Norman Cohn in his influential book The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages offers us a glimpse of the aftermath of failure we might term the Great Crisis of the human project we like to mythicize as Western Civilization. For Cohn a social struggle is seen not as a struggle for specific, limited objectives, but as an event of unique importance, different in kind from all other struggles known to history, a cataclysm from which the world is to emerge totally transformed and redeemed. This is the essence of the recurrent phenomenon – or, if one will, the persistent tradition – that we have called ‘revolutionary millenarianism’.1 As Pellicani will surmise the crisis seems to follow a tri-fold pattern – a crisis of legitimization, of redistribution, and secularization that dissolved the ancient patterns of political, economic, and religious tradition based on their closed systems of hierarchical and authoritarian modes for the modern progressive open systems of egalitarianism based on freedom, equality, and emancipatory and collective sociality.2
William Blake the English poet of the new Jerusalem once remarked through his character Los that “I must Create a System, or be enslav’d by another Mans”.3 He’d explicate on this sayin,
Striving with Systems to deliver Individuals from those Systems;
That whenever any Spectre began to devour the Dead,
He might feel the pain as if a man gnawd his own tender nerves.
What Blake called systems later philosophers would term ideologies those subtle systems of power and rhetoric that enclosed their political worlds within a mental cage of thought, belief, and habit to form and shape a mode of life that reinstated the legitimacy of political power, secular power, and – for lack of a better term cosmological power in society to bring about a sense of absolute meaning and destiny for a people.
With the delegitimization of what A.O. Lovejoy in his great work of philosophical history termed the demise of the “great chain of being“, which was not a single event but rather the work of centuries of revolt against the closed systems of political, economic, and sacred authority of the Christian world-view, the world at the beginning of the Nineteenth-Century was left in disarray battling in anarchic delight for some new form of legitimization that might bring some order out of the chaos and crisis of the French and American Revolutions.
The Christian and Monarchical reign of the West had never been an absolute world of peace and plenty, but rather a world of warring elites that used power, might, and authority of State and Church to gain legitimization. A warrior world that arose in the aftermath of the failure of the Roman Empire. For centuries one King after another fought over territories seeking to control land, peoples, and wealth. One after another of these kingdoms would come to naught, or would find there worldly power condoned and legitimized under the protection of Divine rule by the great power of the Catholic Church.
This age old battle between legitimacy and illegitimacy cannot be attributed to any one specific idea or set of ideas, but is rather part of a complex interaction of both materialist and ideological systems, both open and closed. One could point to the slow corrosive delegitimization of both the Catholic Church from within and without as various agents (Kings, Aristocrats, and disgruntled monks and ecclesiastics, etc.) began to question the dictates of Church and Monarchs in their local regions and abroad. One could point to the influx of both the scholastic, Aristotelian, Islamic revitalization of knowledge, the emergence of those heretical worlds in Southern France, the slow turn from the inner worlds of religion toward the outer worlds of the universe with the emergence of sea travel, trade, mercantile economics, etc. The rise of the sciences and a new realism arising out of the struggles between various Catholic thinkers. The emergence of the printing press and the change from illiterate to a literate and educated populace. The changes of territorial enclosure to its demise and the influx of peasants into the various cities with its issues of health, religious, and political instability. The Black Plague and the medical disturbances. Of the Inquisition against heresies and the slow erosion of belief in the Catholic Order. All these and many more events, issues, breaks, ruptures, happenings would contribute to these patterns of revolt, sedition, and the bloody wars of religion and authority during the centuries.
As Pellicani will admit when exposed to a critical analysis, the religious view of the world, which attributes a moral and metaphysical meaning to the human condition, came to be seen as a huge deceptive mythology. Secularization is precisely that: the unfolding of the profane at the expense of the sacred, the demystiﬁcation of the religion of the ancestors, and the weakening of the controlling disposition of the standard model of thinking, perceiving, and acting inherited from the forefathers. Modernization and secularization, therefore, developed simultaneously, the latter being but the shadow of the former. (Pellicanini, p. 60)
Yet, what is left unsaid is that men and women schooled in the centuries long persecution of thought and religious authoritarianism had had enough, they were tired of the endless wars of attrition in which their supposed leaders had used them to further the ends of the rich, elite, and religious orders. It was time for something new, something else. And the new influx of thought, free-thought, free-thinkers that arose in defiance of both the closed systems of Monarchy and Church would become a staple of the common man’s arsenal against the power and authority of those institutions that had for far too long held them in chains.
