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Palingenesis is a concept of rebirth or re-creation, used in various contexts in philosophy, theology, politics, and biology. Its meaning stems from Greek palin, meaning again, and genesis, meaning birth.
In biology, it is another word for recapitulation – the phase in the development of an organism in which its form and structure pass through the changes undergone in the evolution of the species. In theology, the word can be used to refer to reincarnation and Christian spiritual rebirth symbolized by baptism.
Philosophy and theology
The word palingenesis or rather palingenesia may be traced back to the Stoics, who used the term for the continual re-creation of the universe by the Demiurgus (Creator) after its absorption into himself. Similarly Philo spoke of Noah and his sons as leaders of a renovation or rebirth of the earth, Plutarch of the transmigration of souls, and Cicero of his own return from exile.
In philosophy it denotes in its broadest sense the theory (e.g. of the Pythagoreans) that the human soul does not die with the body but is born again in new incarnations. It is thus the equivalent of metempsychosis. The term has a narrower and more specific use in the system of Schopenhauer, who applied it to his doctrine that the will does not die but manifests itself afresh in new individuals. He thus repudiates the primitive metempsychosis doctrine which maintains the reincarnation of the particular soul.
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is quoted in Greek (although his historical utterance would most likely have been in Aramaic) using the word "παλιγγενεσια" ("palingenesia") to describe the Last Judgment foreshadowing the event of the regeneration of a new world. Palingenesia is thus as much the result of, or reason for, the Last Judgement as it is directly the Judgement itself.
Politics and history
In Antiquities of the Jews (11.3.9) Josephus used the term for the national restoration of the Jews in their homeland after the Babylonian exile; the term is commonly used in Modern Greek to refer to the rebirth of the Greek nation after the Greek Revolution. British political theorist Roger Griffin has coined the term "palingenetic ultranationalism" as a core tenet of fascism, stressing the notion of fascism as an ideology of rebirth of a state and/or empire in the image of that which came before it - its ancestral political underpinnings. The best examples of this can be found with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Under Benito Mussolini, Italy purported to establish an empire as the second incarnation of the Roman Empire, while Adolf Hitler's regime was seen as being the third palingenetic incarnation of the German "Reich" - beginning first with the Holy Roman Empire ("First Reich"), followed by Bismarck's German Empire ("Second Reich") and then Nazi Germany ("Third Reich").
The 17th century English polymath Thomas Browne used the term describing experiments in which the ashes of incinerated plants allegedly took forms that recalled the organism they had come from. In modern biology (e.g. Haeckel and Fritz Müller), palingenesis has been used for the exact reproduction of ancestral features by inheritance, as opposed to kenogenesis, in which the inherited characteristics are modified by environment.