Voegelin and the Troubled Greatness of Hegel

HomeArticlesVoegelin and the Troubled Greatness of Hegel

It would challenge credulity to claim that, contrary to appearances, Voegelin’s relationship with G.W.F. Hegel is positive. The tone Voegelin adopts toward modern thinkers in general, and Hegel in particular, is so consistently vituperative that it does seem partially to justify the characterization of Voegelin as a “demonologist.”1

In addition, while Voegelin’s critique of Hegel is both episodic and unsystematic, in that one has to patch together a Voegelinian view on Hegel in the absence of any one text offering a definitive statement, the substance of his objections to Hegel’s views cuts deep and necessarily puts Voegelin in the com­pany of other Hegel “naysayers,” such as Kierkegaard, Adorno, Heidegger, and even Derrida, even if his criticisms repeat none of them exactly.

Still, Voegelin continually returns to Hegel, and illustrates the more than biographical truth of Derrida’s remark that “we have never finished with a reading or rereading of Hegel.”2 If Hegel is frequently mentioned in passing, he is also the object of more sustained analysis at various junctures throughout Voegelin’s long writ­ing career.

Especially important statements on Hegel are found in volume 5 of Order and History, in “On Hegel: A Study in Sorcery,” in “Wisdom and the Magic of the Extreme: A Meditation,” and in “The Eclipse of Reality,” although it is important not to ignore what Voegelin says about Hegel in Science, Politics, and Gnosticism and From Enlightenment to Revolution.3

The continual recur­ring to Hegel, despite all reservations, suggests that Voegelin’s negative tone and substantive opposition to Hegel are, in some real way, a function of the conviction that of all modern thinkers, Hegel enjoys an “authority” in excess of the phenomenon of a manufactured reputation,4 and, specifically, that if Hegel is wrong, he is wrong in the way that only a genuine philosopher can be wrong, one who asks real questions, one for whom genuine inquiry is not alien.

It is true that Voegelin thinks that in the end Hegel’s level of philosophical ac­complishment does not rise to the level of the classical thought of Plato and Aristotle. This is not to say, however, that Hegel has not made a significant con­tribution to the understanding of modernity, the relation between reason and history, as well as the relation between the discourse of philosophy and the dis­courses of art and religion.

In fact, these positive contributions are what is pre­supposed in Voegelin’s critical engagement with Hegelian philosophy, which, if in the end judged a derailment, is not understood to be just another instance of intellectual dwarfism of the sort whose basic anatomy is provided by that cadre of European writers that included Karl Kraus, Elias Cannetti, and Robert Musil, whose understanding of the modern Weltanschauung he respected more than that of any philosopher.

There are two main movements in this essay. In the first, I bring out the positives presupposed in Voegelin’s critical reading of Hegel by attending to what Voegelin either explicitly says or what can be inferred from his reading of Hegel’s depiction of modernity, of Hegel’s articulation of the relation be­tween reason and history, and, finally, of Hegel’s elaboration of the relation-difference between philosophical discourse and other high-culture discourses that make serious claims to meaning and truth.

If Voegelin departs from Hegel at critical points, nonetheless, it could be said that Hegel is a genuine conver­sation partner in Voegelin’s own inquiries. In the second movement, however, I focus solely on the negative. Specifically, I attend both to the core constructs of “second reality” and “between” that Voegelin uses to designate the essential flaw of Hegelian thought and to the core genealogical constructs of “apoca­lyptic” and “Gnosticism” that he deploys to plot Hegel in line with premodern discourses that he takes to be plenary examples of discourses that are at once totalizing and self-justifying, and thus the shame rather than the glory of phi­losophy.

As I attend to this double pair, I will pay special attention to the way in which Voegelin figures Hegel as finally misunderstanding the relation between history and truth and failing to think through the necessary hospitality of phi­losophy to the discourses of art and religion if it is to be most nearly itself.

Hegel: The Undeniable Contributions

Although nothing in Hegel will ultimately escape Voegelin’s criticism, this is not to gainsay that Voegelin believes that Hegel makes significant contribu­tions to thought, indeed, contributions, which, given Hegel’s particular his­torical context, are in excess of those provided by the classical tradition.

From Voegelin’s point of view, perhaps Hegel’s greatest contribution lies in his at­tempt to understand the very modernity that made his philosophy possible. Al­though the episodic nature of Voegelin’s reflection does not make his thought easy to track, in the final analysis Hegel seems to have made a threefold contribution: to the determination of modernity as crisis, to the presentation of its basic contours or anatomy, and, finally, to the problematic of warrant or justification.

I begin with the first. Whatever the difference between them con­cerning the evaluation of modernity, Voegelin thinks that Hegel has grasped in a fundamental way that modernity is a crisis. Certainly, this means that the modern period is marked by a confusion of belief and value, given the loss of the old and the lack of full sedimentation of the new. But it also, and even more crucially, means that modernity represents a profound separation (krinein) from what has gone before, presenting nothing less than a new horizon for discourse, experience, practices, and forms of life. Hegel, then, does not simply continue by other means the quarrel between the ancient and the modern and take sides with modernity, whether with or without caveat.

Although Hegel by no means thinks it unimportant to adjudicate between modernity and premodernity in terms of the persuasiveness of their discourses and the livability of their practices (specifically the way they contribute to or hinder human flourishing and their capacity to build community and regulate society), more fundamental to him is highlighting that modernity represents a fundamental “break” with the past. Questions about whether this means that the past is totally cordoned off from modernity, or about the posture that should be taken with respect to this break, are secondary.

Hegel’s reflection on modernity, then, in a decisive way, orbits around the question of whether modernity is a novum. What makes Hegel especially interesting to Voegelin is that, on the one hand, Hegel accepts that modernity represents a radical break in that its separation from what has gone before is different in kind from other shifts throughout history in terms of discourse, form of life, and social forma­tion, and that, on the other, he recognizes continuity between modern and se­lect premodern discourses, practices, and forms of life.

Voegelin seems to read Hegel as negotiating the horns of a dilemma that later historiography brings to a point. More specifically, Voegelin seems to think that Hegel articulates a view distinct, on the one hand, from that of Hans Blumenberg, who, in The Legiti­macy of the Modern Age, insists that the hiatus is such that there is no substan­tive continuity between the premodern and the modern age and, on the other, from Karl Löwith, who suggests that Hegelian thought supports the view of substantive continuity between premodern and modern discourses, practices, and forms of life.5

The French Revolution, Descartes, and the Reformation

Voegelin underscores Hegel’s enthusiasm about modernity as a beginning, even as he points to Hegel’s vacillation with respect to determining the point of origin and its basic complexion. Two very different Hegelian “beginnings” are highlighted by Voegelin, with a third suggested. The first is the French Revolu­tion as that event crystallizes the Enlightenment’s radical break with the past;6 the second is Descartes’ turn to the ego cogito.7 Voegelin does not feel the need to cite chapter and verse with respect to either, although he is, obviously, familiar with Hegel’s discussion of the former in the Phenomenology and the Lectures on the Philosophy of History and of the latter in the Lectures on the History of Philosophy.8

Importantly, the complexion of these beginnings is quite differ­ent: in its positive thrust the French Revolution shows thought in the process of changing the world; the Cartesian turn is that shift in focus to the human subject that effectively makes human being the measure of reality. Voegelin follows Hegel in not forcing a decision between these different origins, and like Hegel affirms one or the other depending on whether the issue is origin as social manifestation or origin as the shift that must be presupposed to make the Enlightenment and the French Revolution intelligible or legible.

