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Marx was neither an economist nor a social scientist 2
He was a student of Hegel.
If, as we saw in the previous post, Marx was not a social scientist, nor an economist specifically, then what was he?
The short answer is: he was a student of Hegel. Yes, Marx said he turned Hegel on his head, but to invert Hegel’s framing is to accept Hegel’s framing.
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So, what does it mean to be a student of Hegel, to operate from Hegel’s framings? It is conventional to characterise Western culture as based on reason, represented by Athens, and faith, represented by Jerusalem.
This does not grapple with the institutional origins of the West, which is a mixture of Indo-European and Germanic warrior culture with the sanctification by Christianity of the Roman synthesis (single-spouse marriage, no cousin marriage, female consent for marriage, testamentary rights, suppressing kin groups, law is human).
Still, even given the formulation also understates how strong the mystical element was in Greek philosophy, Greek rationality (Athens) and Biblical faith (Jerusalem) as the dominant poles of Western intellectual history is both conventional and reasonable.
As two Dutch scholars write:
It is still often regarded as self-evident that western culture is based on the twin pillars of Greek rationality, on the one hand, and biblical faith, on the other. Certainly, there can be little doubt that these two traditions have been the dominant forces in cultural development. The former may be defined by its sole reliance on the rationality of the mind, the latter by its emphasis on an authoritative divine revelation.
(Gnosis and Hermeticism, P.vii.)
But there is a third current, a third disposition, beyond faith and reason, beyond Athens and Jerusalem, within Western civilisation:
However, from the first centuries to the present day there has also existed a third current, characterised by a resistance to the dominance of either pure rationality or doctrinal faith.
The adherents of this tradition emphasized the importance of inner enlightenment or gnosis: a revelatory experience that mostly entailed an encounter with one’s true self as well as with the ground of being … This so-called Hermeticist tradition and its later development—the whole of which may be referred to as “western esotericism”—was characterised by an organic view of the world that assumed a strong internal coherence of the whole universe, including an intimate relationship between both its spiritual and its material elements.
Hegel was not a theorist of reason nor of faith. He represented neither Athens nor Jerusalem. He represented Alexandria. Not the Alexandria of the Hellenistic scientific revolution, but the Alexandria of eclectic esotericism.* For Hegel was a Hermetic thinker.
Hegel’s Hermeticism passed into the thought of his students. For instance, the Russian Hegelian Ivan Ilyin, who Putin has declared to be his favourite philosopher, conceives of Creation as a wounding of God, an alienating creation of imperfection. For conventional monotheism (whether Christian, Jewish or Islamic) this is an outrageous claim. It is, however, very much within Hermetic and Gnostic mythologies.
As the Dutch scholars write:
In our own time many people, disappointed in the perspectives on humanity and the world offered either by rationalism or traditional religion, turn again to the basic principles of Gnosticism and Hermeticism, often integrated with some kind of New Age thinking.
Or, we can add, any stream of thought that descends from Hegel. Which includes all Marxism, all Critical Theories, all forms of Post-Marxism. Indeed, almost everything that feeds into Post-Enlightenment Progressivism (“wokery”). For the gnostic disposition can manifest in both religious-spiritual and secular-materialist forms. Especially if you turn Hegel on his head and pour the spiritual into the social.
While Hermeticism saw gnosis as providing nous, knowledge, that could be used in a transformative way, Gnosticism typically saw humans as alienated souls, estranged from the proper ground of being, trapped in a material world that was a constraining, alienating and deluding prison. Which, recast in secular terms, is precisely what Marx presents, including in Estranged [Entfremdung] Labour in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844).
Marx manifests the gnostic disposition, the sense of penetrating and transformative understanding, and has the appeal of doing so. Marx provides an apparent explanation for any sense of alienation. One that is packaged as providing profoundly greater understanding than possessed by those not initiated into the true knowledge of reality.
Moreover, the gnostic disposition licenses you to discount any part of reality you find awkward or confronting as either delusion (e.g. “false consciousness”) or as something that knowing initiates such as oneself, possessing the transformative knowledge, can sweep away. It provides support for the endless parade of not that, for the ruthless criticism of all that exists. Including the disastrous rejection of embedded learning such entails.
To add to his appeal, Marx is not only a manifestation, but a systematising manifestation, of the gnostic disposition. Marx is the purveyor of a secular Kabbalah. With the same grand-system appeal to secular Jewish intellectuals that Kabbalah had for religious Jewish intellectuals.
The perennial tendency within Marxism to turn textual molehills into doctrinal mountains is a bit of hint that one is not dealing with anything resembling a scientific mode of thought, despite Marx’s own pretensions to the contrary.
