Palingenesis (//; or palingenesia) 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. It is a central component of Roger Griffin's analysis of Fascism as a fundamentally modernist ideology.
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 (Ancient Greek: παλιγγενεσία) 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 the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is quoted in Greek (although his historical utterance would most likely have been in Aramaic) using the word "παλιγγενεσία" (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.
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.
A plant or vegetable consumed to ashes, to a contemplative and school Philosopher seems utterly destroyed, and the form to have taken his leave for ever: But to a sensible Artist the forms are not perished, but withdrawn into their incombustible part, where they lie secure from the action of that devouring element. This is made good by experience, which can from the ashes of a plant revive the plant, and from its cinders recall it into its stalk and leaves again.
Palingenesis is the subject of the Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges's last ever short story, The Rose of Paracelsus (1983)
Politics and history
In Antiquities of the Jews (11.3.9) Josephus used the term palingenesis 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 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").
Moreover, Griffin's work on palingenisis in fascism analysed the pre-war Fin De Siecle Western society. In doing so he built on Frank Kermode's work The Sense of an Ending which sought to understand the belief in the death of society at the end of the century. As part of this death and rebirth Fascism sought to target what it perceived as degenerative elements of society, notably decadence, materialism, rationalism and enlightenment ideology. Out of this death society would regenerate by returning to a more spiritual and emotional state, with the role of the individual core. This built on the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, Gustave Le Bon and Henri Bergson's work on the relationship between the mass and the individual with the individual's actions necessary to achieving a state of regeneration.
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.
- R. Griffin, Modernism and Fascism (Basingstoke, 2007).
- Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta, 2.627
- The concept is attributed to Chrysippus by Lactantius — see Harry Austryn Wolfson (1961), "Immortality and Resurrection in the Philosophy of the Church Fathers", in: Everett Ferguson (ed.), Doctrines of Human Nature, Sin, and Salvation in the Early Church, Taylor & Francis, 1993, p. 329.
- Michael Lapidge, 'Stoic Cosmology,' in: John M. Rist, The Stoics, Cambridge University Press, 1978, pp. 182–183.
- J. Albert Harrill, "Stoic Physics, the Universal Conflagration, and the Eschatological Destruction of the “Ignorant and Unstable” in 2 Peter", in: Tuomas Rasimus, Troels Engberg-Pedersen, Ismo Dunderberg (eds.), Stoicism in Early Christianity, Baker Academic, 2010, p. 121.
- Matthew 19:28
- Sir Thomas Browne, The Major Works, ed. C. A. Patrides, Penguin, 1977, R.M.1:48.
- F. Kermode, The Sense of an Ending: Studies in Theory and Fiction (Oxford, 2000).
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Palingenesis". Encyclopædia Britannica. 20 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.