Order and History

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* Book: Order and History, Volume I-V. By Eric Voegelin. Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Vol.14-18, 2001-

URL = https://upress.missouri.edu/9780826213518/order-and-history-volume-1-cw14/


  • Volume 14: Order and History, Volume I, Israel and Revelation, edited by Maurice P. Hogan [1]
  • Volume 15: Order and History, Volume II, The World of the Polis, edited by Athanasios Moulakis [2]
  • Volume 16: Order and History, Volume III, Plato and Aristotle, edited by Dante Germino [3]
  • Volume 17: Order and History, Volume IV, The Ecumenic Age, edited by Michael Franz [4]
  • Volume 18: Order and History, Volume V, In Search of Order, edited by Ellis Sandoz


Israel and Revelation

"Eric Voegelin's Israel and Revelation is the opening volume of his monumental Order and History, which traces the history of order in human society. This volume examines the ancient near eastern civilizations as a backdrop to a discussion of the historical locus of order in Israel. The drama of Israel mirrors the problems associated with the tension of existence as Israel attempted to reconcile the claims of transcendent order with those of pragmatic existence and so becomes paradigmatic.

According to Voegelin, what happened in Israel was a decisive step, not only in the history of Israel, but also in the human attempt to achieve order in society. The uniqueness of Israel is the fact that it was the first to create history as a form of existence, that is, the recognition by human beings of their existence under a world-transcendent God, and the evaluation of their actions as conforming to or defecting from the divine will. In the course of its history, Israel learned that redemption comes from a source beyond itself.

Voegelin develops rich insights into the Old Testament by reading the text as part of the universal drama of being. His philosophy of symbolic forms has immense implications for the treatment of the biblical narrative as a symbolism that articulates the experiences of a people's order. The author initiates us into attunement with all the partners in the community of being: God and humans, world and society. This may well be his most significant contribution to political thought: "the experience of divine being as world transcendent is inseparable from an understanding of man as human."


Please note this extra volume:

  • Israel and the Cosmological Empires of the Ancient Orient: Symbols of Order in Eric Voegelin’s Order and History, vol. 1, Eric Voegelin Studies, Supplements/01. Ignacio Carbajosa and Nicoletta Scotti Muth, with the collaboration of Aldo L’Erario (eds.). Paderborn: Brill/Wilhelm Fink, 2021.

"The recent meeting of the Eric Voegelin Society at the APSA annual convention featured a roundtable discussion of this new book of essays, Israel and the Cosmological Empires of the Ancient Orient: Symbols of Order in Eric Voegelin’s Order and History (hereafter: ICEAO) on Voegelin’s initial volume of his 5 volume Order and History (hereafter OH), Israel and Revelation (hereafter: IR; all citations of Voegelin are from the Collected Works [CW] edition). ICEAO’s publication, motivated by the sixtieth anniversary of IR’s first publication in 1956, will enable the seasoned Voegelin scholar and reader to see how a “younger” or “new” generation is receiving IR, and it will enable those interested in “dipping into” this inaugural volume of Voegelin’s central œuvre." [5]

The World of the Polis

"This second volume of Voegelin's magisterial Order and History, The World of the Polis, explores the ancient Greek symbolization of human reality. Taking us from the origins of Greek culture in the Pre-Homeric Cretan civilizations, through the Iliad and Odyssey, Hesiod, and the rise of philosophy with the Pre-Socratics Parmenides and Heraclitus, this masterful work concludes with the historians of the classical period.

In The World of the Polis, Voegelin traces the emergence of the forms of the city-state and of philosophy from the ancient symbolism of myth. He maintains that the limits and ultimate goals of human nature are constant and that the central problem of every society is the same—"to create an order that will endow the fact of its existence with meaning in terms of ends divine and human." Thus, Voegelin shows how "the meaning of existence" achieved concrete expression in the typical political, social, and religious institutions of Greece and in the productions of its poets and thinkers. He deals with more than fifty Greek writers in the course of his analysis of the rise of myth and its representation of the divine order of the cosmos as the first great symbolic form of order, one later supplanted by the leap in being reflected in the emergence of philosophy.

The book is a tour de force, a virtuoso performance by a scholar and philosopher of great power, learning, and imagination that places its subject matter in a new light. The editor's critical introduction places The World of the Polis in the broader context of Voegelin's philosophy of history. Scholars and students of political science, philosophy, and the history of ideas will find this work invaluable."


