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Eric Voegelin and the Continental Tradition

Explorations in Modern Political Thought

Edited by Lee Trepanier & Steven F. McGuire

Publication Year: 2011


Twentieth-century political philosopher Eric Voegelin is best known as a severe critic of modernity. Much of his work argues that modernity is a Gnostic revolt against the fundamental structure of reality. For Voegelin, “Gnosticism” is the belief that human beings can transform the nature of reality through secret knowledge and social action, and he considered it the crux of the crisis of modernity. As Voegelin struggled with this crisis throughout his career, he never wavered in his judgment that philosophers of the modern continental tradition were complicit in the Gnostic revolt of modernity.
            But while Voegelin’s analysis of those philosophers is at times scathing, his work also bears marks of their influence, and Voegelin has much more in common with the theorists of the modern continental tradition than is usually recognized. Eric Voegelin and the Continental Tradition: Explorations in Modern Political Thought evaluates this political philosopher—one of the most original and influential thinkers of our time—by examining his relationship to the modern continental tradition in philosophy, from Kant to Derrida.
            In a compelling introduction, editors Lee Trepanier and Steven F. McGuire present a review of the trajectories of Voegelin’s thought and outline what often is portrayed as his derisive critique of modernity. Soon, however, they begin to unravel the similarities between Voegelin’s thought and the work of other thinkers in the continental tradition. The subsequent chapters explore these possible connections by examining Voegelin’s intellectual relationship to individual thinkers, including Hegel, Schelling, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Gadamer.
            The essays in this volume go beyond Voegelin’s own reading of the modern philosophers to offer a reevaluation of his relationship to those thinkers. In Eric Voegelin and the Continental Tradition, Voegelin’s attempt to grapple with the crisis of modernity becomes clearer, and his contribution to the modern continental tradition is illuminated. The book features the work of both established and emerging Voegelin scholars, and the essays were chosen to present thoughtful and balanced assessments of both Voegelin’s thought and the ideas of the other thinkers considered. As the first volume to examine the relationship—and surprising commonalities—between Voegelin’s philosophy and the continental tradition as a whole, this text will be of interest not only to Voegelin disciples but to philosophers engaged by continental modernism and all disciplines of political philosophy.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Series Information, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. 1-14

Conscious reflection on the philosophical foundations of Western civilization has increased steadily since Descartes, and especially since the middle of the twentieth century with its growing concerns about the possible collapse of modernity.1 The Enlightenment confidence in human reason’s ability to under-stand and convey the fundamental structure of reality has been shaken by the ...

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1. "Out of Such Crooked Wood" : How Eric Voegelin Read Immanuel Kant

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pp. 15-43

My assignment is to consider Eric Voegelin’s reception of Immanuel Kant, the magisterial Prussian philosopher of the late eighteenth century. The questions in this collection of essays that serve as the bases for interpreting Voegelin’s reception of any particular philosopher are concerned with finding commonalities...

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2. Voegelin and the Troubled Greatness of Hegel

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pp. 44-63

It would challenge credulity to claim that contrary to appearances Voegelin’s relationship with Hegel is positive. The tone Voegelin adopts toward modern thinkers in general, and Hegel in particular, is so consistently vituperative that it does seem partially to justify the characterization of Voegelin as a “demonologist.”1 In addition, while Voegelin’s critique of Hegel is both episodic and ...

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3. Voegelin and Schelling on Freedom and the Beyond

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pp. 64-84

Unlike the thought of some of the other philosophers in the continental tradition, Eric Voegelin had relatively good things to say about the philosophy of Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling. In fact, late in his career, Voegelin attributed the breakdown of his History of Political Ideas to his work on Schelling, thus indicating that Schelling’s thought played a pivotal role in...

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4. Noesis and Faith: Eric Voegelin and Søren Kierkegaard

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pp. 85-107

Why Voegelin and Kierkegaard? Both of them have pursued an intricate analysis of the structure of existence and of the various possibilities of existence. Many aspects of their examinations are strikingly similar, notwithstanding their different technical vocabularies. They both have attempted a recovery...

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5. Dionysus versus the Crucified: Nietzsche and Voegelin and the Search for a Truthful Order

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pp. 108-136

Eric Voegelin’s Nietzsche is a complex figure, at once revealing and explicating aspects touching upon the very spiritual marrow of the Dionysian demoniac, yet, despite this depth of explication, never quite allowing himself or his reader to vicariously experience the struggle of a spiritual wanderer for whom the dark night of the soul never leads to a heavenly, grace-infused dawn. In his...

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6. Eric Voegelin and Neo-Kantianism: Early Formative Experience or Late Entrapment?

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pp. 137-165

This chapter aims to assess the character and significance of Eric Voegelin’s formation within the neo-Kantian philosophical school. While the basic facts concerning this formative experience are well known, the exact nature (tone, character) of this formation has not been identified so far in a satisfactory manner. It will be argued that, far from being a matter of specialist interest, ...

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7. Voegelin and Heidegger: Apocalypse without Apocalypse

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pp. 166-191

Martin Heidegger was the culminating figure of twentieth-century philosophy. For better or worse he is the one who carries philosophy forward to the point it has reached today. The most convincing evidence of this is that his critics, at least those who actually understand rather than simply dismiss him, operate of necessity within the framework he has provided. Emmanuel Levi-...

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8. Voegelin and Gadamer: Continental Philosophers Inspired by Plato and Aristotle

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pp. 192-217

Eric Voegelin (1901–1985) and Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900–2002) are two significant figures in German-speaking or continental philosophy. They have a great deal in common. They each had long and fruitful academic careers, and neither of them compromised with Hitler and National Socialism...

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9. Voegelin, Strauss, and Kojève on Tyranny

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pp. 218-239

Eric Voegelin, Leo Strauss, and Alexandre Kojève were close contemporaries. Strauss was born in 1899 in Kirchhain, a small town north of Frankfurt, near Marburg. Voegelin was born in 1901 in Cologne. Kojève was born in 1902 in Moscow. The relations among these three men were, however, quite different, as was their attention paid to one another’s work. The simplest was between...

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10. The Paradoxes of Participatory Reality

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pp. 240-260

Although neither Eric Voegelin nor Jacques Derrida had ever written about each other’s works, both thinkers were engaged in the same project of creating and sustaining an existential philosophy that was participatory in nature. Opposed to foundational accounts of reality, a philosophy that purports to ex-plain the totality of reality transparently, both Voegelin and Derrida called for ...


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pp. 261-262


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pp. 263-272

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272386
E-ISBN-10: 082627238X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826219107
Print-ISBN-10: 0826219101

Page Count: 284
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1