skip to Main Content

Representation in Politics: Transcendental Dreaming and Existential Crisis


This paper focuses on what Voegelin’s text The New Science of Politics and what he calls “unrestrained modernity” alongside an exploration of the problem of infinity in language representations discussed in Aristotle’s Physics. Focusing my search on unlimited-representation leads me towards a discussion of what tradition is, how one represents traditions both in life and politics, and how modern traditions have failed to transcend beyond the occasion of their becoming, ultimately leading towards an existential crisis. For Voegelin, the failure of transcendental social representation creates the “phenomenon of a dream world” that leads to the end of modernity. The institutional traditions most important for this paper are those of western constitutional representative democracies. Thus, the article (1) aims at understanding how, for Voegelin, the threat of “unrestrained modernity” brings about “strong institutional traditions” of economic materialism, racism, corrupt psychology, scientism, and technological ruthlessness, and (2) developing a means of helping us overcome the menace of dangerous socio-political conventions.[2]


Before getting to the paper itself, I will take the time to “situate” the article. For Voegelin, it seems evident that theory ought to begin, to some extent, from the situation at hand; we ought to embed ourselves into the intelligibility of the historical process as it unfolds before us.[3] This approach requires us to discuss and theorize our present as it occurs here and now. In this regard, theory captures reality within our representations. Thus, I will begin with the then and there of this paper’s becoming.[4]

When I first considered this topic many months ago, COVID was not a prevalent issue. By the time I started writing, COVID was in full swing, the BLM movement and Land Back protests were all the rave, and my thoughts concerning the issue of representation in politics became engulfed in the reality of the world. It would seem a crisis was upon us. The ever-prevalent issue of the anti-maskers, white supremacists, the media’s coverage of police brutality, protests, riots, and calls for politicians to step down seemed to cloud my thoughts. At first, I was not sure if this was a problem or something to embrace. Over time I realized these were not clouds but a reality that needed pressing. This realization happened on a faithful afternoon while a friend and I left a convenience store in Edmonton, where an anti-masker confronted us. He said: “you know, cotton masks don’t stop COVID, only UV light does. Sunlight is everywhere. COVID is dead.” We ignored him, so he continued: “We all need to follow the law. Be good citizens, be good fascists.” He then yelled: “FASCISM! FASCISM! FASCISM!” He did not appear to be shouting fascism because it was his mantra; instead, he was declaring the COVID restrictions to be fascism, and anyone who follows them are complicit.

I was baffled by this notion, a notion I had heard in the news; the idea that, for some, forcing people to wear masks is authoritarian, totalitarian, fascist; all words with historical, and linguistic value and meaning that appeared, to me, completely unrelated to the issue at hand. That is, they have precise representations in our language. So I thought, how is it that people could be so wrong? Maybe they read Agamben’s piece “The Invention of an Epidemic” and concluded if a renowned philosopher could argue the non-existence of an epidemic, clearly everything is a farce, and political leaders are merely trying to entrench the police-surveillance state further.[5] Regardless of this reality, representation seemed to be the centrality of the issue. People seem to be living in a dream state of relative meaning and, as a result, are fighting for the very existence of their world representations. We are not faced with a material crisis; we are faced with an existential one.

While Voegelin would not argue a material crisis, I would posit that people, in general, or journalists at the very least, see a material crisis. Our meat-space,[6] our political structures, economics, and social foundations are the root of the problem for them. While I would agree with that conclusion, I would rather say the problem is much more complicated. The very meaning of reality has been under attack for so long that it is nearing its breaking point—the end is nigh. That said, I am not one to prophesy a total end, yet I won’t, at this time, given the reality of climate change, discount it. So, how do we come to this existential crisis? For this quest, I focused my considerations on Eric Voegelin and his work The New Science of Politics. This text is adequately placed within the theoretical lexicon; it seeks to express the need to look at the world during a crisis as a means of truly understanding ourselves.[7] What better event to understand ourselves than a health crisis amidst an existential crisis? Thus, let us consider the impending existential crisis during a health crisis during a time of western (potentially global) political unrest, as a means of discovering why representations of reality appear to fail us.[8]


