Eric Voegelin was a political philosopher and a critic of modernity. He identified modernity with a "Gnostic" revolt against true order and intrinsic reality. His presentation of Gnosticism has been considered eccentric. In his writings, political themes overlap with theological concerns and his version of Platonism. He opposed philosophers of the modern Continental tradition, notably Hegel and Marx. His supporters claim him as one of the most original thinkers of the twentieth century. The article below is critical.
1. A Problem of Exegesis
2. Sufism, Vedanta, and Buddhism are Marginalised
3. The Issue of Conflatory Gnosticism
4. The Cloud of Unknowing
5. Alienation Clause
6. A Neo-Thomist Philosophy of History
7. In Search of Order
8. Existential Christian Platonism
9. Reflections of a Commentator
1. A Problem of Exegesis
In the fourth volume of his magnum opus, Eric Voegelin (1901-1985) admitted to a problem of exegesis. The project had "proved more complicated than I had anticipated" (Order and History Vol. 4, p. 2). Some readers had anticipated a history of Christianity as the logical outcome of the earlier volumes, but this was not to be.
Voegelin had grasped that a linear time scheme did not work. He conceded that too much was occurring during the first millenium BCE, from Greece to China. The Christian exponent had formerly assumed that pagans "could never rise above the conception of a cyclical time" (ibid., p. 7). Now he was obliged to observe that methods of arranging materials (involving selection and omission) were the same in the Sumerian King List as in Hegel's philosophy of history (ibid.).
Voegelin was also disquieted by the acknowledgment of New Testament scholars that the Gospel of John exhibited Gnostic influences or tendencies (ibid., p. 18). He resisted any implication that John was a type of Gnostic. He had been reared to believe that Gnosticism meant the view of creation as an evil, which is so often a misplaced dogmatic criterion for establishing a Gnostic identity or affinity.
It is difficult to ignore Voegelin's hostile assessment of Gnosticism, as this colours so much of his general presentation, which extends to a critique of modernity. He supplied the definition: "The knowledge, the Gnosis, of the psychodrama is the precondition for engaging successfully in the operation of liberating the pneuma [spirit] in man from its cosmic prison" (ibid., p. 19). Yet he had made up his mind very decisively against the phenomenon. "I am stressing the magnitude of insensitivity required in the construction of a Gnostic system" (ibid., p. 20). The basis for such deliberations is theological, if admixed with an "existentialist" orientation.
Generally one of the more insensitive categorisers of "Gnosis," Voegelin does here acknowledge differences between Valentinian Gnosis and the Hegelian system, which he innovatively described as Gnosis in some of his writings. Yet all he actually supplies is a distinction "between the essential core and the variable part of a Gnostic system" (ibid.). For Voegelin, the output of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) was a manifestation of modern Gnosticism. Hegel's teleological version of history was critically adapted by Karl Marx (1818-1883) into a materialist theory resulting in Communism. Yet Marx also was regarded as a Gnostic by the Christian existentialist.
Voegelin defines the essential core of a Gnostic system in terms of "the enterprise of returning the pneuma in man from its state of alienation in the cosmos to the divine pneuma of the Beyond through action based on knowledge" (ibid.). Surprisingly, he says that in Hegel's modern Gnosticism, "the essential core is the same as in the Valentinian speculations." (1) Voegelin evidently conceived of Friedrich Schelling (1775-1854) as another modern Gnostic, even though such thinkers acknowledged the Gospel of John and not Valentinus or Basilides.
This argument requires some patience, but is interesting for the psychological attitudes involved. For instance, Voegelin tends to attribute early Christian Gnosticism to the disordering effect of imperial Roman expansion. The same materialist argument can be aimed at orthodox Christianity. A doctrinal accusation is that Gnostic symbolism of the Valentinian type "does not derive from one particular culture but indiscriminately employs Egyptian Ogdoads and Pythagorean Tetrads, Iranian, Babylonian, Israelite, and Christian symbols" (ibid., p. 24). This syncretism is attributed to "a multicivilisational movement in an ecumenic empire" (ibid., p. 27). There may be some truth in that conclusion, which does not, however, require a stigmatising approach.
A parallel is said to be afforded by the apocalyptic trend in Judaism, which assimilated "Oriental" symbols. "Probably an Iranian import" is the appearance of angels with names in Judaic texts, such as the angel Gabriel in the Book of Daniel, dated to circa 165 BCE (ibid., p. 24). The syncretism is also seen by Voegelin in the Hymn of the Pearl found in the apocryphal Acts of Thomas. Scholars like Hans Jonas found in this Hymn elements of a pre-Christian Iranian Gnosticism, though Gilles Quispel concluded that the same text represented the spirit of Encratistic Christianity in the Syrian sector and must be dated to the second century CE.
Voegelin lends support to the search for Gnostic origins in the Iranian "dualism." Influenced by Professor R. C. Zaehner's version of Iranian religion (since disputed), Voegelin was inclined to interpret Zoroastrianism of the imperial era as "the result of an existential contraction under the pressure of ecumenism" (ibid., p. 25 note 2). The grounds for this affirmation lie in the view that "the 'dualism' is not originally Zoroastrian but already a syncretistic contraction in the process that can end in Gnosticism" (ibid.). This reflection might converge with the theory that Zurvanism was the origin of Gnosticism, but is clearly loaded against the Iranian contribution.
"Gnosticism, whether ancient or modern, is a dead end," (ibid., p. 27) asserts Voegelin in a rather dogmatic vein. Partisans of Gnosticism are described as addicts. The addiction is equated with the "libertarianism and asceticism" of antiquity and the modern coercive forms of "violence, concentration camps, and mass murder" (ibid., p. 28). Some theologians/philosophers press their argument too far to be convincing. Voegelin was discernibly confusing Nazism and Adolf Hitler with various other events in different centuries. His early collision with Nazism merits sympathy, though his anti-Gnostic refrains invite close analysis.
Despite his own acute form of ideational conflation, Voegelin resists the mood of syncretism that he sees in antique trends. He criticises Philo's allegorical interpretation of the Torah which transformed Moses into a philosopher. (ibid., pp. 27ff.). This leads to the insistence that a deformation of philosophical analysis occurred in "the transition from the Platonic-Aristotelian aloofness from Allegoresis to the Stoic acceptance of the method" (ibid., p. 36). Voegelin correctly points out that Plato had no use for an allegorical interpretation of Homer and Hesiod. Plato created his own myth and criticised aspects of expression used by the revered poets; he rejected Homeric and Hesiodic idioms because "the myth has been literalised into stories about gods who engage in such immoral actions as adultery, incest, war, and infliction of war upon men" (ibid., p. 37).
Concluding the introduction, Voegelin says that in his new format "the analysis had to move backward and forward and sideways" (ibid., p. 57) rather than on a time line. There is again a poke at the conglomerate "modern Gnostic movements," especially the Hegelian, and he quotes from Hegel's Wissenschaft der Logik. Voegelin refers to the Johannine phrase "in the beginning was the Word," and makes the caricature of "in the beginning was Hegel with his Logik" (ibid.).
These rather idiosyncratic comments illustrate the gulf between Voegelin and Hegel, conceivably reflecting differences between the former's partiality for Thomist exegesis and the latter's "Protestant immanentist direction" (a phrase used in Volume 2 of Order and History). Both of these professors were philosophers of history, but whether they were correct in all their theories and preferences is another matter altogether.
Voegelin dodged diverse accusatory labels in his direction such as Platonist and Thomist. He was partial to American democracy, and criticised the tendency of medieval Christianity to acquire secular power. The Protestant reformation accompanied the creation of new nation-states, which he viewed as devising mythologies to justify their rule. In reaction arose utopian and revolutionary ideologies, culminating in fascism and communism. In The New Science of Politics (1952), his most popular work, Voegelin described radical political revolutions in terms of a Gnostic orientation. The historical accuracy of such terminology was subsequently questioned, a factor which Voegelin acknowledged.
2. Sufism, Vedanta, and Buddhism are Marginalised
The fourth volume of Order and History is rather more varied in content than the earlier instalments. Voegelin here offers a "non-linear" coverage ranging from ancient computations of time to the Pauline theophany, "ecumenic imperialism," Chinese history, and the modern philosophy of history. A few pages are included on Muhammad, the Arabian prophet of Islam (Order and History Vol. 4, pp. 142-5). A militant complexion is conveyed, although "his conception of spiritual history and its finality was on the whole the same as Mani's" (ibid., p. 143). Voegelin was definitely not an admirer of Mani, and the traditional Christian denigrations require reappraisal.
Voegelin was unable to come to grips with the gnostic dimension of Sufism, even in such sources as the relatively conservative Risala of Al-Qushayri (d.1072). This text says that when Allah inspires, the aspirant is made an arif, a word often translated as "gnostic," while the relevant state is called marifa ("gnosis"). "The degree of gnosis he [the aspirant] will reach is determined by the degree to which he is estranged from his self." (2) There are still both Islamic and Christian theologians who are remote from these considerations. The gnosis of Asiatic mysticism has nothing to do with Hegelian dialectic, and nor the "Johannine" dialectic of Schelling, though for Voegelin both of these European manifestations were components of "modern Gnosticism."
The few pages allocated to Hinduism and the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad are disappointing, especially in view of the fact that Voegelin had long been familiar with this text in translation. He compares the style of the Indian dialogue between Yajnavalkhya and Gargi to a Babylonian incantation against toothache conducted by a priest-physician. A minor achievement is implied by the argument that: "Neither the Upanishadic differentiations nor their later elaborations in the Vedanta systems are experienced as a breakthrough that constitutes an epoch in history" (ibid., p. 320). The underlying thrust of disapproval is theological. Voegelin insists that "there is no doctrine in Hinduism that attaches itself to an historic theophany like the Christian dogma to the epiphany of Christ" (ibid., pp. 320-1).
The basic argument is that the Upanishadic or Vedantic experience of reality was incomplete because it did not develop "the self-consciousness of the Platonic-Aristotelian philosophy as a noetic science" (ibid., p. 321). One could interject that both of the orthodoxies mentioned here sustained undesirable components, meaning the brahmanical imposition of caste and Aristotle's aristocratic condonement of slavery. The Eurocentric arguments designed to support the academic tradition are too often unconvincing.
