Saturday, December 24, 2005

Don’t immanentize the eschaton

I can't stop saying it. 'You're immanentizing the eschaton.' 'That's just immanentizing the eschaton. Dangerous.' What a phrase! Especially the sound of 'eschaton'. (The first word is pronounced according to its particles: 'immanent', plus 'tize'. Should we change the 'z' to an 's', just as the Americans do in reverse? )

I'm continually immanentising this phrase mainly because I've had the meaning in my head for 20 years, but not the precise words to express it (as you might have noticed with my first post). The idea was that revolution was a perversion of a religious idea: salvation. However, instead of it being applied to the hereafter and to an individual, it was brought forward to Now and extended to The People; society would be saved. What does an individual do when thrown off his Damascus-bound horse and blinded by the light of God? Wipes away his past, starts again and ruthlessly sets about going for the biggest prize of all. Is not anything justified by the possibility of that end? My thesis was that this idea entered the world with the French Revolution, has infected the intellectual life of the West with its prospect of ‘salvation for all’ and done far worse in other parts – Russia, China, Kampuchea, etc.

Well, by a torturous chain of links I arrived here. To save you the time, here’s an excerpt.

To immanentize something is to draw it in closely, to make it a part of one’s immediate, subjective consciousness and experience. The eschaton is our ultimate destination, the final end toward which our lives are ordinated.
This writer had first seen it on a button: “Don’t immanentize the eschaton” sent to one of his students by William F Buckley, the founder of The National Review, for whom writes John Derbyshire. The political point is
For Voegelin, as least in his role as political scientist, the great dividing line is between certainty and uncertainty. The good thing is uncertainty. Why? Because people who are certain about humanity’s ends often seek to divinize society, to reunite heaven and earth, by establishing within this world the true and final purposes of man. For Voegelin, this form of certainty is the great threat to humanity. For the man who is certain in this way “will not leave the transfiguration of the world to the grace of God beyond history but will do the work of God himself, right here and now, in history.” Cromwell was certain in this way. Lenin and Hitler were, if anything, even more certain. Indeed, leaders and social movements possessed of this type of certainty shaped much of the 20th century, including almost all of its bloodiest and ugliest parts.
The man he refers to is Eric Voegelin, who wrote The New Science of Politics. In 1952.


Anonymous said...

why did this start with the french revolution and not the american one?

NoolaBeulah said...

Because the two revolutions were very different in kind. The American might be called a 'conservative' revolution in that its fundamental demand was that the colonists be treated like other Englishmen; ie be given back rights they had lost: representation to match their taxation. Their revolution became much more, but it never sought to restart the world, to go back to zero and start again, as the French did. It didn't reject its heritage; it merely took it one step further. In hindsight, we can call it evolution, though it certainly didn't feel like that at the time.