This in it­self is far from trivial, since thinkers exercised by the problem of modernity in the wake of Hegel have generally favored one line or the other. For example, Marxist-oriented Hegelians such as Lukacs and Marcuse have tended to fa­vor the former,9 while Heidegger and his epigones have almost equally exclu­sively attended to the Cartesian shift.10

The beginning that is touched on only obliquely by Voegelin, and, arguably, plays a less prominent role than it does in Hegel’s own self-consciousness, is the Reformation. Voegelin has little com­punction about referring to Hegel’s own background in the Protestant tradi­tion in general,11 and the Lutheran tradition in particular, although he does not seem to draw strong conclusions with respect to ultimate origin. In connection with Hegel at least, Voegelin never asks the question whether the Reformation grounds one or the other of the two origins of modernity to which he refers. Nor does he thematize the issue of the relation in modernity between religious discourse and philosophical discourse, on the one hand, and religious assump­tion and social practice, on the other.

Still, although Hegel underscores the novelty of modernity, and understands it to provide a horizon of assumption completely different from that which constructs the premodern world, nonetheless, the break is somewhat less than absolute. On the discursive axis, this is not only because Hegel’s discourse–which Voegelin takes to be a quintessentially modern discourse–continues to include elements of classical philosophical, aesthetic, and political discourse; it is also because the discourses of modernity either ought to or in fact do con­tinue premodern discourses by other means. Voegelin is in fact agreeing with Hegel when, counterintuitively, he points to the discourses of apocalyptic, of Neoplatonism, and of Gnosticism as antecedents of modern discourses in gen­eral and Hegelian discourse in particular.12

If Voegelin thinks that Hegel makes an indelible contribution to the under­standing of modernity as crisis, he also believes that Hegel makes an important contribution to its anatomy. The maximization of autonomy (auto-nomos), which marks the differentiation between the modern and the ancient, is less a given than an ongoing achievement in which freedom is made concrete in practices and institutions.

Voegelin recognizes well that autonomy is linked intrinsically with reason, and that Hegel is not in the least inclined to repeal Kant’s Enlightenment manifesto of sapere aude. Of course, for Voegelin, relative to Kant, Hegel sees more clearly the relation among freedom, practical expres­sion, and institutional embodiment; cuts much deeper in thinking through the relation between freedom and reason that gives their integration historical bal­last; and is considerably more adept in plotting the continuity between the spe­cifically modern form of freedom and the ancient.

In sum, Voegelin gives one reason to think that Kant, when compared with Hegel, is much more a figure of the “pure Enlightenment,” which, as Hegel showed in the Phenomenology, rests on a pure act of faith.13 Even more explicitly, Voegelin notes that Hegel’s view of reason as Vernunft rather than Verstand specifies an important differ­ence between Hegel and the Enlightenment’s commitment to analytic reason, whose natural tendency is toward the instrumental.

The Mystical Content of Speculative Philosophy

While the form of specu­lation has the capacity to deepen as well as mitigate the division between the premodern and the modern views of the disposition of reason, in an important sense Voegelin underscores the continuity when he suggests that the form of speculative reason is “mystical.”14 Voegelin is here being more interpretive than expository. Nonetheless, his characterization is supported by Hegel, who, as he insists that his speculative philosophy transcends but preserves essential Chris­tianity, suggests that the latter is mystical.15 It should come as no surprise, then, that thinkers influenced by Voegelin should have a particular interest in Hegel and the Christian mystical tradition, in the first instance, the Lutheran mystic Jacob Boehme (1575-1624), but also Meister Eckehart (1260?-1327?).16

Although Voegelin can embrace Hegelian Vernunft only with huge caveats, still he recognizes that it presents to our philosophical attention a form of transcen­dence that happily avoids the hypostatization of transcendence into a determi­nate particular to which one applies more general and more specific predicates. Mindful of the tendency in both the Western philosophical and theological tra­ditions toward scholastic and doxographic formulas, Voegelin believes that by comparison Hegel does not fare badly. Hegel is able in a way that mostly these traditions are not to liquefy entities into poles and relations between terms into a field of tension. Voegelin is prepared to give credit to romanticism, and especially Herder and Schiller,17 as anticipating Hegel’s rich and highly articu­lated view of reason, even as he is completely aware of its tendency toward a holism of an immanent variety.

As one of Voegelin’s more important essays,” The Eclipse of Reality,” makes especially clear, Voegelin is not a net lover of pantheism or panentheism. As he ties Schiller and Hegel together in that es­say, he makes a less than innocent reference to the Promethean character of Schiller’s romantic agenda, and thereby suggests that Hegel’s dialectical system, characterized by “self-activity” (Selbstätigkeit), similarly admits of this label.18

By making the figure of Prometheus so central to Schiller, Voegelin is quite likely also drawing attention to the first of the many pantheism debates within German romanticism and idealism, the one instigated by Jacobi’s attack on Lessing in which Goethe’s poem “Prometheus” (1773) provides the proximate provocation.19 Voegelin’s willingness to follow Jacobi in speaking of romanti­cism and idealism as Promethean does not imply, however, a commitment to a kind of salto mortale that does an end run around any and every form of reason.20 Although Voegelin is undoubtedly sufficiently familiar with the clas­sical period of German thought to be aware of the pantheism discussions and how they got inflected, nonetheless, it is likely that an immediate influence on Voegelin’s use of “Prometheanism” as a negative category is the early work of Hans Urs von Balthasar.21

Hegel’s Justification of Modernity

The third aspect of Voegelin’s far from unfavorable treatment of both Hegel’s view of modernity and his speculative conjugation and revision is his sense that Hegel ratchets up the dimension of warrant. Unlike other forms of justi­fication that apostles of modernity avail themselves of, which run the gamut from bald insistence on its value and superiority through inventory of its ben­efits to its legitimation by pure practical reason in Kant, Hegel understands what is required to justify modernity on both the theoretical and the practical planes.

On Voegelin’s view, Hegel understands better than most of his contem­poraries the historicity and directedness of reason, the necessity that reason be comprehensive in scope, and that reason be capable of integrating all spe­cific spheres of knowledge. To grant Hegel this, however, by no means implies that one agrees with Hegel concerning the actuality of such integration. Here Voegelin finds himself very much in the company of Marcuse and Adorno. But no less than these “heretical” Hegelians, Voegelin is not impressed with the En­lightenment view of knowledge as aggregative. This comes out clearly in a rich discussion in which, having granted the French Encyclopédie as much by way of integrity and unity as he can,22 Hegel proceeds to discuss the manner in which the German encyclopedia exceeds it.

Voegelin recognizes well that for Hegel the justification of modernity is not exclusively the prerogative of the theoretical; some of the burden must necessarily be borne by the practical. For Hegel this means that the milieu of freedom and reason is more naturally the community than the individual. It also means that freedom and reason necessarily seek ex­emplification in practices and embodiment in institutions. If Voegelin is more enthusiastic about the first than the second, it is neither because he absolutely favors Hegelian Sittlichkeit over Kantian Moralität nor because he is necessar­ily ambivalent about the value of institutions.

