For good or ill, Eric Voegelin is probably best known, especiallyamong many who have not actually read him, for his denunciationsof something called "gnosticism.""1 Even some who have readhim but remain skeptical about the value of his thought associate himwith a virtually monomaniacal anti-gnostic polemic. Thomas J. J.Altizer, for example, said (with an exaggeration that illustrates mypoint) that ""Professor Voegelin finds everything to be Gnostic.""2
On various occasions I have suggested that it is time to rethinkwhat it was Voegelin meant by this term and perhaps to find otherlanguage for it that would be less polemical, more precise, and morein line with current historical scholarship. I would like to take thisoccasion to explain in more detail why I think the term ""gnosticism""has become inappropriate for the analysis of the phenomena Voegelinwas trying to elucidate. To do so, I will take up the problems of theterm or analytic category itself, considered in the light of developmentsin historical scholarship that have taken place since the dayswhen Voegelin began to use it, and I will also discuss what in his ownthought Voegelin was trying to use this analytic category to illuminate.This will lead in turn to a consideration of the word's ambiguityand occasional tendentiousness in Voegelin's use, its tenuousness asa historical explanation of later movements, and the ways in whichthe use of a single term tended to obscure the variety of problemsVoegelin was trying to address.
Of course I am not alone in raising some of these questions.Stephen A. McKnight has probably done more than any otherscholar to show that the pattern of thought and symbolism known ashermeticism, which Voegelin and many others once lumped togetherwith other phenomena under the single heading of gnosticism,is actually very different from what that word has usually beenused to mean.3 Michael Franz, in his Eric Voegelin and the Politicsof Spiritual Revolt: The Roots of Modern Ideology has writtenextensively on the some of the problems Voegelin used the idea of""gnosticism"" to analyze and has suggested the term""pneumopathological consciousness"" to replace it.4 This is probablya pretty good term for the meaning Franz focuses on, but I will beless concerned with finding new terms than with clarifying thevariety of issues that make it clear that new language is called for.
I think there is good reason to believe that if Voegelin were stillalive and carrying on his research today, he would himself be activelylooking for new ways to talk about the issues at the intersection ofspirituality, politics, and the culture of modernity he once used theterm ""gnosticism"" to refer to. For one thing, he said at a conferenceon ""Gnosticism and Modernity"" at Vanderbilt University in 1978that he would probably not use that term if he were starting overagain because, besides what then went by that name, the ideas hewas interested in using it to address included many other strands,such as apocalypticism, alchemy, magic, theurgy, and scientism.5And for another, in his conversations with me when I was workingon my book on him in the late 1970s, he often spoke of the greatadvances being made in historical scholarship and the importance ofintegrating them into his work. He spoke disdainfully of much of thecurrent intellectual scene of that time, but for the work of historicalscholarship he had great respect. In particular, I remember howwhen I urged him to publish more of the voluminous manuscript onthe history of political thought which he had abandoned when heshifted his focus, in Order and History, to the history of experienceand its symbolizations, he protested that to publish any part of it hewould have to study the historical research that had since been doneon the subject and bring his discussion up to date.
If anything, the state of historical scholarship since the 1970s onthe ancient phenomena known collectively as gnosticism has probablyprogressed farther and changed more radically than it hasregarding any of the topics and periods Voegelin took up in theearlier manuscript. He was aware in 1978 that much was happeningin that area of scholarship, but I think even then he had no idea howradically the picture was going to change in the next few decades.According to Geoffrey L. Price, in April of 1962 when Voegelin wasinvited by the Senate and Academic Council of the University ofLondon to give the lecture, ""Ancient Gnosis and Modern Politics,""he wrote them, ""The finding of the Gnostic Library in 1945 has madeit possible to formulate theoretically the problem of Gnosis withresult of [sic] interesting parallels in modern political theory sinceHobbes.""6 Evidently he thought the discovery of actual ""Gnostic""texts would confirm and augment what he had been using the termto say. But in fact in 1962 hardly any of that material had yet beenedited and translated, and the bulk of it was not generally availableuntil 1977 with the publication of The Nag Hammadi Library inEnglish,7 so Voegelin himself had probably seen little of the actualtexts except the Gospel According to Thomas, which had beenpublished, with a great deal of publicity, in 19598 but which had littlebearing on any of the topics Voegelin had been concerned with in hisown use of the term.9
Voegelin's understanding of ancient Gnosticism was basedmainly on his reading of volume I of Hans Jonas's Gnosis undSpätantiker Geist, published in 1934,10 which was largely reproducedin Jonas's later The Gnostic Religion (1958), though in hisNew Science of Politics Voegelin also refers to works by Eugène deFaye (1925), Simone Pétrement (1947), and Hans Söderberg (1949),with the comment, ""The exploration of gnosis is so rapidly advancingthat only a study of the principal works of the last generation willmediate an understanding of its dimensions.""11
Well, the picture has changed enormously since the generationVoegelin was referring to in those lectures of 1951, and it haschanged even more since the Gnosticism and Modernity conferencein 1978 and Voegelin's own death in 1985. Let me try tosketch some of these changes, beginning with a brief account ofJonas's conception of Gnosticism and then the new picture—if itcan even really be called that, since what has happened primarilyis more the breakdown of the old picture of something that wascalled Gnosticism than the development of a unified new one.
