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Modern Statism as Western Gnosticism – Part 2

Series: Modern Statism as Western Gnosticism

The Western gnostic rejection of natural order underpins legal positivism, the abandonment of Christianity, and the rise of the totalitarian states of the 20th (and increasingly the 21st) century.

From Calvinism to Communism

According to van Dun, orthodox Christianity, which sanctified human free will and the natural order of the human world with respect to it, historically conflicted with gnostic beliefs regarding the nature or, rather, the essence of man and of the natural world; these conflicting beliefs, in turn, gave rise to modern positivism and, more specifically, what he calls the ‘ideology’ of legal positivism, as a competing school of Western jurisprudence.

More recently, Prof. John Gray, in his treatise on the subject of free will, unknowingly agrees with van Dun; yet, no one can accuse him of having a Catholic axe to grind, Gray being an atheist.

Throughout much of the world, and particularly in western countries [sic.], the Gnostic faith that knowledge can give humans a freedom no other creature can possess has become the predominant religion. … Believing that human beings can be fully understood in terms of scientific materialism, they reject any idea of free will. But they cannot give up hope of being masters of their destiny. So they have come to believe that science will somehow enable the human mind to escape the limitations that shape its natural condition. …

To be free, humans must revolt against the laws that govern earthly things. … The dream of finding freedom by rebelling against cosmic law has reappeared as the belief that humans can somehow make themselves masters of nature.1

Of course, the suggestion that modernism is essentially gnostic is not new; the political philosopher, Eric Voegelin, outlined as much in his best-known works. He even identified a historical continuity and experiential equivalence between the ancient movements, discussed above, and modern positivism, including Marxism, Freudianism, progressivism and its other ideological subcategories.

For Voegelin, modern positivism was typified by two characteristics: 1. a particular group’s feeling of alienation from the supposedly disorderly, or even evil, world or society at large, which then evokes a belief in the elitism of that group due to their ability to transcend the disorder through their ‘gnostic speculation’, extraordinary insight and learning – i.e. gnosis; and 2. their desire or attempts to impose or implement the alienated group’s solutions, even coercively, to establish their heaven on earth – to ‘immanentize the eschaton’. These characteristics cement not just ‘far’ left or right political regimes as gnostic, but all modern statism, built as it is on legal positivism; an elite, political class is proposed, one which can act with impunity in the establishment of an idealized, necessary, artificial order – the modern, Leviathan state apparatus. Indeed, Voegelin’s criteria seem but a politicized version of Stuckrad’s criteria of Western gnosticism as claims to ‘real’ knowledge and the means of making this knowledge available. This is the political meaning of progress, according to Voegelin.

All gnostic movements are involved in the project of abolishing the constitution of being, with its origin in divine, transcendent being, and replacing it with a world-immanent order of being, the perfection of which lies in the realm of human action. This is a matter of so altering the structure of the world, which is perceived as inadequate, that a new, satisfying world arises.2

A great exponent of Voegelin’s philosophy, Prof. Michael Henry, has summarized it similarly: ‘positivism is another variety of Gnosticism through its reduction of reality to the immanent, with legal positivism contracting the truth of order to convention or statute.’ Henry builds on Voegelin to advance a dichotomy in the Western psyche – the transcendence-oriented amor Dei and its antithesis, the egoistic amor sui; the latter comports with Gray’s view of gnostic modernism, as it defines goodness primarily in terms of what we can control within the bounds of an inherently meaningless, material universe. Gnosticism emerged and emerges as a reaction to Christianity’s denial of human fulfilment in material satisfaction; it thus makes humanity the locus of the divine and seeks an immanent salvation, through human action, ‘which can be attained only by pretending to satisfy the soul’s innate hunger for immortality and transcendence with an endless stream of ephemeral gratifications.’ As far as positivism is concerned, an artificial order is not simply needed but welcomed in the gnostic mindset. Voegelin describes modern statism quite graphically, perhaps hinting at the French Revolution:

In order, therefore, that the attempt to create a new world may seem to make sense, the givenness of the order of being must be obliterated; the order of being must be interpreted, rather, as essentially under man’s control. And taking control of being further requires that the transcendent origin of being be obliterated: it requires the decapitation of being – the murder of God.3

Henry’s valuable contribution is found in his cogent presentation of this dichotomy in Western civilisation, in terms of the psychology at work:

The meaning of Voegelin’s succinct formulation becomes clearer if we note that it is the reverse of the Christian discernment that the death of the ego is the ‘price’ of spiritual growth in faith. … The origin of the fall into Gnosticism he found in Christianity’s realization that the soul must be ordered through humble openness to transcendence in the tension and uncertainty of faith rather than masterfully grasping it with the security of knowledge. The spiritually impotent ego pursuing worldly dominance and the illusory power of certainty while rejecting the genuine substance of order is what Voegelin meant by ‘the revolt of Western society against God.’4

But, where and how did this revolt begin? Voegelin diagnosed ‘the Gnostic nature of modernity’ as the classical liberal secularisation of ‘the seventeenth-century Puritan … un-Christian libido dominandi for achieving existential security by drawing transcendence into immanence to transform all experience into proofs of divine election.’ Hobbes likewise saw the destructive wars, which followed the Reformation, as driven by the Puritan drive to possess certainty of God’s favour, but the classical liberals merely posited a secular, artificial order to achieve a different ideal. For this reason, Voegelin struck at the source of these modern movements, labelling the Protestant Reformation as the ‘Gnostic Revolution’, for its rejection of the spiritual authority of Catholicism and the objective, lex rationis, natural law proposed by it, in favour of definite, quasi-secular states – territorial monopolists of judicial and legislative power. ‘Voegelin asserts that the entire Reformation movement and the whole of modernity must be “understood as the successful invasion of Western institutions by Gnostic movements.”’5

We find the gnostic denial of free will at the heart of Calvinism: Calvinism posits an elect, predestined by God to receive inner enlightenment and be brought to salvation through deterministic means, rather than through the exercise of free will.

