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The Ideology of the Left: Gnostics of Our Time

The Gnostic epigones of the Left do not see it this way. In his recent Ameritopia, Mark Levin quotes Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom that the aim of such political utopians “is no less than to effect a complete redesigning of our traditional morals, law, and language, and on this basis to stamp out the older order and supposedly inexorable, unjustifiable conditions that prevent the institution of reason, fulfillment, true freedom, and justice.” Political utopianism, Levin comments, “is tyranny disguised as a desirable, workable, and even paradisiacal ideology.” Political utopianism is the way in which the Gnostic compulsion has been domesticated in the modern age.

For, rather than deal with the world in all its complexities and resistances, the Gnostic premise of a pre-existent plenitude that must be recovered morphs into the utopian conviction of an ideal civil and political substitute for things as they are. The means to achieve this vision, as millions have learned to their cost, is a species of top-down collectivism administered by a cabal of “experts,” theorists, intellectuals, technocrats and political strongmen for whom tradition, tested precedent, and moral standards are anathema. As author of Shakedown Socialism Oleg Atbashian points out, a corollary of this arrangement is that the blame for its inevitable miscarriage can be, like a society’s wealth, illicitly redistributed. “Collectivism provides us with a sufficiently analgesic illusion of fairness.” Responsibility for failure will fall on “those close to you, or on an unfair system, or even on the big wide (and deeply flawed) world.”

There can be little doubt that the suffering caused by the Gnostic disease is immeasurable, for the world is not amenable to radical transformation. Nature remains predatory and omnivorous -- “this munching universe,” as Lawrence Durrell put it in his Gnostic fiction Monsieur, or The Prince of Darkness. Human society is capable of slow ameliorative change through scientific advancements and wise political legislation respectful of human rights and freedoms, but it will never escape the orbit of imparity and dissension in which it moves. Nonetheless, the rational enterprise of gradual and empirical renovation within natural limits is not attractive to the neo-Leftist romantic idealist, mired as he is in a state of unmitigated hubris. His energy goes into the projection of a civil Shangri-La without contour and substance to be constructed upon the debris of the very liberal democracy and free market economy which have provided him with life, livelihood, and, in many instances, professional honor.

As Eric Voegelin writes in The New Science of Politics, a profound analysis of the ideological misconceptions that vitiate the political thought and practice of the contemporary West, the utopian answer to the Gnostic concept of an original evil is the chief hazard of our professional political and academic classes. These classes are plainly susceptible to the virus of “theoretical illiteracy,” which shows itself in “the form of various social idealisms” or an “axiological dream world.” In short, the Gnostic enthusiast wishes to replace the civil order with a civil theology. For this oddly hermetic temperament, says Voegelin, the “nonrecognition of reality is the first principle.” This is the best definition of the political Left one can hope to find.

To conclude. The psychology of the Left, despite certain asymmetries, is intrinsically a Gnostic one. The analogy is premonitory. For just as Gnosticism proved unsustainable as a resilient and effective theology, since it could not address the needs of the human spirit bound in time to an ineluctable world, so the theory of utopian socialism that animates the orphic community, in any of its manifold incarnations, can only distort the quest for human betterment. It can only reproduce -- or worsen -- the original flaw it seeks to transcend.