The Gnostic Revolution, Pt. II

Date: Mon 01 Dec 2003 - 04:53:54 GMT

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            The work of Calvin was the first but not the last of its kind; moreover, the genus had a prehistory. In the early phases of Western Gnostic sectarianism, the place of a koran was taken by the works of Scotus Eriugena and Dionysius Aeropatiga; and in the Joachite movement the works of Joachim of Flora played this role under the title of Evangeliem aeternum. In later Western history, in the preiod of secularization, new korans were produced with every wave of the movement. In the eighteenth century, Diderot and D'Alembert claimed koranic function for the encyclopedie francaise as the comprehensive presentation of all human knowledge worth preserving. According to their conception, nobody would have to use any work antedating the Encyclopedie, and all future sciences would assume the form of supplements to the great collection of knowledge. In the nineteenth century, Augusts Comte created his own work as the koran for the positivistic future of mankind but generously supplemented it by his list of the one hundred great books - an idea which still has retained its appeal. In the Communist movement, finally, the works of Karl Marx have become the koran of the faithful, supplemented by the patristic literature of Leninism-Stalinism.
            The second device for preventing embarrassing criticism is a necessary supplement to the first one. The Gnostic koran is the codification of truth and as such the spiritual and intellectual nourishment of the faithful. From contemporary experience with totalitarian movements it is well known that the device is fairly foolproof because it can reckon with the voluntary censorship of the adherents; the faithful member of a movement will not touch literature that is apt to argue against, or show disrespect for, his cherished beliefs. Nevertheless, the number of faithful may remain small, and expansion and political success will be seriously hampered, if the truth of the Gnostic movement is permanently exposed to effective criticism from various quarters. This handicap can be reduced, and practically eliminated, by putting a taboo on the instruments of critique; a person who uses the tabooed instruments will be socially boycotted and, if possible, exposed to political defamation. The taboo on the instruments of critique was used, indeed, with superb effectiveness by the Gnostic movements wherever they reached a measure of political success. Concretely, in the wake of the Reformation, the taboo had to fall on classic philosophy and scholastic theology; and, since under these two heads came the major and certainly the decisive part of Western intellectual culture, this culture was ruined to the extent to which the taboo became effective. In fact, the destruction went so deep that Western society has never completely recovered from the blow. An incident from Hooker's life will illustrate the situation. The anonymous Christian letter of 1599, addressed to Hooker, complained bitterly:"In all your books, although we finde manie trueths and fine points bravely handled, yet in all your discourse, for the most parte, Aristotle the patriarche of philosophers (with divers other humane writers) and the ingenuous schoolmen, almost in all points have some finger : reason is highlie sett up against Holy Scripture, and reading against preaching." Such complaints about violations of the taboo were not innocuous expressions of opinion. In 1585, in the affair with Travers, Hooker had been the target of similar charges; and they closed on the denunciatory tone that such "absurdities...have not been heard in public places within this land since Queen Mary's day". In his answer to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Hooker very apologetically had to express his hoe that he "committed no unlawful thing" when indulging in some theoretical distinctions and excursions in his sermons.
            Since Gnosticism lives by theoretical fallacies, the taboo on theory in the classic sense is the ineluctable condition of its social expansion and survival. This has a serious consequence with regard to the possibility of public debate in societies where Gnostic movements have achieved social influence sufficient to control the means of communication, educational institutions, etc. To the degree to which such control is effective, theoretical debate concerning issues which involve the truth of human existence is impossible in public because the use of theoretical argument is prohibited. However well the constitutional freedoms of speech and press may be protected, however well theoretical debate may flourish in small circles, and however well it may be carried on in the practically private publications of a handful of scholars, debate in the politically relevant public sphere will be in substance the game with loaded dice which it has become in contemporary progressive societies - to say nothing of the quality of debate in totalitarian empires. Theoretical debate can be protected by constitutional guaranties, but it can be established only by the willingness to use and accept theoretical argument. When this willingness does not exist, a society cannot rely for its functioning on argument and persuasion where the truth of human existence is involved; other means will have to be considered.
      This was the position of Hooker. Debate with his Puritan opponents was impossible because they would not accept argument. The ideas which he entertained in this predicament may be gathered from the notes jotted down shortly before his death on a copy of the previously quoted Christian Letter. Among the quotations from various authorities, there is a passage from Averroes:
            Discourse (sermo) about the knowledge which god in His glory has of Himself and the world is prohibited. And even more so is it prohibited to put it in writing. For, the understanding of the vulgar does not reach such profundities; and when it becomes the subject of their discussions, the divinity will be destroyed with them. Hence, discussion of this knowledge is prohibited to them; and it is sufficient for their felicity if they understand what they can perceive by their intelligence. The law (that is, the Koran), whose primary intention it was to teach the vulgar, did not fail in intelligible communication about this subject because it is inaccessible to man; but we do not possessthe human instruments that couls assimilate God for intelligible communication about Him. As it is said: "His left hand founded the earth, but His right hand measured the Heaven." Hence, this question is reserved for the sage whom God dedicated to truth.