The rather condescending judgments of Voegelin include, in relation to the Vedantic experience, the recognition of "an incipient breakthrough" (ibid.). Yet this is "a breakthrough which, by noetic and pneumatic standards, does not reach its goal" (ibid.). A grudging degree of latitude is extended to Shankara, though quickly curtailed by the ideocentric insistence that "the dominance of the cosmological fallacies seriously impairs the experience of reality and its exploration" (ibid.). The non-appearance of historiography in Hindu socioculture is treated as a symptom of an impaired reality (ibid., p. 322), as if the Spenglers prove enlightenment.
There are indeed drawbacks to events lacking historical records, but the variant alternative in philosophy of history can easily amount to fiction or national pride, as in Hegel's elevation of the German Enlightenment over all else preceding.
The existential Christian commentator also manages to deflate the Buddhist contribution to the history of religion. "No more in Buddhist consciousness than in Upanishadic does the Question concerning the mystery of the process fully differentiate in India" (ibid., p. 329). Voegelin interposes a dense array of "differentiated" verbalism that imparts a doctrinaire complexion to his worldview. Other analysts would prefer to elude the noetic superiority complex and investigate more closely, e.g., the missing dimensions in how Gautama Buddha reacted to the expansion of courtly and urban socioculture which disturbed order at the village and tribal level (cf. ibid., p. 328), which is not a full statement of the situation encountered by Gautama. (3)
3. The Issue of Conflatory Gnosticism
Voegelin refers to Plato in terms of the "existential philosopher," whom he contrasts with the "sophistic intellectual," a category who "express their opinions on problems involving the experience of transcendence with the usurped authority of the existential philosopher." (4) The distinction is well known, though not usually couched in the idiom of existentialism.
The question arises as to whether Voegelin's existentialism is really transcendental. He might be considered superior to Heidegger and other existentialists, though to what extent he escaped the "sophistic" tendency to circumscribe truth is a question that may be left open. There is no guarantee that his strong emphasis on the role of myth in Plato's thought is evidence of penetrating the depths of the latter's vocation.
Voegelin urged that the theological (i.e., Christian) attempt to divide philosophy from revelation was ill-founded. (5) "Philosophy is the love of being through love of divine Being as the source of its order," (6) was part of his unconventional attempt to recover the original meaning of a famous word as used by the early Greeks. He may be more profound than other branches of modern philosophy which have jettisoned all "theology," though for Voegelin, knowledge of the divine remains circumscribed by mystery.
Voegelin's own assessment of his role was that of a "mystical philosopher." (7) It may therefore be relevant to make some comparison with Plotinus, the "founder" of Neoplatonism, who has such a mystical reputation. The latter's critique of Gnosticism has a different complexion to Voegelin's portrayal of that subject. Plotinus claimed a recurring experience of identity with the divine, though he rejected contemporary Gnostic trends in the third century Roman milieu.
Despite his Platonist accents, Voegelin's castigation of Gnosticism fits a pattern of theological bias that is tediously evident in many books by Christian writers, though seldom achieving a more extreme expression than in his philosophy of history. Voegelin tended to glorify Thomas Aquinas (1225-74), who lived a thousand years after Plotinus, and who was part of the Dominican front against heresy. The Christian Aristotelianism of Aquinas was accompanied by his teaching that mature faith is animated from within by the love of God. This theme was regarded by Voegelin as a crucial ingredient of the Thomist systematic theology, described as "the medieval climax of the interpenetration of Christianity and Western civilisation." (8)
Existential Christian Platonism was the speciality of Voegelin, who was much less Aristotelian than Aquinas. The avant garde Christian theorist dismissed some Eastern religions as lacking in noetic credentials (section 2). Yet diverse Western exponents were the major focus of his disapproval.
According to Voegelin, claims to absolute knowledge of ultimate reality destroy the reflective process of philosophy. From the mystical perspective, Voegelin was incapable of envisaging a state in which the human condition is transcended. He used the word gnosis as a blanket designation for dogmatism, a rigid equation which is perhaps not flattering to the claim of existential episteme to have found order in history. The gnostic here amounts to the sophist who destroys the philosopher's work, achieving only the loss of reality.
An academic commentator has listed some of the "Gnostics" opposed by Voegelin. Here we find Joachim of Fiore, Siger of Brabant, Genghis Khan, Machiavelli, Tamerlane, Thomas More, Voltaire, Helvetius, D'Alembert, Turgot, Condorcet, Hegel, Comte, John Stuart Mill, De Maistre, Nietzsche, Bakunin, Kropotkin, and Marx. (9) The list is quite sufficient to warrant the conclusion that Voegelin made an extensive conflation with regard to the word Gnostic, to the extent indeed that the term actually becomes meaningless, save in the context invented by existential Christian Platonism.
It is clear that the author of Order and History was employing the term Gnosticism to designate intellectual and political disorder. His idiom cannot be trusted to shed any light upon the history of pre-modern mystical and religious thought. His blanket designation discernibly originated from his aversion to Nazism and Fascism, which he early depicted as revivals of paganism in a German work published in 1938. (10) Voegelin subsequently tended to substitute the word gnosticism for paganism. He discussed the substitute with specialist scholars like Hans Jonas, though the latter's existential interpretation of Gnosticism may have confused him further, as it did many readers of a well known book. (11)
Twentieth century assessments of ancient religious thought were sometimes retarded. The "experts" who assumed that Nietzsche and Heidegger were somehow related to antique Gnostic thought were suffering from a paucity of reference points comparable to the fashionable elevation of Jung as a Gnostic exemplar. Mani has still not been fully restored from the disfigurement imposed by clerical Christian biases.
A general idea about the vintage Gnosticism is that "it denigrated life in this world in favour of escape from it through some sort of secret teaching or gnosis." (12) This was heresy to a comfortably situated professor like Voegelin, who seems to have overlooked the fact that Jesus lived an ascetic life as an unmarried man, turning his back upon a salaried career even while dispensing parables that may have resembled a secret teaching to those with ears to hear.
However, Voegelin's major usage of the stigma (i.e., Gnosis) was in reference to "immanentist" manifestations relating to a purported transformation of the world. He opted to conflate the term gnosis with magical traditions, alchemy, Renaissance Hermeticism, and apocalyptic or millenarian thinking. "The hermeticists, magicians, and alchemists sought a gnosis of the secrets of man and nature that would confer power over them." (13) This statement is typical of the conflatory exercise.
The ancient Gnostic phenomenon was subject to distortions and malpractice. The early Gnostics in Rome, as criticised by Plotinus, evidently harboured discrepant themes and behavioural flaws. The more recent occultist Aleister Crowley presumed to be a Gnostic for dubious reasons, while indulging in practices of "sexual magic" amounting to "do what thou wilt." (14)
The stigmatised Joachim of Fiore "interpreted the flowering of the monastic life as the event that indicated a meaningful advance in the process of transfiguration." (15) In the late twelfth century, Joachim (c. 1135-1202) founded the Abbey of Fiore in the mountains of Calabria, which became a new centre of the Cistercian Order. He boldly anticipated a phase in which all Christians would be inspired by the Holy Spirit to the extent that institutional authorities, either secular or ecclesiastical, would no longer be necessary. Even the infidels would unite with Christians. The Franciscan Spirituals regarded him as a saint and prophet.
The Joachite ideal was a crime in aristocratic circles and the clerical sector which Aquinas sought to bulwark against heretics who varied from the Albigenses to Friar Roger Bacon. In his Summa Theologica, Aquinas refuted the themes of Joachim, whose doctrine was declared a heresy in 1263. The utopian Joachite phenomenon requires fair reporting in the realistic context of feudal oppression by the upper classes (including the Papacy). The truth of this matter will not be found in the pages of Voegelin, no matter how many times he uses the derogatory terms of Gnostic and Gnosticism.
In various writings, Voegelin is noted for viewing Joachim's "immanentising" Christianity in terms of a loss of transcendence, a trend having a supposed modern counterpart in positivism. Marx, Lenin, and Hitler are here the end-product of the debacle. Voegelin is more credible in the insistence that transformation can occur only through philosophy and not via political action. He stressed the ideal of a correctly ordered soul, in which context philosophy is a resistance to disorder. An attendant theme is that philosophy has the capacity to transform political leadership. Due political and social order can only come about through the order achieved by individual souls, as in the case of Plato. In this argument, most individuals are not capable of ordering their souls and resisting disorder.
Voegelin discounted the possibility of a viable populist reform; this argument against communism and fascism warns that individuals are thereby severed from the experience of divine transcendence. However, still posing a question is exactly what the experience of transcendence amounts to in Voegelin's circumscribing rationale. Other factors also loom. For instance, he tended to mitigate the endorsement of slavery by Aristotle, a situation in which philosophy was surely not achieving a perfect social transformation.
The existential Christian Platonist (and neo-Thomist) dramatically extended his anti-Joachite reflections into Renaissance humanism, the European Enlightenment, Hegel's philosophy of history, Comte's theory of a new era of Positive Science, Marx's theory of a communist society, and "Hitler's dream of a New Order and Thousand-Year Reich." (16) The extreme conflations comprising this scenario of "Gnosticism" did not escape controversy during the author's lifetime, and at a conference in 1978 (at Vanderbilt University), Voegelin stated by way of concession that he would probably not use the term Gnosticism if he were starting his career again. He nevertheless made clear his antipathy to both the ancient "transcendent" and modern "immanentist" forms of the conflated phenomenon, which is still liable to cause confusions. (17)
The commentary of Professor Eugene Webb has supported Voegelin's awkward system of reference by stating that the term gnosticism "is not at all inappropriate, however, as long as one distinguishes between it and the ancient movement that bears its name." (18) The reason given for this qualified endorsement is that both types (i.e., the ancient Gnosticism and the more recent subjects like Hegel) "share the common feature of a claim to absolute knowledge in the form of gnosis and to power deriving from that knowledge." (19) In contrast, one may regard as ahistorical the doubtful equation of Comte, Marx, and Hitler with Mani, Valentinus, and diverse antique mystics. The desert, the isolated cell, the ruined hut, and other locations were perhaps desirable refuges from confusing sophists seeking to preserve their existence as salaried pedagogues.