Both Marxism and Kabbalism select for intelligence. You have to be bright to get your head around each system of thought and clever enough to rationalise everything into the system.
The gnostic disposition has perennial appeal. It is also an utterly disastrous appeal, for its basic claims are disastrously false. First, because there is no such special knowledge.
Second, because it generates a pathological attitude to information: to what we can learn. For to reject what is, and what has been, in favour of one’s special knowledge is to reject the only sources of information (so of understanding) we have. The more committed to the gnostic disposition one is, the more one is cut off from actual knowledge.
Unsubstantiated delusion is a natural end-point for the gnostic disposition. Thus, rejecting biology as “sex essentialism” is a classic manifestation of the gnostic disposition. As is treating any constraint as oppression.
The appeal of the gnostic disposition, of a sense of knowing, even transformative power, denied others that can explain any sense of alienation and allows one to “edit out” awkward aspects of reality, never entirely goes away. Hence it has constantly re-appeared across at least two millennia.
None of which is remotely conducive to serious understanding of the world around us or to promoting genuine human flourishing. Consider Marx’s famous injunction, in his eleventh thesis on Feuerbach (1845), that the point is to change the world:
IX: The highest point reached by contemplative materialism, that is, materialism which does not comprehend sensuousness as practical activity, is contemplation of single individuals and of civil society.
X: The standpoint of the old materialism is civil society; the standpoint of the new is human society, or social humanity.
XI: The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.
The commitment to the primacy of the will-to-change (which is always and everywhere the will-to-power-to-change) deforms, even destroys, understanding. As we see again and again in the history of Marxist regimes, and in social justice activism.
In Marx’s system, the distinctions and disagreements of civil society are to be rejected. To be replaced by the crushing totalitarianism of social humanity. Where the resisting human dross, the deplorables, have to swept away, have to be shunned and silenced, so as to achieve transformative social justice.
The aim is not mere political power, the aim is transformational power. Power over all aspects of society.
Hence the deep connection between the gnostic disposition and totalitarian politics. Especially with the Jacobin model of politics: politics unlimited in means (any act intended to achieve the social transformation is acceptable) and unlimited in scope (all aspects of society are politicised, are to be subject to Gleichschaltung). Nazism, the application of the Jacobin model to Aryan race-politics, was also a manifestation of the gnostic disposition.
James Lindsay uses the example of Trans to illustrate Marx’s inversion-of-praxis: those shaped by society acting to shape society. Transactivism, the Transcult, is an apt example. It also illustrates how much Marx’s template pervades activism operating under the social justice tag, even though he was an Enlightenment modernist and they have become Post-Enlightenment and postmodernist: in the sense of adaptively taking from various French post-structuralist theorists rather than faithfully replicating their thought.
It is also important to remember that those French thinkers were operating in an intellectual milieu that had not incorporated any of the insights evolutionary biology. They were post-Darwin historically but pre-Darwin intellectually. (Something that remains true of a startling amount of intellectual activity within and without universities.) To apply the evolutionary lens is to accept the reality of pervasive structures.
So, following the gnostic disposition, Trans is to be conceived, not as a form of mental disturbance, of profound alienation from one’s biological sex. For that would be to accept the constraints of structure. No, it is a transformative identity which, when everyone accepts that trans women are women, changes society. Indeed, all society must align in affirmation to complete the transformation. Hence, one must silence all dissent. Nor does one need to bother with good research or proper clinical follow-up.
This vision of Trans as transformative is destructive nonsense. For most of those who suffer from it, alienation from their biological sex resolves over time. In the overwhelming majority of instances, that resolution comes through acceptance of their own homosexuality.
There is horrible irony in that so many well-meaning folk have embraced Trans rights because they do not wish to repeat the past oppression of homosexuals and thereby end up enabling the hormonal and surgical mutilation and sterilisation of (overwhelmingly gay) minors, so transing the gay away.
But we end up in this situation precisely because the will-to-change deforms and blocks understanding. For the will-to-change requires that one be committed to the Trans identity, not to careful enquiry about what the actual patterns of alienation from ones biological sex entails.
The will-to-change, which has to include the will-to-power-to-change, is Hermetic in its notion of there being transformational knowledge and Gnostic in its vision of existing society as an alienating prison that we must escape from by its utter transformation.
Claims that are not true, that deform our understand, and have never worked to promote human flourishing precisely because they deform our understanding.
