GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

January 7, 2008

The Post-Romantic Individual

Filed under: GA — adam @ 4:09 pm

Here’s a link to Truepeer’s originary reading of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s review of Lee Harris’ new book, The Suicide of Reason at Covenant Zone:


  1. Just wondering, why is the left characterized as “gnostic” in the article? Just what does gnostic mean in this context? Would appreciate any help with this. I hear “gnostic” used fairly often in a pejorative sense, but have no idea what it means. I am familiar with gnosticism as an early Christian heresy, but not with the current usage.

    Comment by Q — January 7, 2008 @ 8:39 pm

  2. I would suggest that you ask this very question of “truepeers” on the original post at Covenant Zone. The association of leftism with gnosticism relies, I assume, for starters at least, upon Eric Voegelin’s designation of modernity as a whole as a form of gnosticism (he took this very literally), as the attribution of divinity to human consciousness, which therefore has to liberate itself from the material through self-knowledge. But truepeers uses the term regularly in this context and I suspect he would be very happy to elaborate further and engage in originary dialogue over the issue.

    Comment by adam — January 7, 2008 @ 9:09 pm

  3. Yes, my understanding of Gnosticism is largely from Voegelin and associated writers like GA’s Tom Bertonneau.

    I don’t think all forms of leftism are or need be Gnostic, only that the dominant forms of modern leftism and liberalism have been. So, it would be too simple to say Gnosticism should only be thought of in a pejorative sense, though my polemical writing often gives that impression. It is a question of modern “progress” being blinkered and undermining itself with certain fantasies that nonetheless motivate, to an extent, for better and worse.

    If Gnosticism is, traditionally, the belief that the creation as we have received it has somehow taken a wrong down turn, but that through special knowledge an elect may get back in touch with the true Creation, then the labelling of all variety of positivism and progressivism as Gnostic is most simply a recognition of a recurring tendency for thinkers to refuse the uncertainties of existence and our fallen condition, to deny the insufficiency of reason or wishful thinking to determine the future forms of the transcendent, and consequently to refuse a humility before human limits on controlling the mysteries by which signs transcend experience. It is to evince a desire for control over social developments, or alternatively an unwillingness to recognize social realties and existential conflicts at odds with Utopian-gnostic dreams of a new age of expert-divined Unity and World Peace, dreams that substitute for more hard-headed forms of deferring violence. To take a Voegelinian example, instead of coming to terms with leading nations Japan and Germany to realize their military role in maintaining global security, reflecting their existential weight and ethical-technical powers, the post-WW II liberal Gnostic forgoes peace treaties and looks to increasingly post-national elites and their UN projects as the solution to World Peace. We end up with most Western nations demoralized and unwilling to carry their full responsibilities to define and defend interests in a global system, preferring instead more abstract gestures like debating the pros and cons of anti-Americanism. Along with a recurring Utopianism, we allow ourselves fanciful notions about the “root causes” of conflict and resentment.

    Thanks Adam for the link, and to all the GA writers, “Q” included I believe, whose influence is hopefully evident, if all too lightly treated, in that little post.


    Comment by John — January 7, 2008 @ 11:43 pm

  4. If I recall correctly, Hans Jonas, in his excellent book on Gnosticism, defines it in terms of a hostility to this world. It seems a sacrificial world view: if we could just get rid of this evil deity, then we could live in paradise. If we substitute “market society” for “this world,” then the application to modern liberalism seems justified.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments truepeers

    Comment by Q — January 11, 2008 @ 10:20 am

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