Origins of the Pantheistic Revolution

The possibility of the utopian distortion of the meaning of the metaxy had been present from the beginning. When the concrete experience of the higher reason’s opening to transcendence and the concomitant experience of the limitation and imperfection of the immanent sphere were lost, the results of differentiation could easily be construed as an abstract rational blueprint for social reorganization, in line with the generalistic trend of Greek throught and its apprehension of nature in contradistinction to convention. Burke turned against the ‘thoroughbred metaphysicians’ of the Enlightenment, and his historicist followers today see no mystery in the development of Strauss’s analysis and endorsement of the classics more or less into the same kind of Jacobin ideology of democratic imperialism. [See Ryn, The New Jacobinism: America as Revolutionary State (2011 (1991)), and America the Virtuous: The Crisis of Democracy and the Quest for Empire (2003).] While the differentiated experience did reveal a transcendent, divine order with a moral dimension, and this revelation guided the development of the Christian concept of natural right, the utopian mindset, without full access to the engendering experience, could transfer the claims of perfection to its own limited schemes, and posit the latter, in stark opposition to history and convention, as guiding principles for comprehensive social revolution.

This potentiality of a kind of “totalitarianism” – or of a limited vision oppressively posited as a false totality – and some of the later monistic developments of Platonism were, however, combined with, added to, and in some cases replaced by the corresponding Israelite and Christian distortion of differentiational experience. The resultant Gnosticism and Hermeticism, or what I shall henceforward call the esoteric tradition, has – while containing some noble, valuable, and interesting variations – in some of its central characteristics been of decisive importance as a subsequently ever-present threat to differentiational and person-centered civilization. The esoteric tradition can today be seen to have shaped Western modernity from the outset, and, directly and indirectly, almost in its entirety.

This tradition, of which from the earliest stages monistic mysticism was a part, the Schwärmerei of the millenarian sects, and the rationalism of the philosophers (in the late medieval period added to by the influence of Averroism), combined to set in motion what I suggest could be called a pantheistic revolution, a revolution which, through ever bolder syntheses, comprised the most important modes of impersonalistic thought and practice of the modern West.

This was not a return to the early pantheism of the cosmological civilizations, which was in its own way ordered and structured, where the elements of differentiation were present in compact form, where they were undiscovered in their true nature yet not denied. It was a search, theoretical as well as violently practical, and driven by the failure to live with the tension of the metaxy, for a new kind of pantheism, for a new kind of closed immanence, a re-divinized immanence without order and structure, and filled with new content. To this day, and with unabated vigour, its impersonalistic momentum undermines in ever new and shifting expressions the moral, humanistic, and religious values of which the person is the most important bearer.

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Jan Olof Bengtsson D.Phil. (Oxon.)

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"A Self-realized being cannot help benefiting the world. His very existence is the highest good."
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