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The funeral plans were made by Eric himself in the presence of his wife Lissy and the Dean of Stanford Memorial Church, Robert Hamerton-Kelly, in Eric's room at the Stanford Hospital in early December of 1984. I was also present. Eric said that he wanted the Lutheran order to be followed for his funeral.
The readings he requested were verses 15-17 of chapter 2 of the First Letter of John:Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him.I remember Lissy asking Eric why those verses (after Robert had read them aloud to us) and Eric answering simply, 'for repentance.'
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world.
And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever.'
The gospel reading Eric wanted was even shorter, two verses, 24 and 25, in the 12th chapter of the Gospel of John:Truly, Truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.The short funeral service with no more than a dozen people present took place in the chapel of a funeral home in Palo Alto a few days after Eric's death on January 19th [of 1985] at his home on the Stanford campus.
He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
I was a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Florida in the mid 70s when I found out that Voegelin was on campus for three days giving a series of lectures. I dropped everything in order to attend. At his first lecture, which was comprised of mostly graduate students and faculty from the history and philosophy departments, he was confronted by the Dean of Graduate Studies regarding "this thing you call the two poles of human existence". Voegelin went on to elaborate but the Dean became exacerbated by what he was hearing. He responded, somewhat irritably "I don't know how you can stand there and claim that there are only two poles to human existence. Why not five or six?" Voegelin paused a moment, adjusted his glasses, and said in a very low voice: "I am sorry to disappoint you."
A few years ago when visiting Erlangen, where the Voegelin library is stored, I would on occasion borrow (quite illegally as I am sure Juergen Gebhardt will note) Voegelin's detective novels for the weekend. A very decent selection, some of which, as I recall, were recommended by Juergen himself. Strauss was also a big reader of this kind of literature, though no doubt he called them policiers.
There is a remarkable difference between the "imagined" Voegelin and the "real" Voegelin. The latter was not only keen on reading modern "high brow" novels but had also a penchant for "low brow" books, in particular he was an avid consumer of detective stories -- his library being stocked with hundreds of them.
[Reprinted from The Professor and the Profession by Robert Bechtold Heilman, by permission of the University of Missouri Press. Copyright 1999 by the Curators of the University of Missouri].
I first met Eric Voegelin in 1940 or 1941 when he came to Baton Rouge to lecture under the auspices of the department of government at Louisiana State University. He may have given a single lecture or a series, and the subject, I suppose, was something that would be part of Order and History, though that large work did not begin appearing for another decade and a half. My first impression of Voegelin was of a speaker of great dignity and ease, of vast learning easily borne and not trimmed to please a general audience, of formality and yet graciousness. Here was a philosopher who had no marks of either the pedant or the popularizer; the gentleman as thinker. Despite a highly technical vocabulary and occasional, but not intrusive, problems of idiom and accent, Voegelin seemed comfortable and fluent in American English. During his stay in Baton Rouge, Eric--I use an informality that was slow to develop--attended a meeting of a faculty discussion group at which I was also present, whether as visitor or regular attendant (I am relying entirely on memory; I have no file of documents, formal or informal, to consult). I remember vividly the type, though not the specifics, of the argument that broke out there between him and several of my colleagues. The latter were depending, as faculties often do, on the fundamental rightness of the current beliefs of social and political liberalism, and no doubt Eric challenged one or more of these; it was not that he was antiliberal in principle, but that he was a vigilant challenger of the going cliches of both left and right. Perhaps his point was that Hitler and Nazism represented less a violation of American democratic ideas than an enduring disorder of a distinguishable philosophical and theological type. I do not remember the details, but I do retain a strong impression that my colleagues, several of whom were my good friends, were badly though unknowingly overmatched.
Early during the 1941-1942 academic year there came the news, exciting to all of us who had been greatly impressed by Eric during his visit, that he had accepted a position in the LSU department of government (it had not yet become the department of political science: Bob Harris, then chair, always insisted that the field was not a science) and would arrive in Baton Rouge for the spring semester. Eric's coming seemed to us a major institutional coup, another step toward LSU's realizing a potential that had become evident in various ways. One of the best agents of that potential was Bob Harris: he had an excellent eye for professional quality and, though not a theorist in the Voegelin mold, fully appreciated Voegelin's gifts. Eric would have arrived in January, and I got acquainted with him, I believe, not long after that (my uncertainty about this became an issue during Eric's naturalization proceedings in 1944, a matter that belongs to a later part of this narrative). My wife and I probably met the Voegelins through the Heberles, refugees who had arrived in 1938; Rudolf, a sociologist, had been at Kiel, and his wife, Franziska, was the daughter of the eminent sociologist Ferdinand Toennies.
