The Utopian Conceit and the War on Freedom,
By Julian Geran Pilon
Reviewed by Marek Jan Chodakiewicz
In The Utopian Conceit and the War on Freedom (Washington, DC, and London: Academic Press, 2019), an intrepid defender of classical liberalism and my colleague, Juliana Geran Pilon, teaches us that the links between utopia and freedom are as old as the world. Further, they are universal and consider all known civilizations. They stem from a few impulses. First of all, there have always been attempts to self-deify among specific individuals. Some of us consider ourselves so unique that in practice, equal to gods, nearly divine. Next, there is the conviction that a perfect theory exists flawlessly, explicating our dreams, which can seamlessly be implemented in life (utopianism). To do so, it is enough for a self-selected elite to ensconce itself in a fantasy that it has achieved secret knowledge (gnosis), which shall solve all the world’s problems. The wisdom dictates, above all, that all matter (including private property) is evil. Still, that revolution shall lead humanity to redemption in an egalitarian paradise on earth where all evil shall cease. Thus, human freedom will be crushed in the process of constructing utopia, a scenario that has repeated itself in history all too many times.
This disturbing fantasy is predicated on a particular structural contradiction: all will be equal in paradise on earth, but the persons called to rule there will be more equal: the Gnostics anointed by the Messiah. They imagined themselves to be the “elect,” “saints,” “divine grooms,” “divine brides,” as described by Michael Walzer. In extremis, their leaders envisioned themselves as prophets and even the Messiah, occasionally an incarnation of God Himself. Self-deification became the goal of the sectarians. Thus, their flights of fancy tended to drip with the occult, as James Billingham has pointed out.
Meanwhile, on the practical side, while virtually all people were to be divested of private property, the self-anointed “saints” would exercise stewardship over it and guard the egalitarian order of their making. This also pertains to all other aspects of life in paradise on earth. So there would be equal and more equal. The Gnostics suavely solve the contradiction claiming that they are above the law (antinomianism). Thus, according to Eric Voegelin, antinomianism reigns among the chosen of the revolution from its origin.
The first legendary human being, who succeeded in self-deification, was an Egyptian woman, Isis. She transformed from a mere mortal into a goddess thanks to secret knowledge and intellectual agility. While Isis “only” wanted to join the gods, semi-divine Prometheus endeavored to devolve onto humans divine prerogatives wholesale. He rebelled, stole fire from Zeus, and granted it to the people. He was therefore punished cruelly for eternity by the God of Lightning.
In Western Tradition, we remember Adam and Eve, who wanted to become like the Lord God, striving to acquire all knowledge. Luciper (He Who Carried the Light) is yet another example of competing with God and leading a rebellion at the same time. He became Lucifer (He Who Lost the Light) and was cast into Hell. He was the first revolutionary. Next, there was the Tower of Babel. Not only did the local people want to be like God and reach Heaven, but they also united to that end, concentrating on a single spot against an explicit divine commandment to populate the earth. Thus, they were punished. The Lord confused their tongues and collapsed the structure. An attempted collective self-deification was terminated, and a revolution was crushed for a second time.
What was the revolution to bring? It was intended to replicate on earth the conditions that apply in paradise, which can only be experienced after death. Yet, some did not feel like waiting, and they believed they could achieve that end while still alive. Thus, they carried out their revolutions. Sometimes a revolution succeeded, at least partly and initially.
Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep IV, aka Akenaten (1353-1336 BC), was the first-ever on historical record to have launched a revolution from above. An apocalypse was indispensable for a successful revolution. An apocalypse means “a new beginning” or, in Greek, a “discovery,” “revelation” (apokalipsis). In the Jewish and Christian tradition, we learn about it in the Book of Daniel. Christians have their exclusive interpretation in the Book of Revelation attributed to St. John. Both concern a violent eruption, the dawn of a millennium under a Messiah’s leadership, when the chosen ones’ rule is inaugurated in paradise on earth.
According to Norman Cohn, in Jewish history, the Zealots’ extremist sect adopted the apocalyptic tradition in particular. The apocalypse shall come, and a Messiah shall reveal himself, they preached. The Roman elite shall be slaughtered; the Jewish people shall be freed, and everyone will find himself in an egalitarian paradise on earth under the aegis of the Zealots. A New Jerusalem shall be founded. Israel shall be saved. The scheme, as mentioned above, would be replicated numerous times in violent fantasies of Christian fanatics. Their long succession line started in medieval times.
