“A Cow Is Just a Cow”: George Grant and Eric Voegelin on the United States

HomeArticles“A Cow Is Just a Cow”: George Grant and Eric Voegelin on the United States
George Grant

George Grant and Eric Voegelin both invoked the stories and the symbols of “Jerusalem and Athens” – to use a trope made famous by Leo Strauss (1) – as aids to understanding modern life. Grant often described himself as a Christian Platonist whose reflections on technology, the good life, beauty, and Canada were informed by a mixture of Platonic rationalism and Christian exegesis of the depths of meaning symbolized by the cross. Voegelin’s reflections on history, modernity, and ideology, featured most prominently in his New Science of Politics and Order and History, were formed by his understanding of the Platonic or “noetic” quest for order – Athens – as well as the biblical, Israelite, Christian, “pneumatic” quest for order – Jerusalem.

A systematic comparison of Voegelin and Grant could be likened to retrieving an imaginary conversation they never held. Voegelin and Grant never met, nor did they make much use of each other’s writings. Voegelin seems never to have read Grant. Grant, on the other hand, referred to Voegelin on a few occasions. Grant admired Order and History and often recommended volume one, Israel and Revelation, to his students as the best study on understanding the Bible in the modern age. (2) He referred to Voegelin’s account of representation in the New Science of Politics as an antidote to an anachronistic conservatism that would confine Canadian nationalism to memories of the past. (3) Late in his life, he wrote in a letter that he found Voegelin’s understanding of the relationship between philosophy and faith more profound than that of Strauss. (4) However, in his praise of Simone Weil as a “Gnostic saint,” Grant offered the opinion that Voegelin erred in his understanding of Gnosticism. (5) Regrettably, he did not elaborate this view.

Common themes in their writings that would provide points of contact include their interpretations of Plato, their interpretations of Christian revelation, their perspectives on the work of Leo Strauss, and their views on the relationship between poetry, myth, and philosophy, on gnosticism, theodicy, and suffering, on twentieth-century ideological mass movements, and on technology and scientism. These are large and complex problems involving grand questions of interpretation. The question we raise in this chapter is more concrete, pragmatic, and empirical: What did they think of the United States? Whatever the extent of their agreement regarding Athens and Jerusalem and the great issues of noetic and pneumatic symbolism, Voegelin and Grant held widely divergent, even antithetical, views of the principles and practices of American politics and founding principles. Grant regarded the liberal-democratic United States as the clearest manifestation of technological, imperial modernity, more seductive and ultimately more destructive than even the ideological empires of international and national socialists. From his early writings on the fate of Canada through his late reflections on technology, Grant applied his Christian Platonism to view the United States as the vanguard of technology, the moloch to which it was necessary to sacrifice “one’s own,” to repudiate the love of one’s own, and thus as well to repudiate the image in the world of the Good and even the love of the Good. In short, to Grant, the moloch-face of America was satanic. (6)

In contrast, Voegelin consistently viewed the United States as having maintained sufficient substance from the classical-Judaeo-Christian heritage of the West to preserve itself against the more virulent of the ideological onslaughts of modernity that had engulfed Europe. Voegelin’s first book was on the United States, in which he drew a distinction between the ideological self-interpretations of Americans and the actual, although less conscious, practices of the polity that occur through its institutions, which he regarded as a better way to understand the principles of a regime. (7) Voegelin’s writings on scientism indicate that he, too, was aware of the dangers of technology that so worried Grant. However, like Leo Strauss, but unlike Grant, Voegelin saw the United States as endowed with a spiritual and intellectual substance that enabled it to resist the limitless claims of technology. (8)

As we shall see, biographical accident played a part in conditioning the two men’s respective interpretations of the principles and practices of the United States. Their differences, however, have more than biographical significance. To begin with, their accounts indicate the way that each thinker understood the possibility of a good polity enduring modernity. An analysis of their respective views of the United States provides a lens through which we can see, not simply their opinions of a particular regime, but the ability of the great issues of Jerusalem and Athens to inform a polity within modernity.

To use the kind of dramatic language that Grant favoured on such occasions: at issue is the degree to which either man considered the Good or even the good regime to be capable of manifestation in history. Our analysis aims to uncover or “enucleate” (one of Grant’s favourite words) the “fundamental experiences” (Voegelin) or the “primal” (Grant) that each author regarded as the core of the American experience. Both, for example, understood the importance of “the frontier.” For Voegelin, the experience of the frontier shaped the American understanding of the biblical realities of equality and freedom. For Grant, the “frontier” symbolized the lonely and alienated will of liberal and Calvinist modernity bent on the exploitation of nature. As we shall see, their explications of the United States reveal as much about themselves and their respective experiences of order in history as about the United States.

“Experiences” of the United States I

Voegelin and Grant had in common the biographically unique encounter of a foreigner with the United States. For both men, that experience was critical and significant. Moreover, both were aware of the link between biography and philosophy; both knew that philosophical consciousness was somebody’s philosophical consciousness. That is, concrete human beings, with specific and identifiable names such as George Grant and Eric Voegelin, participate in the order and disorder of particular times and places. Their reflections are already under way in their pre-reflective experiences of participation in the here and now of the America they knew. Looked at in terms of the accounts they rendered of their participation in the reality of America, what they said was also an account of how they understood themselves. In order to see their respective assessments of the United States, it is first necessary to consider where they were standing and where they were going.

Born in Cologne, Germany, Voegelin first encountered the United States as part of his professional career. At the age of twenty-four, he spent two years on a study trip immediately after he earned his doctorate at the University of Vienna under the supervision of the great legal scholar Hans Kelsen. During that time, he heard A.N. Whitehead and John Dewey lecture at Harvard; he worked in the genetics lab of Thomas Hunt Morgan at Columbia but also took courses from John Dewey, F.H. Giddings, Irwin Edman, and J.W. Macmahon. Perhaps most important, he spent time in Wisconsin, where he learned American government and economics from John R. Commons, an economist who was influential among the Progressives. Upon returning to central Europe, he spent the next decade immersed in the ideological struggles surrounding the rise of Nazi Germany. In 1938 he barely escaped from Nazism and fled to the United States. He taught at several American universities before settling for sixteen years at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. In 1958 he returned to Europe as professor and director of the Institute for Political Science at the University of Munich, where, among other things, he taught American government and politics to German students as part of what he called his belated post-war reconstruction effort. He retired to the United States in 1969 to work at the Hoover Institution in Palo Alto, California, and died there in 1985.

The effect of the United States on Voegelin’s thought has been well documented. He stated in an extended interview in 1973 that his two-year study trip in the 1920s taught him common sense philosophy, which inoculated him against the ideological disorders plaguing Europe at the time. (9) Unlike Grant, however, Voegelin regarded this philosophy as congruent with, and ultimately based upon, the classical Greek and biblical principles that sustain existential resistance to the deleterious effects of modernity. The other thing that Voegelin learned from that two-year study trip was the primacy to be accorded to the practice and self-understanding of practitioners. That is, Voegelin learned from his experience of the United States that political science begins from an understanding of the self-interpretation of those individuals who actually participate in any particular political order, and not from an elaborate “scientific” understanding. The specific and particular character of American democracy (or of any other regime), with its complex manifold of political, spiritual, intellectual, legal, and economic forms, made it impossible to analyse it through the lens of externally imposed, aprioristic categories (as positivists of various stripes did then, and continue to do at present).