My wife and I found both couples congenial socially. The men were splendid additions to the faculty, and the wives were superior people; they all remained tactfully silent about whatever differences they found between Vienna and Kiel, on one hand, and Baton Rouge on the other. We made special efforts; not only did we want them to feel at home at LSU, but we could imagine their problems in adjusting to a new culture and in having to use a new language. We thought of the daunting difficulties we would face as American refugees in Europe: the problem not only of a new culture but of trying to make a functioning daily tongue out of our graduate-school French or German. We wanted things to work out for the Voegelins and Heberles and hoped that welcoming natives might be helpful.
As northerners we too had at first felt like foreigners in Baton Rouge. We had since come to feel very much at home and no doubt felt that, as outsiders-turned-insiders, we would be useful interpreters of the Louisiana mode of American life. In one way, of course, we were doomed to failure: our academic German in no way equipped us to speak and understand the conversational language--a skill that might have temporarily relieved the refugees' burden of having to manage all communication in a second language. They would occasionally fall into German, especially if they had guests whose first language it was. When we were the only monolinguals present, we would sometimes leave early to free the rest for the pleasure of speaking their native tongue without having to be concerned about excluding the two anglophones present.
In time we came to use first names. This did not happen rapidly, for society had not yet reached today's stage of instant, obligatory informality, and as individuals we were disinclined to a stylistic intimacy that had not been earned by experience. Perhaps it was we who, as spokesmen for the native mores--we had drifted into the role without seeking it--proposed the use of first names. I mention this because Eric admitted that he found it difficult to call me "Bob," which seemed to him too trivial a vocative to apply to an adult who was at least nominally a scholar. I suppose he got used to it, but for some time he found "Robert" more bearable.
We tended to drift together at parties. As Lissy Voegelin said to me years later, "Eric had no small talk." When conversation was called for, he tended to launch into a disquisition on whatever technical issue he was thinking through as he composed Order and History. To an auditor not equipped for such discourse, Eric might have seemed to be exhibiting learning inappropriately or even engaging in a put-down. But anyone who read him thus was utterly wrong. Eric was a considerate man who in social circumstances--as opposed to formal debate, in which no holds would be barred--would never consciously speak in a condescending or indecorous way. He had a strong sense of the proprieties, the decencies, the observances that marked civilized people, and he was incapable of vulgarity, whether in the guise of unrestrained egoism or of simple commonplace-ness. If one lacks small talk, at a social occasion one talks about the larger things familiar to him, taking for granted the adequacy of the hearer to the heard. Eric did not monologue. He would make a statement about what interested him and seek responses. He assumed the auditor's competence; he did not talk down to others by sticking to the quotidian or simplifying an issue. Responses were likely to be halfhearted or vague if Eric spoke about, say, the late-medieval origins of the concept of the Third Reich, or the spiritual breakthrough achieved by monotheistic thought, or the derivation of some current political idea from an error by Hegel. He tended to treat his colleagues precisely as if they were fellow members of the philosophy faculty at the University of Vienna. Whatever our professional competence, we were for the most part not quite up to the role. What many of us felt was less resentment than a regretful sense of not being with it, and of wanting the ease of more reassuring company. (Insofar as I may have felt that, the feeling was more than counterbalanced by the awareness of being in the presence of an extraordinary man.) Some people were so defeated by Eric's intellectual superiority that they just wished he'd go away. But he never indulged in derogation, and he tended not to introduce topics he knew would be unwelcome. He was a man of great punctilio. But if controversial topics came up, he did not hesitate to challenge the cliches he heard bandied about. After all, in Vienna he had vigorously attacked rightists even when it was dangerous to do so (in his case it had been life-threatening, and it led to exile). Here in the land of free speech it seemed natural to challenge ideas on the other end of the political spectrum when they seemed inadequate. Obviously, a man who at best was hard to understand and who dared to question long-held secular faiths was not always easy to take.
What precedes may suggest that Eric generated only negative reactions. But there were colleagues who, instead of fleeing or being captious, were admiring and devoted and willing to listen and to learn. They might not, however, always be present at parties or handy at given moments. So Eric tended, at social events, to become a solitary, not looking disgruntled or censorious or troubled or neglected, but with his ordinarily pleasant mien--he had a genial air, but with the geniality modified by a certain formality--falling into an expressionless neutrality: registering not bad temper but a sense, somewhat escaping an effort of concealment, that though this kind of sociability had its place and had to be endured (Eric always had a strong sense of obligation), it was still not the most satisfying way of spending several hours. He seemed to be masking discontent or disappointment under an air of detachment. He was not ungracious, but he was genuinely courtly, and that meant that he registered social obligations in a formal key, different from the folksy American geniality based on the exchange of uncontentious trivialities. He was not contemptuous of this American style of social intercourse, but it was not for him a natural way of doing things. Eric was always a thinker before he was a social being.
