The reader will be surprised to see modern political thinkers and movements treated under the heading of “gnosticism.” Since the state of science in this area is as yet largely unknown to the general public, an introductory explanation will not be unwelcome.
The idea that one of the main currents of European, especially of German, thought is essentially gnostic sounds strange today, but this is not a recent discovery. Until about a hundred years ago the facts of the matter were well known. In 1835 appeared Ferdinand Christian Baur's monumental work Die christliche Gnosis, oder die Religionsphilosophie in ihrer geschichtlichen Entwicklung. Under the heading “Ancient Gnosticism and Modern Philosophy of Religion, ” the last part of this work discusses: (1) Böhme's theosophy, (2) Schelling's philosophy of nature, (3) Schleiermacher's doctrine of faith, and (4) Hegel's philosophy of religion. The speculation of German idealism is correctly placed in its context in the gnostic movement since antiquity. Moreover, Baur's work was not an isolated event: It concluded a hundred years of preoccupation with the history of heresy—a branch of scholarship that not without reason developed during the Enlightenment. I shall mention only Johann Lorenz von Mosheim's encyclopedic Versuch einer unparteiischen und gründlichen Ketzergeschichte (2d edition, 1748) and two works on ancient Gnosticism from Baur's own day, Johann August Neander's Genetische Entwicklungder vornehmsten gnostischen Systeme (1818) and Jacques Matter's Histoire critique du Gnosticisme et de son influence sur les sectes religieuses et philosophiques des six premiers siècles de l'ère chrétienne (1828). It was well understood that with the Enlightenment and German idealism the gnostic movement had acquired great social significance.