Professor Webb's support for Voegelin made a distinction designed to indicate the difference between ancient Gnosticism and the purported sequels; he capitalised the former and uncapitalised the latter. The uncapitalised "gnosticism" is proposed as a designation to "be used for all movements based on claims to gnosis of any sort." (20) That designation is meaningless, and also seriously distorting, when applied to traditions and figures as diverse as John Scottus Eriugena, the Albigensians, the Franciscan Spirituals, Boniface VIII, the Adamites, the Puritan sectarians, Comte, Marx, and Hitler. (21)
Some attempt was actually made by Voegelin himself to introduce basic distinctions in his usage of the blanket term. He referred to "the contemplative gnosis of Hegel or Schelling" as a "primarily intellectual" endeavour of "speculative penetration of the mystery of creation and existence." This was distinguished from the "primarily volitional" gnosis of revolutionary activists like Hitler. (22) Critics of this schema say that the conflation is still too pronounced.
Voegelin was concerned to expose what he considered to be dogmatism. Yet his conflatory version of "Gnosticism" has been considered a feat of dogmatic labelling, and one which betrays an ignorance of subtleties discernible elsewhere.
"For Voegelin there is only one form of revelation, and this is an awakening of love for the true and the good, or for the 'divine ground'.... this is a search that must always take the form of reasonable enquiry. It is discursive not intuitive." (23)
Unversed readers could too easily get the impression that Hitler was using his intuition. The discursive enquiry may mean the endorsement of slavery via Aristotle, or the vengeful disposition of Aquinas and his colleagues, who disliked the Albigensian heretics, and who created the prototype for the Inquisition.
Strangely enough, Professor Webb asserts that: "The gnostic thinker characteristically refuses to allow further questioning on the subject." (24) Does he mean Hitler, Voltaire, Hegel, Comte, or Condorcet? Apparently all of them, and probably some of the antique names also. One may conclude that theological dogmatists like Aquinas, and his Inquisition colleagues, were pedagogues who most closely match the existential catchphrase. There is only one form of revelation, they said, and contrasting ideals had to be stigmatised and suppressed under lethal blanket classifications that sought to condemn forever. Extracting confessions under torture is not the most loving or reasonable activity.
Thomas Aquinas came from an aristocratic family; he joined the Dominican Order and completed his studies at the University of Paris. He was an enthusiastic commentator on Aristotle but opposed Latin Averroism, meaning the Averroistic interpretation of Aristotle associated with Siger of Brabant. The Dominicans were also pitched against the Albigensian heretics, and in his Summa Theologica, Aquinas asserted that heretics should be excommunicated and condemned to death.
Siger was eclipsed by his Dominican rivals. Averroism was condemned in 1270 by the church, and Siger later fled into obscurity as a heretic. Averroism was detested by religious conservatives because Aristotle was here taught in a more original format lacking any reconciliation with Christian beliefs. The inspirer Averroes (Ibn Rushd) was much more of a purist than the Christian schoolmen.
Aquinas was canonised fifty years after his death, after an initial rebuff for neo-Aristotelian innovations. He was now a symbol of progress for the governing ecclesiastical regime. In the early fourteenth century, the Franciscan Spirituals were suppressed by the Papacy. Wishing to lead the simple life of Francis, without wealth and dogmatic learning, some of these harassed ascetics were delivered to the Inquisition. The intimidation did not work in all cases, and four of them were burned in 1318. There were many more agonies at the pyre and on the rack over the generations that followed. The official Aristotle installed by Aquinas became a justification for slavery in some Eurocentric circles dominated by aristocratic and colonial tendencies.
The Inquisition commenced in Languedoc in 1184 to counter Catharism, and a few decades later, the Dominicans were invested with the Inquisition role by the Papacy. That was before Aquinas joined the Dominican Order, so he was well aware of what activities he was supporting. The full details of what occurred thereafter are horrific, customarily abbreviated by apologists, and denounced by opponents.
A typical argument of the dogmatic mentality has been that moral preparation is discounted in gnosis, here meaning the antique versions. This angle has been pressed by Voegelin and his followers, and even employing Augustine's account in the Confessions. During his Manichaean phase, Augustine had relations with a concubine; he was not an ascetic Manichaean, but a lay "Hearer." Such details have been suspiciously inverted to imply that the Manichaeans were immoral, which may be discounted as a misleading interpretation. Many Manichaeans were staunch ascetics and moralists, and compare well with the urban pedagogue Augustine (later canonised). (25) Resort to a concubine was fairly common in the questionable society of the Late Roman Empire, and was not a Manichaean custom.
After the very lengthy period during which Christians despised and hated Gnostics, the due evaluation of Nag Hammadi documents has since produced a situation in which many Christians claim Gnosis as part of their heritage. Voegelin's antipathy was overtaken by scholarly research, and is indicative of the strong bias prevailing in earlier theological circles.
For Voegelin, religious faith was superior to gnosis. In relation to this point, he is said to have been consciously echoing Aquinas in his statement that "uncertainty is the very essence of Christianity." (26) Jesus, as an obscured Jewish gnostic (small g in the anthropographic sense), may well have disagreed as a consequence of his own certainty. Perhaps he would have concurred that faith is "the precise opposite of gnosis," (27) and more reasonably suggested that one mode can lead to the other if the boundaries are duly crossed.
4. The Cloud of Unknowing
The fourth volume of Order and History made reference to Pauline Christianity, (28) though with no attempt to detail the Christian tradition in any branch or century. Voegelin's existential exegesis did alight upon The Cloud of Unknowing, pronouncing an absence in that document of any intuition by which supreme perfection is grasped. (29)
The fourteenth century English mystical text actually says that God may be loved but not thought, which is not the same thing as denying intuition. What is being denied in that text is, rather, the discursive tendency to assume knowledge, a tendency attested by Voegelin and diverse pedagogues. The "cloud of unknowing" means, in effect, the relinquishment of Thomist and related forms of conceptualism, including the Aristotelian variety. The "cloud" is equivalent to the "divine dark" of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (identified by some scholars with a Neoplatonist or Proclean source), meaning "that night of the intellect when a plane of spiritual experience is reached with which the intellect cannot deal." (30)
The anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing is thought to have been the English translator of Pseudo-Dionysius, the influence of the latter being discernible in The Cloud. With Voegelin is associated the theme of "gnostic or quasi-gnostic patterns of thought that entered the West by way of the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius." (31) Yet Voegelin read The Cloud as being anti-gnostic or non-gnostic in the theme of "unknowing," believing that this theme denoted ultimate ignorance, (32) in a more Thomist sense. The author of The Cloud, in contrast, distinguished between "the lower part of contemplative life" which comprised "goodly ghostly meditations," and "the higher part of contemplation" which involves "a loving stirring and a blind beholding unto the naked being of God Himself only." (33)
Imitations of famous antique texts may not always achieve the most precise expression, and nor resemble the precedent in all details; The Cloud of Unknowing is an orthodox mystical composition which adds late medieval Roman Catholic flourishes to the Pseudo-Dionysian strain that became widely influential.
5. Alienation Clause
The ancient Gnosticism was regarded by Voegelin as being symptomatic of a mood of alienation. (34) He discussed this theme in terms of "the transcendentalising form of derailment," and much to the detriment of the subject, assuming that the target was inferior to his preferred metaxy (which supposedly represented Plato's version of human existence as a condition between higher and lower degrees of being). The underlying thrust of his neo-Thomist argument sought to prove that the derailment denied the "tension of existence" and therefore would "preclude the experiential knowledge of divine presence." (35) At all costs, the divine presence must remain a mystery subject only to faith.
The modern era focus for related deliberations is the time span from Thomas Hobbes to figures like Hegel, Marx, Freud, Heidegger, Sartre, Claude Levi-Strauss, and Samuel Beckett. (36) Voegelin's critique of modernity and Continental philosophy is distinctive, though sometimes considered unduly derisive. In particular, the persistent associations of an antipathy to antique Gnosticism do not always blend well with political analysis and the assessment of social action.
In an attempt to negotiate theological biases, myself not being a Voegelin partisan, I prefer to analyse from a different standpoint such themes as the "ascent" and "descent" known to the Sethian Gnostics and also reminiscent of Plotinus. Despite a conceptual familiarity with Plato's "return," the existential mind of Voegelin resisted experiential possibilities in certain avenues which he closed down. Such possibilities frequently become a subject of popular commercial fantasy, leaving ignorance as the major contemporary denominator.
6. A Neo-Thomist Philosophy of History
The New Testament scholar Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) was another subject of Voegelin's disapproval. Bultmann was a German theologian of Lutheran background who was strongly influenced by Heidegger. Voegelin saw Bultmann as a modern representative of "gnostic existentialism" in which a "pronouncedly Gnostic character" (37) was afforded to the existentialism adapted from Heidegger. Existentialism and Gnostic doctrines are not the same subject, despite misunderstandings to the contrary.
Voegelin doubtless had some basis for accusing Bultmann of denying the relevance of the Old Testament and the history of Israel for Christian thought; this tendency was due to Bultmann's belief that "the Christian faith is essentially a movement out of history that takes place in the believer's personal encounter with Christ in the present." (38)
Ascertaining history is important in the development of religious movements. Voegelin's philosophy of history was bold in the tangent from Husserlian phenomenology and the conventional history of political ideas. Recognition should be awarded to his (belated) realisation that "one's own cultural group attempts to interpret history as centering on it alone and thereby virtually denies humanity... to other peoples." (39) Yet Voegelin's "history" of existential experiences and symbolic expressions does not satisfy all analysts that a reliable index is afforded.
In the conceptual sphere, his curtailment of an intuitive apprehension of reality, and his assumption that such intuition is at loggerheads with critical reflection, arguably denies something vital to advanced human potential. Voegelin's preference for symbolic analogies was bound up with his belief that "man is inevitably a limited knower," (40) leading to the assumption that "instead of certainty, one may have, at the very most, the confidence which comes from faith." (41) This was not the belief of Plotinus, and nor would the neo-Thomist viewpoint appear to accurately depict Plato's state of mind.
Nevertheless, Voegelin is often at his best when he discusses the Greek philosophers, even though there is room for disagreement on various points. "The existential meaning of Plato's vision is so badly obscured today that its knowledge can no longer be presupposed." (42) Discounting the existential factor, one might almost agree with this controversial contention, though with the reminder that other visions have also been obscured (e.g., the Gnostic variant caricatured by Voegelin).
The existential Christian Platonist believed that Hegel's version of the Greek experience amounted to sophistry. Voegelin had the eccentric habit of referring to Hegel's philosophy of history as sorcery. (43) The former justified this idiom with the observation that Hegel referred to his System der Wissenschaft as an attempt to find the zauberworte and the zauberkraft, the magic words and the magic force, factors that would determine the future course of history by raising consciousness to a state of perfection. (44) The new age is perennially elusive.