Describing in 1957 his motivation in writing Gnosis undSpätantiker Geist, Jonas said that the generation investigatingGnosticism before him had bequeathed a ""wealth of historicaldetail"" but at the cost of an ""atomization of the subject into motifsfrom separate traditions.""12 He felt himself, however, that beneathall the fragments he could discern an essence: ""That there was sucha gnostic spirit, and therefore an essence of Gnosticism as a whole,was the impression which struck me at my initial encounter with theevidence, and it deepened with increasing intimacy. To explore andinterpret that essence became a matter, not only of historicalinterest, as it substantially adds to our understanding of a crucialperiod of Western mankind, but also of intrinsic philosophicalinterest, as it brings us face to face with one of the more radicalanswers of man to his predicament and with the insights which onlythat radical position could bring forth, and thereby adds to ourhuman understanding in general."" In that earlier work (though notin The Gnostic Religion) Jonas also tried to extract from that essence""a metamorphized ‘gnostic principle'"" which he applied to ananalysis of later thinkers such as Origen and Plotinus—offering amodel for Voegelin's later effort to do the same with respect tomodern movements such as Fascism and Communism and what heconsidered their medieval and early modern antecedents, such asthe utopian movements stemming from Giaccomo da Fiore and theradical wing of the Reformation.13
What was the essence of Gnosticism that Jonas thought hediscerned? Gnosticism, he said, was born in the aftermath ofAlexander the Great's opening up of the eastern and western worldsto exchange of symbols and worldviews. Out of this came a syncretisminto which were drawn traditional dualism, astrological fatalism,and traditional monotheism ""yet with such a peculiarly newtwist to them that in the present setting they subserved the representationof a novel spiritual principle""—i.e., the ""gnostic principle.""14At the core of this is a complex radical dualism:
The cardinal feature of gnostic thought is the radical dualism thatgoverns the relation of God and world, and correspondingly thatof man and world. The deity is absolutely transmundane, itsnature alien to that of the universe, which it neither created norgoverns and to which it is the complete antithesis: to the divinerealm of light, self-contained and remote, the cosmos is opposedas the realm of darkness. The world is the work of lowly powerswhich though they may mediately be descended from Him do notknow the true God and obstruct the knowledge of Him in thecosmos over which they rule.""15
These ""lowly powers"" are the Archons (or, if there is only one,the Demiurge); they ""collectively rule over the world, and eachindividually in his sphere is a warder of the cosmic prison,"" trying tokeep humans from winning freedom to return to their true lifebeyond the cosmos: ""Their tyrannical world-rule is calledheimarmenei, universal Fate, a concept taken over from astrologybut now tinged with the gnostic anti-cosmic spirit.""16
These ideas are coupled in Gnosticism, for Jonas, with the ideathat salvation is to be attained through some form of special revelatoryknowledge, gnosis. This is not knowledge in the rational sense,but has to do with matters that are inherently existential and inprinciple unknowable to rational inquiry. ""The ultimate ‘object' ofgnosis is God,"" says Jonas, and ""its event in the soul transforms theknower himself by making him a partaker in the divine existence....""17 Gnosis has the power to liberate the pneuma within thehuman individual, a divine element distinct from the human bodyand soul, which have been created by the Archons in order to keepthe pneuma imprisoned in the cosmos. The moral law, in Jonas'sconstruction of Gnosticism, is just one more product of the Archonsdesigned to keep humans in ignorance and thereby hold themcaptive. There have been both ascetic and libertine versions ofGnosticism, says Jonas, but the libertine is the form in which theessence of Gnosticism is more clearly expressed, because it ""exhibitsmore forcefully than the ascetic version the nihilistic elementcontained in gnostic acosmism.""18
Here we get to the bottom line of Jonas's account of ""Gnosticism"":it is an anti-cosmic nihilism that despairs of the possibility thatlife in this world could be good under any circumstances.19 It is,therefore, a movement of spiritual revolt against the conditions ofreality under which human beings necessarily live. That is the""essence of Gnosticism"" that Jonas intuited and looked for evidenceof in the fragmentary materials assembled by the historians andphilologists of the early twentieth century. He recognized himselfhow large was the role of intuition in his methodology, but defendedit: ""...this system has to be elicited as such from the mass of disparatematerials, which yield it only under proper questioning, that is, to aninterpretation already guided by an anticipatory knowledge of theunderlying unity. A certain circularity in the proof thus obtainedcannot be denied, nor can the subjective element involved in theintuitive anticipation of the goal toward which the interpretation isto move.""20 Jonas trusted the guess with which he started, and he wasrewarded by the widespread acceptance won by his very vividportrait of a purported ancient religion. (I remember being told inthe mid-1980s by one prominent figure in the field of religiousstudies that Jonas's was still his favorite Gnosticism despite whatmore recent scholars had uncovered in the confusing mix of materialunearthed at Nag Hammadi.)
But as I said, Voegelin believed in scholarship, and if he werehere now I am confident he would want to be open to even a radicalrevision both of Jonas's Gnosticism and his own. Of course thechange in our current knowledge of the ancient movements thathave gone by the name of Gnosticism would not in itself necessarilyinvalidate the analytic category Voegelin constructed on the basis ofan earlier generation's ideas of them, since the purpose of Voegelin'scategory was not primarily to describe ancient phenomena but tohelp us understand some modern ones for which the evidence is agreat deal clearer. Even so, I think the category is of limitedusefulness for the purpose to which he put it, as I will explain, and thefact that the idea of gnosticism as such has become so problematic andcomplex in recent years must at the very least undercut Voegelin'seffort to trace a historical line of descent from ancient sources to themodern phenomena he tried to use them to illuminate.
How has the idea of gnosticism become problematic now? Tobegin with, we have to recognize something that Voegelin himselfwould have recognized as a major issue: that the whole idea of therebeing a Gnosticism, conceived as a movement with some kind ofcoherent core of beliefs is a modern construction. I rememberhearing Voegelin say once at a lecture in 1976, when someone in theaudience asked if he were an existentialist, ""I am not an -ismist.""21 Hewent on to explain that the various models of thought known bynames ending in ""-ism"" are mostly products of the eighteenthcentury, when there was a fashion for interpreting all sorts ofpatterns of thought or spirituality as though they were ""philosophies,""in the Enlightenment conception of what that meant. Well,Gnosticism was itself exactly such a modern construction. As MichaelWilliams points out in his important Rethinking ""Gnosticism"": AnArgument for Dismantling a Dubious Category, ""The term ‘gnosticism'seems to have originated in the eighteenth century. On theother hand, the words ‘gnosis' and ‘gnostic' are Greek terms that areactually found in some of the ancient sources.... However, whenused for the modern category ‘Gnosticism,' ‘Gnosis,' or ‘the Gnosticreligion,' none of these terms has an ancient equivalent. Antiquityquite literally had no word for the persons who are the subject of thepresent study—that is, no single word. The category is a modernconstruction.""22 Similarly, another prominent contemporary scholarin this field, Kurt Rudolph, has called the word ""gnosticism"" ""amodern, deprecatory expression, a theologizing neologism.""23
A further problem is that it is difficult to find evidence of anyonefitting the designation as commonly used actually using the word todescribe himself. Says Williams, ""... we apparently do not have directevidence of a single so-called gnostic writer using the self-designationgnostikos!""24 Until the Nag Hammadi discovery in 1945 what weknew about people called ""gnostics"" was from Christian heresiologists.It was generally assumed that there were people who used that namewith regard to themselves, even if there were no actual examples, butthe discovery of the Nag Hammadi documents makes it seem lesslikely than ever. Now we have actual texts of a type that we had onlyheard about before at second hand, and though these exhibit manyof the characteristic ideas traditionally associated with what has beencalled gnosticism on the basis of the denunciations of theheresiologists, these texts too offer not even a single instance of theword ""gnostic"" used as a self-designation. According to Williams,""Numerous other self-designations do appear in these writings,including Christians, pneumatics, seed, elect, race of Seth, race ofthe Perfect Human, immovable race...but not gnostikos.""25 Oddlyenough, the only really well attested use of the term as a selfdesignationis found in the writings of Clement of Alexandria, whowrote about the ideal Christian gnostikos, by which he seems to havemeant something like what today we might call a ""Christian intellectual,""not what we would now call a ""gnostic.""
