freemasons were a continuation of the Knights Templar and medieval masonry guilds, despite ‘hardly any’ of the latter still existing. They had developed during the struggle to restore the Temple in the Holy Land during the Crusades; this titillated ‘the French aristocracy which was already heavily addicted to pseudo-chivalric orders supposedly deriving from medieval predecessors.’ It is the German masons of the 1760s, however, who invented the connection with the Templars qua defenders of the Temple of Solomon and discoverers of ‘secret wisdom and magical powers’; Solomon was supposed to have sent out certain ‘elect’ masters to exact vengeance in the cause of preserving this secret knowledge. This gave Freemasonry a more political outlook and would cause the development of reactive conspiracy theories which took these pseudo-histories at their word.23

Of course, the theory that the Bavarian Illuminati survived being disbanded by the Bavarian government in 1785 is a commonplace of lay discussions on the internet. Its origins lie, ultimately, with the French Jesuit priest, Augustin Barruel. Having fled the unspeakable atrocities committed against Christians and clergy during the French Revolution, Barruel wrote against it from the safety of England. With Jesuitical zeal, he sought to stir up the British and other governments concerned with the anti-monarchical and anti-clerical tenacity of the French, hoping Rome’s enemies would eventually come to war.

As well as popularizing theories about the survival of the Knights Templar, Barruel wrote Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism in 1797, postulating that the Bavarian Illuminati had continued operating and were working through Freemasonry in a conspiracy to establish secular, liberal governments, representing a threat to the remaining monarchies of Europe. It was soon translated into English, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian etc. and became a transnational sensation. Even political figures began to take the claims seriously and public discussion became so unavoidable that Freemasons from across Europe began writing openly in their defence against the theory.24

Independently, at this time, a Roman Catholic monk and secret agent, Alexander Horn, personally provided the material for Scots Professor, John Robison, to write Proofs of a Conspiracy against All the Religions and Governments of Europe, carried on in the Secret Meetings of the Free Masons, Illuminati, and Reading Societies. Robison’s book was equally successful and influential; for example, an American pastor sent a copy to President George Washington to learn his thoughts on the matter and his response has drawn a lot of attention for students of this topic:

It was not my intention to doubt that, the Doctrines of the Illuminati, and principles of Jacobinism had not spread in the United States. On the contrary, no one is more truly satisfied of this fact than I am. The idea that I meant to convey, was, that I did not believe that the Lodges of Free Masons in this Country had, as Societies, endeavoured to propagate the diabolical tenets of the first, or pernicious principles of the latter (if they are susceptible of separation). That Individuals of them may have done it, or that the founder, or instrument employed to found, the Democratic Societies in the United States, may have had these objects; and actually had a separation of the People from their Government in view, is too evident to be questioned.25

Certainly, in Germany, it was the case that the Illuminati, or ‘perfectibilists’, had come to dominate the opinion of the Masonic lodges. Formerly, Rosicrucianism was dominant in the lodges, but this gave way to more secular, political thought – to be expected of the deistic zeitgeist of the Enlightenment and into the 1800s.26 The concurrent development of modernist thinking in both Judaism and Christianity led to more political societies in which the immanentization of common, ideal goals for the nations of Europe could be planned by both Jew and gentile alike. In Rosicrucianism, esoteric beliefs united them; in ‘illuminized’ Freemasonry, there was political unity.

Christendom had been destroyed and the Judaism Disraeli was defending was being and would be swamped in the same modernizing tendency – fuelled by the same gnostic mindset.

It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that there was a grand conspiracy of Jews behind the French Revolution. Certainly, they welcomed it: ‘There’s no doubt that the French Revolution was momentous for the Jews,’ says Prof. David Sorkin. It inaugurated the modern period in Jewish history in many ways, but ‘it is not empirically true’ that the Jews occupied a central, privileged place in the Revolution. Sorkin highlights the lengthy debates concerning whether Jews would even be allowed citizenship in the manner that freed slaves were granted. ‘Jews were actively involved in gaining rights,’ certainly, but we should not ‘make the mistake of reading that centrality [of the Jews in later revolutions] back into the French Revolution.’27 Thus, by the time of the 1848 Revolutions, ethnically Jewish, British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, would have to explain this centrality to Parliament. The Spectator reflected on the matter thus:

