Monday, October 19, 2009

Marxist Gnosticism

Continuing from my previous post's P.S. comment concerning the radical Left's dreams of the unbounded self, the British philosopher R.T. Allen writes about the connections between Marxism and Gnosticisim as follows: is 'no accident' that Marx and the Marxists have failed to give a determinate content to 'alienation' which could be empirically tested.  For alienation is ultimately the metaphysical malady of being finite, determinate and differentiated, of being 'this' and not 'that'.  And there cannot be any cure for that in this world and so there cannot be any empirical tests for detecting freedom from 'alienation'.

To understand this we have to go back behind Hegel, the immediate source of Marx's ideas, to Hegel's own ultimate source: viz. Gnosticism.  For alienation is the central theme of Gnosticism, along with the saving knowledge of how we became alienated, and from what, and of how we can escape from it...

Interesting that by Allen's definition of Gnosticism, Freudian psychoanalysis might also qualify...  Perhaps his point is overstated, but I do think it carries some currency.  Elsewhere, Allen comments further with respects to modern radicalism and its roots in the French revolution (including a quote in French for those who want to practice their parlez vous...):

It is this Gnostic element, rejecting everything which limits the individual and makes him 'this' rather than 'that'-- roles, relationships, the accidents of time and place of birth and upbringing, customs, traditions, the plans and actions of others, which principally accounts for the destructivism of radical libertarians.  For not only are their positive plans bound to fail and to bring disappointment, but they are primarily oriented to destroying whatever exists just because of its finite nature.  Secular Gnosticism has no way of escape from the world, and so its hatred of the world can be expressed only in 'smashing the system'.  Burke (Reflections, Works, vol. 5, p. 303) quotes Rabaud de St. Etienne as saying in the National Assembly: 'Toutes les etablissements en France courennent le malheur du peuple: pour le rendre heureux il faut le renouveler; chnger ses idees; changer sese loix; changer ses moeurs; ...changer les hommes; changer les choses; changer les mots... tout detrurire, oui, tout detruire, puis-que tout est a recreer."

Is this then a manifestation of the Faustian temptation that Goethe identified as constituting the dark side of modernity: its limitless appetites and ambitions? 

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