In the face of illegitimacy power reigns by fear; and fear turns its ugly mask upon the host that spawned it. The French Revolution that burst asunder the chains of tyranny in turn fell to its own twined agonies of terror: a fear that rapidly became hysteria, transforming the thoughts, feelings, and behavior of both the elites and the masses. In the end, no one was able to control the Revolution; it became autonomous; something “other” than originally intended.1 Robespierre and Saint Just will go down in history as the scourge and desecration of the revolution, the men who spawned the terror and killed Marat and Danton, while imprisoning Paine and many other former philosophes and revolutionaries.
Where counterrevolutionary and Counter-Enlightenment writers like Antoine de Rivarol declared the Terror the fruit of la philosophie moderne, adamantly claiming Condorcet had been forced to take poison by “his brothers in philosophy,” Constant, Roederer, Creuze-Latouche, Say, Louvet, Naigeon, and many others proclaimed Robespierre “le chef ” of the Terror, contending that he was neither a republican nor an adept of la philosophie moderne but, on the contrary, the Enlightenment’s foremost enemy.2 Brissot not only proclaimed a “holy war” against reactionary Europe for the “renewal of the faceoftheworld,” heal so declared that the Revolution “was in need of great betrayals.” And massacres—added Danton—so that a “river of blood” would ﬂow between the republicans and the emigre´s. From then on, a perverse logic took possession of French society: the logic of fear, conspiracy, suspicion; in a word: the logic of a state of siege. (Pellicani, p. 31) It was dominated by fear because it was an illegitimate government in form and in substance: in form, because it came into being illegally; in substance, because it did not have the support of the vast majority of the French population—the monarchists, the Girondists, the feuillants, the indifferent—and in deed was even perceived as an usurper.
The radical philosophes viewed the societies of their time as inherently oppressive and corrupt. At the same time, they sought to discredit and delegitimize existing constitutions and legal systems on the ground that they depended on authority rooted in religion, tradition, received thinking, and aristocratic values. Radical enlighteners and democratic revolutionaries rejected the whole edifice of their society’s laws, precedents, charters, and institutionalized inequality unequivocally, and this inevitably involved rejecting all religious authority as well. (Israel, p. 704)
Yet, as Saint-Just knew his party had given birth to a monstrosity—“it is a terrible thing to torment the people” — but couldn’t stop the infernal circle of fear, the mechanism that forced the Jacobins to violate the principle of popular sovereignty, based on universal suffrage and the institutionalization of the right of opposition. The Revolution had gone mad; it was uncontrollable. The Jacobins had to use terror to the bitter end, “tormenting the people ”and suspecting every one and everything. In other words, “overthrowing the principle of democratic legitimacy and building on its ruins the dictatorship of the Committee of Public Safety, as conceived by their terror: bloody idol, insatiable Moloch to which they sacriﬁced the majority, rights and opposition, beheading, drowning, riddling thousands of victims with shots.” (Pellicani, p. 33)
The rise of the gnostic revolution
“The catastrophic collapse of the ancient regime created a situation favorable to the ideas of the philosophes. A new spiritual force — political Gnosticism — made its appearance in the European arena, launching a historical process that was to lead, by successive steps, to the institutionalization of the professional revolutionary, devoted body and soul to the sacred cause of overturning the overturned world.” (Pellicani, p. 35)
Rousseau’s Social Contract with its overturning of Christian tradition and sin would become the blueprint for a new type of man: “Man is good by nature and only our institutions have made him bad.” (Rousseau) Instead evil was not explained as a force within social institutions, not as the failed truth of sinful humans and their fall from grace. Evil can be uprooted, if the “corruptness” of institutions is eliminated and suitable political steps taken to remodel society. Therefore “radical evil”—that is to say, the existence of a “depraved tendency” that is expressed as “cold wickedness” — is not part of human nature but is external and can be banished from the world, providing society is completely rebuilt. The moral: “salvation”—liberation from evil—is no longer a religious issue; it is a political issue or, more precisely, an issue that(revolutionary) politics is called to solve; indeed, implicitly it is the calling of revolutionary politics to extirpate the roots of alienation. (Pellicani, p. 37)
For the progressives the new bible of secularism would preach innocence, and require of its citizens the pledge to reconquer paradise on earth through hard work and science, not faith and prayer. In the very moment in which Rousseau rejected “modernity as such, considering it, in its globality, as the realm of the degeneration of man and of an inauthentic existence,” he glimpsed the possibility of reconquering paradise lost. A puriﬁed “new world” could be created, providing society was completely remodeled and humanity returned to its original state of innocence. (Pellicani, p. 38)
Here we see Rousseauism as the precursor of all those socialists that would end in Marx and his progeny. History became a process of progressive moral degradation, when private property made its disastrous appearance on the scene, bringing “driving ambition, hunger for money… competition and rivalry, as well as the underlying intention of pursuing one’s own advantage at the expense of others”; and so “the most horrible state of war” became the normal condition of human kind. This was a state of war sanctioned by laws whose speciﬁc function was that of “placing new obstacles in the way of the poor and procuring new power for the rich, irremediably destroying natural liberty, establishing the rule of property and inequality and subjecting the whole of humanity to labour, slavery and misery to the advantage of the ambitious few.” (Pellicani, p. 39)