Instead, Voegelin developed a technical, though still commonsensical, method of studying American society. He found that particular “forms” such as laws or economics exist in a social space that gives them their shape but that this social space is, in turn, informed by them: “The fact that a necessary structure with variable themes can be combined into an unbroken unity of an intellectual form presupposes that the structure itself contains a point of departure for variability. When the topic contains such a point, only a variation can of necessity be described; it cannot be described ‘in itself.’ Thus the only way to clarify its essence is precisely through comparison of a number of these variations.” (10) The unifying form and the “variations” of that form exist in a dialectical relationship whereby each engages the other in historical time. This insight would lead Voegelin to become sceptical of doctrines that simply incorporate empirical materials into an a priori interpretation. His early work on the United States, therefore, contains several studies of American institutions, including the Federal Reserve Board and the Supreme Court, that draw from scholars of American institutions; it also includes studies of representative figures, including William James, Samuel Gompers, Robert La Follette, Jonathan Edwards, and John R. Commons, who typify what Voegelin, borrowing from Henri Bergson, referred to as the “open self.” (11)

Finally, these studies reflect his view that liberal democracy and the Anglo-American tradition within which it arose is, because it is a tradition, never fully present or conscious to itself. Accordingly, all the arguments and “philosophies” of the American tradition are necessarily incomplete precisely because they are merely traditions, that is, accounts and stories that are handed down or handed over unreflectively between generations. At the same time, however, these traditions can express a truth of existence or, to use a favourite, though far from idiomatic, expression of Voegelin, are luminous towards the divine ground. (12)

Voegelin’s attention to “variations” and empirical materials is not simply the result of his scholarly contentiousness but is integral to the self-understanding of his or anyone’s participation in reality. Recall the famous opening statement of Order and History: “the order of history emerges from the history of order.” This means, among other things, that Voegelin saw his own scholarship as the result of his participation in history, which includes his resistance to disorder. Put another way, Voegelin’s scholarship is the result of his participation in order and of his own ability to transcend disorder, which is made possible because of the nature of the order within which he (as all human beings) participates and of which he (as a singular human being) is conscious. Moreover, to return to the approach outlined in our introduction, Voegelin’s self-understanding as participant informs his position regarding the face of the Good in the world, whether (or the extent to which) a good regime can appear in the world, and thus whether (or the extent to which) the United States is so informed.

The contingencies of George Parkin Grant’s life were rather different. Grant belonged to a well-connected family who saw themselves as members of the British Empire and who happened to dwell in Canada. His paternal grandfather, George Monro Grant, presided over Queen’s University; his maternal grandfather, George Parkin, directed the Rhodes Trust; his uncle, Vincent Massey, was the first Canadian-born governor general; and his father, William Grant, was principal of Upper Canada College in Toronto. Grant understood that he and his distinguished family were charged with the duty of maintaining Canada’s Britishness through the imperial connection; when that option was no longer possible, they adopted the view that it was of overriding importance to maintain whatever it was that made Canada distinct from the United States. George Grant personally felt extraordinary pressure, from his mother in particular, to succeed in the world of affairs; he seemed to reciprocate with worldly ambition and pragmatism, at least until his time at Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship in 1939–40. (13)

Whatever one may think of such a family, (14) there is a sense of homelessness that pervades Grant’s biography and his writings. For example, he speaks of his father’s family as Highland Scots and evokes an image of the Clearances and the Highlanders’ forcible expulsion as if it were yesterday or the day before, not a century and a half earlier. (15) Likewise, Grant recalled the experiences of the Loyalists, men and women driven from the America colonies and made homeless by the young republic, as if those experiences still burned in the souls of yeomen along the Niagara frontier. Grant, in short, lived within a powerful tradition: the experiences of exile of the Scots following the Clearances and of the Loyalists following the American revolution were crucial to his identity in the present. In both instances, Grant saw that a significant part of what he was charged to maintain was defined as resistance to imperial ruthlessness: the memory of Culloden appeared through the image of Uncle Sam. More poignant still, homelessness was part of Grant’s internal landscape, a lonely, alienated self trapped within modernity.

Notwithstanding a keen nostalgia for Oxford and for England, and a great pride in his lineage, Grant came to reject many of the assumptions of his family history. He would make light of his own Oedipal problems and claim that he had moved beyond the stifling conventions of Upper Canada. He said that he found the liberal Protestantism embodied in Upper Canada “oblivious of the eternal,” of world-transcendent experiences and realities, just as worldly American Puritanism, which transformed itself into capitalism and liberal pragmatism, had become blind to those same realities. Thus, the key part of Grant’s biography consisted of what he and his biographer called a basic reorientation of his outlook on the divine whereby he focused his spiritual and intellectual energies on the meaning of the mystery of the cross. William Christian notes that this event took place following a long process of rethinking his own faith and moving away from that of his family’s: “His experience of God at the bleakest moment of the war was less a rejection of his past than it was the culmination of a long development.” (16) His conversion – on 11 or 12 December 1941 – came at a difficult time: he was convalescing in the country while London was undergoing the crucible of the Blitz. As with many such accounts, he says that his conversion came about after a great suffering that ground him down to nearly nothing.

However important the long preparatory suffering may have been, it is important to note as well that it occurred only a few days after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. News of the bombing, and of the U.S. entry into the war, drove him to despair and thoughts of suicide. That is, American entry into the war, which Grant, a pacifist, knew would turn the tide against Hitler, did not end his suffering. On the contrary, the decision of a nation of 130 million people to join the conflict would be “an experience which will only create greater ill will, greater misunderstanding that will take them farther from the face of God.” (17) It was not simply that the participation in the war of a large and powerful state would ensure that the killing would continue. Grant also opposed the “dehumanized” way the Americans practised war. (18) In short, the conversion experience that constitutes the centerpiece of his life, and the centerpiece of his philosophizing, was occasioned by his view that the American entry into the war would worsen world relations instead of improving them – even though he recognized that it would also mean eventual victory over Nazi Germany. The deep ambivalence Grant experienced towards his family was reinforced by his ambivalence towards war and by his own pacifism, feelings that became even more intense after Pearl Harbor.

Grant’s deepening personal depression was resolved with his conversion a few days later when he was reminded that God exists. His descent paralleled the abyss into which he thought the world had sunk. The individual may be redeemed, he concluded, but civilization is not. Writing to his mother a few years earlier, Grant had stated, “My trouble is that I am a true Lutheran in that I seek out my own personal salvation and don’t try to affect others.” (19) The difference between personal salvation and a political sphere that is not saved, perhaps not even improved, was later decisive in his understanding of political order in the modern technological world. Thus, the same event, the U.S. entry into the war, both intensified Grant’s purgatorial experience and led him to divide even more radically than he had in his letter to his mother the question of personal salvation and his place in the modern world.

Grant’s conversion directed him away from the pragmatic, worldly Protestant faith of his family, but evidence suggests the theologicopolitical stance towards which he gravitated is characterized more by intracosmic Manichean tendencies than by a full movement of transcendence. He reflects upon the connection between his personal search for meaning and the state of civilization in a 1988 “Addendum” to the reissue of “Two Theological Languages,” first published in 1947. (20) The article deals with the relationship between rationality and freedom and for the first time invokes Martin Luther’s Twenty-First Heidelberg thesis to emphasize Grant’s preference for the biblical account of the two: “The ‘theologian of glory’ calls the bad good and the good bad. The ‘theologian of the cross’ says what a thing is.” (21) The essay represents an early, comparatively unrefined attempt by Grant to articulate the difference between reason and revelation and the relationship between freedom and necessity. In 1988 he corrected his previous articulation by claiming that it had conflated the biblical account of freedom with the modern existential one: “I had been brought up in secularized Protestantism which in the English-speaking world generally expressed itself in some form of liberal progressivism. Canadians held on to that latter faith much longer than people in more sophisticated centers.” He thus revised his understanding of freedom as “the liberty to be indifferent to good” in order to move it away from the freedom of modern existentialism, which he viewed as “an expression of heroic atheism.”

His revised definition of freedom, however, is closer to that of Lockean liberalism, as well as to late-medieval nominalist accounts of freedom, than it is to Augustine’s view. He invokes Augustine’s view of evil as the “absence” of good to avoid falling into the false dualism that he thought his earlier view had included. However, Augustine’s view of evil is better described as a “deformation” of good than as an absence. Absence entails waiting for something that may never arrive – the darkness experienced by the romantic as well as the theologian of the cross, who can overlook the intimations that St Paul mentions when he speaks of faith as evidence of things unseen. (22) Grant’s writings on technology, and his general rejection of Augustine’s account of theodicy, which he regarded as inspiring the modern progress, suggest that he really did mean to say “absence” of the Good. Despite invoking Augustine in the “Addendum,” Grant maintained the categories of the theology of the cross along with the romantic qualities of a beautiful soul in order to articulate his own version of the theodicy problem whereby the beautiful soul waits in the darkness – and perhaps with indifference – for the irruption of God’s grace. In this respect, he may have been closer to the Manicheans than to Augustine, because, for Grant, the regime of technology, as embodied by the United States, stands in for theological darkness. Furthermore, his view of Canadians as bumpkins living outside unnamed “sophisticated centers” that were both attractive and unsavory is yet another expression of Grant’s longing and homelessness.

While Grant waited for grace personally, in politics there can be a real “absence” of good, that is, a world that is dominated by technology, which, even though it is bounded by the givenness of creation, so darkens everything that good becomes altogether obscured (just as the world was for Grant from 7 December 1941 until the moment of his conversion a few days later). Personally, Grant waited for his grace; politically, he was a romantic, a Hegelian beautiful soul. His attitude is most forcefully expressed in the way he chose to understand the United States.

