Gnosis in Eric Voegelin’s Philosophy


The present paper re-examines the role that terms such as""gnostic,"" ""gnosis"" and ""gnosticism"" played in Eric Voegelin'sthought and its development. Such a re-examination seems appropriatefor a number of reasons. First, as Murray Jardine observed,Eric Voegelin is still ""probably best known to the current generationof American political theorists from his unrelenting critique ofmodernity in The New Science of Politics […].""2 Voegelin's ""unrelentingcritique"" in what is, arguably, his most ""successful"" book wasbased on a twofold argument. He claimed (1) that ""the growth ofgnosticism"" was ""the essence of modernity"" and (2) that there was ahistorical continuity from ancient ""gnosis"" to its modern variants.3For the proper evaluation of Voegelin's work it appears essential,therefore, to locate the insights from The New Science of Politics (NSP)—and especially the insights concerning ""gnosticism""—withinthe context of the overall development of Voegelin's thought.Furthermore, and second, there is the question of the empiricalvalidity of Voegelin's analysis of the relationship between ""gnosticism""and modernity as presented in NSP. The two problems—theplace of NSP within Voegelin's life-work and the empirical validityof the book's contents—are analytically distinct. The analysis of""gnosticism"" might have been an important milestone in his workeven if it were factually incorrect. The value of the work does notexclusively depend on its empirical correctness. Indeed, before wecan draw any conclusions regarding the relationship between thetwo problems we will first need to establish in what ways, if at all,Voegelin uses ""gnosticism"" as an ""empirical concept.""
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