The Postmodern Subject

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In the previous chapter, McGuire illuminates how Voegelin’s analysis of Aristotle shows that ethics and politics are to be based on one’s noetic participation in an nonobjective, transcendent reality rather than founded on a third-person or objective account of human nature.[1] In spite of McGuire’s agreement with Voegelin’s interpretation of Aristotle, he expresses reservation about Voegelin’s methodology, his philosophy of consciousness, which does not clearly differentiate between objective and non-objective reality. Because Voegelin’s philosophy of consciousness is constructed around subjects and objects in its conceptualization, Voegelin tends to neglect nonobjective reality, i.e., the participatory or first-person perspective in his analysis. Thus, Voegelin’s philosophy of consciousness reinforces rather than clarifies the distinction between subject (nonobjective reality) and object (objective reality), a distinction that Voegelin himself inherited from Descartes and Kant.[2]

Starting with Descartes, modern subjectivity divorces itself from nonobjective reality, i.e., the participatory or first-person perspective of reality. The project of postmodern thinkers is to devise strategies that both critique and supplant modern subjectivity as originated by Descartes. In these strategies, postmodern thinkers pay particular attention to language: its nature and purpose, its employment in both critiquing and supplanting modern subjectivity, and its limitations in conveying philosophical concepts or experiences with reality. Building on the insights of McGuire’s analysis of Voegelin’s account of subjectivity, this chapter will explore how Voegelin’s philosophy of consciousness compares to other postmodern thinkers’ strategies in overcoming the Cartesian subject-object dichotomy.

This chapter therefore will explore whether Voegelin’s philosophy of consciousness, along with two other postmodern thinkers’ strategies – Michel Foucault’s archeological and genealogical methods and Jacques Derrida’s philosophy of deconstructionism – are successful in their attempts to overcome modern subjectivity. I first start with Foucault’s archeological method, which in turn provokes Derrida’s reproach of it. At the core of this criticism is the question of how one should interpret Descartes’ First Meditations. These differing readings yield two new approaches to confront Cartesian subjectivity: Foucault’s failed genealogical and will to power strategies and Derrida’s successful philosophy of deconstructionism.

Although Voegelin does not directly address postmodern thinkers, he also sees Cartesian subjectivity as a problem to be addressed.[3] By modeling his philosophy of consciousness after Vico’s new science, Voegelin creates a participatory mode of subjectivity that both critiques and replaces the Cartesian subject. By rejecting the Cartesian dichotomy of reality into subjects and objects, Voegelin argues that subjectivity is a process in which the philosopher is engaged as a participant. Subjectivity therefore is a process that is, at best, understood incompletely from a perspective within, rather than fully understood by Descartes’ detached observer, who surveys reality as if it were an object to be analyzed.

McGuire is correct to recognize that Voegelin’s philosophy of consciousness can confuse rather than clarify the distinction between nonobjective and objective reality. But because language is constructed with subjects and objects, Voegelin has no other option than to explain his philosophy of consciousness in this manner. With this understanding about the limitations of language, we can see how Voegelin is able to diagnose modern subjectivity and consequently provide a path to overcome it.[4]

All three postmodern thinkers – Foucault, Derrida, and Voegelin – believe that Descartes is primarily responsible for the creation of the modern subject and the problems that are associated with it. Although it would be too much to claim that Cartesian subjectivity is directly responsible for the rise of scientism, political ideology, and mass violence which has characterized much of the twentieth century, Cartesian subjectivity undeniably portrays and contributes to the modern subject’s estrangement, even alienation, from the world.[5] Instead of seeking significance and meaning within the world, the modern subject seeks refuge either in a type of instrumental rationality or political irrationality. Thus, Cartesian subjectivity may not be directly responsible for these results, but it sets the conditions for such outcomes to be possible.

Cartesian Subjectivity

The origins of modern subjectivity can be traced back to Descartes’ philosophy with its beliefs that the subject is a rational, unified, and transparent entity whose reason is objective and universally accessible in its inquiry of a reality that is bifurcated into subjects and objects.[6] Descartes reaches these conclusions by subjecting his own beliefs to doubt in his attempt to refute the skepticism of his day.[7] After demonstrating that sensory and other forms of knowledge are unreliable, Descartes reaches the terminal point that only “a thing that thinks” can be the foundation for reliable knowledge.[8] Thus, “cogito, ergo sum” becomes the starting point of knowledge for Descartes and from which he constructs the philosophical anthropology of the modern subject.

As a rational and transparent entity, the subject does not require an external reference point beyond itself because it is “utterly indivisible.”[9] Unlike the body, which is divisible, the mind is a unified entity and therefore is the site of the subject’s certainty, self-consciousness, and reason, the last of which is the universally accessible, objective instrument used to access the world outside of the mind.[10] Reason consequently not only makes the subject self-conscious of its own existence but also validates Descartes’ philosophical method: it creates the kind of creature that the modern subject is and determines what type of knowledge that it can possess.[11]

As a result, the modern subject lives a split or dual existence with the mind as a thinking substance and the body as a mechanical one: the mind is the site of certainty, rationality, and consciousness for the subject, with the body and the external world existing as objects to be understood and controlled.[12] Since the subject requires only itself for its own validation, this leaves God as the lone guarantor for the existence of external phenomena outside the subject.[13] For Descartes, the clear and distinct idea of God could not have originated within the subject, as God is an infinite entity; thus, the idea must have come from somewhere else, thereby proving God’s existence.[14] The existence of God is crucial because it guarantees the existence of the external world: since an essential feature of God’s perfection is its truthfulness, God would not deceive the subject’s perception of this world. The subject’s perceptions of the external world therefore are accurate because God is perfect

However, Descartes’ account of the modern subject is vulnerable to several criticisms by postmodern thinkers. First, the subject may not be as rational, unified, and transparent, as Descartes claims but rather, under closer examination, is in conflict with itself. [15] Second, Cartesian reason might not be a universally accessible, objective mode of inquiry but rather an instrument of exploitation to satisfy one’s desires and self-interests.[16] Third, reality is not bifurcated into subjects and objects, and claiming it can be creates a distorted understanding of the world and the subject’s place within it.[17] Finally, one may be able to provide convincing reasons to doubt the existence of God and thereby make his role as guarantor of the external world untenable.[18]

But these criticisms of modern subjectivity are valid only if postmodern thinkers are able to avoid entering into the Cartesian problematic in making their critiques. If postmodern thinkers were to resort to a universally accessible, objective mode of inquiry, they would be solidifying rather than undermining modern subjectivity, as Cartesian reason is what allows the modern subject to become self-conscious of itself and the external world. In this chapter, I will explore three different strategies that postmodern thinkers employ in their critique of modern subjectivity: Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Eric Voegelin. Because each of these postmodern thinkers adopts a different approach to the problem of modern subjectivity, I hope to clarify the strategy used by each and to evaluate the success of each strategy in its critique and replacement of modern subjectivity.

