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

By Lee Trepanier; Steven F. McGuire | Go to book overview

2
Voegelin and the Troubled Greatness of Hegel

Cyril O’Regan

It would challenge credulity to claim that contrary to appearances Voegelin’s relationship with 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

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