“Experiences” of the United States II

Voegelin and Grant had in common the biographically unique encounter of a foreigner with the United States.  For both men, that experience was critical and significant. Moreover, both were aware of the link  between biography and philosophy; both knew that philosophical consciousness was somebody’s philosophical consciousness.  That is, concrete human beings, with specific and identifiable names such as George Grant and Eric Voegelin, participate in the order and disorder of particular times and places. Their reflections are already under way in their pre-reflective experiences of participation in the here and now of the America they knew.  Looked at in terms of the accounts they rendered of their participation in the reality of America, what they said was also an account of how they understood themselves.  In order to see their respective assessments of the United States, it is first necessary to consider where they were standing and where they were going.

Born in Cologne, Germany, Voegelin first encountered the United States as part of his professional career. At the age of twenty-four, he spent two years on a study trip immediately after he earned his doctorate at the University of Vienna under the supervision of the great legal scholar Hans Kelsen. During that time, he heard A.N. Whitehead and John Dewey lecture at Harvard; he worked in the genetics lab of Thomas Hunt Morgan at Columbia but also took courses from John Dewey, F.H. Giddings, Irwin Edman, and J.W. Macmahon. Perhaps most important, he spent time in Wisconsin, where he learned American government and economics from John R. Commons, an economist who was influential among the Progressives. Upon returning to central Europe, he spent the next decade immersed in the ideological struggles surrounding the rise of Nazi Germany. In 1938 he barely escaped from Nazism and fled to the United States. He taught at several American universities before settling for sixteen years at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. In 1958 he returned to Europe as professor and director of the Institute for Political Science at the University of Munich, where, among other things, he taught American government and politics to German students as part of what he called his belated post-war reconstruction effort. He retired to the United States in 1969 to work at the Hoover Institution in Palo Alto, California, and died there in 1985.

The effect of the United States on Voegelin’s thought has been well documented. He stated in an extended interview in 1973 that his two-year study trip in the 1920s taught him common sense philosophy, which inoculated him against the ideological disorders plaguing Europe at the time. (23) Unlike Grant, however, Voegelin regarded this philosophy as congruent with, and ultimately based upon, the classical Greek and biblical principles that sustain existential resistance to the deleterious effects of modernity. The other thing that Voegelin learned from that two-year study trip was the primacy to be accorded to the practice and self-understanding of practitioners. That is, Voegelin learned from his experience of the United States that political science begins from an understanding of the self-interpretation of those individuals who actually participate in any particular political order, and not from an elaborate “scientific” understanding.  The specific and particular character of American democracy (or of any other regime), with its complex manifold of political, spiritual, intellectual, legal, and economic forms, made it impossible to analyse it through the lens of externally imposed, aprioristic categories (as positivists of various stripes did then, and continue to do at present).

Instead, Voegelin developed a technical, though still commonsensical, method of studying American society. He found that particular “forms” such as laws or economics exist in a social space that gives them their shape but that this social space is, in turn, informed by them: ”The fact that a necessary structure with variable themes can be combined into an unbroken unity of an intellectual form presupposes that the structure itself contains a point of departure for variability. When the topic contains such a point, only a variation can of necessity be described; it cannot be described ‘in itself.’ Thus the only way to clarify its essence is precisely through comparison of a number of these variations.” (24) The unifying form and the “variations” of that form exist in a dialectical relationship whereby each engages the other in historical time. This insight would lead Voegelin to become sceptical of doctrines that simply incorporate empirical materials into an a priori interpretation. His early work on the United States, therefore, contains several studies of American institutions, including the Federal Reserve Board and the Supreme Court, that draw from scholars of American institutions; it also includes studies of representative figures, including William James, Samuel Gompers, Robert La Follette, Jonathan Edwards, and John R. Commons, who typify what Voegelin, borrowing from Henri Bergson, referred to as the “open self.” (25) Finally, these studies reflect his view that liberal democracy and the Anglo-American tradition within which it arose is, because it is a tradition, never fully present or conscious to itself. Accordingly, all the arguments and “philosophies” of the American tradition are necessarily incomplete precisely because they are merely traditions, that is, accounts and stories that are handed down or handed over unreflectively between generations. At the same time, however, these traditions can express a truth of existence or, to use a favourite, though far from idiomatic, expression of Voegelin, are luminous towards the divine ground. (26)

Voegelin’s attention to “variations” and empirical materials is not simply the result of his scholarly contentiousness but is integral to the self-understanding of his or anyone’s participation in reality. Recall the famous opening statement of Order and History: “The order of history emerges from the history of order.” This means, among other things, that Voegelin saw his own scholarship as the result of his participation in history, which includes his resistance to disorder. Put another way, Voegelin’s scholarship is the result of his participation in order and of his own ability to transcend disorder, which is made possible because of the nature of the order within which he (as all human beings) participates and of which he (as a singular human being) is conscious. Moreover, to return to the approach outlined in our introduction, Voegelin’s self-understanding as participant informs his position regarding the face of the Good in the world, whether (or the extent to which) a good regime can appear in the world, and thus whether (or the extent to which) the United States is so informed.

The contingencies of George Parkin Grant’s life were rather different. Grant belonged to a well-connected family who saw themselves as members of the British Empire and who happened to dwell in Canada. His grandfather, George Monro Grant, presided over Queen’s University; his grandfather, George Parkin, directed the Rhodes Trust; his uncle, Vincent Massey, was the first Canadian-born governor general; and his father, William Grant, was principal of Upper Canada College in Toronto. Grant understood that he and his distinguished family were charged with the duty of maintaining Canada’s Britishness through the imperial connection; when that option was no longer possible, they adopted the view that it was of overriding importance to maintain whatever it was that made Canada distinct from the United States. George Grant personally felt extraordinary pressure, from his mother in particular, to succeed in the world of affairs; he seemed to reciprocate with worldly ambition and pragmatism, at least until his time at Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship in 1939–40. (27)

Whatever one may think of such a family, (28) there is a sense of homelessness that pervades Grant’s biography and his writings. For example, he speaks of his father’s family as Highland Scots and evokes an image of the Clearances and the Highlanders’ forcible expulsion as if it were yesterday or the day before, not a century and a half earlier. (29)  Likewise, Grant recalled the experiences of the Loyalists, men and women driven from the America colonies and made homeless by the young republic, as if those experiences still burned in the souls of yeomen along the Niagara frontier. Grant, in short, lived within a powerful tradition: the experiences of exile of the Scots following the Clearances and of the Loyalists following the American revolution were crucial to his identity in the present. In both instances, Grant saw that a significant part of what he was charged to maintain was defined as resistance to imperial ruthlessness: the memory of Culloden appeared through the image of Uncle Sam. More poignant still, homelessness was part of Grant’s internal landscape, a lonely, alienated self trapped within modernity.

Notwithstanding a keen nostalgia for Oxford and for England, and a great pride in his lineage, Grant came to reject many of the assumptions of his family history. He would make light of his own Oedipal problems and claim that he had moved beyond the stifling conventions of Upper Canada. He said that he found the liberal Protestantism embodied in Upper Canada “oblivious of the eternal,” of world-transcendent experiences and realities, just as worldly American Puritanism, which transformed itself into capitalism and liberal pragmatism, had become blind to those same realities. Thus, the key part of Grant’s biography consisted of what he and his biographer called a basic reorientation of his outlook on the divine whereby he focused his spiritual and intellectual energies on the meaning of the mystery of the cross. William Christian notes that this event took place following a long process of rethinking his own faith and moving away from that of his family’s: “His experience of God at the bleakest moment of the war was less a rejection of his past than it was the culmination of a long development.” (30)  His conversion – on 11 or 12 December 1941 – came at a difficult time: he was convalescing in the country while London was undergoing the crucible of the Blitz. As with many such accounts, he says that his conversion came about after a great suffering that ground him down to nearly nothing.

However important the long preparatory suffering may have been, it is important to note as well that it occurred only a few days after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. News of the bombing, and of the U.S. entry into the war, drove him to despair and thoughts of suicide. That is, American entry into the war, which Grant, a pacifist, knew would turn the tide against Hitler, did not end his suffering. On the contrary, the decision of a nation of 130 million people to join the conflict would be “an experience which will only create greater ill will, greater misunderstanding that will take them farther from the face of God.” (31) It was not simply that the participation in the war of a large and powerful state would ensure that the killing would continue. Grant also opposed the “dehumanized” way the Americans practised war. (32) In short, the conversion experience that constitutes the centerpiece of his life, and the centerpiece of his philosophizing, was occasioned by his view that the American entry into the war would worsen world relations instead of improving them – even though he recognized that it would also mean eventual victory over Nazi Germany. The deep ambivalence Grant experienced towards his family was reinforced by his ambivalence towards war and by his own pacifism, feelings that became even more intense after Pearl Harbor.