Foucault’s Archeology

In Historie de la folie and Madness and Civilization, Foucault adopts a strategy of archeology to critique Cartesian reason as an exclusionary mode of knowledge.[19] According to Foucault, Cartesian reason emerges in the seventeenth century as the sole cognitive instrument to understand the world by excluding other types of thinking, specifically madness, as legitimate forms of knowledge. This exclusion of the “other” condemns modes of thought that are different from the Cartesian version, leading them to a “silence” in history.

Foucault argues that reason was once different than its Cartesian version as, prior to the seventeenth century, Socratic logos accepted the contrary, the opposition, and the irrational in its investigation of the world.[20] Reasonableness instead of reason was the criterion of dialectical debate: an argument had to appear but not necessarily be rooted in reason in order for philosophical inquiry to commence. Characters like Callicles and Thrasymachus were able to present their arguments as reasonable in Plato’s dialogues, while Socrates accepted those arguments before he demonstrated their internal inconsistencies as philosophies rooted in power rather than wisdom. The Socratic dialectics was based on the hope that a rational criterion would ultimately lead to wisdom, but this hope did not exclude opposition to reason itself. By contrast, modern reason tolerates no contrary to itself in either speech or thought: everything is evaluated and excluded by the criterion of reason. Usurpers to reason are de-legitimatized before they even have a chance to engage in dialectical debate.

For Foucault, the person most responsible for this transformation in our understanding of reason is Descartes; and with him, the modern subject emerges as the sole source of truth. As he subjects himself to doubt in the search for an unshakeable foundation of knowledge, Descartes excludes madness further and further from the rational boundaries of his philosophical enterprise to the point where the subject is certain that he or she is only sane.[21] This exclusion of madness makes the subject the source of truth with its use of logic. But this logic is not one of reason progressively unfolding in history; rather, it is derived from a “secret movement in which unreason is plunged deep under the ground, there no doubt to disappear, but there also to take root.”[22] The postmodern philosopher is to unearth this root of unreason in his appeal to an ungrounded future – “a truth without recourse” – so that power can be restored to those who had it taken away from them.

To uncover this “root of unreason,” these marginalized modes of knowledge, Foucault’s archeology attempts to make sense of the remnants of the past that still remain in the present. For example, an artifact discovered at a Roman household site would be understood in the cultural concepts of cooking, cleaning, or childrearing. If an artifact were found but did not correspond with the archaeologist’s concepts, it would be placed aside in the hope that the key to comprehend it would later be unearthed. In the hope of discovering a concept to decode the unknown artifact, the archaeologist assumes that the past is intelligible because cultural concepts, “discursive formations,” are rooted in an atemporal linguistic structure. Although different “discursive formations” exist throughout history, these formations share the same basic typology of rules that govern language.[23]

However, according to Derrida, Foucault’s strategy of archeology was the same one used by Cartesian reason and thereby reinforced rather than undermined modern subjectivity. Because of the fundamental permanence of the “logic-philosophical heritage,” the archeologist can understand madness only in the atemporal linguistic structures of discursive formations, which is itself another form of Cartesian reason.[24] According to Derrida, the only way to understand a marginalized history like madness is to seek a dialogue between reason and madness instead of treating each entity as separate units of analysis.[25] The mistake Foucault makes is to think that reason and madness are two separate coins when, in reality, they are different sides of the same coin – reason itself.

Since reason is the only mode of cognitive thought available, there is no device to uncover a silent history of madness other than reason itself; and, because the archeologist must reply upon reason in his or her endeavors, a silent history is unlikely to be discovered.[26] At most, the archeologist can speak about a history of madness only by its absence rather than by its presence, i.e., reason’s changing account of madness instead of its silent history.[27] Seventeenth-century reason therefore is no different from its predecessor or successor for Derrida, thereby making Foucault’s archeological attempt to expose a silent history of madness a doomed enterprise from the start.

Unlike Foucault, Derrida believes that the history of philosophy is one written by a reason that remains unchanged: the Socratic logos was never transformed into Cartesian reason, for it always was the same entity.[28] Derrida disagrees with Foucault’s interpretation of Descartes’ First Meditation as a conflict between reason and madness; instead, the work should be understood as a Platonic dialogue between the philosopher and non-philosopher.[29] According to Derrida’s interpretation, the philosopher is attempting to convince the non-philosopher that fundamental reality can be questioned by resorting to doubt, such as the dream hypothesis where both he and his companion might be dreaming about this conversation instead of having it. Whereas Foucault interprets the dream hypothesis as a supposition of madness, Derrida argues that the hypothesis is actually beyond madness, since the mad can be lucid about some things, such as arithmetic and geometry in a dream world.[30]

When the philosopher reaches “cogito, ergo sum” in the Meditations, Foucault interprets this passage as the unshakeable place to know reality against the “pure madness” of Descartes’ devil as creator of the universe. The result is two discursive formations: madness as represented by the devil and reason as “cogito, ergo sum.” But, for Derrida, Foucault’s interpretation is flawed for the above-mentioned reasons. Madness is only one case of thought and consequently should be understood within, as opposed to, reason.[31] Descartes’ “cogito, ergo sum” confirms that reason neither excludes nor circumvents madness, as madness is part of the cogito itself.

Derrida objects to Foucault’s false dichotomy between reason and madness, or more broadly between subject and object, because both reason and madness are part of the same subject, the cogito. Foucault’s attempt to uncover the silent history of madness through reason is misguided; rather, he should have looked at the “dissension,” or interior self-division, within the subject itself to locate madness. Any effort to step outside the parameters of reason is impossible, says Derrida, and reinforces modern subjectivity rather than critiquing it.