Disraeli has to deal with and find excuses, or at any rate explanations, for the revolutionary side of Judaism. … [T]he chosen people had been among the chief inspirers of the revolutions which in ’48 swept like a hurricane over Europe. Disraeli’s apology is both bold and ingenious. He makes no attempt to deny or to dilute the facts. He fully admits them. … [T]he natural equality of man and the abrogation of property are proclaimed by the Secret societies who form provisional governments, and men of Jewish race are found at the head of every one of them. The people of God co-operate with Atheists; the most skilful accumulators of property ally themselves with communists; the peculiar and chosen race touch the hand of all the scum and low castes of Europe and all this because they wish to destroy that ungrateful Christendom, which owes to them even its name, and whose tyranny they can no longer endure. When the Secret Societies, in February, 1848, surprised Europe, they were themselves surprised by the unexpected opportunity, and so little capable were they of seizing the occasion that, had it not been for the Jews, who of late years unfortunately have been connecting themselves with these unhallowed associations. … [Thus,] the fiery energy and the teeming resources of the children of Israel maintained for a long time the unnecessary and useless struggle. If the reader throws his eye over the provisional governments of Germany and Italy, and even France, formed at that period, he will recognize everywhere the Jewish element.28

Disraeli, however, contends that this is not the orthodox nature of Judaism. Rather, he blamed persecution of the Jews by modern, European states:

 [A]ll the tendencies of the Jewish race are conservative. Their bias is to religion, property, and natural aristocracy, and it should be the interest of statesmen that this bias of a great race should be encouraged, and their energies and creative powers enlisted in the cause of existing society. But existing society has chosen to persecute this race which should furnish its choicest allies, and what has been the Consequence? They may be traced in the last outbreak of the destructive principle in Europe. An insurrection takes place against tradition and aristocracy, against religion and property. Destruction of the Semitic principle, extirpation of the Jewish religion, whether in the Mosaic or in the Christian form, the natural equality of man and the abrogation of property are proclaimed by the Secret societies who form provisional governments, and men of Jewish race are found at the head of every one of them.29

It is true that, during the medieval period, it was difficult to ensure that far realms adhered to the papal bulls regarding the protection of the Jews, physically and lawfully. As Prof. Anthony Esolen describes, ‘If you were Jewish in western Europe, the closer you were to Rome, the safer you were.’30 This was not helped when realms became nation states and the Jews could be considered a separate nation (now confused with the state) where citizenship was concerned, preventing them from having separate communities and courts, and insisting upon their status qua individual citizens.31 However, since the Puritanical victory of the English Civil War and the spread of immanentist, post-millenarian views of the Book of Revelation, which welcomed Jews to find Christ in England, it is not surprising that the revolutions addressed by Disraeli, above, did not emerge on British shores.32 But, what Disraeli did not seem to perceive was that Judaism was changing as much as European civilization; Christendom had been destroyed and the Judaism he was defending was being and would be swamped in the same modernizing tendency – fuelled by the same gnostic mindset.

In this way, we must, at least, conclude with Bogdan that

Western culture is sometimes, somewhat simplistically, viewed as resting on two pillars: Greek rationality and Christian faith. The knowledge strived for by the esotericists is, however … of a revelatory and experiential nature: The adherents of this tradition emphasized the importance of inner enlightenment or gnosis: a revelatory experience that mostly entailed an encounter with one’s true self as well with the ground of being, God. Western esotericism can thus be viewed as a third pillar of Western culture, a form of thought that took a middle position between doctrinal faith and rationality.33

We have already seen that this influence existed and was being manifested politically across early modern and revolutionary Europe, with groups of Jews and gentiles in union to that end. Jews would seem to enjoy a central position in these movements. But, why was this? Various conspiracy theories regarding the Jews are historically untenable and the understanding of the Jewish mission is so often conflated with ethnocentric conquest. Jacques Barzun, among others, detailed how Protestantism was seized upon for increasing political centralization during the Monarchical Revolution; to appreciate the larger picture of the psychological change Europe underwent, which would grant Western gnosticism the political foothold to produce the two further, major revolutions since the collapse of Latin Christendom, as outlined by Barzun – the French Revolution and Bolshevism – we must start from Calvinism and its denial of human free will and promotion of a more deterministic experientialism.

Footnotes

1 Van Dun, F. (2004) ‘The Science of Law and Legal Studies: Concepts, Methods and Values’ – http://users.ugent.be/~frvandun/Texts/Articles/ScienceOfLaw.pdf (08/03/2018).

2 Bogdan, H. (2007) Western Esotericism and Rituals of Initiation, Albany: State University of New York Press, pp. 5–6.

3 See Versluis, A. (2007) Magic and Mysticism: An Introduction to Western Esotericism, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

4 Von Stuckrad, K. (2006) Western Esotericism: A Brief History of Secret Knowledge, Equinox Publishing, p. 10.

5 Von Stuckrad, Kocku (2005b) ‘Western Esotericism: Towards an Integrative Model of Interpretation’, Religion, 35 (2): 78–97.

6 The lex voluntas posits the will as the source of law, as opposed to the lex rationis of classical natural law, which has reason as the source of law.

7 Voegelin, E. (1968) Science, Politics, and Gnosticism, Regnery Publishing Inc., p. 9.

8 Moore, E. (n.d.) ‘Gnosticism’ in Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, retrieved 15/08/2018 from https://www.iep.utm.edu/gnostic/#H3.

