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The Ideology of the Left: Gnostics of Our Time

The “revolutionary mysticism” of the Left takes its toll.

by
David Solway

Bio

August 13, 2012 - 10:53 pm

Whether we are considering the Gnostic kernel-thought of cosmic revisionism; or the Marxist-Socialist doctrine of social rehabilitation; or the current global warming hysteria which aims for the restoration of a pre-industrial planet; or the mental sedatives known as the doctrines of “social justice” and “universal human rights” which, as Daniel Hannan elaborates in The New Road to Serfdom, have nothing to do with new rights but with institutional centralization and international organizations that “get to determine what our rights are”; or the Obamantra of “hope and change” and all that it implies of redistributive economics, what we are observing is the perpetual march of human folly. It will stop at nothing — neither dogmatic ignorance, nor cultivated nihilism, nor imaginary resolutions, nor planned upheaval, nor destructive violence — to construct a pristine simulacrum of the Gnostic hallucination as if it were a viable alternative to the world as it fundamentally is and always will be. To apply the words of Paul Auster in Moon Palace, “This was imagination in its purest form, the act…of persuading others to accept a world that was not really there.”

Absurd and ruinous as it may be, the Gnostic prepossession — to give it its due — absolves human beings of responsibility for primal evil, realizing the contradiction embedded in traditional theodicy: a God with absolute foreknowledge of the results of unpredictable human free will. To their credit, the Gnostics recognized that determinism and freedom cannot be reconciled — a “revelation” that appears to have escaped not only the general run of classical theologians but the purveyors of the historical dialectic for whom the goal of history is pre-scripted. This is one of the distinctions between the Gnostics and their seminal Leftist successors. The similarities, however, outweigh the differences.

At this juncture, it must be fairly admitted that there is a sense in which we are all garden-variety Gnostics, concerned with good design in the objects and services we rely on. As Donald Norman acknowledges in The Psychology of Everyday Things, “Proper design can make a difference in the quality of life,” and when the design of the things we use proves defective, we should “write to manufacturers” and “boycott unusable designs.” The Gnostics, of course, were preoccupied with everyday life, but on a far grander scale than the average consumer. Their theological treatises and discourses might be construed as forms of writing to the manufacturer and their pronouncements and activities as a way of boycotting an unusable or, at least, an unacceptable design implicit in the cosmos itself. It was not a teapot or window latch or door handle they wished to redesign, but the entire created universe. By thus exceeding their mandate (to use a current phrase), they inevitably succumbed to the self-defeating pitfall of hubris.

Nevertheless, before dismissing Gnosticism out of hand and in an effort to understand it better in order to track the danger it represents, we need to see that it is rooted in the perennial human desire for a better world, a nature no longer red in tooth and claw, a society of men in which all the necessities of life are provided equally to all, and an international arena in which nations regard themselves as peaceable members of the larger human family. This is the point of contact between Gnosticism and the Left. It is a noble fantasy in the abstract, but disastrous in its implementation. For the world doesn’t, never has, and never will work this way. Inequality is inevitable (even in a “classless” society), competition is incessant (even in a “worker’s paradise”), and violence is unavoidable (within or between nations). These are the “laws” of human nature that cannot be evaded. The only reasonable response to an interminably flawed human Creation is cautious and pragmatic, that is, the attempt to reduce ineliminable suffering by gradual, empirical methods. The road to a better future is both asymptotic and rutted, but it is preferable to a razed landscape.

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