Foucault’s Genealogy

Foucault’s response to Derrida’s criticism is to adopt Nietzsche’s strategy of genealogy to critique modern subjectivity. Rejecting atemporal discursive formations to uncover a silent history of madness, Foucault employs historicity as the sole criterion to evaluate modern subjectivity: nothing exists outside of the historical process. In a sense, Foucault has absorbed the criticism of Derrida by rejecting that a silent history exists; but, unlike Derrida, Foucault accepts that everything exists within the parameters of historicity rather than reason. This transformation in Foucault’s thinking is evident in his final commentary on Descartes’ devil, which no longer represents the “other,” or madness, but is “simply always the same” as the cogito with “the very identity of the same.”[32]

The absence of ontological difference between the cogito and the devil, or the same and the other, means that the difference between these two concepts can only be political in nature; and the best way to trace this political difference is to use Nietzsche’s genealogical method.[33] The role of genealogy is to record the history of systems of rules and power, which have no essential meaning in themselves, to bend humanity to “a new will,” and to force people’s participation in “a different game.”[34] Instead of tracing the evolution of the subject, the genealogist’s task is to account for these new systems that submit the subject as an object to be used. The genealogist is no longer interested in studying subjectivity per se, but how systems of rules and power and the language adopted to justify them refashion the subject to different wills to power.[35]

An example of the disappearance of the subject under a system of rules and power can be found in Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. According to Foucault, torture and public execution became condemned in capitalist societies because the public authorities saw these events as political threats: people were not frightened into law-abiding subjection but participated in these public rites, thereby suspending the public order. For society to be rooted in a rational economic foundation, a new mode of punishment was required in order to preserve the social order and to reintegrate individuals into it.[36] This new mode of punishment would be a process that removed the subject as an actor and instead made the subject an object that was effectively integrated into the new capitalist society.

At the center of this process is what Foucault calls discipline: an architecture of control where individuals become objects of a system where nothing escapes its surveillance. Discipline is the new social principle of capitalist society: instead of a single power center, the capitalist society has multiple networks of power centers and distributions from where nobody can escape.[37] Individuals are categorized by various social sciences, e.g., demographics, economics, health sciences, and then fitted into an assortment of institutional structures to better serve the state.

This modern state uses a new form of power to control its citizens: pastoral power.[38] Although its origins reside in the Catholic Church, where everyone had received individual attention in the salvation of their souls, the modern state adopts these “arts of government” – supervising people, structuring their lives, and using of confessional technologies and techniques of self-mastery – for its own ends of maintaining power and the promotion of citizens’ happiness based on a criterion of rationality.[39] This new form of politics, to guide and manage citizens on a rational criterion as determined by the state, Foucault names biopower.

Biopower is the state managing all life processes on both an anatomical and social level, the subject having disappeared completely in the state’s calculation of “responsible management.”[40] From the life of the fetus to the existence of the biosphere, the modern state has arrogated to itself the task of administering life itself. With the disappearance of the subject, the state exists only for itself and makes an alternative to biopower unlikely. Foucault himself was pessimistic that a change in politics was possible except perhaps at a local or regional level.[41] The most one can do is to agitate the state in order to have voices heard that have been repressed. Although the philosopher cannot replace the biopower of the state, he or she can try to force the state to recognize those who are marginalized in society.

To uncover these repressed or marginalized voices, the philosopher’s genealogical method reveals systems of rules and power that expose the subject as a body that has imprinted by history.[42] By tracing the histories of these systems, the philosopher will be able to reveal how these structures evolved and are practiced today.[43] The philosopher’s task therefore is to deconstruct these power structures, once they are known, by transgressing their boundaries in order to overcome the historically imposed subjectivity that the system has imposed upon him or her. Thus, the genealogical method ultimately becomes subordinate to the philosopher’s will to power where one is to liberate the subject’s identity from the one that biopower has imposed.

Yet this strategy of subordinating knowledge to a will to power creates two problems for Foucault. First, it is not clear why the philosopher’s will to power is to be valued over the systems of rules and power: is there a criterion to evaluate the merits of each position; and if one were to available, would it not have to resemble the reason of modern subjectivity as a rational, unified, and transparent entity, the very thing that Foucault is criticizing? Foucault asserts that systems of rules and power have no essential meaning, that every society has its “regime of truth,” but it is not clear why marginalized or repressed voices need to be heard.[44] Foucault wants to critique modern subjectivity and its biopower, but he cannot offer a reason to do so; otherwise, he creates a new system of rules and powers that he himself would oppose in principle. The only answer he can provide to justify his task of transgression is an inarticulate appeal to a will to power.[45]

Second, and more importantly, subjectivity still persists in Foucault’s genealogical method in spite of his best attempts to erase it.[46] Foucault’s use of historicity rather than reason as the guiding principle of his project only confuses rather than clarifies his investigation of the political differences that divide people. The systems of rules and powers treat subjects as objects but they are also created and controlled by subjects, because subjects are political creatures. Capitalism, pastoral power, biopower and other such concepts that Foucault invokes are not only systems of rules and powers that control subjects but also originate from subjects themselves. Instead of providing a one-directional arrow of analysis of systems to subjects, Foucault should offer a two-directional analysis with, on the one hand, systems of rules and powers and, on the other hand, subjects, with each of them interacting and influencing the outcome of the other.

Although he correctly demonstrates that the modern subject is not rational, unified, and transparent, that reason can be used for exploitation rather than for objective inquiry, and that God as a guarantor for the external world is not persuasive argument to non-believers, Foucault ultimately is not able to overcome the subject-object bifurcation of Descartes’ modern subjectivity. Foucault’s projects of archeology, genealogy, and will to power all reinforce rather than replace modern subjectivity’s divide between subject and object. The archeologist’s failure to find the “other” (madness) shows the subject is unable to locate something outside itself; the genealogist’s unsuccessful attempt to make the subject only an object reveals the inconsistencies in the method; and the will to power confirms the existence of the subject in its attempted transgression against the objective, historically-imposed identity of biopower. In spite of his best attempts, Foucault ultimately fails in his critique of modern subjectivity and in finding a suitable replacement for it.

Derrida’s Deconstructionism

Unlike Foucault’s archeological method, which seeks to separate reason from madness, Derrida subverts reason from within.[47] Although the philosopher cannot step outside of reason’s parameters, he or she can expose the assumptions of reason as flawed and not, as Descartes claims, universally accessible and objective.[48] According to Derrida, since the period of Plato reason has desired a perfect correspondence between a universal language and the external world. In Plato’s myth of the cave from the Republic, Socrates spoke about the prisoner’s escape from darkness into the natural light where he stood outside the cave to be dazzled by the full and immediate presence of justice, beauty, and the good. The prisoner outside the cave was now able to articulate the world perfectly and transparently in the language of reason.

