sexta-feira, 6 de setembro de 2013

A Guide to the Thought of Eric Voegelin

Por The Imaginative Conservative,

Eric Voegelin’s Search For Order In History,  edited by Stephen A. McK­night.

In the spring of 1953, Time mag­a­zine pub­lished a long re­view-es­say en­ti­tled “Jour­nal­ism and Joachim’s Chil­dren.” The book re­viewed was The New Sci­ence of Pol­i­tics, writ­ten by an Aus­trian émigré scholar named Eric Voegelin. Voegelin, the essay claimed, had made a sig­nif­i­cant break­through in po­lit­i­cal the­ory: he had re­gained the philo­soph­i­cal per­spec­tive on pol­i­tics and had bro­ken with the re­duc­tion­ist sys­tems of pos­i­tivism and pro­gres­sivism. His in­sights into mod­ern to­tal­i­tar­ian ide­olo­gies as equiv­a­lents of the early Chris­t­ian heresy of Gnos­ti­cism were in­valu­able, the essay con­cluded. Fi­nally, the re­view­ers de­clared that in the next ten years Time would work within the philo­soph­i­cal frame­work laid down by Voegelin.

Pre­dictably, Time’s en­thu­si­asm for Eric Voegelin waned under the pres­sure of om­nipresent lib­er­al­ism. But Voegelin’s achieve­ment is not so eas­ily for­got­ten. Voegelin has con­tin­ued to write, and his stature as one of this cen­tury’s lead­ing philoso­phers is es­sen­tially se­cured—at least among those who do not wor­ship the Zeit­geist. Lit­er­ally dozens of es­says have been writ­ten on var­i­ous as­pects of his work, and sev­eral con­fer­ences have met to dis­cuss is­sues which he has raised.

Voegelin [1901–1985] has rightly been called a “pro­fes­sors’ pro­fes­sor.” He com­bines an en­cy­clo­pe­dic knowl­edge of pol­i­tics, phi­los­o­phy, re­li­gion, his­tory, and an­thro­pol­ogy with a the­o­ret­i­cal com­pe­tence and vo­cab­u­lary com­pa­ra­ble to that of White­head and Polanyi. Add to this eru­di­tion Voegelin’s will­ing­ness to re­vise his ideas ac­cord­ing to the im­pli­ca­tions of his in­quiries, and one has a thinker who is chal­leng­ing for even the most knowl­edge­able reader. In his Pref­ace to Eric Voegelin’s Search for Order in His­tory, ed­i­tor Stephen A. McK­night cites these fea­tures of Voegelin’s thought and the fact that es­says on him are scat­tered as rea­sons for bring­ing out a col­lec­tion. Though the qual­ity of the es­says in McK­night’s col­lec­tion is un­even, they do deal with Voegelin’s major ideas. More im­por­tantly, each essay raises re­spect­ful but dif­fi­cult ques­tions about as­pects of Voegelin’s work. Par­tic­u­larly help­ful are the com­plete bib­li­ogra­phies of works by and about Voegelin.

McK­night’s col­lec­tion prop­erly be­gins with bi­o­graph­i­cal es­says which an­a­lyze Voegelin’s philo­soph­i­cal jour­ney. In “Voegelin’s Chang­ing Con­cep­tion of His­tory and Con­scious­ness,” William C. Havard de­scribes the pos­i­tivis­tic ideas which Voegelin held as a young pro­fes­sor of law in Aus­tria. Voegelin’s pos­i­tivism was shaken when he con­fronted the ideas of such schol­ars as George San­tayana and Al­fred North White­head. But, as Havard points out, it was the on­slaught of to­tal­i­tar­ian ide­olo­gies in Eu­rope that brought Voegelin to see the in­ad­e­quacy of pos­i­tivism. His ex­pe­ri­ence of na­tional so­cial­ism taught him that “Eu­rope had no con­cep­tual tools with which to grasp the hor­ror that was upon her.” He per­ceived that ide­ol­ogy ei­ther re­duced or re­belled against re­al­ity, and sought to im­pose a “sec­ond re­al­ity” (as Robert Musil has called it) upon so­ci­ety.

