Eric Voegelin

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Eric Voegelin
Full name Eric Voegelin
Born January 3, 1901
Cologne, Germany
Died January 19, 1985
Stanford, California, USA
School Western Philosophy
Main interests History, Consciousness, Religion, Political Science

Eric Voegelin (born Erich Hermann Wilhelm Vögelin; January 3, 1901 – January 19, 1985) was a German-born American political philosopher. He was born in Cologne, then Imperial Germany, and educated in political science at the University of Vienna. He became a teacher and then an associate professor of political science at the Faculty of Law. In 1938 he, with his wife, fled from the Axis forces which had recently entered Vienna, emigrating to the United States, where they became citizens in 1944. He spent most of his academic career at the University of Notre Dame, Louisiana State University, the University of Munich and the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.


Voegelin was born in Cologne in 1901. He taught political theory and sociology at the University of Vienna after his habilitation there in 1928. While in Austria Voegelin established the beginnings of his long lasting friendship with F. A. Hayek.[1] In 1933 he published two books criticizing Nazi racism, and was forced to flee from Austria following the Anschluss in 1938. After a brief stay in Switzerland, he arrived in the United States and taught at a series of universities before joining Louisiana State University's Department of Government in 1942. His advisers on his dissertation were Hans Kelsen and Othmar Spann.

Voegelin remained in Baton Rouge until 1958 when he accepted an offer by Munich's Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität to fill Max Weber's former chair in political science, which had been empty since Weber's death in 1920. In Munich he founded the Institut für Politische Wissenschaft. Voegelin returned to America in 1969 to join Stanford University's Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace as Henry Salvatori Fellow where he continued his work until his death on January 19, 1985. He was a member of the Philadelphia Society.[2]


Voegelin worked throughout his life to account for the endemic political violence of the twentieth century in an effort variously referred to as a philosophy of politics, history, or consciousness.

Voegelin published scores of books, essays, and reviews in his lifetime. An early work was Die politischen Religionen (1938), (The Political Religions), on totalitarian ideologies and their structural similarities to religion. His magnum opus is the multi-volume (English-language) Order and History, which began publication in 1956 and remained incomplete at the time of his death 29 years later. His 1951 Charles Walgreen lectures, published as The New Science of Politics, is generally seen as a prolegomenon to this, and remains his best known work. He left many manuscripts unpublished, including a history of political ideas that has since been published in eight volumes.

Order and History was originally conceived as a six-volume examination of the history of order occasioned by Voegelin's personal experience of the disorder of his time. The first three volumes, Israel and Revelation, The World of the Polis, and Plato and Aristotle, appeared in rapid succession in 1956 and 1957 and focused on the evocations of order in the ancient Near East and Greece.

Voegelin then encountered difficulties that slowed the publication down. This, combined with his university administrative duties and work related to the new institute, meant that seventeen years separated the fourth from the third volume. His new concerns were indicated in the 1966 German collection Anamnesis: Zur Theorie der Geschichte und Politik, and the fourth volume, The Ecumenic Age, appeared in 1974. It broke with the chronological pattern of the previous volumes by investigating symbolizations of order ranging in time from the Sumerian King List to Hegel. Continuing work on the final volume, In Search of Order, occupied Voegelin's final days and it was published posthumously in 1987. [original research?]

One of Voegelin's main points in his later work is that a sense of order is conveyed by the experience of transcendence. This transcendence can never be fully defined nor described, though it may be conveyed in symbols. A particular sense of transcendent order serves as a basis for a particular political order. It is in this way that a philosophy of politics becomes a philosophy of consciousness. Insights may become fossilised as dogma. The main aim of the political philosopher is to remain open to the truth of order, and convey this to others.

Voegelin is more interested in the ontological issues that arise from these experiences than the epistemological questions of how we know that a vision of order is true or not. For Voegelin, the essence of truth is trust. All philosophy begins with experience of the divine. Since God is experienced as good, one can be confident that reality is knowable. As Descartes would say, God is not a deceiver.

