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Pyramids of Skulls: Unacceptable Violence, Transcendence, and the Image of Timur in the Thought of Eric Voegelin and Contemporary Scholarship

In 2007, the educational publisher Scholastic Library Publishing initiated a series under the title A Wicked History. The series targeted readers from ages 11-17 and sought to engage their interest in reading by exposing them to biographies of infamous figures in human history.  The series included figures such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Napoleon, Chinggis Khan, Attila the Hun, etc. It also included seemingly odd but interesting choices such as Sir Francis Drake, Mary Tudor, CiXi, Rasputin, etc. One of the more intriguing figures left out of the series was Timur, a 14th-15th Central Asian empire builder, who engaged in over forty years of war generating around 17 million deaths and making Samarkand the cultural hub of Central Asia. The omission of a figure who presided over the sixth proportionately largest human generated mass death campaign in history is somewhat of an anomaly. The mythic images with which we build our history are selected from those images that are believed to be most significant to the construction of our current order. The exclusion of an Islamic conqueror from a series on infamous figures in history just as the United States is involved in conflicts in the Middle East and Central Asia hints at the difficulty of reconciling the reality of unacceptable violence, political legitimacy, and the human encounter with the revelation of a transcendent God.

The Austrian-American thinker Eric Voegelin, as he tried to understand political order, followed the path of exploring the various symbols of order that emerged within history and their relationship with political violence.  He tried to find the order of history from the history of order.  Interestingly enough, Voegelin’s studies in the libraries of France and Austria would bring him to problems of political order in central Asia. Voegelin would discover the significance of Timur for Renaissance thinkers and thereby demonstrate the profound impact political events in Asia had on the emergence of political science in Europe.

The Austrian thinker in the French libraries would discover the significance of the image of Timur for the Renaissance, but this discovery would have little impact on Renaissance studies.  Nevertheless, Timur and Voegelin’s studies of the Mongolian legal order would play a role in the unfolding of Voegelin’s own critique of the expansive ideologies of his time that he linked to the mass killing events of the twentieth century. This essay seeks to examine the contributions of Voegelin’s study of Timur to his political science as well as to take a look at how the problem of Timur’s image has been addressed by contemporary scholarship. Hopefully, the essay will bring some clarity to the development of Voegelin’s thought and how his achievement can be situated within the context of contemporary scholarship.

Timur and World History

Timur is in the company of those few individuals identified as world conquerors.  He strove to rebuild the Mongol Empire though he could not claim the title of Khan since he was not a descendant of Chinggis Khan. He waged holy war in the name of Islam though he could not claim descent from the tribe of the prophet thus limiting his claim to authority according to Islamic tradition. He took the title of Amir, commander, and built his authority on the basis of his star told destiny (Ibn Khaldun called him a Lord of the Fortunate Conjunction), his faithfulness to existing tradition (He ruled through Khans of the Chinggisid line and honored Islamic holy men), and his capacity to lead winning campaigns and navigate tribal politics. Though his own empire would not endure, his actions opened the opportunity for Muscovy to expand into a continentwide empire, gave Europe relief from the onslaught of the Ottomans, and provided the foundation for the formation of the Mughal Empire that would bring the Indian subcontinent under Muslim rule.

His empire was managed by war.  Timur’s reign featured constant mobilization and campaigning. The fact that Timur was continuously at war contributed to the perception of him as what David Morgan described as “one of the most complex, puzzling, and unattractive figures in the history of Persia and Central Asia.”[1]

Timur spent the first decade of his career, 1358-1370, mastering the dynamics of tribal politics within the Chaghatay Ulus. At the end of this period, Timur installed Suyurghatmish, a descendent of Chinggis Khan, as Khan of the Chaghatay Ulus. Timur consummated his military victory by marrying into the Chinggisid line, becoming a son-in-law of the great Khan. The next twenty-five years, 1370 – 1395, Timur maneuvered across Central Asia conquering the Persian lands and the Golden Horde along with campaigns in Armenia and Georgia. He would be required to reassert his authority over territories time and time again as conditions on the ground led his adversaries to reconsider their submission. Timur inevitably returned to enforce old agreements and meted out spectacularly cruel punishments to those who betrayed him. The cruelties would be multiplied over the next decade (1395-1405) when Timur would launch victorious campaigns against the Delhi Sultanate, the Ottomans, and the Mamelukes before preparing for the reconquest of China. These campaigns were punctuated by pyramids of skulls, the wastes of great cities like Bagdad, Damascus, and Aleppo, and a massive cultural capital transfer to Samarkand, the city Timur hoped to make the envy of the world. Whether Timur’s skills would have withstood the might of Ming China went undiscovered as the conqueror of millions was defeated by bad weather and ill health. Timur died of what appears to be pneumonia on February 18th, 1405.[2]

Soviet archaeologist, Professor Mikhail Gerasimov exhumed Timur from his tomb on June 22nd, 1941. The disturbance of the great conqueror from his grave coincided with the launching of Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of Russia. Rumors emerged about a curse surrounding Timur’s tomb that promised to unleash a greater conqueror upon the world if Timur’s rest would be disturbed.  By disturbing the great conqueror’s tomb, the scientists had allegedly unleashed a terror upon the world greater in magnitude than the terror Timur had spread during his life. Many human beings find meaning to the horrors of political action through appeal to supernatural causes. The claims that the writings in the tomb warned of this catastrophe are refuted by the actual content of the writings. These writings served another supernatural economy.  They confirmed that Timur is a descendant from the lineage of Ali, Muhammed’s legitimate heir, through what can only be understood as an immaculate conception. His conquests and their misery and consequences were ordained by God.[3]

Voegelin’s Image of Timur

Voegelin’s examination of Timur’s image focuses on how Timur’s rise to power through his own virtue becomes the inspiration for the Machiavellian prince and thereby leads to a conception of order that eclipses the classic and Christian sciences of political order. The foundation for this insight would be built from material Voegelin came across during a research trip to the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. While methodically working through the archives trying to gather materials for a study of French legal theory, Voegelin became aware of the impact of the Mongol conquests and especially Tamerlane’s victory over Bayezid I and the Ottomans on the conception of political order within Renaissance Europe. This fortuitous discovery offered the young researcher a segue into a research program dealing with the impact of Asian influences on European political theory. Voegelin’s published “Das Timurbild der Humanisten: Eine Studie zur politischen Mythenbildung” as the first structure of this research program.[4]

