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Eschatological Politics: The Chosen People of God and their Holy Wars

Hubris must be put out, more than fire




This paper addresses an issue of considerable contemporary concern, which furthermore seemed all but unthinkable just a few decades ago. It concerns the fact that in our days political actions of utmost significance are evidently motivated by a religious agenda, bringing back the question of ‘political theology’ at the heart of contemporary theorising.[1]

This phenomenon represents a major challenge for social theorizing, evidently flying in the face of mainstream approaches like liberalism, secularization, or rational choice theory. According to rationalist approaches, people are motivated solely by their objective interests. Such a perspective, however, fails to give a proper account of the reasons why people are capable of actions that go against their evident interests, risking even their life in pursuits that, according to the logic of material gains and interests, seem chimerical.[2]

At one level, the problem can be solved by the concept of ‘collective identity’, a concern that has been discussed some of the most perceptive social theorists of the past decades, including Alessandro Pizzorno, Shmuel Eisenstadt, and Bernhard Giesen (Eisenstadt and Giesen 1995; Giesen 1998; Pizzorno 1986, 1987, 1991; Somers 2000). People are willing to act against their individual ‘interests’ if such an action is required in order to defend or promote something much more important than (even constitutive of) their ‘interest’, which is their identity – both collective and personal. A particularly clear example is to sacrifice one’s life in defence of one’s home – a clear counterexample to Hobbes’s self-preservation principle, argued in detail by Pizzorno (1991).

However, this argument still fails to explain a ‘vital aspect of contemporary religious politics: the performance of actions which are not only particularly aggressive and violent, but are evidently perpetuated with full good conscience. This paper argues that, beyond general questions of secularisation and collective identity, it has to do with a peculiar, and particularly hubristic kind of self-identity: the pretence of being the ‘chosen people of God’. As illustrated with particular clarity by the war in Iraq, the most explosive conflicts in our current global times do not simply involve a religious agenda, but are waged by or on behalf of nations that had the questionable privilege of having claimed in the past (or claim even in the present) of being God’s ‘chosen people’.

This idea provides a particularly explosive combination of excessive universality and total exclusivity, explaining the resulting arrogance. At one extreme, those who consider themselves to have been chosen by the one and only God pretend to pursue the most general possible agenda; on the other hand, however, it also excludes in the most radical manner those who were not so fortunate, and whose life and fate therefore presumably does not represent the slightest interest on a ‘world historical scale’. Such arrogance, and the resistance it inexorably evokes, arguably sustains the most bitter conflicts in our age, whether this is the problem of racism in the US, the conflict of Northern Ireland, or the situation of the Middle East.

The issue at stake, thus, is of vital contemporary relevance. Yet, this paper, while fully accepting the pressing nature of the problem, in large part will be devoted to remote, even obscure historical matters. Such a way of proceeding must be justified in advance.

Reasons start by a reference to predecessors, even an entire – and very distinguished – tradition in sociological and political analysis. The central figure in this lineage is Max Weber, with his studies on the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism, and even on the prophetic religions of Antiquity, with Nietzsche as a central forerunner with his Genealogy of Morals, and include such major contemporary social and political thinkers as Michel Foucault, Reinhart Koselleck, or Eric Voegelin as direct or indirect heirs. But the very existence of such a tradition is due to a set of further reasons that are not always fully understood, even by experts of historical sociology or political theory. This includes, first of all, the extreme complexity of the phenomenon. Modern intellectual and academic life likes to separate things into neat boxes; and the distinction between the religious and the secular, or between theology and political philosophy, is foundational not just for the academic world, but for modern political and social life as well. Political theology is therefore a genuine red herring, whose very existence questions the foundations of contemporary intellectual belief systems. Even further, such links between religion and politics are inseparable from questions of warfare and law, and in a more general sense of culture and society, thus bringing into play practically the entire range of the human and social sciences.

Still further, already the famous Weber thesis was not simply about the inherent connection between religion and modern economics, but about the vital lasting effects of such connections, even when direct links between religious belongingness and economic activities can no longer be perceived. In fact, it is exactly the survival of such latent connections that, on the one hand, renders the current intensification of the relationship between religion and politics better intelligible, while on the other also complicate matters beyond any hope for a quick and easy solution. The problem therefore cannot be reduced to the question of how political Islam, or US administration, uses arguments of a religious nature in order to justify its actions, but includes the much broader question of whether seemingly purely pragmatic and secular actions have a hidden or latent religious-like motivation. Such a line of questioning opens up an entire Pandora’s box, including the old question whether the various revolutionary and totalitarian movements of the 20th century should be considered as quasi-religious ideologies.

Such a possibility is all the more problematic as it brings in an entirely new dimension of complexity and confusion: stigmatization or normative labeling. The problem is the following. At one level, it is a legitimate intellectual strategy to compare religious and secular political movements or ideologies, or even to consider the secular as merely the ‘secularized’ versions of the religious. Carl Schmitt, in particular, famously argued in the first sentence of the third chapter of Political Theology, itself called ‘Political Theology’, that ‘all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts’ (Schmitt 2005). However, such a way of proceeding can easily degenerate into a practice of abusive labeling, all the more so as most modern political movements consider their secular nature as one of their most cherished identifying feature. In fact, it could be easily argued that one of the main reasons why historically oriented social and political theorists found it so difficult to explicitly and directly reconnect their historical analyses to the present time was a kind of ‘self-limitation’, trying to avoid the degeneration of their work into some kind of name-calling game. Max Weber was particularly successful in avoiding such a trap, so much so that according to some interpreters he heroised the Protestant entrepreneurs, making him into an apologue of modern capitalism, while for others his work is a major source for a critique of the same. On the other hand, the most controversial aspects of the works of Foucault or Voegelin concern their attempts to use their historical analyses for an explicit critique of aspects of modern life, Foucault through his claims about disciplinary society, while Voegelin through his Gnosticism thesis.

Avoiding the charge of labeling is particularly relevant for this paper, as its main aim is not simply to discuss the resurgence of religious motivations inside contemporary politics as a new form of political theology, but to diagnose a considerable part of modern politics, including presumably purely secular forces and ideologies, as eschatological.

In order to present this claim, it is first necessary to discuss the meaning of eschatology.

What is eschatology?

The word ‘eschatology’, especially when used in social or political analysis, has a rather lose meaning, and belongs to a semantic complex formed by terms like apocalyptic thinking, millenarianism or utopianism, usually deployed as attempts to denigrate, rightly or wrongly, political or theoretical opponents. The concrete meaning of eschatology, however, is rather straightforward. The word eschatos simply means ‘last’, and in the original theological sense the eschaton stands for the ‘last things’ that would happen with the Second Coming of Christ. It is therefore, strictly speaking, a fundamental element of Christian faith; in fact, there is a strict relationship of identity between being a Christian and believing in the Second Coming.

