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The Philosopher's Vocation: The Voegelinian Paradigm

  • Ellis Sandoz

The philosopher is first and foremost a human being whose humanity must be served by his academic profession if it is not to be irremediably pretentious, farcical, and corrupt. This is the Voegelinian paradigm. The present essay argues that anybody who is seriously interested in understanding Eric Voegelin as he understood himself is obliged to come to grips with the issues evoked by the perspectives this statement suggests. It is further argued that several general consequences follow: (a) underlining the loving tension toward divine Reality in open existence as central; (b) abandoning doctrinal fixation of separating faith and reason as supernatural and natural, respectively; (c) discarding as egophany the arrogant pretense of autonomous reason as its originator in self-sufficient human speculators; and (d) constantly remembering that devotion to the discipline and conventions of inquiry and of society must ever defer to devotion to the truth of existence.

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1 2 Thess. 1:11; and 1 Pet. 2:9: “You are a … royal priesthood…that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Said of all believers under the dispensation of Grace who, living in immediacy to God, are sons of the heavenly Rex et Sacerdos. Cf. Rom 1:1–6, a passage Voegelin repeatedly read in his last days. It is a commonplace of Christian faith that “Conversion and vocation were for [St. Paul] one and the same event (Gal. 1:15–16.).” Leenhardt, Franz J., The Epistle to the Romans: A Commentary, trans. Knight, Harold (London: Lutterworth Press, 1961), 39.

2 Published as Collected Works of Eric Voegelin [hereinafter abbreviated as CW], vol. 31, trans., ed. with an intro by Detlev Clemens and Brendan Purcell (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999). A German language edition of the course of lectures basic to the text of this book appeared as Eric Voegelin, Hitler und die Deutschen, ed. Manfred Henningsen (Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2006). References herein are to the English language version unless otherwise indicated.

3 As in the Herrschaftslehre or Theory of Governance, chap. 1 on the “Concept of the Person,” in CW32, ed. William Petropulos and Gilbert Weiss, 226–55.

4 For concise explanation of some of Voegelin's terminology see the “Glossary of Terms Used in Eric Voegelin's Writings,” in Voegelin, Autobiographical Reflections, rev. ed., CW34 (2006), ed. Ellis Sandoz, 149–86, and the various indexes to the volumes in this edition, including the cumulative index (ibid.); also Sandoz, Ellis, The Voegelinian Revolution: A Biographical Introduction, 2nd ed. (New Brunswick: Transaction Pubs., 2000). Of the key “experience of transcendence” Voegelin writes: “The term experience [in this context] signifies an ontic event. It is a disturbance in being, an involvement of man with God by which the divine Within is revealed as the divine Beyond. What is achieved by it is immediacy of existence under God; what is discovered by it is the existence under God as the first principle of order for man. Moreover, the principle is discovered as valid not only for the man who has the experience but for every man, because the very idea of man arises from its realization in the presence under God. Both the reality and the idea of man are produced by the movement; the humanity represented is the humanity produced. In such terms can the representative character of the event be circumscribed.” Voegelin, What is History? And Other Late Unpublished Writings, CW28 (1990), ed. Thomas A. Hollweck and Paul Caringella, 49 (italics added.) The theory of representation is the theme of Voegelin's first book in English, originally the 1951 Charles R. Walgreen Foundation Lectures at the University of Chicago, published as The New Science of Politics: An Introduction (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952). A number of studies are available including Cooper, Barry, Eric Voegelin and the Foundations of Modern Political Science (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999) and recently on Voegelin as mystic philosopher is Coetsier, Meins G. A., Etty Hillesum and the Flow of Presence: A Voegelinian Analysis (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2008), esp. chap. 3 and bibliography. The most comprehensive compilation of Voegeliniana is Price, Geoffrey L. and von Lochner, Eberhard Freiherr, eds., Eric Voegelin: International Bibliography, 1921–2000 (Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2000); supplemented by Opitz, Peter J., ed., Voegeliniana Veröffentlichungen von und zu Eric Voegelin 2000–2005, Occasional Papers 46, Jan. 2005 (Munich: Eric-Voegelin-Archiv, 2005).

5 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 10. 9. 23, 1181b15-16; Voegelin, New Science of Politics, 22–26, where the program of “restoration” and “reinterpretation” of rationalism in the wake of Gnostic ideological destruction is tentatively sketched.