The avant garde Thomist included Karl Marx in the magical pursuit, in terms of having "understood the magic component in Hegel's System only too well, resumes from Goethe the alchemistic symbol of the Superman when he wants to characterise the change in the nature of man to be achieved by revolutionary action." (45)
Voegelin was able to report that Nietzsche used the same symbol, the latter being explicit about the force that would supposedly secure the advent of the Superman. A passage is quoted from Nietzsche's Der Wille zur Macht (The Will to Power): "The charm (zauber) that works for us, the Venus eye that fascinates even our foes and blinds them, is the magic of the extreme (die magie des Extrems)." (46) Voegelin notes with due concern the fact that Nietzsche denies the relevance of truth with regard to the charm. Nietzsche states that truth may be in his vision, but "we do not need it, we would come to power and victory even without truth." (47) More realistically, the will to power of Nietzsche tragically led to his insanity.
Voegelin dubs Hegel's system as intellectual magic, the Marxist variant as political magic, and the Nietzschean will to power as psychological magic. (48) The twentieth century successors had "revealed the Terror at the core of the magic dream," a conclusion in which may be detected the preoccupation of Voegelin with the Nazi phase. "The philosopher is confronted with the phenomenon of a diseased consciousness," meaning political attempts to change the world and amounting to the rejection of reason. (49)
7. In Search of Order
The fifth and final volume of Order and History was subtitled In Search of Order. The author's death curtailed any greater length than the 120 pages encompassed. Plotinus is again in very low profile by comparison with Plato, with only one index entry for the former and many for the latter. Aristotle and Aquinas both have two index entries, as does Nietzsche. Marx has four, while Hegel is altogether more prominent (though less so than Plato). Voegelin's distinctive Christianising form of Platonism continued.
Some further reflections on Hegel are offered, including the latter's proposed "science of the experience of consciousness." Voegelin accuses his rival of relegating Plato's vision to a body of literary work, "to be understood in a fundamentalist manner as a set of propositions in the subject-object mode, with Hegel conveniently forgetting Plato's energetic declarations that anybody who understood him in this manner had not understood what he was doing." (50) Yet the commentator adds that his reflections "should not be read as a critique of Hegel but, on the contrary, as an attempt to clarify and stress his achievement." (Order and History Vol. 5, p. 70).
Voegelin had sometimes implied that Hegel was his major rival in the philosophy of history. Yet here, Hegel's "deformation of certain structures of consciousness" is apparently mitigated by "the fact that he acted in revolt against the even worse deformation of the same structures in the public unconscious that surrounded him socially" (ibid., p. 69).
This invocation of "unconscious" criteria can meet with an objection that the public cannot be blamed for the conceptual errors of the middle class pedagogues who staffed the universities and theological centres. It was the pedagogues who moulded the public awareness, as did the military generals and the politicians. In the last analysis, it was the pedagogues who taught the politicians, just as they still do today. None of them are unconscious of what they are doing.
Hegel is sometimes considered to have mystified the process of history by depicting his national culture as the most advanced to date in world events. Yet Voegelin made no reference to such matters. Instead he reflects on Hegel's attitude to the "language of the gods" in classical antiquity, and says that Hegel deformed the Nous of Plato, to which the Protestant thinker opposed the "symbol" Geist. The accusation is made that Hegel eschewed Plato's "symbolization of noetic consciousness through the myth," deeming this to be "scientifically worthless" (ibid., p. 61). (51)
Paradoxically, Hegel's achievement is also described in terms of a "rediscovery of the experiential source of symbolisation" (ibid., p. 70), though Voegelin seems indignant that Hegel "declares the symbol 'God' to be a senseless sound" (ibid., p. 66). The argument here seems to be an extension of the controversy surrounding Hegel in the 1820s, when he was accused by theologians of being an atheist and yet defended himself as being a staunch Lutheran.
It may be doubted that Hegel's Protestant science of logic sufficiently comprehended the Greek philosophers, despite his admiration for the latter. Voegelin was much more resourceful in relation to Plato, though the context as a whole still requires supplement.
Voegelin did not blindly follow Jung's theme of the collective unconscious. He questioned the element of ambiguity in such language, (52) and had emerged with an alternative idea. "The existential consciousness that should be the formative force of public order has been replaced by a 'public unconscious' which energetically resists an analysis of its structure." (53) Though doubtless an improvement on the speculations of Jung, the substitute can still appear obscurantist.
Also unsatisfactory is Voegelin's reference to "certain structures of consciousness whose repression by the public unconscious is one of the causes of the contemporary disorder." (54) The lecture from which this statement came was given in 1980 at Louisiana State University, as part of the Edward Douglas White Lectures on Citizenship. By that time, the deformative influence of alternative therapy was ascendant in the New Age of America, as conducted by conscious agents like Dr. Stanislav Grof, a neo-Jungian hierophant who misled the public gullibility like so many other symbolists and pseudo-gnostics. The commercial programme of clinically untested therapy, incarnate in Grof Transpersonal Training Inc., was questionably endorsed by such organisations as the Institute of Noetic Sciences and the Scientific and Medical Network. The repression of sanity and due scruple now had noetic and "scientific" auspices. (55)
The devalued term noetic was one of Voegelin's favourite locutions, and does not safeguard against pedagogic error. The term figures in one of his notable eulogies of the disciple of Socrates.
"Plato rather than any of the great figures in Egyptian, Persian, Hindu, or Chinese civilisations stands en arche of our present problems, because his Vision has revealed the noetic core of questing consciousness, and because his articulation of the Vision has created insights into the noetic core which have remained constant in the Western process of philosophising, even if they are honoured as frequently by deformative action as by noetic reenactment and elaboration." (56)
Jung was arguably a major deformative agent of the Platonic ideas, converting these into misleading archetypes which saturated new age commerce. Though Plato is certainly a pivotal figure in Western civilisation, the Western process of philosophising is not necessarily so relevant to the modern Egyptian, Persian, Hindu, or Chinese civilisations, whose heritages can boast many figures scarcely known to the Western sector. Voegelin failed to register a large number of them. The adaptability of Plato to present problems depends very much upon the method of interpretation employed.
8. Existential Christian Platonism
Voegelin's interpretation of Plato's terminology is not universally agreed upon.
He elaborated a "tension of existence," meaning a fundamental experience of longing for transcendental fulfilment. The object of longing is here the Beyond, which is Voegelin's translation of the Greek word epekeina, representing the ultimate and indefinable (he also used the Latin term summum bonum, an equivalent of Plato's agathon or Good). A drawback in this version is that the Beyond becomes unattainable, being so transcendent that man must remain in the metaxy ("between") of human existence, or caught between the human and divine.
The same commentator also made much use of the "classical symbols" helkein and zetesis, which he interpreted as meaning a dual momentum at work in the "tension of existence." Helkein comprises the power of attraction exercised by the transcendental Beyond, while zetesis (or zetein) signifies a seeking or striving toward the Beyond.
The Greek word nous is employed by existential Christian Platonism to designate the capacity of seeking episteme or true knowledge (the opposite of doxa, mere opinion). The activity of nous is called noesis, the process by which episteme is developed; for Voegelin, that process comprises reflective understanding, extending to critical self-awareness. The term episteme is related to theoria, a rather significant word employed by Plato and Aristotle, and which has been translated as "contemplative wisdom." (57)
Voegelin applied a derogatory status to the word gnosis (originally a general term in Greek for knowledge). He made gnosis the virtual opposite of episteme, a format which can be considered arbitrary. His opposition to gnosis is stamped by a preference for the Thomist celebration of fides formata, a Latin phrase meaning orientation of the soul toward God through a due exercise of faith, and involving love (caritas) as a vital principle. Elevating faith above gnosis, Voegelin believed that in eliminating any claim to certain knowledge, he had the antidote to dogmatism.
His analysis is more convincing in his disavowal of the conventional idea that Plato was a philosopher who developed "doctrines." Voegelin offered a sophisticated explanation of the intention behind the Parmenides, a work of Plato which has caused marked difficulties of exegesis amongst interpreters. Moderns suppose that a philosopher has to develop doctrines, says Voegelin, such as the Platonic "doctrine of Ideas" or the "doctrine of truth" associated with Heidegger. He cites the reflection of a well known translator that the Parmenides dialogue "seems to be a reductio ad absurdum of the Eleatic doctrines and methods, put into the mouth of the chief of the Eleatic school." Fowler noted the contradiction conveyed by the apparent negativity of the dialogue, as Plato elsewhere treats the "doctrine of ideas and the Eleatic doctrine of being" with profound respect.
Voegelin here suggests that Plato esteemed Parmenides "as a compeer in philosophising whose work is exposed to the same type of misconstruction as his own, and expresses his respect for the great thinker by making him the critic of 'Eleatics' who fracture the experienced vision of Being into doctrines about 'being' and 'not-being.' " (58) Thus, Voegelin believed that "on the level of luminosity, Plato can acknowledge the affinity of the Parmenidean vision with his own; on the level of intentionality, the Eleatic identifications suffer from the same defect as the constructions of Sophistic extremists." (59)
Plato was not a modern intellectual in his version of rationalism. His philosophical method, expressed in a dialogue format, has not always proved readily assimilable. Voegelin emphasised:
"Plato's energetic declaration that anybody who derives teachable doctrines from his philosophising has not understood what he is doing, is simply ignored because it has become unintelligible in the dogmatomachic climate." (60)
Voegelin coined the term dogmatomachy to designate the conflict and limitation attendant upon opinions, in the sense of being motivated by philodoxy (Plato used the word philodoxos), the love of opinion. He depicted philodoxy in terms of the desire to cease questioning and thus to escape from the "tension of existence." In Voegelin's format, this theme converges with his negative view of gnosis. Readers have the option to continue further enquiry as to whether mystical gnosis is really such a dead-end on the same existential level as scientific materialism, Fascism, and other problems of modernity repudiated by Voegelin.
It is possible to take the view that Voegelin effectively renders Plato's love of wisdom as being equivalent to the Thomist act of loving faith. The differentiations are not fully covered in existential Christian Platonism.
