Tuesday, February 9, 2021

On Neo-Gnostic Ideologies

The great constant in human life, as we live our life stories out in history, is the search to understand the meaning of our lives. The constant temptation is the attempt to assign a meaning to the world of reality rather than discover such meaning as is accessible to our understanding. To discover meaning requires patience and persistent effort--and humility. But life is ultimately short and man tends to be impatient. Throughout history there have been repeated attempts to legislate--as it were, by an act of our will--the meaning of existence: to make the meaning of existence to be what we want it to be rather than humbly submit to such meaning as we may be able to discover.

The urge to follow our will in assigning meaning to existence has become the defining note of modern ideologies, described by Eric Voegelin as neo forms of the ancient gnostic current of thought. The motivation may vary. At times the motivation may be simple despair of achieving certainty in our lives in a disordered world. At other times this urge to will a meaning into existence may be motivated by rage at injustice or, demonically, a will to power. As modern man has rejected traditional Christian faith, he finds himself more and more a prey to ideologies that promise heaven of one sort or another in this life. That promise has become the common currency of American politics, certainly and overtly on the Left, but sometimes more subtly on the Right as well.

Today at the traditionalist Catholic site, One Peter Five, there's a post that discusses this aspect of modern life from a traditionalist Catholic perspective. Unfortunately, the title--Currentism: The Perennial Lie--uses an awkward neologism, but as you'll see the author is speaking of Neognostic ideologies. I'm offering some excerpts below because it may help some to orient themselves in these confusing times in which the Left appears to be riding high in their attempt to propagate the "perennial lie" and to dominate and shape reality to their own desires. As the author maintains, these efforts always lead to tragedy and suffering if not checked, and yet the appeal of the perennial lie to many--as well, also, to those who seek personal power--is undeniable.

The article is headed by a famous quote which may resonate for many today:

“Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies?”

—St. Augustine, The City of God

The author begins by warning against "idolatry". This leads to the topic of ideology, which he sees to be a form of idolatry:

... The principal form of idolatry in the United States is worship of the metastasized government, viewed by too many as the great dispenser of truth and justice.  But justice, we know, has been taken away.


It is both unfair and misleading to try to condense the teaching of philosopher Eric Voegelin (1901-1985) into a sentence, but he is remembered for the idea that we must never try to “immanentize the eschaton,” a phrase by which he warned us against efforts to create heaven on earth. Any political ideology which promises paradise, but ignores concupiscent human nature, leads to the gas chambers. God is perfect; man is not—and suggestions that utopia is on the horizon are pernicious and perilous. “Power,” as Lord Acton (1834-1902) trenchantly observed, “tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” ...


... The best slogan, therefore, for any political party is, “Don’t Expect Too Much.” Because such a slogan, however true, hardly ensures broad appeal and wide support, political sloganeering is invariably morally compromised. ...

Deceit, deception, and distortion—these are the “stuff” of politics. ...


...  Beware of Currentism, which is my neologism referring to the entire range of secular chiliastic ideologies. These are utopian or millennialist movements (see CCC #675-677) promising ideal, or even perfect, societies, by political means, in the near future. Liberalism, socialism, and communism are varieties of Currentism, as are Fascism, Nazism, and Peronism (and other such dictatorships).


A Currentist political ideology is its own judge, here and now, in this moment only.  ... The limitations of concupiscent human nature are peremptorily dismissed; ...  Currentist political ideologies are closed on themselves, for they cannot tolerate the appraisals or verdicts of Right Reason, of the Moral Law, or of Supernatural Commandments.


Currentist ideologies accept the love of power but not the power of love. An arrogance, a hubris, contaminates what their leaders say and do, for they tolerate nothing that diminishes or derogates from their mounting control over anything and everything in their sight.


Currentism, whatever its variety, eventually permits, encourages, or requires the isolation or the imprisonment of those whose “limited vision” or lack of “camaraderie” or “team spirit” will make them enemies of the state. Does this resemble any current political party you may know?

Is all this, then, to be regarded as a matter of concern and interest for, say, political science students—but hardly of interest to others?

No: “Currentism” is, indeed, here and now. It is the political coin of the realm—our realm. It is in its time, now—in 2021. And it has taken its place—in the District of Columbia and in fifty state capitol buildings. You may not now be interested in it.  But it is now interested in you.

As the Thomist philosopher Etienne Gilson (1884-1978) tried to teach us:

“There still remains only God to protect Man against Man. Either we will serve Him in spirit and truth or we shall enslave ourselves ceaselessly, more and more, to the monstrous idol which we have made with our own hands to our own image and likeness.”


  1. “He who believes in nothing will believe in anything.”


  2. Donoso Cortes said, 'All political problems devolve into theological problems.' The problem is much simpler when you begin from a theological perspective. Liberalism begins by denying Original Sin. The liberal is then faced with objective evil social behavior and then proceeds to align himself with any currently popular movement that postulates a cause and offers a cure. Having misdiagnosed the problem, the cure necessarily makes matters worse but the liberal will always blames the failure on those who those who did not apply the cure with sufficient purity, or rigor for enough time. And when an ideology is played out, the liberal jumps off one dead horse to mount another and the same thing begins again. The liberal never questions his erroneous presuppositions because then he would have to begin by reforming himself and not everybody else. So it always is, the liberal’s first problem is a moral disorder and the last, a mental disorder.

  3. I stand where I stood.
    Against the tide, ever.

  4. I will forever be grateful to the esteemed Victor Davis Hansen for the observation that Hubris always invites Nemesis. Always. If we can be certain of anything it is that "This too shall pass."