6 Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, chap. 4; for the summary critique of positivism see the introduction, ibid., 2–22. Consequences of the argument are elaborated in Sandoz, , “The Philosophical Science of Politics Beyond Behavioralism” in The Post-Behavioral Era: Perspectives on Political Science, ed. Graham, George J. and Carey, George W. (New York: David McKay Co., Inc., 1972), chap. 14. The substantive issues were pivotal for Voegelin's philosophical break with the neo-Kantianism of his teacher Hans Kelsen as given early on and defnitively in The New Science of Politics, of which the latter wrote a book-length refutation that Voegelin responded to by letter: “There is no science which could develop a relevant concept of justice…[by] following the verification procedures of an immanent science… . The problem of justice is in my opinion not a problem of a normative science, or of a causal science, rather a problem of ontology.” Letter to Hans Kelsen, March 7, 1954, No. 75 in Voegelin, Selected Correspondence 1950–1984, CW30 (2007), ed. Thomas A. Hollweck, trans. Sandy Adler, Thomas A. Hollweck, and William Petropulos, 217, 218. Cf. Voegelin, Autobiographical Reflections, CW34, chap. 6, where it is said that the positivism of Hermann Cohen and the Marburg School defined “science [as] meaning Newton's physics as understood by Kant” (50). For the early (1936) detailed analysis of why this kind of science is wholly inadequate for a valid political science see Voegelin, The Authoritarian State: An Essay on the Problem of the Austrian State, CW4 (1999), ed. Gilbert Weiss, trans. Ruth Hein, historical commentary on the period by Erika Weinzierl, chap. 6, pp. 163–212. For the underlying philosophical problem of phenomenalism (including scientism) see the chapter of that title in Voegelin, The New Order and Last Orientation, vol. 7, History of Political Ideas, CW 25 (1999), ed. Jürgen Gebhardt and Thomas A. Hollweck, intro. Jürgen Gebhardt, 175–92; also esp. the chapters on positivism, Comte, and Marx in Voegelin, Crisis and the Apocalypse of Man, vol. 8, History of Political Ideas, CW26 (1999), ed. with an intro. by David Walsh, 88–250, 303–372.

7 For a diagrammatic summary of the results and implications see the “Appendix” to “Reason: The Classic Experience,” in Voegelin, Published Essays 1966–1985, CW12 (1990), ed. Ellis Sandoz, 287–91. For Anaximander and the apeiron see Voegelin, The World of the Polis, vol. 2, Order and History [1957 edn], 181–83; and esp. Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, vol. 4, Order and History [1974 edn], 174–92, 215–18.

8 Voegelin, New Science of Politics, 79; Voegelin, Israel and Revelation, vol. 1, Order and History [1956 edn], 10–11; see Sandoz, Ellis, “Voegelin's Philosophy of History and Human Affairs,” in The Politics of Truth and Other Untimely Essays; The Crisis of Civic Consciousness (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999), chap. 10, §3.

9 As indicated in the text, Voegelin insists on the foundation of political prudential understanding in common sense as a mark of the universal rationality displayed in classical philosophy as that compactly underlies differentiated noesis and provides zetesis with its substantive starting points. Thus, he speaks of employing the “Aristotelian procedure” in The New Science of Politics, e.g. pp. 34 and 80. The ubiquitous presence of political common sense also is a mark of the philosophical superiority of Anglo-American thought to that of Europe which has been ruined by ideology (ibid, 188–89). See Voegelin, Autobiographical Reflections, chap. 10: “American society had a philosophical background far superior in range and existential substance, though not always in articulation, to anything that I found represented in the methodological environment in which I had grown up [in Vienna]” (CW34, 57). At the end of “What is Political Reality?” he says, in speaking (to a plenary gathering of the German Association for Political Science in 1965) of Scottish common sense philosophy as given in especially Thomas Reid: “Common sense is a civilizational habit that presupposes noetic experience, without the man of this habit himself possessing differentiated knowledge of noesis. The civilized homo politicus need not be a philosopher, but he must have common sense.” He continues: “The reference to common sense is meant to make clear once more that, and also why, there can be no ‘theory of politics’ in terms of fundamental propositions or principles rising above the propositions of an ‘empirical’ science of politics. For the so-called empeiria of politics is the habit of common sense, that although compact, is formed by the ratio as the structure [Sachstruktur] of consciousness.” Voegelin, Anamnesis: On the Theory of History and Politics, CW6 (2002), ed. David Walsh, trans. M. J. Hanak and Gerhart Niemeyer, 411.

10 “The Oxford Political Philosophers” in CW11, ed. Ellis Sandoz, 46.

11 Order and History, vol. 3, Plato and Aristotle (1957), 37–38. For the structure of corruption see the summary p. 79.

12 Hitler, §43, 230–35.

13 Cf. however Walsh, David, “Voegelin's Place in Modern Philosophy,” Modern Age 49, no. 1 (Winter 2007): 1223; more fully Walsh, David, The Modern Philosophical Revolution: The Luminosity of Existence (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

14 “The Beginning and the Beyond,” in CW28, ed. Thomas A. Hollweck and Paul Caringella, 211. See the late (1981) summarizing statement on these subjects entitled “The Meditative Origin of the Philosophical Knowledge of Order,” in CW33, ed. William Petropulos and Gilbert Weiss, chap. 14: “In my view there is neither natural reason nor revelation, neither the one nor the other. Rather we have here a theological misconstruction of certain real matters that was carried out in the interest of theological systematization,” CW33, 385–86.

