Authors: Eric Voegelin

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

German philosopher and historian

Author Works


Der autoritäre Staat: Ein Versuch ûber das õsterreichische Staatsproblem, 1936 (The Authoritarian State: An Essay on the Problem of the Austrian State, 1999)

The New Science of Politics, 1952

Order and History, 1956-1987 (includes Israel and Revelation, 1956; The World of the Polis, 1957; Plato and Aristotle, 1957; The Ecumenic Age, 1974; and In Search of Order, 1987)

Wissenschaft, Politik, und Gnosis, 1959 (Science, Politics, and Gnosticism: Two Essays, 1968)

Anamnesis: Zur Theorie, Geschiche und Politik, 1966 (Anamnesis, 1978)

From Enlightenment to Revolution, 1975

Faith and Political Philosophy: The Correspondence Between Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin, 1934-1964, 1993

Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, 1995- (34 volumes projected)


Eric Hermann Wilhelm Voegelin (VURG-uh-lihn) is one of the most important political philosophers and historians of the twentieth century. He was born to Otto Stefan Voegelin, a civil engineer, and Elisabeth Ruchl Voegelin. In 1910 his family moved to Vienna, Austria, where Voegelin entered a Realgymnasium that had a strong emphasis on ancient and modern languages and the sciences. He completed his Ph.D. in 1922 at the University of Vienna in the political science program of the law faculty. From 1923 to 1924 he was an assistant in the law faculty at the university. In 1924 he received a Laura Spellman Rockefeller Fellowship, which allowed him to study in the United States and France for three years. In 1929 he was appointed as a Privatdozent and then, in 1936, as an associate professor of law at the University of Vienna. In 1932 he married Lissy Onken. In 1938 he was dismissed from his faculty position, largely because of his criticisms of the Nazi ideology on race. That same year he fled to the United States. From 1938 to 1939 he held short-term appointments at Harvard University and Bennington College, and in 1939 he became an assistant professor in the political science department of the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. Three years later he joined the political science department of Louisiana State University, where he was made Boyd Professor of Government in 1952. In 1958 he accepted an invitation from the University of Munich to hold its first chair in political science. In 1969 he returned to the United States as Henry Salvatori Distinguished Scholar at the Hoover Institution in Stanford, California. He spent the remainder of his career at Stanford.{$I[AN]9810000726}{$I[A]Voegelin, Eric}{$I[geo]GERMANY;Voegelin, Eric}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Voegelin, Eric}{$I[tim]1901;Voegelin, Eric}

Of the five books Voegelin published in German before leaving Austria, two dealt critically with the idea of racial superiority and one examined the nature and character of the authoritarian state. The fourth introduced the concept of political religions, that is, social and political orders that purport to save humankind from economic, social, and political disorder, and the fifth examined American political and social theory. Voegelin’s reputation, however, rests primarily on the work published after his forced emigration. In 1952 he published The New Science of Politics, a criticism of positivistic social science which also introduced his concept of modern Gnosticism, the pervasive belief in the soteriological power of knowledge. In 1956 he published the first volume of his magnum opus, Order and History. This volume, Israel and Revelation, examined the concept of political order and disorder in the Ancient Near East. The second and third volumes, The World of the Polis and Plato and Aristotle, examined the experiential and theoretical developments in Greece that led to the creation of philosophy and political science as the cornerstone of the Western understanding of political order and disorder. Three more volumes were scheduled to appear in 1958 and 1959: the first, to be titled Empire and Christianity, was to cover the rise of multicivilizational empires through the end of the Middle Ages; the other two, “The Protestant Centuries” and “The Crisis of Western Civilization,” were to cover the twentieth century. Only the next planned volume, The Ecumenic Age, appeared, but not until twenty years later, in 1974, and a fifth volume, In Search of Order, was published posthumously, in 1987.

Three other important books appeared in the interval: Anamnesis contains a critical analysis of positivist science and a theoretical discussion of what a science of politics must encompass; Science, Politics, and Gnosticism develops the concept of later Gnosticism more fully; and From Enlightenment to Revolution provides a critical analysis of the eighteenth and nineteenth century efforts to establish a new science of society and history. When the fourth volume of Order and History did appear, Voegelin explained that civilizational data and theoretical changes had delayed the project. The Ecumenic Age examines the period of ecumenic empires, and In Search of Order contains a series of essays on modern political philosophers, including Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

Voegelin’s primary concern, reflected in all his works, was the attempt to understand the origins of the political disorders that convulsed the first half of the twentieth century. He was convinced that the prevailing positivistic, “value-free” approach could not address the crisis. His alternative was to develop a historical analysis of political order and disorder as a way of setting the current crisis in context. Voegelin’s approach gained for him a wide audience in the United States and Europe, although his criticisms of positivism drew sharp responses from advocates. Overall, however, his work was highly praised by leading scholars in philosophy and political science, and it has been compared to the work of Arnold Toynbee, Ernst Cassirer, and Pitirim Sorokin.

BibliographyCooper, Barry. Eric Voegelin and the Foundations of Modern Political Science. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999. Examines developments in the philosophy of history and political science.Cooper, Barry. The Political Theory of Eric Voegelin, Lewiston, N.Y.: E. Mellen Press, 1986. Contains a good discussion of historiogenesis.Hughes, Glenn. Mystery and Myth in the Philosophy of Eric Voegelin. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1993. Critical study.McKnight, Stephen A., ed. Eric Voegelin’s Search for Order in History: Expanded Edition. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987. Provides an interdisciplinary analysis of The New Science of Politics and Order in History.Ranieri, John J. Eric Voegelin and the Good Society. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1995. Critical study.Sandoz, Ellis. The Voegelinian Revolution: A Biographical Introduction. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 2000. Sandoz provides an intellectual biography.
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