Commentators keep on pointing out examples of the Left’s antagonism toward free speech as if this were inconsistent with its first principles. It’s not. Leftism cannot be for free speech. Why? Because of what political philosopher Eric Voegelin recognized as the Gnostic character of its first principles.
Speech depends on the one-to-one correspondence between external realities and communicable concepts. Speech is reality’s witness and herald. What happens when you deny the fabric of external reality, as Gnosticism does? Or when, as leftism believes, objective reality is the projection of psychic and systemic forces by retrograde powers?
What happens is speech becomes an instrument of perversity, oppression, or illusion, and the only proper way to engage it is to reject it violently and put something else in its place.
Why Has Gnosticism Arisen in American Culture?
We could grab one of a thousand threads in the fabric of contemporary culture to unravel the underlying Gnosticism behind it. See a fuller treatment here.
Gnosticism is secular theology, a way to do religion after God’s death in lieu of Darwinism. God’s departure leaves an abyss whose nihilistic implications the human soul can’t bear. Whether secularists like it or not, Darwinism has no preventatives for, and in fact offers an explanation for, racism, rape, and oppression. Gnosticism allows meaning and morality to sneak in through the back door.
Gnosticism grants meaning and morality within the self after Darwinism rendered the outside material world nothing more than a product of random chance, useless as a foundation for transcendent knowing. To avoid solipsism, Gnosticism projects the myth of a universal, collective truth outside the material cosmic order available to select awakened gnostic seekers.
This is the Gnostic Pleroma. Once woke to the oppression that is the default setting of the material cosmic realm, you tap into the Pleroma. The woke share this collective; the unwoke are stooges of this world’s gods, the evil demiurge and its archons.
For example, random evolutionary forces yield the male/female binary, which is manifestly only about reproduction. Tradition codifies this reality in religious dogmas and cultural mores. Gnosticism posits a higher reality, with a purposeful lack of any grounding in any material reality, that gender and sexuality have nothing to do with reproduction.
For the woke, reproduction is a tyranny over what gender and sexuality are really about, so much so that its evolution-prescribed results — pregnancy — should be violently overthrown. Pregnancy as tyranny is a staple of feminism, and it’s no coincidence Gnosticism’s creation myth starts with Sophia’s auto-eroticism followed by an abortion.
With this brief primer, we can proceed to understand how Gnosticism undermines speech. It does so through two channels, one philosophical and the other political.
Deconstructing the Material Realm
Philosophically, Gnosticism sees speech as the tool by which demiurgic powers establish their corrupt systems, institutions, and social arrangements. We might think we’re just reflecting the binary reality of the sexes when we use the pronouns “he” or “she.” In reality, we’re stooges of that oppressive demiurge entrenching his tyranny, the sex binary.
All speech suffers the same judgment. It’s all about entrenching the existing power structures evolved over time through the distillation of human experience embodied in tradition. A white male cannot speak beyond the prison cell of his whiteness, maleness, and property ownership. Letters are fetters. His every word projects a cosmic architecture favorable to his own power quest. Language can only be his linguistic rape of those without power. All this, of course, he knows nothing about, because he’s un-woke.
Gnostics were the first to reduce all perceived reality to a network of power relationships. Archon is Greek for “power.” One is born under the influence of these power systems — his family system, his local culture and nation state, his religion, the various economic and social systems of his society — and from birth his mind marinates in the language propping up these systems. It’s like the Gnostic Carpocratians claiming “mine” and “thine” lock one in the delusion of private property.
Redemption demands breaking languages’ power, violently if need be. As those on the radical Left screech their primal screams at those they perceive to be power-holders, denying them their right to speak, Gnosticism makes sense of what they’re doing: to them it’s a jailbreak. And the First Amendment is the jail keeper.
Gnosticism Prohibits Questions
Politically, Voegelin devotes considerable intellectual capital to “the prohibition of theoretical argument and questions.” He sees the same spirit in leftist totalitarianism as he does in New England Puritanism. In both cases, “Discourse (sermo) about the knowledge which God in His glory has of Himself and the world is prohibited.” Only the “woke” or the “elect” have glimpsed transcendent meaning, so only they are permitted discourse on such topics.
Voegelin comments on the case of Thomas Hooker, who founded Connecticut after being ostracized by extremist Puritans in Massachusetts. He vainly hoped dialogue might mend fences. No luck, for, as Voegelin comments with words suitable to today’s left, “His Puritan opponents were not partners in a theoretical debate; they were gnostic revolutionaries, engaged in a struggle for existential representation that would have resulted in the overthrow of the social order, the control of the universities by Puritans, and the replacement of common law by scriptural law.”
Voegelin also discusses Karl Marx, Auguste Comte, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Each set up a grand structure of meaning in the vacated space once occupied by God. Each structure is a house of cards founded solely on the assertion of its progenitor, who justifies the project claiming a sub species aeternaties glimpse, a gnosis, into transcendent realities unavailable to others.
These structures remain intact so long as questions are prohibited. For Marx, only “socialist man” could truly speak, for only he spoke in accordance with nature as Marx framed it. For Comte, Voegelin comments, “after the system of positivism has prevailed in society, [those who ask questions] will have to be silenced by appropriate measures.”