He approves of Hegel’s attempt to inculcate and sanction a community of shared value and aspiration with the caveat, inspired by among other things the figure of Socrates, as unfold­ed in volume 3 of Order and History, that the individual can be right over the community.23 And although he recognizes that all institutions decidedly fall short in instantiating and encouraging the good, denial of institution not only is self-defeating but also suggests at best an infraphilosophical relation to the world and at worst a pathological one.

Although, for Voegelin, Hegel’s major contribution revolves around his thinking about modernity, his philosophical significance does not stop there. While in our treatment of Hegel’s justification of modernity we have already broached the issue of the relation of history and reason, on Voegelinian grounds one can rightly see Hegel’s reflection on this topic as an independent contri­bution.

Both Voegelin and Hegel agree that reason is neither a calculus nor fundamentally ahistorical. If, in the end, Voegelin’s model of historical reason is more nearly Viconian than Hegelian in that he is continually more mind­ful of the finitude of reason and indisposed toward history being construed as having an immanent teleology,24 nonetheless, he appreciates the way in which Hegel makes history matter for reason in a way that positively transcends the Enlightenment.25

In affirming Hegel on this interconnection, Voegelin is con­sidering at least as much the alethic side of history as the historical side of truth, for it is the former that connects Hegel to the fundamental inspiration of phi­losophy that is given in Platonic “search” (zetesis) and Aristotelian “wonder” (thaumazein). Voegelin seems to be suggesting that there are facets of Hegel’s thought that are not reducible to radical historicism: whether there are a suffi­cient number of such facets and whether the particular facets are of significant weight are critical issues that Voegelin must address before he can bring in a fi­nal judgment on Hegel. But one thing is clear: in terms not only of philosophi­cal acumen but also of integrity, Hegel exceeds the thought of August Comte,26 as he does that of the philosophes.

Art and Religion are Paths to the Truth

There is one other contribution of Hegelian thought that should be held to his account. Hegel is not the only but perhaps the greatest of modern think­ers to insist that, when it comes to truth, art and religion operate on the same level as philosophy, and to demand that philosophy pay attention to both.

Ger­man romanticism in general and the work of Schelling in particular also pro­ductively address an issue that receives in Hegel’s texts its most comprehensive treatment. To insist that philosophy necessarily listen to the discourses of art and religion, and that its identity is bound up with them, is to take a huge step beyond the Enlightenment contraction of philosophy to a specific discipline, defined by a very narrow view of reason as analytic.

Although Voegelin does not use the specific locution, one can say that Voegelin endorses Hegel’s hermeneu­tic definition of philosophy.27 At the same time, Voegelin sees that Hegel’s view also exceeds any number of premodern views of the nature and scope of phi­losophy. Voegelin is convinced that philosophy is always exposed to the danger of contraction, and without giving too much detail, Voegelin thinks that the premodern world exhibits more than its fair share of rationalistic reductions. Importantly, however, both Hegel’s support and his display of the hermeneutic nature of philosophy more nearly repeat than displace the classical tradition.

As the paradigm of classical philosophy is unfolded in his magisterial treatment of Plato in volume 3 of Order and History, Voegelin insists equally that, in the final analysis, while philosophy takes a step beyond religion and permits itself a critical vantage point with respect to art, not only does it flow from the same experiential spring, but it also avails of religion and art to say things that it can­not say on its own terms.28

Needless to say, it is an ingredient in Voegelin’s story that Hegel does not simply repeat a classical conjugation. Yet he does repeat; this is the specific difference between him and other modern thinkers, even if it leads to the unrealistic expectation that Hegel will carry through theoretically and performatively on the classical view.

It is understandable that when he fails to do so, that disappointment of promise might lead to a negative reading in which it is suggested only displacement has occurred. It might be better to read the disappointment less emotively as indicating that Hegel had traveled a way with the classical conspectus before he departed.

The Good and Bad in Hegelian Speculation

It is important not to be so swayed by Voegelin’s often polemical tone that one fails to notice what is being affirmed of a thinker’s position, as it is equally important not to neglect those moments in which Voegelin suggests differ­ences within groups of thinkers, under condemnation for some point, that re­flect to the credit of one thinker or another. This is especially important in the case of Hegel, against whom on occasions the negative noise can be deafening.

Still, it would be pure revisionism to claim that Voegelin exempts Hegel from his general problematizing of modern thought, believes that Hegel articulates the history of truth adequately, and is convinced that Hegel elaborates in a fully satisfying way the relation between discourses.

What is allowed on Voegelinian grounds, even at the apex of affirmation, is that Hegel differs from other major modern thinkers not so much in whether he goes wrong but rather when and how he goes wrong, for it is Voegelin’s considered judgment that Hegel does go wrong. He goes wrong, however, later than many modern thinkers, in that some fundamental truth seems to have been grasped, even as Hegel proceeds to elaborate it in a way that fundamentally distorts it and pushes it in a Promethe­an direction.

How Hegel goes wrong then is not that he never productively re­peats classical thought, but rather that his constructive repetitions are covered over by an articulation that repeals his insights and betrays their promise. In this section of the essay, I should like to show the operation of this procedure of repeal.

I do so, however, in the context of an examination of two related but different pairs of interpretive constructs, which Voegelin applies to Hegel. The first pair is diagnostic, the second genealogical. The diagnostic pair consists of the constructs of second reality and the overcoming of the between, what Plato calls metaxy. The genealogical pair consists of the constructs of Gnosticism and apocalyptic.

I begin with the diagnostic pair and the first of the two constructs. It is fair to say that at the center of Voegelin’s negative reading of Hegel is the distinction between first and second reality that Voegelin borrows from the author von Doderer.29

Diagnosis of Spiritual Illness: Second Reality

If “first reality” is the world of human experience in which the as­piration for betterment finds itself checked by limits both within and without the human subject, “second reality” represents its redescription in which the contingency and finitude get at best notional acknowledgment, and at worst the double limits on the self are erased.

Moreover, shifting from first to second reality discourages seeing the necessary gap between discourse and reality and checking whether philosophical discourse remains in contact with the experi­ence that motivated it and to which it in some sense must always answer.30 At the same time, the shift places an extraordinary value on conceptual consisten­cy and comprehensiveness.31

While Hegel’s thought provides by no means the only example of discourse that fundamentally eclipses the first world,32 argu­ably, he offers the clearest philosophical example. Although Voegelin appears to be merely tendentious when he labels Hegelian speculation (literally “mir­roring’) as “magic,” he is in fact being fairly precise: magic is a totalizing form of thinking in which, even as object identity is dictated in large part by desire, phenomena are not phenomena unless they somehow fit into a total system that coordinates everything.

Perhaps a good way to make sense of the appro­priateness of Voegelin’s use of the term in general is to see the connection be­tween his use and the implied use of Gabriel Garcia Marquez in One Hundred Years of Solitude in which the entire world is seen in light of a system of predic­tion and explanation that allows no disconfirmation.33 Now without directly stating it, in his talk of “second reality” and even in his association of it in the case of Hegel with “magic,” Voegelin is providing a working account of ideology.

