Chapter 10: American Influence
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from Autobiographical Reflections (1973) 7 From Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Volume 34: Autobiographical Reflections : Revised Edition, With a Voegelin Glossary and Cumulative Index, ed. Ellis Sandoz (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2006), 56–73. Chapter 10: American Influence I have already referred to my year in New York, in which one important influence came through the younger men surrounding Thomas Hunt Morgan. This year in New York was possible because at that time the Rockefeller Foundation extended research fellowships to European students under the title of the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Fellowships. I was one of the first recipients, so far as I know the first from Austria, and I had this fellowship for three years. The first year I spent in New York at Columbia University. In the second year I went for one semester to Harvard and the second semester to Wisconsin. The third year I spent in Paris. These two years in America brought the great break in my intellectual development. My interests, though far-­ ranging, were still provincial, inasmuch as the location in Central Europe was not favorable to an understanding of the larger world beyond Continental Europe. At Columbia University I took courses with Franklin Henry Giddings the sociologist, John Dewey, Irwin Edman, John Wesley the economist, and Arthur Whittier Macmahon in public administration, and I was overwhelmed by a new world of which hitherto I had hardly suspected the existence. The most important influence came from the library. During the year in New York, I started working through the history of English philosophy and its expansion into American thought. My studies were strongly motivated and helped by Dewey and Edman. I discovered English 8 part one | intellectual biography and American common sense philosophy. More immediately, the impact came through Dewey’s recent book, Human Nature and Conduct, which was based on the English common sense tradition. From there, I worked back to Thomas Reid and Sir William Hamilton . This English and Scottish conception of common sense as a human attitude that incorporates a philosopher’s attitude toward life without the philosopher’s technical apparatus, and inversely the understanding of Classic and Stoic philosophy as the technical, analytical elaboration of the common sense attitude, has remained a lasting influence in my understanding both of common sense and Classic philosophy. It was during this time that I got the first inkling of what the continued tradition of Classic philosophy on the common-­ sense level, without necessarily the technical apparatus of an Aristotle, could mean for the intellectual climate and the cohesion of a society. Precisely this tradition of common sense I now recognized to be the factor that was signally absent from the German social scene and not so well developed in France as it was in England and America. In retrospect, I would say that the absence of political institutions rooted in an intact common sense tradition is a fundamental defect of the German political structure that still has not been overcome. When I look at the contemporary German scene, with its frenetic debate between positivists, neo­ -Marxists, and neo-­ Hegelians, it is the same scene that I observed when I was a student in the 1920s in the Weimar Republic; the intellectual level, however, has become abnormally mediocre. The great figures engaged pro and con in the analysis of philosophical problems in the 1920s—­men like Max Scheler, Karl Jaspers, Martin Heidegger, Alfred Weber, Karl Mannheim—­ have disappeared from the scene and have not been replaced by men of comparable stature and competence. During my year in New York, I began to sense that 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. During the year at Columbia, when I took the courses of Giddings and Dewey and read their work, I became aware of the categories of social substance in the English-­ speaking world. John Dewey’s 9 autobiographical reflections category was likemindedness, which I found was the term used by the King James Bible to translate the New Testament term homonoia . That was the first time I became aware of the problem of homonoia, about which I knew extremely little at the time, because my knowledge of Classic philosophy was still quite insufficient and my knowledge of Christian problems practically nonexistent. Only later, when I had learned Greek and was able to read the texts in the...