Here the argument would seem to move into ‘pure’ questions of theology and faith, outside social and political thought. This should be all the more the case as Christian theology, based on the Gospels, excludes the possibility of any human knowledge about, or action on, this Second Coming: ‘the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect’ (Mt 24: 44). Mark in particular is source of an extremely restrictive view concerning knowledge about this event: ‘But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father’ (Mk 13: 32); a statement taken over, but only in Western and not in Byzantine manuscripts, by Matthew as well: ‘No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father’ (Mt 24: 36). Knowledge about the Second Coming is thus so exclusive of humans that even Christ, being not only divine but also human, cannot possess it. Of course, nothing is more human than attempting to challenge the unknown or the unknowable; and interpreting the ‘signs of the times’ was a main industry for commentators since the earliest times, thus re-establishing links with the prophets, diviners and augurs of all times and places.

Eschatological politics means something different, much more powerful if not outright scary: the attempt to use political and even military means to realize something like the realm of God on Earth. Before trying to search for the origins and effects of such an idea, and especially in order to avoid the impression of doing a witch-hunt for the guilty, it is important to assert, conclusively, that such an idea is radically anti-evangelical; a proposition that should be agreed about by both believers and non-believers. Both those who do and who do not believe in the Second Coming can and should agree that such a belief excludes the possibility of human intervention. The problem lies with the existence of a third category of people, genuine ‘mutants’ at the level of world history: those who proclaim themselves to be Christians but who still, against the word and spirit of the Gospels, also pretend that the coming of the ‘kingdom of God’ can be promoted, or even outright fully realized, by purely human means.

The question of how such an idea could have emerged in the deep and obscure undercurrents of religious history already poses a quite thorny problem, and much Weber-inspired ‘genealogical’ research of the past century was devoted to this question (Cohn 1970, 1993; Löwith, 1949; Voegelin 1952, 1956). These authors suggest that connections are to be traced between ancient apocalyptic beliefs, characteristic of Zoroastrianism and Hellenistic Judaism; early Christian sects, usually named ‘Gnostics’; medieval heretic sects; and the rise of the Reformation, especially its more intransigent, ‘Puritan’ wings. As such a list already shows, the question of the active human pursuit of eschatology poses extremely difficult problems even within the limits of explicitly religions ideas, and can easily turn into mutual blaming and a search for the guilty. Still, the question cannot be left at the religious level, as at least two further aspects must be added, rendering the difficulties extreme, the controversies even more heated, and their solution all but hopeless. The first concerns the move by which eschatological concerns stepped outside the small and relatively harmless sects of devotees, into the realm of violent, militant action, reinforced by the ideas of a ‘just’ or ‘holy’ war, a question which brings in, most prominently, the theology of St Augustine, the rise of Islam, and the history of the Crusades. Second, as it has again been recognized by Nietzsche, Weber, and the entire lineage of historically oriented social and political theorists who followed their footsteps, eschatological politics cannot be reduced to explicitly religious ideologies and movements, but extends to those political forces who deploy similar kind of arguments for purely secular aims. As an important recent approach, one could refer to the work of Shmuel Eisenstadt (1999), which proposes a link between contemporary fundamentalist movements and Jacobinism; but one could also allude to works by Johann Arnason (2003), Stefan Rossbach (1999), or Manussos Marangudakis (2006).

While the idea is certainly fascinating, the problem is that it also reignites the charge of labelling. What do we gain by calling Islamic (or Protestant) fundamentalists as Jacobins; or, for that matter, by calling the Jacobins of the French Revolution fundamentalists? A better way forward seems to be to identify the exact manner in which eschatological politics developed first in an explicitly religious setting, and then the way it was secularized, becoming thus an even more powerful political force.

This undertaking defines an agenda that is way beyond the limitations of a single article. Thus, before moving further, and in order to focalize attention and interest, the paper will illustrate the argument through two, quite contemporary and seemingly most different examples of eschatological politics: the International, the single most popular radical revolutionary song; and Francis Fukuyama’s well-known ideas about theend of History’.

Case studies in eschatological politics: the International and Fukuyama

The International

The first piece I suggest to study as a typical example for eschatological politics is the International, the idol-like anthem of the radical working class movement that in between 1922 and 1944 even served as the national hymn of the Soviet Union. The song was composed by Eugène Pottier, in June 1871, just after Paris Commune, which has its own importance, given the controversies surrounding the assessment of the event as example for the heroic struggle of the working classes or a clear-cut case of mob violence.

The song starts by identifying its main subjects, presumed protagonists of world history, the working classes or the proletariat, named in the first two lines of the original manuscript (Brécy 1974: 301). Yet, even there, and in spite of the fact that Pottier was a convinced trade unionist, believing in the self-organization of the workers (Ibid.: 303), the song evokes a definitely authoritarian aura, as it starts by the word ‘Debout!’ (‘Stand up’ or ‘Arise’), a word repeated four times in the first stanza of the original, and three times in the final version, and which has the character of a military order issued by a superior to an inferior. Even more importantly, in the third line of the original manuscript, and outright in the first line in the version eventually published and sung, the subjects are identified, in an oblique but significant manner, as the ‘damned of the earth’. The term ‘damned’ is not simply a legalistic metaphor for the oppressed, suffering or downtrodden, but the exact word applied by Saint Augustine for those who will not be saved, and which then, in Protestant-Puritan terminology, became the term denoting the opposite of the selected few. The song therefore starts by performing a religious revaluation of values, valorising those who were rejected in the Puritan storyline and therefore constitute the schismogenic double of the Puritan saved, so – far from representing an alternative to Puritanism – it just pursues Puritanism by other means; though this ‘other’, as we’ll see it, is by no means neutral. A few lines below the subjects – the ‘damned’ – are addressed by another term, as the ‘slaves’, alluding to Hegel’s and advancing Nietzsche’s versions of the ‘revaluation of values’. Immediately after, such a revaluation of values is explicitly proposed as the professed aim: the world will change at its base, meaning that those who were nothing so far should now become everything.

This sentence is again crucial, and its exact implications must be drawn out in full. First of all, it defines, in a strict mathematical sense, the greatest possible revaluation of values: the nothing becomes everything, and thus – by implication – everything that existed before would become nothingness.[3] Second, we should notice here a peculiar, and in a way quite ‘heretic’ emphasis. Whether due to being carried away by emotions, or for more mundane reasons, the workers or the ‘damned’ are not characterized in the standard socialists or even Marxist manner as being deprived of properties, or as having nothing, but as actually being nothing. Third, this renders possible a Heideggerian reading of the song. Through a combined analysis of Greek ek-stasis and Latin ex-sistere, in the Division II of Being and Time Heidegger argues that the term ‘existence’ is not neutral but inherently embodies a positive value, meaning that whatever exists proved itself right by ‘standing out’. Fourth, the passage implies a not simply mathematic but also alchemic transformation, implying a change in the very substance of Being. The starting stanza of the International therefore performs the greatest possible revaluation of values not only in a mathematical sense, but also in the sense of alchemy and of Heidegger’s philosophy; quite a feat for a simple revolutionary song!