Nietzsche rightly recognizes all such systems are mere self-assertion — the will to power — and he perceives an element of self-deception required to be so bold. It’s the self-deception of the Cretan suppressing the irony and declaring, “All Cretans (but me) are liars.” Nevertheless he decides to play the same game himself and asserts his system centered on the ubermensch.
Why? Because the only other options are nihilism, with no basis for morality, or a return to a transcendent God, whom he needed dead for reasons we can only surmise. Nietzsche was nothing if not ironical, yet ever straining against irony. Poor soul. Nietzsche’s heirs carry on this sad tension, realizing their source of meaning, being rooted in self-assertion, is a farce held up by myth, an emperor with no clothes, but always wishing desperately it were not so.
Voegelin recognizes Gnosticism here, the will to self-assertion in the gap left by God, an event divinized through the myth that all the woke are collectively tapping into the same trans-cosmic truth. Being truly an act of willful self-projection involving a lot of self-deceit, it’s a fragile psychological edifice, a house of cards the slightest breeze knocks down. Hence any gust of a question or challenging speech must be prohibited. The alternatives are nihilism or belief in God, both untenable for leftism.
Gnosticism’s Replacement for Speech
This isn’t to say there’s no role for speech. Both ancient and modern Gnostic texts have their place. But the role of speech is different. In place of serious, rational, clear, illuminating speech based in good grammar and propositional logic is manipulative storytelling, nonsensical poetry, bizarre allegories, playfulness, mantras, and primal screaming. Everything is ironic save the gnosis, in which case it’s an unchallengeable truth, something incommunicable, available only to the woke.
Of course this would be the case if the locus of reality goes from the outside world of matter to the inner world of the imagination. In a culture plugged into electronic media 24/7, it’s mind-boggling to fathom the potential for Gnostic imagining and phantasy-manufacturing.
We sit in a localized spot planted there by our physicality, with an external world of physical properties and real neighbors, enjoying regular weather patterns, but our minds are off in Russian collusion La La Land, or getting worked up over income inequality, or pitying a child separated from his mother thousands of miles away, or convinced the world is going to implode from cow farts. People fall for belief in aliens, conspiracies, transhumanism, and all sorts of wackiness based solely on highly managed images and narratives on a screen. It’s not a coincidence the media veers left; media traffics in phantasy, and leftism is phantasy thinking.
Meanwhile, the real world assumes the ring of falseness and fades away into blurry grey background noise while new Gnostic allegories take over. I used to be like you, part of the sheeple, my vision encased by my narrow little world, until I began to spend untold hours YouTubing, podcasting, and binge-watching Netflix, and now my eyes have been opened. Don’t you see the dark entities tyrannizing our world? The corporations, big oil, big food, Koch brothers, 1 percent, cops, boiling oceans, the gender binary, racists like Candace Owens!
Fragile indeed. A simple “Poof!” and #WalkAway is afoot.
Why Freedom of Speech Matters
Propositionally, we might say a truth claim is valid to the extent it can be most freely subject to criticism in the arena of speech and ideas, and is a house of cards to the extent it can’t. Contrasting gnosis with logos (the Greek word for reason) nicely sets up the issue.
Where gnosis arises from self-projection and self-assertion, logos stands on its own, arising from communion with objective reality and creating conceptual stuff in our minds allowing for communication through rationally arranged words. Gnosis calls the mind to exist in a suspended state of fantasy, but the whole project wilts before the slightest challenge from logos: Oh, you mean someone has to pay for free college? This is why gnosis must prohibit interference from logos.
Logos by contrast welcomes communication, even blind, irrational, and hateful communication. Leftism could welcome speech from a neo-Nazi group on campus, all the better to highlight the superiority of their ideas and hasten the marginalization of neo-Nazi thinking. Don’t they have confidence in the truthfulness of their ideas and the silliness of other ideas?
The fact is, they don’t. They can’t, because deep down they know any truth claim stands only by sheer fantasy-projection in the abyss, and the ability to hold as many people as possible to the deception that it’s actually true. So in the end, only the power of their commitment and ability to propagandize — not the power of their ideas — distinguishes them from neo-Nazis.
By contrast, as a Christian (for instance) who holds a truth claim, I have no fear running my truth claim through the gauntlet of free inquiry. Why should I? The Christian gospel doesn’t stand or fall on the power of my self-projection, but on the objective provability of Christ’s resurrection.
Even a blind, irrational, hateful attack on it, the very negation of it, validates it. For what is the Christian truth claim but that the Logos (the Word) became flesh and was negated, only to rise again? Thus, even the violent attack and suppression of logos ends up empowering it. The blood of martyrs has always empowered the gospel. Western traditions of science, liberal democracy, and the idea of universal rights inherit this Logo-centric edifice. It’s the secret sauce of the West.
The Left has no room for the logos, for any value granted the word, speech, logic, and language. The gauntlet — say, allowing a Ben Shapiro or Ann Coulter to question it — allows logos to do its thing, unleashing what for most of us are the didactic effects of reality on the mind, but what to the Left are the dark powers of this world order. Of course this is a complete myth, a Gnostic myth, but it’s a myth whose death means facing the Logos. And this the Left cannot do.