9 Walker, B. (1983) Gnosticism: Its History and Influence, The Aquarian Press, p. 167.

10 Quispel, J. & Oort, J. (2008) Gnostica, Judaica, Catholica. Collected Essays of Gilles Quispel, Brill Academic Publishers, p. 824

11 Camus, A. (2007 tr. by Srigley, R.D.) Christian Metaphysics and Neoplatonism, University of Missouri Press, p. 129.

12 Ibid., p. 93.

13 Walker, B. (1983) Gnosticism: Its History and Influence, The Aquarian Press, p. 167.

14 De Mesa, J. A. L. (2012) ‘Plotinus, Aristotle and the Origin of the Free Will’ – http://academia.uniquindio.edu.co/academia/revistas/disertaciones/doc3/2_juliana_acosta_32-50.pdf (08/06/2018).

15 Bogdan, H. (2007) Western Esotericism and Rituals of Initiation. Albany: State University of New York Press, p. 5.

16 Voegelin, E. quoted from Autobiographical Reflections, p. 66, in Introduction by Ellis Sandoz to the 1997 re-issue of Science, Politics and Gnosticism, xvi.

17 Burns, D.M. (2014) Apocalypse of the Alien God: Platonism and the Exile of Sethian Gnosticism, University of Pennsylvania Press, p. 141.

18 Ginzberg, L. & Kohler, K. (n.d.) ‘Cabala’ in The Jewish Encyclopedia, retrieved 15/08/2018 from http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3878-cabala.

19 Malkiel, D. (2013) ‘Rapture and Rupture: Kabbalah and the Reformation of Early Modern Judaism’, Jewish Quarterly Review, 103, 107–121.

20 The cabalists had in turn developed this idea of ten sephirots emanating from God from the 2nd century Arabic gnostic, Monoimus, who envisaged a decad of cosmic layers emanating from the Monad; a similar idea is found in the Nag Hammadi collection; see also, George Benjamin Walker’s Gnosticism: Its History and Influence.

21 Jacobs, J. (n.d.) ‘Spinoza, Baruch (Benedict de Spinoza)’ in The Jewish Encyclopedia, retrieved 15/08/2018 from http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13964-spinoza-baruch-benedict-de-spinoza.

22 See Coudert, A. (1999) The Impact of the Kabbalah in the Seventeenth Century: The Life and Thought of Francis Mercury Van Helmont (1614-1698), BRILL.

23 Barber, M. (1995) The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple, Cambridge University Press, pp.317-8

24 Campbell, P. R., Kaiser, T. E. & Linton M. (2010) Conspiracy in the French Revolution, Manchester University Press, p.152

25 George Washington’s letter, To Reverend G. W. Snyder, dated 22/08/1798 – https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/06-02-02-0435 (15/09/2018); see also Campbell, P. R., Kaiser, T. E. & Linton M. (2010) Conspiracy in the French Revolution, Manchester University Press.

26 ‘Illuminati’ in The Encyclopaedia Britannica, retrieved 15/08/2018 from https://www.britannica.com/topic/illuminati-designation

27 Sorkin, D. (2016) ‘Were Jews Central to the French Revolution? A Contrarian Analysis’, speech given at Brown University – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNhn5rBknYc (20/07/2018).

28 ‘Disraeli on the Secret Societies and the Jews’ in 05/06/1920 The Spectator retrieved 15/09/2018 from The Spectator Archives – http://archive.spectator.co.uk/article/5th-june-1920/7/disraeli-on-the-secret-societies-and-the-jewsi.

29 Ibid.

30 Esolen, A. (2008) The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization, Regnery Publishing Inc., p. 151.

31 Sorkin, D. (2016) ‘Were Jews Central to the French Revolution? A Contrarian Analysis’, speech given at Brown University – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNhn5rBknYc (20/07/2018).

32 See Murray, I. H. (1990) The Puritan Hope, Banner of Truth.

33 Bogdan, H. (2007) Western Esotericism and Rituals of Initiation, Albany: State University of New York Press, p. 7.

This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. Ascertaining that scientists have never referred to a third esoteric pillar of Western society (Henrik Bogdan) is somewhat condescending to all the researchers who have tried to conduct their work on it but were silenced because esotericism continues to be the ignored elephant in the academic room. It will never cease to astound me how many professors begin to sell the obvious as a novelty, once they have obtained tenure or a sure institutional footing.

  2. Is not the common denominator of all acrid forms of Gnosticism a rejection of The Logos — the ground and reason for being and his moral order, the natural law? If Christ– true knowledge, is not the answer then other knowledge is. Yet, if Christ is rejected what is left but fragments and power plays over the scraps.

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