For Derrida, this aspiration of a perfect correspondence between a transparent language and the external world is the mistaken belief of presence. An example of this aspiration can be found in Husserl’s Logical Investigations where Husserl distinguished expression from indication: the former was the articulation of a particular, intended meaning (the presence of intention behind the communication), while the latter was the modern subject’s conscious recognition that the articulation was a physical sign. The concepts of expression and indication were foundations for a phenomenology of communication: the wish for unmediated knowledge of the world.

According to Husserl, the soliloquy – the silent interior monologue of the subject – was where the expression of the world was free from a system of indicative signs. Within the silence of the soliloquy, the meaning of expression was immediate and full in the presence of the philosopher’s consciousness.[49] This soliloquy was the moment prior to the advent of language and where meaning and consciousness were fully expressed or present to each other. But for Derrida this moment is one of presence: the philosopher can never know meaning and consciousness fully and immediately without the meditation of language. The notion of unmediated knowledge of the world, which is the aspiration of all reason, is an unacceptable fantasy, as there never has been, is not now, and never will be a perfect correspondence between language and the world.

Another example of presence can be found in Plato’s Phaedrus where Socrates claimed that writing was inferior to speech and thought.[50] But, according to Derrida, this Socratic claim is a type of presence – a “memory with no sign” – in its belief that speech and thought can have unmediated access to the world, as opposed to writing. This claim is irredeemable because the very memory of unmediated knowledge of the world (speech and thought) is itself a sign, a representation of world. Any claim about unmediated knowledge must use a system of indicative signs, thus making any claim of presenting truth a representation of truth. And, since every claim about truth is really a representation and not unmediated knowledge of it, these representations can become false substitution for truth itself. Those who claim that truth can be unmediated, like Socrates and Husserl, are a type of pharmakeus who conceal the incompleteness of the world in their false representations of unmediated truth.

Derrida consequently adopts a strategy of deconstructionism to expose these pharmakeus, a strategy which consists of two main components: 1) to expose the futility of the belief of presence in philosophical works, and 2) to recover those marginalized texts that recognize that an unmediated truth of the world is not possible.[51] Throughout western philosophy, the belief of presence has persisted whether in Platonic forms or Husserl’s transcendent ego. It is this belief of unmediated knowledge of the world that determines the purpose of philosophy in its attempt to restore presence to the subject and its encounter with the world.

The idea of presence therefore obscures as much as clarifies the subject’s understanding of the world. Although the subject cannot step outside the parameters of reason to understand the world, he or she can question the framework itself by deconstructing and reconstructing it. When statements are made that there is no alternative structural or institutional arrangement for society, Derrida would ask the philosopher to expose the insubstantiality of these arguments by using the strategy of deconstructionism. However, all power relations ultimately are sustained by illusions for Derrida, regardless of whether they appeal to a belief of presence. These illusions are necessary but there is no reason why a different illusion, and consequently a different corresponding structural and institutional arrangement, could be adopted.[52]

Thus, Derrida’s strategy of deconstructionism emphasizes the gap between the subject’s desire for presence and the articulation of that desire in a system of indicative signs. Since a perfect correspondence between language and the world is not possible for Derrida, there is a space for multiple interpretations of indicative signs, and these plural interpretations place a barrier between the philosopher’s desire for presence and the world itself. By deconstructing and reconstructing texts, Derrida is able to subvert the subject’s reason from within, which possibly could yield to a new form of politics.

Whereas Foucault focused on the subject to show it is not rational, unified, and transparent as Descartes claims, Derrida examines Cartesian reason as a meditated form of knowledge that is not, as argued, a universally accessible and objective mode of inquiry. Although he agrees with Foucault that reason excludes and marginalizes groups of people for non-rational reasons, Derrida’s strategy of deconstructionism permits him to include those groups back into the mainstream of discourse without resorting to the heroic but ultimately futile transgressions of Foucault’s will to power. In this sense, Derrida’s strategy offers more hope to these groups than Foucault’s archeology and genealogical methods.

Derrida’s Subjectivity

Derrida’s strategy of deconstructionism is not only a refusal to categorically define anything once and for all but it is also a mode of existence that is never satisfied with conclusive definitions, aims, and ends; for doing so is not only impossible but would inevitably marginalize other groups of people from being acknowledged.[53] Deconstructionism consequently rejects Cartesian subjectivity, which assumes a transcendental reality situated in the cogito and, as a result, structures reality in binary terms.[54] But, by deconstructing and reconstructing texts, the philosopher does not offer a positive program but instead silently affirms the parasitic critique onto existing power structures in the hope to create a state of oscillation between the existing hierarchies of power and the potential new and different one.[55]

This state of oscillation Derrida calls diffèrance where neither the existing hierarchy nor a potential one is privileged. The philosopher is not to replace one hierarchy with another one but to oscillate between these two in order to create an existential openness to the realm of possibility for a person to enter.[56] This mode of existence continually defers a finality of meaning, which Derrida calls the messianic where the philosopher waits but does not expect for ethical values like justice to arrive.[57] Contrary to modern subjectivity, this state is a mode of patience and openness rather than urgency and certitude. Yet the state of oscillation does not exist for its own sake but for the hope that ethical values will be realized.

This mode of patience and openness also should not be equated with passivity and abdication, for when the philosopher is confronted with ethical demands, he or she must choose a path of responsibility rather than resignation. In doing so, the philosopher seems to adopt a type of modern subjectivity with its certainty of ethical knowledge. But, for Derrida, the decision to accept responsibility is one that is beyond any type of rationality that modern subjectivity can offer. It is a decision that is similar to madness, resembling Kierkegaard’s leap in faith that is beyond one’s control yet demands that one should act.[58] This “undecidable leap” requires the philosopher to submit to conditions that make ethical action possible while knowing that these very same conditions also make ethical action impossible because someone or value will inevitably be privileged over another. Thus, the conditions that make ethical action possible are also the ones that make it impossible.

In Of Hospitality, The Gift of Death, and other works, Derrida illustrates this paradoxical position of the philosopher.[59] Genuine hospitality demands the host relinquishes control over his guests, but to relinquish control makes it impossible to host anyone. But not to relinquish control is to have power over one’s guests, which is also contrary to hospitality. Likewise, a genuine gift can never be received because the act of giving contains an implicit demand of taking.[60] The reception of a gift presumes the giver is no longer indebted to the recipient, but such an acknowledgement may draw both the giver and recipient into an endless cycle of giving and taking. Wanting to escape this cycle, Derrida proposes that genuine gift-giving would require both the giver and recipient to be entirely separate from each other, thereby nullifying any claims or obligations against one another. But this is an impossible condition, for one cannot give without knowing about it. The conditions of possible giving, like hospitality, therefore are the same conditions of its impossibility.