This introduces another problem: it is only by being selectiveabout examples (such as leaving out Clement) that one was able, inthe manner of Jonas, to put together a picture of a clear cut patternof thinking represented by all the examples in the selection. In otherwords, the term seems to have been broad and vague even in the useof Christian heresiologists. The most influential of these has beenIrenaeus of Lyons, who composed his five-volume ""Exposure andRefutation of Knowledge [gnosis] Falsely So Called"" around 180AD. Irenaeus's work may have been partially based on an earlier oneby Justin Martyr in the mid-second century, but no copies of thishave survived, and subsequent Christian heresiologists took Irenaeus'scatalogue as their starting point and even copied some of hisdescriptions. The principal heresiologists after Irenaeus wereHippolytus of Rome in the early third century and Epiphanius ofSalamis in the late fourth century, but neither of these used the term""gnostic"" as broadly as did Irenaeus and did not categorize asgnostics many of the figures or groups that Irenaeus had designatedby that word. Another heresiologist, Pseudo-Tertullian (perhapsmid-third century) does not use the term ""gnostic"" at all. Themodern use, on the other hand, generally encompasses under""gnostics"" almost all of those so categorized by Irenaeus: theValentinians (Valentinus, Ptolemy, Secundus, and Marcus), Simonof Samaria, Menander, Satornil, Basilides, Carpocrates, Marcellina,Cerinthus, the Nicolaitans, Cerdo, Barbelo-Gnostics, Ophites, andCainites. The exceptions, included by Irenaeus but left out of mostmodern lists, are the Ebionites, Marcion, and the Encratites,including Tatian, although Jonas does count Marcion as a gnostic onthe basis of the distinction he made between the God revealed in theNew Testament and that represented in the Old.26 Jonas, veryinfluentially, interpreted Irenaeus, on the basis of his title, asintending to categorize as ""gnostic"" every heretic he even mentionedin his work. Williams, on the other hand, points out the fallacy in this:
Although Irenaeus's catalog has served as the ultimate inspirationfor the modern construction of ""gnosticism"" as a category, it wasnot itself really constructed for the purpose of grouping togetherexamples of religious thought and practice on the basis of phenomenologicalsimilarity. Rather what all the items on Irenaeus'slist share in common is deficiency (in his judgment) with respectto Truth. 27
Williams goes on to offer a methodological critique that, althoughhe is not aiming directly at Jonas, describes perfectly howJonas came up with the essence he intuited:
This is not to deny that there are phenomenological similaritiesamong some of the data cataloged by Irenaeus. It is only toemphasize how little we should depend on his catalog itself to dothe grouping for us. That is, our methodological approach shouldnot be to attempt to determine what ""gnosticism is"" by beginningwith Irenaeus's catalog, or a large portion of it, and fromthis abstracting ""gnosticism""'s characteristic features. ForIrenaeus is not really trying to show us what ""gnosticism"" is, butwhat heresy is.
Williams's bottom line is that as Irenaeus used the term ""gnostic,"" itseems to have been mainly a catch-all term for heresy in general.
But what about the word's utility as a term for patterns of thoughtthat might have enough phenomenological similarity to be worthfinding some common term for? Can enough of that similarity befound among the usual suspects? Unfortunately, as Williams goes onto show in the remainder of his book, that is not the case—or at leastwhat can be found in common among these figures is not somethingthat accords very closely with the set of characteristics Jonas intuitedand so many later users of the term have accepted from him: a spiritof anti-cosmic revolt stemming from radical dualism and fatalismwith respect to the tyrannical world-rule of Archons or Demiurges.Looking more closely at the texts from Nag Hammadi that show howsome of the groups Irenaeus talked about, and others commonlyclassified as gnostic, really thought, Williams points out that there isactually a lot of diversity among Demiurges and dualisms—morethan there is any point in trying to detail here.
Let me simply summarize Williams's findings briefly. Sometexts trace a dualism back to the roots of all being, before Demiurges.Some describe Demiurges who are evil from the start and produceall later evil, although no information is given about whether or notthey themselves derive from evil principles. Some talk aboutDemiurges who fell away from an original monistic perfection orwho began as good but later revolted. Some demiurgic myths are notanti-cosmic but treat the cosmos as having a proper place in thegreater scheme. In some, the devolution of the Demiurges is part ofa providential divine plan aimed at an ultimate good. Some talkabout Demiurges who are not evil but good, or who grow intogoodness. Some express hostility to the body, while others talk aboutthe perfection of the human and speak favorably of the body. Someurge asceticism, and some are not ascetic, though Williams saysthere is no solid evidence for the libertinism Irenaeus attributed tosome Gnostic groups. Although some texts do speak of someindividuals as members of a spiritual race (""pneumatics""), there is nosolid evidence that their authors really thought in terms of adeterministic elitism in which the pneumatics were predestined forsalvation without the need for any striving and achievement; in fact,some even talk as though the potential to belong to the spiritual raceis universal and open to development in everyone.