9. Reflections of a Commentator
In Voegelin, the subject of Gnosticism is diffuse to the point of caricature. A critical requirement is to bring the subject into perspective without the political connotations. The modern period does not fit ancient Gnosticism, and investigators of the latter phenomenon are dealing with different groupings and doctrinal approaches.
His confrontation with Nazism during his early life, and one from which he had to flee, left Voegelin with a permanent antipathy to Fascist attitudes. That is quite understandable, but modernity as a whole was not guilty of the malformation, and nor was ancient Gnosticism. The political legacy of Marxism was similarly bloodstained, though Marx was nearer to the arguments of Hegel (a Protestant logician) than to anything Gnostic. Ancient Gnosticism was basically apolitical.
Voegelin's interpretation of Plato is often ingenious, but cannot be regarded as definitive. The mystical element in Plato has been debated, with attendant denials, uncertainties, and possibilities. Plato chose the literary format of dialogues for his expression, and is traditionally credited with the authorship of thirteen extant letters, whose authenticity has been much in doubt, though varying between different epistles.
The Seventh Letter of Plato is the longest epistle, and the one most likely to be genuine. The attribution is not unassailable, and has been contested by some scholars. Whereas supporters of this document find in it confirmation that Plato had a political orientation in addition to his "metaphysical" output attested by the Dialogues. The Seventh Letter is also noted for a distinctive passage in which Plato emphasises that nothing of importance is committed to writing. This passage is capable of a mystical interpretation rather than anything political.
In the relevant passage, Plato says that, in his judgment, it is impossible that "any present or future writers who pretend to knowledge of the matters with which I concern myself" can have any understanding of those matters. The reason being that "no treatise by me concerning it [those matters] exists or ever will exist." (61)
In the same passage, Plato emphasises that this field of endeavour, meaning genuine philosophy, is not something that can be put into words like other branches of learning. "Acquaintance with it must come rather after a long period of attendance on instruction in the subject itself and of close companionship, when, suddenly, like a blaze kindled by a leaping spark, it is generated in the soul and at once becomes self-sustaining." (62)
For obvious reasons made explicit, nobody may pretend to knowledge of such matters on Plato's behalf. One can merely remark that the description quoted is strikingly reminiscent of some mystical vocations. One may suspect intricacies in what was not divulged, but sufficient is stated in the extant text (if considered authentic) to cast strong doubts upon doctrines which stress that Plato viewed transcendental truth as being an unreachable mystery.
In the same passage, Plato further emphasises that the attempt to express these intrinsic matters of philosophy would not be to the advantage of the world at large, "except to those few who can find out the truth for themselves with a little guidance." (63) The rest of the audience, he adds, would merely be puffed up with "an unjustifiable and quite improper contempt for their fellows or with a lofty and vain expectation, based on the belief that they were in possession of some mighty secret." (64)
These disclosures do not indicate the armchair rationalism associated today with philosophy. Instead, they might be regarded as testimony to an ancient recognition of the difference between proficient would-be intuitive philosophers and the greater proportion of "mystical" or cultist failures who are unprepared for the rigours of a major quest, and who demonstrate the less savoury characteristics associated with esoteric elites. If Plato was even half the calibre of Plotinus in terms of contemplation, then the suggestive label of gnostics (anthropographic small g) could be justified in resistance to the "compactness of the Dionysiac soul" imposed by Voegelin. (65) Certainly, the extant mysticism of Plotinus can be awarded a (small g anthropographic) gnostic description in view of certain well known statements in the Enneads relating to a transcendent identification with the divine.
For immediate purposes here, it is surely more relevant to locate Plotinus in the small g gnostic sector than entities like Hegel, Nietzsche, Marx, and Hitler. Even the aristocratic Plato might more readily be dignified with the ascription, which derives from an ancient Greek word rather than the modern German lexicon.
In the Seventh Letter, Plato was very critical of persons who were not "genuinely lovers of wisdom, in whom philosophy is no more than a superficial veneer like the tan men get by exposing themselves to the sun." (66) The obscure contemplative life and "hard work" he mentioned have long since been replaced in conventional channels by a verbal examination conferring the status credentials of Ph.D. Such an asset can furnish the linguistic and related equipment for textual investigation and research avenues, evocative of Aristotelian pursuits, but is not necessarily the same vocation as the one Plato was referring to.
As Plato is listed by A. K. Coomaraswamy and others as a key representative of the "perennial philosophy," it would seem a legitimate argument here that the contribution of Plato is not extant save in the format of dialogues. What is so often (and so glibly) called the perennial philosophy amounts to a residual mould of minority repertory legacies assimilated to a dogmatic context, e.g., the Upanishads, the Pali Canon, the Mahayana Sutras. Even the Dialogues of Plato became part of a school format with circumscribing commentarial rules. The full dimensions of the philosophia perennis are elusive, and resistant to the partisan criteria which inordinately simplify via the status lists of mystical celebrity. (67)
Eric Voegelin is now officially regarded as a philosopher of history. He discussed a substantial number of writers who have been allocated to this category, including Herodotus, Thucydides, Polybius, Ssu-ma Ch'ien, Augustine, Joachim of Fiore, Voltaire, Condorcet, Turgot, Hegel, Schelling, Jacob Burckhardt, Marx, Comte, Nietzsche, Collingwood, Spengler, Bergson, Jaspers, Bultmann, Ernst Cassirer, Hannah Arendt, and Arnold Toynbee. (68) The philosophy of history is alarming when given Nietzschean accents, Eurocentric when adorned with Hegelian flourishes, potentially violent in the Marxist idiom, and debatable even in the form devised by Toynbee.
In an earlier published work, the present writer acknowledged the role of a philosophy of history, though in a context not generally associated with that topic. (69) I there attempted to relate the problematic subject to sociology, seeking to negotiate Max Weber's imposition of wertfreiheit (value neutrality) in which facts are considered a different field to values. The general conditioning to a fact/value dichotomy is currently pronounced in scientific and philosophical thought. Voegelin notably opposed this factor, for which he deserves some credit, comparing well with Wittgenstein's contradictory preservation of a language of facts that he felt should leave in silence all "transcendental" matters. This resort to "language games" should be distinguished from Plato's epistolary reticence concerning philosophical ultimates, despite Wittgenstein's reputation as a "mystic," which is how Karl Jaspers chose to classify him. (70)
If the ascent from the "cave" (71) is not mentioned, there are too many who will imagine that nothing else exists but the cave and the shadows.
Voegelin might have imagined that Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) was subject to a mood of derailment and alienation in resorting to a lonely hut in Norway. (72) Wittgenstein was not a mystic or a gnostic, though he was evidently aware that the Vienna Circle had conceptual flaws. Voegelin regarded the Vienna Circle as extremist reductionists in the mood of logical positivism which they influentially nurtured. Classification of Voegelin himself has varied from that of "a failed Socratic theologian" to a "mystic philosopher," to use his own words. (73)
Both Wittgenstein and Voegelin had a Roman Catholic mother, and both of them developed in a Viennese milieu (though Voegelin was not born in Vienna). The former's writings seem surprisingly narrow in range by comparison with Voegelin, whose philosophy of history assimilated so much more data than did contemporary language philosophy. To be effective, the philosophy of history requires a firm grounding not merely in the history of philosophy, but also in the history of religions. There is also the issue of a sociology of religion. Philosophising history is a hazardous undertaking, and can easily degenerate into, for example, misleading metaphysical theories and generalisations.
Science does not create values, as is well known, and often resists that factor. Scientism has been defined as a form of theory which emphasises that all reality can be ascertained through the methods operative in the natural sciences, including mathematics. Voegelin loathed scientism, an attitude accompanied by his caricature of the amorphous "Gnosticism."
Alternative formulations to scientism have often produced equally limiting conceptual frameworks, even to the extent of ignoring the behavioural traits of diverse minority repertories, or else conflating these in much the same way as scientific materialism tends to do. The proliferating sector of hindering attitudes includes ahistoricism, metanarratives and related extravaganzas, existential conflations of vastly different psychological orientations, and "transpersonal" adventures in the commercial new age.
Kevin R. D. Shepherd
May 2011 (slightly modified December 2012)
(1) Eric Voegelin, Order and History Vol. 4: The Ecumenic Age (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1974), p. 21. Another proposal for Hegelian gnosis has been made in a rather different context. See Laurence Dickey, "Hegel on Religion and Philosophy" (301-47) in F. L. Beiser, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Hegel (Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 310, affirming that: "Like many Christians before him, some of whom were fathers of the Church, Hegel aimed at making philosophy the agent for expanding Christian pistis into Christian gnosis." See also art. cit., p. 338 note 49, stating that the Alexandrian Fathers Clement and Origen are the key figures here. This theme should be distinguished from Voegelin's "essential core" argument. Professor Dickey disavows any implication that Hegel was a Spinozist, and resists the influential idea of Feuerbach that Hegel was a pantheist (ibid., pp. 339-40 note 73). He suggests that contentions about Hegel's supposed atheism should be revised in terms of "treating speculative philosophy as a legitimate tendency within the intellectual history of Protestantism" (ibid., p. 315). One might agree that Hegel was a "gnostic" rather than an "atheist," but neither term would seem to be strictly relevant to Hegel's form of philosophical thought. See also Dickey, Hegel: Religion, Economics, and the Politics of Spirit, 1770-1807 (Cambridge University Press, 1987).
(2) B. R. Von Schlegell, trans., Principles of Sufism by Al-Qushayri (Berkeley: Mizan Press, 1990), p. 317.
(3) See further Shepherd, Minds and Sociocultures Vol. One: Zoroastrianism and the Indian Religions (Cambridge: Philosophical Press, 1995), pp. 723ff.; Richard F. Gombrich, How Buddhism Began: The Conditioned Genesis of the Early Teachings (London: Athlone Press, 1996).
(4) See Eugene Webb, Eric Voegelin: Philosopher of History (University of Washington Press, 1981), p. 183, and citing Voegelin, Order and History Vol. 2, p. 294, which implicates Anaxagoras as a sophist. The latter was an Ionian philosopher whose fragments have given rise to different interpretations.
(5) Webb, op. cit., p. 184. On the commentator, see Eugene Webb.
(6) Ibid., p. 89, and citing Voegelin, Order and History Vol. 1, p. ix, and describing this as the most pregnant of Voegelin's definitions of philosophy, if likely to sound strange to the modern ear.
(7) Webb, op. cit., p. 181 note 14.