As the pandemic continues, we face the continued rise of sophist-like populism in western democracies that threaten not only the foundations of democracy but also Western societal order itself. All quadrants of the political sphere are sounding the proverbial alarm in the wake of rising populism and its many opposing strains that seek to eliminate the other. With this in mind, one cannot simply amalgamate populism into a single entity and ignore the inherent dangers of right-wing fascist groups threatening the wellbeing of all peoples. While populism is not a new phenomenon, our increasingly digital world has allowed populist movements to spread across the horizons of immediate space effortlessly.[9] Populist movements have created a world of constant attack on societal order, thereby generating a precarious and unstable socio-political order. However, we can seek solace in the fact that we are not alone in this battle for the soul of our social being. By looking through the pages of history, we will discover this battle is not all new and was essentially predicted time and time again. In his work The New Science of Politics, Eric Voegelin rightly concludes: the threat of “modernity without restraint” brings about “strong institutional traditions” of economic materialism, racism, corrupt psychology, scientism, and technological ruthlessness.[10] That is, for Voegelin, modernity—like knowledge through language for Aristotle—ends with infinity. Ultimately, I am putting forward an understanding of the contemporary woes of western society by determining how avowedly regressive institutional traditions either come into being or persist during the post-enlightened era.[11] The purpose of such an undertaking provides a means of helping us overcome the menace of dangerous socio-political conventions by reminding us of what we already knew as means to move beyond rampant harm—one step back, two steps forward.

My search for understanding, unsurprisingly, focuses on what Voegelin calls “unrestrained modernity” alongside an exploration of the problem of infinity in language representations discussed by Aristotle in the Physics. Focusing our search on unlimited-representation will lead us towards a discussion of what tradition is, how one represents traditions both in life and politics, and how modern (in particular) traditions fail to transcend beyond the occasion of their becoming, ultimately leading towards a crisis of existential instability. For Voegelin, the failure of transcendental social representation creates the “phenomenon of a dream world” where we find the end of modernity.[12] Voegelin asserts that we can only realize the problem of living while dreaming through critical reflection of uncritical opinions regarding self-understanding. The self he discusses and the one we will reflect upon in this paper is not the individual psychological self; rather, it is the social-self represented by a social. As such, the inquiry of modern traditions is as much a reflection of semiotics as it is an inquiry of political representation through government and its varying institutions—hence the need to explore problems of representation in language. The institutional traditions most important to us for this paper are those of western constitutional representative democracies. While government, according to Voegelin, always seeks to be representative of some aspect of society, representational democracy is the most obvious in terms of being representative—it is the form of government that has the most to lose in our contemporary world of sophistic populism.

A Process of Questioning

Overcoming language problems is no small feat, yet it is, for Voegelin, a problem worth our time.[13] For him, language derives meaning both from society and history. The social aspect of meaning is a result of shared experience and agreement in understanding. However, history moves us beyond original understanding (whether true, false, or in-between) towards new understandings, which are always at risk of becoming distorted or altogether false.[14] Our task is to understand how one moves towards falseness and, more importantly, how one overcomes this movement.

For Voegelin, any method of understanding must begin before a corruption of meaning occurred. That is, one must return to a point of knowing when the distortion of history had yet to grab hold. Or in other words, one must turn elsewhere if they are to stop moving towards falseness.[15] There are several reasons for doing this. The first relates to the problem of capturing reality, which speaks to the shared experience of the social. For Voegelin, it is not that the social finds itself with a total misunderstanding of experience; instead, the social has developed a misunderstanding of how it means its understanding. It has lost the original capture of reality, and as a result, it is not enough that we capture reality; we ought to “recapture” reality.[16] We cannot begin with the present as a means of developing an understanding of a misunderstanding; rather, we must recapture what we lost as a means of creating a category of meaning within which we can capture reality, which for Voegelin, the best place to start is with the classic thinkers.[17] While at the same time we cannot confuse the classic thinker as having all, or even the, answers. The purpose of turning to the classic thinkers is to resituate our understanding as a means of rethinking the problem in different terms. To this end, we must understand what captures reality—representation—and why Aristotle is the best for resituating our thoughts.

Throughout the article, a comparative exegetical exploration of representation in the Physics and The New Science of Politics seeks to accomplish the necessary task of returning to a way of thought that had yet to lose reality because reality was still in the process of being captured. By turning to Aristotle and his development of capturing reality in representations, we can seek to recapture his understanding as a means of capturing our present conundrum. That said, the choice of Aristotle is not merely an accident; it was deliberate. My focus on Voegelin’s New Science of Politics demands it. Voegelin regularly calls to Aristotle and the Aristotelian process (or method) as a necessary means of understanding the task at hand. That is, Aristotle is a classic thinker well-suited to developing knowledge as a means of capturing reality. In the Physics, Aristotle is interested in understanding how representations of reality can be distorted, just as Voegelin is in understanding how ideas concerning reality deform over time.

Furthermore, they are both interested in understanding how a misrepresentation engulfs the minds of humanity into acting upon their misrepresentations as unarguable fact.[18] Voegelin argues, the deformation or distortion of a representation is either or both, the foundation of an ideology and the result of an ideology. When it is the result of an ideology, it only upholds that ideology.[19] When we come face to face with this distortion, we have two choices: acceptance or refusal. Acceptance leads to blind dogma and can cause one to see all those that do not believe as you do as fascists, which is what the aforementioned anti-masker does. Whereas refusal does not merely mean a desire to argue against, rather it invokes a willingness to engage the representation of reality in order to understand either what is missing or why it is altogether an incorrect understanding of reality.