Williams's own conclusion regarding what these patterns ofthought have in common is simply that they all tend to draw onBiblical imagery in some manner and that they all involve the ideathat between what is really ultimate and us in our ordinary experiencethere is some higher but not ultimate level of beings who haveplayed some role in shaping the cosmos—hence his suggestion thatthe term ""gnostic"" would be better dropped in favor of ""Biblicaldemiurgical.""28 But this would not, for Williams, be a more precisedefinition of what was previously called gnosticism; it would be awhole new category:
Biblical demiurgical myth would not be just another name for""gnosticism"" because the intent of the new category would beprecisely to cut free from baggage surrounding the old one. Whileit would be grouping most of the same myths together for studyand comparison, it would not make the series of mistakes I havetried to argue in this study have been made with the category""gnosticism."" The definition of the category ""biblical demiurgical""says nothing in itself about ""anticosmism,"" and assumes nothing,and therefore it allows for the range of attitudes about the cosmosand its creator(s) that are actually attested in the works. 29
So at the very least, the word ""gnosticism"" as used in the largerscholarly world has become highly problematic with regard to bothits meaning and its usefulness as a description of the phenomenoncalled by that name in the history of religions—all of which lendssupport to Michael Franz's suggestion that ""one can do much morein the way of corroborating Voegelin's basic thesis if the analysis isconducted at the level of patterns in consciousness than at the levelof specific traditions and movements in history.""30
Another problem with the word ""gnosticism"" should also beclear by now: all the evidence we have suggests the term has beendeprecatory and inherently polemical from its earliest use. As notedabove, for Irenaeus, the source of most later use of the term, it seemsto have been virtually equivalent to ""heretical"" or simply ""false.""Voegelin's own use of the words ""gnostic"" and ""gnosticism"" was alsopolemical, and I have suggested on earlier occasions that those whowish to carry forward the valuable heritage of thought Voegelin hasleft us might do well to consider seriously the question of how muchthe polemical style that was an accident of Voegelin's particular anti-Nazi and Cold War milieu still remains really useful.31 As I said at theinternational conference convened in Summer 1994 by the VoegelinCentre of the University of Manchester, ""If Voegelin is going tospeak to the post-1989 world, which is torn less by universalistideologies than by ethnic, religious, and nationalist particularisms,it will not be through his opposition to ideologies that have alreadylost most of their force but through his contributions to a positiveconception of human universality.""32
To explore what bearing Voegelin's critique of what he called""gnosticism"" may have on the fundamental issues of human universality,I would like to turn now to the variety of ways he talked aboutgnosticism in his writings over the years, sometimes with a politicalemphasis, sometimes with a philosophical one. It was when his focuswas on the political that Voegelin tended to be most polemical—understandably, since some of the political phenomena that arousedhim (Nazism and Soviet communism, in both their domestic andtheir imperial modes) really did deserve strong opposition, and thefact that they were abetted in European and American societies bypeople who refused to recognize their combination of folly andbarbarism was all the more exacerbating to him. But underlying therhetoric of political polemic there was always a serious philosophicalfoundation, which was an expression of profound existential andspiritual reflections. It is these reflections and that foundation thatare the heart of Voegelin's thought, and it is because I hope they willnot be lost in a general dismissal of his thought as outdated or""conservative"" 33 that I raise the question of whether the language ofa critique of ""gnosticism"" is really the most appropriate and effectivefor communicating what is really important in what Voegelin wastrying to say.
Just to consider briefly Voegelin's use of the idea of ""gnosticism""in his more political writings, we might consider first the way hedevelops it in what are probably the two most polemical of his books,The New Science of Politics and Science, Politics, and Gnosticism.In the latter he gives us a summary of what he says are the sixcharacteristic features of gnosticism. These stated very concisely are:
- dissatisfaction with one's situation;
- belief that the reason the situation is unsatisfactory is that theworld is intrinsically poorly organized;
- salvation from the evil of the world is possible
- if the order of being is changed,
- and this is possible in history
- if one knows how. (Gnosis is the knowledge about how.)34
Reading along through the six, they seem to flow logicallyenough that some readers may not have noticed how they elide fromwhat in Voegelin's own day was a standard, recognizable descriptionof something quite different. The first three characteristics are inline with Jonas's idea of the essence of ancient Gnosticism. Thefourth begins to introduce an idea from Voegelin's own system ofthought, and the fifth and sixth depart from the standard use entirelyin their emphasis on salvation within history through changes one isable to bring about in the world, whereas Jonas's gnostics despairedof the world and its history and looked for salvation elsewhere. Thiswould be less of a problem if Voegelin were simply trying to extendthe meaning he found in Jonas, but by placing his emphasis onintramundane salvation through human action and reinterpretinggnosis as knowledge of how to perform that action he does not justextend it, but transforms it.
Then a few pages later, Voegelin puts the seal on this transformationby saying, ""All gnostic movements are involved in the projectof abolishing the constitution of being, with its origin in divine,transcendent being, and replacing it with a world-immanent orderof being, the perfection of which lies in the realm of human action.""35He does not say ""all modern"" or ""all immanentist"" gnostic movements,but simply ""all gnostic movements."" Nor does he intend itonly to refer to modern movements, since where he says this he hasjust been talking about the twelfth century Christian figure, Joachimof Fiore, whom he also describes in The New Science of Politics asa ""Gnostic prophet.""36
There has already been a certain amount of controversy overwhether Voegelin can legitimately trace a line of descent fromancient gnosticism through Joachim and his symbolism of the ThirdKingdom of the Spirit to Thomas Münzer in the radical Reformationand thence to Karl Marx. In The New Science Voegelin asserts directcontinuity between Joachim and ancient gnostics, but he offers noevidence: ""The economy of this lecture does not allow a descriptionto the gnosis of antiquity or of the history of its transmission into theWestern Middle Ages; enough to say that at the time gnosis was aliving religious culture on which men could fall back.""37 In reality, hehad no concrete evidence to offer, although I am sure he thoughtthere must be some (just as he expected the Nag Hammadi documentswould justify his use of the word). I think that Voegelin is rightthat the Third Kingdom symbolism deriving from Joachim has beenenormously influential on the medieval and modern imagination,38but my point here is only that Voegelin begins with a definition ofgnosticism that seems to be grounded historically in the ancientfigures condemned as heretics by Irenaeus and taken as expressionsof an essence by Jonas, and then he elides from that to laterphenomena with a meaning that reverses what for Jonas and manyothers had been the key element in the mix: the rejection of thisworld in favor of something radically transcendent.
Voegelin departed still further from the standard model ofthinking about gnosticism when he expanded his conception of it toinclude intellectual, emotional, and volitional varieties. These consistof ""speculative penetrations of the mystery of creation andexistence"" (the intellectual variety), enthusiasm (the emotionalvariety), and ""activist redemption of man and society, as in theinstance of revolutionary activists like Comte, Marx, or Hitler"" (thevolitional variety).39 It was the enormous breadth of this expansionthat made it possible for him to make such a statement as, ""By gnosticmovements we mean such movements as progressivism, positivism,Marxism, psychoanalysis, communism, fascism, and national socialism.""40 One can see where Altizer got his caricature of Voegelin assomeone ""who finds everything to be gnostic."" A term this broad,this dubious (with regard to actual historical continuity), and thispolemical is hardly well suited to the more serious philosophicalissues and universal human challenges he also tried to use it toaddress.