It is from here that we can now return to the three lines that were so far left out of the analysis, in between the two sets of definitions of the subjects of the song. These lines connect the two evocations and the ‘alchemic’ transformation from nothingness into everything by a kind of justification that again relies on a quite striking metaphor. It starts by evoking Reason itself (‘la raison’) that is thundering in its ‘crater’, announcing the ‘eruption of the end’. While the identification of the crater, the sound of thunder, and ‘eruption’ all clearly allude to volcanic activity, in every rational system of thought, whether in ancient Greece or in Enlightenment reflections on the Lisbon earthquake, the activities of volcanoes and earthquakes are considered to be polar opposites to the work of reason.[4] Maybe this is why at this point the song becomes ambivalent, with ‘irruption’ replacing ‘eruption’ in some versions, making it impossible to ascertain which version is ‘right’. Yet, considering that the ‘damned’ were defined as the ‘damned of the earth’, with the ‘earth’ being the opposite of the ‘sky’, the place where the Puritans were supposed to have their Paradise, and given that earthquakes and volcanic activities are quite closely related, the connection between earth and volcano through a materialist ‘reason’ proves internally coherent.

Still, whether we have to do with a volcanic ‘eruption’, or just a similar ‘irruption’ of reason, the crucial term comes at the end of the sentence: it is a final one. The claim that this term renders intelligible the perplexing combination of the works of Reason and the volcano, in the sense that at the end of times the opposites might meet, just as – turning again to mathematics – even the parallels meet in infinity, might be considered as an act of over-interpretation. Yet, the eschatological intention is clearly present, as it returns with full force in the most emphatic place in the song, in the first line of the refrain: ‘c’est la lutte finale’, this is the final struggle; tomorrow the ‘International’, the then rather obscure radical movement to which Pottier belonged, will become identical with the entire human race. This, of course, will be due to the simple fact that in this ‘final war’ all the enemies will be annihilated, evidently due to some kind help both from Reason and from the tectonic activities of the Earth. Such an exclusive focus on tomorrow is again not a figment of imagination, as it is reinforced by the only line of the first stanza that was not discussed so far, and which calls for making a tabula rasa (‘table rasé’) of the past. The change between the past and the future must be total, in an at once mathematical, alchemic, existential and also historical sense: everything that exists and that had ever existed must be destroyed, killed, annihilated, while the previous nothingness – meaning not simply those without power or property, but those who were nothing and nobody in the past – must rule, not is spite of but by reason of the fact that they had no qualities.[5]


According to simple, straightforward Aristotelian logic and linear Euclidean geometry, nothing could be further away from each other than Pottier’s militant Communist anthem and Fukuyama’s apology of liberal democracy. However, by the same reasoning, both should be radically different from religious eschatology. Yet, it turns out that each of them shares a great deal in it that is both very concrete and alarmingly problematic.

In contrast to the song, Fukuyama’s 1992 book, which followed his 1989 essay, runs up to 400 pages, so it is evidently impossible to provide here an exhaustive analysis of its eschatological aspects. Only a few such features will be singled out for attention, from particularly salient places of the book.

This starts with the title. The full title is ‘The End of History and the Last Man’, which combines allusions to Hegel and to Nietzsche, and in the most possibly eschatological manner. In case anybody thinks that such emphases are accidental – though hardly possible for a title – they are reinforced by the body of the book.

First of all, it both explicitly discusses the ideas and implicitly evokes the spirit of Nietzsche (concerning the former, see also the mottos to chapters 5, 10, 17, 20, and 28; while concerning the latter, see for e.g. the title of Chapter 1; ‘Our pessimism’). The problem, however, is that Nietzsche was a radically anti-eschatological thinker; this is the meaning of his concern with the eternal recurrence or return. Fukuyama therefore shamelessly joshes and toys with Nietzsche, chiding Nietzsche in so far as the latter is criticizing liberal democracy, but then again shrewdly capitalizing on the currency of Nietzsche’s thought, creating the – Hegelian – impression as if his own work would incorporate Nietzsche’s ideas, only to ‘overcome’ it. It also cannot be accidental that the motto to the first chapter is from a book entitled God’s Presence in History. The same double play is shown in the manner Fukuyama uses Hegel’s ideas about the ‘struggle for recognition’. This can be seen with particular clarity when contrasted with Pizzorno’s contemporaneous work. For Pizzorno (1991), the emphasis is on the struggle for recognition, and he develops from there an important theorization of the links between recognition and the formation of identity, both individual and collective. For Fukuyama, however, it is on the struggle for recognition, and in a quite literal sense, as this presumably meek supporter of the victory of peaceful modern liberal democracy entitles the first chapter of the relevant book part as ‘In the Beginning, a Battle to the Death for Pure Prestige’.

Still, and yet again, the right hand takes back what the left hand gave. Such days of brute struggles are over, as liberal democracy has won, against all expectations, so Fukuyama is bringing us the ‘good news’.[6] ‘Good news’, however, is nothing else but the original Greek meaning of the Gospel, or the Evangel (Greek euaggelion, thus Latin evangelium). Fukuyama’s work is therefore not only explicitly eschatological, but also similarly pretends to be the new, secular gospel of his age, the realm of modern liberal democracy, which is also the ultimate age, the last eon. The best proof for the seriousness of his eschatological take on liberal democracy is that he repeatedly and forcefully identifies liberalism as a revolutionary force, with the expression ‘worldwide liberal revolution’ being present in the title of Chapter 4 in Part I, and also on p.339, the last page of the book.[7]

Fukuyama the revolutionary and the eschatological International, or recognizing the maze being the first step of getting out of it

In the enormous literature generated by Fukuyama’s thesis, so far very little attention was devoted to his claim that the victory of liberalism is the victory of a revolutionary force. This, however, is a grave error, just as it is mistaken to ignore that the most important and effective revolutionary force over the last two centuries was the American Revolution, preceding in time and providing much inspiration for the much more discussed and acknowledged French Revolution (Eisenstadt 1999, Goldstone 1993). What brings together Fukuyama and Pottier, however, is not simply the glorification of their respective revolutions, but the proclamation that it will be the last. Neither is such a claim exclusive to these two figures, or particularly rare. Arguably, it is this belief that gives the singularity to the modern meaning of the term ‘revolution’. Previously, and etymologically, ‘revolution’ meant a roundabout, revolving movement, associated with a circular and not linear philosophy of history. The modern meaning emerged at a singular moment in space and time: in 1642, during the English Revolution.[8] This is by no means accidental, as it is indeed at this historical moment that the crucial knot between eschatological expectations and revolutionary politics was tied. It is also here that the theme becomes extremely controversial, as the discussion of eschatological politics, far from being reducible to the question of fundamentalism, or the relatively limited and obscure issue of political theology, rather involves crucial modern identities, like the revolutionary tradition or Protestantism.