Grant’s deepening personal depression was resolved with his conversion a few days later when he was reminded that God exists. His descent paralleled the abyss into which he thought the world had sunk. The individual may be redeemed, he concluded, but civilization is not. Writing to his mother a few years earlier, Grant had stated, “My trouble is that I am a true Lutheran in that I seek out my own personal salvation and don’t try to affect others.” (33)  The difference between personal salvation and a political sphere that is not saved, perhaps not even improved, was later decisive in his understanding of political order in the modern technological world. Thus, the same event, the U.S. entry into the war, both intensified Grant’s purgatorial experience and led him to divide even more radically than he had in his letter to his mother the question of personal salvation and his place in the modern world.

Grant’s conversion directed him away from the pragmatic, worldly Protestant faith of his family, but evidence suggests the theologico-political stance towards which he gravitated is characterized more by intracosmic Manichean tendencies than by a full movement of transcendence. He reflects upon the connection between his personal search for meaning and the state of civilization in a 1988 “Addendum” to the reissue of “Two Theological Languages,” first published in 1947. (34)  The article deals with the relationship between rationality and freedom and for the first time invokes Martin Luther’s Twenty-First Heidelberg thesis to emphasize Grant’s preference for the biblical account of the two: “The ‘theologian of glory’ calls the bad good and the good bad. The ‘theologian of the cross’ says what a thing is.” (35) The essay represents an early, comparatively unrefined attempt by Grant to articulate the difference between reason and revelation and the relationship between freedom and necessity. In 1988 he corrected his previous articulation by claiming that it had conflated the biblical account of freedom with the modern existential one: “I had been brought up in secularized Protestantism which in the English-speaking world generally expressed itself in some form of liberal progressivism. Canadians held on to that latter faith much longer than people in more sophisticated centers.” He thus revised his understanding of freedom as “the liberty to be indifferent to good” in order to move it away from the freedom of modern existentialism, which he viewed as “an expression of heroic atheism.”

His revised definition of freedom, however, is closer to that of Lockean liberalism, as well as to late-medieval nominalist accounts of freedom, than it is to Augustine’s view. He invokes Augustine’s view of evil as the “absence” of good to avoid falling into the false dualism that he thought his earlier view had included. However, Augustine’s view of evil is better described as a “deformation” of good than as an absence. Absence entails waiting for something that may never arrive – the darkness experienced by the romantic as well as the theologian of the cross, who can overlook the intimations that St. Paul mentions when he speaks of faith as evidence of things unseen. (36)  Grant’s writings on technology, and his general rejection of Augustine’s account of theodicy, which he regarded as inspiring the modern progress, suggest that he really did mean to say ‘absence’ of the Good.

Despite invoking Augustine in the “Addendum,” Grant maintained the categories of the theology of the cross along with the romantic qualities of a beautiful soul in order to articulate his own version of the theodicy problem whereby the beautiful soul waits in the darkness – and perhaps with indifference – for the irruption of God’s grace. In this respect, he may have been closer to the Manicheans than to Augustine, because, for Grant, the regime of technology, as embodied by the United States, stands in for theological darkness. Furthermore, his view of Canadians as bumpkins living outside unnamed “sophisticated centers” that were both attractive and unsavory is yet another expression of Grant’s longing and homelessness.

While Grant waited for grace personally, in politics there can be a real ‘absence’ of good, that is, a world that is dominated by technology, which, even though it is bounded by the givenness of creation, so darkens everything that good becomes altogether obscured (just as the world was for Grant from 7 December 1941 until the moment of his conversion a few days later). Personally, Grant waited for his grace; politically, he was a romantic, a Hegelian beautiful soul. His attitude is most forcefully expressed in the way he chose to understand the United States.

Elemental and Existential Representation

Our analysis of each thinker’s view of the United States is guided by Voegelin’s theory of representation, which, as noted above, Grant also found useful. Each political society understands itself in its own unique way and explains itself to itself in order to make its own particular existence intelligible. Voegelin identified three levels of representation:  elemental, existential, and transcendental. Elemental representation refers to the external existence of society, to the various agents that hold society together physically, including, for example, the laws, the institutions, the mechanics of voting, and geographical districts. (37)  Existential representation signifies an idea, spirit, or political culture that animates a society.

If the elemental representative does not match the existential reality of a society, then the institution that embodies the representative will atrophy into irrelevance. A country may have a beautiful constitution – the former Soviet Union, for example – but, because this institution did not correspond to the existential reality of a one-party totalitarian regime, one would learn nothing of the reality of Soviet politics by reading the Soviet constitution. Beyond existential and elemental representation lies what Voegelin called transcendent representation, which reflects the attempts by a society to interpret itself as representative of something beyond, or transcendent to, itself.  Generally speaking, transcendent representations provide a given political society with an account of its meaningfulness, justice, divinely appointed mission, and so on. In this section we compare the way Grant and Voegelin discussed the elemental and existential modes of American representation; the following section considers transcendent representation, although the treatments of each overlap.

Beginning with his visit to the United States and the publication of On the Form of the American Mind, Voegelin viewed the United States as a political society informed fundamentally by classical and Judeo-Christian ideas of liberty, equality, and even solidarity, which he identified with Henri Bergson’s concept of the “open self” and John Dewey’s solidarist idea of “like-mindedness,” where members of a community “can advance equally to the essence of their person and whom the individual who has reached his goal through the advantage of circumstances is obliged to help.” (38)  This substance was expressed by a pervasive common-sense attitude in American thought, which Voegelin analysed in empirical studies of political practices (elemental representation).

Such practices, he believed, often convey the moral substance of American thought (existential representation) better than reflective theoretical treatments. In this context, the concepts of the “open self” and of solidarity fit easily into Voegelin’s interpretive strategy for studying “institutions,” including the U.S. Supreme Court, property, and economics, because he found that no a priori theoretical concept could adequately explain what was going on, for example, in the Supreme Court jurisprudence on property or even in the way the constitution manifests the moral substance of American society. The “openness” towards inarticulate and intimated meanings that lay just beyond the consciousness of practitioners had to be recaptured in Voegelin’s scholarly analysis of the various elements of the American institutional structure.

For Voegelin, American economic thinking had been formed out of the frontier experience, an experience that also permeated the ideas of the Progressives. (39) However, American political society was able to move beyond the limitations of that view in the transition to industrialization. Voegelin pointed to various examples of how liberty and solidarity endured through industrialization, including Samuel Gompers and the American Federation of Labor (AFL). (40)  Gompers’s labour politics was distinctly American in that his pragmatism led him to distrust socialist theories of capitalist exploitations, thus, he spoke of “wage consciousness” instead of “class consciousness,” and, despite the abuses that accompanied business practices, viewed employer/employee negotiations within the broader political like-mindedness that is expressed through the constitution. Such like-mindedness is not simply a consequence of the constitution. Throughout his writings, Voegelin argued that socialist theories pitting entrepreneur against worker never really obtained salience in industrial society because such theories were derived from feudal, agrarian experiences. (41)  Political conflict within industrial society is based not on employer-employee cleavages but on the exploitation of technological productivity, where both employees and employers share common and overlapping interests as well as differing ones. Thus, Voegelin saw Gompers and the AFL in terms comparable to a Tocquevillian exercise in self-government, which contained implicitly within it the Judeo-Christian notion of like-mindedness. (42)

Voegelin realized that industrial society raises the standard of living for all, a moral undertaking that, to him, was consistent with classical and Judeo-Christian principles of order. He thought that surplus wealth, especially that generated in the post-war period, enabled individuals to obtain economic security, once it was understood that security depends on viewing individuals as components of a larger web of relations, and not as the self-sufficient farmer challenged only by nature rather than by the numerous decisions made by other actors in the economy:

When I went to America in 1938, nonessential income, the phenomenon that today puzzles economists, sociologists, and politicians, did not exist. On this new productivity-basis, it has come within the reach of the possible and even become reality what Jefferson foresaw as possible only under the conditions of an old-fashioned agrarian economy: the material security for all, but with a far higher level of consumer and capital goods within modern industrial society. The possibility of a civil government in an industrial society can, based upon the American experience, be considered as assured. (43)

His assessment of industrial society in this 1959 essay thus differs from that of agrarians including Thomas Jefferson (and, it appears, Grant), who thought that only a society of austere, publicly minded farmers could secure self-sufficiency for themselves and practise patriotism. Voegelin’s assessment derives in part from his view that webs of interdependencies characterize industrial society, including that of entrepreneur and labour with rationalized expertise in relevant sectors:

Modern industrial society is a total enterprise that disperses entrepreneurial initiatives among persons and associations, industrial entrepreneurship in the stricter sense and unions, public and private bureaucracies, managers, services for recruiting, information and communication, commercial organizations, school systems, the organization of research by universities, economic enterprises and also government, laws governing social and economic orders, and many similar institutions. In this sense we have been speaking about a democratization of the entrepreneurial function. (44)

Civil government, based on liberty, equality, and solidarity, remains possible in the industrial period so long as governments appreciate the fluidity and mobility of the industrial economy and the need to ensure worker retraining so they can sustain their reciprocal entrepreneurial status.