Pellicani paints a picture in which atheism was only an affair of the European elites rather than some widespread phenomena among the society as a whole. That the Age of Enlightenment replaced this view with an image of a strictly machine driven world, where there is no room for ultimate motives. The only concession is that religion is useful for the upkeep of social order in that it “controls” the working classes’ expectations, by making them submissive toward the established authorities, and that reason can coexist with a vague deism without doctrines and cult practices. (Pellicani, p. 61) So Pellicani sees this new religion of Reason as just the change of one authority for another, secular for religious. A new elite that would legitimize itself in the name of a new god(dess), Reason (deism). A new absolute dictator of the mind and thought of humanity in replacement of a failed God of the Scholastics, etc.
Yet, in the nineteenth century the rise of Idealism, Romantic poetry, and the Industrial Age would devolve into a split world of light and dark, Sublime and Gothic. At this moment, nihilism, “the most terrifying of guests,” entered the scene. While it was “scattering its shadows” all over Europe, a new anthropological species came in to being: “the orphans of God”: those who, though abandoned by the faith of their ancestors, were dominated by the “nostalgia for the absolute Other.” (Pellicani, p. 62) Out of the amalgam of heretical ideas of Kant – for whom reality would forever be divided between what could be known (phenomenon) and what could never be known (noumenon), and the those of Hegel – for whom the central issue would be the human condition, the telos of History. Hegel – against all those strains within Fichte, Schelling, Schopenhauer, etc. that would eventually lead to Nietzsche’s “Death of God” – would try to delay the nihilistic consequences of God’s death, by demonstrating that thanks to a sixth sense—the historical sense—there was an immanent telos in universal history, which was visible as in ﬁligree. Therefore, life ceased to be a crazy adventure and became a progressive march toward freedom. (Pellicani, p. 62) His absolute objective idealism would shadow the world even to this day among both materialists (Marx and his progeny – Bataille, Badiou, Zizek, Deleuze, etc. as anti-Hegelians) and those staunch capitalists who would forge links to this progressive history as a new secular mythology, which would emerge as the American myth of Manifest Destiny.
Jean-Pierre Dupuy in his seminal work The Mark of the Sacred would ask: “What if, in order to understand human beings, it turns out to be absolutely necessary to understand why they invent gods?”4 One might revisit the work of that one philosopher who tried to answer that question, Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche himself would give a partial answer saying,
Multiplicities are invented in order to do things for which the individual lacks the courage. It is for just this reason that all communalities and societies are a hundred times more upright and instructive about the nature of man than is the individual, who is too weak to have the courage for his own desires—5
William Blake in a moment of satiric insight would state that all the gods of every nation originally came out of the human breast: “Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast.” The point Nietzsche makes is that humans in their weakness invented gods out of a desire for protection and absolution for their weakness, invented gods to assuage their own inability to live in the midst of an indifferent and terrible universe. They needed their fictions and narratives of the sacred to hide their own weakness from themselves, to bolster their courage up in the face of an inexplicable and horrific truth: that the universe could care less about these naked apes, these accidents of time and chance, contingent particles of dust and light, children of a sun exposed to the gravitational laws of the sun’s dark turnings in the void.
