Comments on “Illuminatus!, Voegelin, and the politics of SBNR monism”

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Ideas as Adjustments

Sabio 2013-03-10

Damn, reading this article, clicking the links and trying to follow your train of thought was better than those 3 hits of acid I did back in the 80s. Then, your last half brought me back to reality.

One thing you made clear was that you should re-write this sentence of yours:
“He noticed just the same pattern I did.”
to say
“I noticed just the same pattern he did.”

Perhaps there is an irony here too. Is the common brain mechanism that drives monistic all-connecting solutions the source of your apophenic hyperdrive?

In all seriousness, though, I often think of ideas as “correctives” or “adjustments” instead of as “answers”. Then, like you it seems, I wonder about what environmental/historical conditions are begging for the evolution of the correction? And then I wonder whether the adaptation (the idea) will be reproductively useful and thus continue to create another era – another “ism”.

The negative value of philosophy

David Chapman 2013-03-10

Something perhaps related: I find that philosophy is almost always more useful in diagnosing wrong ways of thinking than in proposing right ones. I call this the “negative value” of philosophy.

I’m not sure where better ideas come from. Gods, probably :-)

Gnostic strawman

alfayate 2013-03-13

That’s an interesting theory: Gnosticism as root of Nazism and Communism via Romanticism… humm, I think there are some old photos of well known fascist leaders hanging out with Gnostic arcontes.. oh, wait, or are they Catholic bishops?

Well, after all not only spiritual systems are scattered nowadays, but also historical ones… I’m not saying that Voegelin’s theory doesn’t have a point but History has refused again and again to be put into big, neat moulds but into small ones that form a puzzle that can be elegantly resolved until some more pieces are found that just don’t fit… On the other hand, a deceased is always a good candidate to be charged with a crime…

Gnosticism, Romanticism, politics

David Chapman 2013-03-13

Apparently, even people who take Voegelin seriously think he mis-used the word “Gnosticism.”

From what I’ve read so far, I think he overstated his case, and maybe was somewhat nutty. But since I did notice the same pattern he did, his work will be useful as a resource for further research.

I am not sure, for now, how much blame German Romantic Idealism should get for Communism and Nazism. There is a direct intellectual lineage, particularly via Hegel, in both cases. But, there are many other factors that went into creating both movements. As you say, history is complicated. There’s also a century of development between Marx and the nastier manifestations of Communism, and between Hegel’s Romantic German Nationalism and Nazism.

Gnosticism and Democracy

James 2013-03-26

Hi David,

My friends and family have scoffed at me for saying that the 20th century was the German century, so I feel a little vindicated by this post! Anyway, the reference to gnosticism and its connection to politics reminded me of another book I started but never quite got around to finishing: The Trouble with Democracy: A Citizen Speaks Out, by one William Gairdner. Some points of connection: the author is also a conservative catholic (so maybe there’s something there - and in you!) who also looks at the effects that historical metaphysical/religious points of view have had/are having on political organization and behaviour - specifically in relation to democracy (natch), but it might help flesh out decadence leading to…, etc. Now, as I recall it wasn’t the best book, but it was pretty straightforward writing and might be worth a skim, if only to mine it for its references.

But now I have another book to add to the list of books needing reading. Thanks a bunch… ;)

William Gairdner

David Chapman 2013-03-26

Thanks! I read the Amazon comments for the book. Apparently he was indeed influenced by Voegelin. And you aren’t the only one who found it impossible to finish!

Voegelin and single-mindedness

Amod Lele 2013-07-15

Hi David,

Discovering your site now and intrigued by it. This is a topic of interest to me, and one that I’ve blogged about a number of times. Some thoughts on Voegelin and the eschaton:

And posts which express some ideas on a closely related topic. I think you’ll see I am in sympathy with a number of points you make here, the main difference being that I don’t tie the problem to metaphysical monism.

(I read the Illuminatus! trilogy many years ago - in high school I think - long before I had encountered Voegelin or thought about any of this stuff. It would be very interesting to go back to it now, though it’s hard to imagine finding the time to read something that long!)

Cheers, Amod.


David Chapman 2013-07-16

Hi Amod,

Some remarkable coincidences… I would never have thought that anyone would have written about Voegelin in similar terms, much less someone who is (like me) synthesizing ideas from Buddhism and Western philosophy! (I’ve been following your blog for some time, finding it thought-provoking and enjoyable, but had not delved far into earlier posts.)

What you call “philosophical single-mindedness” is closely connected to what I call eternalism (though not altogether the same). I borrowed that term from Buddhist philosophy, as you’ll probably recognize. I think it’s the root philosophical error, in most or all –isms. It’s not just wrong, it’s enormously harmful, because it can justify any atrocity in the name of the Cosmic Plan.

I did my PhD at the MIT AI Lab, now housed in the Stata Center, which you wrote about. Ken Wilber (who you also write about) may have written a novel about my work there.

I practice tantric Buddhism, which (unlike the Buddhist mainstream) is about enjoying the world as it is (while incrementally improving it where feasible).

I’ve written several pieces about Protestant Buddhism (as you have). I conclude that overall the “Protestant Reformation” of Buddhism was a good thing (so I don’t use the term dismissively, unlike some of the people you mention in your piece on the topic). I do think it’s problematic in some ways, including its scripturalism.