What were those? Let us start with a consideration of what hethought were the basic issues involved in the birth of the ancientmovement. He said in The Ecumenic Age that the genetic context ofancient gnosticism was ""the interaction between expansion of empireand differentiation of consciousness.""41 The expansion of empiregave rise to dissatisfaction with the present situation (the firstcharacteristic in his list of six that we saw above), but that dissatisfactiontook a special form due to the fact that some people were alreadyexperiencing and trying to understand what Voegelin calls a ""differentiationof consciousness,"" one of the major themes of his thought.There are two distinct thrusts in Voegelin's thought within the ideaof differentiation of consciousness—what he called noetic (intellectualor rational) differentiation and pneumatic (spiritual).
The noetic differentiation was essentially the self-discovery andappropriation of the reasoning mind that took place among theclassic philosophers, the realization that at least part of what weknow, we know by engaging in the methodical procedures ofinquiry, with attention to processes of interpretation and criticalreflection. But there was also something else that could be known ina different way, and this was where spiritual experience, the pneumaticdifferentiation, and cognitio fidei (the knowledge that takesplace by faith)42 came in. Voegelin also sometimes called this""existential consciousness"" or ""eschatological consciousness."" Thekey element in both the noetic and pneumatic differentiations wasthe realization of a difference, within our concrete, personal experienceof existence, between an immanent pole (which we call ""man""or ""ourselves"") and a radically transcendent pole, which can go byvarious names such as ""the Beyond"" or ""God"" or ""Being."" Thehuman experience of existence then becomes that of what Voegelincalled a ""Between"" (translating the Greek metaxy), that is, betweenthe two poles. This is experienced as a condition of tension, especiallyof longing for what is Beyond or being pulled by it. So thephilosopher experiences questioning as a seeking and being drawnby potentially knowable truth, and the mystic experiences the soul'slonging as a seeking and being drawn by the divine. The noetic andpneumatic differentiations, though they express themselves in differentactivities and represent themselves in different symbolisms,are closely related. As Voegelin put it in The Ecumenic Age, ""...thestructure of a theophanic experience reaches from a pneumaticcenter to a noetic periphery.""43 In both differentiations it is the sameBeyond, the same pole with its tension of seeking and being drawn.The difference is only in the way the philosopher or the mysticrelates to the Beyond. One relates to it through questioning, theother through prayer.
Before these two differentiations, there was what Voegelin calls""the primary experience of the cosmos."" This was an earlier way ofapprehending the field of human experience. Imaginatively, it wasexperienced as a cosmos full of gods; that is, the transcendent polewas experienced as present in the field but dispersed within it insuch a way that it was identified with the variety of particularintracosmic forces. Hence there were gods of fertility, the weather,and so on. Both the immanent and transcendent poles of experiencewere present in this primary experience, but they were intermingled,and the structure of the field was unclear. Cognitively, theprimary experience of the cosmos was known by a human mindembedded in its myths; the structure of reality was grasped imaginativelyas the cosmos full of gods, and both cosmos and gods wereknown in the stories told about them. Classic philosophy was bornin the process (the noetic differentiation) in which the human mindand imagination ceased to be simply embedded in their myths butdeveloped a reflective distance that made it possible to think morecarefully and critically about the contents of the field and its bipolarstructure. The prophetic movement in Israel was motivated by thecorresponding pneumatic differentiation of radical transcendencefrom the mythic imagery of a tribal god who came to be understoodas the radically transcendent, monotheist God.
When differentiation of consciousness takes place, Voegelinsaid, it is both exciting and disturbing; it is also subtle, delicate, andvery susceptible to distortion. It can give rise to the exuberant playof dialectics and also to feelings of a gulf between us and the Beyond(expressed in the symbolism of sin and fallenness) and the imperativesof the prophets to reorder our lives in accord with what a properrelation to transcendence demands of us. But it can also slip intohypostatizations of immanence and transcendence, their interpretationnot as poles of our experience of existence but as ""things"": thusthe Beyond becomes an individual entity named ""God,"" and webecome entities called human beings, which exist separately fromthe being of that other entity called God. (Just as the noeticdifferentiation could slip into hypostatization of the dynamic operationsof interpretation and critical reflection into faculties called""intellect"" and ""reason."") As Voegelin put it in ""Reason: The ClassicExperience,"" ""If man exists in the metaxy, in the tension ‘betweengod and man,' any construction of man as a world-immanent entitywill destroy the meaning of existence, because it deprives man of hisspecific humanity. The poles of the tension must not be hypostatizedinto objects independent of the tension in which they are experiencedas its poles.""44
Both differentiations were susceptible to what Voegelin liked tocall a ""derailment"" into gnostic forms. So, for example, he says withregard to the pneumatic differentiation's implications for ancientGnostics that ""[t]he Gnostic imbalance of consciousness...causes asplit to run through divine reality, separating the daimonic powersof the world from the pneumatic divinity of the Beyond"" and that""[w]hile these early movements attempt to escape from the Metaxyby splitting its poles into the hypostases of this world and theBeyond, the modern apocalyptic-Gnostic movements attempt toabolish the Metaxy by transforming the Beyond into this world.""45 Inthis instance, Voegelin remains close to the usual meaning of theterm ""gnostic,"" but in his general usage he extended it in such a waythat it became a collective name for every possible way ofimmanentizing the transcendent pole—very far from its usualmeaning.
