from The Collected Works
In Search of the Ground
Part 3– The Exhaustion of Ideologies
Eric Voegelin visited the St. Thomas More Institute in Montréal four times over an eleven year span, the first visit taking place in 1965. On this occasion he gave a lecture which was followed by questions from graduate students. The lectures were transcribed and published by Edwin O’Connor, the Institute’s Director. This is presented in five parts. Part 1 may be read HERE
And now comes the matter that is, of course, of most immediate interest for us: What has happened to this transcendent Ground under modern conditions in modern political conceptions?
All ideologies operate against the background of an understanding of the transcendent ground, since the divine ground is part of the cultural heritage.
We are living in Western civilization, which has philosophy and revelation and Christianity and the Church as its background, and all our vocabulary is taken from there.
We have no immediate mythical vocabulary; all our vocabulary is revelatory or philosophical.
What has happened to the transcendent ground in that connection?
It has become, let us say, immanentized.
We still have of course, the quest of the ground; we want to know where things come from. But since God (in revelatory language) or transcendent divine Being (in philosophical language) is prohibited for agnostics, they must put their ground elsewhere.
And now we can see, beginning about the middle of the eighteenth century, in the Enlightenment, a whole series of misplacements of the ground. The transcendent Ground is misplaced somewhere in an immanent hierarchy of being.
The first such misplacement would be making an immanent reason of man the ultimate ground. The eighteenth century has been called “the Age of Reason” because human, not divine, reason is considered to be the ultimate measure and ground of all action and everything within the world.
This human reason, however, is empty of content. A transcendent Reason, the tension toward transcendence, gives you a criterion, because if you are oriented in your action toward transcendence and see that “here is the nature of man,” then obviously certain things are impossible.
If the nature of man is to be found in his openness toward a divine Ground, you cannot at the same time see the nature of man in having certain kinds of passions or in having a certain race or pigmentation or something like that. It is in the openness to the ground; there is a content in it.