Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Voegelinians and Islam

I expect to publish a few postings on this general topic over time.

"Voegelinians" are students and admirers of the philosopher Eric Voegelin (1901-1985), a philosopher generally deemed to be "conservative" -- earning that label probably mostly because he tended to write favorably about Christianity, and because he considered Communism to be a pneumopathology (a term he coined for "a disease of the spirit"). Most Voegelinians are academic -- either grad students, alumni, or professors -- and form a rather quaintly modest and unassuming collection of devotees. Most of them, in my experience, would be labeled by the Western public at large as "conservative" if not "right wing".

Eric Voegelin, by the way, is my favorite philosopher, and has been for some 25 years (a good sampling of his writings may be perused at this collection of essays of his, available online for free at Google books). I discovered him, and devoured his writings, during those halcyon years before the hideous danger of Islam came on my radar. Ah, to be blessed with the general amnesia about the problem of Islam which most of my fellow Westerners continue to enjoy!

At any rate, back to present reality.

I joined the official discussion forum (since retired) dedicated to the thought and writings of Voegelin in about 2000, and remained there for about two years -- until I was unceremoniously expelled by its owner for disrespecting guess whom. You got it: a Muslim member of the group.

It was not long after 911 (perhaps as late as the middle of 2002) when I was given the boot, during which the topic of Islam got heated on the front burner. A few months after that, I cheated: I re-joined under another pseudonym and studiously tried to skirt writing comments too frontally critical of Islam -- though I did manage to wedge in apposite observations (as the reader will see from the example I provide at the end of today's essay).
I managed to stick around for quite some time, until 2004 or 2005, which wasn't long before the forum was retired by its owner anyway.

Anywho, as I said up top, I hope to post several bits and pieces from my time there that reflect on the broader, deeper problem of PC MC -- namely, in this case, how it is that mostly "conservative" philosophers and academics can be so bloody stupid about the problem of Islam, as I found the Voegelinians to be during my time on that forum.

I also hope, more ambitiously, to read and review two recent books crucially pertinent to the nexus between Voegelinianism and the problem of Islam written by two Voegelinian luminaries -- Barry Cooper, and Eugene Webb (the former's book being New Political Religions, Or an Analysis of Modern Terrorism; the latter's being Worldview and mind: religious thought and psychological development). Both books I dare say will not surprise me by being imbued with, and structured by, the givens and axioms and spastic reflexes of the PC MC paradigm with regard to the problem of Islam. (Indeed, I just this moment had to swallow a reflux of a dry heave of nausea after spotting this phrase from Cooper's book, on page 74, which I breezed over: "...although Islam broadly considered does not provide a threat to Western liberal democracy, militant jihadist Islam, what we have been calling Islamism, most certainly does." But, as I said, more about that at some future date.)

At any rate, today's entry is a comment I posted on that forum in 2004, which concerned a thread titled "visceral hatred of the West & the divine Nous". The "Prof. Wagner" to whom I am responding, by the by, was the owner of the forum, a student and personal friend of Voegelin, a conservative on most issues -- and the one who took such wounded offense at my disrespect of his Muslim colleague that he expelled me from the forum.

Anyway, here's my comment (note the passage I bolded, toward the end):

Prof. Wagner wrote:

"Surely the Muslim visceral hatred of the West and especially the
US is based in some large part on a perception of the threat to
their culture from our western reductionism of human sexuality to
the level of smarmy selfishness—all to the detriment of women,
children, elders and future generations."

This visceral hatred was shown to be about more than reductionism of
sexuality in Holland recently, when the Muslim who murdered the Dutch
film-maker Theo Van Gogh, after shooting him a few times and then
slitting his throat in broad daylight on the street, pinned a long
pneumopathological letter up under his ribs with a knife. A Dutch
friend has translated the letter for me, which was recently published
by the Minister of Justice. The letter was addressed not to the
slain Van Gogh, nor to the Dutch people or government (at least not
directly), but to a woman named Ayaan Hirsi Ali. [I must amend that last statement: I believe the assassin's infamous letter did address not only Ms. Ali, but also the Mayor of Amsterdam, among others.]

