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The Challenge ofEric Voegelin
The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, edited by Ellis Sandoz,Jurgen Gebhardt, Thomas A. Hollweck, and Paul Caringella.Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990. (Vols. 12,28) and 1991 (Vol. 27).
Volume 12, Published Essays, 1966-1985, edited by Ellis Sandoz.Volume 27, The Nature of the Law, and Related Legal Writings,
edited by Robert Anthony Pascal, James Lee Babin, and JohnWilliam Corrington.
Volume 28, What Is History? And Other Late Unpublished Writ-ings, edited by Thomas A. Hollweck and Paul Caringella.
Fnc Voegelin was a prolific writer. He needed to be, given hisambitions, which in the end amounted to a critical analysis of
the entire religious, philosophical and political heritage of the Westwith regard to essential discoveries and decisive transformations.Though usually identified as a political scientist or political philoso -
pher, that label does not well prepare us for what we find inVoegelin's writings. Especially in his later work, the examination ofwhat we would normally consider political matter is subordinate toVoegelin's vaster project of working out a full-scale philosophy ofhistory and a detailed philosophical anthropology upon which tofound it. Still, to consider his work as political science in a broad
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sense is hardly off the mark, since its focus never strays far from thefundamental political question, On what basis should we order ourlives in society? In time Voegelin came to hold that, in order toapproach a satisfactory contemporary answer to that question,nothing less was required than an analysis and appraisal ofall of themost influential images and ideas-or, as he would put it, "sym-bols"-with which Western cultures have understood, and tried toshape, personal and political order. Consequently we find theenormous scope of material addressed in the fourteen books andmore than one hundred articles published during his liftetime.
One of the frustrations for readers of Voegelin has been the stateof publication of much of his writing. Though major works-including his magnum opus, the five-volume Order and History-have remained available, much of his important later work neverappeared in book form. Thus for the reader unwilling or unable totrack down far-flung journal articles, there have been frustratingdevelopmental gaps between milestone books, especially betweenOrder and History III: Plato and Aristotle (1957), the original(German) edition ofAnamnesis (1966), and Order and History IV:The Ecumenic Age (1974). For Voegelin enthusiasts, the publica-tion by Louisiana State University Press of the Collected Worksholds as not the least of its attractions the gathering into book form,at last, of dozens of articles that must be read alongside his books ifVoegelin's work is to be properly evaluated. And it is especiallyfelicitous that the editors have chosen first to publish two volumesof essays written during the last decades of Voegelin's life. Writtenat the height of his powers, they include some of his finest work.Published Essays, 1966-1985 (Volume 12 of the projected thirty-four volume series) contains fourteen es- ays, most of them ofsubstantial length and containing the cry allization of Voegelin'sthought on topics that he had long addr ssed, such as the Greekdiscovery and interpretation of reason (' ous), Hegel's philosophy,the teachings of the Gospel, and th notion of immortality. Acompanion collection, What Is Histo ? And Other Late Unpub-lished Writings (Volume 28), contai 1~ ,what its editors describe asthe most significant pieces of Voegg 1tn s unpublished writing from
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the early 1960s to the later 1970s. These include studies closelyassociated with the essays of Anamnesis and most especially withthe working out of issues treated in The Ecumenic Age. It alsoincludes an important essay circulated among Voegelin scholars intypescript form since the late 1970s, "The Beginning and theBeyond: A Meditation on Truth." Originating as the AquinasLecture at Marquette University in 1975 and significantly expandedafterwards, this is one of the key writings of Voegelin's late career,and its availability in published form is a major boon to Voegelinstudies. The third volume to appear in the series, "The Nature of theLaw" and Related Legal Writings (Volume 27), centers on an essaywritten for students in Voegelin's course on jurisprudence atLouisiana State University, and makes available his most completestatement on philosophy of law.
The most important questions raised by the appearance of thetwo volumes of late essays-leaving aside for the moment consider-ation of "The Nature of the Law"-involve, first, the place of theseessays in the development of Voegelin's thought, and second, whatthey contribute to a philosophy of politics. To address the latter wemust treat the former in some detail.