Das Timurbild der Humanisten” outlines a research program that would help Voegelin market himself to universities as a political scientist plumbing the depths of political order through historical studies. Voegelin understood the image of the Mongol Khan as “an imperial founder and animator of a people” as an important influence on European conceptions of political order.  The initial article covered the image of Timur in the 15th and 16th centuries in the Mediterranean world and would be later incorporated into Voegelin’s History of Political Ideas and Anamnesis: On the Theory of History and Politics. Later articles were planned to explore the image of the Mongol Khan in the French Kingdom, the Mongol diplomatic correspondence with the European powers during the Middle Ages and the light these correspondences shed on Mongol constitutionalism, and finally, an examination of contemporary images of the Mongol Empire and the influences of the present political climate on scholars’ interpretations of Mongol history. Of these three projects, Voegelin executed the study of the diplomatic correspondences and Mongol constitutional theory that was initially published in Byzantion in 1941 under the title of “The Mongol Orders of Submission to European Powers, 1245-1255.” Voegelin included materials from this project in his The New Science of Politics and an expanded version of the essay under the title “The Order of God,” in Anamnesis.[5]

Voegelin’s study of the image of Timur and Mongol constitutionalism became a complex of experiences that contributed to developing a broader narrative about political order that would affirm the foundational importance of the classical and Christian sciences for understanding the normative grounds of political order. The rediscovery of these normative grounds would serve as the source of a critique of the contemporary political ideologies that Voegelin understood to be responsible for the political catastrophes of the twentieth century.[6]

Voegelin’s journey from the Renaissance image of Timur to a critique of modern political ideologies is not the easiest route to such a critique. His initial piece on Timur is a scholarly tour de force. The article is 48 pages long as it appears in his collected works and involves extensive use of manuscripts in French, Italian, Latin, and Spanish. The article is heavily footnoted allowing the reader to corroborate Voegelin’s argument by referring to the documentary evidence upon which his argument is based. Voegelin explores the development of Timur’s image by the examining the writings of a wide range of humanists including Gian Francesco Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459), Enea Silvio Bartolomeo Piccolomini (Pope Pius II) (1405-1464), Battista Fregoso (1453-1505) and Louis LeRoy de Coutances (1510-1577).[7]

Through citing the above-mentioned sources and others, Voegelin easily makes his case that Timur occupied a special place in the thought of Renaissance humanists while simultaneously demonstrating the ignorance of the humanists of a knowledge of the pragmatic facts of central Asian history. Voegelin does not dwell upon this ignorance but instead attempts to discern the significance of the image of Timur constructed by the humanist writers.

The mythic structure of the constructed images is what captures Voegelin’s attention.  The first humanist’s image Voegelin spends a good amount of energies analyzing is Poggio, who best represents the spirit of the Renaissance as it is currently understood. Poggio praises the greatness of the moderns by focusing on how Timur is a figure of greater consequence than figures of the past such as Alexander and Caesar. He wonders at how a great conqueror’s fame can perish without the services of a great historian. He invokes the old pagan goddess, Fortune, to explain how some are afflicted with adversity and others are granted Fortune’s favor.[8] This meditative flirtation with paganism will be eclipsed by more Christian themes, but these Christian motifs will gradually be maneuvered until Machiavelli inverts the symbolism to subordinate the God of transcendent faith to the God of immanent power.

The meditation on the image of Timur by the humanists draws out three significant themes. Voegelin affirm, “Personal charisma, the conclusion of a pact, and the escalation of destructive conquest to the level of execution of God’s will are the innermost ranges of meaning reached by the humanists in their creation of the image of Timur.”[9] The image of Timur as a cruel force unleashed by an angry God upon the enemies of European civilization played an important role in the humanists’ understanding of the phenomenon of the great central Asian conqueror. This particular theme and its unraveling in the face of advances in historical method and access to the evidence will play a significant role in Voegelin’s telling of the tale of the history of political ideas.

Voegelin hints at the direction his history of ideas will take with the following observation:

“The anecdotes found in Piccolomini’s image of Timur, as well as in similar images drawn by other authors, lead to a speculation about institutions latent in the images’ background with which the Renaissance historians were not familiar. The institutions that suggest themselves are the constitution of the Mongol empire, its military organization, the Mongol military penal code, the question to what degree warfare on horseback was a result of a consciously rational development, the training of the officers’ corps, siege techniques, the traditional residue of strategy developed by Genghis Khan and his general staff, and so on.  Furthermore, the inexorability of the operation of these institutions reveals the force of the imperial drive to which all other goals of the Mongol existential order had to bow. The purpose of the anecdotes in question was to drive home the fanaticism of the will to conquer, which evidently struck Occidental authors as alien and mostly as incomprehensible. The rational purposiveness of the drive to conquer is at no point broken by any feelings of compassion, by respect for a different life style, for a high-level culture, or a people’s will to a free and independent existence. The frontiers of Timur’s conquest were set by militarily unconquerable deserts, by epidemics, by the death of the ruler, by disputes over the accession to the throne among his successors.”[10]

The political order represented by the high Middle Ages that set some limits upon what human beings might achieve within the field of pragmatic politics is challenged by a drive that respects no such limits.  Voegelin, the historian, has no illusions about the viability of these more humane forms of organization when they are confronted by the blunt fact of mobilized force.[11] Voegelin will explicitly critique this unrestrained drive in his appraisal of the Mongol political theology.