Voegelin’s conclusions regarding American economics are fairly consistent with the moral and economic arguments made by democratic capitalists who emphasize wealth-creation. Unlike laissez-faire libertarians, however, Voegelin found that citizens in an industrial society cannot be viewed as isolated actors whose only challenges derive solely from their own initiative and from nature; the complexities and interdependence of mass-industrial society require governments to acknowledge that workers may be put out of work as a result of a decision made elsewhere in the economic system, which in turn requires an adequate view of property and personhood. According to Voegelin, the American polity contained within it the moral and spiritual substance needed to navigate successfully the move between agrarian and industrial society.

Voegelin’s early direct encounter with the United States enabled him to see how this political substance was retained. His empirical approach in studying America differed from Grant’s because Voegelin viewed doctrinal self-interpretation as subordinate to actual political practices, whereas Grant emphasized doctrine as the determining factor. As we saw with Gompers, Voegelin, unlike most other European students of the United States at the time, noticed how the workings of institutions under the constitution preserved the moral substance of the regime despite the self-interpretations given to it by its partisans. (45)

In contrast to Voegelin, Grant viewed the United States as an oligarchy run by the wealthy and the technocratic elite. Between the end of the Second World War and the Vietnam War, which he described as having shed a “searchlight” on the structure of its society, (46) the United States had also become imperialistic. Its elemental representation may have been liberal and democratic, but, for Grant, its existential representation had become (or always was) oligarchic and imperialistic, two realities that liberal democrats tended to overlook. (47) Grant drew his conclusions about the regime from his own observations and from his reading of the texts of American liberalism. Both of these modes stemmed from his purpose of understanding the United States so as to understand how Canada relates to it, which at one point he compared to the relationship between a crooked stockbroker and his son. (48)

Grant’s critique of the United States was fairly consistent throughout his career. Before the 1960s, when he turned his attention to technology, his criticisms were what one would expect of a Canadian conservative. The United State is too individualistic and so less concerned about the common good than is Canada. The lawless American frontier contrasted with the Canadian frontier, where the North-West Mounted Police preceded settlement. (49) Via their Britishness, Canadian conservatives preserved ordered liberty because, unlike the American revolutionaries, “these men and women … feel that a break with the past may endanger the future.” (50)  Grant regarded the American revolution, which derived from natural rights, in terms similar to Burke’s view of the French revolution: in both instances, reference to abstract natural rights produced an unstable political order because it undermined tradition and community. The bearers of the American Revolution in the contemporary context consist of the technological elites, including the corporations, the “progressive intellectuals,” and the politicians who pander to the former and embody the ideas of the latter.

The post-war transition to a full-blown industrial state turned power over completely to the corporations, thus making Jefferson’s dream of a society of small property owners a long-distant memory. (51)  Corporations work with scientists to implement the technological society over and above the protestations of dissenters, whose own viewpoint becomes “bureaucratized,” “normalized,” and thus negated by the logic of the technological society. The oligarchic technological society that Grant saw south of the border, towards which Canadian elites (the metaphorical sons of the corrupt stockbroker) were pushing Canada, was characterized by the dominance of urban and wealthy elites over ignorant, unsophisticated rural populations whose livelihoods were rooted on the land and, by extension, constituted a truer embodiment of conservatism. What remained of public life for the masses in this society consisted of little more than sexually driven entertainment and political demagoguery, which was also served up as titillation and entertainment. Grant had in mind the Kennedys and Trudeau, icons that threatened to deprive public discourse of meaning. (52) Such manipulation of the masses in the welfare state included as well the application of the social sciences such as psychology and sociology. (53)

Despite the homogeneity of thought that Grant ascribed to technological society, he at times noticed a greater pluralism in the United States than in Canada while also recognizing that, in some regards, non-technological political positions showed greater effectiveness in public life there. In Lament for a Nation he observed how a deeper experience of technology in the United States than in Canada had produced a more firmly defined opposition to it: “Not so many of us have been forced to look unflinchingly into the face of Moloch.” (54) Similarly, late in life, Grant expressed in a letter his admiration for the greater political effectiveness of U.S. anti-abortion movement compared to that of its Canadian counterpart, which he took as a sign of vitality in the American polity: “My sense of the greatness of the U.S.A. has been greatly raised by the presence of this anti-abortion movement.” (55)

Grant noticed another strength in the U.S. regime when he praised the staying power of social-contract thinking over utilitarianism. Utilitarianism, which he dismissed as hedonistic and as majoritarian, may have a hold over the masses; social-contract thinking, he said, has a greater hold over practising politicians. Although Grant ultimately rejected social-contract thinking, the reason he noted for its hold over practising politicians was that it provided them with a better guide than utilitarianism in negotiating the details of an American constitutional structure that preserved the rights of individuals: “The politicians had to come to terms with the details of justice in terms of individuals.

Therefore when John Rawls insists on the superiority of Locke to Hume, we seem to be entering a world which is much less flaccid about what can be done to individuals than the world called forth by the successors of Hume … Rawls gives us hope that we will meet the complexities and difficulties of political justice in a way that is not possible under the principles of mass hedonism.” (56) In a passage that echoes Tocqueville’s admiration of the genius of democratic institutions, Grant observed that the American constitution required politicians to attend to the nitty-gritty of preserving rights and freedoms, even when their public philosophies eventually dissolved those rights and freedoms in the vacuous air of principles rooted in abstract notions of the will. Grant thus recognized that the United States Constitution preserved ordered liberty, perhaps in a way he thought Canadian Burkean conservatism had done, but he lamented that the ideological liberal underpinnings of United States, tied as they are to the modern notion of the will, ultimately collapsed under the weight of technology. (57)

Grant’s analysis of the United States consisted of a critique more of liberalism than of its Constitution, which is one of the weaknesses of his account. Unlike Strauss, whom he so admired, and the followers of Strauss, Grant never provided an analysis of the American founders or of the U.S. Constitutional structure, with the exception of his critique of Roe v. Wade, which he also treated more as an occasion to criticize liberalism. Further, he ignored the debate between liberalism and republican civic virtue that began in the 1960s with the publication of Bernard Bailyn’s Ideological Origins of the American Revolution and Gordon S. Wood’s The Creation of the American Republic, not to mention the works of Strauss’s students such as Harry Jaffa. (58)  Instead, the nucleus of Grant’s ideological critique of the United States could be found in his comparison of the Calvinist and liberal accounts of freedom, the conjunction of which prepared the ground for the technological society, just as that conjunction formed the soul of Grant himself in his early days and against which he struggled throughout his life.