James Lindsay presents the evolution of the gnostic disposition into the modern and postmodern eras very clearly (at 1:42):
What you ended up with in the transition to Gnosticism in the modern era is world-building: we’re going to build society the way it needs to be so we liberate man from himself. That becomes the post-Enlightenment, modern-era Gnostic project and Hegel becomes its first codifier. Marx becomes its first true splinter radical. … Gnosticism becomes the motivator to action. Hermeticism is the methodology of action. … [Hegel] codified this for the first time and then Marx made it really, truly actionable.
Marx created a template that has proved endlessly adaptable. He based his original version on class, but the template has been recast to operate on sex, race, sexuality, gender identity, disability, obesity … All of which invoke the Gnostic motivation of being trapped in an alienating society and the Hermetic methodology of transformational knowledge enabling the politics of transformational change so as to eliminate such alienation.
That they use the same template, and manifest the gnostic disposition, does not mean they are all forms of Marxism. Far from it, especially as Marxism is both an Enlightenment and a modernist project. Indeed, Marxists, from Hobsbawm to Eagleton and de Boer, have often been perceptive critics of Post-Enlightenment Progressivism (“wokery”). Those most similar can often have the most bitter disagreements (see Wars of Religion).
However much Marxism is a manifestation of Enlightenment modernism, it is a profound error to see Marx as either a social scientist in general or an economist in particular. Embracing the gnostic disposition, and the will-to-change, fatally degrades one’s understanding, however motivating and coordinating it has proved to be. Disastrously motivating and coordinating because it so degrades understanding.
Gnostic disposition as status strategy
A major reason why our universities have become increasingly overrun by mountains of bullshit built on molehills of truth is that mass universities are particularly prone to the gnostic disposition.
That universities select for capacity but not character**, while the reality tests within disciplines are often very weak (especially outside the STEM fields), generates problems in itself. What makes it worse is that, as universities have expanded, the opportunity to gain genuine intellectual prestige becomes more and more relatively scarce. A problem vastly greater in some disciplines (e.g. Education) than in others (e.g. Physics).
The alternative status-and-social-leverage strategy of weaponising propriety, of status-through-norm-conformance, suffers no such scarcity problem. On the contrary, it gets stronger by spreading. With its ease of spread increasing as universities become more and more feminised.
The shift from male-dominated prestige to female-dominated propriety that mass universities have been facilitating in the wider society was dramatically indicated in November 2014 by Shirtgate where a male scientist, who had supervised the very clever thing of landing a probe on a comet, was publicly humiliated over his choice of shirt.
Anti-Racism and Diversity-Inclusion-Equity (DIE) are manifestations of the gnostic disposition. All claims of merit, of differing cultural patterns having different results, are just the delusions of a white supremacist society that imprisons people of colour in their subordination, via endemic racism that many folk do not realise they manifest.
Only those with the nous, the knowledge, can see the “truth” of pervasive racism explaining differences in average outcomes and use their transformative knowledge to eliminate all differences between groups. This is Marx’s Hermetic and Gnostic template shifted from alienating private property imprisoning people in their class subordination, which those with the transformative knowledge can free them by abolishing private property (and, of course, the politics of consent along with it), to endemic racism imprisoning folk in their racial subordination, which those with the transformative knowledge can free them by controlling language and (re)allocation of places.
As always with such will-to-power-to-change politics, also subverting and frustrating the politics of consent. In contemporary societies, through the non-electoral politics of institutional capture.
For we Homo sapiens are very good at rationalising and moralising our self-interest, using whatever level of the self-deception enables us to do so. With the greater verbal facility and more educated you are, the better one tends to be at such rationalising and moralising self-deception. Moreover, where there are common incentives and experiences, there is very likely to be selection for mechanisms for precisely such rationalising and moralising, with cognitive conformity intensifying the effects.
For instance, the racism-explains-differences of Diversity-Inclusion-Equity Anti-Racism drives adherents to adopt standard racist (including anti-Semitic) tropes to explain away “wrong” racial patterns (i.e. when non-white groups have better average outcomes than do “whites”). If one highlights, and moralises, racial distinctions one will indeed show the patterns of moralised racial distinctions.
The most famous Hermetic text, the Corpus Hermeticum, is the archetype of obscurantist tosh generating a patina of profundity. A pattern that continues down to our time, all the way to Judith Butler and beyond. Any book of the Bible is a better read; even all the begats in Numbers, because at least that is going somewhere.