Before examining Mongol political theology and the role it plays in Voegelin’s broader thought, let us reflect upon the humanist thinker Voegelin has toward the end of his analysis of “das Timurbild.”  The French humanist, Louis LeRoy, in the midst of the violence and disintegration of French civilization reflects upon the potentially redemptive aspects of the destruction brought about by the acts of figures such as Alexander, Caesar, and Timur.  Voegelin observes:

Furthermore, Le Roy’s historical horizon has grown in terms of content, incomparably broader than Piccolomini’s. Le Roy – who probably knew Arabic – was familiar with the history of the Mongol empires, had a clear understanding of Ghengis Khan’s personality, and knew what kind of danger the Mongols represented to thirteenth-century Europe. This knowledge, coupled with a deep pessimism resulting from the domestic events in the France of his time, cause the emergence of visions of nations “alien in skin color, dress, and figure,” who come storming into Europe to destroy her material and spiritual culture. This spiritually deep-seated pessimism is thwarted in LeRoy’s time by a countermovement of an optimistic bent. Le Roy himself waxes enthusiastic about the fabulous developments in travel, discoveries, inventions, and scientific and artistic achievements of his age. He reads all of these advances as an unmistakable symptom of an ascendant phase, and draws from its encouragement of his hope for a possible happy ending of an unfortunate age. In this dilemma between despair and hope the emergence of Timur acquires for Le Roy an entirely new and surprising significance, which was heralded already by Poggio. Its meaning is detached, just as in Piccolomini’s case, from the context of its Asian circumstances, and hence is viewed as a verification of a great law of history. Le Roy believes that every violent historical epoch is introduced by the manifestation of a warlike force that is followed by a period of cultural flowering. The same as Alexander and his campaign emerge at the onset of Hellenism, as Caesar and his conquests emerge at the onset of the culture of a world empire, so emerges Timur at the onset of the Renaissance.[12]

What Le Roy sees as the possible sense of the destructive events of his time will eventually find themselves in Voegelin’s grand analysis of how modernity has culminated in the gulag and the concentration camp. Confidence that the horrors of the present lay the foundation for future benefits appears to create the misfortunate construct that bad intentions pave the way to heaven.

The final passages of “Das Timurbild” do not make the thrust of Voegelin’s later arguments particularly clear though they indicate Voegelin’s quality as a scholar.  The earlier images of Timur painted him as barbaric and cruel through focusing on a series of anecdotes emphasizing his ruthlessness.  The humiliating treatment of the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid I is an anecdote that poignantly reveals Timur’s sadistic character. Voegelin foreshadows a future paper that he will not write as he focuses on how the flowering of Oriental philology in the West and greater familiarity with Asian and Arabic historians will expose Westerners to a different image of Timur. Voegelin ends his piece by examining Philip the III of Spain’s ambassador to the court of Shah Abbas of Persia, Don Garcia de Silva’s rejection of the Renaissance image of Timur. Voegelin states:

“Silva takes an uncompromisingly negative stance in respect to the traditional image of Timur and deplores that false opinions prevail in Europe about such an important prince, who may be compared to Alexander. Timur had not been a savage barbarian as represented by European authors, but, according to Persian tradition, a ruler distinguished by humanness, magnanimity, and clemency toward the conquered. Justice, piety, and humility in victory were his most typical qualities. The story about his cruel treatment of Bayezid is not true; on the contrary, the khan received him and his family members with utmost courtesy and the highest honors and arranged the marriage of one of Bayezid’s daughters to his own oldest son. Although even these assertions in no way withstood the test of historical criticism, they nevertheless are signs of a new attitude toward Timur. In addition they indicate a willingness that spares no effort to achieve in regard to the sources a critical accuracy of a character image, which must gradually distance itself from the type of an exaggerated mythical image, establishing a foundation of a firm status based on material elements.”[13]

Voegelin’s serious engagement with historiography fills his work with a level of detail that makes his contributions significant to the scholar, even as he preserves a commitment to the normative insights of the classical and Christian sciences of humanity as significant for understanding the human search for order. Is it possible that the establishment of order by a figure like Timur is praiseworthy or is our good Christian ambassador being deceived by court sycophants propped up on the bones of both the innocent and the guilty in the wake of a holocaust?

Mongol Legal Theory

Voegelin’s engagement of the diplomatic correspondences of the Mongols with various European governments follows a similarly robust engagement with the textual evidence.  His first work addressing this material would find in place of the Mongol arrogance many Europeans found in the Mongol correspondence, a theory of law.  This initial piece presents the Mongol Orders of submission dispassionately as embodying a legal code built upon the formula one God in heaven, one Khan on earth.[14]

When reflecting on this work in his more mature work, “The Order of God,” appearing in the 1966 German edition of Anamnesis, Voegelin deployed a highly critical evaluation of this position. Voegelin asserted:

“He who wants peace submits to the khan, who executes the Order of God, the same as today, he who loves peace submits to the executors of the Communist metaphysics of history. He who offers resistance, or who only wants to be left in peace, wants war. The victim of aggression is the aggressor. Hence the fraud is thus in the nature of the affair, i.e., by the dogmatism of a boundlessly expansive will to power. But this intellectual fraud can only be carried out with conviction by its initiators-and can even find victims that fall for it-because it is built into the genuine experience of a transcendent source of authority of order. Even the corruption of order by the urge to power still derives its authority from a genuine experience of order through openness to the ground of being.”[15]

The differentiations of classical philosophy and Christian revelation rendered efforts to equate truth with the will to power and extension of a finite regime as a serious existential error. Voegelin points to these expansive claims as testimony to a reality that was bounded by an ineffable, transcendent ground.  The ideologies that sought to close this open horizon in favor of their narrower views of reality are viewed as perpetrators of a willful misperception certain to unleash mass violence in service of distorted, fragmented, obscured visions of reality. In an earlier work, Voegelin linked this contracted vision of reality to the Western philosophical tradition by examining the impact of the image of Timur on Niccolo Machiavelli, a founder of modern political science.

Machiavelli and Timur

In his 1951 article on Machiavelli, “Machiavelli’s Prince: Background and Formation,” Voegelin will deploy his materials to explore how awareness of Timur provided Machiavelli with the image of the Prince devoid of Christian faith in the hands of fortune seeking power in a world trying to forget or pull back the horizons of reality opened by classical philosophy and Christian faith. Though Machiavelli himself did not comment on the politics of Asia, Voegelin in a detective like manner finds how the image of Timur constructed by the humanists finds itself emerging in a political type capturing the order of the polity as lying beyond good and evil.

As in his previous examination of Timur, Voegelin focuses on the mythic construction of an order bringing figure.  The innumerable pragmatic details of political life are skillfully dispensed with by the humanists to offer a figure offering a formula addressing the existential difficulties of human beings living under threat and violence. Voegelin notes, “The virtù of the conquering prince becomes the source of order; and since the Christian, transcendental order of existence had become a dead letter for the Italian thinkers of the fifteenth century, the virtù ordinata of the prince, as the principle of the only order that is experienced as real, acquires human-divine heroic proportions.”[16]

Machiavelli’s Vita di Castruccio Castracani introduces us to the mythic form that expresses the form of the saving Prince. Voegelin skillfully deduces how historical details are omitted from Castracani’s life to give the form strength. He reveals how the form is structured in a way similar to how the humanists structured their mythic image of Timur.  The end result of this presentation of the life of a model prince is the revelation of virtù and power as the grounds of a providential order of politics. God, like fortune, loves the strong man.

