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Eric Voegelin Society Meeting 2009
Mysticism and Politics in Voegelin's Philosophy
2009 Ellis Sandoz
By Voegelin's account, the philosopher's vocation is to love the
Good, to serve the truth of Being in its highest dimensions and live in
attunement with it, and to resist untruth.
The worldwide contemporary assault on truth Voegelin saw as an
unprecedented revolt against the divine ground of being.
Since he philosophized on the basis of the political situation, the
core of his resistance lay in the affirmation of the truth of being.
When asked toward the end of our interviews in what became Autobiographical
Reflections the "So What?" question of "why philosophize?" his
answer was "to regain Reality."
By this he especially meant highest reality as glimpsed through
experience most notably articulated in
the differentiated noetic and pneumatic modes lying at the core of meditative
process. As he stressed from time to time, reality remains what it is and what
it will be. Not God but man is
perplexed, ever wandering in mazes lost proclaiming the death of God and
hopefully acting on the perplexity like Ivan Karamazov's Grand Inquisitor
bidding Christ never come again--doubtless to God's own amusement, the only
One permitted to laugh, a thought akin to Solzhenitsyn's sly observation
when the Buddha smiled.
2. Resistance and
remediation therefore frame a high-stakes political game. It forces the
philosopher to seek recourse with the deepest sources of spiritual sustenance
implicating ontology and anthropology, the ineffable Reality made effable
through human experience in the representative work of the great
materialism of the positivist, National Socialist, or communist kinds, such as
biologism and economism, appear as armed ideological movements claiming
exclusive truth and usurping reality for themselves. Against this array of
power and distortion the recourse of the resisting individual person, as with
Ezekiel's Watchman, can only go to the eminent Reality transcending time and
history, the Divine Presence within which the human drama plays out in
politics and history.
Thus the appeals to the great mystics.
Among them: To Thomas à Kempis at the beginning of The History of
the Race Idea, for instance; to the anonymous meditative called the
Frankfurter as author of the German Theology at the end of Political
Religions; and to Anselm of Canterbury in the Proslogion at the end.
Therein lies the culmination of Voegelin's quest to find a satisfactory
pattern of philosophizing by determining the limits of sapientia
experimentalis or felt presence of God emerging in fragmentary fashion as
knowledge in noetic exegesis in the open search in meditation of the
divine-human reality for its truth. The
mentioned way stations in Voegelin's pilgrimage seeking illumination of the
It-Reality are thus dated at 1933, 1938, and 1984.
But these events are merely indicative of a continuity in the
reflective life to be traced from the earliest writings and sustained with
great consistency down to the deathbed meditation, "Quod deus dicitur?"
The continuity rests on the insight that the key problem of philosophy
is the relation to transcendence, i.e., that philosophy originates in
mysticism (CW29, p. 645).
Faced in 1933 with the experience that the knowledge of man had come to
grief in a world infested with evil, Voegelin at the outset almost in the
spirit of the exorcist defiantly invokes the anthropology of The Imitation
of Christ against the bestial reduction of human being to cranial indexes
and pseudo-scientific racial phenomenal traits.
It is man as the image of God he offers in blistering response in the
preamble of his own methodical analysis, the primal image
immemorially preserved in human consciousness and experience now mutilated and
debauched by a pretentious flawed biology
arrogantly and ignorantly elevating the mythic Aryan super race.
Voegelin write, and quotes Kempis:
Christian image raises man out of nature; though it presents him as a creature
among other creatures, as a finite being among others, it nevertheless
juxtaposes him to the rest of nature; he stands between God and the subhuman
world. This intermediate status is
not determined by a unique formative law that would constitute man as a
self-contained existence but by his participation in both the higher and the
lower world. By virtue of his
soul, man is united with the divine pneuma; by virtue of his body, his sarx,
he partakes of transitoriness.... Man must live according to the example of
Christ and follow Him: ..."All is vanity but to love God, and to serve him
alone. Thus the supreme wisdom is
to seek the kingdom of heaven by despising the things of this world." (CW3,
5. Five years later
in the conclusion of Political Religions, having studied and savored
Nazi truth more completely and being fired as a professor from the University
of Vienna, Voegelin reminds readers of the anonymous 14th century
mystic called the Fankfurter in counterpoint to the prevailing apocalypse of
the newly ascendant Superman destined to perfect the world who thereby is
defined as satanic:
the human creature attributes something good to itself...as if he were that or
had that, as it belonged to him or came from him, then he goes astray.
What else did Satan do? What
else was his fall and abandonment than his assumption that he were something
too, and his wish to be someone and to have his own.
This assumption and his "I" and "my", his "me" and "mine"
were his abandonment and fall. And
it is that way still.
To which Voegelin
emphatically adds: "It is not indifferent how the sphere of human-political
organization is integrated in the order of being.
The inner-worldly religiosity experienced by the collective body-- be
it humanity, the people, the class, the race, or the state--as the realissimum
is abandonment of God.... According to the German Theology the belief
that man is the source of good and of improvement in the world, as it is held
by the Enlightenment, and the belief that the collective body is a mysterious,
divine substance...is anti-Christian renunciation....[T]he
inner-world-religiosity and its symbolism
[of whatever kind] conceals the most essential parts of reality.
It blocks the path to the reality of God and distorts the circumstances
of the levels of being subordinate to God."
(CW5, p. 71).
It is still the anthropology of the mystics that persists in the Hitler
lectures in 1964 (CW31, pp. 86-87) and in the related lecture on the German
University, where it is stressed that the human being is theomorphic and
that his whose true destiny is to
enjoy the restoration of the imago Dei mutilated in Adam as the
consummation of his spiritual and intellectual quest. (CW12, p. 7).
Finally, from the related literature comes the approving elaboration of
the form of true philosophizing arduously won by Anselm of Canterbury as faith
in search of understanding, and no less arduously pursued in Voegelin's
work, until it finally plays out in the unfinished essay called In Search
of Order. The structural
limits of the quest as noetic conceptual analysis is reached in Anselm's
prayer in Proslogion XV: "‘O Lord, you are not only that than which
a greater cannot be conceived but you are also greater than what can be
conceived.'" The contemplative's
desiring heart, drawn toward the
divine light in faith, now understands that the Light surpasses human reason.
Experientially, Voegelin tells us, "the divine reality lets the light
of its perfection fall into the soul; the illumination of the soul arouses the
awareness of man's existence as a state of imperfection; and this awareness
provokes the human movement in response to the divine appeal.
The illumination, as St. Augustine names this experience, has for
Anselm indeed the character of an appeal, and even of a counsel and a promise."
(CW12, p. 383).