Ultimately, we find the gnostic denial of free will at the heart of Calvinism. For both Luther, an Augustinian friar, and Calvin, St. Augustine was a strong influence; they seemed in this way to reach back to a solid figure – one who represented an earlier time of broadly defined doctrines, but far back enough to substitute the authority of the Pope with Roman, statist public law – thus, preventing doctrinal anarchy, especially where the Trinity, baptism and a few other crucial doctrines were concerned. Calvin taught that Augustine was ‘the best and most faithful witness of all antiquity.’6 However, Augustine downplayed free will and contemporaries, such as St. Vincent of Lerins, recognized that this was not in keeping with the universal tradition of the Church, but was rather a result of Augustine’s Manichaean and Platonist background. The great theological historian, Henry Chadwick, notes that the first instances of this denial indeed came from Gnosticism: ‘The influence of fatalistic ideas drawn from popular astrology and magic became fused with notions derived from Pauline language about predestination to produce a rigidly deterministic scheme.’7 Similarities to Cabalism and Neoplatonism are apparent: Calvinism posits an elect, predestined by God to receive inner enlightenment and be brought to salvation through deterministic means, rather than through the exercise of free will.

As well as Bibles being produced in the common tongues, developments of the Gutenberg press and of paper a century before allowed Calvin to write a quality, standard, Augustinian commentary – simple enough for the layman to understand, and providing national uniformity without recourse to popes or councils. It is hardly surprising that Voegelin refers to Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion as ‘the first deliberately created Gnostic koran.’8 Moreover, emerging from this background, it is less surprising that hard determinism dominates modern academe, asserting as it does ‘the unbreakable sequence of cause and effect … the inevitable outcome of events … going back to the Big Bang’. This denial of free will is arguably the secularisation of the Calvinist belief in the predestination of believers, in which free will is effectively denied and humans considered as slaves to their nature – the heathen, to his totally depraved nature, the Christian, to the irresistible grace of God which draws him closer. Barzun makes the same argument: ‘Modern criminology is rooted in this conviction and public opinion in the main agrees: the criminal is not responsible for his acts; he is “conditioned.” Grace (the right heredity or environment) has been denied him.’

Further highlighting the deterministic zeitgeist shared by the secular elites of the early modern period and popular Calvinism, Barzun conveys the changing temperament regarding free will with the example of the late 18th century Prussian king, Frederick the Great, ‘who outgrew his Calvinist upbringing but remained a fierce determinist.’ Barzun describes the common ‘sense of being driven by a power not ourselves … among great doers and creators’ – the tide in the affairs of men of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. This is, of course, the Gnostic temperament of a destined elite present among the Machiavellian opportunists as well as in ‘the most widely held Protestant dogma.’9 In this way, we might rather describe the libido dominandi as the politicized Western gnostic doctrine of a guiding, knowledgable elite, present across the spectrum of the bourgeoisie. It is tempting to retrospectively apply today’s sociological data which concludes that ‘politicians are more likely than people in the general population to be sociopaths’ or, indeed, the desire among many to have these personality types exercise power.10 It is sufficient to note that this adds weight to my hypothesis – that modern statism is the manifest rejection of free will, by those who prey on and take on the decision-making ability of others, and those who willingly relinquish this responsibility to the former. But, to solidify my argument, we must answer the question: how did the Calvinist, monarchical nation states evolve into the much more secular modern liberal democracy?

We arrive at the modern state with the shift of jurisprudence from a focus on natural law to natural rights, that is, from the rationally identified justice and natural order, achieved by the respect of other’s free will, to an artificial order sustained by Hobbes’ Leviathan state, which at least initially proposed to grant rights to its citizens in accordance with the rational principles of natural law. The ‘immanently salvific Gnostic civil theology’, proposed by Hobbes,

rejected transcendence and permitted all citizens to have a relationship with the divine only through obedience to the terrifying Absolute Sovereign, the intracosmic ‘mortal god’, who dictated the form of ‘Christian’ worship compulsory for the whole society and prophylactically sealed off the ‘Christian Commonwealth’ against intrusions by transcendence.

Through obedience to and the favour of the king, one could attain this desired certainty, whilst avoiding any nihilistic, ‘imminent fall into non-being through death’ – the logical conclusion to Hobbes’ brutal view of man’s state of nature. In this way, the ‘spiritually ordering power of amor Dei’ and anything resembling the abstract, transcendence-oriented, lex rationis school of natural law was supplanted by the enjoyment of the mere natural right ‘to physical self-preservation in a cosmos devoid of divine presence’.11 In this modern context, established largely by Hobbes and Locke, politics is simply the managing of warring passions and ever-more contractual ‘rights’, and the medieval mindset, which views no division between ‘Church’ and ‘secular state’ but, rather, a fraternity and common aim between members of a community, becomes totally alien.12

Being based on the Western gnostic rejection of natural order, we can thus distinguish between a modern libertarianism, built on gnostic modernist conceptions of freedom within an artificial, man-made order, and a Thomistic or medieval libertarianism, built on free will and the adherence to the rational, given, natural order. Given the radical changes to the definition of liberal, terms such as ‘classical liberalism’ are confusing and do not address differences between the two major schools of jurisprudence which have characterized Western civilisation – natural law and legal positivism; certainly not when our aim is to identify legal positivism as the jurisprudential manifestation of a Western gnostic worldview.

Seeing as van Dun’s critique of legal positivism, as the gnostic base of modernism which has come to dominate jurisprudence since the 20th century, follows Voegelin’s, it is worth applying Henry’s clarification (above) and Hannah Arendt’s notable critique of Voegelin to van Dun also. The criticism of Voegelin offered by Prof. Eugene Webb in his article, ‘Voegelin’s Gnosticism Reconsidered’, is somewhat redundant; Webb explains that gnosticism, as a term, ‘has become so problematic and complex in recent years’ that its use ‘must at the very least undercut Voegelin’s effort to trace a historical line of descent from ancient sources to the modern phenomena he tried to use them to illuminate.’13 In the first instance, I do not think that a genealogy of gnosticism is necessitated by Voegelin’s theory, nor does this have any relevance to van Dun’s tracing legal positivism back to Western gnosticism. Secondly, as we have seen, the scholarship of Western esotericism/gnosticism has developed considerably and we have a sound framework in which to study the general movement as a whole. Let us begin, therefore, with the major and far more pertinent debate between Voegelin and Arendt.