Following that, one cannot fault the apparently “uneducated” or “ignorant” anti-masker alone. Voegelin was keenly aware that there are university departments, research firms, academics, journalists, politicians, etc., involved in intellectual terrorism.[20] That is, we cannot simply say this is a problem that exists in the general public’s minds. As explained earlier, anti-maskers can find allies in the academy. To fault any one group alone is entirely unfair. One must be willing to turn towards all aspects of the social and see what is being said and what has been said to see what can be said. To this end, Voegelin, following the Aristotelian process, employs a hermeneutic method of beginning with what has been said or done in order to understand that which must be understood and appropriately articulated.[21] Using this critical tradition will force us to sail through the world of representation like a nautical vessel seeking new horizons.[22] It is these new horizons that we must venture past to see why modernity, for Voegelin, placed itself upon a path that can only lead to its destruction. A hermeneutic process is not merely an interpretation of a text in an exegetical fashion; it is the distillation of both the text and the world as a means of capturing the reality before us. In The New Science of Politics, Voegelin eloquently provides a historical account ranging from the Romans to the modern Gnostics as a means of capturing the crisis he saw during his time. Our task is to capture not only the reality of the present situation but representation itself.

Capturing Reality with Representations

Starting with the consideration of what it means to be representative of something, and following the process laid out, let us first consider Aristotle and the study of things as represented through language as being-there.[23] Because, for something to be representative, it must be capable of representation or, at the very least, one must be capable of articulating a representation of the thing being represented. For Aristotle, all things that are being or becoming must have “thereness,” or, for Voegelin, it must be present, i.e. it must be there for one to come to know what it is.[24] Such an approach gives off the essence of always already being-there. That is, to be represented as being, it must already be there. If it is not already there, it cannot be represented—it must first come into being. Once it has come into being, it becomes representable. This line of thinking mistakenly makes the argument that something represents itself—an obvious impossibility. For example, a chair does not represent itself to the person; the chair cannot give an account of itself to the person. The person provides an account of the chair. Just as ideas do not represent themselves, people represent the ideas or traditions. While some idea of chair must be known, chair was not out-there-in-nature waiting to be discovered; rather, the person put chair into existence and then articulated its reality as being a thing. While this may seem antithetical to the idea that the thing must be present to be represented, it is, in fact, the same thing. Chair does not become, and then the being of chair is noted after a chair is built; rather, the need for a chair is noted and built upon from things that were already being done, e.g. sitting on various objects. That is, the chairness of an object becomes apparent through the sitting on it, i.e., one does not need to learn that a stump can be sat on like a chair. Instead, one simply sits on a stump because it is simple and more effortless than sitting on the ground. The stump does not exist for the purpose of being sat on, but it can be seen as something to be sat on. Chairness of things (things that can be sat on)[25] becomes apparent, and better seating arrangements can come into existence, i.e. an actual chair, a couch, a stool, etcetera. This explanation is a complex and equally rudimentary way of saying that representations of reality can be seen as sharing qualities that at first glance cannot possibly be shared, like how being told to wear a mask can be seen as oppressive and, therefore, fascist—for the anti-masker, being denied unrestrained individuality is inherently harmful because it destroys the individual.[26] The Anti-masker is incapable of seeing social benefit as individually beneficial because their ability to choose is restricted, allowing people like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to compare the totalitarian laws of Nazi Germany to the mask regulations of modern Germany.[27]

However, simply because something can share ideas with something else does not make it that thing—especially when it must become something it is not. Which, as Voegelin argues, can only be understood through “critical clarification.”[28] Which, for him, is the process of critically exploring opinions or held beliefs. Simply because one holds something to be true, or is what one bases their understanding upon, does not cause one to accept that understanding of reality and move on. Or, on the same hand, once one has redeveloped an opinion, they cannot simply base all new knowledge upon that idea. If one did, they risk the possibility of always thinking a false reality, e.g., all those who disagree with me are fascists. While the idea that someone would think everyone against their beliefs is fascist is clearly absurd, the argument’s simplicity highlights the ridiculousness of blindly following the uncritical opinion.

Capturing Falseness as Reality

As we continue this quest, it should be apparent that something can appear different from what it is. We can see how the world of appearances may have such a stronghold over the representations of our worldviews. The debate regarding what appears to be and what is, is not, by any means, a new one. Looking to Plato, we can see how this is a long-standing issue.