The contradictory logic of deconstructionism compels the philosopher to negotiate between these impossible and possible conditions for responsible action. By navigating these two poles, the philosopher finds himself or herself in a paradoxical position; but, in order to act, he or she must ultimately accept a philosophy of responsibility that exists prior to the text of life itself. It is a type of messianic faith that defines the philosopher’s existence as one of constant oscillation and the deferral of ultimate meaning.[61] By acknowledging a reality that is beyond articulation and yet permitting the philosopher to encounter and be shaped by it, Derrida’s deconstructionism permits a place for the divine in his philosophy. Although it is not the Cartesian God that guarantees the reality of the external world, Derrida’s messianic faith makes responsible action possible for the philosopher.

Derrida therefore is able to offer a postmodern subject in contrast to Descartes’. Instead of being rational, unified, and transparent, Derrida’s subject exists in a state of oscillation; rather than perceiving reason as a universally accessible, objective mode of inquiry, Derrida’s deconstructionism permits a plurality of interpretations; in place of the subject-object dichotomy Derrida proposes a paradoxical existence of the impossible and possible; and, finally, as an alternative to Descartes’ God as guarantor of the external world, Derrida suggests a reality that is beyond articulation but ethically shapes us. Unlike Foucault, who is able to critique modern subjectivity but unable to find a substitution for it, Derrida is able to present us a postmodern alternative to the Cartesian version.

Voegelin’s Philosophy of Consciousness

Like Derrida, Voegelin develops a philosophy of subjectivity that differs from Descartes. Influenced by his study of Vico, Voegelin rejects the cogito’s reflective thinking for the “unreflective, creative evocation of symbols” which expresses a “deeper stratum of human substance.”[62] According to Voegelin, Descartes commits the positivist fallacy of creating an epistemology that was modeled after the new mathematics, thereby transforming the transcendental nature of reality into an objective entity to be analyzed.[63] The underlying motive for creating this new epistemology was the collapse of authority of meaning that resided in the medieval Catholic Church; consequently, philosophers looked to autonomous reason to provide them a new sense of meaning.[64] This evocation of reason in turn led to a reconceptualization of the divine as an objective entity, where God is no longer a being who participates in reality with humans but rather stands outside the human realm and observes it with detachment.

In response to Cartesian subjectivity, Vico emerges as the great rival and ultimately superior philosopher to Descartes for Voegelin. In Scienza Nuova Vico argues that humans only can understand transcendence through their consciousness and with non-Cartesian certainty: it is aimed directly against the Cartesian cogito’s claim that certainty is required for knowledge.[65] This non-Cartesian certainty is not the verification of a proposition or symbol but the experience of transcendence as articulated in a proposition or symbol. Vico’s philosopher must examine his or her own consciousness in order to compare his or her own experiences with that object of study.[66] It is through this comparison between the philosopher’s own consciousness and the object of study that Vico’s philosopher is able to create a different form of knowledge that is by nature true but not certain.

Vico’s new science therefore requires a philosophical anthropology that reincorporates transcendence, history, and society back into the philosopher’s analysis. This new science acknowledges the historicity of existence, transcendence as its subject of study, and begins with unreflective evocations of propositions and symbols of the philosopher’s encounter with the divine. By contrast, Descartes cogito starts from a point of reflective existence; from an Archimedean point where the cogito can survey the whole of reality with certainty as if it were a type of object.[67] Transcendence, history, and society are eliminated from the subject’s analysis with only the cogito remaining as the sole source of validation.

Voegelin adopts Vico’s new science into his philosophy of consciousness and, as a result, Voegelin is able to create a postmodern subject that supplants Cartesian subjectivity. Since McGuire already has provided a detailed account of Voegelin’s philosophy of consciousness, I will provide only the points where it differs from Cartesian subjectivity.[68] First, Voegelin rejects Cartesian reason as an objective mode of inquiry that can detachedly view reality like an object; instead, reason is a process of illumination of reality that is experienced within the confines of one’s own consciousness.[69] In fact, subjectivity itself is a fluid encounter with reality that continues to articulate and rearticulate itself in the reality in which the philosopher partakes. There does not exists a Cartesian vantage point outside of the philosopher from which he or she can understand reality; the philosopher can understand reality only as a participant within it.[70]

Second, Voegelin roots subjectivity in concrete personal, social, and historical existence rather than a matrix of Cartesian clear and distinct principles.[71] By doing this, the philosopher’s participation with transcendence manifests its experience with the divine in propositions and symbols peculiar to the philosopher’s particular historical and societal context. Reason consequently is not a universally accessible, objective mode of inquiry to be applied to all circumstances, but rather a specific encounter with the divine that articulates itself in concrete personal, social, historical existence.

However, the philosopher’s encounter with transcendence should not be mistaken for knowledge of the substance of transcendence itself. According to Voegelin, the philosopher’s experience with transcendence is articulated in symbols as realities of consciousness: they are neither representations of a reality independent of experience nor are they realities that are self-referential, i.e., knowledge.[72] The only knowledge the philosopher is able to grasp is the symbols of his or her experience with transcendence.[73] This philosophy of consciousness with its symbolization therefore prevents a bifurcation of reality into subjects and objects and eliminates Cartesian certainty as the criterion for knowledge. For Voegelin, knowledge of reality is possible but the philosopher cannot slip into the error of solipsism found in modern subjectivity nor obliterate consciousness for objectivity.

This experience with transcendence is what Voegelin calls the metaxy: the existence of the philosopher’s consciousness in a state of tension between the poles of immanent and transcendent realities. The philosopher’s existence in the metaxy is an ongoing struggle to know transcendence, which ultimately is beyond the scope of human understanding; consequently, the philosopher must not let his or her desire to know dominate the exploration of reality (libido dominandi). The philosopher must not degenerate into an “intentionalist” desire to know transcendence as if it were some object on “this side of the horizon,” nor must he assume that human realities belong to the realm of transcendent.[74] The philosopher must strike a “balance of consciousness” between his intentionality to know transcendence and his acceptance that his analysis always will remain incomplete.