At this point it is possible to re-state the central thesis of this paper. It is that modern politics, which is thoroughly imbued with the revolutionary tradition – whether liberal, socialist, or Communist – that also extends, outside politics proper, into the fields of economics, technology, science, art, or culture, should be conceived of, and is perhaps best conceived of, as eschatological politics. The tremendous mobilizing power it manages to conjure up in its different versions, luring an ever increasing number of people away from their ways of living and into its own orbit, through its manifold trick-full means, not least through its trickster-generated ‘image magic’,[9] is due to the fact that it pretends to offer an unequalled and unique, and also final solution to all ills of individual and social life.

This leads to the project of a genealogy of revolutionary enthusiasm, taking up at the same time the word and spirit of the works of Michel Foucault (Foucault 1984, Foucault 1994, III: 256-69, IV: 679-88) and Eric Voegelin (1952, 1997-9), two crucial heirs of the Nietzsche-Weberian tradition (Szakolczai 2000, 2003). Central to such an undertaking is the identification of the singularity and novelty of English Puritanism – a task that again goes beyond the limits of a paper. All that I can offer here is a preliminary identification of the main threads that came to be joined in England in the 1640s; and an exploratory analysis of one of these threads, the ‘chosen people’ motive.

The three threads whose joining produced the explosive combination animating modern revolutionary enthusiasm are the ideas of the ‘Chosen People’, the ‘Holy War’, and the Second Coming as a Last Judgment. The first is an Old Testament theme, rooted in the ‘Abraham experience’, a phenomenon that should not be taken lightly, as it is the figure of Abraham that almost single-handedly unites the Judaic, Christian, and Islamic traditions, thus arguably the three most important world religions. The last, on the other hand, is clearly a New Testament theme, through rooted in the Messianic expectation of historical rather than scriptural Judaism. Finally, the idea of a ‘holy war’ is not part of either the OT or the NT, rather is exposed explicitly in the Koran, in the form of the Jihad, though it relies on both earlier ideas about ‘just war’, and the OT narrative about the conquest of the Promised Land.

As a working hypothesis, then, it can be formulated that eschatological politics, which largely overlaps with the modern revolutionary tradition, was formed by the joining of these three, relatively separate traditions, in England in the 1640s, under the conditions of the culmination of the religious and civil wars sparked by the Reformation with the Thirty Year War (1618-1648). The core element of this ‘joining’ was that the OT idea, according to which God selected a concrete ethnic group as his own people, destined for world rule, gained a new life by becoming identified with a Christian group, which therefore presumed that its own conquest of a new Promised Land, this time in North America, should coincide with the end of times. It is this belief that, on the one hand, constitutes something like the ‘historical unconscious’ of the USA, which can always be mobilized, receiving wide popular support; and which, both directly from England, through various versions of ‘Anglophilia’, or by the mediation of the American Revolution, exerted its impact on the continent as well, but there in a secularized form, through the specific confluence of liberalism, Enlightenment, and the revolutionary tradition. The perhaps most important, particularly explosive driving force of this eschatological politics is provided by the re-insertion of the OT theme of the ‘chosen people’ and the ‘promised land’, clearly inner-worldly concerns, into the radically otherworldly idea of the Second Coming, central message of the NT.

A sketch for a genealogy of the ‘chosen people of god’ motive

The rest of the paper will be devoted to one thread within this complex, the ‘chosen people’ or ‘people of god’ motive, taking some cues from Eric Voegelin, one of the most important, though unfortunately still relatively little known follower of the word and spirit of Max Weber’s work.[10]

Eric Voegelin on the ‘people of god’: the fate of books

It is one of the most ironic aspects of contemporary academic that while the principle of ‘publish or perish’ rules unchallenged, much of the most influential ideas in modern social thought and philosophy are due to posthumous publications. The trend-setter probably in this regard as well is Nietzsche, with his Nachlass and the controversies surrounding the Will to Power; but Weber’s Economy and Society also remained unpublished, with controversy surrounding even its proper title up to our days, not to mention Weber’s possible intentions concerning eventual publication, and the list can continue with Husserl, Heidegger, or Wittgenstein. Closer to the present, one can allude to the controversies and anticipations surrounding the publication of Foucault’s Collège de France lectures.

Eric Voegelin’s essay on the ‘People of God’, unknown classic of the non-existent literature on eschatological politics, is a particularly good illustration of this phenomenon. Voegelin wrote a first version of this essay around 1940-41, as part of his on-going ‘History of Political Ideas’ project, and was considered by him as key to the entire undertaking (for details, see Szakolczai 2001). He sent the essay for publication to Leo Strauss, then editor of Social Research. Strauss, however, for reasons that are far from being convincing, refused publication (Emberley and Cooper 1993). This refusal was a crucial event, or non-event, in the social thought of the past century, as it not only side-tracked and compromised the reception of Voegelin’s ideas, but contributed to the partial derailment of the entire project.[11]

It is meaningless to speculate now what could have happened if Voegelin’s article got published in the early 1940s, becoming an instant classic of social and political analysis. The moment, however, might be ripe to restore not just this piece, but Voegelin’s entire approach to its rightful position – and there is a certain irony in the fact that this can be formulated as a critique of a most famous and certainly very ‘timely’ work written by one of Strauss’s most direct intellectual heirs, Francis Fukuyama.

The emergence of the ‘people of god’ motive: the Abraham experience

The singular idea that there is a ‘chosen people’ of god is a legacy of Ancient Judaism. As Henri Frankfort argued in his path-breaking classic of comparative archaeology, still a hardly existing field (Wengrow 1999, 2010), this was the ‘one permanent’ and ‘most significant’ feature of this religion (Frankfort 1948: 339). In order to make a proper sense of this idea, we need to analyse the conditions out of which it came into being.[12]

The idea was rooted in the first recorded personal transcendental experience in the history of mankind, the experience of Abraham, this individual who – in the reconstruction of Thomas Mann in Joseph and his Brothers, much influenced by the Hungarian mythologist Carl Kerényi – started a search out for God, and which became the source of monotheism and ethical prophecy, breaking the power of sacrificial priestly religion. This experience, however, came in a highly specific and in more ways than one liminal context: the experience of wandering for decades in the desert, alone with a beautiful but childless wife, in search for a home, a family, and a secure future. It should not be surprising therefore that, when the experience overtook Abraham, it was interpreted in the form of a particularistic, tribal dream: the divine promise of numerous offspring and a rule over the world.

