Industrial Society in Search of Reason (1963), Section 5
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from Industrial Society in Search of Reason (1963) 78 From Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Volume 11: Published Essays, 1953– 1965, ed. Ellis Sandoz (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000), 183–91. [In this selection, the final section (§5) from his essay “Industrial Society in Search of Reason,” which was first published in German in 1960 (English version in 1963), Voegelin resurrects the classical concept of “the good society” in order to analyze the issues of size, viability, constitutional democracy, the life of reason, and rational debate in modern industrial societies.—Eds.] V. The Good Society The “good society” is a concept of classical politics that requires considerable refurbishing if we are to use it to analyze contemporary politics. According to the classical concept, the “good society” is one that: (1) is large enough and wealthy enough to make the life of reason possible, at least for the minority capable of putting this human potentiality to work; (2) is organized in such a way that the life of reason becomes a social force in a society’s culture, including its political affairs. The concept also bears the burden of two assumptions that have become debatable in our time: (a) that a society, in order to be good, should not be any larger than a polis; (b) the fact that a sizable percentage of men in every society are slaves by nature justifies the institution of slavery and, in general, the maltreatment of those who are scarcely capable of facing up to the responsibilities of citizenship . The second assumption can be dismissed out of hand, since it has been replaced by the Jewish-­ Christian concept of man as the image of God, of man’s dignity and inviolability regardless of how 79 industrial society in search of reason society may judge his conduct or value. But the first assumption requires closer consideration. 1. First, we must clear up a point that in our ideological environment is too easily obscured. A good, or even an excellent, society in the classic sense by no means means an ideal society. The Platonic-­ Aristotelian paradigms take into consideration the fact that men are unequal in actualizing their equal natures; the structure of society is in fact, for unknown reasons, hierarchical and not equalitarian, and we know of no way of changing this situation. The classical political thinkers were realists. Most of their modern colleagues are not. Two corollaries must be added: (a) The model of the good society is not an a priori datum. Its construction is extremely elastic and must vary with our empirical knowledge of human nature and society . One sure thing is that the social effectiveness of the life of reason, which is constantly developing, must be included. For the rest, the field of construction is wide open—­ as is proved by Plato’s readiness to consider second, third, and fourth best paradigms, to none of which he would deny the title “good society.” The problem of the “good society” evolves into that of setting up a scale of societies with varying degrees of goodness. (b) The title “good society” does not contain any eschatological overtones; its establishment is not a final achievement that brings imperfect history to an end. Even the best of the good societies follows, according to the classical concept, the cyclical law of decline and fall; and its corruption begins from the moment of its inception. Or, in noncyclical modern terms: The idea of a good society is incompatible with the ideological dreams of a terrestrial paradise that will last forever. 2. The question of size poses a delicate problem. According to the classical concept, modern societies are not good because they are too large and do not allow the citizens to participate fully in public affairs. This notion cannot be dismissed out of hand as preposterous; some excellent authorities today, Leo Strauss for one, think it is valid . At the other extreme from this radical view may be listed the factors that were nonexistent in antiquity and that today make possible the building of a good society on the vast scale required by industrial society. Among them are: better organization of transportation and communications, the development of representative government and federalism and, last but not least, Christianity, thanks to which 80 part two | the philosophical science of politics the meaning of human existence is no longer circumscribed by its expression in political life. Nevertheless, anyone who has had the opportunity of observing life in the provinces of...