Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Gnosticism originated as a collection of concepts and systems around the 1st century C.E. in the ancient Mediterranean world. These groups emphasized spiritual knowledge, or gnosis, over the teachings, traditions, and authority of religious institutions. According to Gnostic cosmogony, a supreme, hidden God exists, and a malevolent lesser divinity created the material universe. Thus, Gnostics viewed material life as flawed or evil, with direct knowledge of the hidden divine being the crucial element of salvation, which is attained through esoteric or mystical insight. Instead of focusing on notions of sin and repentance, many Gnostic texts deal with enlightenment and illusion.

In many ways, Gnostic beliefs foreshadowed later anarchist ideas, and particularly the philosophy of Agorism, which is a social philosophy that espouses the creation of a society where all interactions between people are based on voluntary exchange through counter-economics, a more peaceful approach to revolution. Agorism shares overlapping ideas with Anarcho-capitalism, as both aim for individual liberty and non-intervention by the state in economic and personal affairs. However, anarcho-capitalism advocates for a completely free market economy with limited government, while agorism seeks to achieve a libertarian society through counter-economics and the creation of a parallel economy that operates outside the state’s legal framework. Agorists believe this will gradually erode the state’s power and lead to its dismantling. According to Agorism, a free society is one in which each person can satisfy their subjective values without resorting to violence and coercion against others.

Anarcho-Capitalism versus Agorism

Anarcho-capitalism advocates for a completely free market economy, where all economic transactions are voluntary and not subject to government regulation or intervention. In this system, private property rights are highly valued, and government is limited to the protection of individual rights and property. Advocates of anarcho-capitalism believe that the market will naturally regulate itself and that individuals should be free to engage in any economic transaction they choose, without interference from the state. Agorism, on the other hand, is a strategy for achieving a libertarian society through counter-economics or underground market activity. Agorists reject political action and believe that change can be achieved by individuals engaging in voluntary economic exchanges, outside the legal framework of the state. In this way, agorism seeks to create a parallel economy that operates independently of the state, gradually eroding its power and legitimacy. Agorists believe that by removing support for and participating in the state’s economy, individuals can ultimately weaken and eventually dismantle the state itself.

Free Will and Rejection of Orthodoxy and Institutionalism

One of the primary similarities between Gnosticism and anarchist philosophy, including Agorism, is the emphasis on trusting in one’s own insights over institutions and tradition. Gnostics believed that truth and salvation were achieved through mystical or esoteric insight, rather than through external rules or institutions. In modern times, many spiritualists and secularists alike interpret mystical or esoteric insights as simply self-knowledge, or self-realiziation, and free will. In a similar vein, anarchist movements focus on individual freedom and autonomy, rejecting the authority of hierarchical structures such as governments, corporations, and organized religion.

Both Gnostics and Agorists reject the idea that external institutions and authority figures have a monopoly on knowledge or learning, and both prioritize individual insight and experiential knowledge over institutionalized dogma. In both cases, this emphasis on individual empowerment is understood as a means of liberation from oppressive structures such as the state and organized religion. Another possible parallel between Gnosticism and contemporary sociopolitical movements is the emphasis on asceticism, or the rejection of certain material and worldly pleasures, in pursuit of a higher spiritual goal. Gnostics viewed material existence as flawed or evil, and believed that salvation could be attained only through direct knowledge of the hidden divinity. While such ascetic views may be somewhat extreme in the eyes of an Agorist, subscribers to the philosophy do also criticize materialism and consumerism and advocates for a simpler and more sustainable way of life that is more in harmony with nature and the community at large.

Counter-Economics in the Ancient World

The focus on non-violent and non-aggressive means of resistance and change is another connection between Gnostic and Agorist philosophy. Agorist philosophy advocates for counter-economics, which refers to all non-aggressive human action that the state has banned. There are examples of ancient oppressed peoples in the Mediterranean world engaging in what we call now call counter-economics for survival. For instance, throughout the Graeco-Roman world, slavery was a widely accepted practice. Slaves, who had no control over their labor or personal finances, often found creative ways to participate in subsistence economies, exchanging goods and services among themselves in the absence of monetary compensation. This form of counter-economics allowed slaves to create a parallel economy to that of their slave-owners and gain some degree of autonomy.

“While the act of stepping out of an owner’s house or workshop into a street could have been the first steps toward flight, slaves did not have to undertake such risks. For temporary relief, enslaved men and women could negotiate to their own advantage what was given to them – a city, its streets, and its regulations – without getting caught and being mistaken for fugitives.”

Joshel, S. R., & Petersen, L. H. (2015). The Material Life of Roman Slaves (Reprint). Cambridge University Press. ISBN-10: 0521139570 ISBN-13: 978-0521139571

Other oppressed peoples in the Mediterranean world, such as those living in areas occupied by foreign conquerors, also engaged in counter-economics for survival. In these circumstances, the conquering power imposed taxes and restrictions on trade, making it difficult for the local population to engage in the mainstream economy. In response, people would often turn to informal economies, bartering and exchanging goods with their neighbors to meet their basic needs. Examples of counter-economics are also found in the history of Jewish communities under Roman occupation. The Romans imposed taxes and other economic restrictions on Jews, which led some Jewish communities to develop parallel economic systems that allowed them to survive while maintaining their religious and cultural traditions. These counter-economic practices were often crucial for people living in oppressive and difficult circumstances, allowing them to meet their basic needs and maintain a degree of autonomy and control over their lives.

Coercion, Marketing, and Disillisionment

Gnostic texts also address other social and political concerns, advocating non-violent resistance to injustice and oppression. Additionally, the idea of overcoming illusion and attaining enlightenment may also parallel modern sociopolitical movements as Gnostics believed that the material world was an illusion, and that the true reality was hidden behind it. They saw direct knowledge of the divine as the key to seeing through this illusion. Similarly, Agorists emphasize a fundamental shift in the collective consciousness as the necessary precursor to social and political change, seeing the current world order as an artificial construct imposed upon humanity through coercive means, whether directly, such as through violence or imprisonment; or indirectly by, for example, encouraging people to constantly consume and buy, often equating their worth and social status with the material possessions they own. This culture is reinforced by advertising, media, and social norms, which promote the idea that having more wealth and possessions is desirable and leads to success and happiness. In this way, the common people are coerced by the power of suggestion, not realizing that they are being manipulated into believing in the illusion of the military-industrial complex.

Over all, both Gnostic and Agorist movements emphasize individual empowerment, non-violent resistance to oppressive systems, and a recognition of individual, experiential knowledge as a means of enlightenment and liberation. Understanding how these ancient provocateurs interpreted and survived the oppressive societies of their own times may offer insights into the ways in which these philosophies can inform contemporary politics and social change.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *