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The Philosopher’s Vocation: The Voegelinian Paradigm

The Philosopher’s Vocation: The Voegelinian Paradigm

In his personal and scholarly demeanor, Eric Voegelin’s stance was overtly and explicitly that of a philosopher and teacher professing truth and resisting corruption. The mark of his life was intellectual integrity in the Weberian sense, and his only professional commitment was that of a partisan of truth. This was more than academic duty, however. It was quite distinctly a vocation—or calling (klesis)1—of the highest order and responsibility, one intrinsic to the paradigm of philosophizing Voegelin accepted from Plato and Anselm and differentiated in his own life and work.

It is exemplified, directly evoked, in the “introduction to political science” he taught as a lecture course at the University of Munich in spring semester 1964, now published under the title Hitler and the Germans.2 But it can be traced everywhere in his writings, beginning in the 1930s, as a constant and defining attitude.The implications are important not only for Voegelin but for philosophy itself when rightly done as embracing the science of human affairs palpably akin to that first elaborated in antiquity by Aristotle. It is this decisive, unfashionable, and somewhat elusive contextual dimension of Hitler and the Germans that I wish briefly to explore on the present occasion.

Calling and Authority

The responsive center of the philosopher’s calling lies in the divine-human partnership, understood as participation in the process-structure governing metaxic-reality-experienced or “In-Between”—the only reality we have—with the philosopher cast in the role of representative man. The hyphenated terms are meant to symbolize as units of meaning the epistemologically participatory character of luminous meditative discourse, in contradistinction to the conventional intentionalist subject-object mode of propositional statements of doctrines about entities or things in the positivist reductionist mode of scientism addressing phenomenal experience of the external world.4

Thus, Voegelin insists, the philosopher is a lover of wisdom, never its possessor, for only God is wise and can have knowledge of the Whole. Political science is a prudential and noetic science. Thus, not the natural science of the external world, but philosophical or noetic science as perfected by Plato and Aristotle is paradigmatic for its inquiries into the order and disorders of the human condition. While largely a recovery and reinterpretation of the ancient “philosophy of human affairs,” this is plainly political science in a new key to most contemporaries.5 To make it intelligible and to find the way himself in resisting untruth, Voegelin expends substantial effort in working through the inadequacies of the still-prevailing positivist, Marxist, and other reductionist paradigms. That effort culminated at a provisional stage in the well known conclusion that “the essence of modernity is Gnosticism.”6

In contrast to the overwhelming tendencies of modernity, he  argues, the philosopher’s noesis (rational inquiry) is centered in his orienting tension toward the transcendent divine ground of being. It consists, constructively, in the exploration of philosophical anthropology as part of ontology as that engages all the realms of the hierarchy of being from the Anaximandrian apeiron (depth) to the divine Nous, starting from commonsense understanding and elaborated empirically through differentiating apperceptive experiences symbolizations of the great spiritualists of all ages.7

Openness to the Whole, experienced both noetically and pneumatically, is the chief mark of noetic inquiry and of philosophy as a calling and way of life. The philosopher ineluctably lives the open quest of truth, however, as a participant in the In-Between or metaxic common divine-human reality: there is no Archimedean point outside of reality from which to objectively study it, nor is the leap in being or experience of the transcendent Beyond a leap out of the abiding reality of the human condition–a lesson of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.8

Thus, within the limits of possibility and persuasion, the philosopher is called actively to resist untruth through searching noetic critique, grounded as in Aristotle in robust common sense which is the foundation of prudential rationality and of political science itself.9  Such resistance forms against the corruptions of the age at all levels–whether like those of sophistic Athens or of the ideological autonomous men infesting our contemporary existence with fanatical zealotry cloaking libido dominandi and the eros tyrannos in dreamworld delusions. The traits and detachment from reality of such pneumopathologies were already admirably delineated by Plato in the Republic (577c–588a).

The calling and its authoritative consequences are announced, for instance, in Voegelin’s essay entitled “The Oxford Political Philosophers“: “This is a time [1953] for the philosopher to be aware of his authority, and to assert it, even if that brings him into conflict with an environment infested by dubious ideologies and political theologies—so that the word of Marcus Aurelius will apply to him: ‘The philosopher—the priest and servant of the gods.’”10  Even more energetically, the transfer of authority from corrupt public institutions to the philosopher is traced in principle to the climax of the Gorgias, with plain allusions to Voegelin’s own totalitarian experience:

