Gnosticism in Action

More than one reader scoffed at the analogy I drew between Gnosticism and the dominant philosophy of the Modern Age, which is an incoherent admixture of socialism, moral relativism, nihilism, materialism and (paradoxically) New Age spiritualism.

Here I offer only one additional piece of evidence that the analogy is sound. This is from an article in the Guardian, by Stephen Kinser, a former New York Times bureau chief. I trust that no one dispute that the UK Guardian and the New York Times are respectable representatives of the dominant philosophy of the age.

Founded by idealists who wanted to make the world a better place, [the human rights movement] has in recent years become the vanguard of a new form of imperialism.

Want to depose the government of a poor country with resources? Want to bash Muslims? Want to build support for American military interventions around the world? Want to undermine governments that are raising their people up from poverty because they don’t conform to the tastes of upper west side intellectuals? Use human rights as your excuse!

Human Rights Watch is hardly the only offender. There are a host of others, ranging from Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders to the Carr Centre for Human Rights at Harvard and the pitifully misled “anti-genocide” movement. All promote an absolutist view of human rights permeated by modern western ideas that westerners mistakenly call “universal”.

Just as Human Rights Watch led the human rights community as it arose, it is now the poster child for a movement that has become a spear-carrier for the “exceptionalist” belief that the west has a providential right to intervene wherever in the world it wishes.

Those who have traditionally run Human Rights Watch and other western-based groups that pursue comparable goals come from societies where crucial group rights – the right not to be murdered on the street, the right not to be raped by soldiers, the right to go to school, the right to clean water, the right not to starve – have long since been guaranteed. In their societies, it makes sense to defend secondary rights, like the right to form a radical newspaper or an extremist political party. But in many countries, there is a stark choice between one set of rights and the other. Human rights groups, bathed in the light of self-admiration and cultural superiority, too often make the wrong choice.

Human rights need to be considered in a political context. The question should not be whether a particular leader or regime violates western-conceived standards of human rights. Instead, it should be whether a leader or regime, in totality, is making life better or worse for ordinary people.

My comment: I take it as self-evident that in equating ‘imperialism’ with ‘universal human rights’ the author here, Kinser, is using a simple syllogism:

1. Universal Human Rights, even if peacefully imposed, even if aiding the well-being of the natives, is something done by the West, according to Western values.
2. Everything done by the West, according to Western values, is evil
3. Therefore imposing universal human rights, even if peacefully done, and aiding the well-being of the natives, is evil.

The syllogism cannot stand without the minor premise: Everything done by the West, according to Western values, is evil.

The analogy to Gnostic belief is that the Gnostics were spiritualists, not materialists, and believed in the spirit world. They held that the entire cosmic world system was radically evil, evil to its root. The moderns are materialist, and make no moral judgments about inanimate systems of the physical world. It is the Western “world” that is, the human society, they regard as (all but for themselves) radically evil, evil to its root.

This odd premise leads them to paradoxical consequences. There is no reason in Analects of Confucius or the Tao de Ching of Lao Tzu or the Bhagivad Gita which prohibits conquest of other lands and nations. The condemnation of imperialism is a Western and only a Western value.

Likewise, moral relativism and multicultural relativism are Western and only Western ideas, which spring up from a sentimental (rather than a logical) application of the idea of equality, which in turn is a Western and only a Western idea springing from the concept of Imago Dei, that man is created in the image of God, who is no respecter of persons.

At least one reader who scoffed at the analogy between Gnosticism and the nameless fog of half-formed ideas forming the modern moral atmosphere likewise denounced, as if it were insanity, the idea that the political Left favors and encourages and excuses and indulged in apologetic for various forms of tyranny and totalitarianism in much the same fashion that an infatuated schoolgirl excuses and indulges in apologetic for her hoodlum boyfriend.

Since I came across the above referenced article within minutes of seeing this reader’s objection, I thought it fortuitous to find immediately an authoritative voice of the political Left engaging in apologetic for tyranny using Gnostic-style rhetoric.

ADDED LATER: I came across this quote by GK Chesterton from his masterwork The Everlasting Man, which I thought appropriate to any discussion of the need to allow tyrants free reign in order to reign in the dangerous or tumultuous:

It is not necessarily an indefensible thing that the state grew more despotic as it grew more civilised; it is arguable that it had to grow more despotic in order to grow more civilised. That is the argument for autocracy in every age…