Arendt’s assessment of the causal factors for the rise of totalitarianism in the 20th century comports in many ways with Voegelin’s: she states, ‘the tribal nationalism of the pan-movements [following the Protestant Reformation] offered a new religious theory and a new concept of holiness’. Contrary to Voegelin’s view of the general libido dominandi of European modernism as the manifestation of positivistic Western gnosticism, however, Arendt understood it as a ‘precise perversion’ of the Jewish doctrine of chosenness. Arendt frames much of nation statism as undergirded by the ‘fear that it actually might be Jews … to whom success was granted by divine providence.’ A ‘feeble-minded resentment against a people who [were guaranteed to] emerge eventually, and in spite of appearances, as the final victors in world history.’ This being the ‘Jewish mission in history to achieve the establishment of mankind’ – to unite humanity under the true God. Thus, the various national and religious wars of the past 500 years can be viewed as a competition, especially with the Jews, for worldly success as a manifestation of God’s favour and, thus, confirmation of their chosenness. ‘Chosenness was no longer the myth for an ultimate realization of the [Jewish] ideal of a common humanity’, but had been co-opted for destructive ends, according to Arendt.

It seems unlikely one could find a better example of Voegelin’s two characteristics of the gnostic than modern Judaism – an alienated, spiritual elite who believe they have a divine mission to model the ideal, as laid out by a positivistic deity.

It is important to note that, as a Jewess, Arendt noticeably plays up the claim of the Jews, affirming that they already possessed, from beyond recorded history, the very qualities violently striven for by the nation states of Europe, leading of course to such ‘pseudo-mystical’ movements as British Israelism or aryanism’s paleontological assumptions etc. Arendt’s own underlying positivism becomes most visible, however, in her view of European totalitarianisms as merely ‘experiments’, the only ‘limitation’ of which being the requirement of ‘global control in order to show conclusive results’ regarding their ability to manipulate the nature of man. At this, Voegelin rightly identified Arendt as stuck in exactly the same immanentist/gnostic paradigm he had outlined.14 This is hardly surprising given the gnosticising of Judaism which occurred during its modernisation; not to mention the correlation between the broadly ‘Semitic’ view of God and Western gnosticism, discussed above.

Let us digress briefly into the modern, Jewish mission for the unity of mankind and develop upon the distinction between this ‘Semitic’ view of God and the traditional Catholic one as this will highlight the gnostic tendencies in modern Judaism and help explain Arendt’s unwitting display of these same tendencies.

Rabbi Lord Immanuel Jakobovits, former Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogue of Great Britain, is understandably the most frequently quoted authority when it comes to the modern Jewish understanding of their chosenness:

Maybe the Greeks were chosen for their unique contributions to art and philosophy, the Romans for their pioneering services in law and government, the British for bringing parliamentary rule into the world, and the Americans for piloting democracy in a pluralistic society. The Jews were chosen by God to be ‘peculiar unto Me’ as the pioneers of religion and morality; that was and is their national purpose.

But the context of this quote is not so well known. The peculiarly Semitic nature of Jakobovits’ God, so alike Ockham’s nominalist view, is outlined in clear contradistinction to, for instance, the traditional Catholic view:

If ethical laws were good, immutable, and divine because their virtue is manifest to reason, intuition, conscience, or any other human faculty … the whole structure of Judaism as a revealed religion would collapse. … Judaism stands or falls by the heteronomy of the law.15

The above views are also shared by conservative and reformed Judaism. Notice, this is very much in line with denials of an eternal law and natural order of the world, as identified by Voegelin as typical of Western gnosticism. Pertinent to our discussion is Oakley’s analysis of Ockham, which agrees that legal positivism is a logical conclusion of the nominalist view of God:

Now the lesson to be drawn … is that in a coherent philosophical system, given any one of the following elements, we should expect to find in conjunction with it the rest – a nominalist epistemology; an empiricist approach to natural science; and, if a conception of God is admitted, a voluntarist or imposed version of the natural law (both scientific and juridical) and a Semitic view of God which stresses above all his utter freedom and omnipotence. But … the voluntarist interpretation of the natural law tends to carry over into a positivist interpretation of law in general.16

The reason for this distinction of a ‘Semitic’ view of God is that, in Christianity, there was a baptism of the Platonic doctrine of Eternal Forms or Ideas by means of the location of these Ideas in the divine mind as exemplars according to which God created the world. The intellectualism, sometimes referred to as rationalism, of Aquinas stood against the voluntarism of Ockham and other notable scholars of the time, such as Duns Scotus. As occurred also in medieval Judaism and Islam, there was a fearful reaction against this, in which the bishop of Paris and the archbishop of Canterbury condemned several Thomistic propositions in the 13th century. They were following the same thinking as the Arab and Jewish theologians, who were grappling with Aristotle and the compatibility of free will and human reason with the omnipotence and omniscience of God.

The Islamic Mu’tazilites, for instance, believed God is reason and that God’s laws are laws of nature – thus the similarities of Sharia to natural law. Prominent Muslim scholars of the period, such as Averroes and Avicenna, owe much to Aquinas. During the ‘golden age of Islam’ under the liberal Abbasid Caliphate, Persian philosophers were able to pick up where the Greeks left off, coming as close to developing the scientific method as any other civilisation has ever come, and writing critically of the Qur’an. This was ended, however, by Grand Visier Nizam al-Mulk, who imposed systems of education based on a Qur’anic understanding of the natural world. In this environment, the 11th century voluntarist scholar, Hamid al-Ghazali, would become arguably the most influential Muslim since Muhammad by rejecting Greek philosophy outright. God was not bound by what we perceive as the rational order – ‘things do not act according to their own natures but only according to God’s will at the moment.’17 Al-Ghazali’s The Incoherence of Philosophers was deemed to lay all opposition to rest.