As Nietzsche would put it the study of society is so invaluable because man as society is much more naive than man as a “unit.” ‘” Society” has never regarded virtue as anything but a means to strength, power, and order. (ibid. 716) We develop our political, economic, and religious orders to defend ourselves against an indifferent universe. He was no lover of the State: “—Everything a man does in the service of the state is contrary to his nature.” (ibid. 718) The Secular Gnosis in Nietzsche’s terms was the “drive toward Freedom”:
The most fearful and fundamental desire in man, his drive for power— this drive is called “freedom”— must be held in check the longest. This is why ethics, with its unconscious instinct for education and breeding, has hitherto aimed at holding the desire for power in check: it disparages the tyrannical individual and with its glorification of social welfare and patriotism emphasizes the power-instinct of the herd. (ibid. 720)
The point for Nietzsche is that we build and construct our so to speak progressive societies to protect ourselves from the “tyrannical individual”, the creature who has brought the truth of the natural universe of indifference and power back into the midst of these weak and frightened masses. The State as Rousseau and others would conceive it was to protect the weak against the strong, to build institutions against the natural order of an indifferent universe of power.
Yet, as Pellicani will tell us there arose within this supposed progressive secular society a new aristocracy, a capitalist aristocracy not of land but of commerce. One in which two worlds emerged, the world of the elite intellectuals, the entrepreneurs, and the owners against the world of the mass majority of poor, disaffected, and alienated:
They were the “outcasts of the industrial society,” the “excluded” from property and therefore from the advantages of the civilization of wealth. Liberal emancipation had resulted in the emancipation only of a small group of the privileged, the rise to social power of a class formed by all those whose abilities to negotiate— wealth, education, technical expertise, talent—had equipped them to participate successfully in the catalytic game. Faced with this “new aristocracy” spontaneously assembled along with the growing process of marketing, those who had no other option but to sell their labor on the market represented the “internal proletariat” in the civilization of wealth: they were within society but not part of society, condemned as they were to being “excluded from the political and human city and rejected in the unreal capitalist city,” to the extent that even the conservative Disraeli could not refrain from noticing that “two nations” had formed within European society and that there were no sympathetic interactions between the two. They “reciprocally ignored each other’s customs, thoughts and emotions, as if they were from different areas and distinct planets created by opposite developments, fed different foods, had different rules of behaviour and had not been governed by the same law.” (Pellicani, p. 64)
When one looks upon our political End Game in America and Europe today one sees this same narrative of the two worlds played out of the haves and have nots, the rich and poor, the powerful and the disempowered as if a Manichean script were being enacted in a charade of political and ideological subterfuge. One that allowed a vast surveillance society to arise that would keep the disgruntled and disaffected, the alienated and aliens in our midst and periphery all enclosed in new systems of power relations, a new church of the Secular Order that allows for the cinematic display of freedom and democracy at the expense of its actual investment. A world at once gnostic and blind to its own shadow world of corruption and political mayhem. In a world where there is a Law for the Rich and a Law for the Poor one is no longer enabled to believe in freedom, but is rather bound within a closed world of fate and power, enclosed in a society of actors and tricksters, clowns and fools. A twitter world where the new fascists have taken on the self-imposed policing of the mediatainment systems, devolved into a realm of political correctness where any thought of wildness and individual display that seeks to escape the new Law of the Progressive Ethic is squelched and exposed to instant ridicule and brought before the tar-and-feather justice of mass expulsion and disgrace. What started as a simple gesture of awakening has become a flood of inanity and corruption, a tool in the hands of the masses to bring their resentment and hatred against any and all who would become individuals beyond the codified strictures of the progressive dictatorship of the mind.
The Progressive spirit once stood for freedom from law, but has itself become an instrument of its own spiritual malaise and corruption imposing a world of resentiment upon the minds and hearts of global citizenry. People no longer think for themselves but are now enslaved to a closed system of progressive thought and feeling that enables weakness rather than strength, stupidity rather than knowledge. We’ve become our own worst enemies. For years I belonged to this world but am slowly awakening out of my own stupor and ideological sleep. No more. The Enlightenment is dead, the progressive heirs of that world have become its main enemies and are enacting the very destruction of our planetary society that they accuse the old reactionaries of doing. It’s as if a whole generation has fallen asleep and is living out the dramatic sequence of a vicious and erroneous cosmological gnostic mythology. We’ve divided the world into a split system of encoded and ethical bullshit that seems to keep on repeating the same old narratives from two-thousand years ago. But now we no longer know this. We are unconscious of our own political, economic, and religious worlds that shape our desires. We’ve been blinded by those very closed systems and caged our minds in outmoded forms of thought and ideology.