“The man who stands convicted as the accomplice of tyrannical murderers and as the corruptor of his country, does not represent spiritual order, and nobody is obliged to show respect to his word. The authority of public order lies with Socrates. The situation is fascinating for those among us who find ourselves in the Platonic position and who recognize in the men with whom we associate today the intellectual pimps for power who will connive in our murder tomorrow. It would be too much of an honor, however, to burden Callicles personally with the guilt of murder. The whole society is corrupt, and the process of corruption did not start yesterday.”11

The same applies to Hitler and the Germans, as Voegelin stresses:

“during the Third Reich. But, as I again and again emphasize, we are speaking, not about the problem of National Socialism, but about Hitler and the Germans. . . . I have continually spoken of moral degeneracy; it does not exist abstractly. . . . It is, rather, a matter of this whole process of intellectual and spiritual degeneration [infecting every level of personal and institutional life with rot]. . . . All of these people are accomplices. I have forgotten nobody—[clergy, judges, generals, professors]. . . . I will not here, for heaven’s sake, defend the professors. When in the early 1930s, after Hitler had come into power, a whole series of professors, not only Jews, were relieved of their posts, none of the others. . . . ever refused to occupy with pleasure one of the posts vacated through this dismissal. Since I was myself dismissed in 1938, I have always [had] a particularly keen eye for people who became tenured professors in Germany after 1933. So there is this kind of aiding and abetting, one always goes along, there is no one who offers resistance. . . .That does not happen.”12

Truth and Ecumencity

The language of truth is spoken in many dialects and no absolute partition between revelation and noesis is empirically or theoretically supportable, whatever the institutional differentiations. As Voegelin informed his political science students in Munich from time to time, one cannot go back of revelation and pretend it never happened. If apperceptive experience forms the empirical ground of philosophical inquiry and exegesis, then one must attend to insights from that and every other quarter whenever they arise as events of consciousness in concrete individual human beings to form the articulate experiences-symbolizations of noetic exploration.

That philosophy by this accounting must be in some sense empirically grounded, and not merely imaginative word-play or logorrhea, however brilliant, if it is to be epistemologically cogent, immediately puts Voegelin at odds with both ideologues devising imaginary second realities (for whom experience is terribly “inconvenient”) and much else that otherwise passes for contemporary “autonomous” philosophizing.13  That it bridges the distance between pneumatic and noetic discourse to embrace both offends the self-appointed custodians of both revelation and academic philosophy. (So there goes the readership.)

Nonetheless, there is this firmly reiterated conclusion:

“We can no longer ignore that the symbols of ‘Faith’ express the responsive quest of man just as much as the revelatory appeal, and that the symbols of ‘Philosophy’ express the revelatory appeal just as much as the responsive quest. We must further acknowledge that the medieval tension between Faith and Reason derives from the origins of these symbols in the two different ethnic cultures of Israel and Hellas, that in the consciousness of Israelite prophets and Hellenic philosophers the differentiating experience of the divine Beyond was respectively focused on the revelatory appeal and the human quest. . . . The reflective action of [Plato and Aristotle] is a quest by concrete human beings in response to a divine appeal from the Beyond of the soul.”14

But it is of utmost importance to grasp that the relationship and process of communion with the divine is not reserved for grandiose personalities. It is the common coin of open existence available to every human being as the precious mark of their humanity as this is confirmed in apperceptive experience. Thus, in noting that reason is “due to God’s grace” even according to Aquinas, Voegelin remarks that this understanding applies today and to wherever we may be as well: “You are sitting here asking questions. Why? Because you have that divine kinesis in you that moves you to be interested. . .[I]t is the revelatory presence, of course, that pushes you or pulls you. It’s there. We are talking.”15 “The consciousness of being caused by the Divine ground and being in search of the Divine ground—that is reason [nous]. Period.”16    

At the concrete level of political action, an array of consequences follow that texture the critique of the Nazi period recounted in Hitler and the Germans and elaborate the cardinal principle energetically asserted in Voegelin’s Antrittsvorlesung, one that connects the philosopher as a representative figure with every man:

“The spiritual disorder of our time, the civilizational crisis of which everyone so readily speaks, does not by any means have to be borne as an inevitable fate; [but], on the contrary, everyone possesses the means of overcoming it in his own life. . . No one is obliged to take part in the spiritual crisis of a society; on the contrary, everyone is obliged to avoid this folly and live his life in order.”17

The transcendent source of order is identified in the first lecture of the course in terms of the immanent present of time and political action as occurring in the “presence under God.”18 “Insofar as . . . man exists under God, he has presence [which is a problem not just for Germans] but for everyman: to place the immanent present within the immanent process under the judgment of the [divine] presence.” It is the calling of the philosopher to utter that judgment and to claim the authority of public order when necessary, for example, under conditions of social schism and disintegration when political and other institutional power and the truth of spirit separate.