Obviously, I need to read more of what you have written! Much to look forward to.



Hi David - yes, interesting

Amod Lele 2013-07-16

Hi David - yes, interesting coincidences! I will be wanting to read more of your work as well, and hope this is just the beginning of a dialogue.

I think we have a roughly similar overall evaluation on so-called Protestant Buddhism. Personally I loathe the term, for reasons I’ve gone into in a couple of posts. I’m all right with McMahan’s term “Buddhist modernism”, though I previously coined my own neologism of Yavanayāna. I offered a qualified defence of it but have been frequently critical as well.

I have read Boomeritis and thought it a rather wretched novel, though I think it was intentionally so in some ways. Regardless, I still do really enjoy Wilber’s work and I’m delighted to hear you’re featured in it.


David Chapman 2013-07-17

I love your term “Yavanayāna.” I’ve mentioned the Yavanas in my Buddhist vampire novel, and they are likely to make a much larger appearance later. (This will draw on McEvilley’s The Shape of Ancient Thought on historical connections between Greek and Buddhist philosophies. I think you may find that very interesting if you’re not familiar with it.)

I too have both defended and criticized aspects of Western Buddhism, for example at “One Dharma: Whose?”. One of your posts reminded me of my “Wholeness, connection, and meditation: Competing visions”. Etc, I guess!

Anyway, I’ll be reading more of your blog, and may comment there!

Duck Typing a Little Bird

PierrePhilosophique 2014-09-13

So the communists with their bourgeois/proletarian dichotomy were actually monists, and the Nazi’s with their dichotomy of Master Race and Slave Race were actually monists , too.


Two references.

A. Karttunen 2016-05-06


a very interesting blog, thanks!

As regards the Nazism and communism and other ideological mass movements, you surely know his classic, “The True Believer”.
Its scope and applicability certainly didn’t end at the fifties, although published already in 1951.

And for a critique against monism and views on various kinds of mysticism, I suggest R. C. Zaehner.

(Please look them up on Wikipedia. I deleted the links, because otherwise the blog-software accuses me of posting spam.)

Voegelin and Zaehner

David Chapman 2016-05-06

Thank you very much for the references, and I’m sorry about the spam filter!

I haven’t read The True Believer, but I’ve read summaries.

Zaehner’s critique of Perennialism I didn’t know about at all. Thank you very much indeed! For anyone interested, there’s a summary here:

Is it time to ditch "Western" vs "Eastern"?

Amy K. 2018-01-04

Thank you for your work! It’s filling in some gaps for me that have been left by the Western mindfulness movement led by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Speaking of Western mindfulness: When will it be time to abandon the terms Eastern and Western in philosophy, epistemology, and culture? Aren’t we all now part of the same holistic atomized Earth?

It’s a bit jarring to see “Western” in current philosophy writings. Seems a bit dualist and maybe a little “us vs them” to me (even if the “us” is Eastern and not Western). An illustration of the East/West culture merge over time

Reading from the future, “he”, “man”, and “him” seem jarring in otherwise meaningful works from the past. These works accidentally exclude half of the population from discussions of humanity by using unnecessarily divisive/ exclusive words. I think that the meaningness concepts will seem less dated in the future if they treat current culture holistically, abandoning the tradition of identifying some concepts as Eastern and others as Western.

Objectivism vs Platonist/Hegelian Monism

Isaac Lewis 2020-06-15

You might be interested to learn that Ayn Rand and other Objectivists have discussed the connection between Platonist ideas and totalitarian political systems (especially, in the modern age, via Kant, Hegel and the other German idealists). Rand was an outspoken advocate of Aristotelian ideas and saw Western philosophy as a “duel” between Plato and Kant.

You might see Objectivism as simply yet another “big idea” (as it offers a system that claims to explain everything) – but its also opposed to monism and idealism for similar reasons to those given in the above article.

Ayn Rand wrote about the duel between Plato and Aristotle in the title essay of
For the New Intellectual

Leonard Peikoff applied Objectivist ideas to analyse the rise of Nazi Germany, and discovered the same connection to Hegel, Fichte, etc, that you describe here – see his book (The Ominous Parallels)[]

A few years ago he wrote “The DIM Hypothesis”, which applies his framework to Western philosophical/intellectual history in general. Broadly, the hypothesis is that Western philosophy is a clash between Platonist “misintegration” (mysticism, idealism, rationalism), Aristotelian “integration” (science, naturalism, empiricism) and Kantian “disintegration” (which he sees as leading to postmodernism, skepticism, nihilism, etc). It’s a complex thesis which ultimately revolves around the different answers given by the big three philosophers to the theory of universals. I wrote a review of it (here)[].

It seems I screwed up the

Isaac Lewis 2020-06-15

It seems I screwed up the Markdown formatting of some of the links above. Doh. Anyway, I thought it was interesting that you’d hit on the same intellectual trail from quite a different starting point. I’ve been an Objectivist for a few years but few Objectivists are interested in following the trails marked out by Rand and Peikoff above, so I found your blog(s) very interesting reads.

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