All this is part of a historical picture of Eric Voegelin, but it also serves to introduce an account of my own relations with him. When I said that we tended to drift together at parties, I was not defining myself as his equal or as intellectually superior to our colleagues. In me Eric excited a respect bordering on veneration, for I recognized in him the most extraordinary intellect I had ever encountered, one I could in no way keep up with, especially in the abstruse philosophical matters that could come up spontaneously in any conversation. Although the spirit was willing, the mental flesh was weak. But my good luck was that Eric had as it were established me in a role in which I felt some competence--that, to borrow a term from anthropology, of "native informant." (This is not, of course, to claim exclusive possession of a role that was shared by Bob Harris, Cleanth Brooks, and others who had discovered some congeniality with Eric.) As a non-southerner I might be expected to understand the questions that would occur to another outsider experiencing the Deep South for the first time; in a sense we were foreigners together. But by 1942 I had been in Louisiana for seven years, and I could speak also as an insider. I could act as the interpreter of academic folkways that were unfamiliar to a European-trained scholar. And I knew members of the faculty well enough--LSU was still a relatively small university--to be able to characterize people and to make judgments on their talent, zeal, and professional accomplishment (no doubt with a dash of that free-swinging, confident finality to which one is liable in one's thirties). But the local scene was only a temporary object of inquiry; Eric was more curious about the general habits of American academe--everything from institutional governance to habits of thought to philosophical positions; types of administrative personnel and attitudes; power bases; relations to the outside world; sense of mission and sense of profit; and so on. He knew a great deal about the materia of various fields--the arts, music, history, literature, and of course philosophy--and he was curious about the academic management of these. He would ask about historiographic and critical practices in literature, and often about specific writers: their styles, beliefs, current status in academic esteem; and about individual works and their reputations. His knowledge of literature in English was wide, and he often asked searching questions. These questions, which showed a range of knowledge rare in the practitioners of nonliterary fields, tested the abilities of the informant, whom Eric could praise, assist, and of course challenge.
Praise: he once told me that I could and did answer questions that remained unanswered when he directed them to other professors of literature. This puzzled me, for any competent Ph.D. should have been able to deal with most of his inquiries, which by and large concerned central, mainline matters. I can still hear him saying, "They do not answer my questions." I remember his delight when he came across some work he had not known before, such as Ben Jonson's The Alchemist: this play indicated to him an English awareness of, or even tie-in with, the alchemical thought in which Eric had some interest as an aspect of the history of philosophy.
Assist: he asked many questions about Shakespeare, and my task was to describe the kinds of scholarly activity practiced by Shakespeareans. I made one sweeping statement--I have forgotten what--about Shakespeareans' habits, and Eric promptly asked what specific person did this sort of thing. When I could not pin down my generalization with an example, he gracefully covered for me: "Ah, it is in the air." This is a phrase I have often found convenient. Now and then, despite his moving primarily in a terminological world of European philosophical practice, he would come up with a simple and useful phrase with an Anglo-Saxon base, for example, "free-floating hatred."
Challenge: Eric had a deft way of indicating doubt about some of my judgments and procedures. In analyzing plays and novels I tended to look for the springs of human conduct--the motives, "drives," needs of characters in interplay with one another. It was distressing, then, to discover that Eric considered "psychological" analysis a distinctly inferior mode of criticism. What went on in literature was for him an interplay of philosophical issues and spiritual forces, a clash of symbols rather than a confrontation of psyches. In my later work this view may have somewhat colored my sense of what went on in narratives, but I was not really equipped to see things in Eric's way. Still, I shall never forget the air of innocent and amiable curiosity with which he raised literary questions, and his brief interpositions, ironic but not biting.
He would occasionally ask about specific writers. In the late 1940s he observed that much critical discussion of Henry James was going on, and asked what he should read by way of introduction to James. I had been teaching and writing about The Turn of the Screw, and I suggested it. Eric read it immediately--in one sitting, I believe--and wrote me a very long reply (an essay-length letter) interpreting the novel as a study of American Puritanism in which the dramatic actors are God, the Soul, and Ordinary Life (the uncle, the governess, and the housekeeper, respectively). He gave The Turn the highest possible praise when he told me that had he known it when he wrote a book about America after his first visit here, in the 1920s, the book would have been different. I say no more about the subject here because fortunately Eric's letter-essay, with modifications he made several decades later, reached print. 