On the one hand, the philosopher must recognize that intentionality is an epistemological mode of understanding reality as “things” while, on the other hand, acknowledge that the symbolization of those experiences cannot be understood in a Cartesian subject and object approach.[75] If the philosopher loses this “balance of consciousness” between intentionality and acceptance, he or she will fall into a deformed existence (i.e., Gnosticism) where reality is perceived merely as objects.[76] The problem of losing a balance of consciousness between intentionality and acceptance is magnified by the nature of language, which is structured with subjects and objects in its sentences. One can easily mistake an articulation of the philosopher’s consciousness in the Cartesian model instead of the Voegeliean one. This is why Voegelin adopts linguistic indices to speculate about the divine, as ineffable reality only can be described by analogy.[77] If the philosopher continues to be sensitive that previous thinkers were writing about their encounter with transcendence in an analogical rather than literal manner, he will be able to avoid thinking that consciousness is an object to be analyzed, although it may appear to be written as such due to the structure of language.

Although I agree with McGuire that Voegelin’s philosophy of consciousness can be construed in such a way that transcendent reality is perceived as an object of analysis rather than as a reality in which one participates, I do think Voegelin himself is not only cognizant of this fallacy but also attempts to prevent it by adopting linguistic indices, such as neologism, to convey his philosophy of consciousness and to force the reader to think carefully about what Voegelin is writing. This is the best that Voegelin can do, because the nature of language is constructed with subjects and objects; he has no other way to explain his philosophy of consciousness. If such an account is unsatisfactory in the end, it may be due to the limitations of language itself and not the argument.[78]

Voegelin’s concept of “balance of consciousness” is a refutation of the Cartesian subject as rational, unified, and transparent, as the subject can mistake symbolized realities as objects of knowledge, thereby becoming Gnostic. Reason is not always universally accessible and objective, as Descartes claims; it can be misused for the exploitation of others in the domination of reality. Finally, Voegelin’s participatory mode of subjectivity elides the Cartesian dichotomy of subject and object while permitting God to exist not as a guarantor of external reality but as a reality for the philosopher to encounter.

Unlike Foucault, Voegelin does not seek a philosophy of consciousness that eradicates the subject. Because his philosophy of consciousness is fluid, Voegelin elides the Cartesian dichotomy of subject and object and therefore has no need to eradicate the subject in his study. In this sense, Voegelin does not so much disagree with Foucault as avoid the questions central to Foucault’s projects of archeology, genealogy, and will to power. Whereas Foucault operates within the Cartesian paradigm of subject and object, Voegelin rejects a priori this epistemological structure. Thus, instead of engaging in a dialogue, both Voegelin and Foucault wind up talking past one another.

With respect to Derrida, Voegelin agrees that unmediated knowledge of the world is unattainable, given the constraints of what consciousness can know. Voegelin also would agree with Derrida that any attempt to escape the boundaries of reason to know the world is impossible: human consciousness as a process is the only model available for us to know processes that transcend our own consciousness. Finally, Voegelin would concur with Derrida that a multiplicity of interpretations exists for indicative signs.

However, the two thinkers differ about the relationship between language and experience. For Voegelin, there is a constant in human experience – the desire to find order in existence – that could be manifested in a variety of symbols. In contrast, there is no indication that Derrida would privilege one experience over another beneath the language of signs and symbols. In fact, Derrida would most likely question whether Voegelin’s belief in a constant in human experience is not a type of wish fulfillment, i.e., a belief in presence. If this were the case, then Voegelin’s “new science” would suffer from the same problems and limitations that Cartesian subjectivity does.

All three of these thinkers are sensitive to the nature, employment, and limitations of language in conveying one’s experience with reality and attempt to articulate these things. In this sense, the postmodern project is similar to Aristotle’s, as McGuire’s chapter has illuminated. Thus, both pre-modern and postmodern thinkers provide a different account of subjectivity than Descartes. However, postmodern thinkers like Foucault, Derrida, and Voegelin have to abandon pre-modern strategies to overcome modern subjectivity, for they are heirs to the Cartesian world of a subject-object dichotomy.

This chapters shows that while Voegelin and Foucault have little in common in their attempts to overcome modern subjectivity due to different epistemological assumptions, they do share similar concepts and strategies because of their common interest in language, experience, and consciousness. In spite of their differences, all three postmodern philosophers approach the problem of modern subjectivity as a Cartesian one, with the strategies of deconstructionism and a philosophy of consciousness succeeding and the methods of archeology and genealogy methods failing. Recognizing that more work is required to spell out how postmodern subjectivity can flourish in post-Cartesian age, I hope that this review of these three different strategies can be a starting point to better understand our postmodern age.



[1] Please refer to Steven F. McGuire, “Subjectivity and Human Nature in Eric Voegelin’s Reading of Aristotle” in this book.

[2] McGuire, “Subjectivity and Human Nature.” For the influence of Kant on Voegelin’s thought, refer to Thomas W. Heilke, “Out of Such Crooked Wood: How Eric Voegelin Read Immanuel Kant.” In Eric Voegelin and the Continental Tradition, eds. Lee Trepanier and Steven F. McGuire (University of Missouri Press, 2011), 15-43 and Arpad Szakolczai, “Eric Voegelin and Neo-Kantianism: Early Formative Experience or Late Entrapment?” In Eric Voegelin and the Continental Tradition, eds. Lee Trepanier and Steven F. McGuire (University of Missouri Press, 2011), 137-65.

[3] Although Voegelin is not often portrayed among postmodern thinkers, there have been recent attempts to do so, such as Peter A. Petrakis and Cecil L. Eubanks, Eric Voegelin’s Dialogue with the Postmoderns (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2004) and Trepanier and McGuire, Eric Voegelin and the Continental Tradition.

[4] McGuire, “Subjectivity and Human Nature.”

[5] The debate about the nature and problems of modernity encompasses numerous thinkers. For instance, compare Michel Foucault, “What is Enlightenment,” in The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow (New York: Pantheon Books, 2010), 32-50 to Jürgen Habermas, “Reconciliation Through the Public Use of Reason: Remarks on John Rawls’s Political Liberalism,” The Journal of Philosophy 92:3 (1995): 109-31; or Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (University of Minnesota Press, 1984) with John Rawls, “Justice As Fairness: Political Not Metaphysical,” in Rawls, John. Collected Papers, Samuel Richard Freeman, ed. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999). Other important thinkers for this debate include Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 97-192; Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984); Judith Butler, Gender Troubles: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990); Charles Taylor, Sources of the Modern Self (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992); Seyla Benhabib, Situating the Self: Gender, Community, and Postmodernism in Contemporary Ethics (New York: Routledge, 1992); Ted V. McAllister, Revolt Against Modernity: Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin and the Search for a Postliberal Order (Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 1995); and the exchange between Charles Taylor and William Connolly. Charles Taylor, “Foucault on Freedom and Truth,” Political Theory 12 (1984): 152-83; William Connolly, “Taylor, Foucault and Otherness,” Political Theory 13 (1985): 365-76; and Taylor, “Connolly, Foucault and Truth,” Political Theory 13 (1985): 377-85. For a more elaborate account on these problems, refer to David Couzens Hoy, Critical Resistance: From Poststructuralism to Post-Critique (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004).

