- Book Notes
Anyone looking for a recent representative of philosophical rationalism grounded in transcendence—either as a worthy opponent or as a resourceful ally, a buttress, or a butt—can hardly do better than engage Eric Voegelin (1901-1985). Voegelin takes only sideways glances at cultures and traditions outside the West, looking instead to Classical and medieval Christian thought to find "general categories that would make it possible to compare orders in various civilizations and find common denominators for their treatment" (p. 224). In a nutshell, "The Ground of existence is an experienced reality of a transcendent nature toward which one lives in a tension" (p. 229), and reason "is the consciousness of being caused by the divine Ground and being in search of the divine Ground" (p. 232 n).
Among the political philosophers who fled from Hitler to the United States, Voegelin is commonly ranked with Leo Strauss and Hannah Arendt. A review of the latter's Origins of Totalitarianism is reprinted in this volume, and the idea that "human nature as such" might be "at stake" in the cataclysmic events of the mid- twentieth century (and that we humans might have some responsibility for the outcome) is treated by Voegelin as nonsense: "a 'change of nature' is a contradiction of terms" (p. 21). Voegelin is otherwise polite about the value of Arendt's book and toward existentialists in general, whose "analyses of existence . . . are of utmost importance in terms of intellectual history." Nevertheless, in the versions found among students existentialism is, along with value relativism, one of two kinds of "nonsense" (p. 77).
Voegelin returned to Munich in 1958 to occupy a chair that had not been filled since it was vacated by Max Weber (p. 1). He carried with him admiration for the political culture of Britain and the United States and the conviction that its conditions were not appreciated by those who enjoyed it. "A theory of conscience that shies away from ontology, and in particular from a theory of the nature of man, is empty; . . . even under such favorable conditions (as they still exist in England) this nihilistic theory of conscience contributes to the intellectual and moral confusion that paves the way for the best of all consciences, viz., that of the totalitarian killers" (p. 46).
There are to be thirty-four volumes in the Collected Works of Eric Voegelin in English. [End Page 616]