In “Book VII” of the Republic of Plato, Plato put forward the Allegory of the Cave. This famous story shows the absurdity of seeing the world as it appears rather than how it actually is. Through the characterization of Socrates, Plato wrote about a hypothetical group of people living in a cave. A particular subclass of these troglodytes would have been chained-up in such a way that they are forced to look at a wall whereupon shadows of puppets are reflected. They could memorize these puppets as they appear to them. The ones that could predict the things coming next and those that could memorize the most shadows would be regarded as the best in society.[29] What is vital for Plato, and us, is the idea of living in a world of appearances rather than a world of truth. One may live in the world and never actually know they do not see the truth about anything—they always see shadows. For Plato, people can very easily live a life in a false reality. Just as for Voegelin, people live a life of uncritical knowledge. They live their entire life believing what they have always believed or have come to believe, regardless of its truth, goodness, or lack thereof. While this is not profound and unobvious, it is relevant to the issue at hand. Representations of reality can be of what appears, not of what is.

A less fictional telling of the idea of living with uncritical representations of the world around them is best illustrated by Michel Foucault in his book the History of Madness.[30]Foucault tells of the history of the mad, homeless and lepers in Europe (I focus on the history of France) and the attachment of place to sickness.[31] Foucault explains that once lepers were of sufficient population in French cities, space was allocated, and wealthier cities built special hospitals outside of the cities to house these people. As leprosy became less of an issue (the disease ran its natural course, and they all appeared to have died off), the spaces outside the city did not go unused or return to their natural state. The spaces and hospitals started to house the homeless and the mad (the mentally unwell). While none of these people were contagious—they had no illnesses one could catch—the people of France had placed a mental attachment of sickness to the spaces outside the cities. The mental representations caused them to avoid the spaces as though everyone there had “the plague.” That is, they could not empty the space of its past reality.

It is here that we see the true effect of not only living in a world of appearance but also a world of uncritical opinion. While Foucault would have called this the inability to “unthink,” Voegelin described this phenomenon as, once again, being uncritical. One must critically approach their world if they are to understand the unnecessary harms (or injustices) of their traditions, beliefs, and institutions. For instance, there would have been less harm to the people living in the hospitals post-leprosy had the people of France critically evaluated the representation of the spaces. They would have realized that the new people occupying those spaces were not contagious nor harmful to society and did not need to be treated like the lepers of the past. That is, they needed a different kind of care than that of a leper.[32] The townsfolk of France were unable to do away with old representations, thereby causing unnecessary harm. Before discussing this issue of representation within the guise of representative politics, let us fully understand why representations persist beyond their occasion after they cease to exist.

Following Aristotle’s discussion of giving an account of the world as it is, we will see that representation is like a container.[33] The container is the thing in question, and we fill it with the knowledge of the thing. Or, following the same idea, for Voegelin, we illuminate reality through social-symbolic expressions of an interpreted reality.[34] The symbol here does not merely mean the written letter as words on a page. Instead, it encapsulates the experiences of reality in the present. However, reality can only ever be captured through the social experience of it. To this end, society becomes not from people knowing about it in advance; it comes into being, symbolically and traditionally, through our discerning its being-there. To this, the social and its traditions cannot be known if it was not already there to be known. That is, we must already know we are here together if we are to express and ultimately capture our being here as something articulable. For Voegelin and Aristotle, the articulation of something through language (or logos) becomes reality.[35] This understanding does not mean that reality and representations are the same; rather, the representation of the thing is only a captured aspect of the thing that is being-out-there giving it the same appearance. Capturing reality this way creates a necessary boundary between language and the thing itself. This boundary is an essential invention, less we confuse linguistic understanding with reality itself. However, their apparent sameness is necessary to solidify the fact that reality has an effect on language, and language has an impact on reality’s appearance.

Transcending Beyond with False Representations

Continuing along our path, we can remind ourselves that our representations can be altered over time. Just like Foucault’s Parisians that saw the homeless as lepers. To this end, how one sees society is both limited and malleable. As we learn about something, we are always adding and subtracting (knowing it better).[36] Nothing represented in language is infinite, and as we saw with the leper hospitals of France, representation is not empty of stuff, i.e. representation always has some substance.[37]  If it were to be bereft of substance, that would make it a(the) void, and as a result, it would never be anything because anything devoid of substance cannot gain substance as though the void is simply an empty container waiting to be filled.[38] The very essence of void is that it is infinitely empty and will always be as such. If one can put some substance within some container, it ceases being a void. However, the void cannot go from being void to being something else entirely—for Aristotle, the void is always a void and has no use in understanding representations. For him, the void (like infinity) only has a purpose in mathematics, and when we include it in understanding other things, we distort and destroy. A void understanding allows one to argue that representations come into being from having not been there (they become). However, for Aristotle, representations are discovered, not created. For instance, education is not created out of nothing; rather, it is discovered to be and then given representation.[39] Or, one may consider the social and its traditions.