Plato and Aristotle

"This third volume of Order and History completes Voegelin's study of Greek culture from its earliest pre- Hellenic origins to its full maturity with the dominance of Athens. As the title suggests, Plato and Aristotle is principally devoted to the work of the two great thinkers who represent the high point of philosophic inquiry among the Greeks.

Through an absorbing analysis of the Platonic and Aristotelian vision of soul, polis, and cosmos, Voegelin demonstrates how the symbolic framework of the older myth was superseded by the more precisely differentiated symbols of philosophy. Although this outmoding and rejection of past symbols of truth might seem to lead to a chaotic and despairing relativism, Voegelin makes it the basis of a profound conception of the historical process: "the attempts to find the symbolic forms that will adequately express the meaning [of a society], while imperfect, do not form a senseless series of failures. For the great societies have created a sequence of orders, intelligibly connected with one another as advances toward, or recessions from, an adequate symbolization of the truth concerning the order of being of which the order of society is a part."

In this view, history has no obvious "meaning," yet each society makes a similar venture after truth. Although every society works out its destiny under different conditions, each nonetheless creates symbols" in its deeds and institutions" which bear the meaning of its own existence. History, then, acquires a unity in the common endeavor toward meaning and order. The rationality and nobility of this view of history has much to say to the present age.

Dante Germino's powerful introduction to this edition of Plato and Aristotle eloquently directs the reader into Voegelin's search through the thought of Plato foremost and Aristotle secondarily and toward a full understanding of their relevance to the "modern" world. This masterpiece, Germino argues, provides a welcome antidote to the spirit of an era Voegelin once called the Gnostic age."


The Ecumenic Age

"Order and History, Eric Voegelin's five-volume study of how human and divine order are intertwined and manifested in history, has been widely acclaimed as one of the great intellectual achievements of our age.

In the fourth volume, The Ecumenic Age, Voegelin breaks with the course he originally charted for the series, in which human existence in society and the corresponding symbolism of order were to be presented in historical succession. The analyses in the three previous volumes remain valid as far as they go, Voegelin explains, but the original conception proved "untenable because it had not taken proper account of the important lines of meaning in history that did not run along lines of time."

The Ecumenic Age treats history not as a stream of human beings and their actions in time, but as the process of man's participation in a flux of divine presence that has eschatological direction. "The process of history, and such order as can be discerned in it," Voegelin writes, "is not a story to be told from the beginning to its happy, or unhappy, end; it is a mystery in process of revelation."

In the present volume, Voegelin applies his revised conception of historical analysis to the "Ecumenic Age," a pivotal period that extends roughly from the rise of the Persian Empire to the fall of the Roman. The age is marked by the advent of a new type of political unit—the ecumenic empire—achieved at the cost of unprecedented destruction. Yet the pragmatic destructiveness of the age is paralleled by equally unprecedented spiritual creativity, born from the need to make sense of existence in the wake of imperial conquest. These spiritual outbursts gave rise to the great ecumenic religions and raised fundamental questions for human self- understanding that extend into our historical present."


In Search of Order

Please note this extra volume:

  • "Published Essays, 1966-1985 includes some of the most trenchant and compelling of Eric Voegelin's work and is an indispensable companion to his Anamnesis and to the fourth and fifth volumes of Order and History, which were prepared for publication during the same period, the last two decades of the author's life. These essays are quintessential Voegelin." [6]


Michael Franz:

(from a review of: The Voegelinian Revolution: A Biographical Introduction. Ellis Sandoz. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981;)

"Sandoz’s fifth chapter, entitled, “History and Its Order: 1957,” is essentially a gloss on Volumes I-III of Order and History: Israel and Revelation (1956), The World of the Polis, and Plato and Aristotle (1957). Although the basic character of this chapter is shared with the preceding one on The New Science of Politics, it must treat works that incorporate more than twelve times as many pages. Not surprisingly, therefore, Sandoz’s treatment is impressive more for its concision than its comprehensiveness or detail. A concise treatment is achieved by following the “central speculative thread” running through these three volumes, which Sandoz regards as “Voegelin’s attempt to trace the emergence of human consciousness through analysis of the experiences of the order of being and their attendant symbolic forms.” (117) Sandoz devotes special emphasis to what Voegelin called the “leap in being” (or discovery of transcendent reality), which Sandoz understands as “the crucial event in this historical continuum of experience and articulation.” While this chapter is no more critical than its predecessor, Sandoz effectively focuses the reader’s attention upon the most important theoretical issues at stake in the volumes, and also points up “a most serious difficulty” in Voegelin’s “metaphysical position” that remained unresolved until the publication of Volume IV in 1974.31