Stephen McK­night’s essay, “The Evo­lu­tion of Voegelin’s The­ory of Pol­i­tics and His­tory,” con­tin­ues Havard’s analy­sis. McK­night shows that by 1944 Voegelin be­lieved the study of pol­i­tics in need of “re-the­o­retiza­tion.” The “sec­ond re­al­ity” en­gen­dered by pos­i­tivism had made pol­i­tics a study of in­sti­tu­tions and power struc­tures on the world-im­ma­nent level. With­out any ref­er­ence to tran­scen­dent re­al­ity, mod­ern po­lit­i­cal sci­ence stud­ied man’s “be­hav­ior” in the man­ner of the nat­ural sci­ences; the soul of man was no longer the focus of po­lit­i­cal the­ory. Phi­los­o­phy, which Plato had char­ac­ter­ized a the soul’s open­ness to di­vine truth, had been abol­ished by mod­ernism. McK­night de­scribes Voegelin’s his­tor­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tions as an at­tempt to un­der­stand man’s ex­pe­ri­ence of re­al­ity in its whole­ness.

At this point in his ca­reer, as both Havard and McK­night ob­serve, Voegelin was under con­tract with a pub­lisher to write a his­tory of po­lit­i­cal ideas. In study­ing Shelling’s phi­los­o­phy of myth and rev­e­la­tion, Voegelin saw that “ideas” had no au­tonomous ex­is­tence. As Havard writes: “It was be­com­ing in­creas­ingly clear to him . . . that ideas are not en­ti­ties in his­tory; the real en­ti­ties are so­ci­eties; which ex­press their ex­is­tence in his­tory through an enor­mously com­plex set of sym­bols.” The ar­tic­u­la­tion of these sym­bols by which a so­ci­ety came to un­der­stand it­self made for that so­ci­ety’s ex­is­tence in his­tory.

The third essay in the McK­night col­lec­tion is a re­view by Hans Aufricht of The New Sci­ence of Pol­i­tics. In this book, pub­lished in 1952, many of Voegelin’s ideas came to­gether. The book’s title, as Voegelin ex­plained, meant not that he was at­tempt­ing to in­vent a “new” po­lit­i­cal sci­ence but that schol­ars in var­i­ous fields had bro­ken through the con­stric­tions of pos­i­tivism and pro­gres­sivism and re­gained a truly sci­en­tific and philo­soph­i­cal per­spec­tive. On the basis of those achieve­ments, Voegelin hoped to re­store pol­i­tics as a sci­ence in “search for truth con­cern­ing the na­ture of the var­i­ous realms of being.” The first half of the book ex­am­ines “ex­is­ten­tial rep­re­sen­ta­tion”: the way a so­ci­ety sees it­self as re­lated to tran­scen­dent truth through sym­bols. The re­main­der of the book deals with “Gnos­ti­cism,” which Voegelin sees as the essence of moder­nity. Mod­ern ide­ol­ogy, like an­cient Gnos­ti­cism, Voegelin ar­gues, sees the world as evil and be­yond re­form. The mod­ern Gnos­tic seeks the knowl­edge (“gno­sis”) of the laws of his­tory or na­ture by which he can re­con­sti­tute so­ci­ety into a heaven on earth, thus “im­ma­nen­tiz­ing the es­cha­ton.”

Aufricht ques­tions the seem­ingly un­bridge­able gulf which Voegelin sees be­tween im­ma­nence and tran­scen­dence. Aufricht writes that Voegelin “seems to deny man’s ca­pac­ity of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing God as ‘way, truth, life,’ since he des­ig­nates all en­deav­ors in this di­rec­tion as ‘fal­la­cious im­ma­nen­ti­za­tion’ of God.” Though Voegelin’s later writ­ings have shown that man can ex­pe­ri­ence God in his soul, Aufricht is cor­rect in not­ing Voegelin’s lack of a sacra­men­tal vi­sion of life, and this crit­i­cism will sur­face again in his treat­ment of Chris­tian­ity. What Aufricht does not touch upon, how­ever, is Voegelin’s use of the term “Gnos­tic.” Though use­ful as a heuris­tic de­vice, the term is not wholly sat­is­fac­tory: the an­cient Gnos­tics sought to es­cape the world; the mod­ern Gnos­tics want to change it. The an­cient Gnos­tics saw noth­ing in this world and yearned for life in a rad­i­cally tran­scen­dent cos­mos.

