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From Cultural Analysis to Philosophical Anthropology: An Examination of Voegelin's Concept of Gnosticism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 August 2009

Extract

Eric Voegelin's influence upon contemporary political philosophy is an acknowledged fact. Thus although one may disagree with much of what Voegelin has written, no responsible scholar can afford to simply overlook his work. Of his writings, the book that apparently has had the widest, if not the deepest, impact is The New Science of Politics. And although some commentators have focused upon the critical analysis of scientism with which Voegelin begins his text, most scholars appear to be interested primarily in his development of the concept of gnosticism. This interest, in turn, seems to reflect Voegelin's own intentions at the time.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © University of Notre Dame 1980

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References

1 Most recently he received the American Political Science Association's Benjamin Evans Lippincott Award for “work of exceptional quality.”

2 Voegelin, Eric, The New Science of Politics (Chicago, 1952) (Cited hereafter as Voegelin, Politics)Google Scholar.

3 Cf. Brecht, Arnold, Political Theory: The Foundations of Twentieth Century Political Thought (Princeton, 1959), pp. 262–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 Voegelin, , Politics, p. 126Google Scholar.

5 Cf. his Response to Professor Altizer,” Journal of the American Academy Religion, 6 (1975), 765–72Google Scholar. The recognition of these elements has forced a reconsideration of gnosticism's place among contemporary movements. Recently Voegelin remarked: “Gnosticism is certainly not the only trend. One has to include, as I mentioned before, apocalyptic strands, the neo-platonic restoration at the end of the fifteenth-century, and the hermetic component which resulted in the conscious operation of sorcery and in Hegel's determinology” (An interview in New Orleans Review, 2 [1973], 136)Google Scholar.

6 Voegelin, Eric, Die Politischen Religionen (Stockholm, 1939), 5051. My translationGoogle Scholar.

7 Cf. Voegelin, , Politics, p. 165Google Scholar.

8 Voegelin's most detailed analysis of Christianity's failure in this respect is found in Voegelin, Eric, From Enlightenment to Revolution, ed. Hallowell, John H. (Durham, 1975), pp. 334Google Scholar.

9 One of the elements of Voegelin's argument that has met with substantial resistence is his insistenee upon gnosticism as a common spiritual tradition which serves to unite totalitarianism and liberalism. On this see his The Origin of Totalitarianism,” Review of Politics, 15 (1953), 6885CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Hannah Arendt's “Reply” in the same issue.

10 Voegelin, , Politics, p. 152Google Scholar.

11 An example of one who does misinterpret Voegelin in this way is Gunnell, John G., Political Theory: Tradition and Interpretation (Cambridge, Mass., 1978)Google Scholar. Gunnell argues that Voegelin is one of several commentators who believe in the tradition as “an organic whole with a discernible form and meaning” (p. 34). On the contrary, it was precisely Voegelin's conviction that the truth of consciousness cannot be identified with the truth of statements which compelled him to abandon his almost completed history of political ideas in the 1950's.

12 Voegelin, , Science, p. 18Google Scholar.

13 Voegelin, Eric, “Reason: The Classic Experience,” Southern Review, 10 (1974), 246Google Scholar.

14 Voegelin, , Politics, p. 122Google Scholar.

15 “At the center of his existence man is unknown to himself and must remain so, for the part of being that calls itself man could be known fully only if the community of being and its drama in time were known as a whole” (Voegelin, Eric, Israel and Revelation (Baton Rouge, 1956), p. 2Google Scholar.

16 Voegelin, Eric, The Ecumenic Age (Baton Rouge, 1974), p. 330Google Scholar.

17 Voegelin, Eric, Science, Politics, and Gnosticism, trans. Fitzpatrick, William (Chicago, 1968), p. 110Google Scholar.

18 Voegelin's discussion of border situations is similar in several respects to Karl Jasper's examination of ultimate situations. In these situations man experiences the fundamentally antinomian character of worldly existence and is referred, thereby, to an encounter with transcendence.

19 “For we find ourselves referred back to nothing more formidable than the experiences of finiteness and creatureliness in our existence, of being creatures of a day, as the poets call man, of being born and bound to die, of dissatisfaction with a state experienced as imperfect, of apprehension of a perfection that is not of this world but is a privilege of the gods, of possible fulfillment in a state beyond this world, the Platonic epekeina, and so forth” (Voegelin, Eric, “On Debate and Rational Existence,” Intercollegiate Review, 3 [1967], 146Google Scholar).

20 Voegelin, , Ecumenic Age, p. 73Google Scholar.

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