Wednesday, January 07, 2015

"A New Science of Politics": Eric Voegelin

A very important work that I'm not going to claim to understand -- a great book for developing some personal intellectual humility.

Although not particularly long, the scope of the book is vast -- describing the problem of developing and discussing a theory of politics, "Political Science" if you will, as part of history. The idea that through the use of political symbols and texts, man tries to create a meaning for his political systems / cultures / etc in history as some sort of representation of a transcendent truth.

The attempt is to make political science a study of the context of how humans exist and develop politically in various epochs of history in which the symbols and thus the order are relatively stable.

Three are identified:
  1. The Hellenic Crisis -- Plato and Aristotle. 
  2. The Crisis of Rome -- St Augustine and Christianity
  3. Hegel's philosophy of Law and History
The assertion is that man will demand SOMETHING that extrapolates his very limited existence into some whole that transcends his life -- religion, politics, society, culture, etc. There are 3 ways that man has historically defined this -- in some ways each is the same, we just like to think the current is more "advanced". These are Rite, Myth and Theory. Depending on context of course, a person will think one or more of them vastly superior due to "tradition", "emotional content", "science" (really "scientism"), "sacredness", or some other value system, which will include emotional attachment. 

My biggest learning from the book (outside of looking up a bunch of long words, latin words, etc) relates to the the vast changes caused by Christianity and it's bastard child Gnosticism (the worship or divinization of "special knowledge").

Prior to Christianity, the entire world and everything in it was "divine" and cyclical. There were "gods" everywhere which explained everything, and history nor even existence had much "direction" other than cycles -- seasons, life, etc. However the "meaning" of everything was "divine". 

Then came Christ with a a separation of past and "known" future in that it had an end, a way for man to be completely unique and eternal, OUTSIDE of "nature", and even more, with an ending -- the eschaton (end of the world, heaven on earth), and the idea of eschatology -- the study of how things would (if you were a believer) end, or OUGHT to end, if you were not a believer. (much of this is also in Judaism, but it wasn't universal -- it was just for the Jews). 

Christianity "de-divinized" the world. God/Christ/Holy Spirit were divine -- and the idea of the Trinity itself as a symbol was applied to many things. Including many cases of "three epochs" "ancient, medieval, modern", Hegel's dialectic, the three phases freedom, Marxism with primitive communism, class struggle and final communism, and of course one of the most "successful" applications of gnosticism, "The Third Reich". 

One of the connections made very clear is the application of "divinity" / "teleology from some unknown source" in the case of Marxism -- history is supposed to "inevitably" be going the communist direction, because "that's the way it is". Much like "science", or really "scientism", it is an application of gnosticism -- attempting to make the secular somehow "divinely" (and therefore uniquely correct) "known". 

All of the supposed "modern" isms -- communism, socialism, etc are about "immanentizing the eschaton" -- using gnostic magic to create "heaven on earth". The last greatest attempt was Germany, but the attempts go on, including Obama's "Hope and Change" here early in the 21st century. 

This book was published in '52, I'll close with his quote on the German attempt to create heaven on earth -- you can see if you see any similarity with attempts today: 
"The German Revolution, finally, in an environment without strong institutional traditions, brought for the first time into full play economic materialism, racist biology, corrupt psychology, scientism and technological ruthlessness -- in brief, modernity without restraint."

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