February 22, 2015


The Voegelin Enigma : Eric Voegelin smashed every category, scrambled every dichotomy, and spurned every orthodoxy he encountered to discover what ailed modern Western society. : Order and History (Vol. 5): In Search of Order
(Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Vol. 18) (MONTGOMERY C. ERFOURTH, 12/10/14, American Interest)

By the time he became an American citizen in 1944, his name respelled to Eric Voegelin, his overarching question had come down to this: What is political reality? In its simplicity, it reminds one of Einstein's early obsession: What is light? Voegelin's query, and the means of discovery he presents as the best way to an answer, in turn produce a kind of orientation for how to live within that reality. That is what makes Voegelin relevant to a troubled late modernity that clearly sensed the same ongoing crisis but, in Voegelin's opinion, used inadequate tools to understand the problem.

Modernity's self-imposed limits, one of which was to declare philosophy and theology incommensurate, or at any rate not on speaking terms, simultaneously explain its crisis and its inability to understand it. Voegelin's ambitious political and philosophic endeavor aimed to reunify the two disciplines, and by so doing move Western man back in line with the revelatory and philosophical traditions that had made him so successful. He came to believe that the truth of reality was revealed in a simple precept: The basis of order is found in the "ground of being", which is the divine. Only through conscious interaction with the divine can man know truth. Ancient Greek philosophy and the Mosaic revelation are both required to comprehend this actuality; applying the logic of this world to a truth beyond it is the necessary formula.

In his reverence for the ancients, Voegelin is sometimes likened to Leo Strauss, but the comparison becomes strained once it moves beyond the superficial. Strauss once claimed (on a bad day, one would hope) that Maimonides could not be a Jew by religion because he took philosophy seriously. Strauss immersed himself in philosophical esoterica in presumed opposition to theology, perhaps in hopes that its shimmering, elusive status would rub off on him--as indeed it has for some. While Voegelin's highly esoteric writing style belied it, he had little use for gnostic shenanigans.

At the heart of modern Western civilization's dramatic struggle to maintain its inherited understanding of truth, Voegelin believed, were new gnostic attempts to replace traditional truths with a new formula for order that rejected any notion of divine partnership. Voegelin's personal and professional "resistance" to the untruth he saw in modern Gnosticism--better known then as now as supposedly secular, utopian ideologies, namely Marxism and fascism--led him to seek a deeper understanding of the process by which humanity comes to know the structure of reality and its attendant symbols and indices. Voegelin examined the best our ancestors had to offer in tempering humanity's darker angels. His examination, he hoped, would reveal how to avoid the catastrophe of these dark angels becoming our political rulers.

For Voegelin, only a rejuvenation of both traditional Greek philosophy and Christian morality and revelatory experiences could stem the tide against disorder and inhumanity.

..is both the degree to which neoconservatism is revealed as European, rather than Anglospheric, and the way the best of the European refugees--Voegelin, Wittgenstein, Godel--adapted to the mainstream of Anglospheric skepticism about Modernity.

Posted by at February 22, 2015 1:26 PM

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