IAs he would be the first to assert, the facts of Voegelin's biographyare directly relevant to the genesis of his political and philosophicalconcerns. Born in Germany in 1901 and educated in Vienna from1910, he earned his doctorate in a political science program underthe Faculty of Law at the University of Vienna in 1922, and taughtpolitical science and sociology as a member of the law faculty therebetwen 1929 and 1938, serving the same faculty also as an assistantfor constitutional and administrative law. Between 1924 and 1926 hespent two years in the United States on Rockefeller Foundationfellowships, where he attended lectures at Harvard, Columbia, andthe University of Wisconsin. Out of his studies of Anglo-Americanlegal and philosophical traditions came his first book (1928), Uberdie Form des amerikanischen Geistes (On the Form of the AmericanMind). The increasing tensions on the European political stage and
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the rise of National Socialism led Voegelin to the focus of his next twobooks, both appearing in 1933,Rasse and Staat (Race and State) andDer Rassenidee in der Geistesgeschichte (History of the Race Idea).They present in part an exacting scholarly critique of the biologicaltheories underlying Nazi race doctrines, and represent Voegelin'sincreasing awareness of the need for critiques of modern politicalideas from a perspective grounded in a thorough knowledge ofclassic texts and historical wisdom. His last two books written beforeemigrating to the United States in 1938, The Authoritarian State(1936) and Political Religions (1938), reflect Voegelin's efforts tounderstandthe rising influence of ideological fanaticisms in hispolitical milieu, and his recognition that they involve the criticallyuntenable transference of religious or transcendent values andenthusiasms to world-immanent objects such as the race or thenation. Not surprisingly, these last four books brought himunflatteringly to the attention of the Nazis, and when Hitler annexedAustria in 1938 Voegelin had to flee for his life. His close escape fromthe Gestapo, into Switzerland and finally to the United States,allowed him to continue to devote himself, in his new surroundings,to the study of political disorder in general and especially of theorigins of the twentieth century European calamity.
Eventually Voegelin settled into an associate professorship inthe Department of Government at Louisiana State University,where he embraced his adopted homeland with gusto, becoming anAmerican citizen. He began publishing primarily in English, devel-oping in time a remarkably flexible and convincing style. WhenVoegelin first gained widespread attention, it was as a politicalphilosopher with a book written in English, The New Science ofPolitics (1952), an expansion of the Charles Walgreen Lectures hegave at the University of Chicago in 1951. This work, in whichVoegelin introduces in concise, data-rich chapters the lineaments ofa philosophy of politics and history answerable to the full scope ofWestern civilization, may be read as a kind of precis for the multi-volume Order and History, which began appearing in 1956 andwhich begins the large-scale working through of Voegelin's attemptto analyze the sources and fundamental problems of political order
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in the West. The concerns and methods articulated in The NewScience of Politics, which more or less established the aims ofVoegelin's work until the end of his life in 1984, were the productof his attempts during the 1940s to find an approach to theunderstanding of political phenomena more comprehensive andexplanatory than those found in current philosophies and method-ologies, an approach that could equally diagnose the "disease" ofcontemporary totalitarian movements and explain their rise in termsof an understandable, genetic development in the history of politicallife in the West. Voegelin has described his "breakthroughs" indiscovering the principles of such an approach in various writings(including the essay "Remembrance of Things Past" included inPublished Essays, originally written as an introductory chapter. tothe 1974 American edition of Anamnesis).
One of his most important breakthroughs should be describedin light of the story of the massive "History of Political Ideas" uponwhich he worked for years in the early 1940s. After emigration to theUnited States, Voegelin was commissioned by McGraw-Hill towrite a short "History of Western Political Ideas" to be used as anintroductory textbook. Voegelin's researching ardor soon expandedthe project beyond the bounds of its original conception. Setting hissights on a significantly more ambitious work, Voegelin eventuallyproduced a manuscript of enormous breadth and multi-volumeproportions analyzing political ideas from antiquity through thenineteenth century. Another publisher agreed to publish this muchlonger study; but i