            In this passage Averroes expressed the solution which the problem of theoretical debate had found in Islamic civilization. The nucleus of truth is the experience of transcendence in the anthropological and sociological sense; its theoretical explication is only communicable among the "sage." The "vulgar" have to accept, in a simple fundamentalism, the truth as it is symbolized in Scripture; they must refrain from theoretization, for which experientially and intellectually they are unfit, because they only would destroy God. Considering the
    "murder of God" that was committed in Western society when the progressivist "vulgar" got their fingers on the meaning of human existence in society and history, one must admot that Averroes had a point.
            The structure of a civilixation, however, is not at the disposition of its individual members. The Islamic solution of confining philosophical debate to esoteric circles of whose existence the people at large were hardly aware could not be trtansferred to Hooker's situation. Western history had taken a different course, and the debate of the "vulgar" was well under way. Hence, Hooker had to contemplate the second possibility that a debate, which could not end with agreement through persuasion, would have to be closed by governmental authority. His Puritan opponents were not partners in a theoretical debate; they were Gnostic revolutionaries, engaged in a struggle for existential representation that would have resulted in the overthrow of the English social order, the control of the university by puritans, and the replacement of common law by scriptural law. Hence his consideration of this second solution was well in order. Hooker perfectly understood what today is so little understood; that Gnostic propaganda is political action and not perhaps a search of truth in the theoretical sense. With his unerring sensitiveness he even diagnosed the nihilistic component of gnosticism in the Puritan belief that their discipline, being "the absolute command of Almighty God, it must be received although the world by receiving it should be clean turned upside down; herein lieth the greatest danger of all." In the political culture of his time it was still clear beyond a doubt that the government, not the subjects, represents the order of a society. "As though when public consent of the whole hath established anything, every man's judgment being thereunto compared were not private, howsoever his calling be to some public charge. So that of peace and quietness there is not any way possible, unless the probable voice of every entire society or body politic overrule all private of like nature in the same body." This means concretely that a government has the duty to preserve the order as well as the truth which it represents; when a Gnostic leader appears and proclaims that god or progress, race or dialectic, has ordained him to become the existential ruler, a government is not supposed to betray its trust and abdicate. And this rule suffers no exception for governments which operate under a democratic constitution and a bill of rights. Justice Jackson in his dissent in the Terminiello case formulated the point: the Bill of Rights is not a suicide pact. A democratic government is not supposed to become an accomplice min its own overthrow by letting Gnostic movements grow prodigiously in the shelter of a muddy interpretation of civil rights; and if through inadvertance such a movement has grown to the danger point of capturing existential representation by the famous
    "legality" of popular elections, a democrastic government is not supposed to bow to the "will of the people", but to put down the danger by force and, if necessary, to break the letter of the constitution in order to save its spirit.

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