The influence of al-Ghazali on medieval Jewish thought is evident in Judah ha-Levi: ‘I consider him to have attained the highest degree of perfection who is convinced of religious truths without having scrutinized them and reasoned over them.’18 It is quite true that, ‘until the wider spread of Kabbalistic ideas in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries’, Judaism was more intellectualist and ‘accepting [a] strict conception of the natural order’ of the world, from around the 10th century, as evidenced by Saadia Gaon’s division of the commandments of the Torah into those discoverable through reason and those positively imposed by God, as detailed by Prof. Jacob-Joshua Ross.19 But the primary sources contributed nothing as significant as Aquinas and are confusing; academic sources differ as to when and how voluntarism emerged in Judaism. Ross sees it as emerging with the modernisation of Judaism, through the influence of Cabalism, the door having been opened by the ‘semi-voluntarism’ of the Maharal of Prague; whereas Prof. Lenn Evan Goodman would describe the highly influential, 12th century Maimonides as a voluntarist. For our purposes, the link between Oakley’s broad description of the Semitic view of God, as opposed to the more Hellenistic, Christian view is very much linked with the rise of voluntarism in general, and was kept at bay in the Christian world by intellectualism.

The Thomist philosopher, Jacques Maritain, summarizes the Thomistic position in such a way as to distinguish it from the voluntarism of Islam on the one hand and the necessitarian views of Aristotle – precisely what the medieval voluntarists were trying to do:

The most essential and the dearest aim of Thomism is to make sure that the personal contact of all intellectual creatures with God, as well as their personal subordination to God, be in no way interrupted. Everything else – the whole universe and every social institution – must ultimately minister to this purpose; everything must foster and strengthen and protect the conversation of the soul, every soul, with God. It is characteristically Greek and pagan to interpose the universe between God and intellectual creatures.20

Providence asserts that intellectual creatures, made in the image of God, who is intellect, are alone willed for their own sake, quite aside from the existence of the rest of the physical universe. So, we might assert that gnostic tendencies in the political, as well as the theological, share their roots with Jewish voluntarism. Further cementing the Jewish doctrine of chosenness as exemplary of Western gnostic traits, another leader of Modern Orthodox Judaism, Rabbi Norman Lamm breaks down its tenets thus:

This spiritual vocation consists of two complementary functions, described as ‘Goy Kadosh’, that of a holy nation, and ‘Mamlekhet Kohanim’, that of a kingdom of priests. The first term denotes the development of communal separateness or differences in order to achieve a collective self-transcendence. … The second term implies the obligation of this brotherhood of the spiritual elite toward the rest of mankind.21

Despite the Hellenistic influence on classical Judaism, resulting in a firm belief in free will from at least the 1st century on,22 it seems unlikely one could find a better example of Voegelin’s two characteristics of the gnostic than modern Judaism – an alienated, spiritual elite who believe they have a divine mission to model the ideal, as laid out by a positivistic deity. This is far from a spurious observation on my part; as a pertinent, contemporary example, Count Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi, whose own Paneuropean Union and various other ideas were primary precursors to the EU, fetishized a future of demographic replacement in Europe and the development of a brown slave-race, with the Jews leading as a spiritual aristocracy. Notice also the typical deterministic language of Western gnosticism in his writing:

The man of the future will be of mixed race. Today’s races and classes will gradually disappear owing to the vanishing of space, time, and prejudice. The Eurasian-Negroid race of the future, similar in its appearance to the Ancient Egyptians, will replace the diversity of peoples with a diversity of individuals. Instead of destroying European Jewry, Europe, against its own will, refined and educated this people into a future leader-nation through this artificial selection process. No wonder that this people, that escaped Ghetto-Prison, developed into a spiritual nobility of Europe. Therefore a gracious Providence provided Europe with a new race of nobility by the Grace of Spirit. This happened at the moment when Europe’s feudal aristocracy became dilapidated, and thanks to Jewish emancipation.23

Likewise, certain modern Jews have taken up this peculiarly gnostic interpretation of their chosenness, such as Barbara Lerner Spectre in her Europe: Education of Adult Jewish Leaders in a Pan-European Perspective.

To conclude this point: having fled 1930s Germany, it is improbable that Arendt’s somewhat myopic reaction would not have been coloured by this, her ethno-cultural background. By suggesting these influences on Arendt’s perception, as Veogelin himself did, my intention is not to argue ad hominem, but to avoid simply labelling her a hypocrite – for one could equally reverse her argument and cherry-pick historical data to suggest that the Jewish mission to unite mankind was a fearful reaction or ‘feeble-minded resentment’ of Christ and the Church, who have, in fact, led the various nations of the world to accept the one, true God. Such an argument would be just as unhelpful, unscholarly and, more to the point, elitist. We must simply state that Voegelin’s assessment of Arendt was most likely accurate and his counter-criticism should be commended for remaining objective despite being, most likely, Jewish himself and facing similar circumstances to Arendt.

That aside, Arendt’s analysis of totalitarianism as being built on a religious quest for manifestations of chosenness does not square with the historical data, as concisely laid out by Barzun here:

With the metamorphosis of king into monarch and of realm into nation, religion also shifted its position in culture. Laymen, as we saw, replaced clerics in government, while the longing for a strong central power came out of weariness with sectarian fighting. Religious faith as such did not weaken, but many saw its ideologies as interfering with governance. What weight, if any, should they have in the conduct of state affairs? A striking event gave one answer. In 1593, Henry, king of Navarre and a Protestant, was at war to make good his claim to the throne of France; he needed to win over the Parisians, who were staunch Catholics. He gave up his Huguenot faith, saying: ‘Paris is well worth a Mass.’ Similarly, and about the same time, the future James I of England, a Protestant king of Scotland, was promising to turn Catholic if the leaders of that party would help him to secure the English throne. And during the Thirty Years’ War … Cardinal Richelieu, believing the national interest to lie on the Protestants side, allied himself to Lutheran Sweden.24

The facts are that movements such as British Israelism were always minority movements; the majority of the masses and the political class simply wanted political and economic stability, and religious freedom in the drive toward nation states, mercantilism and national economic success. Whilst it is true that a more local sense of kinship was expanded to the national scale for statist purposes, this does not detract from the fact that kinship, including clan extensions to tribalism, have always surpassed or transcended the more abstract elements of governance; as we have already seen, this has been the case since antiquity and is just as prevalent, if not more so, among Jews as among other ethnic groups.25 It is not necessary to outline the obvious, biological reasons for this. We can, therefore, dismiss Arendt’s criticism and move on to apply Henry’s refinement of Voegelin’s theory to van Dun’s focus on legal positivism as gnostic.