Like the satirists of old I’ve departed the shoals of either party, neither progressive nor reactionary I situate myself obliquely to the side in amusement and terror at the stupidity of humanity. I’ve come to the conclusion that we will probably end as T.S. Eliot once admonished “not with a bang, but with a whimper.” We live on the cusp of triumph and tragedy, an opening out into the marvelous realms of science and knowledge, of space and exploration; as well as the uncanny implosion of the human into a post-human nightmare world of enslavement and meditainment farce, where humans become inner emigres into a machinic immortality where the gnostic notion of exit becomes the permanent escape of the naked ape into its exterior machines at the expense of the fleshy material truth of its existence. Politics is dead, long live politics. We shift among our ancients dream worlds of ideas and material escapades as if the endless dialogues among academics could move the masses to enact emancipation, while the truth is that the masses don’t want to be liberated; no, they want to be defended and protected from the horrendous truth of our universe, its ultimate indifference and power to destroy both their lives and their societies. While academics parade a thousand-and-one tales of philosophical crapology the world goes to its doom without any sign of challenge. Only a few individuals here and there show signs of moving own past this victimization game. We need to look to those unique singularities in our midst that might lead us out of our own ignorance and subterfuge rather than keep on keeping on with outmoded worn out ideological comfort blankets of the past.
Nietzsche admired Ralph Waldo Emerson for his singularity, his solitude, his ability to live beyond politics and the corruption of party ideologies. Both men were solitaries, living apart in their own isolated cells which enabled them to peer through the veil of political, social, and religious/secular subterfuge and develop an ethical stance that was internal to the necessity of their own being rather than the dictates of some external agency of the collective mind: God or Reason. Where are our iconoclasts today? Who will speak up for independent thought? Who will step outside the political belief systems of Left or Right and speak their thought in freedom and isolation of some encoded ideological straight-jacket? If to be an iconoclast is to attack, shake-up, disturb our complacency, our “cherished beliefs or venerated institutions on the grounds that they are erroneous or pernicious” then I’ve become the goad in the side of both Left and Right politics today. I’ll no longer have truck with either side which appears more and more to have become a parody of political and religious gnosis, to have fallen into a Manichean narrative which sees the opposing side as pure evil and a promoter of disorder and chaos, tyranny and oppression. Both the Left and Right seem bent of self-promotion at the expense of the actual humans in their midst, promoting ideological lies to support their corrupted agendas and programs. Time to pull out the scorching truth of past critique and apply a merciless diagnosis against both systems that perpetuate the degraded systems of cruelty on this planetary civilization. As H.L. Mencken, another iconoclast once said of the Left and Right:
Each party steals so many articles of faith from the other, and the candidates spend so much time making each other’s speeches, that by the time election day is past there is nothing much to do save turn the sitting rascals out and let a new gang in.
I’ll stop here today…
I’ll continue with that segment in my next installment… previous ones below:
The Gnosis of the Political Revolutionary – Part One
The Gnosis of the Political Revolutionary – Part Two
The Gnosis of the Political Revolutionary – Part Three
The Gnosis of the Political Revolutionary – Part Four
- Cohn, Norman (1970-05-15). The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages (Kindle Locations 5103-5106). Oxford University Press – A. Kindle Edition.
- Luciano Pellicani’s Revolutionary Apocalypse: Ideological Roots of Terrorism (2003 by ETAS, R.C.S. Libri S.p.A., Milan, Italy)
- Frye, Northrop (2013-04-04). Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake (p. vii). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
- Dupuy, Jean-Pierre (2013-10-30). The Mark of the Sacred (Cultural Memory in the Present) (Kindle Locations 191-192). Stanford University Press. Kindle Edition.
- Nietzsche, Fredrich (2014-02-19). Will to Power (Kindle Locations 8747-8749). . Kindle Edition.