Transcendent Representation

According to Grant, the confusion of the West, and of North America in particular, is a result of the “dialectic” between Calvinism and secular liberalism, which constitutes the West’s “transcendent” representation.  The two have cooperated historically in maintaining the liberal state: liberalism provides principles of consent and Protestantism provides the moral glue that holds society together.  Grant distinguished the two by observing how Protestants have always hesitated to accept the view of secular liberalism that avoidance of violent death is man’s greatest purpose; in this way, Protestantism provided a justification for self-sacrifice when liberalism fell short. (59)

Grant characterized the relationship between the two as “dialectic” because Protestantism was not a passive partner in the relationship. The dynamo of secular liberalism did not simply roll over a passive Protestantism. Rather, Protestantism, in its Calvinist form, has been a willing partner because, fundamentally, in the “primal” of the West, the Calvinist understanding of the human will, which derives from late-medieval nominalist views of God as will, harmonizes with a secular view of the will that postulates man as maker of his own laws.  Calvinism and liberalism constitute a tandem that provides the foundation for the technological society, where freedom is understood as the freedom to remake nature and to remake man. In fact, however, there is no “dialectic” or tandem because both share the same “primal.”  Secular liberalism, according to Grant, is the anthropomorphic side of the Calvinist theology of the will. Further, Grant did not treat the Calvinist/liberal view of the will as one option among alternate understandings, including the Augustinian, Thomist, and so forth. Instead, Grant considered the entry of this understanding of the will into the West as inevitable, as part of the “primal” that all westerners share:

This is the attempt to articulate that primal western affirmation which stands shaping our whole civilization, before modern science and technology, before liberalism and capitalism, before our philosophies and theologies. It is present in all of us, and yet hidden to all of us; it originates somewhere and sometime which nobody seems quite to know. Nobody has been able to bring it into the full light of understanding. In all its unfathomedness, the closest I can come to it is the affirmation of human beings as “will,” the content of which word has something to do with how westerners took the Bible as a certain kind of exclusivity. (60)

Beneath the procrustean bed of liberalism, science, Calvinism, and technology lies the “primal” that is the will. With the exception of his reference to Hooker’s Thomistic criticism of Calvinist voluntarism, Grant did not offer a non-Calvinist Christian account of the will in English-Speaking Justice. One would have to turn to his criticisms of Western Christianity, especially of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, to see how their errors, typical of those made by theologians of glory, had led Western Christianity towards Calvinism/liberalism and thus modern science and technology. (61)  In particular, Augustine’s allegedly triumphalist view of Christianity had prepared the way somehow for the triumphalism of modern progress and technology. (62)  This is a far different “primal” than the one Voegelin at times invoked in his writings on the United States and democracy when he referred to the democratic faith in equality and its rootedness in classical and Judaeo-Christian sources. (63)

Indeed, Grant’s invocation of the “primal” differed from the “primal” that he himself had invoked a few years earlier in Technology and Empire when he spoke of Greece as another “primal” in the context of North America’s lack of the “chthonic.” (64)  For North Americans, as opposed to Europeans, the “primal” lay not in its “chthonic” root in Christianity and Greece but in the “meeting of the alien and yet conquerable land with English-speaking Protestants,” as if the migration to the New World differed in an experiential sense from the expansion of the Roman Empire northward into the barbarian frontier. The “primal” that Grant saw for North America was the equivalent of Voegelin’s references to the frontier experience that lay behind formulations of property and community.  However, for Voegelin, North Americans have made a home, whereas for Grant, the frontier was an experience of homelessness, which Calvinists met with their already homeless will. (65)  Given this understanding of frontier experience, it is no wonder that Grant’s experience of Canada, in contrast to Voegelin’s experience of the United States to which he immigrated, is one of homelessness: “When we go into the Rockies we may have the sense that gods are there. But if so, they cannot manifest themselves to us as ours.” (66)  Whether those of us who live near the Rockies share that experience is certainly questionable. (67)  For Grant, however, Canada, as well as the United States, is technological because the fundamental encounter by Protestants was one of homelessness. Hence, Grant’s lament for what has passed is in fact a lament for something that can never have existed.

Even the British conservatism that was alleged to distinguish the Loyalists from the American revolutionaries, because of the inchoate desire of the former “to build, in these cold and forbidding regions, a society with a greater sense of order and restraint than freedom-loving republicanism would allow,” was as much the expression of homelessness and alienation from the “primal” as the latter’s liberalism.  Canadians apparently experienced that homelessness with greater “stodginess,” a “simplicity, formality, and perhaps even [greater] innocence than the people to the south.” (68)  Then why did Grant regard the United States as a threat to something that never existed? Since one could not find a “primal” home in Canada, in North America, or in modernity, Grant believed that the only choice was to bear the weight of suffering in the world, living in hope that redemption occurs outside time. He concludes Lament with a quotation from the part of Virgil’s Aeneid where Aeneas sees the dead waiting to be ferried across the river Acheron: “Tendebantque manus ripae ulterioris amore.” (69)  Grant’s forsaken cry from within the bowels of modernity and of the United States is also the call of the theologian of the cross for whom the Good is radically separate from the necessary, and for whom the realm of the necessary, namely the world, can no longer be a home.  The satanic United States entraps the homeless soul, suffering in the darkness of technological modernity, for whom the Good can manifest itself only through God’s direct intervention. Grant’s United States comes close to serving as the evil god of intracosmic Gnostic myths that entraps the pure soul in darkness and prevents it from reaching its homeland. Grant’s moderation, which he symbolized as his “Lutheranism,” ensured that he did not expand his personal quasi-Gnostic psychodrama into a metastatic faith in political redemption. His view of the United States, “enucleated” in his treatment of the will as symbolized by Calvinism, was ultimately his view of the West, and of himself.

Voegelin’s view of the transcendent representation of the United States is markedly different and reflects his position that, despite the ideological disorders of the twentieth century, the Good as symbolized by Jerusalem and Athens manifests itself despite those disorders. In documents such as the Declaration of Independence and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, he saw proof that the United States understood itself as a nation under God. Its civil religion constitutes a “minimum dogma” (in the sense used by Plato and Spinoza, for example) whereby nationhood is secured by a general belief in God and by God’s concern for human affairs, which serves as a model of solidarity for its citizens. Voegelin thought that this spiritual substance provided glue for the otherwise individualistic and spiritually thin doctrines of modern liberalism, and so he disagreed with Grant, who identified the two.

Even so, Voegelin noticed, as Grant might have as well, a this-worldly, pantheistic, or Lucretian dimension to the American civil religion and to its representative thinkers such as William James and Jonathan Edwards. Voegelin drew different conclusions from these observations than Grant would have done, because the methodology he developed in the 1920s led him to be aware of the inarticulate dimensions of speeches and actions (which he would later develop in his theory of experience and symbolization in Order and History) that Grant often overlooked.  Voegelin saw in thinkers such as James and Edwards examples of the “open self” that is turned towards the divine ground and, like all human beings, articulates that orientation in necessarily inadequate and imprecise symbols that require continuous reworking. The determining feature of those articulations is their democratic commitment to equality, implying the necessity of symbolizing the open self in terms that everyone can understand. This democratic symbolization was something that Grant, who frequently used the noble example of Mozart to symbolize the Good and Céline to symbolize beauty alienated from the Good, never really grasped. Conversely, Voegelin concluded his book on the United States with a quotation from John R. Commons’s essay “Utilitarian Idealism,” regarding the paradox of democratic symbolizations of order:

I do not see why there is not much idealism of its kind in breeding a perfect animal or a Wisconsin No. 7 ear of corn, or in devising an absolutely exact instrument for measuring a thousand cubic feet of gas, or for measuring exactly the amount of butter or casein in milk, as there is in chipping out a Venus de Milo or erecting a Parthenon … Of course a cow is just a cow, and can never become a Winged Victory. But within her field of human endeavor she is capable of approaching an ideal. And, more than that, she is an ideal that every farmer and farmer’s boy – the despised slaves and helots of Greece – can aspire to. (70)

Conclusion

With the democratic revolution of modernity, the “despised slaves and helots” have become incorporated into the spiritual life of the modern state, thus altering its transcendent representation. The open-ended and paradoxical process of symbolizing the New World order corresponds to the open self that Voegelin saw as its representative. Of course, Mozart is Mozart and a cow is just a cow, but Voegelin, like Tocqueville, saw a fundamental decency in the openness of this order to the divine ground that Grant did not. Voegelin regarded the “variations” of U.S. symbolizations as part of a historical process, while Grant, in Voegelin’s terms, ascribed a priori categories to his commonsensical but yet inadequate observations on American politics. Grant did point to historical practices when he spoke in a Tocquevillian manner of the attention that politicians must give to the technicalities of law and rights, but practice played no determining role in his method for studying the United States. Further, Grant’s a priori categories played a part in his understanding of his own role, and the role of nations, in the “fate” of technological modernity, whereas Voegelin, who was no less critical of elements of modernity, saw it as having no such fate, but rather regarded history as a process of order arising out of disorder. If Grant’s alleged pessimism regarding the fate of modernity was tempered by an eschatological hope in personal salvation, in the sense of waiting for God, then Voegelin’s understanding of disorder was leavened by his hope in the incarnation of order in history, which he saw in the details and fragments, the “variations,” of history that he observed.

 

NOTES

(1) Leo Strauss, “What Is Political Philosophy?” in What Is Political Philosophy? and Other Studies. Glencoe, IL: The Free Press, 1959, 7ff.