To the degree to which his texts evince a move from first to second reality, Hegel not only breaks with the classical demand that philosophy distinguish itself from opinion but also proves himself to be an ideologue, indeed a paradigmatic one. Voegelin is persuaded that in order to make this point it is not necessary exhaustively to examine all of Hegel’s texts; it is sufficient to analyze just those passages in which Hegel comes clean on the programmatic dimensions of his philosophy. Textually, this tends to privilege the Phenomenology and the Lectures on the Philosophy of History,34 although Voegelin refuses to disdain any programmatic comment whether it is to be found in Hegel’s pre-Jena writings or his logical works.

Hegel’s Calculated Indeterminacy

The ideological nature of Hegel’s texts becomes transparent when the existential, histori­cal, cultural, and social realities bespoken in Hegel’s texts become merely items of conceptual formation.35 This point is made with particular punch in “The Eclipse of Reality”: “The imagination, finally, protects the perpetuum mobile of his self-contained and self-moving System of Science against confrontation with reality by interpreting the representatives of existential truth as the fore­runner of the truth that has come to the clarity of consciousness in his System.”36

Voegelin has no troubling naming the essential culprit: it is nothing less than the “dialectic” that Croce thought so worthy of praise.37 Of course, Voege­lin notices that Hegelian dialectic is a ideologically biased syntax, but he pays less attention than other Hegel critics to the operation of Aufhebung.38 Instead, he focuses on the abstractness of Hegel’s technical vocabulary and the reveal­ing indeterminacy of reference. Terms such as Geist, Vernunft, and Bewusstsein refer uniquely neither to divine nor to human reality.39 In a classical frame of reference, no such indeterminacy is tolerable.

Voegelin could not be more clear that this indeterminacy is an index of a major revolution on the metaphysi­cal level in which the beyond is abolished and human being divinized. Just as Geist, Vernunft, and Bewusstsein are not really the spirit, reason, and conscious­ness of a transcendent God, neither are they predicable of undivinized man. The referent–if such there is–is a middle in which their essential difference is overcome. At the very least, the shifting of philosophy’s center of gravity to second real­ity compromises in a significant way Hegel’s contribution both to the thinking of modernity and to the understanding of the relation between the discourses that have ontophanic potential, art and religion as well as philosophy.

From Voegelin’s point of view, although in one sense Hegel is vastly superior to the Enlightenment in his understanding of the complexion of modernity and the demands of justification that cannot totally disvalue the discourses and prac­tices of the past, in another sense Hegel represents the apotheosis of justifica­tion. Hegel is vastly more effective than the philosophes and even Kant in that he transcends the forensic style of justification. In effect, he does not so much produce arguments for the value of modernity but offers an entire system as an almost infinite argument on behalf of its own authority and its own rendition of continuity and discontinuity between the premodern and the modern.

Hegel’s Reductionism Towards Myth and Religion

Sim­ilarly, Voegelin notes the way in which Hegel backslides on the intuition of the deep relations philosophy has with both art and religion. In both “On Hegel” and “Wisdom and the Magic of the Extreme,” Voegelin considers Hegel’s pars­ing of this relation under the auspices of the relation between myth and philos­ophy. Voegelin points out that Hegel is critical of the view, which he assigns to Plato,40 that myth is constitutively in excess of thought by directly participating in the reality that it signifies. To Hegel’s assertion that myth is best understood as an inchoate form of conceptual thought, a kind of symbolic-narrative an­ticipation of the philosophical syllogism, Voegelin responds with the charge of reductionism. At this juncture he joins hands with Ricoeur.41

The trenchant tone of Voegelin’s rejection can tend to draw so much atten­tion to itself that one misses the more subtle objection that Hegel’s imperial­istic view of philosophy has real effect with respect to its definition. While Voegelin thinks that philosophy is more than critical investigation into the grounds and warrants for positions that people hold implicitly, he does think that this particular dimension is indefectible. He thinks, however, that this has been surrendered in Hegel’s redefining of Vernunft as a self-referential system of signs so autolic as effectively to remind of myth. The paradox of Hegelian philosophy is that it transcends myth to such an extent that it is fated to re­peat it.

Finally, according to Voegelin, the relationship between philosophy and religion in Hegel is also troubled. Although Voegelin is prepared to concede that here Hegel does better than most Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment philosophers–not excluding Strauss42–in the end Hegel authorizes a com­pletely hierarchical relation between the discourses in which philosophy pro­vides the raison d’être for religion in general, and Christianity in particular.

Although Voegelin makes less of the figure of Aufhebung than most Hegel crit­ics, with respect to the relation between religion and philosophy it is in full operation. The motive is not hard to adduce: Hegel is interested in a discourse that is not only transparent to reality but absolutely so, and focused not so much on an event of disclosure of reality within reality but on an event of dis­closure coextensive with reality itself. As is the case in myth or art, the partial or residual opacity of religion has to be overcome.

Diagnosis of Spiritual Illness: Denying the Metaxy

The second prominent feature of Voegelin’s diagnosis is his insistence that Hegel compromises the complex and dynamic network of human being, which Plato calls the “between,” or metaxy. Once again, “On Hegel” and “Wisdom and the Magic of the Extreme” are pivotal.43

Voegelin does not offer a thick descrip­tion of the “between,” as does one contemporary philosopher, who similarly prefers an experiential and existential Plato to a speculative Hegel.44 Though his linking of metaxy with another Platonic concept, that is, eros,45 is not in­tended to reduce the scope of the former to the noetic, since eros describes the fundamental dynamic of the self, in his interpretation of Hegel it does have this consequence on the noetic, given the problematic of the definition of philoso­phy, whether defined by the love of knowledge or of knowledge itself.

Hegel’s decision to opt for the latter definition represents, in Voegelin’s view, a funda­mental betrayal of the essence of philosophy, which is always and everywhere a search that is never completed. Whatever his intention, Hegel justifies the apotheosis of the modern subject, in whom truth and certainty coincide. His view of knowledge is a view from nowhere.46

Moreover, this view from nowhere (or everywhere) necessarily calls for its practical supplement, since any observed gap between the perfect discourse of perfection and empirical reality will provoke its eradication. Thus, while Voegelin thinks that Marx has a right to be considered an independent phenomenon, it is also the case that Hegel’s speculative system demands just the kind of standing everything on its head that Marx promises.47

On this particular point the parallel between Voegelin’s critique of Hegel and that of Heidegger is pointed. In his various reflections on the Phenomenology in particular,48 Heidegger focuses on the dia, or “between,” as the means or vehicle of legein. He suggests, in a way that resonates with Voegelin, that dialectic in­volves the abolition or absolving of the “between” that is the condition of logos, and even more nearly resembles Voegelin when he ties together the overcom­ing of the love of wisdom in its actualization in absolute Spirit.49

In a powerful but complicated treatment, Heidegger also brings out the eschatological nature of Hegel’s discourse. When Heidegger speaks to the Parousiac nature of Hege­lian Geist, he can be understood to set some of the fundamental terms of Karl Löwith’s apocalyptic reading of Hegel. But by the same token, Heidegger can also be understood to set the condition, perhaps via Löwith and von Balthasar, of an apocalyptic reading of Hegel, which will be discussed when we deal with Voegelin’s genealogical treatment of Hegel.

