World-Empire and the Unity of Mankind (1962)
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World-Empire and the Unity of Mankind (1962) 86 [This essay contains Voegelin’s initial exploration of the problem of empire-­ building (an instrumental-­ political enterprise) and its relation to the symbol “world” (the expression of a spiritual experience). He continued his explorations of empire-­ building in his later essays “Historiogenesis” and “Eternal Being in Time,” both published in Anamnesis: On the Theory of History and Politics (1966); and these analyses culminated in Order and History, Volume IV: The Ecumenic Age (1974).—Eds.] An inquiry into the topic of world-­ empire and the unity of mankind sounds, at first hearing, like a dubious enterprise. One’s imagination roams over the history of mankind; it evokes empires ancient, medieval, and modern; and it recalls their claim to dominion over the world. The subject seems to be boundless. Moreover, the theoretical implications of the term world-­empire, although it is generally used in historiography and politics, are quite insufficiently explored, so that the difficulties caused by the boundlessness of materials are aggravated by the inadequacy of conceptual instruments. What can be sensibly said, in the course of a lecture, about so vast and unexplored a topic? Nevertheless, these are precisely the reasons that justify the inquiry and even, considering the claims to world dominion that threaten us, endow it with urgency. What is doubtful is less the reason and urgency of the attempt than its wisdom in terms of results. Will the philosophy of politics, in its present state, allow of a result From Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Volume 11: Published Essays, 1953– 1965, ed. Ellis Sandoz (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000), 134–56. 87 world-empire and the unity of mankind worth the effort? With regard to this question I am optimistic, I hope not unduly so—­ not that a topic of such complexity could be exhausted by a lecture, but it should be possible at least to draw the main lines of the problem. Before entering into the analysis, however, we must have a preliminary understanding about the meaning of world-­ empire; and as the conceptual core of the term, as I have suggested, is too uncertain to be useful for the purpose, the subject-­ matter will be best circumscribed if we briefly recall the historical phenomenon of empire and its relation to the unity of mankind. I There is agreement among historians that a certain period of ancient history has eminently the character of an age of world empires. It is the period beginning roughly in the sixth century B.C. with the Iranian expansion over Mesopotamia, to the Indus in the east, and to the Anatolian littoral and Egypt in the west. In its own geographical area the Iranian establishment of a multi-­ civilizational empire was followed by the conquests of Alexander, by the Diadochic, and ultimately by the Roman and Sassanian empires. In the wake of the Iranian and Macedonian conquests, then, the new model of large-­ scale dominion was imitated in India by the Maurya empire. And without any causal connection with the events farther west as far as we know, although at the same time, classical China went through the troubles of the Chou period, culminating in the creation of the first Chinese empire through Ch’in Shi Huang Ti and the Han dynasty. Parallel in time with the creation of empires spanning the ecumene from the Atlantic to the Pacific, there occurred the famous outbreak on the spiritual level that has fascinated historians, and especially philosophers of history, ever since the data and dates became known with some accuracy early in the nineteenth century. As much as the empires, the appearances of Confucius and Laotse in China, of the Buddha in India, of Zoroaster in Iran, of the prophets in Israel, of the philosophers in Hellas have marked an epoch in the history of mankind. In recent times its cardinal importance has been illuminated by the discussions of Bergson, Toynbee, and Jaspers. With impeccable caution it has been characterized by Bergson as the “opening of the soul”; and less impeccably, with an 88 part two | the philosophical science of politics anti-­ Christian prejudice, by Jaspers as the axis-­time of mankind. The outbreak of imperial expansion was thus accompanied by an opening of spiritual and intellectual horizons that raised humanity to a new level of consciousness. The parallelism of the two phenomena suggests a connection between them. Not, to be sure, a connection on the level of causality, for assertions that the...


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