I have not, perhaps, earned the label of 'oppressive' for the romantic ideological orientation. I would like to revisit the evolution of a species, and such a species as never before dreamed or imagined in the entire natural world. The history of this evolution is a story of triumph, perpetually, but in the natural antagonism of such, it is also to history of oppression, and suppression. Together we will journey through the annals of our becoming with the bent nostalgia of perusing family photograph albums after the revelation of a father's infidelity and a mother's chronic depression, at once familiar and foreign, and sad both for that foreignness and for reasons all its own.
On the surface, biological, level, this examination of speçial evolution has already been accomplished. First, Darwin defined the nature of the process (1975), subsequent naturalists documented the reality of that process, and then Diamond concretized the actuality of the process (1998). On the internal level, applying the architectural distinction between the exterior, interior, and the envelope encompassing the relationship between one and the other, this evolution has been mapped at the individual level, by a number of theorists painting broad and bold the disparate parts of the psychological elephant, given more extensive treatment in the model to follow.
On a larger societal level, a conglomeration of descriptions has been accumulating in the similarly disparate sociological and philosophical theorizing of the same academe which studied the biological and psychological development, with diverse and curious associations being drawn between the two. These large ideological theories trickle down to the theories on individual development by their adaption into the internalized paradigms of the relative theorists, and then into the general contemporary societal consciousness through the distribution and popular representations of these ideologies in the contemporary art of the given period. In such a manner did the social center of gravity evolve across time to support more complicated and refined ideological frameworks.
There is one particular ideological facet, not a full paradigm in and of itself, which I would like to trace through this historical process. To be more precise, I would like to consider a particular orientation, and the associated implications, which is available within any given ideology, and has been suppressed with prejudice, passion, and even violence across the broad scope of the human story.
As this is a human story, it cannot but be a story of conflict, ignorance, power, and control. This is the story of gnosticism, the little understood ideological orientation oft spoke of in hushed tones behind cupped hands in the same series of breath as associated conspiracies of illuminati. Ellwood outlined well the basic principles of the ideology in his The Politics of Myth (1999, pp.13):
Modern persons who hold to "the Gnostic attitude" share six characteristics: dissatisfaction with the world, belief that the ills of the world stem from the way it is organized, surety that amelioration is possible, belief that improvement must evolve historically, belief that human beings can change the world, and conviction that knowledge- gnosis- is the key to change.
In this sense, the distinction between romanticism and gnosticism is simply the orientation toward their ideological standard. Gnosticism has been oppressed by romantics, throughout history, usually immediately after leveraging the technological advances of the gnostics to military expansion, upon the ascension of the inheritor of the new social power. Alexander rides the wave of gnosticism to conquer the world, establishing libraries in his wake. When he died, his generals scrambled to identify as independent romantic nationalist entities, creating the model of romantic imperialism that rode right over the Gnostic insurgence around the rise of Christianity, put down in a classic display of oppressive authoritarianism by Constantine, who during the interminable Council of Nicea governing the codification of Christianity, very much an ideological negotiation between two monolithic hegemonies trying to share profit from the collaborative concretization of the status quo, after a lengthy debate between the Gnostic and Romantic camps within the burgeoning Christian culture.
It might be useful to consider this ideological struggle in terms of the control over fifth tenant listed above: who is capable of changing the world. Carried further, it is the institutional battle for control over who is allowed to know the world can change, what means are available to do so, and then to what degree those individuals are allowed to exercise that right. Gnosticism asserts the fact of this ability as a fundamental premise of any human being by virtue of their being human. The flares of gnosticism embodied in the various medieval renaissances illustrate brief relaxation of that institutional control, and a glorious exploration of the means by which we can affect change, from technological and financial to artistic and stylistic, all conceivable means of expressing one's libido, or inherent procreative/creative impulse.
Johan Guttenberg stands rightfully tall in this historical context, laying the foundation for the Enlightenment by spreading the inference of this empowered change agency in the distribution of knowledge born in towers of occasional literal ivory to a broader public, a process violently opposed by the oppressive romantic powers that were, the collaborative tyranny of the religious and dictatorial socio-political powers, until the powers of both were irrevocably curtailed by the advent of the Enlightenment, heralded by the Protestant Reformation, the Magna Carta, and the French Revolution. This monumental turn in the western narrative culminated in the American Revolution and the heavily both gnostic and humanist articles of her confederation, if you will, and helped broadly establish the hope of the kind of harmonious social equity enjoyed by the two of us, connected and protected by the distance afforded by the written word.
To decipher where the paradigmatic shoe pinches, as Wittgenstein would put it, consider what ideologies we find dominant on either side of this flicker of gnostic resurgence: Colonial Imperialism, the romantic descendent of that tyrannical system empowered by the literal breath of life from the renaissance: and Nationalism, the romantic popularization of the same oppression to a whole people group empowered by the efficiency of the industrial revolution.
This is where it seems we are again falling victim to the tendency to ascribe the totality of one's character to a singular trait, our inherited ideological totalitarianism. When we exercise our ideological plasticity, we can construct a similarly complex web of societal influences through which gnostic Jefferson might be able to collaboratively construct a societal system based on the universal conceptual level of humanism while also having inherited romantic imperialist blinders restricting his understanding of the inclusive range of the concept 'humanity'. Jefferson and associates wrote into the very fabric of this society a protection of the freedom of expression, not that by mandating they might create such freedom, but rather that the actuality of that freedom, the ability to express one's self as a fundamental reality about the unique creature called human, from the artistic, or abstract, to the most precise expression of the deepest emotional experience, across any conceivable medium, qualified as a precious treasure to be protected at all cost. While this legal protection did not extend in full measure to every person within the country, it was by exercising their ingenuity in the very regard that the oppressed managed to scream into the societal consciousness that they did in fact exist on the same human level as their oppressor, demanding their full status as humans on artistic, personal, painful, and at last legal levels.
This fact of free expression pushed the societal center of gravity toward this multicultural relativism as a means of validating the many oppressed cultures, and then buried in the romantic seizure of humanist momentum. I would like to again reiterate that this is a criticism of romanticism as the foundation for a societal paradigm, not as an individual perspective. It is absolutely the autonomous right of every human being to orient their personal sense of identity where ever they choose. If someone wishes to define their high school experience as the best time of their life, that is completely their prerogative, and by virtue of the 2nd Law of Human Dynamics, a likely self-fulfilling prophecy. Neither do I advocate the societal adoption of humanism as a matter of course. What I am defending is the right to choose freely between the many different ideological orientations, and of the complexity of navigating between them, an ideology of ideological neutrality, as it were.