Voegelin views Machiavelli as representing a genuinely religious attitude toward virtù and worldly honor, but he understands this revitalization of paganism to be out of season in the wake of classical philosophy and Christian faith. Voegelin observes:

“But the varieties of religiousness, while fundamentally possible at all times, have also their historical time; we have discussed this problem in detail on occasion of Plato’s historical truth of the myth. Once Christianity is in the world and has formed a civilization, one cannot simply turn around and be a pagan – and a pre-Platonic one at that. The call has gone to all; and Machiavelli cannot be excepted. In its historical place, the paganism of Machiavelli is not the “people’s myth” that Plato strove to overcome; it is a lack of faith in the Christian sense, a demonic closure of the soul against transcendental reality. This closure must also guide our judgment with regard to his politics. The creed of the spirit italiano and the onore del mondo is not a Hellenic creed of the polis; it is a rejection of the transcendental meaning of history and a reversion to the tribalism of the particular community.”[17]

Voegelin wryly notes how Machiavelli’s faith in the apocalypse contained within The Prince fades as he looks to the past and confronts the limits of the possible. Voegelin does not criticize Machiavelli for his clear-eyed vision of the uglier parts of political reality and describes how different levels of reality experienced may be in contradiction with one another. Following the guidance of the Sermon on the Mount may result in one’s premature death and applying this sermon as foreign policy would not earn the praise of abused subjects.  Machiavelli’s exploration of the cycle of virtù and political order and its decay will echo through the work of historians from Vico to Spengler and Toynbee.

Force of Arms and God’s Realm

Voegelin’s examination of the humanists’ image of Timur culminates in a closure to the insights of order brought about by classical and Christian sciences.  Voegelin finds the drive for power lacking the light of these neglected sciences.  His analysis of the Mongol constitution and his concerns about the attempt to bring a transcendent order to earth will be the theme he will become famous for as a political scientist.  In works such as The New Science of Politics, he will link his antiquarian interests to a critique of the ideological politics that he viewed as an existential threat to Western civilization. This achievement will occur in the guise of a scientist seeking the engendering experiences behind the representational forms of human political communities. Voegelin generalizes:

“It will have become clear by now that the Behistun Inscription and the Mongol Orders are not oddities of a remote past but instances of a structure in politics that may occur at any time, and especially in our own. The self-understanding of a society as the representative cosmic order originates in the period of the cosmological empires in the technical sense, but it is not confined to this period. Not only does cosmological representation survive in the imperial symbols of the Western Middle Ages or in continuity into the China of the twentieth century; its principle is also recognizable where the truth to be represented is symbolized in an entirely different manner. In Marxian dialectics, for instance, the truth of cosmic order is replaced by the truth of historically immanent order. Nevertheless, the Communist movement is a representative of this differently symbolized truth in the same sense in which a Mongol Khan was the representative of the truth contained in the Order of God; and the consciousness of this representation leads to the same political and legal constructions as in the other instances of imperial representation of truth. Its order is in harmony with the truth of history; its aim is the establishment of the realm of freedom and peace; the opponents run counter to the truth of history and will be defeated in the end; nobody can be at war with the Soviet Union legitimately but must be a representative of untruth in history, or in contemporary language, an aggressor; and the victims are not conquered but liberated from their oppressors and therewith from the untruth of their existence.”[18]

The judgment he passes is clear, and the authority he claims for this judgment is science.  He describes patterns of representation and their origins as well as the consequences of those patterns of representation. Literalistic interpretations of cosmological tales have had and will have deadly consequences.

If Voegelin would have continued his investigation of the image of Timur and incorporated the historiography of Central Asia and the Middle East into his analysis, he would have likely come to similar conclusions about the hybrid representational form of the Mongol-Turkic political tradition and the faith of Islam and Timur’s navigation of these traditions.  We hear hints of this judgment in some of Voegelin’s brief analysis of Islamic symbols of order:

“When I want to pray, says the rule, I go to the place where I wish to say my prayer. I sit still until I am composed.  Then I stand up: The Kaaba is in front of me, paradise to my right, hell to my left, and the angel of death stands behind me.  Then I say my prayer as if it were my last. And thus I stand, between hope and fear, not knowing whether God has received my prayer favorably or not. Perhaps, for the masses, this high spiritual clarity is made bearable through a connection with the neither high nor especially spiritual extension of God’s realm by force of arms over the ecumene.”[19]

Voegelin is sensitive to the experiences he believes underlie religious and political symbols of representation and how these symbolisms can become entangled with political reality I destructive ways.  The human condition is fraught with tensions and difficulties.  The forms of order human beings embrace may exacerbate these difficulties.  Voegelin understood his duty as a scientist to point out the consequences of the human search for order and its varieties of expression.

Barry Cooper is the commentator on Voegelin who most thoroughly and appreciatively engaged Voegelin’s analysis of Timur and the Mongols and their influence on Voegelin’s thought. In his chapter “The Range of Evidence” in Eric Voegelin and the Foundations of Modern Political Thought, Cooper offers a comprehensive survey of some of the most significant works related to the political history of the Mongol/Turkic world and walks us through an appreciative interpretation of Voegelin’s analysis of the documentary evidence of the Western encounter with this alternative mode of political order. Cooper notes that Voegelin’s work on Timur had little impact on Renaissance studies, but his efforts were appreciated by those in the field Mongol studies.  He appreciates Voegelin’s realism by affirming the limitations of the political injunction to do no harm in the context of a broader reality that includes demands beyond the spiritual aspect of reality. He also finds indirect confirmation of Voegelin’s interpretation of the relationship between Machiavelli and Timur in the treatment of Timur in the works of Christopher Marlowe, and in the literary scholarship surrounding Marlowe that clarifies this relationship.[20] The robustness of Voegelin’s connection of Machiavelli to Timur requires a classical scholar to see if the Vita di Castruccio Castracani could be explained by looking at the structure of the biographies of Polybius and Plutarch without reference to the humanists biographies of Timur, but the bridge between Timur and Machiavelli Voegelin builds is an important part of the evolution of Voegelin’s political theory.