Pellicani will argue that at its core the Jacobin purification was Gnostic. A typically gnostic-Manichean Weltanschauung underlies the palingenetic project of the Jacobins. The basic idea is that the world exudes inﬁnite horrors from every pore and that these render the human condition intolerable. But such horrors—poverty, violence, oppression, exploitation, selﬁshness, and so forth—are by no means physiological. They are the consequence of an event, both mysterious and decisive, that changed the natural order of things and perverted relations between men, as well as their feelings. Yet, salvation is possible. The solution is to overturn the overturned world, purge society, restore human nature to its natural state, the state it was in before it was corrupted by institutions, sanctioning lust for power and wealth. In a word, the solution is to light the revolutionary ﬁre in order to purify the city and put the scandal of evil to an end, once and for all. (Pellicani, p. 43)
Instead of God the Savior, man would become his own savior, through knowledge and science he would conquer ignorance with education for the masses. Against the friends of liberty, all those counter-revolutionaries who would not accept the purity of revolution and the new dispensation must be annihilated. The only solution is to annihilate them, so that the ideal of a “virtuous society” can gain substance, which implies that the revolution must conduct a permanent war against the enemies of equality, until it has successfully re-made man un-made by history. (Pellicani, p. 44) As Pellicani will describe it the revolutionary elite, acting on the basis of the diagnosis-therapy of the evils of the world contained in the “true philosophy,” comes to take on the typical role of the Paraclete in gnostic tradition: it alone knows what is for the good of the city and how to achieve it; it must impose the general will on individual interests and force individuals to free themselves of their egoism; that is: institute the despotism of Virtue until men have not been regenerated. (Pellicani, p. 45)
So paranoia and the dictatorship of Liberty against the despotism of a mythicized counter-tradition and reactionary world was instituted in the Terror of Saint Just and Robespierre. “We [Robespierre had proclaimed on February 5, 1794] wish to realise the promises of Nature, the fate of humanity, the promises of philosophy, and absolve Providence from the long reign of crime and tyranny.” This was an unequivocal way of saying that the Revolution undertook to achieve in this world what Christianity promised to achieve in the next: to modify the ontological status of reality and regenerate human nature. (Pellicani, p. 46) The Jacobin Clubs became the new artificial cell and engine of reeducation and deconditioning, they were agencies of political resocialization that used a method of indoctrination to forge homo ideologicus and train him to be the gnostic activist of the permanent revolution, devoted body and soul to the sacred cause of destruction of what existed and the ediﬁcation of the realm of virtue. (Pellicani, p. 47)
Yet, it all came to an abrupt halt with the ultimate reinstitution of another tyranny, that of Napoleon. Ultimately their secular gnosis and tyranny of Liberty constructed a “closed society” against the original impetus of democracy as an open society among equals. Rather the Jacobins like those others that would follow created a hard-core cadre of leaders pitched against their own citizenry. “The history of the revolutions of the twentieth century is simply a repeat of Jacobinism, the development of the project to “create an identity between civil society and State, to unify by means of a dictatorship the elements constituting the State in an organic and broader sense (State as such and civil society) in a desperate attempt to control the life of the nation and the people.” (Pellicani, p. 49)
In such a society with their power elites, entrepreneurs, think-tanks, academic and scientific expertise (based on mastery of arcane mathematics and knowledges) that forbids the masses from attaining more than a basic delimitation of filtered knowledge controlled by media and the official discourse, and at the same time a mere subsistence based economy based on permanent war and attrition among competing nations in a global arena, we can see how secular gnosis parodies the original religious notions and invents a hellish paradise on earth rather than a manifest realm of peace and plenty those early Utopian visionaries of American and Europe once envisioned. A new politically correct and policed realm of language and mind that ostracizes and condemns to poverty and rejection, exclusion and disaffection those who do not zealously adapt to the new Purity and Puritanism of Progressive Secular Gnosis. A world where the individualist philosophies of the past centuries are slow eroded, where the self is deconstructed and found wanting, where humans are mere appendages of a world-wide economic system that is ruled by impervious and impersonal algorithms and inhuman logic that care neither for the humans that serve it nor finds any problem in excluding those humans as the machines become more and more available and intelligent. A world ruled by secular elites who control a purified system of secular ethics and economics that seeks to define, delimit and construct a world of transhumanist and artificial paradises where everything from the neurosciences, nanotechnology, advance robotics and artificial intelligence leads the way toward a civilization devoid of humans and fully qualified by knowledge workers – the new Secular Gnostics, whose gnosis is no longer of God but rather the self-divinizing power of the posthuman vision of a world of advanced machines and artificial lives without humans.
I’ll continue with that segment in my next installment… previous ones below:
- Luciano Pellicani’s Revolutionary Apocalypse: Ideological Roots of Terrorism (2003 by ETAS, R.C.S. Libri S.p.A., Milan, Italy)
- Israel, Jonathan (2014-03-23). Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre (p. 697). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.