Thus, as Plato showed in the Republic and in the Gorgias “to place oneself under the presence, under the presence of God, and according to that to adjudicate what one does as man and how one forms the order of one’s own existence and the existence of society, that for Plato is an act of judgment. That means that man is always under judgment”—and thus by the logic of the heart persuaded to live his life continuously sub specie mortis, under the aspect of death and eternity, as the foundation of the techne metretike or art of measuring basic to political order.19 As Jürgen Gebhardt comments, in the face of political and spiritual disaster, “it is the philosopher-scholar who is called upon to accept the office of magisterium and defend it against intellectual usurpers.”20  A related point is affirmed by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

“Then why have literature at all? After all, the writer is a teacher of the people. . . And a greater writer—forgive me, perhaps I shouldn’t say this, I’ll lower my voice—a greater writer is, so to speak, a second government. That’s why no regime anywhere has ever loved its great writers, only its minor ones.”21

Anthropology and Divine Truth

Every human being, Voegelin writes, is imago Dei and thereby called—a call the individual person in his freedom can respond to, reject, or ignore—to fulfill the promise of his sacred destiny. Thus, man is theomorphic.

“Through the seeking for the divine, the loving reaching beyond ourselves toward the divine in the philosophical experience and the loving encounter through the Word in the pneumatic experience, man participates in the divine. . . . The specific dignity of man is based on this, on his nature as theomorphic, as in the form and in the image of God. . . . One cannot dedivinize oneself without dehumanizing oneself.”22

“By spirit we understand the openness of man to the divine ground of his existence: by estrangement from the spirit, the closure and the revolt against the ground. Through spirit man actualizes his potential to partake of the divine. He rises thereby to the imago Dei which it is his destiny to be. Spirit in this classical sense of nous, is that which all men have in common, the xynon as Heraclitus has called it. Through the life of the spirit, which is common to all, the existence of man becomes existence in community.”23

At the conclusion of the lecture on the German university, Voegelin again invoked the words of the prophet Ezekiel as fitting therapy for the pneumopathology of consciousness he has diagnosed and sketched in his meditation on the Nazi disorders. Ultimately, the faithful or responsive human being—whether citizen, soldier, philosopher, priest, or prophet—can do no more than make the public aware of such maladies, as Socrates in the name of truth had done in serving as messenger of God to persuade the Athenians to tend their souls and serve justice. The message is not merely moralistic. It is soteriological and eschatological in content, pertaining to the salvation and destiny of individual human beings, society in history, and the structure process of reality itself. But its seat is the participatory realm of divine-human consciousness of concrete individual persons.

Thus, the saving word reiterated by Voegelin came to Ezekiel from God:

“So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked man, you shall surely die; and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity, but you will have saved your soul.”

Voegelin told his students to memorize the passage.24 As Manfred Henningsen, who was present as one of Voegelin’s graduate assistants, writes: the charged atmosphere was that of a “courtroom” with Voegelin the judge. The overall intent of Voegelin in these discourses was to elicit the conversion or “metanoia” of his auditors to truth analogous to that of the denizen in the cave recounted in Plato’s Republic.25


At the beginning of his long study of order and history, Voegelin gave a definition: “Philosophy is the love of being through love of divine Being as the source of its order.” This enduringly remained the pole star of his life and work. 26  A consequence of the foregoing discussion is that anybody who is seriously interested in understanding Voegelin as he understood himself is obliged to come to grips with the issues briefly remembered here and clarified textually in numerous places over the decades as artifacts and way-stations of the philosopher’s own questing meditative life. 27

A second consequence is plainly a substantial, even revolutionary, redefinition of the meaning of philosophy itself, especially on the decisive points of (a) underlining the loving tension toward divine Reality in open existence as central; (b) attenuating or abandoning the Scholastic convention separating faith and reason as supernatural and natural, respectively; and (c) discarding as egophany the arrogant pretense of autonomous reason as its originator in self-sufficient human speculators.28

The God of Abraham, Moses, Plato, and Paul is one and the same God, disclosed to spiritually sensitive men of all ages and communicated in equivalent language modalities and symbolisms. To make any other assumption about human communion with divine being would be extraordinary, if one acknowledges that there is one mankind and one reality of which man is ontologically the self-reflective articulate part.29  Openness and responsiveness to the luminous presence of ineffable It-reality within limits imposed by metaxic existence is the very essence of what it means to be a human being, on this accounting.0

More discursively Voegelin writes: “Things do not happen in the astrophysical universe; the universe, together with all things founded in it, happens in God.”31  Voegelin later adds that “the questioner’s language reveals itself as the paradoxic event of the ineffable becoming effable. . . .In reflective distance, the questioner. . .experiences his speech as the divine silence breaking creatively forth in the imaginative word that will illuminate the quest as the questioner’s movement of return to the ineffable silence.”32

Philosophy, then, is the loving noetic search of the heights and depths of reality conducted as faith seeking understanding and accepting as authoritative truth the insights attained in the open quest of reality experienced: the philosopher is the true type of man.33 The philosopher thus speaks as the oracle of God in manifesting receptivity to highest truth 34—a role of urgent significance when the ordering institutions of a society founder and abdicate responsibility or collapse and pervert themselves into instruments of evil, injustice, and murderous destruction as displayed in lurid detail in Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia, but not only there.