(8) Ibid., p. 189. Voegelin regarded Luther's doctrine of justification through faith alone as the first deliberate attack on the Thomist doctrine of amicitia, meaning the mutual love between God and man. He stigmatised this attack as "a major step in the spiritual disintegration of Christian culture" (ibid., p.190). That feature of exegesis tends to underline the very strong Thomist bias of Voegelin, in reaction to his Lutheran background. Aquinas apparently believed that God had little love for heathens and heretics, which is perhaps why his doctrine was so compatible with the Inquisition.
(9) Ibid., p. 198. Professor Webb's appraisal of this blanket treatment of "gnosticism" is very muted. He does acknowledge that Voegelin's version "makes for problems, both philosophical and historical" (ibid.), and correctly observes that ancient Gnosticism "strongly tended toward apoliticism" (ibid., p. 199). A Professor of comparative religion perhaps ought to have been more stringent with Voegelin's usage of the term Gnosticism in an insidiously political context.
(10) Ibid., p. 199, and referring to Voegelin's Die Politischen Religionen (Vienna, 1938). Professor Webb comments that Voegelin's "steadfast opposition to gnostic thinking in all of its manifestions derives from his own experience of the threat of death and the reality of exile at the hands of the Hitlerian corruption of the gnostic, apocalyptic, and magical streams that have flowed into our own century out of antiquity and the Middle Ages" (ibid., p. 224). Notice the word corruption here, which is surely more relevant than a continual misuse of the word gnostic.
(11) See Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion (first edn, 1958; second edn, Boston: Beacon Press, 1963), pp. 320ff., who makes such misleading remarks as: "The extended discourse with ancient nihilism proved - to me at least - a help in discerning and placing the meaning of modern nihilism" (ibid., p. 320). Professor Jonas started his career as a student of Heidegger, and was strongly influenced by existentialist thinking. He states that "the 'existentialist' reading of Gnosticism" was "so well vindicated by its hermeneutic success" (ibid., p. 321). The confusion between Gnosticism and existentialism was pervasive, and the misunderstandings still linger. The comparison made by Jonas between Heidegger and Valentinus is superficial, though he did point out some dissimilarities, e.g., that existentialism is "a dualism without metaphysics" (ibid., pp. 338-40). Surprisingly, even a scholar like Richard Smith has written: "Hans Jonas presents a compelling argument, and the similarities between ancient Gnosticism and modern existentialism do seem at least 'analogical.' " See the Afterword in J. M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library in English (third edn, Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1988), p. 545. Smith was obliged to observe, however, that the existentialist Albert Camus repudiated Gnosticism in his book The Rebel, recognising that it was a metaphysical system at odds with existentialism. The existential analogy has no more intrinsic validity than the pseudo-Gnostic situation in which the Beat writers Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg celebrated their bohemian ideas. Kerouac is said to have expressed Gnostic themes in his novel Doctor Sax (1959), while Ginsberg topically invoked the archons in his Plutonian Ode of 1978 after reading the Hans Jonas book on Gnosticism. Perhaps those two idiosyncratic writers can be loosely associated with the decadent form of Gnosticism described in the Panarion.
(12) Webb, Eric Voegelin, p. 199, extending the proof that ancient Gnosticism was not politically oriented.
(14) See Shepherd, Some Philosophical Critiques and Appraisals (2004), pp. 18ff.; idem, Pointed Observations (2005), pp. 30ff., 133ff.
(15) Voegelin, Order and History Vol. 4, p. 268. See also Voegelin, The New Science of Politics (University of Chicago Press, 1952), pp. 110ff. Cf. Warwick Gould and Marjorie Reeves, Joachim of Fiore and the Myth of the Eternal Evangel in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Oxford University Press, 1987; second edn, 2001).
(16) Webb, op. cit., p. 200, and referring the reader to Voegelin's From Enlightenment to Revolution, ed. J. H. Hallowell (Duke University Press, 1975).
(17) Cf. Webb, Eric Voegelin, pp. 200-1, and reporting the subject's disapproving view of two ways to escape the "tension of existence" (metaxy) that he enjoined. One way is to escape from the world into the Beyond, like the ancient Gnostics, and the other way "is to draw the Beyond in some manner into the world." Thus all the "gnosticism" was a vain endeavour to escape the existential tension, which was presumably incarnate in Voegelin's relaxed academic role. See also Voegelin, Science, Politics, and Gnosticism (Chicago: Regnery, 1968). A criticism of such books was expressed by Richard Smith in his Afterword to Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library in English (third edn, Leiden 1988), pp. 542-3. The critic says that "modern Gnosticism" is Voegelin's predominant theme, and observes that the latter identified "the essence of modernity as the growth of gnosticism." Smith describes Voegelin as a political philosopher, but also likens him to "some unhinged biblical prophet." The critic further observes that Voegelin urged "repressing Gnostic corruption and restoring the forces of civilisation," which is indeed a problematic issue in the context under discussion. Voegelin described Comte as "the first high priest of a new religion," meaning positivism, though the indications are that sociology as a whole would not fare well in the envisaged repression. Communism was labelled "left-wing gnosticism," while the National Socialism of Nazism was the right wing variant. Somewhere in between was "scientism and the immanentist pride in the variants of salvation through physics, economics, sociology, biology, and psychology." Smith concluded that "Voegelin's writings could be regarded as silly were it not for their strong impact within and beyond his own field of political science." The critic further reported that academics from various disciplines had gathered at conferences like the one entitled "Gnosticism and Modernity" (held at Vanderbilt University in 1978, an objective being to discuss Voegelin's major theme). The participants discussed such innovative topics as "The Gnosticism of Lincoln's Political Rhetoric." Yet further, a literary critic (Cleanth Brooks) who had absorbed Voegelin's ideas, described Walker Percy's novel Lancelot as "modern Gnosticism." That novel has nothing to do with the Arthurian legend; the hero burns down his home in order to revenge himself upon the occupants, who include his wife and daughter. There is surely cause for wonder at how the misuse of antique words is furthered within academic and literary circles. The matter may even be of some sociological consequence.
(18) Webb, op. cit., p. 201. There can be strong disagreeement on this issue, in that for instance, the modern "immanentist Gnosticism" frequently amounts to forms of apocalypticism that are not found in the authentic Gnosticism of ancient texts.
(19) Ibid. Hegel's approach to Christianity and Platonism was not the same as Voegelin's, though he was similarly far more of a professorial logician than a Gnostic.
(20) Ibid. Eugene Webb was a Professor of comparative religion and comparative literature at the University of Washington. He adopted a surprisingly loose approach to the Voegelinist theme of "gnosis of any sort." Can thinkers like Thomas More, Condorcet, and Comte be fairly equated with Hitler? Not in anthropography, which is a citizen pursuit concerned to make due distinctions or differentiations. See further Shepherd, Meaning in Anthropos: Anthropography as an interdisciplinary science of culture (Cambridge: Anthropographia, 1991).
(21) Webb, op. cit, p. 201. In the book Minds and Sociocultures Vol. One, the present writer proffered another version of Gnosticism and gnosticism, capitalised and uncapitalised. That version has radically different accents to Voegelin and Webb, whom I had not read at the time. The anthropographic gnosticism (small g) applies only to disciplined minorities of mystics like those associated with Sufism, and does not extend to the configurations of thought associated with Western political agendas, positivist science, and idealist theory. The anthropographic Gnosticism (capital G) applies only to the conventionally recognised phase of ancient Gnostic thought represented in archaeological documents. See further Minds and Sociocultures Vol. One: Zoroastrianism and the Indian Religions (Cambridge: Philosophical Press, 1995), pp. 307ff.
(22) Webb, Eric Voegelin, pp. 202-3, and citing The New Science of Politics (1952), p. 124. A critique of Voegelin's most well known work was Hans Kelsen, A New Science of Politics, ed. E. Arnold (Frankfurt: Ontos Verlag, 2004). Kelsen says that "what he [Voegelin] suggests is in principle nothing but a return to the metaphysical and theological speculation of Plato, Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas" (p. 14). This accusation is made in reference to Voegelin's intended "restoration of the social science, destroyed by positivism" (ibid.).
(23) Webb, Eric Voegelin, p. 204.
(24) Ibid. This type of generalisation is not convincing, however convenient it may be for the theories concerned.
(25) Cf. ibid., p. 206, who raised no objections to the biased nature of Voegelin's assessment of the Manichaeans. One of the more accessible books on Augustine divulges an important factor in a single paragraph. A large number of "Elect" Manichaeans were drawn from the lower classes, and were an equivalent of the ascetics among the Egyptian fellahin who became known as Desert Fathers. The standards in those Manichaean ranks were very high, and "many of these simple followers were exceptionally austere." See Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (London: Faber, 1967), p. 55. In contrast, Augustine was a Latin-speaking intellectual who taught literature at Thagaste, moving amongst upper class Africans and Romans. His context was African Manichaeism, and according to his understanding of a religion far removed from the original Iranian and Near Eastern context. Cf. the "ecumenic" version of Mani in Voegelin, Order and History Vol. 4, pp. 138ff.
(26) Webb, Eric Voegelin, p. 212, and citing a provocative passage in The New Science of Politics, p. 122. Webb follows up with the statement of Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae that "imperfect knowledge belongs to the very notion of faith."
(27) Webb, op. cit., p. 213.