The Broader Image of Timur

Voegelin’s selection of Timur and his image as a significant focus for understanding the political concerns of the Renaissance era is not idiosyncratic or unwarranted.  Voegelin made the case with textual evidence, but an empirical approach to history justifies his focus. Steven Pinker’s study on violence has Timur’s wars constitute the 11th largest holocaust in human history on the basis of raw numbers at 17 million deaths and the 6th largest holocaust in human history at 100 million deaths when deaths are adjusted for the proportion of world population at the time with the twentieth century as the reference point.[21]

The British historian/educator Burjor Avari captures the most basic human reaction to Timur’s role in the atrocities of the 14th – 15th century when he uses the text from Timur’s alleged autobiography to make a case against the mental health of the Amir.  He states, Timur’s psychopathic cruelty, his greed, his refusal to take personal responsibility for his actions are brought out in his own words…”[22] The sense of personal limits in modern psychology owes a great deal to the classical and Christian science of personal and political order and Avari condemnation of Timur partakes in this science of order that challenges the demonic will of the individual.

Certainly Timur’s words in light of the sack of Delhi substantiate Avari’s judgment as the Amir distances himself from the horrific consequences of his campaign. Timur reflects:

“All that day the sack was general. The following day, all passed the same way, and the spoil was so great that each man secured from fifty to a hundred prisoners, men, women, and children. The other booty was immense in rubies, diamonds, garnets, pearls… Gold and silver ornaments of the Hindu women were obtained in such quantities as to exceed all account… I ordered that all the artisans and clever mechanics, who were masters of their respective crafts should be picked out from among the prisoners and set aside, and accordingly some thousands of craftsmen were selected to await my command… I had determined to build a masijid-i-jami in Samarqand, the seat of my empire, which should be without a rival in any country; So I ordered that all builders and stone masons should be set apart for my own special service… By the will of God, and by no wish or direction of mine, all the three cities of Delhi… had been plundered… It was ordained by God that the city should be ruined. He therefore inspired the infidel inhabitants with a spirit of resistance, so that they brought on themselves the fate which was inevitable. When my mind was no longer occupied with the destruction of the people of Delhi, I took a ride round the cities.”[23]

The clinical detachment used to represent the conqueror’s sentiments lacks the fellow-feeling and sense of the tragic that we associate with a healthy psychological type. Unless, one believes in a God that uses such men for a mysterious good only he understands, Avari’s judgement is persuasive.

A Voegelin contemporary and French art historian, Renee Grousset, looks for Timur’s destructive drives within Timur’s faith. He observes in his magisterial The Empire of the Steppes:

“It has been noted that the Jenghiz-Khanite Mongol invasion of the thirteenth century was less cruel, for the Mongols were mere barbarians who killed simply because for centuries this had been the instinctive behavior of nomad herdsmen toward sedentary farmers. To this ferocity Tamerlane added a taste for religious murder. He killed from piety. He represents a synthesis, probably unprecedented in history, of Mongol barbarity and Muslim fanaticism, and symbolizes that advanced from of primitive slaughter which is murder committed for the sake of an abstract ideology, as a duty and a sacred duty.”[24]

This concern about the destructive potential of Islam is continued as Grousset meditates on Timur’s Chinese expedition. Grousset asserts:

“This was surely one of the gravest dangers that had ever threatened Chinese civilization, for now it was not a question of Kublai who respected Buddhism and Confucianism and desired to become a true Son of Heaven, but the irruption of a fanatical Muslim who, by turning the country to Islam, might have utterly destroyed Chinese civilization and eroded Chinese society. Yung Lo, the most warlike of the Ming emperors, might have proved a worthy adversary; yet the danger was great until Tamerlaine fell ill at Otrar and died on January 19, 1405, at the age of seventy-one.”[25]

It is a matter of curiosity to determine whether Grousset’s concerns about the role of Islam in propelling Timur’s campaigns or the reconstruction of the empire of Chinggis Khan were the primary drive. The French national narrative that emphasizes the importance of the battle of Poitiers in saving Christian Europe from Muslim domination most probably played a role in this interpretation.[26]  The fact that Voegelin’s work on the Mongol legal order not being published during the writing of Grousset’s work published in 1939 may have led the scholar to underestimate the role of Mongol law in propelling Timur’s insatiable drive for conquest.

Medievalist, David Morgan, A writer more sympathetic to the civilizing influences of Islam is no less critical of Timur’s cruelty. He compares Chinggis Khan to Timur:

“His career, from bandit to conqueror, bears some resemblance to that of Chingiz Khan, though the differences are perhaps more striking than the similarities. His army was organized in much the same way as his predecessor’s, and he was undeniably a highly gifted and successful general. But he indulged in destruction and wanton cruelty to an extent that Chingiz would have considered pointless; and it may be felt that as a man who had been brought up as a Muslim and in a highly ‘civilized’ society, he had less excuse.”[27]

Morgan opens up a mystery that warrants investigation. Was Timur worse than the Great Khan and why would this be so? Was it religious fanaticism that motivated Timur or a Machiavellian demonism? Did the hybridization of the yasa, the Mongol law, and Islam create a particularly remorseless ideology that fueled morally unacceptable violence?

Two historians come close to doing what Voegelin proposed to do in his abandoned research program related to Timur. Adam Knobler of the Ruhr Universität Bochum Center for Religious Studies explores the path of Timur’s Image in the British Empire[28] and Beatrice Forbes Manz of Tufts University takes a broader look at the use of Timur’s image from his immediate descendants through its contemporary usage as a source of legitimation for the state of Uzbekistan.[29]

Knobler skillfully traces the transformation of Timur in the British mind from a sympathetic figure saving the West from defeat at the hands of Muslim infidels to a figure reviled as the manifestation of oriental cruelty and depravity. The initial favorable image of Timur is set against the backdrop of Christian/Islamic conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean. Henry the IV (1367-1413) congratulates Timur for his defeat of the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid and thanks him for protecting English merchants. The literature following this encounter praises Timur as an instrument of God’s justice and quoting from popular preacher and biographer of the day Samuel Clarke’s Life of Tamerlane the Great, “a rare example of heathenistic piety, prudence, magnanimity, mercy, liberality, humility, justice, temperance and virtue…” With a few noteworthy exceptions emphasizing a critique of Timur as an atheistic and prideful figure, the treatment of Timur through the seventeenth century is weighted heavily toward praise and admiration of a hero who saved the West from an ignoble fate.[30]