Whatever doubts one may have about the genuineness of story, experiences must be taken seriously, and should be judged by their effects, which are quite different from the effects of delusions or mere daydreaming. This one certainly had very real consequences, as it eventually led to attempts to conquer the ‘promised land’, arguably the first ‘holy war’ in history, and the effects of this undertaking are still visible in our present.

A crucial moment of historical inflexion: the First Crusade

The Crusades provide a clear test case to judge the relative merits of structuralist-Marxist historiography and the genealogical method that places the emphasis on the formative impact of single events. According to the former perspective, the Crusades are simply episodes of medieval history, manifesting the – rather despicable – spirit of the times, with no interest on their own, and can simply be explained by the need of the aristocracy to find occupation for their offspring – an idea which even Elias accepted (Elias 2000). From the perspective of an event-based genealogical approach, however, one can recognise and reconstruct the crucial formative role played by the Crusades. According to this, the Crusades did not manifest the medieval spirit; rather, it was exactly this peculiar ‘spirit’ that was formed by the concrete event that was the First Crusade, and the mentalities that grew out of it (Riley-Smith 1986, 1987; Flori 1997).

The Crusades were produced, through and through, by an encounter with Islam. It was the closing of major pilgrimages routes by the Seljuk Turks, new carriers of the spirit of religious conquest that sparked the call for the First Crusade. More indirectly, the history of contacts with the Islam prepared the ground for a new, ‘Christian’ idea of a ‘holy war’ (Goddard 2000).

This was also facilitated by developments in Europe, in particular the last wave of Germanic invasions, the arrival of the Vikings or Normans, with all the associated problems of conversion and pacification. The battle of Hastings happened less than three decades before the First Crusade; the Norman conquest of Sicily was practically contemporaneous with it; while the Norman conquest of Ireland only took place in the second part of the 12th century. It is also no mere accident Urban II who launched the First Crusade was the first Norman pope.

A crucial element of context for the preaching of the First Crusade was the ‘Peace of God’ movement (Flori 1992). This was an effort by the Church to limit the impact of endemic fighting and warfare. The original idea was to prohibit armed fights on Sunday, the day of the Lord; but it gradually got extended from Thursday afternoon to Monday morning, thus significantly curtailing the favourite activities of the elite of the times.

This was the general context, liminal in manifold regards,[13] in which pope Urban preached the First Crusade, in November 1095 (Riley-Smith 1986). The effect was overwhelming, well beyond anything the pope anticipated, as his idea was only to ask for some help in order to defend the pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land. The impact was resounding, as – for the first time – the Church did not preach the restriction of belligerent impulses, rather offered the possibility of a proper Christian way of warfare. In this way the conflict between the identities of a good Christian and a valiant warrior knight was eliminated.

The consequences of this truly liminal discharge were enormous. The events completely reshaped Western Christianity, leading to a novel combination of missionary and military zeal. It led to the rise of a new kind of warrior orders, whose members were monks and knights at the same time: ‘ ‘a strange and bewildering breed, meeker than lambs, fiercer than lions’ ’.[14] These three orders, the Templars, Teutonic Knights and the Order of St Lazarus would each have a major impact on the history of Europe.[15] The mobilization for the first Crusade also gave rise to the first anti-Semitic pogroms, while the military actions of the Crusades resulted in scenes of unprecedented and extreme violence. Paradoxically, though not uniquely, the fight against Islam in a considerable extent transformed medieval Christian Europe to the image it had of its main ‘other’.[16]

These effects were carried over to the next period of European history, the ‘age of discoveries’, or European expansionism (Lewis 1988). Historians often argue that this expansion should be considered a ‘secularization’ of the medieval expansionism characteristic of the Crusades. Indeed, there is a remarkable temporal and spatial coincidence. With the age of discoveries the Crusading efforts wane, resulting in the centuries-long Turkish occupation of South-Eastern and Central Europe; while the driving power of the first period of European expansionism became Spain, a country quite peripheral for medieval Europe, but close to Islam. In this respect, the events of 1492 possess considerable symbolic value: this was the year when Columbus discovered America, but also when the Reconquista of Spain was completed, and when the Jews were expelled from the country.

The second coming of the chosen people of god: Albion as New Jerusalem

The third and final episode in this short genealogical sketch is Puritanism in 17th century England. Following Weber and Voegelin, but also Tocqueville (1969: 31-47), the choice seems evident; but eschatological politics sheds a new light on their works. The great force of England lay in the fact that it managed to combine successfully, thus gaining a cutting edge, political-military conquests and expansions and the rise of the Weberian, ‘sober-bourgeois’ capitalism, and even the growth of modern science.

The emphasis will be, closely following Voegelin, on the manner in which Puritanism re-launched the idea of the ‘people of god’; and in substantiating this point, only one author, Frances Yates will be referred to, with a special focus on her last monograph, The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age. Yates is a unique and imposing figure among contemporary historians of thought. In a series of path-breaking works that even in their titles challenge centuries of received wisdom (like Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, or The Rosicrucian Enlightenment), establishing direct links between the champions of the scientific method and obscure Renaissance magi, Yates practically re-wrote our self-understanding concerning the rise of modern science. The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age, written in her late 70s and published two years before she died, could rightly be considered as a kind of intellectual testament. It is also not accidental that Yates wrote this book after her acquaintance with Giorgio Agamben, whom she brought to the Warburg Institute in 1974-5, and who in his influential Homo Sacer combined the political theology of Carl Schmitt with Walter Benjamin’s philosophy of history and Michel Foucault’s bio-politics.[17] The significance of Yates’s work for this paper lies in the links she established between various threads of occult philosophy and the ideology of Elizabethan and then Puritan English expansionism.

The idea emphasizing the millenarian aspects of Puritanism, including the Miltonian resurrection of the idea of the ‘chosen people’ for the English, and the direct impact on secular developments like the rise of capitalism or English empire building is of course not new.[18] Yates, however, clarified and deepened this idea in three important respects. First, she reconstructed a long historical tradition of which ‘Puritan Occultism’ (Yates 1979: 177, 181) was only the culminating point. Second, she has demonstrated that much of the ideas usually associated with the ‘glorious revolution’ of the 1640s can be traced back to the Elizabethan Age. Finally, here, at the end of her life-work she ventured to risk some statements concerning the parallels between English Puritanism and the Jewish Messianism.