(2) William Christian, George Grant: A Biography. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993, 210.

(3) George Grant, Lament for a Nation. Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1988, 12.

(4) Grant, letter to David Bovenizer, in George Grant: Selected Letters, ed. William Christian. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996, 359.

(5) George Grant, “Simone Weil,” in The George Grant Reader, ed. William Christian and Sheila Grant. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998, 259.

(6) Lament for a Nation, op.cit., x. The ancient idolatrous Israelites sacrificed children to Moloch (See Lev. 18:21, 1 Kings 11:7, and Acts 7:43).

(7) Eric Voegelin, On the Form of the American Mind: Collected Works of Eric Voegelin [hereafter CW], vol. 1, trans. Ruth Hein, ed. Jürgen Gebhardt and Barry Cooper (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995) [hereafter OFAM]. See also the essays on “stateform” and the United States in Published Essays, 1922–1928, CW 7, trans. M.J. Hanak, ed. Thomas W. Heilke and John von Heyking (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003), and Published Essays, 1928–1933, CW 8, trans. M.J. Hanak and Jodi Cockerill, ed. Thomas W. Heilke and John von Heyking (Columbia: University of Missouri Press).

(8) See Eric Voegelin, “Origins of Scientism,” in Published Essays, 1940–1952, CW 10, ed. Ellis Sandoz (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000), 168–97; on Grant’s disagreement with Strauss on technology, See Christian, George Grant: A Biography, op.cit., 293: “The United States of America may be said to be the only country in the world which was founded in explicit opposition to Machiavellian principles.” Leo Strauss, Thoughts on Machiavelli (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), 13.

(9) Eric Voegelin, Autobiographical Reflections, ed. with an introduction by Ellis Sandoz. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989, Chapter 10.

(10) OFAM, op.cit., 19.

(11) See OFAM and the essays in CW 7 and 8. For an overview of Voegelin’s empirical method, SeeBarry Cooper, Eric Voegelin and the Foundations of Political Science. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999, Chapters 7–8.

(12) See Eric Voegelin, “Max Weber,” CW 8, 132.

(13) Christian, George Grant: A Biography, op.cit., Chapter 5.

(14) See Barry Cooper, “Did George Grant’s Canada Ever Exist?” in George Grant and the Future of Canada, ed. Yusuf K. Umar. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1992, 151–64.

(15) In Christian, George Grant: A Biography, op.cit., xxiii.

(16) Ibid., 92.

(17) Quoted in ibid., 85. He told the CBC in 1979 that the subsequent Allied victory in 1945 produced similar despair: “I never really cried so much … I felt very far from rejoicing at the end of the war.” Quoted in Dennis Duffy, “The Ancestral Journey: Travels with George Grant.” Journal of Canadian Studies 22.3 (1987): 102 n.10.

(18) Christian, George Grant<: A Biography, op.cit., 72.

(19) Quoted in ibid, 251.

(20) Or 1953. See “Two Theological Languages,” in Collected Works of George Grant, Volume 2 (1951–1959), ed. Arthur Davis. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002, 49–65. The “Addendum” is reprinted starting on 59.

(21) Paraphrased in “Two Theological Languages,” 57. Quotation from Martin Luther, “Theses for the Heidelberg Disputation, Thesis 21,” in Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings, trans. John Dillenberger (New York: Doubleday, 1961, 503. On Grant’s view of the “theology of the cross,” See< Sheila Grant, “George Grant and the Theology of the Cross,” in George Grant and the Subversion of Modernity: Art, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, and Education, ed. Arthur Davis. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996, 243–62, and Harris Athanasiadis, George Grant and the Theology of the Cross: The Christian Foundation of His Thought. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001.

(22) Hebrews 11:1. Voegelin invokes the latter Pauline sense in the New Science of Politics, and also cites St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, ii-ii. Q.4.Art.I, in Modernity without Restraint, ed. Manfred Henningsen, CW 5. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999, 187. Edward Andrew criticizes Grant’s understanding of faith by showing Grant’s temptation towards beautiful untruth in modernity: “Gerald Owen has brilliantly elucidated Grant’s attraction to Céline in terms of the choice of lying and dying, and why living in our graceless and God-forsaken world requires untruth. The impossibility of truth in our world perhaps suggested to Grant an otherworldly truth to anchor our turbulence in this imperfect world.” “Grant’s Céline,” in Davis, ed., George Grant and the Subversion of Modernity, op.cit., 79.

(38) “Postscript to The Art of Thinking,” CW 8, 233.

(39) Eric Voegelin, On the Form of the American Mind, CW Vol. 1, trans. Ruth Hein, ed. Jürgen Gebhardt and Barry Cooper (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995),“La Follette and the Wisconsin Idea,” CW 7, Chapter 8.
(40) On the Form of the American Mind, ibid., 231–5.

(41) See “The Research of Business Cycles and the Stabilization of Capitalism,” CW 7, Chapter 12; “Democracy and Industrial Society,” CW 11, ed. Ellis Sandoz (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000), 208.

(42) On the Form of the American Mind, ibid., 239. Voegelin also notes the opportunities for leisure – even a degree of contemplation – within the working conditions of the working trades: “The skilled practice of a manual trade left the mind free for conversation: the workers chose a good reader from their midst and compensated him for the loss in work; the reading was followed by discussions, and the workers came to know one another better and became friends” (idem., 233). Compare this with Grant’s perplexities concerning whether industrial or Neolithic society provided for greater opportunities for leisure: “The anthropologist Lévi-Strauss says that the best order for man was what we call the Neolithic era in which man had gained sufficient control to build organic communities and to give him time to contemplate. I do not know what the answer is” (“The Great Society,” in Christian and Grant, eds., The George Grant Reader, 100). This is a shocking statement by someone who so closely studied Plato and Nietzsche, not to mention Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality. For a recent treatment of American economic and business practices that cultivate solidarity and trust within the market framework, see Francis Fukuyama, Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity (New York: Free Press, 1996).

(43) Eric Voegelin, “Democracy in the New Europe,” CW 11, 68.

(44) Eric Voegelin, “Democracy and Industrial Society,” CW 11, 221. Voegelin’s view on the interdependence and equality of labour in industrial society, with its concomitant principle of equality, draws from Emile Durkheim (“Postscript to The Art of Thinking,” CW 8, 232). See Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society, trans. George Simpson (1933; repr., New York: Free Press, 1964).

(45) Voegelin claimed that most of those works failed to examine American problems for their own sake “were written in the shadow of an upheaval that has shifted the center of gravity of the world economy toward the West, and in almost all one can sense a more or less veiled ressentiment ” (Selected Book Reviews, CW 13, trans. Jodi Cockerill and Barry Cooper, 19). Similarly, James Ceaser finds that the failure to examine the United States according to political considerations is the key failing of most European approaches. As examples of non-political premises, he cites the Count de Buffon’s physiological writings on climatic and biological causes of American degeneracy, the metaphysics of the French revolutionaries (and their descendents) who dismissed the American revolution on aesthetic grounds because it failed to produce great works of art, Arthur de Gobineau’s race theories, postmodern theories of multiculturalism whose contradictory ideas about culture hold priority over political considerations, Ernst Jünger’s and Oswald Spengler’s apocalyptic theories of technology, Martin Heidegger’s invocation of Friedrich Hölderin’s poetry as a means of founding a nontechnological politics, and Alexandre Kojève’s view of the United States as the “universal, homogeneous state.”  By implication, the technological approach of Grant, who follows Heidegger and Kojève, misunderstands what is essential to politics.  Ceaser’s study omits Voegelin’s scholarship. James W. Ceaser, Reconstructing America: The Symbol of America in Modern Thought (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997).

(46) George Grant, Technology and Empire (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 1969), 75.

(47) Grant, English-Speaking Justice (1974; repr., Toronto: Anansi/South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985), 42.

(48) George Grant, Lament for a Nation. Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1988, ix.

(49) George Grant, “The Empire: Yes or No?” in Collected Works of George Grant, Volume 1 (1933–1950), ed. Arthur Davis and Peter C. Emberley (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000), 120–1.

(50) Ibid, 116.

(51) Lament for a Nation, op.cit., 63.

