Immanentize the eschaton
In political theory and theology, to immanentize the eschaton means trying to bring about the eschaton (the final, heaven-like stage of history) in the immanent world. It has been used by conservative critics as a pejorative reference to certain utopian projects, such as socialism, communism, and transhumanism. In all these contexts it means "trying to make that which belongs to the afterlife happen here and now (on Earth)" or "trying to create heaven here on Earth." Theologically the belief is akin to Postmillennialism as reflected in the Social Gospel of the 1880-1930 era, as well as Protestant reform movements during the Second Great Awakening in the 1830s and 1840s such as abolitionism.
Modern usage of the phrase started with Eric Voegelin in The New Science of Politics in 1952. Conservative spokesman William F. Buckley popularized Voegelin's phrase as "Don't immanentize the eschaton!" Buckley's version became a political slogan of Young Americans for Freedom during the 1950s and 1960s.
Voegelin identified a number of similarities between ancient Gnosticism and the beliefs held by a number of modernist political theories, particularly Communism and Nazism. He identified the root of the Gnostic impulse as social alienation, that is, a sense of disconnection from society and a belief that this lack of concord with society is the result of the inherent disorder, or even evil, of the world. He described this alienation as having two effects:
- The belief that the disorder of the world can be transcended by extraordinary insight, learning, or knowledge, called a Gnostic Speculation by Voegelin (the Gnostics themselves referred to this as gnosis).
- The desire to implement a policy to actualize the speculation, or as Voegelin said, to Immanentize the Eschaton, to create a sort of heaven on earth within history.
One of the more oft-quoted passages from Voegelin's work on Gnosticism is that "The problem of an eidos in history, hence, arises only when a Christian transcendental fulfillment becomes immanentized. Such an immanentist hypostasis of the eschaton, however, is a theoretical fallacy."
The Lutheran Confessions directly reject the idea of an immanentized eschaton, condemning the belief "that before the resurrection of the dead the godly shall take possession of the kingdom of the world, the ungodly being everywhere suppressed."
The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes an oblique reference to the desire to "Immanentize the Eschaton" in article 676:
The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the "intrinsically perverse" political form of a secular messianism.
The phrase is cited in the Discordian text Principia Discordia, first published in 1965, and appears fifteen times in Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's 1975 The Illuminatus! Trilogy, the first of which is the first line of the novel, "It was the year when they finally immanentized the Eschaton."
In Ken Macleod's 1997 science fiction novel The Stone Canal, one of the chapters is called, "Another crack at Immanentising the Eschaton." The phrase is also used in issue four of Warren Ellis' 2007 comic, Doktor Sleepless. It appears to be the goal of the title character to bring about the end of the world, driven by disappointment over how the future of the past has transpired. Sleepless wants to end the world to keep it from getting worse. The phrase is quoted several times, and can be regarded as the driving force behind the comic.
In 1987, "All You Need Is Love," a song by The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, included Bill Drummond rapping "With this killer virus who needs war? Immanentize the eschaton, I said shag shag shag some more!" The 1992 Shamen single Destination Eschaton also features the phrase in a rap by Mr. C.
- Jonah Goldberg (2002-01-16). "Immanent Corrections". National Review. Retrieved 2008-11-06.
- David W. Miller (2006). God at Work : The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement. Oxford University Press. p. 28.
- Douglas M. Strong (2002). Perfectionist Politics: Abolitionism and the Religious Tensions of American Democracy. Syracuse U.P. p. 30.
- "Paperbacks: New and Noteworthy". The New York Times. 1983-03-20. Retrieved 2008-11-06.
At once erudite and dramatic, the book explores the roots of the modern belief that a just and beautiful new world will spring into being if only we can overthrow evil powers and institutions.
- Fire in the Mind's of Men Book, introduction
- "Augsburg Confession ACXVII". Retrieved 2012-01-09.
- "Diversity, Diversity" in The Religion & Society Report (Volume 17 Number 9 September 2000) from The Howard Center.
- "The Once and Future Heresy": The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount by Gershom Gorenberg, Reviewed by Thomas J. Herron.
- Why Ecocide Is 'Good News' for the GOP—Alternet (May 4, 2003)