Observations of this sort help readers navigate their way through Voegelin’s writings with a clearer sense of their stages of development, and Sandoz opens his sixth chapter (“Myth, Philosophy, and Consciousness: 1966”) with a helpful account of the theoretical differences distinguishing Voegelin’s Anamnesis from the earlier stages expressed in Order and History I-III and The New Science of Politics. Sandoz summarizes the progression as one expanding the theory of politics first into the theory of history (1952), second into the philosophy of order (1957), and then into the philosophy of consciousness (1966). To unpack these last two stages a bit, Sandoz describes the philosophy of order as one illuminating political reality “through recollection and analysis of the trail of experiences and their symbols manifested in the field of history” (143), whereas the philosophy of consciousness in Anamnesis further augments the philosophy of politics with “the experiences and symbols through which the process of consciousness articulates itself in time.” (144)


The final chapter from the 1981 edition, entitled, “The Vision of the Whole,” consists predominantly of a condensed commentary on The Ecumenic Age. When The Voegelinian Revolution was published in 1981—and for years thereafter—Sandoz’s was among the best commentaries available on The Ecumenic Age. This was an unquestionably magnificent book (Voegelin’s greatest single work, in my view), but it was also extremely complex and challenging, in addition to being theoretically discontinuous in several important respects with the earlier volumes of Order and History. The initial round of reviews was, to state the matter politely, quite uneven in quality. Some reviewers, seemingly overawed by Voegelin’s accomplishment, issued reactions that were simply celebratory, and Voegelin was disappointed that many reviews failed to critically address or even adumbrate the substantive thrust of the volume.33 Another group of reviewers focused almost exclusively on the treatment accorded Christianity, complaining either that it did not loom sufficiently large or that it was centered on Paul’s experience of Jesus rather than on Christ himself. A third set of reviews was preoccupied with how The Ecumenic Age broke with the original plan for Order and History, and many of these either failed to examine the advances that dictated the need for a new approach or overestimated the extent to which Voegelin distanced himself from Volumes I-III.34 Sandoz’s account, though necessarily compressed in scope, is focused sharply on the core advances accomplished in The Ecumenic Age. Although the years since 1981 have witnessed the publication of several excellent, specialized commentaries that go a long way toward furnishing remedies for the shortcomings of early reviews,35 Sandoz’s summary is more than adequate to the needs that new readers of Voegelin will bring to the book.

The second edition of The Voegelinian Revolution includes a new “Epilogue,” divided into four parts. The first of these treats several issues of controversy regarding Voegelin’s final “position” regarding religion, as well as the bearing of this question on public receptivity to his work. The second and third parts address the two principal publications unavailable to Sandoz in 1981. These are In Search of Order, the final volume of Order and History, and a deathbed meditation dictated to Paul Caringella, “Quod Deus Dicitur?” Both are fragmentary in character, and, according to Sandoz, their silences and omissions have furnished a basis for “various interpretive debates in the secondary literature about the changed views of the ‘late’ Voegelin on crucial matters.”36 Sandoz notes that “brief notice of the issues raised will be in order.” (253)

Sandoz is quite clearly not content merely to offer “notice” of the issues, as he shows himself perfectly willing to defend specific positions regarding the “interpretive debates.” Nevertheless, he seems intent upon doing so in the least provocative manner consistent with the need to make his points intelligible. Thus, he never names the author(s) of the views he contests, and sometimes introduces such views into the discussion in formulations couched in the passive voice, which is atypical in his writing (e.g., “…there have been questions raised about the triumph of [Voegelin’s] ‘scientific’ side over his ‘spiritual’ side in the final writings…”). This is presumably done in a diplomatic effort to minimize aggravation of any schismatic tendencies underlying the interpretive debates. Sandoz notes that, “there is a suggestion of emergence of two schools of interpretation pitting a so-called German against an alleged American interpretation of the master’s thought.” The possibility of such an emergence is not farfetched, but Sandoz suggests that—at the level of real substance—there is not much available to sustain a dispute over whether Voegelin was a scientific or a mystical philosopher (which would be, respectively, the German and American positions, if we were to take seriously the emergence of two schools). Sandoz speaks of the “interpretive divergence” as “an odd outbreak of nationalism,” and contends that it should be seen as “largely accounted for by the predispositions of the interpreters and not merely or even primarily by complexities in the work being interpreted.”

