The View From 1776
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
The Da Vinci Code: Liberal Gnosticism
The Da Vinci Code’s gnosticism is not something that disappeared centuries ago. It survives as the religious substance of today’s liberalism and its kindred sects of socialism.
Gnosticism is the belief that intellectual elites have secret knowledge about the structure of human society and about the relationship between humans and the cosmos. These elites are thereby empowered to direct human affairs.
Gnosticism has surfaced repeatedly over the ages, in modern times in the philosophical underpinnings of the 1789 French Revolution.
The Da Vinci Code’s depiction of gnosticism as the preserver of the “truth” about Jesus and Christianity falls into the debunking tradition that commenced in 18th century France with attacks by Voltaire and others on the Catholic Church.
Appropriately, American liberalism, a lineal descendant of the gnosticism of the French Revolution, is implicit in Dan Brown’s novel. In the Da Vinci Code, a fictional gnostic doctrine preserved knowledge with the power to destroy Christianity. American liberals seek to destroy Christianity in order to create a society of egalitarian perfection.
A characteristic common to all the varieties of gnostic socialism is the belief that human conduct, indeed fundamental human nature, can be manipulated by controlling and changing the the conditions in which people live. This will be found in all of the 19th and 20th century varieties of socialism, from Henri de Saint-Simon and Auguste Comte, to Charles Fourier and Robert Owen, to Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Benito Mussolini, Adolph Hitler, and Franklin Roosevelt.
The corollary is that, in order to restructure society and control the conditions which determine human nature and conduct, it is necessary to get rid of inconveniences like Christianity, personal moral responsibility, and private ownership of property that stand in the way. This is the role played by The Da Vinci Code’s debunking.
Eric Voegelin in his 1959 “Science, Politics & Gnosticism” describes the salient characteristics of gnosticism, all of which apply to the doctrines of American liberalism.
First, the gnostic liberal is dissatisfied with the world as he finds it. He rejects the evidence of history that there always will be strife, wars, inequalities in ability and station, and some degree of poverty. And he is confident that he has the knowledge (gnosis) to make things perfect, which he defines as equality in all things.
Second, the gnostic-liberal attributes the problems of human life to poor organization of the economic and political realms. Evil and hardship must therefore arise from some identifiable source (capitalism? ownership of private property?) that deforms the proper structure of society.
Third, the gnostic-liberal has a deep faith that earthly salvation from the world’s tribulations is attainable, a trait markedly evident in the theoretical models of Soviet Russia and Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Fourth, the gnostic-liberal believes that this salvation is attainable through the process of history (which , of course, he uniquely understands). Auguste Comte’s 1820s gnosis was his discovery of the “immutable law of history,” according to which there are three ages of human social development, the third stage in the 19th century being the new scientific, socialistic age into which only knowledgeable intellectuals could lead the masses.
The same three-phase philosophy of history reappears in Hegel and Marx. Note that Hitler’s National Socialism was consciously called the Third Reich to identify it with the gnostic millennium of earthly harmony and peace.
Note also that the nature of gnosis is that its secret knowledge is available and comprehensible only to a select few. This has always implied in socialism a vulnerability to dictatorial concentration of power in the collectivized state. In Italy and Germany of the 1920s and 1930s it was expressed as the Leader Principle ? Il Duce and Der Fuhrer.
Fifth, the gnostic-liberal believes that, having discovered the secret meaning of history, he can implement and control the process of history by political and economic means, i. e., via socialism.
And, finally, the gnostic-liberal’s core belief is that salvation, the perfection of social relations and human conduct, is attainable via human action, here on earth. This is the source of Lenin’s mystical concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat that would bring peace and harmony to the people and would lead to a gradual withering away of formal government, leaving the Soviet people living in a modern Garden of Eden ? from each according to ability, to each according to need.
We see the manifestation of this mystical, gnostic vision every day in liberal politicians’ belief that individuals are incapable of fending for themselves, that only the national political state can do the job. There is always something wrong with society and always a politician confident that one more set of regulations or one more welfare-state program will make everything OK.
Gnosticism’s message that life really can be made perfect here on earth, I believe, accounts for the mass appeal of Ron Brown’s “Da Vinci Code,” which is a sort of adult version of Harry Potter wizardry.
People want to believe that a body of secret knowledge will free them from Christianity’s stern admonitions to work hard, save for a rainy day, abjure hedonism, and recognize that perfection of human life is impossible in the earthly realm. It’s so much easier to eat, drink, be merry, and let the government take care of us.