Monday, March 01, 2010

For readers still wondering what Gnosticism is

"Gnostic" is a word often used at this blog, and one that readers have sometimes mentioned is unfamiliar to them. So, as part of our quest to make the problem of Gnosticism part of mainstream political discussion, I'll point to another excellent piece by Thomas Bertonneau at the Brussels Journal, part of his ongoing illumination of Gnosticism.
Smearing the Sweden Democrats | The Brussels Journal
Among the symptoms of Gnostic dementia, Voegelin remarked pathological alienation from the world, as it is given to us; he also remarked that this alienation easily tips over into outright destructive hatred. The Gnostic sees reality as tyrannical and intolerable because God or some power has brought reality about, endowing it with the character that it possesses, without consulting the Gnostic. The Gnostic is someone – he might even be atheist, as most self-identifying modern people and most Left-liberals are – who in effect resents the fact that he is not God and who wishes to become or to replace God, or whatever the power is that has led to the present constitution of reality. In nominating himself as the replacement-deity, the Gnostic strives to demonstrate his god-equivalence by remaking or transforming existence. He wishes to be absolutely sovereign and will tolerate no competitor or rival. Destroying longstanding traditions and replacing them by synthetic abstractions belong to this project, as the histories of the ideological dictatorships will reveal.

Moving large populations around also belongs to this project. The Soviets forcibly removed whole populations of Balts, for example, to Western Siberia while settling Russians and Ukrainians in large numbers in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The Chinese Communists have done the same thing in Tibet. Before their defeat, the National Socialists wanted to empty whole regions of Russia and Ukraine as Lebensraum for German colonization.

The Sweden Democrats have noticed that the blandly named multiculturalist enterprise of importing large nuclei of inassimilable foreigners to small nation states conforms to this savage dictatorial pattern, which one might think had disappeared with the dictatorships, but which has not. It is the clarity of vision of the Sweden Democrats that outrages their enemies, who desperately want to conceal their own actual motives. Thus Böhm classifies the Sweden Democrats with “orthodox people who believe that everything can be reduced to right and wrong”; Böhm proclaims that such people “cannot be allowed to dominate a society.” But the Sweden Democrats show no sign of wanting “to dominate” Swedish society. In their own words, they want Swedish society to be democratically self-determining and sovereign; their opposition to appellate-proof diktats issued by unelected bureaucrats thus runs in perfect consistency with, and is logically prior to, their objection to destructive immigration-projects inflicted on a small nation of nine million people.

A good part of the contemporary immigration problem in Sweden stems from the presence in the country of hyper-orthodox foreigners of fanatical conviction who take from the welfare state while acting aggressively and even criminally against Swedes and Swedish custom. They resist assimilation and demand concessions from the larger community. This is not “complexity”; it is barbarity, for which no justification exists. Indeed, in those cases where large colonies of Europeans once settled themselves in Africa and Asia and acted to alter local custom, Left-liberals are quick to denounce the evils of colonialism. To see the truth of the situation, as the Sweden Democrats do, is to see something that is actually simple and easy to understand. That is why Presbyters of Correctness, like Böhm, reflexively pervert ordinary language. They attack normative definitions and obscure the genuinely simple under the falsely complex to hide their motives and calumniate their critics – for example, by calling them insane. The Sweden Democrats are morally right to oppose the elites.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting. As a word for popular usage, gnosticism is still vague, as are most concepts that start from ‘alienation.’ I used to see more of it when I had to plough through Marxist writers. Instead of being alienated from labour, Voegelin wants to get into alienation from the world and God. What does this give us? How would we ever know if somebody has made themselves a replacement deity? I understand those who want to be without competition and rivals. This we can actually observe. But either totalitarian or absolutist have always been ok words for this group.

What I found the most relevant description of Gnosticism was lost in your clipping. Here is Bertonneau: “I have referred earlier to Left-liberal comportment as “Gnostic,” using the term as the philosopher Eric Voegelin did to describe the self-sanctifying, auto-apotheotic character of modern radical politics. Voegelin saw liberalism, socialism, National Socialism, Bolshevism, and Maoism as secular religions. To this list one could add, from recent experience, feminism, environmentalism, and multiculturalism.” Nazis, Bolsheviks, liberals, socialists. That’s quite the coverage. The term is so broad as to lose any hope of being meaningful. As long as you’re a contemporary conservative, virtually all of your enemies are Gnostics.

So what holds this together? Alienation and replacement from God? With a division like right-left I can at least put my finger on the attitudinal and behavioural differences between the two sides. We can do polling and find stable patterns of beliefs that shape things like voting, political donations, protest attendance, and stuff like that. With Gnosticism I wouldn’t even know where to start. Maoists, liberals, and Nazis don’t have many points of commonality, certainly not any that approach modern relevance.

Just take immigration. I’m not being unfair to Bertonneau here as it is the main policy issue he discusses. Well, the Nazis didn’t like foreigners and tended to promote emigration. They ended up murdering outsider groups. Contemporary liberals tend to self-consciously battle in the favour immigrants and ‘out-groups’. In the past socialists have come down for and against (see: White Australia). I don’t know Stalin or Mao’s policies (the walls suggest nobody really wanted in), but North Korea, one of the few surviving commie regimes, is obsessed with the ethnic purity of its people and hates the idea of contamination. The Gnostic tent, in other words, is so big it covers pretty much every policy option and attitude you can think of on the topic.

As I’ve said before, I should probably read Voegelin. Just doesn’t strike me as my cup of tea.


truepeers said...


it's late so you are going to have to wait on a more serious answer. I'll just say for now that I think the essential choice Voegelin says we face is whether or not we can accept the almost complete transcendence of worldly concerns implicit in the Judeo-CHristian concept of God, and His refusal - in covenanting with us in recognition of our freedom - to provide us with any guarantees about the end of history. Or whether we cannot but seek to believe in a more imminent working of the "divine" in history, such that we become believers in some necessary end of history, be this understood in the terms of the Nazi, Bolshevik, Maoist, equalitarian liberal, etc. Voegelin argued that the essential difference between liberalism and the more obviously totalitarian religions was simply that liberalism was in much less of a hurry to reveal its totalitarian implications. But if you are a believer today in the reality of what the Pope calls "the dictatorship of relativism", you may see that liberalism is getting to a similar place and that one form of totalitarianism isn't really that much different from another, that the early Soviet embrace of internationalism did not make the experience of Soviet totalitarianism radically different from the Nazis' much more frankly nationalist agenda. Both were similar denials of the real alternative - free market society without any guarantees about the end of history.

Anyway, you have made a point that many readers of Voegelin have made before you - i.e. that he uses the term "Gnosticism" so widely that it loses all usefulness. And yet, considering this, I still find it useful. It seems to me that whatever his work's challenge to one's desires for ways of distinguishing ideologies, there really is a common religious aspect behind so many modern political movements. Or, to turn this around, the kind of religion that orthodox Jews and CHristians propose - their eternal waiting for God, their endless patience/faith in a divinity who really offers us few signs in which to put our trust, is something so demanding that there is endless existential rebellion against it. And that rebellion is a way of understanding what much of modern political religion is about.