Britain’s intervention in India would move British concerns about Timur from one of distant savior and heroic figure to a foil for justifying the nature of Britain’s imperial interests and actions within the Indian sub-continent. During this time, Timur’s image is transformed from an admirable prince to an Oriental despot. The image of Timur as an Oriental despot served to help the British to paint themselves as benevolent restorers of a more civilized past that was left desolate by the ravages of the banditry and butchery of Timur. By the end of the nineteenth century Timur was a well-known historical figure in British history and literature, epitomizing cruelty of an unbounded passion for domination. Arnold Toynbee’s assessment of Timur as a militarist perpetuating horror to impress humanity with “the crack-brained megalomania of a homicidal mad man” served the interest of justifying the civilizing role of the British Empire on the Indian subcontinent.[31]

Knobler concludes his reflections on the evolution of Timur’s image within the British empire with Timur standing as a tabula rasa on which various actors playout Orientalist fantasies and work out the mechanics of practical foreign and domestic political problems. From this perspective, Timur’s British images fit nicely into Edward Said’s conception of Orientalism as objects manipulated to serve Western interests.[32] Though Knobler notes Timur’s current use by the Uzbek’s to forge a national identity after Russian colonialism, he fails to understand the similarity of this nation building endeavor with Britain’s own efforts to justify empire.

Beatrice Forbes Manz gives us the most comprehensive view of the use of Timur’s image across time and space.  Her work rightly situates Timur’s significance within the dynastic politics of the Middle East and South and Central Asia. She begins her examination of the uses of Timur with what she understands to be the problem Timur had in managing his own image. The Turco-Mongol world and the Islamic world did not offer Timur a clear path to claim the legitimacy his victories on the battlefield gave him. Timur managed the difficulty of having no legitimate claim to the political legitimacy within the Turco-Mongol tradition or the Islamic tradition by a combination of modesty and boldness.  He bolstered his position within the Mongol world by the use of Chinggisid puppet khans. He bolstered his position within the Islamic world through demonstrative respect for men of religion. These acts of deference to traditional sources of legitimacy were balanced by the crafting of a supreme image of himself. Timur waged war on the scale of Chinggis Khan and made demonstrations of ruthlessness reminiscent of the great conqueror. By reenacting conquests of the Great Khan, Timur made a claim to legitimacy on the basis of the scale of his achievements and the threat he posed to those who would not affirm his significance.  Similarly, Timur’s cultivation of his image as a man of culture and patron of the arts demonstrated the conqueror could build as well as destroy. His construction of massive buildings such as the Bibi Khanum mosque and the Yasawi shrine played into the grandiosity and theater that enabled Timur to assert his will over his empire during his life.[33]

The need for dynastic legitimation after Timur’s passing would move Timur into the role of a figure that offered his descendants and those claiming his legacy a sense of legitimation. This legitimation turned away from Timur’s modest beginnings to his exceptional character and extraordinary deeds. Manz observed:

“The dynasties which followed the Timurids shared many traits with them, including a mixed nomad and sedentary population and a respect for Islamic, Iranian, and Turkic or Turco-Mongolian traditions. The figure of Temur and the Timirid heritage were attractive to several of them. What made the package useful was not only the glamour of the material, but also its variety; The tensions with which Temur and his successors had to cope produced a set of images and myths which could appeal to a broad spectrum of people. Inheritors of the Timurid legacy drew on different parts of the Timurid corpus according to their needs.”[34]

The magnitude of Timur’s conquests, his patronage of the arts and religion, and his balancing the tensions of Turco-Mongolian civilization and Perso-Islamic civilization offered a rich legacy of symbolic authority to be tapped by those seeking to bolster their own authority through claims to an illustrious past. The Timurid legacy played a strong role in the Mughal dynasty and a lesser role in the Uzbek and Safavid empires.

Manz briefly touches upon Timur’s image in the West. She dismisses the stories of Timur having kings pull his chariot and caging Bayezid as Western fabrications. She discusses how Timur’s popularity in the arts coincided with drives for political centralization during the late sixteenth and the middle of the seventeenth century. She sees in the works of Marlowe an image celebrating the power of the individual. Her bibliography dealing with this period does not mention Voegelin’s paper dealing with Timur, but as we will see, her own image of Timur will be attuned to Voegelin’s understanding of how the image of Timur will echo through Machiavelli’s conception of a Prince dealing with power realities apart from transcendent concerns. Interestingly enough, Timur’s Islamic identity made him an acceptable symbol of legitimacy within the political milieu of an Islamic Central and South Asia.

Manz’s treatment of Soviet historiography follows a line of reasoning that will enable us to see how Timur has become a symbol of political legitimation in modern Central Asia, particularly modern Uzbekistan. She observes:

“The first Soviet reinterpretation which helped to move Temür into the position of an Uzbek hero was the conflation of the Uzbeks with the Timurid dynasty they had defeated and displaced. In the twentieth century the concern with purely dynastic legitimacy has given way to the creation of nations and peoples, even to some extent within the Soviet state. Nationhood and ethnogenesis became important issues in Soviet historiography. The Soviet view of nationality laid out in its classical form by Stalin in “Marxism and the Nationality Question,” linked territory, language, and history as the basis of nationality. Such a formulation requires some readjustment of the historical record for any region, and particularly for Uzbekistan, since the Uzbek tribes came into the territory of modern Uzbekistan only in the sixteenth century, and their entry is well documented. Furthermore the Uzbeks were nomadic, and nomads hold an inglorious place in the Marxist scheme of development. To make it worse, they were descendants of the Mongols, led by a khan directly descended from Chinggis Khan, consistently reviled in Soviet historiography. The solution was to emphasize the importance of the Turkic people earlier inhabiting Transoxiana, including the Timurids, and to downplay the number of new people brought in by the Uzbek invasion.”[35]

Timur fit into a progressive narrative of Marxian history and his identity with Turkic people avoided association with the barbarism of Chinggis Khan’s Mongols. An image of a strong Timur likely played a similar role in Stalin’s USSR that he played for the centralizing rulers of the sixteenth and seventeenth century.