Where natural rights, i.e. subjective desires, trump universal, objective truth, there is a tendency toward the secular, artificial order.

We have already presented Henry’s dichotomy of Western thought: amor Dei – that of the Christian death of the ego and a humble openness to transcendence as the price of spiritual growth; and amor sui – the illusory security of knowledge through the spiritually impotent ego’s pursuit of worldly dominance. Hobbes, in reaction to the turmoil he associated in the amor Dei, proposed the civic theology of the Leviathan state; his theory took the torch from Calvinism in his hard deterministic denial of free will and the positing of a necessary state as an artificial lawgiver to combat the irrepressibly violent nature of man.

Hobbes denied the existence of all forms of power beyond ordinary causation, the power of one motion in matter to determine another. So he denied the very existence both of freedom and of any form of motivating power beyond the ordinary causal power of desires as materially based psychological states to produce actions.26

The gnosticism of Hobbes is apparent when we consider that his proposed state is simply the immanentized One of Neoplatonism, the sages of which are those wise statesmen able to exercise the raison d’etat and devise an order – salvation from the disorderly state of nature, red in tooth and claw. To paraphrase Voegelin, the uncertain truth of Christianity is exchanged for a false uncertainty of positivistic modernism; the natural order for the artificial.

But, Hobbes had opened a Pandora’s box. In his own day, the employment of his theory was recognized as having greater scope than simply justifying monarchs:

At first sight, Hobbes looks like a partisan of the monarchs’ revolution and one wonders why the Royalists did not embrace him. But the absolute that he argues for is a sovereign; he does not say a king, much less the king-in-waiting, Prince Charles Stuart. The members of the Commons could therefore find in The Leviathan the justification for an absolute Parliament. As pointed out earlier, that is exactly what England is ruled by now. It is an elective Leviathan with royalty like a dab of whipped cream on top.27

This justification of state offices would see the expansion of the state, climaxing in the three competing polities of the 20th century which Voegelin, among so many others, was writing against – fascism, liberal democracy and communism. The scholar, David Gordon, identified independent support to Voegelin’s argument in the Murray Rothbard’s analysis of Marxism. Albeit, this was limited to Marxism, not expanded to modernism and positivism, despite Rothbard being a brilliant critic of statism:

Behind the economics of Marxism, [Rothbard] finds a heretical religious myth, the goal of which is the ‘obliteration of the individual through “reunion” with God, the One, and the ending of cosmic “alienation”, at least on the level of each individual.’ … Rothbard’s analysis of Marx’s philosophy reinforces the pioneering investigations of Eric Voegelin; this parallel between the conclusions of these two great scholars is all the more remarkable in that Rothbard, though familiar with Voegelin, was not deeply influenced by him.28

The Origins of the Western Libido Dominandi

Following Voegelin’s thesis that modern statism is essentially a gnostic civil theology which has replaced the former role of the Church in Christendom, Henry enlists the help of Prof. Robert Kraynak’s Christian Faith and Modern Democracy: God and Politics in the Fallen World. Focussing on democracy, Henry asserts that, where natural rights, i.e. subjective desires, trump universal, objective truth, there is a tendency toward the secular, artificial order:

In modern democracy the good life is one of material success and enjoyment rather than of virtue. Having no substantial truth in itself it worships freedom, which means that it appeals to relativism and the related skepticism – since among human beings there are disagreements and uncertainty about the highest good, the greatest human dignity is through determining truth and one’s own identity and destiny autonomously for oneself … Therefore, Christianity cannot mandate democracy, although democracy has sought legitimacy from Christianity, and it is questionable whether democratic institutions can represent the truth of the soul. Part of Kraynak’s thesis is that there is, in fact, an enormous gulf between democracy’s understanding of human existence and Christianity’s. In his analysis, modern liberal democracy, rooted in the meaningless materialist universe of the modern Zeitgeist, envisages human dignity as a defiance of cosmic indifference to us by an assertion of autonomous will through which we become masters of our own destiny.

Here we find broad agreement between the independent and disparate works of Voegelin and Gray – the philosophy and religion of the modern West catechizes us to understand that, by keeping the faith in scientific materialism, trusting in the artificial order of the Leviathan state and revolting against natural law, we will reach the promised land of a socialist utopia. Following Hobbes, this assumes the absence of God and any convivial order of Christianity. It was for this reason that Tolkien’s 20th century masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, so emphasized natural law, depicting the Leviathan state as the dark lord Sauron and his Orcs. Having witnessed the horrors of the First World War, he portrayed all creatures as corruptible and power as a prime source of corruption, in the vein of Lord Acton’s maxim: Power tends to corrupt. Echoing Cicero, the hero, Aragorn, affirms that ‘Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men.’ Seeing the offence to ancient freedoms wrought by the modern state, Tolkien wrote that he ‘would arrest anybody who uses the word State’ and that it should even be an offence to write government ‘with a capital G.’ Like the gnostic civil theology of modern statism, ‘Sauron sought to create heaven on earth as a substitute for the real heaven.’29 Tolkien’s Catholic beliefs, particularly regarding natural and eternal law, set him against the statist ideologies of the 20th century, the rejection of free will and gnostic dreams of mastering nature and destiny, to paraphrase Gray.

