Voegelin on ideologues

Below is very extensive passage from Voegelin’s Autobiographical Reflections. I have lots to say, relating Voegelin’s time to our own, so expect frequent interruptions of Voegelin’s passage with my own commentary.

…As the anecdotes just related show, my personal attitude in politics, and especially with regard to National Socialism, is frequently misunderstood, because entirely too many people who express themselves in public cannot understand that resistance to National Socialism can have other reasons than partisan motives. My reasons for hating National Socialism from the time I first got acquainted with it in the 1920s can be reduced to very elementary reactions.

There was in the first place the influence of Max Weber. One of the virtues that he demanded of a scholar was “intellektuelle Rechtschaffenheit,” which can be translated as intellectual honesty. I cannot see any reason why anybody should work in the social sciences, and generally in the sciences of man, unless he honestly wants to explore the structure of reality. Ideologies, whether positivist, or Marxist, or National Socialist, indulge in constructions that are intellectually not tenable.

First comment: Design research is an applied social science, especially when the design discipline in question is service design, which works the material of society (of organizations). Service designers truly do reassemble the social, and this becomes even clearer when we understand, with Latour, that the social is not a mental ether that haunts the physicality of our built world, but is the whole enchilada — physical, mental, virtual, and even natural. It’s all social. And for service designers, all this moldable social stuff is on the table.

I would hope design researchers would be drawn to the field out of desire for deeper and more substantial understanding of social reality. Certainly this field offers incredible opportunities for grounding our understanding of the human condition in close, concrete observation. Instead I find mostly ideologues looking to inform their efforts to transform the world into something conforming to an abstract pre-fab ideal.

That raises the question of why people who otherwise are not quite stupid, and who have the secondary virtues of being quite honest in their daily affairs, indulge in intellectual dishonesty as soon as they touch science. That ideology is a phenomenon of intellectual dishonesty is beyond a doubt, because the various ideologies after all have been submitted to criticism, and anybody who is willing to read the literature knows that they are not tenable, and why. If one adheres to them nevertheless, the prima facie assumption must be that he is intellectually dishonest. The overt phenomenon of intellectual dishonesty then raises the question of why a man will indulge in it. That is a general problem that in my later years required complicated research to ascertain the nature, causes, and persistence of states of alienation. More immediately, on the overt level that imposed itself, it caused my opposition to any ideologies — Marxist, Fascist, National Socialist, what you will — because they were incompatible with science in the rational sense of critical analysis. I again refer back to Max Weber as the great thinker who brought that problem to my attention; and I still maintain today that nobody who is an ideologist can be a competent social scientist.

…Or designer! I see the deterioration of design quality — especially of UX — as a direct result of ideological stuntedness. That is the pervasive epic insult added to the petty injuries of usability problems that swarm us like mosquitos. Ideologues are incapable of empathy, only ideological sympathies. They have political emotions toward conceptualize peoples, not understandings of persons.

As a consequence, partisan problems are of secondary importance; they come under the head of ideologists fighting each other. That, however, is not an entirely new phenomenon. I had to note the same problem in my studies on the intellectual battles in the Reformation of the sixteenth century. There I summarized the problem in the formula that there are intellectual situations where everybody is so wrong that it is enough to maintain the opposite in order to be at least partially right. The exploration of these structures helps to understand the meaning of “public opinion,” but these structures certainly have nothing to do with science.

Because of this attitude I have been called every conceivable name by partisans of this or that ideology. I have in my files documents labeling me a Communist, a Fascist, a National Socialist, an old liberal, a new liberal, a Jew, a Catholic, a Protestant, a Platonist, a neo-Augustinian, a Thomist, and of course a Hegelian — not to forget that I was supposedly strongly influenced by Huey Long. This list I consider of some importance, because the various characterizations of course always name the pet bête noire of the respective critic and give, therefore, a very good picture of the intellectual destruction and corruption that characterize the contemporary academic world. Understandably, I have never answered such criticisms; critics of this type can become objects of inquiry, but they cannot be partners in a discussion.

This has been a core idea in my own personal myth. That if we are to be intellectually independent, and exercise our own moral snd intellectual consciences, we must be prepared to be misunderstood and anathematized by ideologues.

My left-leaning friends see me as MAGA-adjacent, and entertaining the validity of dangerous ideas that ought to be treated as contagious diseases. My right-leaning friends see me as the victim of progressivist (or Jewish!) brainwashing. None of them have put anywhere near the effort into understanding what is going on, yet they are all confident they have a better grip on this political time than I do. But they sort of just intuitively, aesthetically, mystically, and commonsensically … know the true truth. They can’t say it, but this only proves how profoundly true it is, see?

A further reason for my hatred of National Socialism and other ideologies is quite a primitive one. I have an aversion to killing people for the fun of it. What the fun is, I did not quite understand at the time, but in the intervening years the ample exploration of revolutionary consciousness has cast some light on this matter.

This is key.