More critical views toward Timur would emerge as the Russian scholar A. P. Novosel’tsev painted a grim picture of Central Asian history. Timur’s reign was viewed as the continuation of Mongol traditions. His rule served an exploitative nomadic aristocracy and whatever brief cultural achievements that occurred during the period were an anomalous blip in the steady decline of Transoxiania generated by the influx of nomads and their non-progressive culture. This dark image served the interests of Russian nationalists wanting to justify their colonization of Central Asia but had little utility for the native inhabitants of the region.

The search for a modern Post Soviet identity turned towards earlier understandings of the cultural and political achievements of Timur and the Timurids. The new state of Uzbekistan embraced Timur and his legacy as key to affirming values of the new nation state. Timur’s centralization of authority, promotion of international trade, building of architectural wonders, patronage of religion and scholarly activities are actions that are as essential to promoting the modern Uzbek state as they were to the preservation of Timur’s political authority. Manz concludes her reflections on Timur’s uses with the following:

“It is striking how constant the image and use of Temür has remained through the centuries, and how much of his continuing attraction came from formulations already in place shortly after his death. Despite the changes in state legitimation, society, and culture in the centuries since Temür lived, the ideal of the powerful ruler, ruthless and charismatic, seems to have remained disconcertingly constant. The image of a man of will and destiny rising from low station to rule the world, which Temür and his entourage encouraged orally during his lifetime, appealed strongly to the writers of the European Renaissance, to wartime Soviet writers, and now to the rulers of independent Uzbekistan. The dynastic patriarch, great centralizer and promoter of order, the field commander who honors and even outshines the scholars of his day, has also had an enduring attraction for numerous ambitious rulers since, from Akbar to Karimov.”[36]

Manz constructed her own image of Timur and went on to reflect on what she finds so disconcerting about the enduring attraction of a figure like Timur.

Manz’s Image of Timur and the Problem of Unacceptable Violence

Manz views Timur as a founder of a nomad conquest dynasty who was adept at playing the game of tribal politics needed to launch his campaigns of conquest. The string of conquests and reconquests that Timur pursued was essential to generating the plunder and activity to keep his own political position secure.  Timur’s faith commitments were simply opportunistic manipulations to fulfill his unexplained drive for power. She does acknowledge a certain nuance to Timur’s relationship to religion by describing Timur’s attitude towards religion to be what Jean Aubin referred to as a mixture of “intellectual curiosity and superstitious prudence.”[37] Manz gives us an image of Timur as the Machiavellian prince before Machiavelli. This power-hungry prince is still dazzled by a transcendent horizon of wonder and concern even as he is responsible for the death of millions.

Manz visits the historians who chronicled the conquests of the Mongols and of Timur to ponder this legacy unacceptable violence. The historians she examined most closely Juwanyi, Sharaf al-Din Ali Yazdi and Hafiz-I Abru composed their histories for third generation rulers seeking legitimacy from Chinggis Khan or Timur within the Perso-Islamic civilization. The historians presented the atrocities of these unique personalities as God’s wrath and their victories anointing their rule as God’s will. Her final observation tries to generalize the phenomenon from its historical context. She notes:

“The authority of destructive power should not be understood as something culturally specific; scriptures and myths of many cultures are full of illustrations of the punishing might of God or gods. Transgression and threat could likewise enhance the stature of exceptional humans; the great heroes of Greek literature for instance, were associated with extraordinary courage and strength, but also with danger to others, with anger, with wind, fire and destruction. In the modern world, the figures of both Hitler and Stalin continue to fascinate and to attract followers. Perhaps, therefore, we should not be surprised that the appalling acts of Chinggis Khan and Tamerlane should have placed them into the pantheon of great historical rulers, promoting acceptance of their rule and that of their descendants.”[38]

Manz’s final reflection points away from a specific culture and towards the recognition that appalling acts can give their perpetrators historical greatness. Certainly, the literature of social psychology on how overconfidence, the quest for dominance, the need for revenge, the cultivation of sadism, and group think through the spread of ideology can unleash our aggressive impulses. That same literature also points to all sorts of strategies how we try to distant ourselves from taking responsibility for such unpleasant acts. No wonder the historians saw in Timor’s acts the will of God or the conjunction of the stars. It is too horrible to imagine that ordinary human beings could be so cruel.[39]


A pragmatic view of history recognizes the utility of force. Manz comes close to explaining Timur’s success as being grounded in a variety of necessary steps to maintain power.  Nevertheless, there seems to be something of a spiritual madness in the mind that will construct pyramids of skulls to intimidate potential rivals. The extraordinary claims of acting as the scourge of God or in conjunction with the stars does little to convince the reasonable individual to the contrary.

Voegelin’s treatment of the image of Timur and its likely trajectory if he would have carried through on his stated research program demonstrated how an image of raw power could disrupt a symbolism of prudence, justice, and transcendence. Voegelin describes the disintegration of the Christian order and Machiavelli’s evocation of an old paganism, possibly inspired by the mythology of Timur, the Central Asian prince. He is sympathetic to the loss of authority of the Church and Machiavelli’s emphasis on power politics, but he does not find a return to paganism credible given the historical events of classical philosophy and Christian revelation. Voegelin seemed to appreciate how these traditions offered precarious balances of immanent and transcendent poles of reality without omitting or collapsing the tension of these poles of conscious reality. Somehow this balance could prevent its holder from participating in the moral insanity of mass violence. Unfortunately, making this balance socially effective is a puzzle that was outside the scholar’s grasp.

What the scholar accomplished was the development of a theory of symbolization that would offer guidelines for understanding the inherent violence of certain symbol-experiences making authoritative representational claims. If Voegelin would have continued the Timur research program, his critique would have needed to confront the claims of Islam to spread its faith by the sword and of the Mongols to realize one Khan on earth from the premise of one God in heaven. The outlines of such a critique are present in The Ecumenic Age and in Voegelin’s treatment of the legal theory of the Mongols.  As previously noted, he acknowledged these symbols of order made some serious errors in handling the transcendent pole of reality. These religious formulations in Timur’s hands empowered the wars of conquest that resulted in 17 million deaths. An empiricist would need to credit Voegelin’s theory of political symbolization with some credibility.  The specialist in Islamic or Mongol studies would be justified in observing Voegelin needed to attend to the problems of order within these civilizations with greater attention to detail and nuance, but the general thrust of his analysis appears to be on target.