Nevertheless, a very clear idea in the Corpus Hermeticum is that having the proper knowledge makes one morally worthy. Add to that the Gnostic notion that humanity need to be freed from the (spiritual or social) prison we are all trapped in, and one ends up with having the proper knowledge justifies one’s dominion over others. This is Leninism (operationalised Marxism) in a nutshell. It is also absolutely pervasive through Post-Enlightenment Progressivism (“wokery”). The arrogance of the gnostic disposition, the will-to-power-to-change, holding that the uninitiated are human clay to be moulded by their moral and intellectual betters, has become increasingly pervasive in modern universities.
Marx completed Hegel’s project of pouring the spiritual into the social, creating the basic template of secular-materialist Hermetic Gnosticism, whose pathological arrogance has increasingly infected our public discourse, our institutions and our education systems. Operating, in typical gnostic disposition style, as an infectious parasite on economics, social sciences and any other stream of thought. Doing so via the claim of providing much deeper knowledge. Knowledge that completes what economics, social science, science, or whatever “really” are about while elevating its initiates above the common herd and justifying their dominion over the same.
Any attack on Enlightenment principles, and particularly on science as patriarchal/white supremacist/heteronormative/Jewish/bourgeois or whatever, is likely to manifest the gnostic disposition.
One can build flourishing societies on faith and reason. Faith that does not have to be Christian, or any form of monotheism.
The gnostic disposition is a destructive delusion, hostile to human flourishing. That so much of modern academe has fallen prey to it is a sign of the profound (and destructive) failure of the mass university model.
Marx and the gnostic disposition
As outlined in these two posts we can identify four key ideas in Marx:
His system of analysis unlocks the deeper truths that conventional political economy fails to grasp.
Workers are trapped, imprisoned, in a profoundly (indeed metaphysically) alienating social order that they have no control over.
Man occupies such a central role in nature that correct understanding, and the breaking of the imprisoning shackles of private property, enables a profound social transformation that will eliminate scarcity and alienation.
Embracing this knowing action, this praxis, is the path to, and manifestation of, trumping moral worthiness.
The first is the Hermetic notion of the perennial philosophy, once one has poured the spiritual into the social. The second is Gnosticism, following the same transmutation. The third and fourth are Hermeticism mixed in with Gnosticism, similarly transmuted. The last also leads directly to the moral and epistemic arrogance, and thus the totalitarian tendency, that the gnostic disposition is so prone to.
To see Marx as either a social scientist or an economist is to profoundly mischaracterise what he was and why he continues to have the influence he does. Marxism is, in standard gnostic disposition style, parasitic on economics and social science. Indeed, is a self-camouflaging parasite on both.
Marx is the modern era’s dominant secularising systemiser of the gnostic disposition. He is not a figure of empirical reasoning, so no sort of scientist, social or otherwise.
Nevertheless, the “woke” are not his disciples. Marx is an Enlightenment modernist, they are Post-Enlightenment and postmodern.
They are, however, his followers, whether they know it or not, reproducing his template. Like Marx and Marxism, they represent neither reason nor faith but the gnostic disposition, and all the destructive pathologies that flow from that.
* As esotericism and science are both forms of operationalised curiosity, they have a long history of overlap. Newton’s interest in alchemy is not the weird aberration it has often been treated as. The more unaware one is of the power and persistence of the gnostic disposition, the weirder such overlap appears.
** Not the subjective assessments of “character” used in the past to cap Jewish numbers in Ivy League universities, and are now used to cap Asian numbers, but genuine character tests such as duelling (pdf) or the way members of the ruling council of the Republic of Tlaxcala were selected.
Roelf van den Broeck and Wouter J. Hanegraff (eds), Gnosis and Hermeticism From Antiquity to Modern Times, State University of New York Press, 1998.
Steve Davies, The Street-wise Guide to The Devil and His Works, Edward Everett Root, 2021.
Trans. John Everard, Corpus Hermeticum: The Divine Pymander, Volume Edizioni, 2013.
Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, The Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan Cults and the Their Influence on Nazi Ideology, New York University Press,  1992.
Helen Joyce, Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality, OneWorld, 2021.
Thomas McEvilley, The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies, Allworth Press, 2002.
Lucio Russo, The Forgotten Revolution: How Science Was Born in 300 BC and Why It Had to Be Reborn, (trans. Silvio Levy), Springer,  2004.
Cass R. Sunstein, Why Societies Need Dissent, Harvard University Press, 2003.
Robert Trivers, The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life, Basic Books, , 2013.
Eric Voegelin, Science, Politics, and Gnosticism: two essays (Wissenschaft, Politik, und Gnosis), (trans. William J. Fitzpatrick), Regnery,  1997.
Frances A. Yates, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, Ark Paperpacks,  1986.
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