For Voegelin, while wielding the Aristotelian procedure, when we consider the social, it is not created in the moment of realization. That is, the social does not become post inquiry; rather, one discovers something about the social when they are questioning it. From there, the social-representation gains some substance concerning its reality.[40] And again, we have come face to face with the problem that the self’s representation appears to pre-empt itself. For Voegelin, this is not an inherent issue. Instead, one ought to realize that the social was always already there (it was not devoid of being and given being). One does not discover something and then invent it during the occasion—representations are not created ad infinitum.

Furthermore, one does not discover the social from a point outside the social. One who is inquiring into the thing always has some attachment to the thing in question. The idea of the thing in question always comes from a pre-existing opinion, belief, or understanding (what we may call a bias). While that is not controversial, Voegelin argued that the positivist-object viewpoint assumes a capacity of unburdening oneself of these pre-existing “knowns,” they think they can make an object devoid of value. That is, the positivist assumes they can completely empty the representation of the thing. However, Voegelin asserts that a true political scientific method ought to understand that representation always has value; it has both effect and affect. Or, to the other extreme, the positivist believes they can destroy the representation and build a new one in the moment. This would only be possible if representations were bereft of value by existing in a void or are void.

It is here that we see the transcendental nature of representations. That is, if the representation cannot be destroyed, nor fully emptied, it always transcends beyond the occasion of its discovery, change, and abandonment. Even if you pour out the contents of the container, some remnant is always left behind. Even if one believes they have done away with a belief or tradition, the representation (or at least some portion of it) has some capacity to persist. Consider Voegelin and his apparent disdain for the Gnostics.

The Gnostics are the embodiment of a positivistic, transcendentally inept, unpolitically scientific, unrestrained modern people. That is, for Voegelin, they believe they are capable of doing away with pre-existing knowns while simultaneously cherry-picking parts of representations. They believe they can be Christian, without Christian ideals, without the transcendental. They believe they are outside the “ordered cosmion” of reality.[41] For Voegelin, the continued existence of the Gnostic[42] order and its apparent assault on the modern Christian has forced the modern to live a life bereft of the cosmic reality of its transcendental ties to how they have always lived. The modern Christian converted Gnostic is unaware of the hold their abandoned Christian ideals (traditions) still have on them. They are living in a reality that is incapable of seeing the truth of the issues at hand. They are living a dream bereft of transcendental representations.

Dreaming: Consequences of False Representations

The consequences of these apparent issues are a threefold unfolding. It creates a representative politics of imagined truths burdened by incommensurate beliefs (1) that lead into a socially dreamed reality (2), ending in a socio-political existential crisis (3). Consider the first fold: representative politics. When I speak of representative politics, I am speaking of what a government represents, how a government represents the social, and what the social thinks their government represents. All of these can be commensurate, or they can be somewhat commensurable or completely incommensurate. For our purposes, we will consider the latter two options.

Focusing on constitutional democracies,[43] we can see where the government gets its political will—the constitution and the demos (the public). Therein lies the first potential incommensurability. Those that represent the government make a claim to power from the constitution or the people. Focusing on the people, we might argue that an elected official most clearly gains their power from the electorate. So long as they are popular with the social that elected them, they may be representative of that social. If they are not or lose popularity, they may turn to the constitution for power. In this sense, they cease being representative of the population and become representative of the constitution. Which, in and of itself, is the essence of constitutional democracies. The obvious issue should become clear. They never cease being representative of the government; however, how the power of the government is represented through them changes.[44] That is, the government as a representation is emptied of one aspect and then filled with another—people for the constitution, or vice versa, if both, one is poured out. But as discussed, an element is never lost; the constitution does not disappear, nor does the social (and its factions) and its traditions.

Here we see the transcendental components of constitutional democracy at odds. The social as an entity is transcendental. It exists regardless of the government and the people alive in the moment. Furthermore, the constitution seeks to be a transcendental entity that gives power to the structure of the social being governed. These things do not have to be in agreement. Thinking of this more abstractly, the government or those that govern believe a specific social-self-representation bound to some previous belief that is not held by the current social (e.g. the constitution is always a previous social will unless reinterpreted by the current social). Furthermore, neither the social nor the government require a social-self-understanding bound to a cosmic order or unapparent truths. The incommensurable representations appear to be at odds with each other. One may believe in the long-standing tradition of colonialism as a source of social injustice that persists into the present, and another may believe that colonialism is in the past and as a result, it cannot be a source of harm and all the perceived colonial harms by BIPOC[45] populations are imagined. Regardless of which diagnosis is correct, whoever governs, will act based on their truth. The colonial harm will persist if the latter governs, and if the former governs, the latter will perceive injustices as their social order (colonial order) is dismantled and their freedoms, their existence, harmed. These incommensurable representations bring out the difficulties of being-there-together.