Ms. Ali is a black
African from Somalia who immigrated to Holland many years ago. She is a professed "ex-Muslim" who has worked for years helping Muslim women she claims are being abused, physically and otherwise, by their Muslim husbands, brothers and fathers. She has taken her cause into the political arena, first by joining the more left-leaning Labour Party, then -- when they seemed more concerned to protect the virtue of multi-culturalism than the more concrete human rights of Muslim women -- switching to the more conservative Conservative VD Party. More recently, she collaborated with the slain Van Gogh by writing the text to his latest film in which Muslim women talk about their abuse.

The bloody letter to Ms. Ali lists, at great rambling length, her various sins (including her supposedly unwitting allegiance to a political system controlled by "Jews"), along with various threats not only to Ms. Ali herself but specifically to the "Netherlands", to "Europe" and to "America" (including apocalyptic language resembling the Apocalypse of John and other classical apocalyptic literature, here with Arabic flavors, scil.,

"On that momentous day

FEAR will fill the atmosphere:
When the sun is closed down
And when the stars fall down
And when the mountains are moved
And when the pregnant camels are left behind."... etc.).

Among the sins of Ms. Ali listed by the letter was one that caught my eye: "Thus you had the cowardice to ask Islamic children at school to make a choice between their Creator and the constitution."
This aroused a question in me: Which pneumopathology is more unhealthy and dangerous for civilization,

a) the pneumopathology that would marginalize or even exclude

discussion of the divine Nous in the public spheres of education,
information and politics;


b) the pneumopathology that is so anxious for the divine Nous to be
dominant in the public spheres that it slaughters an innocent person
like a pig in broad daylight on the street?

The fact that I feel compelled to ask this question at all generally of the more "conservative" Voegelinians here tinges me with frustration; the fact that I can guess the convoluted answer from the more anti-American Voegelinians here fills me with annoyance, rancour and sadness.

(Nota bene: while Van Gogh's film that so outraged the Muslim community in Holland not only included Muslim women talking about the abuse they experience in their culture but also depicted their naked breasts artfully overlaid with verses from the Koran, this degree of sexual libertinism which has, at least since the 1960s if not further back, become so much a part of modern Western art and culture as to have become unremarkably banal to most Western Christians, is not once mentioned in the terrorist letter, though doubtlessly it was one contributing factor to the 'visceral hatred' of the seven Muslims arrested for this twisted abomination.)

For Part 2, see:

Voegelinians and Islam, Part 2


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Sagunto said...

Hesperado -

I see a minor problem. Your view is essentially that basically all is well in Western politeia, but for PCMC. Well-meaning politicians aiding and abetting islamization with the support of the majority of the equally well-meaning PCMC crowd.

Let's see what Voegelin held of Western political society: he compared it to a "lunatic asylum".

Some discrepancy here, me thinks.

Kind regs from Amsterdam,

Hesperado said...


Voegelin's assessment of (Western) modernity is complex.

For one thing, his diagnosis of a "disease" in (Western) modernity pertains largely to what he saw as an enculturation of sophistry denying divine transcendence. Ironically, this is precisely what attracted that one Muslim member of the Voegelinian society (of whose discussion forum I too was a member for a while, as I mention in my article here) to Voegelin: i.e., this Muslim member saw in Voegelin a nice hefty piece of ammunition against the West -- on the basis of its supposed lack of spirituality (which, though she never said so outright, was implied to contrast unfavorably with Islamic culture and its purported cultivation of spiritual values). Voegelin only very rarely, and only in parenthetical passing, adverted to things that may be PC as part of the problem he was diagnosing. He may well have agreed that PC is, but unfortunately, his focus was on the problem of the denial of transcendence. (He also wrote precious little about Islam, and it's hard to glean from what he says to what extent he would agree with us, or was asymptotic about it.)

Secondly -- although again only casually and parenthetically -- it seems that Voegelin did not see the modern situation in terms of a Fjordmanesque gloom and doom. Two fleeting examples indicate this:

1) Voegelin recounted a personal experience he had where he was walking across the campus of a college at which he was guest lecturer, and a colleague and devotee of his saw him and approached him, and said in consternation, "What are we going to do? There's no hope for the West!" At which Voegelin responded, "Nonsense! There are plenty of signs of progress that should give us hope!" (I am paraphrasing from memory, but the gist is there.)