Hamas left ample audio-video evidence that their October 7th pogrom was fun for them. They killed civilians on purpose, as sadistically as possible, and took pleasure in that sadism.

That so many progressivists are undisturbed by this is disturbing to me.

And then progressivists and MAGA folks see no difference between these sadistic murders and the IDF’s accidental civilians casualties. The well-documented efforts to prevent these casualties are cynically dismissed as Jew propaganda, as are the well-documented efforts by Hamas to undermine all prevention measures.

They just can’t really know, they claim.How can anyone really know? They seem almost desperate to not be able to know. Knowing has consequences.

Both extremes of the political horseshoe bend toward not distinguishing between sadistic killing for fun, and killing to prevent sadistic killing for fun. They want to blur it all into an impenetrable moral relativist mystery.

I find that despicable, and I am having more and more trouble ignoring or forgiving it.

The fun consists in gaining a pseudo-identity through asserting one’s power, optimally by killing somebody — a pseudo- identity that serves as a substitute for the human self that has been lost.

This. Alienated humanity, caught up in linguistic concepts that are the only thing that hold people together. Collective, narcissistic solipsism.

Some of these problems I touched upon in my study on the “Eclipse of Reality,” published in 1970. A good example of the type of self that has to kill other people in order to regain in an Ersatzform what it has lost is the famous Louis Antoine Leon Saint-Juste, who says that Brutus either has to kill other people or kill himself. The matter has been explored by Albert Camus, and the murderous equanimity of the intellectuals who have lost their self and try to regain it by becoming pimps for this or that murderous totalitarian power is excellently exemplified by Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Humanisme et Terreur (1947). I have no sympathy whatsoever with such characters and have never hesitated to characterize them as murderous swine.

“Pimps for this or that murderous totalitarian power.”

Last century, those pimps pimped for the USSR.

This century, so far, they pimp for Hamas.

Are they unconcerned that these powers are totalitarian? Or is that part of the appeal?

The third motif that I can ascertain in my hatred against ideologies is that of a man who likes to keep his language clean. If anything is characteristic of ideologies and ideological thinkers, it is the destruction of language, sometimes on the level of intellectual jargon of a high level of complication, sometimes on a vulgarian level.

Note the infestation of academic jargon in business and entertainment media.

These words substitute for thoughts. Snap the words together into sentences to make truths that will be accepted by other subscribers to the jargon.

From my personal experience with various ideologists of a Hegelian or Marxist type, I have the impression that a good number of men of considerable intellectual energy who otherwise would be Marxists prefer to be Hegelians because Hegel is so much more complicated. This is a difference not of any profound conviction but of what I would compare to the taste of a man who prefers chess to pinochle. Hegel is more complicated, and one can easily spend a lifetime exploring the possibilities of interpreting reality from this or that corner of the Hegelian system, without of course ever touching on the premises that are wrong — and perhaps without ever finding out that there are premises that are wrong. In conversations with Hegelians, I have quite regularly found that as soon as one touches on Hegelian premises the Hegelian refuses to enter into the argument and assures you that you cannot understand Hegel unless you accept his premises. That, of course, is perfectly true — but if the premises are wrong, everything that follows from them is wrong, too, and a good ideologist therefore has to prevent their discussion. In the case of Hegel, that is comparatively easy, because Hegel was a first-rate thinker and knew the history of philosophy. Hence, if one wants to attack Hegel’s premises one has to know their background in Plotinus and the neo-Platonic mysticism of the seventeenth century. Since very few people who pontificate about Hegel have any knowledge of philosophy comparable to his, the premises can easily be kept in the dark, and sometimes need not even be kept in the dark because they are, anyway, in the darkness of the ignorance of those who talk about him.

In the Marxian case, the falseness of the premises is more obvious. When Marx writes about Hegel he distorts him so badly that his honest editors cannot help being aware of the fact and expressing themselves cautiously on their findings. The editors of the Frühschriften of Karl Marx (Kröner, 1955), especially Siegfried Landshut, say regarding Marx’s study of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law: “Marx, if one may express oneself in this manner, by misun- derstanding Hegel as it were deliberately, conceives all concepts of Hegel which are meant as predicates of the idea as statements about facts” (pp. xxv–xxvi). In my uncivilized manner as a man who does not like to murder people for the purpose of supplying intellectuals with fun, I flatly state that Marx was consciously an intellectual swindler for the purpose of maintaining an ideology that would permit him to support violent action against human beings with a show of moral indignation. I stated the problem explicitly in my inaugural lecture in Munich in 1958, Science, Politics, and Gnosticism,2 and explored on that occasion the men- tal disturbance that lies behind such action. Marx, however, con- ducted his arguments on a very high intellectual level, and the surprise (with repercussions in the daily press) caused by my flat statement that he was engaged in an intellectual swindle can easily be explained in the same way as the darkness that surrounds the premises of Hegel. The Marxian swindle concerns the flat refusal to enter into the etiological argument of Aristotle — that is, on the problem that man does not exist out of himself but out of the divine ground of all reality. Again, as distinguished from our contemporaries who pontificate on Marx, Marx himself had a very good philosophical education. He knew that the problem of etiology in human existence was the central problem of a philosophy of man; and if he wanted to destroy man’s humanity by making him a “socialist man,” he had to refuse to enter into the etiological problem. On this point he was, one must admit, considerably more honest than Hegel, who never quoted the arguments into which he refused to enter. But the effect is the same as in the case of Hegel, because contemporary critics, of course, know about Aristotle and the etiological argument just as much as they know about Hegel’s neo-Platonic background — which is to say, exactly nothing. The general deculturation of the academic and intellectual world in Western civilization furnishes the background for the social dominance of opinions that would have been laughed out of court in the late Middle Ages or the Renaissance.

