- Eric Voegelin Partly Seen
The phrase “the casual reader of Voegelin” appears to be oxymoronic. If we look to experience as our guide, it seems that there can be no middle ground between either a total immersion into Voegelin studies or a total neglect of his work. The University of Missouri Press is making it easier both for the initiate and the novice to access and evaluate Voegelin’s work and worth. The massive Collected Works of Eric Voegelin project, which runs to thirty-four volumes, is now complete. Under the auspices of the Eric Voegelin Institute, Missouri also publishes secondary studies on Voegelin in two different series, one dealing with political philosophy and the other offering studies on religion and politics.
Voegelin was born in Germany soon after the turn of the twentieth century, and his formative years were spent in Vienna, Austria. In 1944 Voegelin, after having narrowly escaped the Nazis, became a naturalized citizen of the United States; but his first exposure to America had been in the mid-twenties when he spent two years here studying and traveling. His first book was On the Form of the American Mind, published in 1928. Other early works, written during the period in which Hitler was ascending to power in German politics, were studies of race—Race and State and The History of the Race Idea—and had made Voegelin a target of the Gestapo by the late 1930s. Soon after the anschluss between Germany and Austria, Voegelin was fired from his teaching position at the University of Vienna, and he and his wife fled to Switzerland and then settled in the United States. From 1938 until 1958 Voegelin taught at a number of American universities, notably Louisiana State. While at lsu he published The New Science of Politics and began work on the multivolume Order and History, a project that occupied him for the remainder of his life. Before he began work on Order and History, Voegelin wrote a draft of a “History of Political Ideas,” which was not published in its entirety until its posthumous appearance in the Collected Works. In 1958 Voegelin returned to Germany to establish an institute for political science at the University of Munich. After a decade in Germany Voegelin [End Page 450] was enticed back to the United States by the Hoover Institution, and he remained affiliated with it until his death in 1985.
Voegelin Recollected offers a tightly edited set of interviews with Voegelin’s wife, students, colleagues, and friends. Arranged in reverse chronological order, the book begins with Voegelin’s last years at the Hoover in Palo Alto and works back to his early years in Austria. Rather than presenting each interview independently, the editors interweave their questions with responses from various interviews, thus approximating a single conversation dealing with Voegelin’s thought and personal life.
One area in which the intellectual and the personal intersect is on the question of Voegelin’s relationship to American conservatism. There was no consensus on this issue, as this sampling of views illustrates: 1) He “seemed to make it very clear that, in terms of Cold War politics, he was a strong conservative: strong arms, strong methods were the way to deal with it”; 2) He “knew that these accolades translated into generous financial support for his research from conservative foundations, and Eric was in that sense a Machiavellian: he would simply be friendly and he would accept the money, but he would not accept any conditions”; 3) “He’s a conservative in the sense that he wishes to preserve civilization against the onslaught...