The fanatics rejected St. Augustine (354-43) and his division into the “City of God” and the “City of Man” with its clear implication that paradise on earth is impossible. They preferred a selective interpretation of revolutionary and egalitarian sentiments, hostile to private property, as explicated, for example, in the “Utopia” by St. Thomas More (1478-1535). Naturally, such fantasies could and did reveal themselves long before the publication of More’s treaty. Joachim de Floris (1145-1202) in Italy, created an alternative system of symbols – expressed as a triad – interpreting reality to undermine the Christian absolutes of the theology of salvation and resurrection. In England, William Ockham (1270-1347) introduced nominalism as an antechamber of moral relativism to subvert Christianity’s absolutism. John Wycliffe (1320-1384) also in England, Jan Hus (1369-1415) in Czechia, Thomas Müntzer (1485-1525) in Germany, Jan van Leyden (1509-1536) in the Low Lands, and John Knox (1514-1572) in Scotland imbibed, in a variety of forms, the apocalyptic bacillus of Gnosis, spewing the hateful fire of the revolution, mainly intellectually. However, van Leyden was also a ruthless practitioner of what he preached. As self-anointed popular tribunes, these men attacked private property, sang paeans of egalitarianism, and promised paradise on earth along with the long-awaited coming of the Messiah. Simultaneously, they ruled the chosen ones with an iron fist and herded their rank-and-file sheep fanatically, pushing them toward an apocalyptic sacrifice, according to Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn and Luciano Pellicani, among others. In other words, this was nihil novi sub sole.
Although the so-called “Englightenment” prompted, in no small degree, the abandonment by the revolutionaries of the Christian faith in favor of the religion of “Reason,” materialism, or nihilism, the apocalyptic reflexes, and gnostic inspirations remained. Naturally, they tended to be expressed in a distorted form of Christianism. This is discernable, among others, in David Hume’s writings (1711-1776), who, perhaps, considered the possibility of the existence of a “divine” being, but one that would not interfere in human affairs; Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), who saw the Creator as an Ultimate Executor of his volonté générale; through Karl Marx (1818-1883), who endeavored to blaspheme God through his Satanic poetry; and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), who infamously pronounced the Lord dead – up to the post-modernist epigones of Gnosis who, illogically, spend most of their time proclaiming their atheistic conviction loudly that there is no God, while striving strenuously to deny His existence. If He is not, why bother to prove it? Through their thought and deed, these false prophets demonstrate how vital Christianity is, in both a positive and negative sense, as a point of reference for utopianism and revolution.
According to Juliana Geran Pilon, the revolution also bears another perspective, usually shamefully hidden: its antisemitism. Unfortunately, she forgets that from its inception, already in antiquity, the radicals wove their apocalyptic fantasies of exterminating traditional elites. Only in medieval times did extremist sects in Bavaria and Hungary add the Jews, along with the knighthood, clergy, and patriciate, as a category in itself slated for extermination.
At any rate, anarchist Mikhail Bakunin was not an exception when he collapsed “Jews” and “capitalists” as enemies of the revolution. He fit right in with a tradition of leftist, revolutionary anti-semitism. Socialist Charles Fourier (1772-1837) was one of the first to consider capitalism and Jewishness as synonymous and hostile. While convinced that the Jewish elite created and controlled capitalism, he generously allowed that the Jewish lower classes perhaps not. His socialist student Alphonse Toussenel (1803-1885) agreed with that and proposed that one could achieve socialism by robbing and dispossessing Jewish property, which he called nationalization and redistribution.
Another socialist, Auguste Chirac (1838-1910), outdid both of them, arguing about the alleged “Jewishness” of capitalism, which infected non-Jews so that they became Jewish. According to Chirac, capitalism meant corruption, thievery, parasitism, and exploitation, allegedly “Jewish” features. This was outright plagiarism of Marx, who was perhaps the source for this scurrilous calumny. Juliana Geran Pilon expresses an unequivocal opinion about it: “Marx’s antisemitism is racist, and as such, pathological. Marx is, admittedly, just one of many, the quintessential self-hating Jew.” It is hard to deny that the intellectual construct of a “Jew” in Marx is principally an autoprojection of this leftist philosopher’s self-loathing.
Progressive thinker Edouard Drumond (1844-1917) undertook a lethal synthesis of such anti-Jewish ideas. He fused antisemitism, anti-capitalism, Christian anti-Judaism, and “scientific racism.” This was the critical conceptual step to Hitler’s National Socialism.
Arab socialist nationalists adopted it from der Führer, and so have the Caliphatists of the Al Queda and ISIS lately. Everywhere we hear the same Gnostic melody of self-deification, apocalypse, and utopia. The Caliphatists continue to deploy religious rhetoric in their revolution. Their woke counterparts in the West do the same in secular garb. They promise us paradise, either here or in the afterlife, or both. But first, there will be blood.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz
Washington, DC, 5 August 2020