The Occult tradition and its legacy

The conventional view identifies the Renaissance as a period of secularization, the weakening of the Christian-religious impulse, to be followed by an upsurge of religiosity and spirituality in the Reformation and the counter-Reformation. This idea was modified by the recognition of the importance of Plato’s re-discovery in the Renaissance, stimulated by the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the migration of scholars and books toward the West, and the subsequent rise of renaissance Neo-Platonism (Hankins 2002). Yates, however, makes a further step by carefully identifying a series of other forgotten traditions behind Neo-Platonism and the Reformation.

This was first of all the Hermetic-alchemical tradition, contained in the works Hermes Trismegistos, assumed to be an old Egyptian sage, thus possessor of a wisdom more ancient even than the Mosaic Laws. Florentine Neo-Platonists like Marsilio Ficino or Pico della Mirandola not only attempted to combine Christianity with Plato, but also with Hermetic works. According to Yates (1964), Giordano Bruno was not so much a champion of Copernicus and forerunner of modern science, rather a belated protagonist in this very effort.

Just as important a thread is present in the work of the 13th century Catalan mystic Ramon Lull (1232-c.1316). When studying Bruno Yates discovered that his works could not be made sense of without an in-depth understanding of Lull’s writings (Yates 1976: 11-2). As she eventually came to realize, Lull was ‘an extremely important figure’, his work being ‘a precursor of the scientific method’ (Ibid.: 13), at the origin of the ‘constant search for method’ characteristic of European thought since the 17th century (Yates 1982: 7). Given that both Bacon and Descartes deeply drew on his works, ‘it is not an exaggeration to say that the European search for method, the root of European achievement, began with Ramon Lull’ (Ibid.).

Yates gives considerable emphasis to the fact that the pioneering work of Lull emerged out of the in-between or liminal context of medieval Spain, ‘taking advantage of the unique concentration of Christian, Moslem, and Jewish traditions in his world’ (Yates 1979: 13). She even claims that the growth of Spanish power in the late 15th century, based on the unified kingdom of Aragon and Castile, leading to the conquest of Granada in 1492, and then to the expulsion of the Jews in the same year and of the conquered Moors in 1505, had serious negative consequences in this respect: ‘as so often, Europe took a wrong turning and wasted the spiritual resources which might have been used constructively’ (Ibid.: 13-4). Lull, however, could not be charged with liberal views, as the aim of his method was missionary: he developed his method of analogy in order to demonstrate the truth of Christianity, and thus to convert the Jews and the Moslems (Yates 1982: 4). In developing his method, Lull made ample use of the techniques to enhance memory,[19] and was also familiar with Cabala. Both these innovations had important effects: the art of memory was still practiced by Bruno, while Pico would work Cabala into the Ficinian synthesis of Neo-Platonism and Hermetism, thus inventing Christian Cabala.

In all these efforts the central motive was intellectual and moral reform (Yates 1979: 177). The Reformation of Luther and Calvin was not alone in proposing a renewal and, even more importantly, the various strands did not simply offer alternatives, of which the ‘best’ won, but deeply interpenetrated each other. A most important aspect of this interpenetration was the curious phenomenon of ‘ ‘Puritan Occultism’’, or the ‘Puritan version of the occult philosophy’ (Ibid.; see also p.181). This, however, can only be understood through a glance at some Elizabethan developments.

The Elizabethan roots of Puritanism

Historians of the ‘chosen people’ motive in Puritanism often argued for the unprecedented character of this development, the fact that it was alien from popular tradition and mentality (Ibid.: 179). This, however, is mistaken, as this conviction is safely rooted in the Elizabethan age. Thus, the ‘wedding together of’ of the myth of the New Jerusalem with England, or ‘the tremendous theme of ‘Jerusalem and Albion’ ‘ already goes back to the 16th century (Ibid.: 181).

Surprising as it may sound, Yates argues that ‘[s]o far as the history of thought is concerned, the Elizabethan age is still basically unexplained. At both ends it is mysterious, both where it came from and what became of it’ (Ibid.: 5). One crucial example could be given by bringing together two of the best-known episodes of the period, the myth of the ‘Virgin Queen’ and the start of English overseas expansionism. Though seemingly miles apart as naive myth on the one hand and cynical Realpolitik on the other, the work of Yates makes it clear that both are rooted in the exact same factors: the pervasive concern with reform and revival, a search for moral purity (Ibid.: 177), which made Elizabeth into a Neo-Platonic heroine, and which justified rising English imperialism in Messianic terms.

The two main figures of this development were John Dee and Edmund Spenser. Dee was ‘the true philosopher of the Elizabethan age’ (Ibid.: 104), who followed the works of Pico, Agrippa and Giordano Bruno, but who ‘had expanded these influences in new scientific and politico-religious directions’ (Ibid.). Dee paved the way for Bacon who was steeped in the Renaissance tradition, but with his ‘Great Instauration’ also rekindled millennial hopes (see Yates 1984: 62, 247; and also 1979: 185, 187). He can also be described with the strange label of being ‘a Christian Cabalist and a British imperialist’ (Yates 1979: 103) at the same time. Here Dee combined the medieval religious tradition of the ‘Holy Empire’ with the Renaissance Christian Cabalist concern of reform, claiming Elizabeth’s mythical descent from King Arthur, and even using the myth, going back to the age of invasions, that the English monarchs had Trojan origins (Ibid.: 84-5). Given that ‘Arthur was the supposed descendant of Brut, and was the chief religious and mystical exemplar of sacred British imperial Christianity’ (Ibid.: 85), John Dee could be considered as ‘[t]he architect of the idea of British Empire’ (Ibid.: 156).

If Dee was the chief philosopher of the Elizabethan age, Edmund Spenser was its most famous court poet. The Neo-Platonic influences of his major epic poem ‘The Faerie Queene’, playing a central role in spreading the myth of the ‘virgin queen’, are well known and studied. However, it is less known, argues Yates, that Spenser was also a ‘very serious Puritan’ (Ibid.: 95), who took his reforming zeal from similarly occult sources, especially the Christian Cabalist and the Neo-Platonic Francesco Giorgi, a Venetian Franciscan friar (Ibid.: 29-36, 95-102). However, Giorgi could only exert such an impact on Spenser as his thought had been prepared for such an influence through ‘an Arthur-British element to form a kind of “British Israel” mystique’ (Ibid.: 103), which was provided by the philosophy of Dee.

These influences came together and produced an epic poem in a truly liminal juncture, the defeat of the Spanish Armada. The poem therefore ‘expresses a ‘prophetic moment’’, with ‘the queen appear[ing] almost as the symbol of a new religion, transcending both Catholic and Protestant in some far-reaching revelation, and transmitting a universal Messianic message’ (Ibid.: 104). Yates concludes this line of argument by stating, provisionally, that ‘an influence of Christian Cabala underlies the profound seriousness of the courtly Puritanism which was Spenser’s religion, and which he infused into his vision of the religious role of Elizabethan England’ (Ibid.).