The diagnostic mode of analysis issues in the verdict that Hegel has gone se­riously wrong in that his speculation cuts its moorings from reality, immunizes itself against counterfactuals, and puts out of action the experience that made philosophy possible. Hegel, therefore, is a paradoxical figure: in one sense in excess of modernity, in another its realization and infinite extension.

The Genealogy of Spiritual Illness: Gnosticism

Voege­lin, however, unites a genealogical mode of analysis to the diagnostic; in fact, they often seamlessly go hand in hand to make the case that Hegel’s specula­tive discourse represents a derailment. The most famous genealogical construct by far is that of “Gnosticism.” Although Voegelin uses the adjective “Gnostic” in The New Science of Politics and Science, Politics, and Gnosticism to describe any number or heterogeneous intellectual formations in modernity, including Locke and Puritanism,50 it is applied with special force and, arguably, greater frequency to Hegel than to any other modern thinker.51

To be fair to Voegelin, it is not quite clear what theoretical or interpretive weight he gives the cat­egory and thus how seriously we should take it. Obviously, if it is to have any interpretive or conceptual traction, the genealogical category of “Gnosticism” should track Voegelin’s diagnostic expose of Hegel. To a significant extent it does: “Gnostic” forms of thought will indeed tend to be systems of total expla­nation in which the relation and difference between myth, religion, and phi­losophy are underdeveloped.

Voegelin, however, adds significantly to this: like classical Gnosticism, Hegelian thought represents a discursive response to the experience of massive social disorientation and alienation. Like classical Gnos­tic thought, Hegelian speculation validates alienation by inscribing it in the order of things awaiting a transformation that necessarily is ontological. Like classical Gnostic thought, ontological change, shift of perspective, and altera­tion of discourse and syntax go hand in hand.

Although none of this, or even all of this, is sufficient for a proper genealogi­cal deployment, which would involve isolating quite specific repetitions that could not be labeled otherwise–for example, “Hermetic” or “Neoplatonic”52–still at the very least Voegelin proposes an analogy all the more intriguing since in Hegel’s case, as in classical Gnosticism, a free interpretation of the bibli­cal text gets mandated that upsets received doctrines. The real problem with Voegelin is not that he is not rigorous enough in his criteriology, but rather his tendency toward applying the term almost as a pathological category, 53 in this case characterized by contempt of the world and will to power.

This is reduc­tionism at its worst and falls below the level of Voegelin’s own borrowings; in the first instance, F. C. Baur, whose Die christliche Gnosis (1835) draws a direct line between ancient heresies and modern thought, which achieves its apothe­osis in Hegelian speculation;54 in the second instance, in the early work of Hans Urs von Balthasar, especially Die Apokalypse der deutschen Seele (1937-1939), which also broaches something like a “Gnostic thesis” while deploying other genealogical categories, most notably those of apocalyptic and eschatology.55

The Genealogy of Spiritual Illness: Apocalyptic

The lack of rigor in determining the content of the category of “Gnosticism” and, thus, problems in general application has not escaped the attention of fol­lowers of Voegelin.56 It has been suggested, for instance, by Gregor Sebba that another category that Voegelin regularly applies to those forms of thought that admit of the label of “Gnostic,” that is “apocalyptic,” is in fact a more suitable title for modern species of thought that seemed to be witnessing a return of the dead.57

Certainly with respect to Hegel, the label of “apocalyptic” has more prima facie plausibility and aligns better with other tracings of species of pre­modern forms of thought in modern discourse and practice.58 Not only have Löwith and von Balthasar, but de Lubac has also plowed this apocalyptic fur­row and tracked the ways in which the form of apocalyptic of Joachim de Fiore makes its way into modern speculation.59 In this interpretive scheme, Hegel’s thought would not only provide an instance of apocalyptic thought but also offer its exemplar.

Needless to say, this would not mean that Hegelian specula­tion is the book of Revelation: it would be saying that Hegel’s thought is apoca­lyptic to the extent to which a thinker rises above the “middle” and is able to unfold the basic structure of the tragicomedy of history within the conspectus of a total explanation of the dynamic relation among the divine, cosmos, and human being.

On their own terms, these Voegelin revisionists are surely right when it comes to Hegel. Given Voegelin’s diagnosis of Hegelian speculation, it is not evident that “apocalyptic” does not do as much, if not more, work than “Gnostic,” in addition having the advantage that historical influence can be more easily tracked. It is important to note that the despair with respect to the general application of the category, which is exceedingly broad, and its specific application to Hegel, does not in principle mean that the category cannot be applied, but rather that it cannot be applied with any degree of rigor on Voege­lin’s terms.60

A Prudent Awareness of Hegel’s Achievements

Throughout a long career Voegelin showed time and time again that he had no compunction about calling major thinkers charlatans, and often implied even worse. But there are real charlatans and charlatans for the moment, real thinkers whose authority must be challenged, since it often rests on what is either wrongheaded or superficial and not what is perspicuous and deep.

Im­portantly, however, with this second group we are dealing with thinkers who, if they can mesmerize and lead astray, can also instruct and help uncover the exi­gence of questioning that was arrested by conformity. For Voegelin, Hegel be­longs to the second rather than the first group. But, of course, this is to say that ultimately Hegel is not a charlatan at all, but a deeply flawed thinker to whom we must return for positive and negative reasons.

We go open-handedly toward him for the light he sheds on our situation, on our attempts to conjugate truth with our historical situatedness, and on our symbolic and narrative resources. But we also approach him warily, for while he will shed light, he will also leave us in a cave that is a conceptual labyrinth from which we will not escape.

The maddening complexity of Hegel is that he repeals and buries genuine contribu­tions he makes to thought; the structural ambivalence is that he is able to give because he is open in some significant way to reality’s gifts and that he takes back what he gives by insisting that the philosophy being beholden is merely a temporary state. Unlike most modern philosophers, however, Hegel is worth approaching.

Nonetheless, we cannot be naive: we approach only if armed with diagnostic and genealogical protocols that help us anticipate how we might continue to retain the words that shimmer in Hegel’s thought but have lost the meaning. Hegel’s is a troubled greatness, worth the trouble of difficult reading and worth the trouble of constant vigilance.



1.“Demonologist” is the term Thomas Altizer uses with respect to Voegelin in his defense of modernity in general and Hegel in particular from the charge of Gnosticism in “The Theological Conflict between Strauss and Voegelin,” in Faith and Political Philosophy: The Correspondence between Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin, 1934-64, ed. and trans. Peter Emberley and Barry Cooper (University Park: Pennsylvania University Press, 1993), 267-77, esp. 272.

2. See Jacques Derrida, Positions, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 77.

3. See Eric Voegelin, The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin (hereafter CW), 34 vols. (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1990-2009), vol. 18, Order and History, Volume V: In Search of Or­der, ed. Ellis Sandoz (2000), 63-86; vol. 12, Published Essays, 1966-1985, ed. Ellis Sandoz (1990), 213-55, 315-75; vol. 28, “What Is History,” and Other Unpublished Essays, ed. Thomas A. Hol­lweck and Paul Caringella (1990), 111-62; vol. 5, Modernity without Restraint: The Political Reli­gions; The New Science of Politics; and Science, Politics, and Gnosticism, ed. Manfred Henningsen (2000), 179-80, 189, 271-74, 286-92, 308; Voegelin, From Enlightenment to Revolution (Durham: Duke University Press, 1975), 240-302. Voegelin also refers consistently to Hegel throughout CW 17, Order and History, Volume IV: The Ecumenic Age, ed. Michael Franz (2000), 67, 327, inter alia.

