Eric Voegelin and the Foundations of Modern Political Science

Eric Voegelin and the Foundations of Modern Political Science

Eric Voegelin and the Foundations of Modern Political Science

Eric Voegelin and the Foundations of Modern Political Science

Synopsis

This important new work is a major analysis of the foundation of Eric Voegelin's political science. Barry Cooper maintains that the writings Voegelin undertook in the 1940s provide the groundwork for the brilliant book that is one of his best known, The New Science of Politics. At the time of that book's publication, however, few were aware of the enormous knowledge & accomplished scholarship that lay behind its illuminating, although sometimes baffling, formulations. By focusing on several of the key chapters in Voegelin's eight-volume History of Political Ideas, especially the studies of Bodin, Vico, & Schelling, Cooper shows how those studies provide the basis for Voegelin's thought. Investigating Voegelin's study of oriental influences on Western political "ideas," especially Mongol constitutional law, & his study of Toynbee, Cooper seeks to demonstrate the vast range of materials Voegelin used. Cooper contends that, as with other great thinkers, political crisis, specifically the world war of 1939-1945, stimulated Voegelin's intellectual & spiritual achievement. He provides an analysis of Voegelin's immediate concern with the course of World War II, his ability to understand those dramatic events in a large context, & his ability to provide an insightful account of the causes, the significance, & the consequences of the spiritual & political disorder that was evident all around him. In Eric Voegelin & the Foundations of Modern Political Science, Cooper makes the connection between Voegelin's political writings of the 1940s & the meditative interpretations that began to appear with the publication of Anamnesis & with the later volumes of Order & History much more intelligible than does any existing discussion of Voegelin. Scholars in intellectual history & political science will benefit enormously from this valuable new addition to Voegelin studies.

Excerpt

This book is the first of two studies on the political science of Eric Voegelin. Several studies of Voegelin's work have appeared, some even prior to his death in 1985. Since then, the professional attention of scholars has resulted not only in an enormous growth in the secondary literature but also in the creation of several specialized centers for the study of Voegelin's thought, the establishment of two ordered archival collections, one at Stanford and the other in Munich, and a major publishing project, supported by two university presses, to bring out an English-language edition of Voegelin's Collected Works. A more modest publishing program is in place in German. It is not simply a result of this activity that one may argue that Voegelin was the most important political scientist of the century—though somebody must be. Rather, what Northrop Frye once called the “circumference” and what others have called the “depth” of the thought of a poet or philosopher constitutes a measure of greatness. With Voegelin both spatial metaphors are apt. The most general purpose of this study is to indicate as clearly as possible the depths or the circumference of Voegelin's political science. I have attempted an exposition, not a critique, on the grounds that, before one is in a position to criticize, it is necessary to be reasonably secure in one's understanding.

The foundations indicated in the title are found chiefly in Voegelin's History of Political Ideas. In a talk to the Eric Voegelin Society, which meets annually as part of the American Political Science Association, Paul Caringella, who served as Voegelin's assistant during the final years of his life, suggested that the History was Voegelin's first anamnesis, a recollection of the evocations and disorders of Western political history. At a similar gathering of Voegelin scholars in Manchester, Mendo Henriques, a Portuguese student of Voegelin's political science, observed that the History bears comparison with Saint Augustine's City of God or Bodin's Six Books of the Republic in that all three were motivated by a major political and spiritual upheaval. Indeed, Voegelin has said as much in the opening pages of his best-known book, The New Science of Politics.

My reading of the History, and of related work from Voegelin's hand during and after World War II, is congruent with the observations of Caringella and Henriques. This large text does, indeed, recollect the history of Western political ideas. In the present study, I have tried to convey the notion that Voegelin learned from Vico or Bodin, Schelling or . . .

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