And as we have seen, Voegelin reminds all who will hear of the abiding obligation of every man to live in accordance with truth and to resist evil and corruption to the limits of their individual capacities—thereby to serve justice and goodness within possibility, the message of Ezekiel’s Watchman. The truth ascertained is neither dogmatic nor exhaustive but existential and self-augmenting, ecumenic and authoritative as in accordance with revelation and reason. To give Voegelin one last word:

“I am indeed attempting to ‘identify’. . .the God who reveals himself, not only in the prophets, in Christ, and in the Apostles, but wherever his reality is experienced as present in the cosmos and in the soul of man. One can no longer use the medieval distinction between the theologian’s supernatural revelation and the philosopher’s natural reason, when any number of texts will attest the revelatory consciousness of the Greek poets and philosophers; nor can one let revelation begin with the Israelite and Christian experiences, when the mystery of divine presence in reality is attested as experienced by man, as far back as 20,000 B.C. . . .”

“As far as my own vocabulary is concerned, I am very conscious of not relying on the language of doctrine, but I am equally conscious of not going beyond the orbit of Christianity when I prefer the experiential symbol “divine reality” to the God of the Creed, for “divine reality” translates the theotes of Colossians 2 : 9. . . . Moreover, I am very much aware that my inquiry into the history of experience and symbolization generalizes the Anselmian fides quaerens intellectum so as to include every fides, not only the Christian, in the quest for understanding by reason. . . . In practice this means that one has to recognize, and make intelligible, the presence of Christ in a Babylonian hymn, or a Taoist speculation, or a Platonic dialogue, just as much as in a Gospel.”35

Perhaps as clearly as any other text, this remarkable statement captures the revolutionary thrust of Voegelin’s work. It is a set of claims to be pondered by anyone devoted to the study of order and disorders in human experience in its broadest amplitude, in service to Truth and in resistance against deformation and evil. This is the philosopher’s vocation.

Since we are interested in politics, it is well to be reminded of Voegelin’s own actions to stem the tide in time and to rectify the effects of the Hitler calamity after the fact—the therapeutic intent of the Hitler lectures. He narrowly escaped the Gestapo and fled to Switzerland and the United States in 1938 after the Anschluss and being fired from his job as a professor at the University of Vienna, and thus avoided paying the almost certain ultimate price of an opponent of the tyranny. Of his day-to-day activities while a member of the faculty of the University of Vienna in the years leading up to his dismissal by the Nazis, information is meager. His opposition was sufficiently well-known through his publications, however, so that he was regularly identified (in print) as a “Jew.” His “mastering of the present”36 as he called it in the 1964 lectures consisted in publishing three books methodically demonstrating the fallaciousness and reductionist virulence of National Socialist pneumopathology—two of them published in 1933 by German publishers—and condemning it as the apocalypse of evil and anti-Christianity.

As Gregor Sebba later wrote: “When I read those two books, I knew that Voegelin would be on the Nazi list when Austria fell. I still wonder how he had the nerve to publish both books in Hitler’s Germany, and how two German publishers could accept them.”37 The third of these took as its epigraph a line from Dante’s Inferno (canto 3, line 1): Per me si va ne la città dolente 38 (Through me the way is to the City of Woe). The earthly hell was at hand. As for Voegelin himself, there was no chariot of fire translating him to heaven like Elijah, only the evening train to Zurich after a day spent eluding the Gestapo in Vienna, on the way to a new life in America, trembling as he went.39  Most of Voegelin’s major work lay ahead. Twenty years after the abrupt departure from Vienna, he returned to Munich, partly motivated by the hope of instilling “the spirit of American democracy” into Germany and of “injecting an element of international consciousness, and of democratic attitudes, into German political science.”40 



1.  2 Thess. 1:11; and 1 Pet. 2:9: “You are a . . . royal priesthood. . .that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Said of all believers under the dispensation of Grace who, living in immediacy to God, are sons of the heavenly Rex et Sacerdos. Cf. Rom 1 : 1–6, a passage Voegelin repeatedly read in his last days. It is a commonplace of Christian faith that “Conversion and vocation were for [St. Paul] one and the same event (Gal. 1 : 15–16.).” Franz J. Leenhardt, The Epistle to the Romans: A Commentary, trans. Harold Knight (London: Lutterworth Press, 1961), 39.

