Voegelin’s American Sojourn (1924-26)

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Before his immigration to the United States in 1938, Voegelin had spent two years as a research fellow in the America from the Fall of 1924 to the end of 1926. He was the first Austrian recipient of a Laura Spellman Rockefeller Memorial research fellowship and attended classes at Columbia, Harvard, Wisconsin, and finally at Yale.

Among the great scholars he heard were Franklin Giddings and John Dewey at Columbia, Alfred North Whitehead and Roscoe Pound at Harvard, and John R. Commons at Wisconsin. He spent his final semester at Yale Law School.

In New York he became friends with students of the geneticist Thomas Hunt Morgan and from that developed a life-long interest in biology. He also absorbed the philsophy of George Santayana and William James. As a result of these experiences he rejected European Idealism.


In Europe it was necessary for a scholar to become “habilitated” before he could attain a permanent position in the academy. For Voegelin this meant publishing his collected essays about his experiences in America from 1924 to 1926. Some of these essays remain important to this day and are found in On the Form of the American Mind of the Collected Works. These essays were published in addition to his doctoral work, completed in 1922 and now found in The Theory of Governance of the Collected Works. He took his degree in law, not philosophy or political science, and worked under two “doctor-fathers,” Othmar Span and Hans Kelsen, the latter of whom drafted the Austrian constitution of 1920 and who remains well known to legal theorists in the US for his development of the “pure theory of law.”

Voegelin’s Analysis of Racism

Voegelin wrote two books about race and racism, Race and State and The History of the Race Idea from Ray to Carus. Both published in 1933, Voegelin’s materials on evolution are timeless and compelling yet today. Of the latter book Voegelin himself said, “[The Nazi annexation of Austria] is the reason why this book, which I consider one of my better efforts, has remained practically unknown, though it would be of considerable help in the contemporary, rather dilettantic, debates between evolutionists and anti-evolutionists. ”

Early Teaching in the United States

Voegelin needed help to emigrate from Europe to America; this help came in the form of a temporary appointment to teach at Harvard. After teaching briefly at Bennington in Vermont, he chose to distance himself from the emigré scholar community and from the “climate of opinion” found on the East coast and took a teaching position at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. There he learned Hebrew, adding to his previously acquired Latin, Greek, Italian, English, Russian, and French. After a few years at Alabama he was persuaded to move to Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

Max Weber

Voegelin deeply admired Max Weber and this admiration is abundantly clear from his several essays about Weber’s work. But he was also aware of Weber’s limitations and his simultaneously sympathetic and sorrowful critique of Weber in The New Science of Politics is one of the more remarkable passages in that most compelling book. See also Voegelin’s “The Greatness of Max Weber” found in Hitler and the Germans  in “Max Weber” in Published Essays 1922-1928, and “Max Weber” in Published Essays 1929-1933.