Modern libertarianism, however, for all its criticism of statism, falls under the same gamut of secular thinking, criticized by Henry above; the focus of modern libertarianism on natural rights, as opposed to natural law, lends itself to positivism, and explains, for instance, the necessity of contractarianism in Rothbard’s anarcho-capitalist legal theory. In short, modern libertarianism is based on the amor sui of Hobbes. In contrast to this political school of thought, van Dun proposes a convivial libertarianism which is essentially the amor Dei of the intellectualist natural law of medieval thinkers, such as Aquinas – thus, it has sometimes been referred to as medieval libertarianism.30 Criticising modern libertarianism, van Dun has indirectly suggested that the social theories proposed by Rothbard and others assume their private-property-centred jurisprudence could outcompete others, as if in a vacuum. But these theories do not seem to ‘take into account the relevant traditions, customs, conventions, standards, and the like’ of any particular region.31 Coming from a Western background and the almost inescapable, natural law tradition of Western jurisprudence, these theories seem to assume an adherence to the cardinal virtues and neglect to address the historical, extant and potential market for vice and irresponsibility in human affairs, in much the same way as the statist assumes, in gnostic fashion, that statesmen will be guided by forces, materialist or otherwise, to realize the good of all.

This assumption of virtue in the proposed, hyper-individualistic societies of modern libertarianism presents us with the same problem Kraynak identifies in democracy – the simple assertion of private interests allows subjective desire to trump objective truth, which tends toward a secular, artificial order. It is only by embracing the amor Dei that we can have a uniform, given definition of justice, in the lex rationis sense of natural law, and avoid the modern Western tendency to reject a reasoned, natural order in favour of an artificially imposed one.

But what factor of the Western psyche drives this tendency in the first place? Why is it that Kraynak seeks to restore ‘the true understanding of human nature and dignity’ in order to restore ‘natural law with its immediacy of participation in divine Reason’?32

Following the work of Prof. Ricardo Duchesne, I wrote about the origins of the ‘Faustian’ spirit of European civilisations in my upcoming book, The Uniqueness of Western Law: A Reactionary Manifesto. The source of Western uniqueness is evidently the psychopathic, aristocratic, Indo-European, warrior-nomads from whom modern, ethnic Europeans are descended; these warriors would flout their own safety in competition to attain immortal fame and glory, even battling naked in berserker warfare. In depicting heroic deeds of the pre-Homeric age, the Indo-European spirit was internalized by the intellectual class of priests. This produced a highly competitive philosophical environment – ‘the miracle of Greece’ – which drove the aristos to greater feats of rational self-mastery.

So, the Western concept of virtue (from virtus, the Roman, aristocratic concept of manliness) evolved from attributes associated with martial valour to those of the rational and civil man. In contrast to the violent hubris of Achilles, a new virtue emerged – ‘Sophrosyne, referring to moderation or self-restraint.’

Basically, the Greeks internalized the restless, conquering Indo-European spirit; philosophy and poetry began to depict their inner battles as well as outer. High competition in understanding the complexity of human reason, the psyche and society had begun. Rather than simply overpowering the world around them, even the gods, man turned inward to conquer himself, producing the self-civilizing, trustworthy proto-gentleman who pursued Plato’s four cardinal virtues – prudence, justice, temperance and courage.33

Christianity took the torch from the Hellenistic world in developing natural law and notions of the lawfully responsible individual; these, in large part, produced the advanced, stateless societies of medieval Europe which formed the foundation of Western civilization and law. However, declaring legal positivism to be a kind of Gnostic humanism, which views humanity as the true creative power in an ‘evil’ world, Prof. van Dun elaborated on why the Christian tradition ‘always laid great stress on law and justice, leaving the discovery of the material world to those who are especially qualified to study nature’ and thus further developed the concept of the natural order of the human world: ‘Because no man (that is, only God) is in a position to know everything, order in the human world can exist only if every person has the opportunity to take responsibility for and assume the risk of his own life – and leaves others free to do the same.’34

The political elite are drawn to the exclusive power of legislation because they can wield it with impunity, and the masses happily relinquish the exercise of reason in socio-political matters due to the ‘tendency in most men to avoid responsibility’.

For Nietzsche, the development of this self-mastery, including the rational pursuit of temperance, by Christianity was a transvaluation of Roman, martial, more selfish values, creating a slave ethic which effectively collapsed the Roman Empire.35 Of course, this transvaluation had begun before Christ and was far from destructive; it arguably built Western civilisation and the glory of Christendom, and transcended the Roman Empire in its influence. The problem at the heart of Nietzsche’s antisocial anger toward Christianity, whilst he recognized the nihilism of the West’s having ‘killed’ God, is his extreme voluntarism – extending this to a spirited, irrational will to power. But simply ignoring the classical virtues doesn’t make them any less intuitive, of utility etc. Nietzsche correctly predicted the increasingly open wilfulness to ignore the virtues, let alone natural law and any engagement with Divine Reason, so characteristic of modernism and postmodernism.

But how could this occur among the European civilisations, to the extent that, as Frank van Dun asserts, a competing, gnostic jurisprudence could outcompete that of Christendom? To briefly address the psychological motivations which ultimately produced this change, here is a quote from John Maxcy Zane on the tendency for modern states to expand:

Government may superficially appear to make law as Hobbes and Austin mistakenly supposed, but it is the acceptance of the rules by society that makes laws and government. … [Nevertheless,] this so-called power of legislation which is in fact the delegated representative power of acceptance, tends to become exclusive. History uniformly shows that a legislative body invariably tends to magnify its own importance, because personal responsibility in such a body can usually be avoided. The tendency is to insist that all changes in the law must be authorized by the legislative body.

In other words, the political elite are drawn to the exclusive power of legislation because they can wield it with impunity, and the masses happily relinquish the exercise of reason in socio-political matters due to the ‘tendency in most men to avoid responsibility’, as Zane aptly puts it.36 The Whiggish belief that modernism oversaw the democratisation of liberties is false; the modern liberal democracy is the result of a democratized irresponsibility.

