If you accept that it is possible to alter consciousness through various forms of gnosis—often poetry or philosophy—then the history of the 20th century becomes the history of various ways in which consciousness was manipulated. Hegel’s texts—his wordplay—seem have been influenced by Hermetic ideas, so that the USSR and National Socialist Germany could be seen as two Hegelian puppets. The National Socialists were influenced by straight Hegel, straight state worship, and the Soviets were influenced by Marx; and Marx himself was an alchemist, who merely adapted Hegel’s gnosis to fit his own purposes. Alter consciousness, alter history. Other influences can be found; for example, the National Socialists—even to this day—seem to have a weakness for Swedenborg, a man who was an inventor and who made personal visits to Heaven and Hell; and who, for those Nazi-UFO fans out there, sketched a flying machine that rather resembled a UFO.
However, what about the third player in 20th century politics—the player that won—the liberal democracies? Were they against gnosis? Were they the anti-totalitarian anti-Gnostics? Well, Hegel had his influence in the liberal democracies—did not Fukuyama cap off the Cold War with the End of History? And did not Kojève the Hegelian work in the EU bureaucracy? Perhaps so, yet there is another figure whose gnosis has an obvious influence on us today: William Blake.
Obscure in his lifetime, Blake’s poetic ideas are very current today; for example, it is commonly held that we should not be repressed—people should express themselves, particularly sexually. Freud? Perhaps, but Freud wanted your repression worked out in private—not the public displays so beloved by today’s progressives. Who wanted you to “let it all hang out”? Blake, Blake who sat in his garden with his wife naked—“innocently”. And who “innocently” told his wife he would like to sleep with the maid, since the act would be done with a childlike naiveté and so could not be “wrong”—shades of contemporary polyamory here. For Blake, it was a crime to nurse an unacted desire—better to “just do it”, lest it poison you.
Blake supported both the French and American revolutions, even being arrested for sedition at one point. Blake celebrated the idea that it is pious to live in poverty, to be “oppressed”—and, at the same time, unlike a traditional hermit, not to restrict desire. Blake imagined, sentimentally, a little black boy and little white boy in holy communion—the sentimentalised wise-yet-childlike negro was Blake’s creation; eventually, Blake conjured Barack Obama into reality. “When I from black and he from white cloud free, And round the tent of God like lambs we joy”.
Blesséd poverty, spontaneity, childlike innocence in sex, sentimentalised blacks, celebration of the Enlightenment revolutions, and the idea that you just have to “let it all hang out”—more than Freud, more than Marx, more than Adorno we live in Blake’s world. Promiscuous sex supposedly takes place in total innocence (consensually), and little black boys and little white boys dance around “their father’s knee” in ecstatic unity—in official propaganda, anyway.
Further, Blake emphasised that Jesus had to break the commandments in order to keep them—again, the idea, common in “civil disobedience” rhetoric, that those who break the laws really keep them. Not long before Blake, George Fox, who founded Quakerism, had a similar “unauthorised gnosis”; and his religion has commonalities with Blakeianism—essentially utopianism, we should govern ourselves as if the Golden Age is now. I am not against gnosis as such, it is not, contra Voegelin, our fundamental problem. However, unauthorised gnosis definitely contributes, and I am pretty sure that what we call “progressivism” or “ wokeness” owes a great debt to Blake’s gnosis and the way his art changed, in particular, Anglo-American moral notions. The influence is apparent as late as the 1960s with the hippies, whose outlook often explicitly invoked Blakeian ideas. It is all good fun, except the Golden Age is not now.