Rules for Radicals and Nostrums for Gnostics
If he is correct on this score, this would have to represent the ultimate rebuke to self-styled progressives, who are perpetually building a bridge to the past -- and not even a real past, but rather, a myth-drenched one. Indeed, they are building a bridge to the lower vertical, which anyone can see by the primitive behavior of the Wall Street occupiers.
Superficially Voegelin's approach makes sense, since man = man everywhere and everywhen, and must be vulnerable to the same temptations and stupidities from age to age, even, or perhaps especially, when we imagine we have transcended them -- the tendency toward idolatry being one obvious and enduring example. Envy would be another. Each age finds a new way to legitimize what is called constitutional (i.e., innate) envy.
Man is man for at least three reasons. First, we share a common genetic heritage. Second, we all have a rational soul. And third, our existential conditions do not change, at least at the center: mother, father, brother, sister, love, death, loss, illness, need, children, mystery, etc.
For example, we have extended the average lifespan, but we nevertheless live in the shadow of death. We imagine ourselves to be "sexually liberated," but that hardly resolves the conundrum of human sexuality. We live more comfortably than the nobility of old, but this only fuels envy.
For this reason, there always have been, and always will be, cosmic snake oil salesmen who promise a cure for existence. But there are no cures for existence short of death. There is treatment, to be sure -- more on which later -- but no final cure in this life. We must learn to live amidst a welter of tensions, trade-offs, enigmas, reversals of fortune, raw deals, blown saves, buzzer beaters, etc.
The would-be Gnostic simply cannot accept the conditions of existence. He refuses to admit that they are "in the nature of things," and imagines that they are caused by some willful and systemic malevolence.
For example, the ancient Gnostics theorized that this world was created by a kind of renegade god, and that the snake in Genesis is the hero, not the villain of the story. The snake was simply trying to tell the humans to wise up to this fraudulent cosmic usurper.
Likewise, modern forms of political Gnosticism always require an easily identifiable enemy who is responsible for the unfairness and injustice of the world. Obama's mentor, Saul Alinsky, was very much aware of this need -- and I'm not one of those who (Gnostically!) overemphasizes his importance, as if he is the mystic key to understanding the Enigma of Obama; Alinsky simply articulated how radicals and revolutionaries think, and what they always do anyway.
Indeed, in the book's epigraph, Alinsky is self-aware enough to give an ironic shout out to Lucifer himself, as "the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins -- or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom" (emphasis mine).
However, Alinsky was not self-aware enough to realize that his whole life revolved around conformity to this very mythic structure. Too ironic by half.
Note how the task of the community organizer is not to help people adjust to reality, but to fuel their messianic hopes that reality can be changed: "They must feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and chance the future. This acceptance is the reformation essential to any revolution" (Alinsky).
Thus, the goal of the organizer is to present a vague cure -- always vague, on pain of being recognized as magic -- for the very despair he provokes: "the organizer must begin the task of agitating: rubbing resentments, fanning hostilities, and searching out controversy." This essentially involves "a process combining hope and resentment."
Regarding the latter, since human beings are so myth-prone and susceptible to simplistic and morally satisfying narratives, it is necessary to "pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it." This is the person or organization responsible for our obviously f*cked up existence. It is the One Percent, Fox News, Hate Radio, Creationists, Corporate Greed, Stay-At-Home Moms, Right Wing Christians, Zionist Hoodlums, Institutional Racism, etc.
Perhaps I should emphasize that conservatives are prone to the same sort of Gnostic narratives. A real conservative should have no delusions about what would happen with even the ideal political and economic conditions, for he has vertical recollection of paradise lost.
To locate salvation in politics is a grave error on the right, but a sacred principle on the left. When Obama is dispatched to Chicago come November, I will feel only relief, not joy (beyond the momentary). To react otherwise is to not know the ways of the world. For starters, if you think Jimmy Carter is a nuisance...
Now, the revolutionary, since he has already determined that the existing order is a result of willful malevolence, has no compunction whatsoever about destroying it. This is a very dangerous form of pneumopathology, and it is precisely what motivates the Islamists.
For once one has determined that the world is evil, then it legitimizes and disinhibits any form of violence or cruelty. One can gleefully destroy the system -- with all the "collateral damage" it entails -- in good conscience.
This is about as far as man may descend in the cosmos, where death is conflated with life; and woe unto them who call evil good and good evil. Indeed, woe unto those who even call the-best-we-can-do-under-the-circumstances evil, for it is easy to make matters worse, and impossible to make them better without trade-offs, unintended consequences, and unaccountable feedback from human nature.
Here is how Voegelin describes it: "Self-salvation through knowledge has its own magic, and this magic is not harmless. The structure of the order of being will not change because one finds it defective and runs away from it. The attempt at world-destruction will not destroy the world, but will only increase the disorder in society."
See history for details.
To be continued....