2. Published as Collected Works of Eric Voegelin [hereinafter abbreviated as CW ], vol. 31, trans., ed. with an intro by Detlev Clemens and Brendan Purcell (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999). A German language edition of the course of lectures basic to the text of this book appeared as Eric Voegelin, Hitler und die Deutschen, ed. Manfred Henningsen (Munich:Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2006). References herein are to the English language version unless otherwise indicated.

3. As in the Herrschaftslehre or Theory of Governance, chap. 1 on the “Concept of the Person,” in CW 32, ed. William Petropulos and Gilbert Weiss, 226–55.

4. For concise explanation of some of Voegelin’s terminology see the “Glossary of Terms Used in Eric Voegelin’s Writings,” in Voegelin, Autobiographical Reflections, rev. ed., CW  34 (2006), ed. Ellis Sandoz, 149–86, and the various indexes to the volumes in this edition, including the cumulative index (ibid.); also Ellis Sandoz, The Voegelinian Revolution: A Biographical Introduction, 2nd ed. (New Brunswick: Transaction Pubs., 2000).

Of the key “experience of transcendence” Voegelin writes:

“The term experience [in this context] signifies an ontic event. It is a disturbance in being, an involvement of man with God by which the divine Within is revealed as the divine Beyond. What is achieved by it is immediacy of existence under God; what is discovered by it is the existence under God as the first principle of order for man. Moreover, the principle is discovered as valid not only for the man who has the experience but for every man, because the very idea of man arises from its realization in the presence under God. Both the reality and the idea of man are produced by the movement; the humanity represented is the humanity produced. In such terms can the representative character of the event be circumscribed.”

Voegelin, What is History? And Other Late Unpublished Writings, CW  28 (1990), ed. Thomas A. Hollweck and Paul Caringella, 49 (italics added.) The theory of representation is the theme of Voegelin’s first book in English, originally the 1951 Charles R. Walgreen Foundation Lectures at the University of Chicago, published as The New Science of Politics: An Introduction (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952). A number of studies are available including Barry Cooper, Eric Voegelin and the Foundations of Modern Political Science (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999) and recently on Voegelin as mystic philosopher is Meins G. A. Coetsier, Etty Hillesum and the Flow of Presence: A Voegelinian Analysis (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2008), esp. chap. 3 and bibliography. The most comprehensive compilation of Voegeliniana is Geoffrey L. Price and Eberhard Freiherr von Lochner, eds., Eric Voegelin: International Bibliography, 1921–2000 (Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2000); supplemented by Peter J. Opitz, ed., Voegeliniana Veröffentlichungen von und zu Eric Voegelin 2000–2005, Occasional Papers 46, Jan. 2005 (Munich: Eric-Voegelin-Archiv, 2005).

5. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 10. 9. 23, 1181b15-16; Voegelin, New Science of Politics, 22–26, where the program of “restoration” and “reinterpretation” of rationalism in the wake of Gnostic ideological destruction is tentatively sketched.

6. Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, chap. 4; for the summary critique of positivism see the introduction, ibid., 2–22. Consequences of the argument are elaborated in Sandoz, “The Philosophical Science of Politics Beyond Behavioralism” in The Post-Behavioral Era: Perspectives on Political Science, ed. George J. Graham and George W. Carey (New York: David McKay Co., Inc., 1972), chap. 14.

The substantive issues were pivotal for Voegelin’s philosophical break with the neo-Kantianism of his teacher Hans Kelsen as given early on and definitively in The New Science of Politics, of which the latter wrote a book-length refutation that Voegelin responded to by letter:

“There is no science which could develop a relevant concept of justice. . .[by] following the verification procedures of an immanent science. . . . The problem of justice is in my opinion not a problem of a normative science, or of a causal science, rather a problem of ontology.”