4. For Voegelin’s complaint that the authority is in some way manufactured, see “Response to Professor Altizer’s ‘A New History and a New but Ancient God,'” in Voegelin, CW 12: 292-303, esp. 296; also Altizer, “The Theological Conflict between Strauss and Voegelin,” in Faith and Po­litical Philosophy, ed. and trans. Emberley and Cooper, 267-77, esp. 272.

5. Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, trans. Robert A. Wallace (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1983). Throughout this text Blumenberg makes it clear that the secularization posi­tion that he is resisting finds an exemplary expression in the work of Karl Löwith. The problem with this position, on Blumenberg’s view, is that it involves the supposition of continuity across history. See especially 4-5, 15, 18-19, 24, 27-29. For a succinct expression of the alternative pro­posal that puts the stress on the absolute hiatus between the premodern and the modern, see 9, 116, 119; also 49, 57, 65, 77.

6. See esp. Voegelin, CW 12: 220, 28: 118-19, 17: 118. There is a subtle difference between Voege­lin and a left-wing Hegelian such as Herbert Marcuse in this respect. See note 30.

7. Voegelin, CW 12: 172-212, esp. 176-77.

8. Evidence of this reading of the Phenomenology and the Lectures on the Philosophy of History can be found in Voegelin, CW 12: 222-31, 5: 271-74, 286-92, 308, 18: 69-86.

9. See George Lukacs, The Young Hegel, trans. R. Livingston (London: Merlin Press, 1975); and Herbert Marcuse, Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory (Boston: Bea­con Press, 1960), 3-16. Although numerous Hegel commentators refer in passing to the French Revolution, the most focused and succinct account is still Joachim Ritter, Hegel and the French Revolution, trans. Richard Dien Winfield (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1982). See also my essay “The Religious and Theological Relevance of the French Revolution,” in Hegel and the Modern World, ed. Ardis Collins (Albany: SUNY Press, 1995), 29-52. In this essay, in addition to showing the profoundly positive impact of the French Revolution on Hegelian thought, I also consider the ways in which Hegel takes significant critical distance and tends to domesticate it by linking it to the Reformation.

10. What Heidegger only hints at in Sein und Zeit becomes a credo in his later work: Descartes is the modern source of an egology that refuses to let reality be. The result is a rampant produc-tionist metaphysics. Although Heidegger often makes his point about Descartes without refer­ence to Hegel’s genealogy, as a matter of fact he does refer to Hegel’s discussion in Lectures on the History of Philosophy in which Descartes is cast as initiating a new beginning. At the same time, however, Descartes is only the proximate, rather than ultimate, source of this kind of metaphys­ics. For Heidegger, the ultimate origin of the debacle of metaphysics is in those very philoso­phers that serve as the benchmark by which we measure deformation, that is, Plato and Aristotle. Descartes, therefore, only adds a subjectivist inflection to a deformation that was always under way. Heidegger’s work on Nietzsche offers a particularly good example of his view of Descartes as pivotal and yet nonoriginary. See Nietszche, vol. 4, Nihilism, ed. David Farrell Krell and trans. Frank A. Capuzzi (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1982), #16-26.

11. For Voegelin’s Protestant determination of Hegel’s thought, see Voegelin, CW 12: 216, 17: 231, 18: 77-78.

12. In his Lectures on the History of Philosophy, Hegel gave a very prominent place to esoteric, forms of thought such as Gnosticism and Kabbalah, which he grouped together with the phi­losophies of Plotinus and Proclus. He praised in particular their speculative daring. This was a hint taken later by F. C. Baur. See Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie 11 (Werke 19) (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1971), 403-89.

13. For Hegel’s profoundly influential analysis of “the dialectic of the Enlightenment,” see Phe­nomenology, #538-81 and #582-95. In the first set of passages, Hegel discloses just how much the Enlightenment cuts against its rhetoric in being dependent on unexamined presuppositions or faith. In the second, he discloses how the emphasis on freedom gives way to the legitimation of absolute tyranny and violence.

14. For Voegelin’s mystical designation of Hegel’s thought, see Voegelin, CW 12: 245, 248.

15. Throughout his corpus, Hegel is prepared to think of Christianity as being essentially “mystical” under the condition that this does not mean Christianity is ineffable and resistant to cognizing. Against fideists like Jacobi, Hegel maintained that Christianity is precisely not the religion of the “Unknown God.” Hegel judged that it is only with the Reformation that the truly mystical nature of Christianity is fully elaborated and appropriated. That Catholicism is not a contender has a great deal go to do with the considerably greater pneumatic index of Protestant­ism in which the spiritually enlightened subject is open to the disclosure of the divine, whose disclosure is at the same time dependent on this openness. For a fuller discussion and analysis of the relevant texts, see my The Heterodox Hegel (Albany: SUNY Press, 1994), 17, 23, 25, 43-44, 82, 237-38, 244-46, 249-85.

16. For good examples of the former, see David Walsh, The Mysticism of Innerworldly Fulfill­ment: A Study of Jacob Boehme (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1983); and Gerald Han-ratty, Studies in Gnosticism and Philosophy of Religion (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1997), 54-64, 81-116. For Eckehart, see Studies in Gnosticism, 143-59.

17. For Schiller, see Voegelin, CW 28: 122-26.

18. Ibid., 123, 125, respectively.

19. For a convenient presentation of this early pantheism crisis, see Gérad Vallée, ed., The Spi­noza Conversations between Lessing and Jacobi: Text with Excerpts from the Ensuing Controversy (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1988). For the role played by Goethe’s poem “Pro­metheus” (1773), see 7-18, 22-27.

20. Voegelin is refusing the either-or proposed in different ways by both Hegel and Jacobi. Given what in his view were the systemic pantheistic leanings of philosophy, Jacobi suggested that faith could only be a leap. In reply from Glauben und Wissen (1801) on, Hegel suggested that philosophical dialectic represents if not an antithesis to authentic faith, at least the antithesis to faith that is immediate and devoid of cognitional content. Voegelin would not disagree with Hegel in insisting that faith is not purely indeterminate.

21. The first volume of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Apokalypse der deutschen Seele has had dif­ferent titles throughout its history. Originally titled Apokalypse der deutschen Seele. Studien zu einer Lehre von letzen Haltungen, 1: Der deutsche Idealismus (Salzburg, Austria, 1937), in 1947 the same volume was published in Heidelberg under the title of Prometheus: Studien der Geschichte des deutschen Idealismus. Voegelin may have read it under this title. In any event, even in the original volume, the subtitle is “The Prometheus Principle.” Voegelin is aware also of Goethe’s famously incendiary apothegm from Dichtung und Wahrheit: Nemo contra Deum nisi Deus ipse (No one can do anything against God except God himself). Not only is the rela­tionship between Voegelin and Balthasar on the subject of Prometheanism worth further ex­ploration, but so also is the relationship between Voegelin and Blumenberg, for Blumenberg interprets Romanticism and Idealism through the figure of Prometheus. See Hans Blumen­berg, Work on Myth, trans. Robert M. Wallace (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1985). Throughout, Goethe’s Prometheus poem is regarded as providing the hinge for the analysis of romanticism and idealism. For reflection on Goethe’s apothegm, see Work on Myth, 523-57. For reflections on the Lessing-Jacobi debate that provided the initial context for reading the tendency of the poem, see Work on Myth, 403-64.

