Modernity Without Constraint: The Political Religions, The New Science of Politics, and Science, Politics, and Gnosticism. By Eric Voegelin. Edited by Manfred Henningsen. Vol. 5 of The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, series editor, Ellis Sandoz. Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 2000. 336 pp. $34.95.
This volume brings together three related, but historically separated texts from Voegelin's corpus. Manfred Henningsen provides a highly readable and informative introduction that locates the texts historically and thematically. Indeed, readers unfamiliar with Voegelin's work would do well to consult this introduction as a way of orienting their reading without becoming unnecessarily biased.
The title of the collection is from Voegelin's New Science of Politics, in which he describes the "economic materialism, racist biology, corrupt psychology, scientism, and technological ruthlessness" of the German Revolution as "modernity without constraint" (pp. 4 and 241). It captures well one overarching theme of the three works: each analyzes the origins of the political and spiritual destructiveness of modern mass movements.
Although Voegelin later criticized the theoretical formulations of Political Religions, it is a useful entree for the two following texts. It is one of very few attempts in the pre-Second World War period to examine the spiritual bases of ideological mass movements, specifically those of Austria and Germany in the 1930s. It thereby adjusts our ears for the claim of The New Science of Politics that every society, in its institutions and practices, expresses a set of truth-claims about the nature of the greater reality of which it is a part. While these mass movements are patently hostile to traditional "religion," their own character, Voegelin discovered, is clearly religious-satanic-in …