Continuing in this rather dismissive vein, Sandoz elects not to disentangle the controversy but to dispatch it in a manner that some may see as Solomonic (though others might be more inclined to liken it to the manner in which Alexander dealt with the Gordian knot):

“To put matters simply: Was Eric Voegelin a scientist to the marrow of his bones? Yes. Was he a mystic philosopher in all of his work from the 1920s until the very end of his life? Yes—by express self-declaration so from the 1960s. Can one be both mystic-philosopher and political scientist in the philosophical sense established in classical antiquity by Plato and Aristotle? Yes—and that is Voegelin’s position as I read it, [and] as I think he intended it . . .” (253-254)

With regard to whether Voegelin’s mysticism was specifically Christian in type, Sandoz simply suggests that any silences regarding Christianity in Voegelin’s last writings cannot be construed as evidence of any change in heart, since it was Voegelin’s intention to take up Christianity in In Search of Order before this was rendered impossible by his death in 1985. With regard to what was held by the heart which is said not to have undergone any such late change, we can only infer Sandoz’s understanding from his reference to Voegelin’s “abiding devotion to Christianity,” of which Sandoz regards “Quod Deus Dicitur?” as a “direct statement” (and one we should consult when considering In Search of Order). (254)37

Although Sandoz writes off the “two Voegelins characterization” as being, “at best misleading,” he does acknowledge that “there are real issues here nonetheless.” As he summarizes them,

” . . . it may be arguably true that the power and stature of Eric Voegelin’s scholarly achievement can never gain any real attention if it is portrayed as fundamentally grounded in spiritual experiences and is, thus, in some sense “religious” and to be dismissed out of hand as such. There is more than a little to this argument, I must agree, and it poses something of a dilemma. To speak as I do in following the sources of a “philosophical science” rooted in the work of a mystic philosopher who affirms the cardinal importance of human participation in the divine ground of being, of the reality of the life of the spirit as the basis of noetic science, may seem to invite a strategic catastrophe for the cause of Eric Voegelin.” (254-255)

I suspect that Voegelin would wince at any reference to himself as a “cause” (even if the reference were made only figuratively and in passing, as may be the case here). In any event, Sandoz goes on—to his credit—to make it abundantly clear that he does not believe any “prudential calculation” in service of such a cause could justify any muting of “religious” elements in Voegelin’s writings, and that it would be “inadmissible as distorting the material on principle, if and when it is carried out to the neglect of the overall content of Voegelin’s work.” (256) This is a point I wish to underline as a final caution against any misunderstandings of my earlier references to “popularization” as one of the distinctive elements of The Voegelinian Revolution. Although I believe one cannot accurately review this book within a survey of secondary literature without remarking that Sandoz, among all the top commentators, is the most intent upon enlarging Voegelin’s readership and impact on the world, I would insist that it would be both unfair and inaccurate to suggest that this intention has a compromising effect on Sandoz’s commentary.

The Epilogue goes on to address “Quod Deus Dicitur?,” which is itself so intricate due to its many sources that Sandoz’s account cannot be summarized profitably here. However, his characterization of the upshot of this final meditation is worth noting:

“The stance of Voegelin at the end of his days is of a man living in responsive openness to the divine appeal. He finds that what is at stake is not God but the truth of human existence with the persuasive role of the philosopher unchanged since antiquity, the persistent partisan for reality-experienced in the propagation of existential truth: this is the scholar’s true vocation. If there is an “answer” given to the question of his unfinished meditation, it may be glimpsed in an affirmation of the comprehending Oneness of divinity Beyond the plurality of gods and things. At the end of Voegelin’s long struggle to understand, Reality experienced-symbolized is a mysterious ordered (and disordered) tensional oneness moving toward the perfection of its Beyond—not a system.” (263)"