Hunting the Devils
Simone Weil and Eric Voegelin–Two Paths to the Same Truth–Part 1
by Sylvie Courtine-Denamy
Sylvie Courtine-Denamy is the author of books on Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil, among them being Three Women in Dark Times: Edith Stein, Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil and her most recent book, Simone Weil. La Quête de racines célestes . She is also a translator of philosophical works into French, including those of Hannah Arendt and Eric Voegelin. This essay appears here in three parts.
With Eric Voegelin (1901−1985) and Simone Weil (1909−1943), we are confronted with two philosophers who examine events, understand their present, and consider the “disorder” of their time caused by Marxism, Fascism, and National Socialism.
Their respective works constitute acts of resistance against ideology.
Wondering about the “dark times” (Bertolt Brecht), they diagnose a Europe that suffers from a disease that is not without precedent, a disease that affects the spirit, the soul, and a disease that can be grasped by its several symptoms.
In order to cure this disease, it is necessary to find remedies, and they both believe two countries in particular offer some hope.
Voegelin became interested in ideologies because of the communist revolution in Russia. He read Das Capital in the 1920’s and confessed to having been a Marxist for a few months before he came to understand the errors of Marx, thanks to his studies in economic theory and in the history of economics.2. Besides his analysis of Marx, “The Formation of the Marxian Revolutionary Idea,“3 Voegelin came back many times to this thinker whom he classifies as a “speculative gnostic.”
This characterization might appear surprising, but one of the characteristics of ancient gnosis is man’s dissatisfaction concerning his dwelling in the world becauses he experiences it as an imprisonment, as an alienation from which he has to free himself in order to find his way “back home to the other world of his origin.”4
In The New Science of Politics (1952), Voegelin, in agreement with Hans Jonas to whom he refers, brings together under this category of gnosis all immanentist ideolgies which deserted transcendence in order to impart to man and his action in the world the meaning of an eschatological fulfilment. By doing so, such immanentist ideologies aspire to realize paradise on earth even if this entails hastening its coming through violence.5
To destroy this imperfect and unjust world by elevating man to the rank of divinity was Marx’s ambition. In this spirit, Voegelin interpreted the three stages of his philosophy of history–primitive communism, class state, and final communism–as the apocalypse of man.6
So, the new man promoted by Marxism, far from having rejected all religious illusions, is the one who “has taken God back into his being . . . . [T]herefore the new man is . . . the man who has made himself God.”7
According to Voegelin, moreover, modern gnosis is a phenomenon unknown to Antiquity. It demands the conscious closure of the spirit to ratio. The refusal to ask questions becomes in the case of Marx a real ukase: “When the man brings up the problem of the arche (the ground of being), Marx admonishes, ‘Ask yourself whether that progression exists as such for rational thought.’”8 The rational thought referred to here is not human reason but the logic of the “system.”
This questioning of philosophical questioning itself, this claim of doxa to erect itself as a science, appears to Voegelin as a real “intellectual swindle” with the intention of maintaining “an ideology that would permit him to support violent action against human beings with a show of moral indignation.”9
In order to characterize this type of gnostic literature, counting on a new truth and a new world, Voegelin resorts to the Arab word “Koran,” “the works of Karl Marx have become the Koran of the faithful, supplemented by the patristic literature of Leninism-Stalinism.”10