He sees the various forms of distortion as virtually inevitablecompanions to the pneumatic differentiation in the prophets ofIsrael and the early Christians, since it is so easy to slip from one tothe other. In ""The Gospel and Culture,"" for example, he says, ""Thevarious problems transmitted to us through two thousand years havetheir center in the Movement in which man's consciousness ofexistence emerges from the primary experience of the cosmos.Consciousness becomes luminous to itself as the site of the revelatoryprocess, of the seeking and being drawn. The experience of acosmos full of gods has to yield to the experience of eminent divinepresence in the movement of the soul in the metaxy,"" and ""the areaof existential consciousness, though eminent of rank, is only one areaof reality. If it is overemphasized, the cosmos and its gods willbecome the ‘alien earth' of the Gnostics and life in the despisedworld will hardly be worth living. The tendency toward this imbalanceis certainly present in the gospel movement.""46
In fact, the pneumatic differentiation is so elusive and thereforeso inherently fragile, that in the early Christian experiences, whichVoegelin thought reached the historical high point of pneumaticdifferentiation, it was particularly susceptible to derailment. As heput it in The Ecumenic Age, ""Considering the history of Gnosticism,with the great bulk of its manifestations belonging to, or derivingfrom, the Christian orbit, I am inclined to recognize in the epiphanyof Christ the great catalyst that made eschatological consciousness anhistorical force, both in forming and deforming humanity.""47 Spiritualhopes can easily become immanentized by the imagination ashopes for a super-terrestrial paradise with virtually terrestrial palmtrees and fountains, and just as easily they can slide into becominghopes for a terrestrial paradise in which each will give according tohis ability and take only according to his need. Or the authenticcognitio fidei that knows God as the Beyond of the Between can beimmanentized into the belief that God is a god, dragging, as it were,the Beyond into a world that is no longer a Between: ""Unless theUnknown God is the undifferentiated divine presence in the backgroundof the specific intracosmic gods, he is indeed a god unknownto the primary experience of the cosmos. In that case, however, thereis no process of revelation in history, nor a millennial Movementculminating in the epiphany of the Son of God, but only the irruptionof an extra-cosmic god into a cosmos to whose mankind he hithertohad been hidden.""48
In the case of the noetic differentiation, the derailment thatVoegelin called ""gnostic"" took the forms of either or both of: (1)overlooking and trying to bypass the necessary demands of rationalinquiry through claims to non-rational intuitive knowledge or tofeeling as a higher form of knowledge, or (2) as in the case justdescribed, the attempt to ""immanentize"" the Beyond, that is, to treatit as though it were an intramundane entity. In the latter case, Goddoes not become a god, but is reduced to an ultimate knowable, akind of supreme idea that has finally become thoroughly understood.Voegelin's classic case of this is G.W.F. Hegel's ""attempt toreduce the Logos of revelation to the logos of philosophy, and thelogos of philosophy to the dialectics of consciousness. Philosophy(Liebe zum Wissen) was supposed to advance toward Gnosis(wirkliches Wissen)—and that could be done only through anaesthetizingthe philosopher's sensitiveness to the borderline betweenthe knowable and the unknowable, for the point at which theknowable truth of order is rooted in the Eros of the transcendentSophon"" (that is, the Beyond as the transcendent pole of noeticseeking that makes possible the reflective distance that keeps onefrom identifying any one interpretation of experience with truth assuch).49 Referring to both Hegel and Friedrich Engels in FromEnlightenment to Revolution, Voegelin states this issue in the words,""The fallacy of gnosis consists in the immanentization of transcendentaltruth.""50 Extending this idea further to refer to all efforts toreduce the totality of the knowable to what can only be known by wayof the methods of the natural sciences, Voegelin says, ""Scientism hasremained to this day one of the strongest Gnostic movements inWestern society..."" and goes on to speak of ""the immanentist pridein science.""51
The immanentizing negations of both the noetic and the pneumaticdifferentiations of consciousness easily issue into the types ofpolitical utopianism or ""realized eschatology"" that Voegelin calledpolitical gnosticism. So, for example, he says of Karl Marx, ""TheMarxian gnosis expresses itself in the conviction that the movementof the intellect in the consciousness of the empirical self is theultimate source of knowledge for the understanding of the universe.Faith and the life of the spirit are expressly excluded as an independentsource of order in the soul.""52 The political expression of this isthe attempt to immanentize the transcendent as the perfection ofworldly existence. As such— and this is a point that I think Voegelin'suse of the language of ""gnosticism"" did help to emphasize—politicalutopianism has a religious dimension, even when, as in Marx's case,it denies the value of traditional religion; its goal is radical transcendencerealized as radical immanence. So, Voegelin speaks of Marx's""gnosticism"" as ""parousiastic,"" referring to the religious hope for thetransformation of the world through divine action into a trueparadise: ""The aim of parousiastic gnosticism is to destroy the orderof being, which is experienced as defective and unjust, and throughman's creative power to replace it with a perfect and just order.""53This effort tries to reverse or suppress the insight of the pneumaticdifferentiation regarding the radical distinctness of the transcendentpole of the experiential field. The pneumatic differentiation""dedivinized"" the world by bringing forward that distinctness;parousiastic gnosticism ""redivinizes"" it.54 But this does not have theeffect of restoring the primary experience of the cosmos, which haditself involved a healthy appreciation of what lies beyond us, even ifits symbolism blurred the distinction between the Beyond and itsfinite participations. As Voegelin explains it, ""Modern re-divinizationhas its origins rather in Christianity itself, deriving from componentsthat were suppressed as heretical by the universal church""—that is,from ancient Gnosticism.55
Here again we see Voegelin eliding from the conventionalpicture of ancient Gnostic world-rejection to modern efforts to builda perfect world that would exclude any real transcendence. But inthis Voegelin is nevertheless making an important point: that therecan be forms of modern world-affirmation that imply deep hostilitytoward transcendence and thereby deform the order of our existentialstructure, or, as Voegelin also puts it, they close us off against thetranscendent pole of consciousness.56 To do this requires force andentails hostility; hence the angry atheism that animates attempts tobuild a new heaven on earth: ""And taking control of being furtherrequires that the transcendent origin of being be obliterated: itrequires the decapitation of being—the murder of God.""57
It is possible, however, to make this kind of point and analyze itsimplications without falling back on the language of ""gnosticism.""Let me mention one place where Voegelin does so, in a manner thatcould serve as an example for those who would like to carry forwardhis tradition effectively. In his 1974 essay, ""Reason: the ClassicExperience,"" Voegelin talks about the positive insights into thestructure of human existence among the philosophers of classicalGreece, and he also talks about what can go wrong when people oflesser insight or perverse people will defy that structure, but he doesso without the use of the words ""gnostic"" or ""gnosticism."" He talksabout the Hellenic differentiation of ""nous,"" about Plato's awarenessof ""tension toward the ground of existence,"" and about how his wayof speaking about it ""left consciousness open to the future oftheophany, to the pneumatic revelations of the Judaeo-Christiantype as well as to the later differentiations of mysticism and oftolerance in doctrinal matters.""58 He also talks about how ""thephenomena of existential disorder through closure toward theground of reality"" had been observed and analyzed from the time ofHeraclitus.59 He talks about how ""the shattering experiences ofecumenic imperialism and, in its wake, existential disorientation asa mass phenomenon""60 both stimulated the philosophers to developa language with which to bring their insights to ""conceptual fixation""and gave rise to the ""agnoia ptoiodes"" (fearful ignorance) andanxietas that stimulated aspernatio rationis (rejection of reason)61and would eventually produce the parallel modern closure of thesoul that Heimito von Doderer in the twentieth century calledApperzeptionsverweigerung (refusal to apperceive).62 Voegelinoffers an analysis that effectively takes account of the hostility inthis to transcendence and the order of being, ""the decapitation ofbeing"" or ""murder of God"" referred to above. Drawing on Plato'slanguage, Voegelin discusses this as ""eristics,"" the negative, deathseeking,counterpart to the open, life-seeking, exercise of reasoncalled ""dialectics."" ""The differentiation of Life and Death as themoving forces behind Reason and the passions,"" says Voegelin, isworked out in Plato's symbolism of reason as open exploration of theBetween:
To move within the metaxy, exploring it in all directions andorienting himself in the perspective granted to man by his positionin reality, is the proper task of the philosopher. To denote thismovement of thought or discussion (logos) within the metaxy,Plato uses the term dialectics ([Philebus] 17a). Since, however,man's consciousness is also conscious of participating in the polesof the metaleptic tension (i.e., in the Apeiron [the Boundless] andNous), and the desire to know is apt to reach beyond the limits ofparticipatory knowledge, there will be thinkers—""those who areconsidered wise among men these days""—who are inclined to letthe In-Between reality (ta mesa) escape (ekpheugein) them intheir libidinous rush toward cognitive mastery over the hen [theOne] or the apeiron. To denote this type of speculative thoughtPlato uses the term eristics (17a).63
Here we see, I think, a clear analysis of the issues Voegelin often usedthe word ""gnosticism"" to designate, but in this essay he manages tooffer it without once falling back on that word (and dragging in withit all its manifold relevant or irrelevant connotations).