22. See Voegelin, CW 28: 153-54, 12: 296-97.

23. Despite their very different estimations of the classical, here the similarity between Adorno and Voegelin stands out. The universal does not have absolute prerogatives over the individual, ontologically, epistemically, or ethically. Both would agree that there is some judgment of states of affairs that transcends history. Whereas Adorno would have to depend on a messianic mo­ment of recognition that he found in Walter Benjamin, Voegelin appeals to the myths of judg­ment in Plato’s texts as symbolizing a transhistorical point of view in which right is uncoupled from might.

24. Sometimes there is the temptation to think of Vico and Hegel together as both committed to thought as a history, and both committed to thought as absolutely comprehensive. But Vico’s “new science” (scienza nuova) is precisely not dialectic: it points to historically contextualized knowing, that is, open-ended, in that human being is inalienably a maker of meaning and truth.

25. It is evident, however, that Voegelin is not arguing for an unmediated shift from an ahis­torical Enlightenment to a historicizing form of thought that is more organicist in complexion. Rather, he thinks that romanticism, especially in the figures of Herder and Schiller, provides an anticipation. For a good discussion of Herder’s and Schiller’s teleological form of thought antici­pating Hegelian dialectic, see Voegelin, CW 28: 120-26.

26. Voegelin agrees that the modern event is the Enlightenment, and accordingly has to be tak­en seriously. He also agrees with Hegel about its intellectual shallowness, and not simply spiritual shallowness. By contrast, Voegelin never accuses Hegel of intellectual shallowness. The difference in estimation can be seen in From Enlightenment to Revolution. It is quite clear that Voegelin is not impressed by d’Alembert and his contributions to the Encyclopédie (74-88), and although Voegelin is tireless in his defense of Comte against the charge of insanity (136-59), it seems that the exoneration is the condition of a more serious spiritual failure of the divinization of human being in history (159).

27. For detailed treatment of the hermeneutic view of Hegel’s philosophy, see my “Hegel and the Folds of Discourse,” International Philosophical Quarterly 39, no. 2 (1999): 173-93.

28. For Voegelin, despite Plato’s suspicion of art, he is a great artist, whose work is replete with symbols that carry that burden of meaning. Similarly, although Plato continues Xenophanes’ line of moral critique of popular religion, once again his consistent appeal to myth, myths of origin, end, and constitution of the self and community suggest that he bathes in a particular religious tradition, namely, that of Orphic-Pythagoreanism.

29. The analytic pair of first and second realities are operative throughout the three major es­says on Hegel, “On Hegel,” “The Eclipse of Reality,” and “Wisdom and the Magic of the Extreme.” For von Doderer’s contribution, see Voegelin, CW 12: 323. See also ‘The German University and the Order of German Society in the Nazi era,” in 12: 1-35, esp. 16-17.

30. See ibid., 227, 242-43. See also Voegelin, CW 5: 286-87, 18: 65-66.

31. The clearest expression of this point is to be found in Voegelin, CW 12: 224.

32. Both points are important. First, Voegelin is of the opinion that many discourses in moder­nity, and not simply philosophical discourses, are deformed. They run the gamut from political, artistic, religious, and philosophical discourses. Moreover, Voegelin is not a typical antimodern: deformed discourses bedevil the history of Western thought and perhaps thought in general. It is the task of the thinker to try to extract criteria from history whereby we can judge historical discursive formations. Second, Hegel, however, might be a special case, since in a sense (1) his is a discourse that subsumes as moments all previous discourses and (2) his is a philosophical dis­course that includes all other genres of discourse in his discourse.

33. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude, trans. Gregory Rabassa (New York: Penguin, 1972). The world of Macondo in the South American jungle is a magic world of sympathy and attraction that is not ruled by cause and effect. The effect intended is not that of primitivism. There are historicizing suggestions that associate perception in this world with the intellectual world of alchemy that Foucault evokes in Les mots et les choses as the regime that is displaced by the regime of modern science.

34. Voegelin, CW 12: 223-39. See also Voegelin, CW 5: 271-74, 286-92, 18: 69-76.

35. Voegelin, CW 12: 216-18, 348, 370, 28: 156.

36. Voegelin, CW 28: 150.

37. For Benadetto Croce’s paean to the continuing relevance of Hegelian dialectic in philo­sophical thought, see What Is Living and What Is Dead in the Philosophy of Hegel, trans. Doug­las Ainslie (New York: Russell and Russell, 1915). If Voegelin’s resistance to dialectic is implied throughout his discussion with Hegel, sometimes resistance is explicit. See Voegelin, CW 12: 177. See also Voegelin, CW 18: 79-80.

38. Aufhebung is the major bone of contention for such critics of Hegel as Theodor W. Adorno and Jacques Derrida. For Adorno, see Negative Dialectics, trans. E. B. Ashton (New York: Seabury Press, 1973), esp. pt. 3, “The World Spirit and Natural History: An Excursus” on Hegel. For Der­rida, see especially Glas, trans. John P. Leavy Jr. and Richard Rand (Lincoln: University of Ne­braska Press, 1990).

39. Voegelin, CW 12: 242. See also “The Eclipse of Reality,” in Voegelin, CW, vol. 28, for a simi­lar idea. Here, however, the culprits are Idee and Begriff.

40. Voegelin, CW 12: 232-33, 337-43.

41. For Ricoeur, see especially “The Status of Vorstellung in Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion,” in Meaning, Truth, and God, ed. Leroy S. Rouner (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1982), 70-88.

42. The issues of what constitutes acceptable philosophical method and legitimate philosophi­cal discourse and how open philosophy should be to experience and other discourses are major points of division between Voegelin and Strauss. As scholars from both sides have noted, these differences are palpable in their correspondences. See Faith and Philosophy, ed. and trans. Emberley and Cooper.

43. Voegelin, CW 12: 238, 337, 351.

44. The work of philosopher William Desmond should be noted, especially his trilogy on the “between,” with respect to which he enlists the Greek term metaxu. Articulating over three large volumes a kind of exhaustive account of metaxu that is not matched by Voegelin, like the latter Desmond is as favorably disposed toward Plato as he is suspicious about Hegel’s accom­plishments. At the same time Desmond continually acknowledges that Hegel’s accomplishment vastly exceeds the accomplishment of most modern thinkers, and that if dialectical mediation falls short of the complex intermediation of experience, symbols, and concepts demanded by philosophy that is not totalitarian, nonetheless, it represents a genuine attempt.

See Being and the Between (Albany: SUNY Press, 1995); Ethics and the Between (Albany: SUNY Press, 2001); and God and the Between (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008). Desmond is more unrelentingly critical of Hegel in Hegel’s God: A Counterfeit Double? (Aldershot: Ashgate Press, 2003). While Desmond cites Plato and the Neoplatonists often, he does not explicitly make an argument for dependence. For an article focused on the Platonic dimension of Desmond’s “metaxological metaphysics,” see my article “The Poetics of Ethos: William Desmond’s Poetic Refiguration of Plato,” Ethical Per­spectives 8, no. 4 (2001): 272-302. For Desmond’s reply, see 303-6.