What must be realized here is not that colonial harms do not exist—it is most likely very present; rather, one must understand that neither approach can fully rectify the issues of the unrestrained modern being. Each superficial social diagnosis[46] only hits on a portion of the issue at hand. The problems of the past will continue to persist, and the false truths will continue to transcend the occasion of their era—the colonial era does not end after independence. Voegelin explains this issue through the problem of the modern Gnostic. For him, the modern Gnostic (most of whom are former Christians) does not realize having done away with a portion of their Christian beliefs while keeping selected western ideals creating a false reality that can never hope to solve its issues.[47] The modern Christian converted Gnostics were (and still are) unaware of where their true beliefs come from and how the old ideals of Christianity endure into their present and will continue well into their future. It is at this point that Voegelin prescribed a sort of Christian returning to solve the issues at hand. However, I do not believe a Christian returning is truly necessary. Furthermore, I do not think Voegelin thought this is the only remedy. Instead, by focusing on “unrestrained modernity” we can see that we require a proper understanding of the problems that plague the modern era.[48]

The unrestrained modern believes they can continue to pour substance into their representation of reality to no end. That representation is a void that can be infinitely filled, and we simply move along through the void filling it. Or, we empty the container thoroughly and add new content all the time—nothing transcends. They are blind to the reality that representation can only fit so much—the human psyche, like representations, only has so much space—and that representation transcends beyond its abandonment.[49] Furthermore, due to their Christian past, i.e. all creation was created out of the void, they believe that representation is a void; thus, they believe it can be fully emptied and replenished as though the history of harm can cease to exist. Therein lies the dream. The unrestrained modern lives a dreamed existence of transcendentally destructive ideals.

A dreamed reality in-itself is not inherently destructive. What makes it dangerous is the inability to see social harms—as stated in the introductory remarks: strong institutional traditions of economic materialism, racism, corrupt psychology, scientism, and technological ruthlessness. While these concepts are not new or found purely within the modern and post-modern era, Voegelin emphasizes that the unrestrained modern has a seemingly neoliberal[50] drive to imbed its ideals beyond the occasion through legal tradition, constitutional order, social norms, bureaucratic best practices, and institutional structures. This drive leads to their dreamed reality transcending time within these strong institutions. As one seeks to change these institutions or alter the structure of what is, the representation of social existence comes under attack.[51] Those that live within the social representation upheld by dreamed traditions come face to face with the perceived end of their society—as the dream comes to an end, an existential crisis ensues.

As they attempt to save the social-representation of their reality, their ideals become further entrenched, and their dreamed reality is further distorted. They cannot deal with the reality that their way of life is incapable of any sort of true justice. The unrestrained modern cannot face the fact there is no good to living in ignorance simply because the other refuses to bend to their will as a means of having a pure social as represented by their ideals. The three folds of the unrestrained modern societal quilt tear apart at the seams, never to be fixed. For Voegelin, society is at a point where most injustices will occur and continue to happen. Either the unrestrained moderns accept their reality, or a new fascism ensues. However, the opposite end of this existential battle is neither destined to win nor destined to create a good and just world. As with the Christian converted Gnostic, the substance of the previous representations will not simply die overnight. It will persist in some fashion, and one must accept this reality and effect change over time in a prudent and accepting manner. If they do not, they create the same fascism the unrestrained modern is toying with. Furthermore, any change would have to be taken as potentially imperfect, as we must always engage in critical clarification processes or risk becoming unrestrained once again. That is, one cannot live in the void. Not to argue against any change, rather I am arguing for good and just change, prudently and effectively—so long as it is possible.[52]

Let us, for the time being, end our query here. At the crossroads of unrestrained being. The ultimate realization that all beliefs run the risk of becoming unjust, even if one starts with the best of intentions. Let us end with the understanding that an unrestrained state of being is a recipe for societal harm, existential destruction, and unredeemable failure.


Aristotle. Aristotle’s Physics: A Guided Study. Translated by Joe Sachs. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2011.

Foucault, Michel. History of Madness. Translated by Jonathan Murphy and Jean Khalfa. New York, NY: Routledge, 2009.

Foucault, Michel. “What Is Enlightenment,” in The Foucault Reader, 32-50. Edited by Paul Rabinow. Translated by Catherine Porter. New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 1984.

Plato. The Republic of Plato. Translated by Allan Bloom. US: Basic Books, 1991.

Voegelin, Eric. The New Science of Politics: An Introduction. Chicago, US: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Voegelin, Eric. “Why Philosophize? To Recapture Reality.” In Autobiographical Reflections:     Revised Edition with Glossary, 118-126. Edited by Ellis Sandoz. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2011.