Letter to Hans Kelsen, March 7, 1954, No. 75 in Voegelin, Selected Correspondence 1950–1984, CW 30 (2007), ed. Thomas A. Hollweck, trans. Sandy Adler, Thomas A. Hollweck, and William Petropulos, 217, 218. Cf. Voegelin, Autobiographical Reflections, CW 34, chap. 6, where it is said that the positivism of Hermann Cohen and the Marburg School defined “science [as] meaning Newton’s physics as understood by Kant” (50). For the early (1936) detailed analysis of why this kind of science is wholly inadequate for a valid political science see Voegelin, The Authoritarian State: An Essay on the Problem of the Austrian State, CW  4 (1999), ed. Gilbert Weiss, trans. Ruth Hein, historical commentary on the period by Erika Weinzierl, chap. 6, pp. 163–212. For the underlying philosophical problem of phenomenalism (including scientism) see the chapter of that title in Voegelin, The New Order and Last Orientation, vol. 7, History of Political Ideas, CW   25 (1999), ed. Jürgen Gebhardt and Thomas A. Hollweck, intro. Jürgen Gebhardt, 175–92; also esp. the chapters on positivism, Comte, and Marx in Voegelin, Crisis and the Apocalypse of Man, vol. 8, History of Political Ideas, CW  26 (1999), ed. with an intro. by David Walsh, 88–250, 303–372.

7. For a diagrammatic summary of the results and implications see the “Appendix” to “Reason: The Classic Experience,” in Voegelin, Published Essays 1966–1985, CW  12 (1990), ed. Ellis Sandoz, 287–91. For Anaximander and the apeiron see Voegelin, The World of the Polis, vol. 2, Order and History [1957 edn], 181–83; and esp. Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, vol. 4, Order and History [1974 edn], 174–92, 215–18.

8. Voegelin, New Science of Politics, 79; Voegelin, Israel and Revelation, vol. 1, Order and History [1956 edn], 10–11; see Ellis Sandoz, “Voegelin’s Philosophy of History and Human Affairs,” in The Politics of Truth and Other Untimely Essays; The Crisis of Civic Consciousness (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999), chap. 10, §3.

9. As indicated in the text, Voegelin insists on the foundation of political prudential understanding in common sense as a mark of the universal rationality displayed in classical philosophy as that compactly underlies differentiated noesis and provides zetesis with its substantive starting points. Thus, he speaks of employing the “Aristotelian procedure” in The New Science of Politics, e.g. pp. 34 and 80. The ubiquitous presence of political common sense also is a mark of the philosophical superiority of Anglo-American thought to that of Europe which has been ruined by ideology (ibid, 188–89).

See Voegelin, Autobiographical Reflections, chap. 10: “American society had a philosophical background far superior in range and existential substance, though not always in articulation, to anything that I found represented in the methodological environment in which I had grown up [in Vienna]” (CW 34, 57). At the end of “What is Political Reality?” he says, in speaking (to a plenary gathering of the German Association for Political Science in 1965) of Scottish common sense philosophy as given in especially Thomas Reid: “Common sense is a civilizational habit that presupposes noetic experience, without the man of this habit himself possessing differentiated knowledge of noesis. The civilized homo politicus need not be a philosopher, but he must have common sense.” He continues: “The reference to common sense is meant to make clear once more that, and also why, there can be no ‘theory of politics’ in terms of fundamental propositions or principles rising above the propositions of an ‘empirical’ science of politics. For the so-called empeiria of politics is the habit of common sense, that although compact, is formed by the ratio as the structure [Sachstruktur] of consciousness.” Voegelin, Anamnesis: On the Theory of History and Politics, CW 6 (2002), ed. David Walsh, trans. M. J. Hanak and Gerhart Niemeyer, 411.

10. “The Oxford Political Philosophers” in CW 11, ed. Ellis Sandoz, 46.

11. Order and History, vol. 3, Plato and Aristotle (1957), 37–38. For the structure of corruption see the summary p. 79.

12. Hitler, §43, 230–35.

13. Cf. however David Walsh, “Voegelin’s Place in Modern Philosophy,” Modern Age 49, no. 1 (Winter 2007): 12–23; more fully David Walsh, The Modern Philosophical Revolution: The Luminosity of Existence (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

14. “The Beginning and the Beyond,” in CW 28, ed. Thomas A. Hollweck and Paul Caringella, 211. See the late (1981) summarizing statement on these subjects entitled “The Meditative Origin of the Philosophical Knowledge of Order,” in CW 33, ed. William Petropulos and Gilbert Weiss, chap. 14: “In my view there is neither natural reason nor revelation, neither the one nor the other. Rather we have here a theological misconstruction of certain real matters that was carried out in the interest of theological systematization,” CW 33, 385–86.

15. “Conversations with Eric Voegelin,” in CW 33, 243–343 at 328, 330–31. The attitude experientially validates the flux of ubiquitous divine presence in human consciousness implicit in Jesus’ promise at the end of the Gospel of Matthew: “[A]nd, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” Matt. 28:20. On the pushes and pulls (helkein) in experiences of divine Reality as recounted in Greek philosophy as well as in biblical revelation, see Voegelin’s comparative analysis in “The Gospel and Culture” in CW 12, ed. Sandoz, 172–212 at 184–91; also CW 12., “Reason: The Classic Experience,” 265–91 at 281.