[6] Peter Schouls, Descartes and the Enlightenment (Montreal: McGill-Queens Press, 1989); Catherine Labio, Origins and Enlightenment: Aesthetic Epistemology from Descartes to Kant (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004), 15-34; Louis Dupre, The Enlightenment and the Foundation of Modern Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005), 45-77; Michael Losonsky, Enlightenment and Action from Descartes to Kant (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 12-41.

[7] René Descartes, Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy, trans. Donald A. Cress (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1990), 1. For more about Descartes’ philosophical project, refer to Genevièe Rodis-Lewis, “Descartes’ Life and Development of his Philosophy,” in The Cambridge Companion to Descartes, ed. John Cottingham (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 35-49; Roger Ariew, “Descartes and Scholasticism: The Intellectual Background to Descartes’ Thought.” In The Cambridge Companion to Descartes, 58-90; Bernard Williams, Descartes: The Project of Pure Enquiry (New York: Routledge, 2005). For more about Descartes’ use of doubt, refer to Janet Broughton, Descartes’ Method of Doubt (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002) and Bernard Williams, “Descartes’ Use of Scepticism.” In The Sense of the Past, Myles Burnyeat, ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 221-46.

[8] Descartes, Meditations, 65-66.

[9] Ibid., 102. For more about Descartes’ subjectivity, refer to Hiram Caton, The Origin of Subjectivity: An Essay on Descartes (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973); Peter Markie, “The Cogito and its Importance,” in The Cambridge Companion to Descartes, 140-73; and Dalia Judovitz, Subjectivity and Representation in Descartes: The Origins of Modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

[10] Ibid., 65; also refer to Discourses, 69.

[11] Descartes, Discourses, 32. For more about Descartes’ use of reason, refer to Harry G. Frankfurt, Demons, Dreamers, and Madmen: The Defense of Reason in Descartes’ Meditations (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1970); and Roger Ariew, Descartes’ Metaphysical Reasoning (New York: Routledge, 2001).

[12] Descartes, Mediations, 69. Descartes argues that the mind connects to the body via. the pineal gland which is situated in the brain. However, this “solution” merely moves the problem of how the mind and body interact in the pineal gland. For more about Descartes’ dualism, refer to John Cottingham, “Cartesian Dualism: Theology, Metaphysics, and Science,” in The Cambridge Companion to Descartes, 236-57; Marleen Rozemond, Descartes Dualism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998); Gordon Baker and Katherine Morris. Descartes’ Dualism (New York: Routledge, 2002); Joseph Almog, What am I? Descartes and the Mind-Body Problem (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Antonio Damasio, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (New York City: Penguin, 2005).

[13] For more about Descartes’ arguments about God, refer to Donald Sievert, “Descartes on Theological Knowledge,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 43:2 (1982): 201-219; Jean-Marie Beyssade, “The Idea of God and the Proofs of his Existence,” in The Cambridge Companion to Descartes, 174-99; Stephen Menn, Descartes and Augustine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Janowski Zbigniew, Cartesian Theodicy: Descartes’ Quest for Certitude (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2002).

[14] Descartes, Meditations, 76-77.

[15] This critique of Descartes’ subjectivity starts with Nietzsche, but perhaps is best illuminated in the exchange between Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. Jacques Derrida, “Cogito and the History of Madness,” in Writing and Difference, 36-76. For more about this critique and the ones that follow, refer to Hoy, From Poststructuralism to Post-Critique.

[16] An example of this criticism is Robert C. Solomon, “Existentialism, Emotions, and the Cultural Limits of Rationality.” Philosophy East and West 42:4 (1992): 597-621.

[17] For instance, the phenomenological movement was partially in response to this bifurcation of reality into subject and object, providing an alternative vision of a person’s place in the world. Edmund Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy, ed. and trans. David Carr (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973).

[18] Refer to the ninth endnote for more about this debate.

[19] Michel Foucault, Histoire de la folie l’age classique (Gallimard: Bibliotheque des Histoires, 1961), vii; Madness and Civilization (New York: Vintage Books, 1965), x-xi.

[20] Foucault, Madness and Civilization, xi.

[21] Foucault, Histoire de la folie, 57.

[22] Ibid., 58.

[23] Michel Foucault, Archaeology of Knowledge (New York: Pantheon Books, 1972), 31-39.

[24] Writing and Difference, 37-39.

[25] Ibid., 38.

[26] Ibid., 35.

[27] Ibid., 43.

[28] Ibid., 40.

[29] Ibid., 44.

[30] Ibid., 53.

[31] Ibid., 56.

[32] Michel Foucault, “La prose d’acteon,” Nouvelle Revue Francaise, 23 (1964): 444-5.

[33] There is a debate among scholars about whether the relationship between Foucault’s archeological and genealogical methods is continuous or discontinuous. Canguilehm and Gutting emphasize the commonality between both methods, while Dreyfus and Rabinow see them as discontinuous – a reading that I share. George Canguilehm, “On Historie de la Folie as an Event,” trans. Anne Hobart, Critical Inquiry 21 (1995): 282-86; Gary Gutting, Michael Foucault’s Archeology of Scientific Reason (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989); Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1983); also refer to Philip Barker, Michel Foucault: Subversion of the Subject (New York: St. Martin Press, 1993). For an example of an application of these methods to intellectual and literary history, refer to Robert Strozier, Foucault, Subjectivity, and Identity: Historical Constructions of the Subject and Self (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2002).

[34] Michel Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, ed. Donald F. Bouchard (Oxford: Blackwell, 1977), 151-52.

[35] Michel Foucault, “A preface to Transgression,” in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, 43.

[36] Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish (New York: Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1977), 7-24, 303-6.

[37] Ibid., 301, 307.

[38] For more about Foucault’s understanding of modernity, refer to the debate about Foucault between Charles Taylor and William Connolly cited in the first endnote.

[39] Michael Foucault, “Governmentality,” in The Foucault Effect, ed. Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1991), 87-104.

[40] Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978), 135-59.

[41] Michel Foucault, “Intellectuals and Power,” in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, 208.

[42] Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” 148.

[43] Michel Foucault, Birth of the Clinic: An Archeology of Medical Perception (New York: Pantheon Books, 1973), xvii.

