What Would a Gnostic Government Look Like?
We seem to live in a time when everything is politicized and politics is sensationalized. Politics is everywhere in western culture except in those places where peace dwells. Citizens want solutions, maybe relief, in the strangest of places that include the past and its Mandela Effect variations.
So why not speculate on what a Gnostic body politic would look like? We might not find exact solutions like the talking-Archons of the news, but the Gnostic way has always been to provide possibilities and let the logos take the keys.
It should be noted that throughout history Gnostics have either been apolitical or on the wrong side of politics. There are two brief exceptions. In the second century, the Syriac and Valentinian Bardaisan became chief advisor to the King of Edessa; while the Prophet Mani in the third century was close to the King of Persia (until the ruler’s death, and then Mani met a gruesome end at the hands of envious Zoroastrian priests). On neither occasion did a church of Sophia or plans for a future CG Jung ashram materialize.
How, then, can we even speculate on a Gnostic government or even political movement? Well, all we have to do is mine their texts and see how Gnostic cosmology would translate into Gnostic civic duty. As above, so below, said Hermes speaking through Apollonius of Tyana (at least according to Philip K. Dick in Valis).
Thus, here are the elements of a Gnostic government or political party:
It would be decentralized
Tyrants love centralized governments for control and surveillance purposes. In Gnostic writings like the Secret Book of John or the Reality of the Archons, Yaldabaoth creates a legion of Archons to rule over his new but patchwork universe, but he’s in complete control. There’s no question about that. Every move humanity makes lands on his radar and every Archon shares in his essence. As the Nag Hammadi library’s On the Origins of the World states on the Demiurge:
Now when the heavens had consolidated themselves along with their forces and all their administration, the prime parent became insolent. And he was honored by all the army of angels. And all the gods and their angels gave blessing and honor to him. And for his part, he was delighted and continually boasted, saying to them, “I have no need of anyone.” He said, “It is I who am God, and there is no other one that exists apart from me.” And when he said this, he sinned against all the immortal beings who give answer. And they laid it to his charge.
On the other hand, the upper realm of the Aeons is about syzygies and angels working in loose teams like some progressive tech company — with the One trusting that his emanations take care of cosmic business. It’s a good system until a young but ambitious executive named Pistis Sophia decides to move up the ladder…
It would be against bureaucracy
As mentioned, in Gnostic accounts the Demiurge creates a spanning celestial government. He even puts in charge an Archon for every human body part (the Secret Book of John). The result is an inefficient, wasteful cosmos where men have nipples and the platypus wonders what the hell happened to it. In fact, in my article How the Archons Destroy Your Life, I argue that a chief way the Archons rule is by drowning us in seas of psychic, spiritual, and physical bureaucracies…until they drive us deep into the ocean floors of madness and ignorance. Again, as above, so below.
It would be merit-based yet where everyone gets a shot
It’s no secret that Gnostic groups were inclusive in their makeup, even portraying Mary Magdalene as a community leader. This vibe is apparent than when the church father Tertullian complains about Gnostics allowing women in leadership positions (Prescription Against Heretics, 41):
The very women of these heretics, how wanton they are! For they are bold enough to teach, to dispute, to enact exorcisms, to undertake cures— it may be even to baptize!
As for a revolving door government, Elaine Pagels writes in The Gnostic Gospels concerning one Gnostic sect:
Irenaeus tells us that when they met, all members first participated in drawing lots. Whoever received a certain lot apparently was designated to take the role of priest; another was to offer the sacrament, as bishop; another would read the Scriptures for worship; and others would address the group, as prophet, offering extemporaneous spiritual instruction. The next time the group met, they would throw lots again so that the persons taking each role changed continually.
As Pagels explains, the Gnostics democratized and brought equality to spirituality, something never seen and rarely seen today…certainly not in the context of governments.
It would be about free speech, knowledge, and education for all
That’s no surprise, considering the whole Gnosis thingy they sorta pioneered. Beyond this, the Gnostics throughout history were always regarded as individuals of reason, art and virtue, regardless of their cultural surroundings. From the Manichaeans to the Cathars, they were beloved by their communities even as they were hated by the ruling religious and/or secular powers.
As the Valentinian Theodotus wrote:
Scientific knowledge is necessary both for the training of the soul and for gravity of conduct; making the faithful more active and keen observers of things. For as there is no believing without elementary instruction, so neither is there comprehension without science.
It would care for the poor and powerless
A nation is only as strong as its weakest element. Darwinism is hell. The Gnostics came from the charitable Judeo-Christian matrix, annoying philosophers like Plotinus for insisting that the downtrodden be more cared for (Ennead 2.9.9). You can find out more on this sensibility in my article, Do Gnostics Believe in Charity and Good Works?
To highlight this aspect of a Gnostic government, here is a quote from the Gospel of Truth, possibly written by Valentinus himself:
God came and destroyed the division and he brought the hot Fullness of love, so that the cold may not return, but the unity of the Perfect Thought prevail…Speak concerning the truth to those who seek it and of knowledge to those who, in their error, have committed sin. Make sure-footed those who stumble and stretch forth your hands to the sick. Nourish the hungry and set at ease those who are troubled.
But would this sh*t work?
The closest we have to a Gnostic government would either be an anarcho-syndicalist commune (popularized by Monty Python’s The Holy Grail) or the very decentralized, revolving door-esque, direct democratic government of Switzerland.
In the end, a Gnostic government would be as anarchist as possible. In V for Vendetta, Alan Moore’s exploration of anarchism, the haunted protagonist V says, “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” 2000 years before, the Gnostics contended people should not be afraid of their gods, the gods should be afraid of their people. And in those days, the government was a direct extension of the gods, that great change of being of those sell-out Neoplatonists.
But who knows if there could ever be a Gnostic government? Politics is a messy business with a lot of collateral damage. As mentioned, Gnostics in history were apolitical for the most part. I’ll let you speculate on my speculation, and please let me know your thoughts in the comment section or other channels. I have posted my interview with Arthur Versluis, who also posits a Gnostic government, as well as the scene from The Holy Grail at the bottom. First, though, here are some Gnostic quotes for context that present their view on the political process:
The Lord said, “The governors and the administrators possess garments granted only for a time, which do not last. But you, as children of truth, not with these transitory garments are you to clothe ourselves. Rather, I say to you that you will become blessed when you strip yourselves!”
Dialogue with the Savior
Jesus said, “Give the emperor what belongs to the emperor, give God what belongs to God, and give me what is mine.”
The Gospel of Thomas
Your hope is set upon the world, and your god is this life! You are corrupting your souls!
The Book of Thomas the Contender
Those, however, who are proud because of the desire of ambition, and who love temporary glory, and who forget that it was only for certain periods and times which they have that they were entrusted with power, and for this reason did not acknowledge the Son of God. They will receive judgment for their ignorance and their senselessness, which is suffering.
The Tripartite Tractate
The rich have become poor, and the kings have been overthrown. Everything is prone to change. The world is an illusion!
The Treatise of Resurrection
To fight the Empire is to be infected by its derangement. This is a paradox: whoever defeats a segment of the Empire becomes the Empire; it proliferates like a virus, imposing its form on its enemies. Thereby it becomes its enemies.
Philip K. Dick, Valis
Download/Listen to Arthur Versluis, based on his book, The Mystical State (buy the book, it’s good!)
Aeon Byte #199 Gnosticism as a Viable Political Movement with Arthur Versluis, author of The Mystical State: Politics, Gnosis, and Emergent Cultures