(52) See “Nationalism and Rationality,” in Christian and Grant, The George Grant Reader, 103–7. Voegelin points to propaganda (“pragmatic communication”) and entertainment as corrosive characteristics in industrial society, going so far as to call both an “intoxicant” and a Pascalian “divertissment” (“Necessary Moral Bases for Communication in a Democracy,” CW 11, 48–50). However, he takes a more benign view of propaganda and entertainment than Grant does, arguing for its inevitability in organizing human beings on a massive scale and, more important, that it does not necessarily serve as a placebo replacement for a society’s moral substance.

(53) English-Speaking Justice, op.cit.,39.

(54)Lament for a Nation, op.cit., x.

(55) Grant letter to David Bovenizer, in Christian, Selected Letters, 359.

(56) English-Speaking Justice, op.cit.,14-15.

(57) Grant’s emphasis on doctrine over practice is seen also in his criticism of Winston Churchill’s compact defence of liberty, the theoretical incoherence of which Grant regarded as too rooted in technology. His attitude differs from Strauss’s assessment of Churchill as well as Voegelin’s method of analysing the speeches as well as actions of political actors.

(58) Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1969); Bernard  Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967); and Harry V. Jaffa, The Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1959). Grant’s failure to consider the United States Constitution thus led him to exaggerate the way that it subordinates virtue to interest. As Harvey Mans Jr. noted, George Grant and Eric Voegelin,  “a certain understatement may be more effective and appropriate than exhortation” (America’s Constitutional Soul [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991], 216). If understatement is a Canadian virtue, then Grant never learned to see the Canadianness of the United States Constitution.

(37) Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics,Collected Works of Eric Voegelin [hereafter CW], Vol. 5, 112–28.

(38) “Postscript to The Art of Thinking,” CW 8, 233.

(39)Eric Voegelin, On the Form of the American Mind, CW Vol. 1, trans. Ruth Hein, ed. Jürgen Gebhardt and Barry Cooper (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995),“La Follette and the Wisconsin Idea,” CW 7, Chapter 8.

(40) On the Form of the American Mind, ibid., 231–5.

(41) See “The Research of Business Cycles and the Stabilization of Capitalism,” CW 7, Chapter 12; “Democracy and Industrial Society,” CW 11, ed. Ellis Sandoz (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000), 208.

(42) On the Form of the American Mind, ibid., 239. Voegelin also notes the opportunities for leisure – even a degree of contemplation – within the working conditions of the working trades: “The skilled practice of a manual trade left the mind free for conversation: the workers chose a good reader from their midst and compensated him for the loss in work; the reading was followed by discussions, and the workers came to know one another better and became friends” (idem., 233). Compare this with Grant’s perplexities concerning whether industrial or Neolithic society provided for greater opportunities for leisure: “The anthropologist Lévi-Strauss says that the best order for man was what we call the Neolithic era in which man had gained sufficient control to build organic communities and to give him time to contemplate. I do not know what the answer is” (“The Great Society,” in Christian and Grant, eds., The George Grant Reader,Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality. For a recent treatment of American economic and business practices that cultivate solidarity and trust within the market framework, see Francis Fukuyama, Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity (New York: Free Press, 1996).

(43) Eric Voegelin, “Democracy in the New Europe,” CW 11, 68.

(44) Eric Voegelin, “Democracy and Industrial Society,” CW 11, 221. Voegelin’s view on the interdependence and equality of labour in industrial society, with its concomitant principle of equality, draws from Emile Durkheim (“Postscript to The Art of Thinking,” CW 8, 232). See Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society, trans. George Simpson (1933; repr., New York: Free Press, 1964).

(45) Voegelin claimed that most of those works failed to examine American problems for their own sake “were written in the shadow of an upheaval that has shifted the center of gravity of the world economy toward the West, and in almost all one can sense a more or less veiled ressentiment ” (Selected Book Reviews, CW 13, trans. Jodi Cockerill and Barry Cooper, 19). Similarly, James Ceaser finds that the failure to examine the United States according to political considerations is the key failing of most European approaches. As examples of non-political premises, he cites the Count de Buffon’s physiological writings on climatic and biological causes of American degeneracy, the metaphysics of the French revolutionaries (and their descendents) who dismissed the American revolution on aesthetic grounds because it failed to produce great works of art, Arthur de Gobineau’s race theories, postmodern theories of multiculturalism whose contradictory ideas about culture hold priority over political considerations, Ernst Jünger’s and Oswald Spengler’s apocalyptic theories of technology, Martin Heidegger’s invocation of Friedrich Hölderin’s poetry as a means of founding a nontechnological politics, and Alexandre Kojève’s view of the United States as the “universal, homogeneous state.”  By implication, the technological approach of Grant, who follows Heidegger and Kojève, misunderstands what is essential to politics.  Ceaser’s study omits Voegelin’s scholarship. James W. Ceaser, Reconstructing America: The Symbol of America in Modern Thought (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997).

(46) George Grant, Technology and Empire (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 1969), 75.

(47) Grant, English-Speaking Justice (1974; repr., Toronto: Anansi/South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985), 42.

(48) 100). This is a shocking statement by someone who so closely studied Plato and Nietzsche, not to mention Rousseau’sGeorge Grant, Lament for a Nation. Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1988, ix.

(49) George Grant, “The Empire: Yes or No?” in Collected Works of George Grant, Volume 1 (1933–1950), ed. Arthur Davis and Peter C. Emberley (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000), 120–1.

(50) Ibid, 116.

(51) Lament for a Nation, op.cit., 63.

(52) See “Nationalism and Rationality,” in Christian and Grant, The George Grant Reader, 103–7. Voegelin points to propaganda (“pragmatic communication”) and entertainment as corrosive characteristics in industrial society, going so far as to call both an “intoxicant” and a Pascalian “divertissment” (“Necessary Moral Bases for Communication in a Democracy,” CW 11, 48–50). However, he takes a more benign view of propaganda and entertainment than Grant does, arguing for its inevitability in organizing human beings on a massive scale and, more important, that it does not necessarily serve as a placebo replacement for a society’s moral substance.

(53) English-Speaking Justice, op.cit.,39.

(54)Lament for a Nation, op.cit., x.

(55) Grant letter to David Bovenizer, in Christian, Selected Letters, 359.

(56) English-Speaking Justice, op.cit.,14-15.

(57) Grant’s emphasis on doctrine over practice is seen also in his criticism of Winston Churchill’s compact defence of liberty, the theoretical incoherence of which Grant regarded as too rooted in technology. His attitude differs from Strauss’s assessment of Churchill as well as Voegelin’s method of analysing the speeches as well as actions of political actors.

(58) Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1969); Bernard  Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967); and Harry V. Jaffa, The Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1959). Grant’s failure to consider the United States Constitution thus led him to exaggerate the way that it subordinates virtue to interest. As Harvey Mans Jr. noted, George Grant and Eric Voegelin,  “a certain understatement may be more effective and appropriate than exhortation” (America’s Constitutional Soul [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991], 216). If understatement is a Canadian virtue, then Grant never learned to see the Canadianness of the United States Constitution.

(59) George Grant, English-Speaking Justice (1974; repr., Toronto: Anansi/South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985), 62.

(60) English Speaking Justice, 63–4.

(61) George Grant, Technology and Justice (Toronto: Anansi, 1986), 43–4; “St. Augustine,” lecture in Davis ed., Collected Works, 476–89.

(62) Recent research shows Augustine less triumphalist than Grant’s interpretation permits. See John von Heyking, Augustine and Politics as Longing in the World (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001.

(63) See also David Walsh on the tradition of liberalism: The Growth of the Liberal Soul (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997).

(64) George Grant, Technology and Empire (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 1969), , 18–19.

(65) See Technology and Empire, 23: “Where the ordinary Catholic might restrain the body with a corporatively ordained tradition of a liturgy rhythmic in its changes between control and release, the Protestant had solitary responsibility all the time to impose restraint.”

(66) Technology and Empire, 17.

(67) See Cooper, “Did George Grant’s Canada Ever Exist?” 151–64.

(68) George Grant, Lament for a Nation. Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1988, 70.

(69) Ibid., 97. “Longingly they held their outstretched arms toward the further shore” (Aeneid, VI.314).

(70) Eric Voegelin, On the Form of the American Mind, CW Vol. 1, trans. Ruth Hein, ed. Jürgen Gebhardt and Barry Cooper (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995), 282, quoting Commons, “Utilitarian Idealism,” Western Collegiate Magazine, December 1909, 267–9. (Reprinted in Labor and Administration (New York: A.M. Kelley, 1964 [1913]), chapter 1.

John von Heyking and Barry Cooper

Written by

John von Heyking is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Lethbridge in Canada and serves as the book reviewer editor for VoegelinView; Barry Cooper is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Calgary.