Modernity without Restraint: The Political Religions, the New Science of Politics, and Science, Politics, and Gnosticism

By Manfred Henningsen; Eric Voegelin | Go to book overview

Preface to the American Edition

The more we come to know about the Gnosis of antiquity, the more it becomes certain that modern movements of thought, such as progressivism, positivism, Hegelianism, and Marxism, are variants of Gnosticism. The continuous interest in this problem goes back to the 1930s, when Hans Jonas published his first volume of Gnosis und spätantiker Geist on ancient Gnosis and Hans Urs von Balthasar his Prometheus on modern Gnosticism. Their work was followed by more comprehensive studies of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century movements, such as Henri de Lubac's Drame de l'humanisme athée and Albert Camus's L'Homme révolté. The lecture “Science, Politics and Gnosticism, delivered in 1958 at the University of Munich, was an attempt to apply to the Gnosticism of Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Heidegger the insights gained by these predecessors, as well as by my own New Science of Politics, and to draw more clearly the lines that separate political Gnosticism from a philosophy of politics. For the publication of this lecture the introduction on the nature of Gnosis and the section “The Murder of God” were added. The essay “Ersatz Religion” was first published in Wort und Wahrheit (Vienna, 1960) in the interest of presenting to the general public a further elucidation of the symbolism and psychology of the mass movements of our time.

In America, the gnostic nature of the movements mentioned had been recognized early in the twentieth century by William James. He knew Hegel's speculation to be the culmination of modern Gnosticism. The philosopher's critical opposition, however, had little effect; today, various intellectual movements of the gnostic type dominate the public scene in America no less than in Europe.

A representative case of the resultant intellectual confusion may be found in the “God is dead” movement. The death of God is the

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