2) In his essay "Configurations of History", he wrote: "There is a science that investigates the questions of pattern in history. This science, like any other, is progressing..."

And when he writes "questions of pattern" he means in terms of classic philosophy, not in terms of modern "disease".

Sagunto said...

Hesperado -

I agree that Voegelin's view of modernity can be rendered as complex (as one wishes), but that wasn't the point I made.

My observation about a certain discrepancy between your assertions and Voegelin's view still stands. Here's the quote from Voegelin I was referring to:

"Gnostic societies and their leaders will recognize dangers to their existence when they develop, but such dangers will not be met by appropriate actions in the world of reality. They will rather be met by magic operations in the dream world, such as disapproval [think of Cameron, Merkel, Sarkoszy, Obama], moral condemnation, declarations of intention, resolutions, appeals to the opinion of mankind, branding of enemies as aggressors, outlawing of war, propaganda for world peace and world government, etc."

And then this encore:

"The intellectual and moral corruption that expresses itself in the aggregate of such magic operations may pervade a society with the weird, ghostly atmosphere of a lunatic asylum, as we experience it in our time in the Western crisis."

As a service, I've highlighted some Voegelinian "buzz words" that might be of interest here. So whether or not this fairly pessimistic view corresponds with that of Fjordman's doom-and-gloom is not the question, and really, I couldn't care less. My claim is, that I have some doubt whether you can rightfully use Voegelin in your particular charge against people who don't subscribe to your PCMC thesis.

Take care,

Sagunto said...

I forgot to mention, but perhaps you already stumbled upon it, the fact that in dissecting Gnosticism he mentions "propaganda for world government", by Gnostic enemies of the West.

Now if some of those who don't buy each and every part of your PCMC thesis had said anything along these Voegelinian lines, surely you'd have condemned them right of the bat as doom-mongering alienated conspirationalists, isn't that true?


Hesperado said...


Having been an admirer and student of Voegelin for over 25 years, and having devoured everything he has written (and also having had many lengthy discussions about him with two other students of his -- one a professor who wrote a biography of him), I can say with relative confidence that when Voegelin wrote of

"Gnostic societies and their leaders will recognize dangers to their existence when they develop, but such dangers will not be met by appropriate actions in the world of reality. They will rather be met by magic operations in the dream world..."

he was referring to the Soviet Union, Red China, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy; he would never have dreamed of calling any Administration of the U.S.A. (or any other free democratic Western nation that fought against the one or more of the aforementioned) "Gnostic" in that regard -- only of having, perhaps, Gnostic "elements" among certain people here and there to one degree or another. To call Obama "Gnostic" in the same sense as Hitler or Stalin is simply going too far and begins to partake, itself, of a Gnostic tendency.

Sagunto said...

Hi Hesp,

Here's an idea. Tell me what you think of it.
Let's pick up - from time to time - our Voegelinian encounters while this blog still stands.

I'll just continue with a response to your last reply, because the matter was still unsolved. You see, I do believe that Voegelin was talking about "The West" (not Western Civ, but a source of "Westernization", also a gnostic threat from the West itself). You said no, based on my 25 years of experience, he must have been referring to.. e.g. Nazi Germany. Fair enough. I looked up and found a quote that is unambiguous and indeed referring to Nazi Germany, but not quite the way you'd imagine.

I call Eric Voegelin as a witness, page 228 from "Modernity Without Restraint".. The New Science of Politics:

"The model case is the rise of the National Socialist movement to power, first in Germany, then on the continental scale, with the gnostic chorus wailing its moral indignation at such barbarian and reactionary doings in a progressive world without however raising a finger to repress the rising force by a minor political effort in proper time. The prehistory of the second World War raises the serious question whether the Gnostic dream has not corroded Western society so deeply that rational politics has become impossible, and war is the only instrument left for adjusting disturbances in the balance of existential forces."

That "gnostic chorus" Voegelin referred to was a chorus of Western politicians. The "Gnostic societies and their leaders ... magic operations in the dream world" were Western societies. Western leaders as gnostic dreamworlders in the pre-WW2 period. How about that?

So would Voegelin "never have dreamed of calling any US administration "Gnostic," as you said? Judging from his own work, it seems that he would and that he did.