These mythical hopes soon vanished, already in the 1590s, and both Dee and Spenser ended their lives out of royal favour. However, as if following the spirit of the genealogical method, Yates emphasizes that the undertaking did not disappear, but was continued in other forms and by other means: ‘[n]either the millennium nor the Messiah had come, but the great tide of spiritual effort left something on the shores of time when it receded. In 1660 the Royal Society was founded, tangible evidence of the arrival of Science’ (Ibid.: 186).[20] Another closely related form was the re-launching of English nationalism and expansionism of the 17th century.

From Spenser to Milton

As we have already seen, Yates draws parallels between Elizabethan imperial ideology and revolutionary Puritanism throughout her book, coining expressions like ‘Puritan Occultism’ or ‘Elizabethan Puritanism’. In the penultimate chapter, she moves to make her central claim. The ground for ‘Milton’s vision for England’ as ‘a nation of chosen people, chosen in the Hebraic sense’, to fight the Papal Antichrist was prepared by Spenser, given that ‘Spenser had envisaged Elizabethan England and its queen as chosen for just such a religious role’ (Ibid.: 177). Thus, Milton was ‘the inheritor of Spenser’s Hebraic type of patriotism’ (Ibid.: 179). At the centre of the ‘profound basic similarity between the religious outlook’ of Spenser and Milton are the strong Messianic elements present in both (Ibid.: 177-8).

The differences are minor compared to this outlook, and are related to the exact modality in which their visions were expressed. While Spenser was a monarchist, Milton was a republican, and the chivalry epic of Spenser, inspired by the tale of King Arthur and his knights, was replaced by the Biblical epic of Paradise Lost. Among the mediators of this influence, Yates claims to have discovered the ‘missing link in the argument of Milton scholars’, the impact of Christian Cabala, partly through Agrippa, Giorgi and Dee, and partly through Fludd and Rosicrucianism (Ibid.: 179).

Puritan and Judaic Messianism

The last aspect to add concerns the exact relationship between these developments, the astonishing resurrection of the tribal dream of a ‘chosen people’ in a Christian, post-medieval context, and the people originally associated with the idea, the Jews. Though elements of this complex were touched earlier, especially as related to the ‘Christian Cabala’ of Pico and his followers,[21] in the last chapter of her last book, and in some related late publications, Yates approaches ‘the difficult task […] of seeing all these movements as fundamentally Hebraic in character’ (Ibid.: 167).

The affinities between Hebraism and Protestantism, also emphasized by Max Weber (2002: 111), were already recognized by the protagonists. While movements of church reform in the Middle Ages were often accompanied by rising anti-Semitism, a ‘striking feature of English Puritanism’ is the ‘sympathy with the Jews’ (Yates 1979: 184), culminating in the official return of the Jews to England under Charles II. More important, however, is the direct impact at the level of thought, due to the revival of Hebraic studies in the Renaissance, and through Christian Cabala. An as yet unexplored, indirect impact can be attributed to the rising Messianism among orthodox Jews in the 16th and especially 17th centuries, fuelled by the spirituality of the new Lurianic Cabala, an outcome of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 (Yates 1984: 251).

A striking indication for such a connection is provided by the temporal coincidence, and the eventual links, between Puritan England and the intensification of Messianic expectations in the Amsterdam Jewish community in the mid-17th century, explored by the then recent study of Gershom Scholem (1973), culminating in the ‘extraordinary story of Sabbatai Sevi’ (Yates 1979: 186). Sevi was born in Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey), but eventually moved to Amsterdam, where with the magnetism of his personality gradually assumed leadership of the Messianic movement and in 1665 declared himself the Messiah. This led to a ‘mass movement of enthusiasm’ in Jewish communities both East and West (Ibid.), though soon came a just as extraordinary anti-climax, as the following year Sevi apostatized to Islam.

All this might be considered just as an episode – though a particularly striking one – in the history of obscure religious movements. Yates, however, does not think so. Crucial for her is the parallel dynamics of the ‘excited expectation of a coming divine event’ (Ibid.: 185) among English Puritans and Amsterdam Jews, even though the latter expected the Messiah, while the former the Second Coming. The significance, helped by the mediation of Christian Cabala, lies in the repetition of the ‘original situation from which Christianity derived’ (Ibid.: 189), as if doubling Christianity over on itself, or Judaism on Christianity. At the levels of expectations and experiences,[22] apocalyptic Puritans and Messianic Jews managed to identify with each other, leading to a peculiar short-circuiting of emotions and thought, with potentially lasting effects.

Concluding comments

For devils and for ghosts it is a law:

Where they slipped in, there too must they go out

-Goethe, Faust, Part One

This should be the moment in which, drawing the lessons from the historical incursion, the argument should return to the present; and yet, the paper might again disappoint the reader because no such ready-made applications will be provided. This is because, just as I take very seriously the argument that much of modern politics is eschatological politics, I am also serious about not entering a simple labelling game. Thus, in case I managed to convince the reader that the term ‘eschatological politics’ is useful for analysing contemporary political life, I hope he or she will be ready to take it up and use it in his or her own work; preferably by applying it to those aspects of contemporary politics or social movements where militant partisans will find the conjecture particularly offensive.

As a last comment, instead of a presumably authoritative statement on contemporary political life, I rather offer a personal interpretation of the Second Coming, taking a cue from Carl Schmitt, the main classic in the field of ‘political theology’, who is credited to have invented it with his 1922 book. Almost 50 years later, after the extremely weathered career of the term and its author, Schmitt came up with Political Theology II, a very peculiar book in both content and form, where at its Postscript, discussing Blumenberg’s ‘legitimacy of modernity’ thesis, and after a commentary on the Greek term stasis, meaning tranquillity and status, but also its opposite, movement, political unrest, civil war, thus ‘uproar’, he ends by discussing a motto used by Goethe for Dichtung und Wahrheit [Poetry and Truth]: ‘no one is/can do anything against God except God himself’ (Schmitt 2008: 126). The significance of the quote is further underlined, both by Schmitt himself, through the claim that it was interpreted and discussed ‘in countless informal conversations during the last war, 1939-45’, and through the assertion that he finally found the original source in a play by Jakob Michael Lenz, a relatively obscure Sturm und Drang writer, on St Catherine of Siena (Ibid.); and by commentators, who connect there Schmitt’s ‘conversion’ (Hoelz and Ward 2008: 27). Schmitt also ends this Postscript by an extremely cryptic series of statements, the last of which is a transposition of the Goethe quote: ‘No one is against man except man himself’.

