Man in the Cosmos
Our thanks to Brendan Purcell of Dublin, who has made available to us an Eric Voegelin lecture which was originally recorded on tape and later preserved on compact disk. It is entitled “Man in the Cosmos” and is a recording made at Emory University in 1967 on the occasion of Voegelin’s delivering the annual Candler Lecture. This represents the first part only of what was later published as “The Drama of Humanity” found in Volume 33 of the Collected Works. The lecture runs for about 70 minutes and we have broken the lecture into eight segments. There is some loss of sound quality because of transfer from large .wav files to compact mp3 files.
Introduction and Part 1
The introductory speakers are not identified. In part one, Voegelin characterizes modern man as a fundamentalist who is alienated. He points out that original experiences have been lost, leaving only dogmas, and men such as James and Bergson have tried to recapture these experiences.
Deculturation is most dangerous in the West because there is no ancient myth to fall back on. Ideologists throw out the past. The four areas of original experience are Myth, philosophy, revelation and mysticism.
The sound quality is uneven in this part. Voegelin is walking back and forth between the podium and the chalk board. In this part he considers the terms “immanent” and “future,” the apocalyptic personality, progress, the nature of time, and the flow of presence.
The “matter and form” analysis works for an object such as a table but not for “man.” Man shows both stable features and changing processes so it is better to talk about “Humanity,” by which Voegelin means man in the mode of understanding himself in relation to God, world, and society.
The actual content of consciousness appears when man becomes aware of the Divine ground and his relationship to it. When the Divine ground is decapitated, you are left with immanent man. “Cosmos” is a late Greek term. The gods are part of the cosmos and were never “supernatural”—a scholastic term carried over to the enlightenment. “Myth” is that body of symbols that was found adequate to express the experience of the cosmos.
Voegelin offers a catalog of the types of myth. He emphasizes that there is no such thing as a “myth of eternal return” in ancient civilizations. Nor is there any cyclical history. Linear history can be found. There is also skepticism and speculation in the form of myth.
Voegelin gives as an example of the dynamics of order between the gods, the ruler and the people, from the ruler’s perspective: Queen Hatshepsut proclaims the return of the flow of order by restoration of the gods after the Hyksos invasion of Egypt is defeated.
Voegelin concludes with his discussion of the ancient Egyptian commoner who disputes with his soul whether or not he should commit suicide. “The friends of today do not love.” There is no “philia politike.”