45. Voegelin, CW 12: 223. See also Voegelin, CW 5: 272-73, 18: 69-70.

46. Voegelin is at his most explicit in “Wisdom and the Magic of the Extreme” (CW 12: 320).

47. The connection between Hegelian speculation and Marxist praxis made in “Wisdom and Magic of the Extreme” (ibid., 318-19) is both long-standing and pervasive. By far the most ex­tensive treatment is to be found in Voegelin From Enlightenment to Revolution, 240-72. The con­nection is broached in Voegelin, CW 5: 179-80, 271-72, 18: 67.

48. The two texts of Heidegger commentary most relevant here are Hegel’s Concept of Experi­ence (New York: Harper and Row, 1970); and Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. Parvis Mead and Kenneth Maly (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988).

49. In both his reflections on the Phenomenology, Heidegger is anxious to show how the demand for science (Wissenschaft) determines an outcome of full transparence in self-consciousness, and thus the overcoming of the finitude of experience. Although Heidegger thinks of classical philosophy as less than radical in its questioning and inquiry, the Phenomenology rep­resents the overcoming of questioning by exhibiting the developing but definitive answer.

50. Aside from political scientists and historians of religion not being persuaded that the term adds to our comprehension of liberal thought or modern religion, the indeterminacy of the range of the term in Voegelin has contributed to current presumption that this is ill-equipped to play any role in genealogical analysis. My Gnostic Return in Modernity (Albany: SUNY Press, 2001) is intended as a reply.

51. For a “Gnostic” appellation of Hegel’s speculation, see especially Voegelin, CW 12: 296-98, 333-34, 28: 143-44. In addition, see Voegelin, CW 5: 179-80, 189, 251-256, 271-74, 286-92, 17: 65.

52. For instance, Voegelin sometimes uses Hermeticism as a category applicable to Hegelian speculation, and does not make clear the ways in which it relates or differs from Gnosticism. See Voegelin, CW 12: 295, 18: 78. Glenn Alexander Magee’s Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001) is self-consciously a response to Voegelin’s statement in his “Re­sponse to Professor Altizer” (see esp. 6).

53. Voegelin is persuaded by Hans Jonas of the crucial importance of the experience of alien­ation in defining Gnosticism. This tends to predispose him to a binary opposition between a love and hatred for reality, the former characterizing classical philosophy, which turns out to be normative, the latter characterizing Gnostic disposition. The rejection of reality is at the same time the rejection of reason. Voegelin does spend some time justifying the propriety of a patho­logical definition of conceptual formations. His most illuminating remarks in this respect are to be found plausibly in his essay “The Beginning and Beyond: A Meditation on Truth” (Voegelin, CW 28: 173-232, esp. 202-3, where he discusses the disease metaphor in Plato, Cicero, and Chrysippus, and the aspernatio rationis).

Nonetheless, Voegelin is not only using classical sources to diagnose specifically modern ailments but also following a well-established convention in heresiological discourse when he speaks to Gnosticism and modern forms of thought that exhibit Gnostic patterns as pathologies of spirit.”The Eclipse of Reality” provides a particularly good example of this (Voegelin, CW 28: 137-38, 158-62). Needless to say, the operation of this very broad criterion allows one to include not only thought forms like Hegel, who shows a penchant for the heterodox, but also forms of thought with no such interest, such as Puritanism.

54. For the full title, see Die christliche Gnosis: Oder, Die christliche Religions-philosophic in ihrer geschichtlichen Entwicklung (Tubingen: Osiander, 1835). It is important to point out two things.

First, Voegelin himself is fully aware that not only Baur plots Hegel in a “Gnostic” trajectory in which Hegel realizes what was implicit in ancient Gnosticism. See esp. Voegelin, CW 12: 296. David Walsh confirms the importance of this text not only for Voegelin but for all subsequent thinkers who wished to conceive the possibility or actuality of modern discourses being “Gnos­tic.” See After Ideology: Recovering the Spiritual foundations of Freedom (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1990), 135n44.

Second, that Baur only developed what Hegel himself had traced out. Hegel suggested with the kind of indetermination that is repeated in Baur and subsequently by Voegelin that the esoteric discourses of the late classical period, which in his view included the Kabbalah as well as Philo, the classical Neoplatonists, and the Gnostics trace out an authentic re­ligious philosophy that becomes possible only after the Catholic interregnum.

55. See Hans Urs von Balthasar, Die Apokalypse der deutschen Seele: Studien zu einer Lehre von letzten Haltungen, 3 vols. (Salzburg, Austria: Pustet, 1937-1939). See esp. vol. 1. Voegelin read this work, and it continues to have an enormous influence on his reading not only of Hegel throughout his career but of German romanticism and idealism in general.

56. I will offer just two examples here, Stefan Rossbach and Pheme Perkins. See Rossbach’s Gnostic Wars: The Cold War in the Context of a History of Western Spirituality (Edinburgh: Edin­burgh University Press, 1999), esp. 17, 22. While recognizing the difficulties, he remains open to a formulation in which historical lines of transmission are foregrounded. He agrees that Hegel is dependent in significant respects on esoteric sources, and especially Boehme (142-52), and approves of my own analysis of Hegel’s sources in The Heterodox Hegel. For Perkins, see “Gno­sis and the Life of the Spirit: The Price of Pneumatic Order,” in Voegelin and the Theologian: Ten Studies in Interpretation, ed. John Kirby and William M. Thompson (Lewiston, N. Y.: Mellen, 1983), 223-39.

57. See Gregor Sebba, “History, Modernity, and Gnosticism,” in The Philosophy of Order: Es­says on History, Consciousness, and Politics, ed. Peter J. Opitz and Gregor Sebba (Stuttgart: Klett-Cottal, 1981), 190-341. For suggestions that a radical eschatological form of thought of the kind instanced in the apocalyptic theologian Joachim de Fiore is both a much better template for Hegelian thought and a form of thought that one can more reliably track into modernity, see 132-33.

58. For places in which Voegelin explicitly suggests the connection between Hegelian thought and apocalyptic, see Voegelin, CW 12: 370, 17: 327, 18: 78.

59. The most pertinent text from Löwith is obviously From Hegel to Nietzsche: The Revolution in Nineteenth-Century Thought, trans. David E. Green (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1967). Voegelin refers to the German text of 1941 in From Enlightenment to Revolution, 241n3. For de Lubac, see his classic work La Postérité spirituelle de Joachim de Fiore, vol. 1, De Joachim à Schelling (Paris: Lethielleux, 1979).

60. In my Gnostic Return in Modernity, I attempt to show how the “Gnostic thesis” can be put on a more secure basis by recurring to Baur’s intuition about a specific narrative structure.


This excerpt is from Eric Voegelin and the Continental Tradition: Explorations in Modern Political Thought  (University of Missouri Press, 2011). An essay of the book is here and our book review is here. Other chapters are available about the following thinkers: Heidegger, Schelling, Kierkegaard, Kant, and Derrida.

Cyril O'Regan

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Cyril O'Regan is Huisking Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. He is author of several books, including Theology and the Spaces of Apocalyptic (Marquette University Press, 2009).