The New Science of Politics  

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The New Science of Politics () is book by Eric Voegelin. In this book, and in Order and History, and Science, Politics and Gnosticism, Voegelin opposed what he believed to be unsound Gnostic influences in politics. He defined gnosis as "a purported direct, immediate apprehension or vision of truth without the need for critical reflection; the special gift of a spiritual and cognitive elite." Gnosticism is a "type of thinking that claims absolute cognitive mastery of reality. Relying as it does on a claim to gnosis, gnosticism considers its knowledge not subject to criticism. Gnosticism may take transcendentalizing (as in the case of the Gnostic movement of late antiquity) or immanentizing forms (as in the case of Marxism)."

Apart from the Classical Christian writers against heresy, his sources on Gnosticism were secondary since the texts of the Nag Hammadi library were not yet widely available. For example, Voegelin used Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac, and Hans Jonas.

Voegelin perceived similarities between ancient Gnosticism and modernist political theories, particularly Communism and Nazism. He identified the root of the Gnostic impulse as alienation, that is, a sense of disconnection from society and a belief that this lack is the result of the inherent disorder, or even evil, of the world. That alienation has two effects:

  • The first is the belief that the disorder of the world can be transcended by extraordinary insight, learning, or knowledge, called a Gnostic Speculation by Voegelin (the Gnostics themselves referred to that as gnosis).

According to Voegelin, the Gnostics really reject the Christian eschaton of the kingdom of God and replace it with a human form of salvation through esoteric ritual or practice.

The primary feature that characterizes a tendency as gnostic for Voegelin is that it is motivated by the notion that the world and humanity can be fundamentally transformed and perfected through the intervention of a chosen group of people (an elite), a man-god, or men-Gods. The √úbermensch is the chosen one who has a kind of special knowledge (like magic or science) about how to perfect human existence.

That stands in contrast to a notion of redemption that is achieved through the reconciliation of mankind with the divine. Marxism, therefore, qualifies as "gnostic" because it purports that the perfect society on earth can be established once capitalism has been overthrown by the proletariat. Likewise, Nazism is seen as "gnostic" because it posits that utopia can be achieved by attaining racial purity once the master race has freed itself of the racially inferior and the degenerate.

In both cases specifically analyzed by Voegelin, the totalitarian impulse is derived from the alienation of the individuals from the rest of society. That leads to a desire to dominate (libido dominandi), which has its roots in the Gnostic's conviction of the imperative of his vision but also in his lack of concord with a large body of his society. As a result, there is very little regard for the welfare of those who are harmed by the resulting politics, which ranges from coercive to calamitous (such as the English proverb: "You have to crack a few eggs to make an omelet" or its Russian variety: "When you chop wood, chips fly").

Because Voegelin applied the concept of gnosis to a wide array of ideologies and movements such as Marxism, communism, National Socialism, progressivism, liberalism, and humanism, critics have proposed that Voegelin's concept of Gnosis lacks theoretical precision. Therefore, Voegelin's gnosis can, according to the criticis, hardly serve as a scientific basis for an analysis of political movements. Rather, the term "Gnosticism" as used by Voegelin is more of an invective just as "when on the lowest level of propaganda those who do not conform with one's own opinion are smeared as communists."




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