Voegelin did not claim to be an Orientalist, but from the perspective of modern Asian studies, Voegelin’s treatment of Timur aptly acknowledges the influence of events in Asia on the formation of political order in Europe. The lack of attention to Voegelin’s solid work as a young scholar on the image of Timur prevented this breakthrough from becoming part of common scholarly discourse when addressing the Renaissance and Machiavelli.

Contemporary scholars have explored the use of Timur as a means of affirming the authority of dynasties and states. Timur is a God anointed defender of the faith, an extraordinary individual of great intelligence and political skill, an uncultured barbarian to be rejected for his murderous reign, etc. The British affirmed him as a defender of commerce and rejected him for his cruelty in order to justify their kinder and gentler governance of India. The Russian cautiously praised him as a strong centralizing figure and rejected him as a regressive force bringing Central Asia to a nadir of cultural achievement thereby justifying Russian imperialism.  The Uzbeks claim Amir Timur as an emblem of the political and cultural creativity that their land and people can generate.  The need to invoke great destructive and creative power to sanctify political communities is a strange form of magic that Eric Voegelin understood very well. The souls of humans are lost in pursuit of the goals of dynasties and states.



[1] David Morgan Medieval Persia, 1040-1797 (London: Longman, 1988), 93.

[2] Chapter 11 in Renee Grousset The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2002) offers an excellent brief coverage of Timur’s career of Conquest. A more up to date scholarly analysis of Timur’s campaign and tribal politics can be found in Beatrice Forbes Manz’s The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989). Justin Marozzi’s Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World (Boston: Da Capo Press, 2004) offers an engaging journalistic account of Timur that uses commentaries from the anti-Timurid historian Ahmed Arabshah (1389-1450) and the pro-Timurid historian Ali Yazdi Sharaf al-din (? – 1454).

[3] A. Azfar Moin’s “The Lord of Conjunction” in The Millennial Sovereign: Sacred Kingship and Sainthood in Islam (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), 23-55 does an excellent job of covering the construction of Timur’s dynastic legitimacy through association with the Alid lineage.

[4] Eric Voegelin, Autobiographical Reflections (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2011), p. 62

[5] These articles are available in The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin published by the University of Missouri Press and overseen by Paul Caringella, Jürgen Gebhardt, Thomas Hollweck, and Ellis Sandoz.  Voegelin’s outlne of his research program on the image of Tamerlane is contained within Anamnesis, volume 6 of The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, translated by M.J. Hanak based upon the original translation of the. 1966 work done by Gerhart Niemeyer. Eric Voegelin, Anamnesis: On the Theory of History and Politics. M. J. Hanak, trans. and David Walsh, ed. (Volume 6 in The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin) (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002), 174-75.

[6] Eric Voegelin Modernity Without Restraint: Political Religions, the New Science of Politics, and Science, Politics, and Gnosticism (Volume 5 of The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin) (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999), 102-5.

[7] Eric Voegelin “The Humanists’ Image of Timur” in Anamnesis, 175-223.

[8] Ibid., pp.175-87.

[9] Ibid., 212.

[10] Ibid., 206.

[11] Voegelin’s realism enables him to describe the success and the human costs of different modes of political order. He understands that these disruptions are facts of human history even if they represent a fall from the standards of a civilization committed to normative standards that on balance would be less destructive of human life. Christian humanists like E.F. Schumacher advocate for modes of order and civilization that will contribute to human flourishing. Voegelin believed the loss of balance of consciousness within the modern world was substantial and at best, it would be possible for individuals to orient themselves towards what he termed existence in truth disclosed by the normative and scientific insights achieved in the classical and Christian traditions.

[12] Voegelin, “The Humanists’ Image of Timur,” 215-16.

[13] Ibid., 221-23

[14] Eric Voegelin, “Mongol Order of Submission to European Powers, 1245-1255” in Published Essays 1940-1952 (Volume 10 of The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin) (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000), 76-125.

[15] Eric Voegelin “The Order of God” in Anamnesis, 266.

[16] Eric Voegelin Renaissance and Reformation (Volume 22 of The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin) (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998), 56.

[17] Ibid., p. 86.

[18] Voegelin, Modernity Without Restraint, 134-35.

[19] Ibid., pp. 312-13.

[20] Barry Cooper Eric Voegelin and the Foundation of Modern Political Science (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999), 247-85.

[21] Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Penguin Books, 2011), categorizes wars and atrocities according to their magnitude in terms of world population. The worst death producing event in absolute terms is the Second World War. In relative terms the Second World War is less violent than eight other events, including Timur’s campaigns.

[22] Burjor Avari Islamic Civilization in South Asia: A History of Muslim Power and Presence (London: Routledge Press, 2012), 98.

[23] Sir H.M. Elliot, editor, Tuzak-I-Timuri: The Autobiography of Timur (Lahore: Sang-e-Meel Publications, 2005), 63-65.

[24] Renee Grousset The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2002), 434.

[25] Ibid., 455-56.

[26] Gordon Adams “France Has Been No Friend to Muslims” in Foreign Policy, November 17, 2015. Available at

[27] David Morgan The Mongols (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, Ltd., 1987), 201.

[28] Adam Knobler “Timur the (Terrible/Tartar) Trope: A Case of Repositioning in Popular Literature and History” in Medieval Encounters 7/1 (2001): 101-12.

[29] Beatrice Forbes Manz “Tamerlane’s Career and Its Uses,” Journal of World History 13/1 (2002): 1-25.

[30] Knobler, “Timur the (Terrible/Tartar) Trope,” 101-7.

[31] Ibid., pp. 101-11.

[32] Ibid., 113.

[33] Beatrice Forbes Manz “Tamerlane’s Career and Its Uses,” 1-6.

[34] Ibid., 9.

[35] Ibid., 16.

[36] Ibid., 25.

[37] Beatrice Forbes Manz The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 16-18.

[38] Beatrice Forbes Manz “Unacceptable Violence as Legitimation” in Violence in Islamic Thought: From the Mongols to European Imperialism, edited by Robert Gleave and Istavan T. Kristo-Nagy (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018), 103.

[39] Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Penguin Books, 2011), 482-570 does an excellent job of reviewing this literature in “Inner Demons.”


This excerpt is from Eric Voegelin’s Asian Political Thought (Lexington Books, 2020). Ying’s review and Thompson-Uberuaga’s reviews are available as are the introduction and chapters by Lee Trepanier and John von Heyking.

Todd Myers

Todd Myers is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Grossmont College.

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