Taken together, these claims might indeed offer some hints about the way to analyse this most peculiar phenomenon that is eschatological politics, and escape its hold. The main problem is the extreme contagiousness of such politics, with it ‘chosen people’ and ‘holy wars’; like a spirit escaping a bottle, once it is out, it unstoppably contaminates everything, transforming even its opponents to its own image. The solution, however, might be just as simple: the problem cannot be solved, as it does not exist.

Eschatological politics emerged in a Christian setting, and therefore can only be put to rest there. It was due to ignoring a fundamental injunction: whether there will be a Second Coming or not, human beings have nothing to do with it. Everything conjured up around eschatological politics, whether in religious or in purely secular garb, is pure human folly.

But then we need to move to the other side of Schmitt’s concluding aporia: why the promise at all? Permitting the assumption, why did God make this promise, as if ‘against himself’, unleashing the madness of eschatological politics? Here of course one not only needs to assume that God exists, but even double guess him, which moves way outside the realm of social and political analysis. And yet, there is one thing that might be stated at the end of this paper, and maybe even should be said here and now. The central element of eschatological politics is an extreme, acute, unbearable anguish: what to do at the end of times; how to behave; what is the best way to act about it – the same anguish that motivated the Puritans, according to Weber’s classic reconstruction, and also the one that motivates all apologues of the modern world, who desperately and at any cost must escape into some kind of verbal utopia about a ‘perfect world’ where, at least at a rhetorical level, one can lull oneself to sleep, whether in a Communist or liberal utopia, or just communicative action and the ideal speech situation (ignoring the figure of Hermes, and all the tricksters of the world that, luckily, never unite).

Paradoxically, this is exactly what the Second Coming, rightly understood, renders irrelevant; and which furthermore gives meaning to it.




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[1] For classic statements, see Schmitt (2005, 2008) and Voegelin (2000); for recent overviews, see de Vries and Sullivan (2006), and Kirwan (2008).

[2] Given that ‘interest’ simply means ‘being in between’, the ‘objectivity’ of interests is a thorny problem on its own, but this paper cannot enter it.

[3] On the problem of nothingness and the real existence of the nulla, see Horvath (2010, 2013).

[4] See in particular the famous fragment of Archilochus, also evoked in Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy, or Voltaire’s similarly famous letter about the Lisbon earthquake. The Lisbon earthquake also had a major impact on Kant’s entire philosophical development (see Schonfeld 2008).

[5] Let me call attention here to the striking resemblance of this power of those without qualities to the power of money, similarly an object without any quality, as analyzed in Simmel’s Philosophy of Money.

[6] See the statement verbatim in Fukuyama (1992: xiii), in explicit contrast to the ‘Nietzschean’ title of the first chapter, ‘Our pessimism’.

[7] The Irish Times, the daily newspaper with the widest circulation Ireland, a few years ago was launching a new series called ‘Spotlight’, through a presentation entitled ‘Breaking the Boundaries’, by Guy Kawasaki. Quoting from the Irish Times website (, Kawasaki, a venture capitalist, who ‘established his professional reputation as a software evangelist at Apple Computer’ in the 1980s, is also a ‘columnist for Entrepreneur Magazine’, who currently ‘leads a peripatetic existence’, and his nine books include the titles Rules for Revolutionaries, Reality Check, How to Drive Your Competition Crazy, and Selling the Dream. On the modern obsession with ‘breaking all boundaries’, see Giesen (2009).

[8] See Rachum (1995). Strikingly, 1642 was exactly the year in which one of the most important modern revolutionaries, Isaac Newton was born.

[9] About using the anthropological term ‘Trickster’ for modern culture and politics, and its connection to ‘image power’, see Horvath (2008, 2013); Horvath and Thomassen (2008); and Szakolczai (2007).

[10] About Voegelin as a Weber-inspired analyst of modernity, see Cooper (1999), Eisenstadt (1982), Szakolczai (2000, 2003), Thomassen (2012). Voegelin’s work is also discussed in Delanty (2000), though unfortunately this book has his name systematically misspelt.

[11] Voegelin’s later fame was largely due to the thesis according which modernity is a ‘Gnostic’ age (see Voegelin 1952), developed on the basis of the re-working of the ‘People of God’ chapter in 1948-49. The ‘People of God’ chapter got finally published in 1998, as part of the posthumous 8-volume publication of the ‘History of Political Ideas’; see Voegelin (1998: 131-21).

[12] This section draws on Voegelin (1956), using the methodological considerations developed in Szakolczai (1998).

[13] This is singled out for attention, without using the term, by Alphonse Dupront in his magnum opus, who emphasized the ‘extraordinary’ character of the Crusades, including the paradox of its longevity on the one hand, and its ‘extra-temporal’ character on the other (see Dupront 1997: 1279-82). On liminality, see Turner (1967, 1969).

[14] Bernard of Clairvaux, c.1128, as quoted in Seward (1995: 267).

[15] The ‘Lazar houses’, to which Foucault traces the roots of the modern asylums, were first set up by this last Crusading order.

[16] To give only one particularly relevant example from Dupront’s book, ‘holy war’ and ‘salvation’ are two of the four main themes through which he is thematizing the ‘metaphysics’ of the Crusades (see Dupront, Crusades, pp.1384-1422).

[17] See Agamben (1998); see also–di1/English-ve/faculty/teaching-f/Giorgio-Ag/index.htm. I owe this last reference to Pat Twomey. This his 1978 and 1979 lectures Foucault repeatedly used the expression ‘political eschatology’ for both bio-politics and the various revolutionary movements (see Foucault (Foucault 2004a, 2004b).

[18] This was already central to the classic work of Richard Tawney (1938); see also Hill (1977).

[19] See Yates (1976). Foucault also considered that such techniques of memory were central among the various ‘techniques of self’; see Foucault (2001).

[20] Intriguingly, Newton just turned 18 then, and would soon enter the University of Cambridge, thus his own liminal rite of passage to adulthood coincided with this important event in the history of science – certainly a coincidence of significant consequences.

[21] Relying on recent specialized studies, Yates emphatically claims that it was that not simply Jewish Cabala, but Christian Cabala that had an impact on Milton (e.g. Yates 1979: 179). This is again an important demonstration of Yates’s methodology: relatively obscure and failed, thus forgotten strands in thought play extremely important role, as they render possible later changes, paving for them the way, enabling them to rely on already existing, if minor traditions.

[22] On this theme, see Koselleck (1985: 267-88).


Arpad Szakolczai

Arpad Szakolczai is a Board Member of VoegelinView and a Professor of Sociology at University College Cork in Ireland. He is author of Comedy and the Public Sphere (Routledge, 2012); Novels and the Sociology of the Contemporary (Routledge, 2016); and Permanent Liminality and Modernity (Routledge, 2017).

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