(28) See Voegelin, Order and History Vol. 4 (1974), pp. 134ff., 239ff., where the author's Christian orientation is evident, even though he considered that Plato had a superior critical consciousness to St. Paul. However, Voegelin awarded a "superior degree of differentiation" to the Pauline version of Christian doctrine. He is unusual for his assertion that "the noetic core" was the same in both classical Greek philosophy and the Gospel movement. See Webb, op. cit., p. 186, and citing Voegelin, "The Gospel and Culture" (59-101) in D. G. Miller and D. Y. Hadidian, eds., Jesus and Man's Hope Vol. 2 (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, 1971), p. 80. In that same article, Voegelin cites a Pauline passage in the First Epistle to the Corinthians (8:1-3), in which the word gnosis is used in contradistinction to agape (love). Voegelin interprets that the Corinthian community have gnosis as a "doctrine and unwisely apply it as a rule of conduct" (art. cit., p. 79, and cited by Webb, p. 185). His implication is that of people who imagine that they know. The context of the Pauline anti-gnosis passage cited by Voegelin is that of eating food consecrated to pagan deities in a pagan temple. The indications are that knowledge (gnosis) of the one God involved the cognisance that the pagan gods were not real. Yet Paul evidently deemed this factor a liability for weak believers who might chance to observe the fraternising with pagans at their temples in order to obtain food. Cf. The New English Bible (second edn, Cambridge University Press, 1970), p. 216. The text does not detail any doctrine of Gnosis, and the modern reader has to laboriously search for clues as to the meaning Paul applied to the problematic word. The First Epistle to the Corinthians has been the subject of scholarly speculation and disagreement with regard to the "Gnostic" element proposed. Cf. Simone Pétrement, A Separate God: The Christian Origins of Gnosticism, trans. C. Harrison (London: Darton Longman and Todd, 1991 ), pp. 7-8, 218-19, 247ff., 483, who believes that what is opposed in the Corinthian epistles is the first attested indication of a tendency to Gnosticism, and not a Gnosticism already formed. However, some validity is afforded to the claim that the Fourth Gospel is already Gnostic or semi-Gnostic. In both the Corinthian epistles, Paul frequently uses the word gnosis, apparently because that word was favoured in the Corinthian branch of Christianity. The influence of Hellenistic Jewish thought has been strongly suggested for the Corinthian milieu, an influence emanating from Alexandria and not Palestine. Dual tendencies to antinomianism and asceticism have been seen in the Corinthian epistles, though the issue has been debated. Paul complains of having heard reports of sexual immorality amongst the Corinthians. Yet Voegelin's stigma of gnosis was applied without knowing the precise historical context of the Corinthian situation. The First Epistle was written in Greek at Ephesus circa 53-57 CE.
(29) Webb, Eric Voegelin, p. 29.
(30) F. C. Happold, Mysticism: A Study and an Anthology (1964), p. 276.
(31) Webb, op. cit., p. 202, and reviewing a basic theme in The New Science of Politics, in which Voegelin was keen to urge that the English Puritans of the seventeenth century ultimately derived their elitist claims from ancient Gnosticism.
(32) This, at least, is what Eugene Webb specifies on page 29 of Eric Voegelin: Philosopher of History, and reporting that in conversations with him, Voegelin referred frequently to both The Cloud of Unknowing and the Upanishads.
(33) Happold, op. cit., p. 281, and using the edition of Evelyn Underhill, The Cloud of Unknowing (London: John M. Watkins, 1912). Underhill made available the British Museum manuscript which has the significant title A Book of Contemplation the which is called the Cloud of Unknowing, in the which a soul is oned with God. Commentators like Voegelin demonstrate an acute tendency to curtail the dimensions of being "oned with God," a gnostic (anthropographic small g) theme which has suffered many contusions in various sectors.(34) According to Webb, op. cit., p. 239, Voegelin traces the pattern of experience associated with the Gnostic movement as far back as the First Intermediate Period of Egyptian history, the motivating factor allegedly being a mood of alienation. However, the article of Voegelin which bears upon this issue is rather more complex in tone. See Voegelin, "Immortality: Experience and Symbol," Harvard Theological Review (1967) 60 (3): 235-79. This includes reference to the Egyptian text known as Dispute of a Man, Who contemplates Suicide, with his Soul, dating to circa 2000 BCE. The contents of that text include evidence of despair at the troubles of a disordered age. Voegelin finds alienation in this text, though adding that "neither the argument of the Dispute nor the philosophising of Plato has anything to do with Gnosis" (art.cit., p. 270). He says that the polemic of Clement of Alexandria against Marcion and other Gnostics furnishes a "body of alienation symbols that can serve in three experiential contexts, differing as widely as Pagan philosophy, Gnosis, and Christianity" (art. cit., p. 271). Voegelin's conclusion here is that the appearance of alienation themes does not prove any historical variant to be Gnostic, "even though in the Gnostic context they are remarkably elaborate" (art. cit., p. 271). Voegelin was being very cynical of historicist method in his remark concerning the Dispute that: "I would not be surprised if sooner or later it were used to extrapolate the history of Gnosis beyond Iran to its true beginning in Egypt" (art. cit., p. 270). He viewed "the critical methods of existential analysis" as a superior alternative to to "the older historicist methods" (art. cit., pp. 269-70), believing that the latter conceived of "symbols" as doctrine and divorced these from experiential context. Undiscerning forms of historicism have no doubt been guilty of some or many contractions, though existential analysis denied the relevance of the Gnostic experiential context. The historical method of locating due contextual features might still be preferable. Voegelin appears to rely upon the conventional historicist view that Gnosis and early Christianity "were conditioned by the expansion of empire and the destruction of traditional community order" (art. cit., p. 269). Significantly perhaps, he attributed the "alienation" of the PreSocratics and Plato to the situation engendered by the waning power of the poleis and the continuous warfare amongst those factions, combined with the influence of Sophistic thinkers. Modern alienation is attributed to the pressure induced by "the decline of Christianity into dogmatic belief, the wave of enlightenment, the dissolution of traditional economic and social forms through the rise of industrial society, and the global wars" (art. cit.). Voegelin was blind to the fact that Christianity was exhibiting dogmatic beliefs in the direct milieu of Aquinas; he also deformed the "symbols" of Gnosticism by conflating these with "modern alienation" and political disruption. Laments about the gulf between modernity and traditionalism must be more objective.
(35) Webb, Eric Voegelin, pp. 239-41, who is categorical that "this is true whether the denial operates in a transcendentalising or an immanentising manner" (ibid., p. 241). Even more dogmatically, it is affirmed: "The result is that the tension which could be experienced as a joyful movement of theophany becomes either a state of anxiety, in which one fears inevitable frustration, or of ennui" (ibid.). Thus, all that Gnosis can achieve at best is anxiety, according to this neo-Thomist version of philosophy. That is the impression created by Professor Webb, and is not offset by the quotation on the same page from Voegelin's Anamnesis, which states that the anxiety was introduced by the Stoics of the pre-Christian era in their use of the adjective ptoiodes ("fearful"). Voegelin jumps from Cicero to the "fear of death" associated with Thomas Hobbes, followed by the angst of Heidegger.
(36) Webb, op. cit., pp. 241-2, who adds that "probably only Samuel Beckett would closely fit the pattern of Gnosticism represented by the Valentinians, Sethians, Manichaeans, and other groups in late antiquity" (p. 242). This assertion is qualified by the reflection that Beckett's negative depiction of human existence is the counterpart here, and not any "affirmation of a transcendental realm of true being." In that case, there is no fair comparison with ancient Gnosticism, which should be left out of such literary discussions. Cf. E. Webb, Samuel Beckett: A Study of his Novels (University of Washington Press, 1970); idem, The Plays of Samuel Beckett (University of Washington Press, 1972).
(37) Webb, Eric Voegelin: Philosopher of History, p. 242.
(38) Ibid., p. 243. If the issue of Gnosticism were limited to the consideration of the much-discussed anti-Judaism, then it would be very easy to dismiss Gnostic thought as mere religious or cultic bias. Matters are not that simple, however, and the subject has to be seen in due historical perspective. For instance, the Manichaeans did not share that notorious bias. Anti-Judaism was a tendency developing in in early Christian trends, perhaps in much the same way that anti-Hinduism was a tendency in early Buddhist texts. However, some Gnostic texts do not exhibit "anti-Jewish" features. A headache for conservative interpretations of Gnosticism arose when Gershom Scholem postulated the essentially Gnostic character of the Merkavah texts of Judaism, even describing his theme in terms of "a truly rabbinic Gnosis." See G. Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1960), p. 10. Cf. the assessment in P. S. Alexander, "Comparing Merkavah Mysticism and Gnosticism: An Essay in Method," Journal of Jewish Studies (1984) 35: 1-18, who argues that "Merkavah mysticism" is as artificial a construct as "Gnosticism," the latter being a modern term "imposed by scholars on a set of diverse phenomena which are perceived to have some sort of family likeness" (art.cit., p. 3). Despite being Greek in linguistic formation, the earliest use of the term Gnosticism in the Oxford English Dictionary is the mid-seventeenth century. If Merkavah texts indicate a literary rather than a mystical movement, the implication still looms that "Gnosticism" encompassed a wide variety of sects which may have included a pre-Christian Jewish precedent. Scholem favoured the view that Christian Gnosticism in Babylonia was apparently preceded by a form of Jewish Gnosticism which assimilated Iranian elements. Yet further, "the commonly accepted explanation, following Scholem's view, is that the Jews of antiquity accepted Gnostic notions and preserved them for a millenium or more in closed circles, the Kabbalists only gradually disclosing them afterward." Quotation from Moshe Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives (Yale University Press, 1988), p. 116.
(39) Webb, op. cit., p. 258, commenting upon Voegelin's "chastening realisation" by the time he wrote the fourth volume of Order and History. This embarassment related to the fallacy of a "straight line of time" approach. History, Voegelin had discovered, was not so amenable to the imposition of a pattern in which meaningful events could be arranged in a conveniently linear fashion. Critics take the view that Voegelin's subsequent attempts to chart the increased complexity were inadequate and confusing, a factor aggravated by existential phraseology.
(40) Ibid., p. 269.
(41) Ibid., p. 270.
(42) Voegelin, "Wisdom and the Magic of the Extreme: A Meditation," The Southern Review (1981) n.s. 17: 235-287, p. 264. The overall reason given for this deficiency is that Plato's language had been transformed "into terms of propositional metaphysics ever since Hellenistic antiquity" (ibid.).
(43) See Voegelin, "On Hegel: A Study in Sorcery" (418-451) in J.T. Fraser et al, eds., The Study of Time (Heidelberg, 1972). For another extreme description, see Voegelin, Order and History Vol. 2, pp. 17-19, in which Hegel's output is portrayed as "this monumental work of modern Gnosis." Voegelin credits his Christian predecessor with a "genius for discerning the characteristics of each level of intellectual and spiritual order" in his discussions of history, an indication that the two are not incompatible. Voegelin seems almost apologetic in his observation that Hegel's genius was subject to the limitations of empirical knowledge existing in his time, e.g., Herodotus was then still the principal source for Egyptian history, and the critical study of the Old Testament was a future event. It was not Hegel's analysis of ancient civilisations to which Voegelin objected. Instead, the defect in Hegel's project is said to have been his "attempt to reduce the Logos of revelation to the logos of philosophy, and the logos of philosophy to the dialectics of consciousness" (ibid., p. 17). The Hegelian phrase wirkliches Wissen was translated by Voegelin as Gnosis, surely an arbitrary procedure.