Voegelin's work does not fit in any standard classifications, although some of his readers have found similarities in it to contemporaneous works by, for example, Ernst Cassirer, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Martin Heidegger, and Hans-Georg Gadamer. He has a sometimes unapproachable style and a heavy reliance upon extensive background knowledge. Voegelin often invents terms or uses old ones in new ways. However, there are patterns in his work with which the reader can quickly become familiar.

Among indications of growing engagement with Voegelin's work are the 305 page international bibliography published in 2000 by Munich's Wilhelm Fink Verlag; the presence of dedicated research centers at universities in the United States, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom; the appearance of recent translations in languages ranging from Portuguese to Japanese; and the publishing of the nearly complete 34 volume collection of his primary works by the University of Missouri Press and various primary and secondary works offered by the Eric-Voegelin-Archiv of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität.

General Sequence of Publications

The following explanation was provided by the Eric Voegelin Review (See: Link):

Voegelin's first five books were published in German. In recent years they have been translated into English. They include On the Form of the American Mind, Race and State, The History of the Race Idea from Ray to Carus, The Authoritarian State, and Political Religions. Three volumes of essays originally published in German, Volumes 7, 8 and 9 of the Collected Works, have also been recently published. There then followed in English, The New Science of Politics and the first three volumes of Order and History.

Returning to Munich in 1958, Voegelin published Anamnesis and what became in English, Science, Politics and Gnosticism. Volumes IV and V of Order and History were written in English after Voegelin's return to the US in 1968. Much of his most important work was published in essay form, often following public lectures. These were mostly written in English and occupy Volumes 10-12 of the Collected Works.

The History of Political Ideas in 8 Volumes (CW 19-26) was written in English but not published during his lifetime. He permitted extracts to be published and "removed" certain sections to use in Order and History. His Nature of the Law, and related Legal Writings (CW 27) containing a later version of his theoretical analysis of law and critique of Hans Kelsen found earlier in The Authoritarian State, (CW 4), appeared originally as a handout for his students. Some of his most profound writing was published after his death and is found in What is History? and Other Late Unpublished Writings, (CW 28).

See also


  1. Federici, Michael. Eric Voegelin: The Restoration of Order, ISI Books, 2002, p. 1
  3. The Fifties Spiritual Marketplace: American Religion in a Decade of Conflict by Robert S. Ellwood Publisher: Rutgers University Press ISBN 0-8135-2346-X ISBN 978-0-8135-2346-0 [1]

Further reading

Primary literature

All of Voegelin's writing is published as his Collected Works (CW), which is reviewed by Mark Lilla, *"Mr. Casaubon in America" The New York Review of Books 54/11 (June 28, 2007) : 29-31.

Secondary literature

  • Cooper, Barry: Eric Voegelin and the Foundations of Modern Political Science, University of Missouri Press, 1999.
  • Federici, Michael: Eric Voegelin: The Restoration of Order, ISI Books 2002, basic introduction
  • Sandoz, Ellis: The Vogelinian Revolution: A Biographical Introduction Louisiana State UP, 1981. advanced
  • Trepanier, Lee, and Steven F. McGuire, eds. Eric Voegelin and the Continental Tradition: Explorations in Modern Political Thought (University of Missouri Press; 2011) 284 pages; Essays on his relationship to Hegel, Schelling, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Gadamer.
  • Webb, Eugene: "Eric Voegelin: Philosopher of History" Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1981.

Primary sources

  • The closest to an introduction to his thought in his own words is the: Autobiographical Reflections.
  • A Friendship That Lasted a Lifetime: The Correspondence Between Alfred Schutz and Eric Voegelin edited by Gerhard Wagner and Gilbert Weiss, translated by William Petropulos (University of Missouri Press; 2011) 240 pages

External links

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