Eric Voegelin

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Eric Voegelin (3 January 190119 January 1985) was a German-born American philosopher.


"From Enlightenment to Revolution" (1975)[edit]

(written in the 1950s)
  • The tenacity of faith in this complex of ideas is certainly not caused by its merits as an adequate interpretation of man and society. The inadequacy of a pleasure-pain psychology, the poverty of utilitarian ethics, the impossibility of explaining moral phenomena by the pursuit of happiness, the uselessness of the greatest happiness of the greatest number as a principle of social ethics - all these have been demonstrated over and over again in a voluminous literature. Nevertheless, even today this complex of ideas holds a fascination for a not inconsiderable number of persons. This fascination will be more intelligible if we see the complex of sensualism and utilitarianism not as number of verifiable propositions but as the dogma of a religion of socially immanent salvation. Enlightened utilitarianism is but the first in a series of totalitarian, sectarian movements to be followed later by Positivism, Communism and National Socialism.
    • p. 52
  • The criterion of integral sanity [for Littré] is the acceptance of Positivism in its first stage. The criteria of decadence or decline are (1) a faith in transcendental reality, whether it expresses itself in the Christian form or in that of a substitute religion, (2) the assumption that all human faculties have a legitimate urge for public expression in a civilization, and (3) the assumption that love can be a legitimate guiding principle of action, taking precedence before reason. This diagnosis of mental deficiency is of an importance which can hardly be exaggerated. It is not the isolated diagnosis of Littré; it is rather the typical attitude toward the values of Western civilization which has continued among "intellectual positivists" from the time of Mill and Littré down to the neo-Positivistic schools of the Viennese type. Moreover, it has not remained confined to the schools but has found popular acceptance to such a degree that this variant of Positivism is today one of the most important mass movements. It is impossible to understand the graveness of the Western crisis unless we realize that the cultivation of values beyond Littré's formula of civilization as the dominion of man over nature and himself by means of science is considered by broad sectors of Western society to be a kind of mental deficiency.
    • p. 139
  • But it is useless to subject this hash of uncritical language to critical questioning. We can make no sense of these sentences of Engels unless we consider them as symptoms of a spiritual disease. As a disease, however, they make excellent sense for, with great intensity, they display the symptoms of logophobia, now quite outspokenly as a desperate fear and hatred of philosophy. We even find named the specific object of fear and hatred: it is "the total context of things and of knowledge of things." Engels, like Marx, is afraid that the recognition of critical conceptual analysis might lead to the recognition of a "total context," of an order of being and perhaps even of cosmic order, to which their particular existences would be subordinate. If we may use the language of Marx: a total context must not exist as an autonomous subject of which Marx and Engels are insignificant predicates; if it exists at all, it must exist only as a predicate of the autonomous subjects Marx and Engels. Our analysis has carried us closer to the deeper stratum of theory that we are analysing at present, the meaning of logophobia now comes more clearly into view. It is not the fear of a particular critical concept, like Hegel's Idea, it is rather the fear of critical analysis in general. Submission to critical argument at any point might lead to the recognition of an order of the logos, of a constitution of being, and the recognition of such an order might reveal the revolutionary idea of Marx, the idea of establishing a realm of freedom and of changing the nature of man through revolution, as the blasphemous and futile nonsense which it is.
    • p. 260
  • We see again confirmed the correlation between spiritual impotence and antirationalism: one cannot deny God and retain reason.
    • in reference to Marx and Comte, p. 298


  • The course of history as a whole is no object of experience; history has no eidos, because the course of history extends into the unknown future.
    • Eric Voegelin (1987), The New Science of Politics: An Introduction, ISBN 0226861147, p. 120
  • The death of the spirit is the price of progress.
    • Eric Voegelin (1987), The New Science of Politics: An Introduction, ISBN 0226861147, p. 131
  • Philosophy springs from the love of being; it is man's loving endeavor to perceive the order of being and attune himself to it. Gnosis desires dominion over being; in order to seize control of being the Gnostic constructs his system. The building of systems is a gnostic form of reasoning, not a philosophical one.
    • Eric Voegelin (1999), Science, Politics, and Gnosticism in The Collected Works, Vol. 5: Modernity Without Restraint, edited by Manfred Henningsen, ISBN 082621245X, p. 273.
  • Christ is the head of the corpus mysticum, which includes all men from the beginning of the world to its end. He is not the president of a special-interest club.
    • Eric Voegelin (1999), The Collected Works, Vol. 31: Hitler and the Germans, edited and translated by Detlev Clemens and Brandon Purcell, ISBN 0826212166, p. 200.
  • 'The order of history is the history of order.'
  • One can hardly engage in a serious study of medieval Christianity without discovering among its ‘values’ the belief in a rational science of human and social order and especially of natural law. Moreover, this science was not simply a belief, but it was actually elaborated as a work of reason.
    • On Max Weber's omission of medieval Christianity

About Voegelin[edit]