When we advance beyond Marx to the ideological epigones of the late nineteenth and of the twentieth century, we are already far below the intellectual level that formed the background even of Marx. And here comes in my particular hatred of ideologists because they vulgarize the intellectual debate and give to public discussion the distinctly ochlocratic coloring that today has reached the point of considering as fascist or authoritarian even a reference to the facts of political and intellectual history that must be known if one wants to discuss the problems that come up in political debate.

The radical condemnation of historical and philosophical knowledge must be recognized as an important factor in the social environment, because it is dominated by persons who cannot even be called intellectual crooks because their level of consciousness is much too low to be aware of their objective crookedness, but who must rather be characterized as functional illiterates with a strong desire for personal aggrandizement.

These observations then bring us down to the level of National Socialism. It is extremely difficult to engage in a critical discussion of National Socialist ideas, as I found out when I gave my semester course on “Hitler and the Germans” in 1964 in Munich, because in National Socialist and related documents we are still further below the level on which rational argument is possible than in the case of Hegel and Marx. In order to deal with rhetoric of this type, one must first develop a philosophy of language, going into the problems of symbolization on the basis of the philosophers’ experience of humanity and of the perversion of such symbols on the vulgarian level by people who are utterly unable to read a philosopher’s work. A person on this level — which I characterize as the vulgarian and, so far as it becomes socially relevant, as the ochlocratic level — again, is not admissible to the position of a partner in discussion but can only be an object of scientific research.

I had to look up “ochlocratic”. It means mob rule.

I wonder what digital mob rule might look like.

These vulgarian and ochlocratic problems must not be taken lightly; one cannot simply not take notice of them. They are serious problems of life and death because the vulgarians create and dominate the intellectual climate in which the rise to power of figures like Hitler is possible.

We are ripe for an ochlocratic leader. At this s progressivist will automatically bump out “Trump!”

If Trump is elected, I fully expect brutal and bloody authoritarianism.

But if Biden is elected, I fully expect him to die early in his term. His replacement is likely to be an elite and bloodless totalitarian.

It isn’t about the specific politicians. It is about the vulgarians of our time who have created and now dominate the intellectual climate. It is our business leaders, our news-entertainment media, the social norms we all impose on one another and enforce.

We are so much inside this condition now, and have so little access to any other intellectual climate, we cannot even assess how much things have deteriorated.

Plus, most of us find the reality we are immerse too terrifying to look at and acknowledge.

And shrugging, ignoring, withdrawing, insulating and being content singing la-la-la to ourselves resembles spiritual wisdom. Change your posture from the fetal ball to half-lotus, and instead of la-la-la, sing ohm-ohm-ohm.

I would say, therefore, that in the German case the destroyers of the German language on the literary and journalistic level, characterized and analyzed over more than thirty years by Karl Kraus in the volumes of Die Fackel, were the true criminals who were guilty of the National Socialist atrocities, which were possible only when the social environment had been so destroyed by the vulgarians that a person who was truly representative of this vulgarian spirit could rise to power.

And our academic class — people responsible for molding our youth, who have never known a life outside academia, who are mostly products of 60s youth culture who never outgrew youthful omniscience — are criminals of this time. And so are the university bureaucrats who turned the academy into a modern industry, cranking ideological product into the workplace.

These motivations were perfectly clear to me at the time, but clarity about their direction did not mean clarity about the implications in detail. The intellectual apparatus for dealing with the highly complex phenomena of intellectual deformation, perversion, crookedness, and vulgarization did not yet exist, and studies to create this apparatus were required. Into this context belong the studies that I published under the title Die politischen Religionen in 1938. When I spoke of the politischen Religionen, I conformed to the usage of a literature that interpreted ideological movements as a variety of religions. Representative for this literature was Louis Rougier’s successful volume on Les Mystiques politiques. The interpretation is not all wrong, but I would no longer use the term religions because it is too vague and already deforms the real problem of experiences by mixing them with the further problem of dogma or doctrine.

These are not political religions, because they are neither political nor are they religious.

They are fundamentalisms. They are ideologies. They are solipsisms.

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