Immanentize the Eschaton

In political theory and theology, to immanentize [im-uh-nuhnt-izethe eschaton [ess-cah-ton] 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.’

According to conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg, writing in ‘National Review Online’: ‘In modern parlance, the phrase was coined by Eric Voegelin in The New Science of Politics in 1952. In the 1950s and 1960s, thanks largely to William F. Buckley’s popularization of the phrase, Young Americans for Freedom turned it into a political slogan.’ Buckley was the most notable of many US conservative readers of Voegelin’s work. Voegelin, a German-born American political philosopher, 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. This alienation has two effects: The first is 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 second, is 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. According to Voegelin: ‘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 term has been used in reference to Christian sects, such as Christian Zionists, that subscribe to dispensationalism and work to hasten the Second Coming of Jesus and consequently the end of the world. 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’: ‘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.’

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