In the clash between system and reality, reality must give way. The intellectual swindle is justified by referring to the demands of the historical future, which the gnostic thinker has speculatively projected in his system.37

Here, van Dun assumes the attractiveness of positivism and Nietzschean wilfulness over the acceptance of the responsibilities of reality, the limits of rationality and the requirements of faith. Voegelin essentially agreed that most ‘do not have the spiritual stamina for the heroic adventure of the soul that is Christianity’. This is, perhaps, self-evident, as the noble, heroic and virtuous aristocracy is, by definition, extraordinary. In any case, Voegelin also predicted the ‘likeliness of a fall from faith will increase when civilizational progress of education, literacy, and intellectual debate will bring the full seriousness of Christianity to the understanding of ever more individuals.’38

Voegelin describes this transition from the Middle Ages to modernism as a time when

great masses of Christianized men who were not strong enough for the heroic adventure of faith became susceptible to ideas that could give them a greater degree of certainty about the meaning of their existence than faith. The reality of being as it is known in its truth by Christianity is difficult to bear, and the flight from clearly seen reality to gnostic constructs will probably always be a phenomenon of wide extent in civilizations that Christianity has permeated.39

Carl Schmitt of course coined the terms regarding the state as a secularized theology, particularly in his 1922 book, Politische Theologie. For Schmitt, the immanence of some political system requires a person or group to work outside of the rule of law to define the Weltanschauung, namely religion or accepted beliefs. For this reason, Schmitt could be more optimistic than and even contra Voegelin about the role of Catholicism in the future of the West, and saw the requirement of metaphysics to make a political system in which certain concepts were publicly accepted without need of justification, as advantageous to the Church. Indeed, he viewed Catholicism as the ultimate political system.40 What the future holds for the West – whether some resurgence of Christendom, at least in part, or perhaps some sort of gnostic technocracy – is unsure and almost pure speculation. What is sure is the necessity for reflection on the current course of the West, the gnosticism directing it, and whether reorientation is possible and desirable.

Conclusion

The responsibilities acquired through free will and the mere assurances of Christian faith are less attractive to most than the self-affirmation of an immanent state, which posits right and wrong on one’s behalf and promises to fulfil one’s earthly appetites – ‘the imagination of the enlightened few (the intellectuals who know) and their power to impose … on the unenlightened many (the ordinary mortals who get by on belief)’ as van Dun puts it.41 In this article, we have shown this to certainly be the case and only added the hypothesis that the so-called unenlightened are wilfully so or have, rather, relinquished their free will and consequent recognition of lex rationis natural law.

So, abandonment of the assumption (in multiple senses of the word) of the free will of human persons in Western jurisprudence, essential to lex rationis, undergirds the supposed necessity of secularism and the positivist, modern state. What constitutes order in the human world has been radically altered by the currents of Western gnostic thought; the full extent of this transition from Christendom to gnostic modernism is realized in the acceptance of the latter’s doctrines by the majority of the Church.

Footnotes

1Gray, J. (2016) The Soul of the Marionette: A Short Enquiry into Human Freedom, Penguin Books, pp. 9 & 13.

2Voegelin, E. (1968) Science, Politics, and Gnosticism, Regnery Publishing Inc., p. 75.

3Ibid.

4Henry, M. (2005) ‘Civil Theology in the Gnostic Age: Progress and Regress’, Modern Age, 47: 1 – https://isistatic.org/journal-archive/ma/47_01/henry.pdf (10/07/2018).

5Versluis, having a personal fondness for esotericism, takes exception to the ‘rhetorical inversion’ presented by the claim that Calvinism was simultaneously opposed to mysticism and yet gnostic. Of course this is an equivocation on the professor’s part; Voegelin’s definition of gnosticism is little more than Stuckrad’s framework of Western gnosticism but with the recognition of political activism among those groups, which we have seen was certainly ongoing. What Voegelin means is that Calvinism bore the traits of gnosticism, and also developed the environment – political and cultural – in which such activism could gain traction and implement revolutionary movements in the West. Calvinism hadn’t gripped elites and the influential classes as it had the masses of Northern Europe ( Dickens, A. G., 1966; Reformation and Society in Sixteenth-Century Europe [London: Thames and Hudson], pp. 178–80); nevertheless, the gnostic elements in Calvinism comported politically with the esoteric views in vogue among those touched by secret societies. Versluis accepts that the phenomena identified by Voegelin are at work in modernity – ‘that much is true.’ Whilst Versluis refuses to recognize their origins in gnosticism, attempting to blame modernity on Christianity’s eschatological focus (Versluis, A., 2006; The New Inquisitions: Heretic-Hunting and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Totalitarianism [Oxford University Press], p. 72–4), this would seem unsophisticated even without evidence for the involvement of gnostic groups in the development of the modern state.

6Calvin, Institutes, IV:xiv, 26.

7Chadwick, H. (1967) The Early Church, Penguin, pp. 228–33.

8Voegelin, E. (1987 ed.) The New Science of Politics, Univeristy of Chicago Press, p. 139.

9Barzun, J. (2000) From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present, Harper Perennial, pp. 29–30.

10Martha Stout as quoted in Freeman, D. (2012) ‘Are Politicians Psychopaths?’, The Huffington Post – https://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-freeman/are-politicians-psychopaths_b_1818648.html (05/08/2018); and Sonne, J.W.H. & Gash, D.M. (2018) ‘Psychopathy to Altruism: Neurobiology of the Selfish-Selfless Spectrum’, Frontiers in Psychology, 9 – https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00575 (05/08/2018).

11Henry, M. (2005) ‘Civil Theology in the Gnostic Age: Progress and Regress’, Modern Age, 47: 1 – https://isistatic.org/journal-archive/ma/47_01/henry.pdf (10/07/2018).