16. CW 33, 329.

17. “Science, Politics and Gnosticism” in CW 5, ed. Manfred Henningsen,   261.

18. See “Eternal Being in Time” in Anamnesis, CW 6, ed. David Walsh, chap. 12: “There is no philosophy without philosophers, namely without men whose psychic sensorium responds to eternal being.” “The concept most suitable to express the presence of eternal being in the temporal flow is flowing presence (313, esp. 329)”. Also the discussion in CW 33, 182–83, 233, 264, 340–41.

19. Hitler §5, p. 71; Order and History, vol. 3, Plato and Aristotle (1957), 92,   129.

20. Gebhardt in “Vocation of the Scholar,” 18; quoted in Ellis Sandoz, Republicanism, Religion and the Soul of America (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2006), 180.

21. Solzhenitsyn, The First Circle, trans. Thomas P. Whitney (New York: Bantam Books, 1981), 415.

22. Hitler, §8, p. 87.

23. “The German University and the Order of German Society: A Reconsideration of the Nazi Era,” in CW 12, 7.

24. Ezekiel 33:7–9, quoted as in ibid., 35; earlier quoted to the students with instructions in Hitler, 200.

25. Hitler und die Deutschen, ed. Henningsen, editor’s introduction, 29, 38. Cf. Republic 518d-e; Voegelin, Order and History, vol. 1, Plato and Aristotle, 68, 112–17.

26. Order and History, vol. 1, Israel and Revelation (1956 ed.), p. xiv. See the discussion in Ellis Sandoz, The Voegelinian Revolution, 141–42.

27. As one astute commentator writes: “It is as if he himself were a second Jeremiah, that Voegelin undertook his own effort to rebalance the consciousness of his own age. . . . His own purpose is clearly one that seeks to recover the prophetic impulse.” Geoffrey L. Price, “Recovery from Metastatic Consciousness: Voegelin and Jeremiah,” in Politics, Order and History: Essays on the Work of Eric Voegelin, ed. Glenn Hughes, Stephen A. McKnight, and Geoffrey L. Price (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), 185–207 at 204. The able editors of Hitler remark that Voegelin’s authoritative appeal for conversion to truth in his auditors is founded as a political philosopher “on his own life of bearing witness” (editors’ introductions, 34).

28. For discussion of egophany, see Sandoz, Voegelinian Revolution, 239–43 and the sources cited therein; esp. Voegelin, Order and History, vol. 4, The Ecumenic Age (1974), chap. 5, §2, pp. 260–71. For a preliminary elaboration of the revolutionary implications for philosophy per se, see Voegelinian Revolution, chap. 7, Principia Noetica, 189–216. This is a meditative and ontological revolution of mind and spirit, one involving a “change in being,” not a political one in the streets, nor even in intractable prevailing climates of opinion, one is constrained to emphasize to help avoid misunderstandings.

29. This is no mere inference; Voegelin is explicit in the matter: “Unless we want to indulge in extraordinary theological assumptions, the God who appeared to philosophers, and who elicited from Parmenides the exclamation ‘Is!’, was the same God who revealed himself to Moses as the ‘I am who (or: what) I am,’ as the God who is what he is in the concrete theophany to which man responds. When God lets himself be seen, whether in a burning thornbush or in a Promethean fire, he is what he reveals himself to be in the event” (Voegelin, Order and History, vol. 4, The Ecumenic Age, chap. 4 §3

[1974 edition], 229). See also “Equivalences of Experience and Symbolization in History,” CW 12, 115–33.

30. Some of the implications are discussed in Paul Caringella, “Eric Voegelin:

Philosopher of Divine Presence,” in Eric Voegelin’s Significance for the Modern Mind, ed. Ellis Sandoz (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1991), 174–205.  Although Voegelin seems never to say so, the ultimate source of the symbol It as used in his work is clearly Pseudo-Dionysius where the name It represents the ineffable “Super-Essential Godhead which we must not dare . . . to speak, or even to form any conception Thereof, except those things which are divinely revealed to us from the Holy Scriptures.” “The Divine Names,” 1.2 in Dionysius the Areopagite: the Divine Names and the Mystical Theology, ed. C. E. Rolt (repr.; Kila, MT: Kessinger Pubs.,n.d.), 53; see pp. 4–12. N. B.: the presentation here assumes the analysis given in Sandoz, Voegelinian Revolution, epilogue; revised and reprinted in Sandoz, Republicanism, Religion and the Soul of America, chap. 8, “The Spirit of Voegelin’s Late Work,” esp. pp. 162–81.

