Dubya Immanentizes the Eschaton

Gene Callahan consults Eric Voegelin for insight into the Bush administration and its ideological supporters:

Since the Gnostic is, like the Blues Brothers, “on a mission from God,” like Jake and Elwood he is not constrained by the moral rules that apply to the non-elect. Voegelin says, “Types of action which in the real world would be considered as morally insane because of the real effects which they have will be considered moral in the dream world because they intended an entirely different effect.” The ongoing train wreck that Iraqi society has become was the predictable and often predicted result of the US-British invasion of the country. But the promoters of the disaster accept no guilt for their role in bringing about the present, horrible situation, because in their dream world they intended a quite different outcome. “No one,” they protest, “could have foreseen the actual course of events,” while ignoring the fact that many people did foresee it, at least in its broad outlines.

Today, at last, the force of reality is beginning to compel them to acknowledge that their grand adventure in Iraq has gone terribly astray. But many neocons are still not willing to concede that therefore launching the war was a mistake. A popular dodge is to ask their critics, “So, you’d prefer it if Hussein was still in power, still oppressing the Iraqi people?”

Well, if I could have magically ended Hussein’s tyranny in a way that wouldn’t have made life even worse for those I sought to help, I would have done so. Unfortunately, as the past three years demonstrate, it was quite possible to depose him in a way that makes the average Iraqi nostalgic for “the good old days” of Saddam’s reign of despicable but limited violence. Traditional western morality rejects the notion that an actor’s “good intentions” alone are enough to absolve him from blame for the consequences of his actions, insisting that he also has an obligation to prudently consider the probable effects of the options he is contemplating. But in the Gnostic dream world, it is morally irrelevant if the “beneficiaries” of your assistance wind up significantly and predictably in worse shape than they would have been had you simply left them alone. What matters is that in your dream everything was scheduled to come out fine, and you are righteous solely based on your admirable intentions.

Read on.

I’m Voegelin-deficient, by the way, having read none of his major works.  I oughta remedy that in the next year or so.


9 thoughts on “Dubya Immanentizes the Eschaton

  1. John Lowell October 27, 2006 / 2:46 pm

    An interesting piece but a theological tragedy. Voegelin’s use of the phrase “immanantization of the eschaton” is a hideous misrepresentation of how the terms are properly used. Honest-to-goodness expression of them in theology from which the terms were derived refer to formulations based on Hegel – those of Kung and Moltmann, for example – and in employing the gnostic claim, Voegelin and those citing him disfigures both the terms and gnosticism. To “immanentize the eschaton” is simply to collapse “the kingdom” into the world, thereby identifying the two so utterly that any attempt to pry them apart is condemned to failure. Yet here we see in the use being made of them a real distinction with descernable function at both levels, hardly an identification. The underlying thoughts may be valid enough but the mode of expression is inappropriate.

    John Lowell

  2. Daniel McCarthy October 27, 2006 / 3:46 pm

    Thanks, John. I’ve always been skeptical of the Voegelinian understanding of gnosticism as its popularly used or abused; it’s one of the things that’s caused me to put off reading Voegelin himself.

  3. John Lowell October 27, 2006 / 4:44 pm


    If memory serves, one particularly odious conception of Vogelein’s is his depiction of the relation of the spiritual to the material in humankind as the “ghost in the machine”. Now this presentation is most certainly “gnostic” and would seem dependent upon Plato in one way or another. One very important contribution of Christianity to an adequate understanding of the relation of these elements is to understand them mutually as form and matter, that is to say the “soul”, so-called, is the form of the body and the body the form of the “soul”. The two are to be understood as being in a kind of tension. Now Vogelein views this relation very much as one might a pit in a peach, if you will, with the pit representing an essence of sorts. Such a conception permits of a dualism wholly consistent with the presuppositions of much of modern commentary and frequently serves as the inexpressed rationale grounding the moral enthusiasms of the advocates of abortion. The commonly heard remark, “I want control over my own body”, for example, manifests these presuppositions in the sense that the spiritual in humankind is viewed as objective to the material and this latter as somehow intrinsically less valuable, perhaps even disposable. Here is the impoverishment at the base of much of modern thinking about anthropology, the reduction of the human to something detactable from itself. Its rather sad, actually.

    John Lowell

  4. Daniel McCarthy October 30, 2006 / 4:08 am

    Aargh! I’ve tried fixing it before but always seem to get something wrong. Let’s try again…

  5. Michael J. Keegan October 31, 2006 / 6:57 am

    I would suggest Hans Jonas’s Gnostic Religion as a complement to Voegelin’s work. You could also review Norm Cohen’s Pursuit of the Milennium or Henri De Lubac’s Drama of Atheist Humanism.

    With much respect to his erudition, one of Voegelin’s achilles heel is his over reliance or tendency toward neologism. That said, I’m not sure I find most of Mr. Lowell’s expressed reservations or characterizations of Voegelin and gosticism quite convincing.

    Would Mr. Lowell be amenable to expound on his second posting as I reread it several times to no avail? What is your claim? That Voegelin is too Platonic or too modern? Just wondering…

  6. John Lowell October 31, 2006 / 8:44 am


    You query:

    “What is your claim? That Voegelin is too Platonic or too modern? Just wondering… ”

    Both, I suppose. The difficulty here is that modern anthropology, representing as it does a kind of retrograde movement away from modified realism, finds itself with little to improve upon and much in common with the Platonic formulations of the ancients when dealing with the question of the unity of spirit and matter in humankind. Voegelin’s “ghost in the machine” is one such problemed conception. It’s been probably twenty years now since I’ve read it , but if memory serves, Germaine Grisez has contributed an important analysis of Vorgelin in this connection. His principal complaint and mine is that there exists no mechanism in Voegelin – or in much of modern anthropolgy for that matter – to account for this unity. The human being is conceived much as it is in Plato as a kind of super-essence residing inside a fleshly envelope of sorts and that only contingently. Any such conception of necessity trivializes the biological in humankind, reducing it to a sort of disposable appendage. That notwithstanding, its outlines are widely presupposed in the current age. One finds it utterly contaminating feminist anthropolgy, for example, where the body and the “self” are largely seen as objective to one another, the “self” even being said to have “rights” in respect of the body. What is lost in such thinking, of course, is the whole sense of what it means to be human with an inevitable outcome in abortion, infanticde and the federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research.

    John Lowell

  7. Comment October 31, 2006 / 8:16 pm

    President Bush is very gnostic in his approach; his idea of ‘moral clarity’ and ‘axis of evil’ is in the gnostic tradition. Compare Bush to the Paul the Apostle , who was quite direct in opposition to notions of ‘moral clarity’ in daily life – Paul saw “thru a glass, darkly.” Clarity or seeing face to face was not possible on earth, according to Paul-

  8. Tim November 3, 2006 / 3:14 am

    I like this term “Voegelin deficient”. Maybe we could get the FDA to recognise Voegelin Deficiency as a social pathology. We could get epidemiological maps showing the worst pockets Voegelin deficiency in the country and maybe Voegelin shots could be arranged. I can see this becoming a marketing thing too. For example, “this week’s Harpers / The Atlantic / Weekly Standard / National Review / Mad magazine now comes with 25% more Voegelin”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s