Be­cause Voegelin be­lieved that ideas were not pri­mary and that sym­bols aris­ing in con­crete so­ci­eties were the true sources of order, he turned to­ward the study of con­scious­ness. His multi-vol­ume work, Order and His­tory, was con­ceived as an ex­plo­ration of the modes of con­scious­ness which oc­curred as “leaps in being.” The two “leaps” which have had most im­pact on West­ern civ­i­liza­tion were the dis­cov­ery of the mind in Greece, called “phi­los­o­phy,” and the ex­pe­ri­ence of the Is­raelites as the Cho­sen Peo­ple. With his em­pha­sis on con­scious­ness, Voegelin ex­am­ined these “leaps” in re­la­tion to the mytho­log­i­cal civ­i­liza­tions from which they emerged.

Bern­hard W. An­der­son’s essay, “Pol­i­tics and the Tran­scen­dent,” is a long and lucid essay on the first vol­ume of Order and His­tory, Is­rael and Rev­e­la­tion. Voegelin, An­der­son writes, sees the Ex­o­dus not sim­ply as a prag­matic event, but as an “ex­o­dus from the cos­mo­log­i­cal civ­i­liza­tion.” The theo­phany of the Ex­o­dus es­tab­lished the Is­raelites as the Cho­sen Peo­ple under God, bound by the Covenant to fol­low the law and live in right­eous­ness. Voegelin de­vel­ops this theme of the “leap” as a new life of per­sonal at­tune­ment to the order of di­vine being. An­der­son ques­tions whether Voegelin’s phi­los­o­phy of being as mere “at­tune­ment” does full jus­tice to the Old Tes­ta­ment. “Ac­cord­ing to Is­rael’s wit­nesses,” An­der­son writes, “there is no true being un­less it is a be­ing-in-re­la­tion­ship, and there can be no at­tune­ment with God un­less it is man­i­fest in the so­cial sphere of man’s life.” An­der­son also ob­serves Voegelin’s dif­fi­culty with the bib­li­cal view of evil as ir­ra­tional and stem­ming from the “heart,” be­cause it poses prob­lems for Voegelin’s philo­soph­i­cal view of man as ra­tio­nal being.

“Ex­is­tence in Ten­sion: Man in Search of His Hu­man­ity,” by John H. Hal­low­ell, ex­am­ines The World of the Polis and Plato and Aris­to­tle, the sec­ond and third vol­umes of Order in His­tory. In these vol­umes, the Greek “leap in being” is seen to occur when phi­los­o­phy arises and sup­plants myth. Par­menides, in using the sym­bol “Being,” broke with the myth. Voegelin, ob­serves Hal­low­ell, notes that the ex­pe­ri­ence of Being re­sulted not from philo­soph­i­cal spec­u­la­tion but from mys­ti­cal trans­port in which the in­di­vid­ual soul feels it­self par­tic­i­pat­ing in di­vine re­al­ity. Plato de­nied that phi­los­o­phy was based on a set of propo­si­tions; it was a way of life, and his di­a­logue form was the clos­est he could come to a mime­sis of life. Hal­low­ell, trac­ing Voegelin’s care­ful ex­po­si­tion of Plato and Aris­to­tle, raises some im­por­tant ques­tions. Voegelin speaks of myth, phi­los­o­phy, rev­e­la­tion, and mys­ti­cism as ways men may par­tially un­der­stand the order of Being, Hal­low­ell notes, but he does not make pre­cise dis­tinc­tions among them. Hal­low­ell also raises the ques­tion of how good sym­bols can be dis­tin­guished from those which re­flect a de­for­ma­tion of re­al­ity.

Voegelin’s con­cep­tion of phi­los­o­phy is dis­cussed fur­ther by James L Wiser’s “Phi­los­o­phy as In­quiry and Per­sua­sion.” Like Plato and Aris­to­tle, Voegelin sees phi­los­o­phy as a pub­lic act in which the philoso­pher at­tempts to per­suade men to turn to­ward the truth. Wiser con­cludes that Voegelin has taken some large steps to­ward the restora­tion of phi­los­o­phy in our time. Wiser sees three of Voegelin’s con­cepts as par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant: the be­lief in an on­to­log­i­cal ground by which the ad­e­quacy of opin­ions be mea­sured, the uni­ver­sal­ity of sym­bols rep­re­sent­ing man’s pri­mary ex­pe­ri­ences, and the con­stancy of human na­ture.