Behind Thomas’s Tetragrammaton stands Dionysius’s It, and behind that the epekeina (Beyond) of Plato’s agathon (Good), kalon (Beauty), periechon (Comprehending) and to pan (All) back to Anaximander’s apeiron (Unbounded, Depth) and similar symbols–matters pertaining to nonexistent reality that must be left aside here. For an analysis of some of the issues, see Voegelin, Order and History, vol. 5, In Search of Order, ed. Ellis Sandoz (1987), chap. 2, §11, pp. 100–103; also Fran O’Rourke, Pseudo-Dionysius and the Metaphysics of Aquinas (1992; repr. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), esp. the section “Aquinas and the Good Beyond Being” exploring the difficulty “of expressing in concepts and terms appropriate to beings that which is supposedly non-existent, i.e., prime matter, or which is beyond existence, namely, the divine Good” (201).

31. The Ecumenic Age, penultimate page.

32. Order and History, vol. 5, In Search of Order, ed. Ellis Sandoz (1987),   103; see Sandoz, Voegelinian Revolution (2000), 264.

33. See New Science of Politics (1952), 63–70. Cf. the fine analysis of Anselm in Robert McMahon, Understanding the Medieval Meditative Ascent: Augustine, Anselm, Boethius, and Dante (Washington, D. C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2006), esp. 202–10.

34. Although it may at first sight appear to be novel, this is in fact the ordinary obligation and role of “every man” of faith (not only philosophers, prophets, and apostles) under the dispensation of Grace as “good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God [lógia theou]; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God gives him: that God may in all things be glorified.” 1 Peter 4:10–11 [KJV modified].

35. “Response to Professor Altizer” in Eric Voegelin’s Thought: A Critical Appraisal, ed. Ellis Sandoz (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1982), 190–91; repr. in CW 12, 292–303 at 294.

36 .Hitler §5, 75. The scarcity of information on the early years is being relieved to some degree through publication of primary materials in Voegelin, Selected Correspondence 1921–1950, CW 29 (2009), ed. Jürgen Gebhardt, trans. William Petropulos; cf. Sandoz, Voegelinian Revolution, chap. 2.; also Cooper, Eric Voegelin and the Foundations of Modern Political Science, chap. 1. In terms of chronology, the Anschluss annexing Austria to the Third Reich occurred with the arrival of German troops in Vienna on March 11, 1938, Voegelin was fired by the university on April 23, he escaped to Zurich on July 14, and departed with Lissy from Paris for America on September 8, 1938. Cf. Monika Puhl, Eric Voegelin in Baton Rouge, Periagoge Studien, ed. Peter J. Opitz and Dietmar Herz (Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2005), 20–21.

The chilling letter of dismissal reads as follows (trans. William Petropulos as in CW  29):

University of Vienna: Faculty of Law and Staatswissenschaft [Political Science]

Vienna, April 23, 1938

To Associate Professor Dr. Erich Voegelin, Vienna.

As Temporary Dean of the Faculty of Law and Staatswissenschaft it is my   official duty to inform you that, with the decree of April 22, 1938, Zl.10606-I-le, the Austrian Ministry of Education has cancelled its certification of the right to lecture that was previously granted to you, and thereby revokes its authorization for you to teach.

Therefore, pending further notice, you are to abstain from the exercise of any and all teaching activities, and any other activities which may fall within the wider purview of your previously held position.

Heil Hitler!


Temporary Dean

Faculty of Law and Staatswissenschaft

37. Translated as Race and State, CW 2, and The History of the Race Idea: From Ray to Carus, CW 3, both ed. Klaus Vondung. Gregor Sebba was Voegelin’s colleague and friend in Vienna, later professor at Emory University, quoted from “Prelude and Variations on the Theme of Eric Voegelin” in Eric Voegelin’s Thought, 3–65 at 11. Hannah Arendt regarded Race and State as “the best historical account of race-thinking” (Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism [New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1951], 158n).

38. Translated as The Political Religions in CW 5, Modernity Without Restraint, ed. Henningsen, 19–73 at 20.

39. See Autobiographical Reflections, rev. ed., in CW 34, ed. Ellis Sandoz,   1–148 at 71, 82–83

40. Ibid., 116.


This excerpt is from Republicanism, Religion, and the Soul of America (University of Missouri Press, 2006)

Ellis Sandoz

Ellis Sandoz was the Hermann Moyse Jr. Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Louisiana State University, former Director of the Eric Voegelin Institute for American Renaissance Studies, and founder of the Eric Voegelin Society. He is the author and editor of more than twenty books.

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