I hope that by this time the reader can see both that Voegelin'suse of the language of ""gnosticism"" involves some serious problemsand that he was nevertheless trying to use it to address importantissues regarding the fundamental order of human existence and theways it can fall into disorder. To sum up briefly, the problems withVoegelin's use of that language are:
1. It begins by claiming to draw out the implications of historicalresearch on the ancient gnostics but does so in ways that conflictconfusingly with the meanings given the word by the leadingscholars in that field of research in his own time.
2. Even if his use of the term had been in line with that of thescholars of his time, the state of scholarship has advanced considerablyin the last half century, in directions that call into question eventhe most widely accepted scholarship Voegelin drew on.
3. Even if the ancient Gnosticism he appealed to as the sourceof what he called modern ""gnosticism"" had not been so clearlydisinclined to seek salvation in worldly fulfillment, the historicallinks Voegelin asserted between that and the modern immanentizingpatterns of thought he talked about do not exist in the evidenceavailable, and his assertions of those links did not meet the usualstandards of scholarly carefulness that he believed in.
4. When the word ""gnosticism"" appears in the writings ofVoegelin and Voegelinians, it brings with it a host of associations thatare likely to confuse the issues its use is intended to clarify, or at leastputs out a bone of contention that is likely to distract many readersfrom the serious problems Voegelinian research tries to bring totheir attention.
5. Voegelin's own use of the term, though richly meaningfulwhen one goes into it in depth and sets aside all the side issues ittends to arouse, covers so many distinct problems that its veryrichness makes it seem overly general and imprecise—a problemVoegelin seems to have recognized himself when he said in 1978, asI mentioned earlier, that besides what was then usually called by thatname, the ideas he was interested in using it to address includedmany other strands, such as apocalypticism, alchemy, magic, theurgy,and scientism.
Voegelin's analyses of the universal structure of human existenceand the symbolisms that have developed to express the insightsinto that structure that have emerged in the course of history werestated in terms specific to the many facets of those matters headdressed. He did not try to use some single term to cover them all.But the manifold forms that can be taken by all the various ways ofmisunderstanding and distorting those insights, philosophical, theological,spiritual, political, psychological, literary, and so on, Voegelinoften tried to cover with what we can now see was a single, veryproblematic term, ""gnosticism,"" that is likely to confuse more thanto clarify. Also, I hope I may be permitted to add, that term'spolemical associations pose the danger that what tries to operate asobjective analysis may easily come to sound merely partisan in theears of many in the potential audience for further Voegelinianresearch—and those same associations may tempt some who wouldcarry forward that research to lapse into a kind of lazy polemicismthat does not want to take the trouble to find more precise languagefor its analyses or to explore particular cases in the greater depth thatmore precise language might make possible. As Michael Franzrightly said, ""...there is a very real danger that less cautious polemicistswill invoke Voegelin's categories without troubling themselvesover the difficulties involved in establishing the presence of spiritualdisease in the objects of their ridicule.""64 These are issues that thosewho would honor Voegelin's achievement and seek to extend it inthe future in their own research would do well to consider carefully.
University of Washington
- The term is usually capitalized when referring to the (supposed)ancient religion of Gnosticism, and I will capitalize it whenreferring primarily to that. I will leave it uncapitalized when referring,as here, to a more general phenomenon—although I shouldstate from the start that the real existence of a general phenomenonsufficiently unified to be designated by such a name seems morequestionable now, as I shall explain, than it did a few decades ago.That there was a sufficiently consistent pattern of thinking amongmany ancient figures traditionally called ""Gnostics"" to allow us tospeak of an ancient religion of Gnosticism has also become highlyquestionable. (Voegelin's own publications follow no consistentpattern regarding capitalization of the word.)
- In a conversation reported by John William Corrington in""Order and History: The Breaking of the Program,"" Denver Quarterly,no. 3 (Autumn, 1975): 122.
- See especially his Sacralizing the Secular : the RenaissanceOrigins of Modernity (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UniversityPress, 1989) and The Modern Age and the Recovery of AncientWisdom: A Reconsideration of Historical Consciousness, 1450–1650 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1991).
- Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press,1992.
- See my Eric Voegelin: Philosopher of History (Seattle andLondon: University of Washington Press, 1981), p. 200.
- VOEGELIN—RESEARCH NEWS Volume III, No. 1 (February1997), archived at http://vax2.concordia.ca/~vorenews/
- Leiden: E.J. Brill; San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1977.French translations appeared in 1978. Before this, scholars werepretty much restricted to working with facsimile copies of the Coptictexts as they were made available. For an indignant account of theslowness with which the Nag Hammadi documents were madeavailable, see Hans Jonas's supplement to the second edition of TheGnostic Religion; The Message of the Alien God and the Beginningsof Christianity (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963), pp. 290–291.
