De-divinization, Dehumanization, and Radical Stupidity
In Hitler and the Germans, Voegelin asks the questions, "When was man as such discovered?" and "What was he discovered to be?" He focuses on two specific historical places and situations, which we might abbreviate as Athens and Jersualem.
For here we have two points "where what man is was experienced," followed by a generalization -- or universalization -- that becomes "binding on all men."
Thus, for example, a direct line can be drawn between these two points and our own "political genesis," which affirms that "all men are created equal." Note again that this is a definitional (and ontological) statement, in that it goes to what man "is." And it is obviously universal, in that it applies to all men at all times.
In what we are calling Athens, "man was experienced by the philosophers of the classical period as a being who is constituted by the nous, by reason."
Which is fine as far as it goes, but it is not enough to define man in his essence and totality. From Jerusalem (short for Israelite society) we have the additional experience of man as a "pneumatic being who is open to God's word." Man is the being to -- and through -- whom the Spirit speaks, with all this implies (i.e., truth, beauty, virtue, nobility, objectivity, etc).
Thus, "Reason and spirit are the two modes of constitution of man, which were generalized as the idea of man." This is a -- the -- definitive definition of man, because it cannot be surpassed, only fallen short of. Emphasizing one over the other, or one to the exclusion of the other, results in man being maimed at his ground and center: the dry rot of Moscow or the wet rot of Teheran.
Consider the French Revolution, or the leftist regimes of the 20th century, which started with very different definitions of man, ones that exclude his pneuma in general and his deiformity in particular.
Ironically, these latter are defined by the regimes in question as the essence of pathology: religion as opiate or mask for illicit power. Thus, before the guillotine falls or the gulags open for business, man is decapitated and imprisoned in an environment intrinsically hostile to man as such -- in which there is no spiritual oxygen, food, or water. And as he dies spiritually, he loses contact with the spiritual per se.
Now, it is not just that man is characterized by nous and pneuma, or intellect and spirit. Rather, it is obvious that neither of these could be their own sufficient reason.
Rather, they relate to something that precedes them, just as the wings of a bird relate to the surrounding atmosphere. And just as we don't expect to find wings in environments where flight is impossible, or eyes where there is no light, we don't expect to find intellect where truth is impossible, or pneuma where the spirit doesn't dwell.
So nous and pneuma are intrinsically related to their own sufficient reason, which is another way of saying that they are open to reality in a self-transcending manner. In each case, we reach out "beyond ourselves toward the divine in the philosophical experience and the loving encounter through the word [logos] in the pneumatic experience..."
For Voegelin -- and for Schuon -- this participation in the divine reality is the source of man's dignity. Thus, any definition of man that falls short of what we have outlined above, is always an assault on man's rightful stature: "The loss of dignity comes about through the denial of the participation of the divine, that is, through the de-divinization of man."
This is a key principle in how tyranny follows, because "dedivinizing is always followed by dehumanizing." Dedivinizing has enormous consequences, which maim not only spirit but reason, as history proves time and again. For "in both cases there occurs a loss of reality," and "if one closes oneself to this reality, one possesses in one's range of experience less of this part of reality, this decisive part that constitutes man."
Now, the divine reality doesn't just "disappear," any more than unconsciously repressed thoughts no longer exist. Rather, something must be elevated to the absolute, usually man. For Voegelin, this represents the essence of the problem of Hitler: 1 Dedivinization, 2, Dehumanization, 3, Endivinization of man. Hitler is the dedivinized, dehumanized, and endivinized man par excellence ("endivinize" is my term).
Bear in mind that we need to understand the universal principles beneath a Hitler, because if we focus only on his particular instance, we will be unable to learn anything intelligible, i.e., with wider application.
For example, in contemporary America we are ruled by what might be called an intellectual "rabble-ocracy," consisting of men who have lost contact with divine reality and who presume to appropriate more of our freedom on that basis.
But since they did not give us our freedom -- for it is a gift of the creator -- they have no right to diminish it in this crude way. That they feel they may do so is only further evidence of their loss of contact with reality resulting from their own self-maiming.
This is what Voegelin calls "radical stupidity." Again, it is not an insult, but a term of art. It refers to a man who, "because of his loss of reality, is not in a position to rightly orient his action in the world."
In short, "when the central organ for guiding his action, his theomorphic nature and openness toward reason and spirit, has ceased functioning, then man will act stupidly." And this stupidity will always result in increased societal disorder, because the radically stupid -- the stupid radicals -- are attempting to navigate with a map that is all wrong. If one has a defective image of reality, how could disorder not follow?
Another critical point, and one that is ably conveyed by our troll: that is to say, with the loss of reality comes the inability to speak of it, or to understand what is being said when others speak of it. Thus, "parallel to the loss of reality and to stupidity there is always the phenomenon of illiteracy."
Again, this has nothing to do with the mechanical ability to read and write, which virtually all westerners possess. Rather, it means that the illiterate in question will not be able to "express himself with regard to very wide ranges of reality, especially matters of reason and the spirit, and is incapable of understanding them."
In this regard, the psychoanalyst W.R. Bion described a kind of "trinity of psychosis" revolving around aggressive stupidity, contempt, and triumph. Watch for it, because it is all around us.
To be continued....