  • In Brazil, it goes like this: communists only read communist authors, (economic) liberals only read liberal authors and so on. Each one is afraid of tarnishing their little soul with sinful thoughts. In order for someone to speak with some propriety about the communist movement, they must have previously studied the following things:
  1. The classics of Marxism: Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong.
  2. The most important Marxist philosophers: Lukács, Korsch, Gramsci, Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, Lefebvre, Althusser.
  3. Main Currents of Marxism, by Leszek Kolakowski.
  4. Some good history and sociology books about the revolutionary movement in general, such as Fire in the Minds of Men, by James H. Billington, The Pursuit of the Millenium, by Norman Cohn, The New Science of Politics, by Eric Voegelin.
  5. Good books on the history of communist regimes written from a non-apologetic point of view.
  6. Books by the most famous critics of Marxism, like Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, Ludwig von Mises, Raymond Aron, Roger Scruton, Nicolai Berdiaev and so many others.
  7. Books about the communist strategy and tactics on their rise to power, about the underground activities of the movement in the West and chiefly about the "active measures" (disinformation, agents of influence), like those by Anatolyi Golitsyn, Christopher Andrew, John Earl Haynes, Ladislaw Bittman, Diana West.
  8. The largest number possible of testimonies by former communist agents and militants who recall their experience in service of the movement or communist governments, such as Arthur Koestler, Ian Valtin, Ion Mihai Pacepa, Whittaker Chambers, David Horowitz.
  9. High-value testimonies about human condition in socialist societies, like those by Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Vladimir Bukovski, Nadiejda Mandelstam, Alexander Soljenítsin, Richard Wurmbrand.
This is a reading program that can be accomplished in four or five years by a good student. I do not know, either in the Brazilian right or left, anyone, absolutely anyone, who has accomplished it.
Olavo de Carvalho, in Estudar antes de falar, Diário do Comércio, 13 August 2013
  • The three mid-twentieth-century master painters of liberal disorder considered here—Richard Weaver, Eric Voegelin and Alasdair MacIntyre—all worked in the United States. Voegelin and MacIntyre were European emigrés. They wrote with a historical and geographic broad sweep. By the “West” they meant, willy-nilly, the classical Mediterranean world, medieval Christendom, and present-day rich, non-Communist nations. All took for granted a pervasive spiritual decline. None focused topically on this or that particular social harm or its solution. They wrote as if Western troubles were, if not of one kind, at any rate from a common source in a collective moral disorder. The scholastic and historical detail was imposing. With Voegelin, it was overwhelming. Despite the detail, however, the appeal of the picture lay in its simplicity and familiarity. Each told a time-honored story of Luciferan pride and fall. What liberals saw as progress, these thinkers took for ruinous and merited decline. Reversing decline, supposing that reversal were possible, was a matter of morals and how to think about morals. Each had a social diagnosis, a historical story, and a suggested cure. On the diagnosis, they concurred. We were suffering from liberal modernity. On the timing of its onset they differed: the twelfth century, perhaps earlier (Voegelin); the fourteenth century (Weaver); eighteenth-century Enlightenment (MacIntyre). The suggested cure was to rebuff liberal efforts to privatize morality and put morality back into politics and public life. Weaver, Voegelin, and MacIntyre opened paths toward present-day “values” conservatism. They pointed to a sphere of politics that conservatives might hope to claim as their own.
    • Edmund Fawcett, Conservatism (2020), pp. 306-307
  • Voegelin’s was a lapsarian story, like Weaver’s, but told with a deeper knowledge of languages and the past. The timescale ran from preclassical times to the present. He elaborated an overarching tale of humanity’s fall into modernity in many essays, in an eight-volume history of political ideas written for college use, and in his main work, the five-volume Order and History (1956–87). For Voegelin, the “ismatic” apple that prompted our fall into modernity was not nominalism but gnosticism. By “gnosticism,” he meant a corrosive error about the nature of social norms, made originally by puritanical, mystic religious sects—the Gnostics—in the early Christian period. The gnostic error on Voegelin’s telling became pervasive in later myth, religion, and politics. The error was to confuse norms binding together present society with idealized depictions of a hoped-for future society. To that simple-sounding thought—that aiming to remake society was chasing a fantasy—Voegelin gave rich historico-philosophical clothing.
    • Edmund Fawcett, Conservatism (2020), pp. 309-310
  • The great line of demarcation in modern politics, Eric Voegelin used to point out, is not a division between liberals on one side and totalitarians on the other. No, on one side of that line are all those men and women who fancy that the temporal order is the only order, and that material needs are their only needs, and that they may do as they like with the human patrimony. On the other side of that line are all those people who recognize an enduring moral order in the universe, a constant human nature, and high duties toward the order spiritual and the order temporal.
  • What was novel in Voegelin’s thought was that he wedded that commonplace to a theory of history, suggesting that a universal process of symbolization was surreptitiously at work in human civilization, giving world history a discernible direction.
    • Mark Lilla, "Mr. Casaubon in America", The New York Review of Books (June 28, 2007)

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