[44] Michel Foucault, Power and Knowledge (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980), 132.

[45] This is Habermas’ criticism: the subordination of knowledge to a will to power is itself a postulation of truth for all times and all societies, which contradicts Foucault’s philosophical relativism. Jhrgen (what is the second letter in that name?) Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998), 270.

[46] Some thinkers, like Bevir, acknowledge Foucault’s failure to eliminate the agency of the subject but do not think this is necessarily a failure to form an ethical politics. Mark Bevir, “Foucault and Critique: Developing Agency Against Autonomy,” Political Theory 27.1 (1999): 65-84.

[47] For more about Derrida’s methodology, refer to Lee Trepanier, “The Paradoxes of Participatory Reality,” in Lee Trepanier and Steven F. McGuire, eds., Eric Voegelin and the Continental Tradition (University of Missouri Press, 2011), 240-59 and “The Postmodern Condition of Cosmopolitanism,” in Lee Trepanier and Khalil Habib, eds., Cosmopolitanism in an Age of Globalization: Citizens without States (University of Kentucky Press, 2011), 211-30.

[48] Writing and Difference, 36; also refer to Jacques Derrida, Speech and Phenomena, and Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs, trans. David B. Allison (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973), 64–75.

[49] Edmund, Husserl, Logical Investigations (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970), 280.

[50] Jacques Derrida, Dissemination (London: Athlone Press, 1981), 167.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Dissemination, 41; also refer to Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), 145.

[53] For more about deconstructionism, refer to John Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida (New York: Fordham University Press, 1996); and Jacques Derrida, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion without Religion (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997).

[54] Jacques Derrida, Positions, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 41–42; also refer to Dissemination, 4–6.

[55] Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death, trans. David Wills (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 65.

[56] Jacques Derrida, On the Name, ed. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), 75.

[57] Jacques Derrida, “Psyche: Inventions of the Other,” in Reading De Man Reading, ed. Lindsey

Walters and Wlad Godzich (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), 60; also refer to Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York: Routledge, 1994).

[58] Jacques Derrida, Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice, ed. Drucilla Cornell, Michael

Rosefeld, and David Gary Carlson (New York: Taylor and Francis, 1992); Mark Lilla portrays Derrida’s theory of decision as the same as Carl Schmitt’s. The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics (?) (New York: New York Review of Books, 2001), 174, 184, 190.

[59] Jacques Derrida, Of Hospitality: Anne Dufourmantelle Invites Jacques Derrida to Respond,

trans. Rachel Bowlby (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), 151–55; The Gift of Death, 68-80; also refer to On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness (New York: Routledge, 2001).

[60] The Gift of Death, 30; also refer to Jacques Derrida, Memories for Paul de Man, trans. Cecile Lindsay, Jonathan Culler, and Eduardo Cadava (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), 149.

[61] Derrida, The Gift of Death, 96; also refer to David Walsh, “Derrida’s Dissemination of Existence as Différance.” In The Modern Philosophical Revolution: The Luminosity of Existence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 232–90.

[62] Eric Voegelin, CW 19: History of Political Ideas, Vol. I, ed. Athanasios Moulakis (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1997), 28; also refer to Voegelin, CW 24: History of Political Ideas, Vol. VI, ed. Barry Cooper (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1998), 82-148 where Voegelin writes about Vico. To my knowledge, there exists only one paper that draws the parallels between Voegelin’s and Vico’s new science of politics: Giseppe Ballacci, “Eric Voegelin and Giambattista Vico: A Rhetorical Reading” The American Political Science Conference, Chicago, IL, August 30-September 2, 2007. It is available at the Louisiana State University’s Eric Voegelin website at For more about the influence of other thinkers on Voegelin’s philosophy of consciousness, especially Schelling, refer to Jerry Day, Voegelin, Schelling, and the Philosophy of Historical Existence (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2003) and Barry Cooper, Eric Voegelin and the Foundation of Modern Political Science (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1999).

[63] Eric Voegelin, CW 23: History of Political Ideas, ed. James L. Wiser (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1998), 176.

[64] Voegelin, CW 24, 56, 94, 121.

[65] Ibid., 94, 99.

[66] Eric Voegelin, “Remembrance of Things Past.” In CW 12: Published Essays, 1966-1985, ed. Ellis Sandoz (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1990), 313.

[67] Voegelin, CW 24, 95, 205-6; Eric Voegelin, “The Gospel and the Culture.” In CW 12, 176-77.

[68] Please refer to Steven F. McGuire, “Subjectivity and Human Nature” as well as Steve R. McCarl, “Eric Voegelin’s Theory of Consciousness,” in The American Political Science Review 86.1 (1992): 106-11; Charles Warren Burchfield and Patrick Neal Fuller, “The Role of Faith and Love in Voegelin’s Mystical Epistemology,” in Humanias IX.1 (1996): 35-51); Lee Trepanier and Steven F. McGuire, Eric Voegelin and the Continental Tradition (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2011), 1-13.

[69] Eric Voegelin, CW 6: Anamnesis: On the Theory of History and Politics, ed. David Walsh (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003), 163-66.

[70] Ibid., 65-66.

[71] Ibid., 398-403; “Remembrance of Things Past,” in CW 12, 306-12.

[72] Ibid., 168-69.

[73] Ibid., 313.

[74] Eric Voegelin, “Wisdom and the Magic of the Extreme: A Meditation,” in CW 12, 327.

[75] Ibid., 326.

[76] For more about Voegelin’s account of Gnosticism, refer to Eric Voegelin, CW 5: Modernity Without Restraint: The Political Religions, The New Science of Politics; and Science, Politics, and Gnosticism, ed. Manfred Henningsen (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000); for a more general account of Gnosticism and where Voegelin’s understanding fits in the literature, refer to Lee Trepanier, “Gnosticism,” in American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia, ed. Jeremy Beer, Bruce Frohnen, Jeffery Nelson (Wilmington:  ISI Books, 2006), 348-51.

[77] For more about Voegelin’s linguistic indices, refer to Voegelin, CW 6, 373-74.

[78] Ibid.


This article was originally published as “Response to Steven F. McGuire” in Subjectivity: Ancient and Modern (Lexington Books, 2016).

Lee Trepanier

Written by

Lee Trepanier is a Professor of Political Science, Department Chair, and University Pre-Law Advisor at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan. He is author and editor of several books and also is the editor of VoegelinView (2016-present) and editor of Lexington Books series Politics, Literature, and Film (2013-present).