[1] While this is a complete paper, it must be prefaced by the fact that it is still a work in progress and I welcome all feedback and criticisms.

[2] It is important to note, before we begin, that the term “dreaming” found within this paper does not follow the ideas of ‘dreaming as theory,’ or ‘theorization through dreaming’ discussed within indigenous scholastic works by theorists such as Dian Million in her paper “Intense Dreaming: Theories, Narratives, and our Search for our home.” Rather, the kind of dreaming discussed within this paper revolves around the issue of living while dreaming. I am working within the confines of the history of western political thought dating back to at least Plato and his work The Republic, specifically books VIII and IX, where dreaming is positioned as a problem of worldly misrepresentations by those with democratic and, more troublesome, tyrannical souls. (Mis)representation through living while dreaming is a central issue discussed in Eric Voegelin’s work explored within this paper, and thus, is the kind of dreaming we will focus on.

[3] Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics: An Introduction, (Chicago, US: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 1.

[4] The purpose of this paragraph is meant to give a sense of what is to come. As a result, its contents will be unpacked in a later section. I would merely like to situate the importance of the following story.

[5] See, Giorgio Agamben, “The Invention of an Epidemic,” European Journal of Psychoanalysis, published February 26, 2020. Agamben, surprisingly, appears to argue the issue of the pandemic as a matter of fact, rather than a matter of concern. As a Heideggerian scholar, this should be cause for surprise. However, in arguing the reality of COVID-19 as a matter of fact before we, as a globe, had all the information (something we, arguably, still do not have), he ended up attributing incorrect facts to the situation. Regardless of the whether or not some of the information is correct, by concerning himself with fact instead of concern, he blinded himself from the social reality and implications of accepting raw data as a means of ethical decision making. I call our attention to this piece for the above reason and to highlight the potential weight academics, especially highly acclaimed academics, could have on populations. I am not at all saying a great many anti-maskers read the piece; however, it is not outside the realm of possibilities that people would be willing to use such works are foundations to their arguments.

[6] Meatspace is representative of the physical space we exist within. Its “hip” intended use is directed at distinguishing between digital space, virtual space and physical-material space. Meatspace conveys an idea that we are merely meat things destined to be consumed by the capitalist machine of our contemporary era. It is used here as a way to both diminish the validity of misplaced fears, while also expressing deep concern for our general being. That is, it should give a sense of insalubrious impossibility.

[7] Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, 2-3.

[8] While revising this paper a truly extraordinary event occurred. The US Congress building was overrun by white supremacist domestic terrorists. It seems the current existential crisis is reaching ever breaking grounds. The fight for the soul of the social being in the US is (re)reaching ever pressing heights.

[9] “Immediate space” refers to the physical barriers of non-digital space. While the physical can be, and is argued as a part of the digital, one cannot ignore the fact that digital space(s) allow one to speak beyond their immediate physical space—where one finds themselves is not inherent knowledge when an unbounded digital space is brought into the light.

[10] Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, 188-189.

[11] I write post-enlightenment here as a nod to Foucault. For Foucault enlightenment was not, and is not a process. Rather it was an event that created the “modern ethos of critique.” See Michel Foucault, “What Is Enlightenment,” in The Foucault Reader, 32-50, ed. Paul Rabinow, trans. Catherine Porter (New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 1984), 39. I believe talking in terms of post-enlightenment in this regard—i.e. as an acceptance of a critical frame of view—fits well within the Voegelin process of theorizing through the “critical opinion.” That is, like Foucault, Voegelin (and myself) is bound to the ethos of critique.

[12] Voegelin, New Science of Politics, 167.

[13] Voegelin. “Why Philosophize? To Recapture Reality,” in Autobiographical Reflections: Revised Edition with Glossary, 118-126, ed. Ellis Sandoz (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2011), 118.

[14] Voegelin, “Why Philosophize? To Recapture” 120.

[15] Voegelin, “Why Philosophize?” 121-122.

[16] Voegelin, “Why Philosophize?” 118.

[17] Voegelin, “Why Philosophize?” 121.

[18] Voegelin, New Science of Politics, 27.

[19] Voegelin, “Why Philosophize?” 118-119.

[20] Voegelin, “Why Philosophize?” 119.

[21] Voegelin, New Science of Politics, 27-28. For Voegelin we can understand that what will be known always pre-empts itself. Like in Aristotle, that which is being is underlying some already thereness. Aristotle, Aristotle’s Physics: A Guided Study, Joe Sachs trans., (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2011), 50-51 (192b-193b20); Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, 41.

[22] The hermeneutic method is not only the anglicization of hermēneutikos (interpreter) or hermēneuein (to interpret), but it also is the amalgamation of Hermes (god of communication) and nautikos (to navigate, or to sail). As such, the Aristotelian method of hermeneutics is a process of navigating that which has been communicated as a means of interpretation.