15 “Conversations with Eric Voegelin,” in CW33, 243–343 at 328, 330–31. The attitude experientially validates the flux of ubiquitous divine presence in human consciousness implicit in Jesus’ promise at the end of the Gospel of Matthew: “[A]nd, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” Matt. 28:20. On the pushes and pulls (helkein) in experiences of divine Reality as recounted in Greek philosophy as well as in biblical revelation, see Voegelin's comparative analysis in “The Gospel and Culture” in CW12, ed. Sandoz, 172–212 at 184–91; also CW12., “Reason: The Classic Experience,” 265–91 at 281.

16 CW33, 329.

17 “Science, Politics and Gnosticism” in CW5, ed. Manfred Henningsen, 261.

18 See “Eternal Being in Time” in Anamnesis, CW6, ed. David Walsh, chap. 12: “There is no philosophy without philosophers, namely without men whose psychic sensorium responds to eternal being.” “The concept most suitable to express the presence of eternal being in the temporal flow is flowing presence (313, esp. 329)”. Also the discussion in CW33, 182–83, 233, 264, 340–41.

19 Hitler §5, p. 71; Order and History, vol. 3, Plato and Aristotle (1957), 92, 129.

20 Gebhardt, in “Vocation of the Scholar,” 18; quoted in Ellis Sandoz, Republicanism, Religion and the Soul of America (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2006), 180.

21 Solzhenitsyn, , The First Circle, trans. Whitney, Thomas P. (New York: Bantam Books, 1981), 415.

22 Hitler, §8, p. 87.

23 “The German University and the Order of German Society: A Reconsideration of the Nazi Era,” in CW12, 7.

24 Ezekiel 33:7–9, quoted as in ibid., 35; earlier quoted to the students with instructions in Hitler, 200.

25 Hitler und die Deutschen, ed. Henningsen, editor's introduction, 29, 38. Cf. Republic 518d-e; Voegelin, Order and History, vol. 1, Plato and Aristotle, 68, 112–17.

26 Order and History, vol. 1, Israel and Revelation (1956 ed.), p. xiv. See the discussion in Ellis Sandoz, The Voegelinian Revolution, 141–42.

27 As one astute commentator writes: “It is as if he himself were a second Jeremiah, that Voegelin undertook his own effort to rebalance the consciousness of his own age… . His own purpose is clearly one that seeks to recover the prophetic impulse.” Price, Geoffrey L., “Recovery from Metastatic Consciousness: Voegelin and Jeremiah,” in Politics, Order and History: Essays on the Work of Eric Voegelin, ed. Hughes, Glenn, McKnight, Stephen A., and Price, Geoffrey L. (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), 185–207 at 204. The able editors of Hitler remark that Voegelin's authoritative appeal for conversion to truth in his auditors is founded as a political philosopher “on his own life of bearing witness” (editors’ introductions, 34).

28 For discussion of egophany, see Sandoz, Voegelinian Revolution, 239–43 and the sources cited therein; esp. Voegelin, Order and History, vol. 4, The Ecumenic Age (1974), chap. 5, §2, pp. 260–71. For a preliminary elaboration of the revolutionary implications for philosophy per se, see Voegelinian Revolution, chap. 7, Principia Noetica, 189–216. This is a meditative and ontological revolution of mind and spirit, one involving a “change in being,” not a political one in the streets, nor even in intractable prevailing climates of opinion, one is constrained to emphasize to help avoid misunderstandings.

29 This is no mere inference; Voegelin is explicit in the matter: “Unless we want to indulge in extraordinary theological assumptions, the God who appeared to philosophers, and who elicited from Parmenides the exclamation ‘Is!’, was the same God who revealed himself to Moses as the ‘I am who (or: what) I am,’ as the God who is what he is in the concrete theophany to which man responds. When God lets himself be seen, whether in a burning thornbush or in a Promethean fire, he is what he reveals himself to be in the event” (Voegelin, Order and History, vol. 4, The Ecumenic Age, chap. 4 §3 [1974 edition], 229). See also “Equivalences of Experience and Symbolization in History,” CW12, 115–33.

