Editors’ Introduction
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Editors’ Introduction ix Eric Voegelin was one of the most creative and prolific philosophers of the twentieth century. Up to the present, however, he is only sparsely celebrated as such. There are various reasons for this relative lack of recognition. First, his mature philosophical writings, besides being challenging in their depth and complexity, are also unconventional, not fitting into any of the contemporary philosophical “schools.” Second, he is most typically identified as a political scientist—­ understandably, as his writing and teaching career began and developed in the context of his concern with political and legal theory. And while those who familiarize themselves with the philosophical “broadening” in his mid-­ period work tend to describe him as a “political philosopher,” even this label doesn’t prepare us for what we find in Voegelin’s corpus taken as a whole. For in its full, magisterial scope, it constitutes nothing less than a critical analysis and assessment of the entire political, religious, and philosophical heritage of the West with regard to essential discoveries and decisive transformations. Also, in responding to the specific challenges of modernity, his mature thought entails the working out of a large-­ scale philosophy of history, together with a detailed philosophical anthropology upon which to found it. Consequently it is as a major, and unusually expansive, philosopher of existence and history that Voegelin should primarily be regarded—­ and as he is here presented. Still, the realm of the “political,” understood in its broadest sense, remains always at the center of Voegelin’s philosophical project, since his focus never strays far from the fundamental question that lay at the heart of Socrates’s questing activity and drives Plato’s x editors’ introduction dialogues: On what basis should we order our lives in society? In striking contrast to many political philosophers, however, Voegelin came to hold that, in order to approach a satisfactory contemporary answer to that question, nothing less was required than an analysis and diagnostic appraisal of all of the most influential ideas and images—­ or, as he puts it, “symbols”—­ with which Western cultures have understood, and tried to shape, personal and political order. Consequently we find the enormous scope of material addressed in the thirty-­ four volumes of his Collected Works. Voegelin’s genesis and development as a philosopher was as non-­ typical as the scope and character of his philosophical accomplishment . These may be portrayed by way of, first, a brief intellectual biography, and second, a description of key elements of his philosophy , culminating in remarks concerning Voegelin’s understanding of the meaning of the term philosophy, his recognition of the necessarily incomplete nature of any genuine philosophical enterprise, and his view of the link between the biographical development of a philosopher and the quality of the philosophy produced. Intellectual Biography Born in Cologne, Germany, on January 3, 1901, and educated in Vienna from 1910, Voegelin earned his doctorate in a political science program under the Faculty of Law at the University of Vienna in 1922. He taught political science and sociology as a member of the law faculty there between 1929 and 1938, serving that faculty also as an assistant for constitutional and administrative law. Between 1924 and 1926 he spent two years in the United States on Rockefeller Foundation fellowships, where he attended lectures at Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Wisconsin, and subsequently spent a year in France again supported by a Rockefeller fellowship. Out of his studies of Anglo-­ American legal and philosophical traditions came his first book (1928), Über die Form des amerikanischen Geistes (On the Form of the American Mind). The increasing tensions on the European political stage and the rise of National Socialism led Voegelin to the focus of his next two books, both appearing in 1933: Rasse und Staat (Race and State) and Der Rassenidee in der Geistesgeschichte (History of the Race Idea). Together they offered a scholarly critique of the biological theories xi editors’ introduction underlying Nazi race doctrines and their origins. His last two books published before emigrating to the United States, Der autoritäre Staat (The Authoritarian State) of 1936 and Die politischen Religionen (The Political Religions) of 1938, reflect Voegelin’s efforts to understand the rising influence of ideological fanaticisms in his political milieu, and his recognition that they involve substituting world-­ immanent objects, such as the race or the nation, for divine reality. Not surprisingly, these last four books brought him unflatteringly to the attention of the Nazis, and when Hitler annexed Austria in...