[23] While the term ‘being-there’ is typically used to represent the Heideggerian use of “Dasein,” we can take note that the term is not exclusive to him. Greek is a notably difficult language to interpret (and translate), and some translators, such as Joe Sachs, argue that one must approach Aristotle with a more simplistic “English.” According to Sachs, Aristotle had a tendency to write in simple terms. When we avoid mirroring that with simple English terms as a means of being “educated” adds too much interpretation on the part of the translator. (Joe Sachs, “Introduction,” Aristotle’s Physics: A Guided Study, Joe Sachs trans., (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2011), 5-6). While this approach to understanding Aristotle may add complexity, it is through that complexity that we force a critical eye, rather than always seeing what is commonly held—for, as we know, the common can be an uncritical and possibly false opinion.

[24] Aristotle, Physics, 47.

[25] While sitting on something is a rather simple and rudimentary definition of chairness, the simplicity is not counterintuitive or destructive to the overall argument.

[26] Those lines of argument are how we see what Voegelin is talking about when he posits the idea that things represented in language, especially the self, appear to pre-empt themselves. That is, for Voegelin, when we consider a thing it always appears to have already been there. We cannot consider something without first having some starting point to consider the thing in question. A thing is always assumed to be in existence before being considered. The self, for instance, is assumed to be considerable. When one begins from a point of assumed being, their thought is always clouded by that starting point.

[27] “Germany coronavirus: Hundreds arrested in German ‘anti-corona’ protests, Europe, BBC, August 30, 2020.

[28] Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, 28.

[29] Plato, The Republic of Plato, Allan Bloom trans., (US: Basic Books, 1991), 194 (515a-516a).

[30] I say “less fictional” due to the fact that there is some debate regarding the authenticity of historical truth within the History of Madness—most notably Derrida’s critique. However, there is, even for Derrida, some acceptance of some truth that can be found within the history represented.

[31] Michel Foucault, History of Madness, Jonathan Murphy trans. And Jean Khalfa trans., (New York, NY: Routledge, 2009), 16-17.

[32] Foucault, History of Madness, 38.

[33] Aristotle, Aristotle’s Physics, 98. While Aristotle is discussing place here, his discussion of place is a discussion of how one represents place in language. That is, place is only understood through language and is therefore always a representation. It is through this understanding of place as a representation that we begin to understand representation of things. Which, for Aristotle, the representation of a thing is like filling a “jar”—hence the use of container.

[34] Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, 27-28.

[35] Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, 38; Aristotle, Physics, 50.

[36] This approach to representation may appear as “relative” however, it is the form of representation that we are arguing against that is relative. Simply because we come to know something better does not make it relative to now. Rather, we better understand it and as a result must let go of incongruities.

[37] Aristotle, Aristotle’s Physics, 107-109 (213a12-214b)

[38] Aristotle, Aristotle’s Physics, 108 (213b30)

[39] Aristotle, Aristotle’s Politics, 37 (188b).

[40] Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, 27.

[41] Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, 162-169.

[42] It is important that we understand the Gnostic is not a new order, or religious sect. In many ways they predate Christ. What is important to understand is the Gnostic turn of the modern. The Gnostic’s inability to realize their secular desires are antithetical to their actual being.

[43] Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, 49. While Voegelin argues that the issue of representation in government is true for all forms of government, I will focus on constitutional democracies, as a means of highlighting the issues most clearly.

[44] Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, 52-53.

[45] Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour.

[46] This is not to say that colonial theorists are superficial, rather it is to say that some social dialogue or rhetoric from governing officials, the electorate, and/or some activists lock onto superficial arguments to solve complex issues.

[47] Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, 169-170.

[48] Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, 189.

[49] A quick and clear example of this would be to consider the secular Canadian state, whose constitution begins with: “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.” See: Canadian Constitution Act, 1982, Part 1, Charter of Rights and Freedoms,

Here we can see how a secular state fails at being secular when it invokes the name of “God” in the outset of its framing document—the reality of its Christian past endures into the representation of its present.

[50] While Voegelin does not discuss neoliberalism, the concept is not far off from what he was discussing towards the end of the text.

[51] Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, 171.

[52] Violence may be disdained by some, but we must always be prepared for the inevitability and reality that it is unavoidable and the best course of action. We can think back to many historical actions that were seemingly unjust violent acts that are now seen as just acts. That is, some good deeds can only be seen in hindsight.

Micheal ZieglerMicheal Ziegler

Micheal Ziegler

Micheal Ziegler is a doctoral student in Political Science at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. His main research areas are political thought, technology and ethics, and he is currently researching the socio-political realities of artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

Back To Top