Eric Voegelin and the Continental Tradition: Explorations in Modern Political Thought

Eric Voegelin and the Continental Tradition: Explorations in Modern Political Thought

Eric Voegelin and the Continental Tradition: Explorations in Modern Political Thought

Eric Voegelin and the Continental Tradition: Explorations in Modern Political Thought

Synopsis

Twentieth-century political philosopher Eric Voegelin is best known as a severe critic of modernity. Much of his work argues that modernity is a Gnostic revolt against the fundamental structure of reality. For Voegelin, "Gnosticism" is the belief that human beings can transform the nature of reality through secret knowledge and social action, and he considered it the crux of the crisis of modernity. As Voegelin struggled with this crisis throughout his career, he never wavered in his judgment that philosophers of the modern continental tradition were complicit in the Gnostic revolt of modernity. But while Voegelin's analysis of those philosophers is at times scathing, his work also bears marks of their influence, and Voegelin has much more in common with the theorists of the modern continental tradition than is usually recognized. Eric Voegelin and the Continental Tradition: Explorations in Modern Political Thought evaluates this political philosopher--one of the most original and influential thinkers of our time--by examining his relationship to the modern continental tradition in philosophy, from Kant to Derrida. In a compelling introduction, editors Lee Trepanier and Steven F. McGuire present a review of the trajectories of Voegelin's thought and outline what often is portrayed as his derisive critique of modernity. Soon, however, they begin to unravel the similarities between Voegelin's thought and the work of other thinkers in the continental tradition. The subsequent chapters explore these possible connections by examining Voegelin's intellectual relationship to individual thinkers, including Hegel, Schelling, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Gadamer. The essays in this volume go beyond Voegelin's own reading of the modern philosophers to offer a reevaluation of his relationship to those thinkers. In Eric Voegelin and the Continental Tradition, Voegelin's attempt to grapple with the crisis of modernity becomes clearer, and his contribution to the modern continental tradition is illuminated. The book features the work of both established and emerging Voegelin scholars, and the essays were chosen to present thoughtful and balanced assessments of both Voegelin's thought and the ideas of the other thinkers considered. As the first volume to examine the relationship--and surprising commonalities--between Voegelin's philosophy and the continental tradition as a whole, this text will be of interest not only to Voegelin disciples but to philosophers engaged by continental modernism and all disciplines of political philosophy.

Excerpt

Lee Trepanier and Steven F. McGuire

Conscious refection on the philosophical foundations of Western civilization has increased steadily since Descartes, and especially since the middle of the twentieth century with its growing concerns about the possible collapse of modernity. The Enlightenment confidence in human reason’s ability to understand and convey the fundamental structure of reality has been shaken by the advent of revolutionary political movements, totalitarian ideologies, and the philosophical skepticism of “postmodernity.” Perhaps this should not be surprising given the modern restriction of knowledge to the external and empirical sphere of reality, which was made possible by Cartesian subjectivism and then subsequently legitimated by the methods of the natural sciences. Ours is a truncated reason. The experiences of God, morality, and the other transcendent teleologies that constitute human existence are no longer allowed the status of knowledge in this Cartesian world. Instead, they are seen as private and often suspect beliefs.

Eric Voegelin (1901–1985) is one of the severest critics of this Cartesian subjectivity, its successive philosophical practitioners, and its political and philosophical consequences. For Voegelin, modernity was fundamentally characterized by man’s attempt to refashion the world in his own image—an attempt that ultimately was doomed to failure, but was nonetheless enacted at the price of millions of lives. This failure was perhaps best exemplified by the rise of National Socialism, but it could only occur in a civilization that had fallen into a spiritual and intellectual malaise. As Voegelin notes, “The phenomenon of Hitler is not exhausted by his person. His success must be understood in the context of an intellectually or morally ruined society in which personalities who otherwise would be grotesque, marginal figures can come to public power because they superbly represent the people who admire them.” Near the end of the twentieth century, Voegelin thought that modernity’s ruin had not only pervaded all aspects of society but run its course. What was required was a new philosophy—a new science—that would restore a proper understanding of reality and reestablish a basis for its communication.

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