- Leiden: E.J. Brill; New York: Harper and Row, 1959.
- Voegelin was also acquainted with the descriptions andsummaries of some of the Nag Hammadi material in Jean Doresse's,The Secret books of the Egyptian Gnostics: An Introduction to theGnostic Coptic Manuscripts Discovered at Chenoboskion, trans.Philip Mairet (London: Hollis & Carter, 1960), probably in its 1958French original.
- Jonas published a second volume in 1954 and was workingon a third but never finished it.
- Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952, p. 124 n. 25.Voegelin had also read the Eranos address, ""Gnosis and Time,"" byHenri-Charles Puech published in the 1951 Eranos Jahrbuch and inEnglish translation in Man and Time, Papers from the EranosYearbooks 3, ed. Joseph Campbell (New York: Pantheon, 1957), butthis essay was based almost entirely on the traditional heresiologicalsources rather than on the Nag Hammadi manuscripts.
- The Gnostic Religion, second edition, revised, p. xvii.
- Hans Jonas told me in 1987 that Voegelin had not understoodhis conception of Gnosticism. My own impression was thatVoegelin understood quite well what Jonas said about Gnosticismbut modified the idea for his own purposes, as I will explain below.
- The Gnostic Religion, pp. 23, 26.
- Ibid., p. 42.
- Ibid., p. 43.
- Ibid., p. 35.
- Ibid., p. 46.
- This may be why Jonas thought Voegelin did not understandwhat he meant by Gnosticism (see note 13, above). Jonas's ownapplication of the category to modern phenomena was to what hecalled nihilism (which included, for him, Sartrean existentialism)rather than, as in Voegelin, to unrealistic utopian movements, whichwere trying to bring about changes that were hoped to offer thepromise of a better life in this world. See The Gnostic Religion, ch.13, ""Epilogue: Gnosticism, Existentialism, and Nihilism,"" pp. 320–340.
- Ibid., p. 24.
- The title of the lecture was ""Modern Dogmatism,"" deliveredat the University of Washington in March, 1976.
- Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996, p. 7. Emphasisin original.
- ""‘Gnosis' and ‘Gnosticism': The Problems of Their Definitionand Their Relation to the Writings of the New Testament,"" inThe New Testament and Gnosis: Essays in Honour of RobertMcLachlan Wilson, ed. A.H.B. Logan and A.J.M. Wedderburn(Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1983), p. 28, quoted in Williams, Rethinking""Gnosticism,"" p. 263.
- Rethinking ""Gnosticism,"" p. 32.
- Ibid. Ellipsis in original.
- Jonas also includes the Poimander of Hermes Trismegistus,which is not in Irenaeus. Stephen A. McKnight, in the works citedabove, has shown the inappropriateness of this, given the essence ofGnosticism that Jonas was trying to assimilate this to.
- Williams, p. 45.
- Ibid., pp. 51–52, 265.
- Ibid., p. 265.
- Franz, op. cit., p. 102.
- See my essay, ""Eric Voegelin at the End of an Era: Differentiationsof Consciousness and the Search for the Universal,"" inInternational and Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Eric Voegelin,ed. Stephen A. McKnight and Geoffrey L. Price (Columbia, Missouri:University of Missouri Press, 1997), pp. 159–188; my reviewof Michael Franz, Eric Voegelin and the Politics of Spiritual Revolt:The Roots of Modern Ideology, in VOEGELIN — RESEARCHNEWS Volume III, No. 1 (February 1997); and my essay inresponse to critics, ""Persuasion and the Problem of PolarizingRhetoric,"" VOEGELIN—RESEARCH NEWS, 4, no. 4 (August1998). The latter two are archived at http://vax2.concordia.ca/~vorenews/.
- ""Eric Voegelin at the End of an Era,"" p. 168.
- A note on Voegelin's supposed ""conservatism"": Voegelinoften expressed his wariness of political parties both of the left andof the right. One of the few figures involved in politics (though nothimself a politician) whom Voegelin expressed unqualified admirationfor was John R. Commons, an economist at the University ofWisconsin who was a major voice for political reform movements inthe early twentieth century. Commons favored redistribution ofwealth for the sake of greater equality, a minimum wage, unionizationof labor, and limitations on the hours of labor that employerscould demand. Legislation drafted in Wisconsin by John R. Commonsand his students served as models for measures enacted in theNew Deal, including social security. See Robert William Fogel, TheFourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism (Chicago:U. of Chicago Press, 2000), pp. 117, 129. See also Lafayette G.Harter, Jr., John R. Commons: His Assault on Laissez-Faire (Corvallis,Oregon: Oregon State University Press, 1962). Cf. also MichaelFranz, op. cit., p. 14 on how Voegelin's more conservative admirersdo not give sufficient attention to Voegelin's appreciative critique ofsome features of Marx in From Enlightenment to Revolution.Thomas J.J. Altizer wrote that ""Voegelin, like Ricoeur, is radical andreactionary at once and altogether, thus baffling all who attempt toemploy him either for political or theological ends."" Journal of theAmerican Academy of Religion, 43 (1975): 758.
- Science, Politics, and Gnosticism: Two Essays (Chicago:Henry Regnery, 1968), pp. 86–88. This title will subsequently beabbreviated as SPG.
- SPG, pp. 99–100.
- The New Science of Politics: An Introduction (Chicago:University of Chicago Press, 1952), p. 112. This title will subsequentlybe abbreviated as NSP.
- NSP, p. 124.
- I wrote about this, before I had ever read Voegelin, in TheDark Dove: The Sacred and Secular in Modern Literature (Seattleand London: University of Washington Press, 1975), pp. 22–24,34–35, and 132–133.
- SPG, p. 83.
This concise classic is the most accessible work in the canon of one of the 20th century’s
greatest political scientists. Eric Voegelin here contends that certain modern movements, including Positivism, Hegelianism, Marxism, and the “God is Dead” movement, are variants of the Gnostic tradition of antiquity. Highly provocative, this book is essential reading for students of modern politics, philosophy, and religion.
Hailed by the American Political Science Review as “one of the most distinguished interpreters to Americans of the non-liberal streams of European thought,” Professor Voegelin was director of the Institute for Political Science at the University of Munich as well as professor of political science and lecturer at numerous universities in the United States and Europe.
With a new introduction by Ellis Sandoz, professor of political science at Lousiana State University and director of the Eric Voegelin Institute for American Renasissance Studies.