Introduction: Mankind and History (excerpts)
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from The World of the Polis (1957) 308 From Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Volume 15: Order and History, Vol. 2: The World of the Polis, ed. Athanasios Moulakis (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000), 67–74; 80–90. [Having dealt with the Israelite break with the cosmological myth in Israel and Revelation, Voegelin turned to the study of the Hellenic “break with the myth” in the second volume of Order and History, The World of the Polis, published in 1957 (along with its companion Order and History, Volume III: Plato and Aristotle). In his introduction to The World of the Polis, “Mankind and History ,” Voegelin explains that parallel and independent “leaps in being” in Israel and Hellas led to “the two different symbolisms of Revelation and Philosophy,” and examines the theoretical difficulties that have arisen in the search for the truth of existence in history resulting from these parallel transformations of human consciousness and their corresponding interpretations of reality . The selection here, consisting of the major portion of “Mankind and History,” introduces The World of the Polis’s studies of Greek civilization—­ which include chapters on (among others) Homer, Hesiod, the pre-­ Socratics, the Sophists, Herodotus, and Thucydides.—Eds.] Introduction: Mankind and History (Excerpts) As our study of Order and History moves from Israel to Hellas, it does not move onward in time. In fact, the Hellenic experience of God as the unseen measure of man is neither a sequel to the Israelite experience of the God who reveals himself from the thornbush to Moses and from Sinai to his people, nor even an intelligible advance 309 the world of the polis beyond it in the sense in which both of these experiences differentiate a new truth about the order of being beyond the compact truth of the myth. The leap in being, the epochal event that breaks the compactness of the early cosmological myth and establishes the order of man in his immediacy under God—­ it must be recognized—­ occurs twice in the history of mankind, at roughly the same time, in the Near Eastern and the neighboring Aegean civilizations. The two occurrences, while they run parallel in time and have in common their opposition to the Myth, are independent of each other; and the two experiences differ so profoundly in content that they become articulate in the two different symbolisms of Revelation and Philosophy. Moreover, comparable breaks with the myth, again of widely different complexions, occur contemporaneously in the India of the Buddha and the China of Confucius and Laotse. These multiple and parallel occurrences complicate the problems of the relation between the orders of concrete societies and the order of mankind, which arise on occasion of every one of the leaps taken singly; and they add new ones that will not come into focus in the separate studies of the Israelite and Hellenic orders. A few reflections on this class of problems will be appropriate at this juncture , as an introduction to the Hellenic break with the myth. The primary field of order is the single society of human beings, organized for action to maintain itself in existence. If, however, the human species were nothing but a manifold of such agglomerations , all of them displaying the same type of order under the compulsion of instinct as do insect societies, there would be no history. Human existence in society has history because it has a dimension of spirit and freedom beyond mere animal existence, because social order is an attunement of man with the order of being, and because this order can be understood by man and realized in society with increasing approximations to its truth. Every society is organized for survival in the world and, at the same time, for partnership in the order of being that has its origin in world-­ transcendent divine Being; it has to cope with the problems of its pragmatic existence and, at the same time, it is concerned with the truth of its order. This struggle for the truth of order is the very substance of history; and insofar as advances toward the truth are 310 part five | philosophy of history achieved by the societies indeed as they succeed one another in time, the single society transcends itself and becomes a partner in the common endeavor of mankind. Beyond the primary field of order there extends a secondary field, open toward the future, in which mankind is constituted as the subject of order in history. Hence, neither is mankind a...