(44) Voegelin, "Wisdom and Magic of the Extreme," p. 243.
(50) Voegelin, Order and History Vol. 5: In Search of Order (1987), p. 59.
(51) This theme was enlarged upon in "Wisdom and Magic of the Extreme," p. 257, where Voegelin makes the accusation that Hegel's Philosophie der Geschichte characterises Plato's philosophy "as an ineffectual first attempt at establishing Philosophy as a systematic science of the Geist." The implication of Hegel is that Plato was "intellectually not yet sufficiently mature to penetrate reality by conceptual analysis," his time and milieu not being ready for "genuinely scientific work." The proof of Plato's immaturity is construed as the tendency to introduce a myth when the power of conceptual analysis failed. The Hegelian message is: myth figured in the childhood of mankind, when thought had not yet gained freedom to express itself. Voegelin's understanding of Plato was certainly far superior to that of the "adult" Hegel, whose conceptual analysis may be faulted.
(52) Order and History Vol. 5, p. 60, and referring to the studies of C. G. Jung and Karl Kerényi in Einfuehrung in das Wesen der Mythologie (1942), which extended to the mysteries of Eleusis. Voegelin expresses astonishment that the two analysts had classified the symbols they explored as "unconscious." He observes some of the implications that can be drawn if this theme is taken literally, e.g., the participants in the Eleusinian mysteries did not know why they assembled, or why they wanted to be initiated. He asks whether these initiates were unconscious of the "mystery of immortality" revealed to them. Yet further, "had the members of the mystery cult really to wait for Jung and Kerényi to discover what they were unconsciously conscious of?" Voegelin preferred to say that modern symbolisers are "consciously unconscious." Symbolists like Jung were really "unconscious," but were trying to recover "consciousness" through the study of myths that offered richer insights into consciousness than the "intellectual babble of his time" (ibid.). That may be regarded as a distinct improvement upon Jung's formulations, though it is still an issue as to whether the "mystery of immortality" was adequately known to many of the initiates at Eleusis, and whether modern psychotherapists have any greater perception.
(53) Voegelin, "Wisdom and Magic of the Extreme," p. 267.
(54) Ibid., p. 287.
(55) See further Shepherd, Some Philosophical Critiques and Appraisals (2004), pp. 39-40, and referring to the conference programme Beyond the Brain: New Avenues in Consciousness Research, August 24-27, 1995, St. John's College, Cambridge, England. Dr. Grof is there listed as a speaker and described as the co-developer (with his wife) of Holotropic BreathworkTM, with the additional endorsement that "he lectures and conducts professional trainings all over the world." Those trainings were in the field of Holotropic BreathworkTM. The programme was promoted by the Scientific and Medical Network and the Institute of Noetic Sciences, together with the Fetzner Institute and the Lifebridge Foundation. These organisations had no conscience about what was happening to the public guinea pigs who were charged high fees by professional trainings decoding to Grof Transpersonal Training Inc. See also Shepherd, Minds and Sociocultures Vol. One (1995), Appendix 5 (pp. 945ff.). The Scottish Charities Office had more scruple than the Cambridge conference, and had earlier recommended against resort to Holotropic BreathworkTM (ibid., p. 181 note 89), the reason being a cautionary report from Edinburgh University. See further Letter of Complaint to David Lorimer and Criticism of Holotropic Breathwork. See also Against Grof Transpersonal Training.
(56) Voegelin, "Wisdom and the Magic of the Extreme," p. 268.
(57) Webb, Eric Voegelin: Philosopher of History, p. 288.
(58) "Wisdom and the Magic of the Extreme," p. 269, and citing H. N. Fowler's introduction to his translation of the Parmenides (repr. Loeb Classical Library, 1953).
(59) Art. cit., p. 270.
(60) Ibid., p. 269.
(61) Plato, Phaedrus and the Seventh and Eighth Letters, trans. Walter Hamilton (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973), p. 136.
(62) E. Hamilton and H. Cairns, eds., The Collected Dialogues of Plato including the Letters (1961; repr. Princeton University Press, 1980), p. 1589. A conventional view of Plato is reflected in the statement of Huntingdon Cairns that Plato's objective was to advance a logical "insight into the ultimate necessity of Reason" (ibid., p. xv). A mystical aspect to the logician is denied. This view belittles the mysticism of Plotinus, and asserts that mystical beliefs amount to "a series of apprehensions, flashes, based on feeling, denying the rational order" (ibid.). In contrast to Reason, mystical experiences are "subjective and emotional" (ibid., p. xvi). Like Voegelin, this view discounts intuition, though in a different context (demoting faith also).
(63) Walter Hamilton trans., Phaedrus and the Seventh and Eighth Letters, p. 136.
(64) Ibid. Amongst significant supporters of the Seventh Letter was Pierre Hadot in his What is Ancient Philosophy? (2002), pp. 58-9, 66, 71, 213. One of the critical assessments can be found in Ludwig Edelstein, Plato's Seventh Letter (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1966).
(65) Cf. Voegelin, Order and History Vol. 3, p. 62, which states that "Plato's philosophising remains bound by the compactness of the Dionysiac soul." This contention accompanied the assertion that the Platonic experience of the psyche could not have equated with "a mystical union with God, nor any other neo-Platonic or Christian developments" (ibid.). The Christian Platonist assumed a knowledge of what Plato meant by the subject of mania (ibid., p. 137), the "madness" often associated with Dionysian lore. It is arguable that Voegelin did not penetrate this matter, despite his significant inference that "we immerse ourselves in mania in the Agathon and, reversely, in mania the Agathon fills the soul" (ibid.). It is also arguable that he did not understand the full dimensions of the Heraclitus paradox (B60): "The way up and the way down is one and the same" (ibid., p. 60). This theme, mirrored in Plato's Republic, reappeared in a Gnostic text of the so-called Sethians: "The way of ascent is the way of descent" (J. M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library in English, third edn, p. 401). One can conclude that the Voegelinian theme of "compactness" is misleading, and too convergent with Hegelian notions of progress through time. A potentially significant point is that the intrinsic "perennial philosophy" evaded the contracted versions favoured today, and varying in format from Coomaraswamy to Wilber.
(66) Walter Hamilton, trans., Seventh Letter, p. 135, and observing the obscurity of Plato's reference to those writers on philosophy who "are ignorant even of themselves" (ibid., p. 136). Hamilton comments that this may be a "reference to the importance of self-knowledge as a necessary basis for any advance in philosophy and to the Delphic maxim 'Know thyself" (ibid., p. 136 note 1).
(67) For my early version of this subject, see Shepherd, The Resurrection of Philosophy (Cambridge: Anthropographia, 1989), chapter nine. Cf. Shepherd, Pointed Observations (2005), pp. 74ff.
(68) This list is given in Eugene Webb, Eric Voegelin: Philosopher of History, p. 237 note 2.
(69) Shepherd, Meaning in Anthropos (1991), pp. 156ff. When I wrote that work in 1984, I had not read Voegelin, and thus failed to mention his contribution. I did not study Voegelin's work until 1995.
(70) Webb, op. cit., p. 82, relating a conversation with Voegelin in 1978, in which the latter reminisced about Jaspers in 1929.
(71) See Plato's Republic, Book VII, e.g., in Hamilton and Cairns, The Collected Dialogues of Plato, pp. 747ff. See also John M. Cooper. ed, Plato: Complete Works (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997).
(72) Webb, op. cit., pp. 80ff.; Norman Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir (Oxford University Press, 1958; repr. 1980), pp. 6,10,11. Wittgenstein built himself a hut near Skjolden just before the First World War, and later worked as a gardener's assistant with the monks at Hutteldorf, near Vienna. He was elevated in a context of logic by the Vienna Circle, whose leader Moritz Schlick established a personal connection with Wittgenstein during the 1920s. Schlick and his colleagues were logical positivists who considered metaphysical statements useless; they were active in Vienna during the 1920s and 1930s, exercising a strong influence in British and American philosophy, and contributing to scientific materialism. Wittgenstein felt that the positivists misunderstood his expressions in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921), a book whose theory he later modified. He is said to have believed that language had limits that should not intrude upon ultimate realities, which existed in silence. The nature of his psychological orientation is not a straightforward matter to define. According to Professor Georg H. Von Wright, Wittgenstein "did not have a Christian faith; but neither was his view of life un-Christian, pagan, as was Goethe's" (Malcolm, op. cit., p. 19, from the biographical sketch by Wright).
(73) See Terry Barker and Lawrence Schmidt, " 'Voegelin Not Mysterious': A Response to Zdravko Planinc's 'The Significance of Plato's Timaeus and Critias in Eric Voegelin's Philosophy' " (376-409) in Glenn Hughes, Stephen McKnight, Geoffrey Price, eds., Politics, Order and History: Essays on the Work of Eric Voegelin (Sheffield Academic Press, 2001). The argument here disputes Professor Planinc's version of Voegelin as "a failed Socratic theologian," instead favouring the subject's own classification of himself as a "mystic philosopher," a description he asserted in correspondence. Voegelin wrote to one contact: "This will shock you, but I am a mystic philosopher." Planinc argued that Voegelin was a deficient Platonist because of a Christian bias. See Planinc, "The Significance of Plato's Timaeus and Critias in Eric Voegelin's Philosophy" (327-375) in Politics, Order and History. The basic grievance here relates to Voegelin's explicit relegation of Plato in favour of the Christian dispensation. "Voegelin frequently defends a clichéd understanding of Plato's philosophy" (p. 330). It is very relevant that in Order and History Vol. 4, Plato is still a pagan deprived of revelation. In this respect, Voegelin wrote to a correspondent: "Plato is clear and outspoken about the revelatory component in his noetic enterprise, about the 'vision' (opsis) as he calls it... [But] I have carefully elaborated the superiority of the Johannine and Pauline vision in my Ecumenic Age" (Planinc, art. cit., p. 369). The theological preference is rather pointed, and remained in evidence despite Voegelin's recognition during the 1940s (while writing his History of Political Ideas) of the inadequacy of nineteenth century "philosophies of history." The rather varying assessments of Voegelin do not negate my own description in terms of "existential Christian Platonist," which has the advantage of combining all three of Voegelin's major interests, and in a such a manner as to imply the primacy he awarded to Christian elements.
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