12Many scholars have laid the blame for the modern, positivist conception of natural rights at the feet of the 16th–17th century Protestant jurist, Hugo Grotius. However, Grotius’ intention was not to replace natural law and the theistic, medieval foundations of lex rationis with natural rights and a positivistic jurisprudence when he said that natural law ‘would have a degree of validity even if we should concede … that there is no God’. Prof. Francis Oakley rightly corrects this misconception by identifying similar statements and ideas from the Middle Ages. The idea that the natural law was normative and emerged from man’s reason was not novel. Grotius was, rather, trying to ‘distance himself from the more voluntaristic approach with which he had appeared to sympathize in his earlier’ work, and affirm intellectualist ideas, e.g. that ‘[God] “cannot cause that two times two should not make four”’, nor to reverse good and evil. Oakley agrees that it was rather Hobbes and Locke who had ‘firmly enunciated’ the positivist position. See Oakley, F. (2005) Natural Law, Laws of Nature, Natural Rights: Continuity and Discontinuity in the History of Ideas, Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 64–67.

13Webb, E. (2005) ‘Voegelin’s “Gnosticism” Reconsidered’, Political Science Reviewer, 34: 1 – http://faculty.washington.edu/ewebb/EVgnost.pdf (10/07/2018).

14Excerpt (2010) from Voegelin, E. The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin https://voegelinview.com/hannah-arendt-and-the-constants-of-human-nature/ (15/07/2018).

15Eleff, Z. (2016) Modern Orthodox Judaism: A Documentary History, University of Nebraska Press, pp. 262–3.

16Oakley, F. (1961) ‘Medieval Theories of Natural Law: William of Ockham and the Significance of the Voluntarist Tradition’, Natural Law Forum, Paper 60., pp. 82–3.

17Reilly, R. R. (2014) The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis, Open Road Media, pp. 114–6.

18Ibid. pp. 115–116.

19Ross, J-J. (1992) ‘Divine Command Theory in Modern Jewish Thought’, Interpretation in Religion, BRILL, pp. 189–90 & 199.

20Maritain, J. (1994) The Person and the Common Good, University of Notre Dame Press, p. 3.

21Lamm, N. (2002) Seventy Faces: Articles of Faith, Volume 1, KTAV Publishing House Inc., p. 94.

22Jacobs, J. & Broydé, I. (n.d.) ‘Free Will’ – http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/6337-free-will (15/08/2018).

24Barzun, J. (2000) From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present, Harper Perennial, pp. 247–8.

25See MacDonald, K.B. (2002) A People That Shall Dwell Alone: Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy, with Diaspora Peoples, iUniverse.

26Pink, T. (2018) ‘Agents, objects, and their powers in Suarez and Hobbes’, Philosophical Explorations, 21:1, 3–24, DOI: 10.1080/13869795.2017.1421688.

27Barzun, J. (2000) From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present, Harper Perennial, p. 267.

28Gordon, D. (2007) The Essential Rothbard, The Ludwig von Mises Institute, pp. 120–121.

29West, J. G. (2002) Celebrating Middle-earth: The Lord of the Rings as a Defense of Western Civilization, Inkling Books, pp.17, 19 & 23.

30See here for one of the first uses of this term; an article titled, ‘Medieval Libertarianism’ by the blogger, bionic mosquito: http://bionicmosquito.blogspot.com/2018/07/medieval-libertarianism.html (02/08/2018).

31Van Dun, Frank. ‘Natural Law and the Jurisprudence of Freedom.’ Journal of Libertarian Studies 18, No. 2 (2004): 31–54; see also my article titled ‘The “Reactionary” Libertarianism of Frank van Dun’ – https://misesuk.org/2017/08/31/the-reactionary-libertarianism-of-frank-van-dun/ (11/08/2018).

32Henry, M. ‘Civil Theology in the Gnostic Age: Progress and Regress’ – https://isistatic.org/journal-archive/ma/47_01/henry.pdf (10/07/2018).

33Storey, R. (2017) ‘The Uniqueness of Western Law’ – https://misesuk.org/2017/12/08/the-uniqueness-of-western-law/ (01/07/2018).

34Van Dun, F. (2004) ‘The Science of Law and Legal Studies: Concepts, Methods and Values’ – http://users.ugent.be/~frvandun/Texts/Articles/ScienceOfLaw.pdf (10/07/2018).

35See Nietzsche’s The Antichrist.

36Zane, J. M. (1998 ed.) The Story of Law, Liberty Fund Inc., pp. 174–5.

37Voegelin, E. (1968) Science, Politics, and Gnosticism, Regnery Publishing Inc., p. 32.

38Voegelin, E. (1987 ed.) The New Science of Politics, Univeristy of Chicago Press, p. 123.

39Voegelin, E. (1968) Science, Politics, and Gnosticism, Regnery Publishing Inc., p. 109.

40See Schmitt, C. (1923) Roman Catholicism and Political Form.

41Van 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).

This Post Has 6 Comments
  1. Remarkable on many levels. I congratulate the author and look forward to reading his larger work. Thanks for the excellent analysis of the Arendt-Voegelin debate in particular.

  2. This was superb. I will be buying your book and will be following up on the treasure trove of new leads and insights you have opened for me here. I don’t even know how I can begin to explain this to people around me— enlightening and extremely alienating at the same time.

    1. That’s very kind of you. Re feeling alienated, imagine how I feel! It is difficult to find conversations so deep and those where I can find the right (most concise) words are even rarer.

  3. The whole “the Calvinists did it” routine just comes off as a poor apology for Catholicism. Calvinists or not, we have seen gnostic and gnostic-like movements appear within Christian societies since late antiquity. We can condemn these heresies all we want, but must also acknowledge that they seem to be an inherent feature when Christianity is adopted, a part of the package deal. “It wasn’t real Christianity” doesn’t hold up as an argument. Gnosticism is a part of the “actually existing Christianity” – possibly as a consequence of people adopting a linear view of history and a radical dualism via the creatio ex nihilo theology.

    1. Far from blaming Calvinists for everything, I have clearly identified them as part of a broader movement; see how I devote much more ink to Judaism and even there I do not blame all Jews or all of Judaism for that broader movement. As for declaring gnosticism as ‘inherent’ to Christianity, I have also clearly distinguished gnosticism as being the opposite psychology to traditional Christianity; if you want to provide a counter-argument, I am of course open to one.

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