30 Some of the implications are discussed in Caringella, Paul, “Eric Voegelin: Philosopher of Divine Presence,” in Eric Voegelin's Significance for the Modern Mind, ed. Sandoz, Ellis (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1991), 174205. Although Voegelin seems never to say so, the ultimate source of the symbol It as used in his work is clearly Pseudo-Dionysius where the name It represents the ineffable “Super-Essential Godhead which we must not dare … to speak, or even to form any conception Thereof, except those things which are divinely revealed to us from the Holy Scriptures.” “The Divine Names,” 1.2 in Dionysius the Areopagite: the Divine Names and the Mystical Theology, ed. C. E. Rolt (repr.; Kila, MT: Kessinger Pubs., n.d.), 53; see pp. 4–12. N. B.: the presentation here assumes the analysis given in Sandoz, Voegelinian Revolution, epilogue; revised and reprinted in Sandoz, Republicanism, Religion and the Soul of America, chap. 8, “The Spirit of Voegelin's Late Work,” esp. pp. 162–81. Behind Thomas's Tetragrammaton stands Dionysius's It, and behind that the epekeina (Beyond) of Plato's agathon (Good), kalon (Beauty), periechon (Comprehending) and to pan (All) back to Anaximander's apeiron (Unbounded, Depth) and similar symbols–matters pertaining to nonexistent reality that must be left aside here. For an analysis of some of the issues, see Voegelin, Order and History, vol. 5, In Search of Order, ed. Ellis Sandoz (1987), chap. 2, §11, pp. 100–103; also Fran O'Rourke, Pseudo-Dionysius and the Metaphysics of Aquinas (1992; repr. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), esp. the section “Aquinas and the Good Beyond Being” exploring the difficulty “of expressing in concepts and terms appropriate to beings that which is supposedly non-existent, i.e., prime matter, or which is beyond existence, namely, the divine Good” (201).

31 The Ecumenic Age, penultimate page.

32 Order and History, vol. 5, In Search of Order, ed. Ellis Sandoz (1987), 103; see Sandoz, , Voegelinian Revolution (2000), 264.

33 See New Science of Politics (1952), 63–70. Cf. the fine analysis of Anselm in McMahon, Robert, Understanding the Medieval Meditative Ascent: Augustine, Anselm, Boethius, and Dante (Washington, D. C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2006), esp. 202–10.

34 Although it may at first sight appear to be novel, this is in fact the ordinary obligation and role of “every man” of faith (not only philosophers, prophets, and apostles) under the dispensation of Grace as “good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God [lógia theou]; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God gives him: that God may in all things be glorified.” 1Peter 4:10–11 [KJV modified].

35 “Response to Professor Altizer” in Eric Voegelin's Thought: A Critical Appraisal, ed. Ellis Sandoz (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1982), 190–91; repr. in CW12, 292–303 at 294.

36 Hitler §5, 75. The scarcity of information on the early years is being relieved to some degree through publication of primary materials in Voegelin, Selected Correspondence 1921–1950, CW29 (2009), ed. Jürgen Gebhardt, trans. William Petropulos (in press); cf. Sandoz, Voegelinian Revolution, chap. 2.; also Cooper, Eric Voegelin and the Foundations of Modern Political Science, chap. 1. In terms of chronology, the Anschluss annexing Austria to the Third Reich occurred with the arrival of German troops in Vienna on March 11, 1938, Voegelin was fired by the university on April 23, he escaped to Zurich on July 14, and departed with Lissy from Paris for America on September 8, 1938. Cf. Puhl, Monika, Eric Voegelin in Baton Rouge, Periagoge Studien, ed. Opitz, Peter J. and Herz, Dietmar (Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2005), 2021. The chilling letter of dismissal reads as follows (trans. William Petropulos as in CW29):University of Vienna: Faculty of Law and Staatswissenschaft [Political Science]Vienna, April 23, 1938ToAssociate Professor Dr. Erich Voegelin, Vienna.As Temporary Dean of the Faculty of Law and Staatswissenschaft it is my official duty to inform you that, with the decree of April 22, 1938, Zl.10606-I-le, the Austrian Ministry of Education has cancelled its certification of the right to lecture that was previously granted to you, and thereby revokes its authorization for you to teach. Therefore, pending further notice, you are to abstain from the exercise of any and all teaching activities, and any other activities which may fall within the wider purview of your previously held position.Heil Hitler!The Temporary Dean of the Faculty of Law and Staatswissenschaft

37 Translated as Race and State, CW2, and The History of the Race Idea: From Ray to Carus, CW3, both ed. Klaus Vondung. Gregor Sebba was Voegelin's colleague and friend in Vienna, later professor at Emory University, quoted from “Prelude and Variations on the Theme of Eric Voegelin” in Eric Voegelin's Thought, 3–65 at 11. Hannah Arendt regarded Race and State as “the best historical account of race-thinking” (Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism [New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1951], 158n).

38 Translated as The Political Religions in CW5, Modernity Without Restraint, ed. Henningsen, 19–73 at 20.

39 See Autobiographical Reflections, rev. ed., in CW34, ed. Ellis Sandoz, 1–148 at 71, 82–83

40 Ibid., 116.

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