“A Di­min­ished Gospel: A Cri­tique of Voegelin’s In­ter­pre­ta­tion of Chris­tian­ity,” by Bruce Dou­glass, raises an issue fa­mil­iar to stu­dents of Voegelin. Dou­glass’ cri­tique, un­for­tu­nately, seems to miss some of the cen­tral prob­lems in Voegelin’s han­dling of Chris­tian­ity. Dou­glass, a Protes­tant, spends a great deal of space crit­i­ciz­ing Voegelin’s con­cep­tion of the Re­for­ma­tion. On a more im­por­tant issue, the Res­ur­rec­tion, Dou­glass is too eas­ily sat­is­fied. As Dou­glass points out, Voegelin’s treat­ment of Chris­tian­ity has been scanty, and in the fourth vol­ume of Order and His­tory, The Ec­u­menic Age, is con­fined to a small chap­ter on “Paul’s Vi­sion of the Res­ur­rected.” Voegelin sees Chris­tian­ity as the myth about Christ as ex­pounded by St. Paul, and feels that doc­trine is a “fall” from the pri­mary ex­pe­ri­ence which en­gen­ders the sym­bol of res­ur­rec­tion. In a de­sire to align Chris­tian­ity with his phi­los­o­phy of myth and sym­bols, Voegelin has ig­nored the cen­tral­ity of the In­car­na­tion, and has not un­der­stood the ef­fi­cacy of dogma in Chris­t­ian life. Like Hans Aufricht, Dou­glass be­lieves Voegelin’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with Gnos­ti­cism makes him treat God’s sacra­men­tal pres­ence as a form of Gnos­tic “im­ma­nen­ti­za­tion.” Dou­glass does make an im­por­tant point in say­ing that Voegelin does not un­der­stand the essence of the Gospel mes­sage as sal­va­tion.

McK­night’s col­lec­tion ends with a long and in­tri­cate dis­cus­sion by John William Cor­ring­ton of Voegelin’s phi­los­o­phy of con­scious­ness. The con­cepts in The Ec­u­menic Age, Cor­ring­ton ar­gues, show that Voegelin is more and more con­cerned with the phi­los­o­phy of con­scious­ness. Whereas Voegelin placed the cen­ter of man’s hu­man­ity in the soul in the ear­lier vol­umes of Order and His­tory, he now sees it as re­sid­ing in the “con­scious­ness.” Voegelin uses the Pla­tonic sym­bol of the Metaxy or In-Be­tween to elab­o­rate his phi­los­o­phy of con­scious­ness. Man ex­ists be­tween life and death, time and time­less­ness, order and dis­or­der, truth and un­truth. “Though the di­vine re­al­ity is one,” writes Voegelin in The Ec­u­menic Age, “its pres­ence is ex­pe­ri­enced in the two modes of the Be­yond and the Be­gin­ning. The Be­yond is pre­sent in the im­me­di­ate ex­pe­ri­ence of move­ments in the psy­che; while the pres­ence of the di­vine Be­gin­ning is me­di­ated through the ex­pe­ri­ence of the ex­is­tence of in­tel­li­gi­ble struc­ture of things-in the cos­mos.” Cor­ring­ton delves into the ori­gin of the de­formed con­scious­ness which cre­ates the “sec­ond re­al­ity.” Fol­low­ing Voegelin, Cor­ring­ton con­cludes that it is the de­sire to elim­i­nate the ten­sion of the In-Be­tween and to erect the poles into sep­a­rate en­ti­ties which dis­ori­ents con­scious­ness, and he uses Marx­ism as an ex­am­ple.

The only major dis­ap­point­ment in this vol­ume is the ab­sence of es­says by Ger­hart Niemeyer and Dante Ger­mino, two of the lead­ing Voegelin schol­ars. But this col­lec­tion is only a be­gin­ning. It is the ev­i­dence of the grow­ing in­ter­est in the work of Eric Voegelin, an in­ter­est that will con­tinue for a long time to come. 

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

Gre­gory Wolfe is  ed­i­tor of Image Jour­nal, di­rec­tor of the Seat­tle Pa­cific Uni­ver­sity MFA in Cre­ative Writ­ing Pro­gram, and writer in res­i­dence at Seat­tle Pa­cific Uni­ver­sity. His web­site is http://​gregorywolfe.​com. This essay originally appeared in the University Bookman and is offered here with  their gracious permission.

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