At the same time that he was asking me questions about literature in English, he was making occasional efforts to educate me about European works; he would recommend novels available in translation. One of these was Hermann Broch's The Death of Virgil (I remember his especially praising a "philosophy of laughter" found in that book), and I was sufficiently struck by it to publish a review. Once he urged me to study, if not indeed to memorize, the chapter headings of a volume that would clue me in to how one went about the study of metaphysics. The captions were in German, alas, and I failed the assignment. But Eric was forgiving, and he went on acting as if I were capable of philosophical redemption, despite his inevitable awareness that I was an inadequately endowed pupil.
Our relations with the Voegelins took a special turn in the summer of 1944, when they were in Cambridge, Massachusetts: as in many summers, Eric was working in the library at Harvard. During their absence from Baton Rouge, the rented house in which they had been living was leased or sold out from under them, this in accordance with a wartime regulation that permitted the dispossession of occupants if the premises were then to be occupied by the owners or members of their family. This must have been another severe blow to people who, after the troubles that led to their flight from Austria, might have felt they were beginning to get a foothold in America. They evidently felt that they could not contest what amounted to an eviction. It would have been costly; as "foreigners" (though naturalization was imminent, they had not yet gone through it) they would have been at a disadvantage in a legal dispute; and Eric desperately needed all the time he could get at Harvard on materials unavailable at LSU. Had they made the long and expensive trip back to Baton Rouge, they might not have been able to find other rental housing. Apparently the only solution was to buy a house, provided a suitable one could be found for sale. At this point they phoned us and asked us to buy a house for them, that is, to find one for sale, commit them to buying it, and perhaps put down (I'm not sure about this) some earnest money. This was a forbidding assignment; picking out a house for someone else could never be easy, and for people of the Voegelins' fine taste it seemed close to impossible. The Voegelins could be stuck with a house of which their undying thought might be, "Couldn't Ruth and Bob do better than this?" But however it might come out, our taking the assignment must have seemed, in the exigencies of a wartime world, a lesser evil than any other course . . . and we did take it on. Although I say "we," the task fell largely to my wife, Ruth. One reason was that I was teaching full-time in summer school (fifteen hours a week then, and no trace of the cooling systems that have since become standard equipment in Baton Rouge), an annual necessity to keep us financially afloat; the more significant one was that Ruth was much better than I at amateur realty. I no longer know what her research method was, or how long she worked at it, but I do recall that she uncovered only two houses for sale. We may have looked at both houses, or it may have been, as I suspect, that one of the two was so obviously inferior that it dropped out of consideration. The remaining one was no gem, but it would do, or rather would have to do. Because it was really the only one available, we at least escaped the burden of seeming to have made a sorry choice. We signed for it and phoned the Voegelins with the news.
Lissy came down by train to take care of the paperwork; I believe they borrowed the money for the trip as well as for the down payment (in fleeing the Nazis, they had to leave Vienna without either possessions or cash). My impression is that the house cost six or seven thousand (for comparison: I was an associate professor then, and my salary was, I think, a little more than three thousand; Eric's was probably somewhat, but not much, more than that). Later, with a frankness in financial matters that was characteristic, Eric said he had received a loan from a relatively well-off refugee, a Jewish businessman, I believe.
If Lissy's heart sank when she saw their new home, she concealed the fact well (I can imagine the Voegelins having a mental picture of a modern house on a good-sized lot in an attractive neighborhood, a house such as the Heberles had by now acquired). Fortunately, the Voegelins' fine taste was balanced by a sense of reality. The house we found was roughly downtown, on a narrow street a few blocks east of the central shopping section. The names Canal and Cherry come to mind, but I would not bet on either; whatever its name, the street on which the Voegelin house stood was wiped out by the new freeway that, curving in from the north and east, took over the area. As I remember it, the area was, if not outright crummy, at least wholly undistinguished: a sequence of narrow houses on narrow lots on a narrow street. But Lissy Voegelin made that house into a very charming place; we were occasional guests in it, and after we left LSU we once spent a week there. This was early one summer--in 1953, I think--after the Voegelins had left for what had become a standard summer research stay in Cambridge. We could see the works of art that were an important part of the transformation, and we could see (and use) the large tub in which, we were told, Eric sat for hours in cold water, smoking the cigars he was fond of and working with papers and books arranged on a board spanning the tub. Lissy contributed to his writing by trying to maintain favorable working conditions; she was a noise-abatement society of one, campaigning in particular against kids whose habitual hollering disturbed Eric's flow of thought. It must have seemed very odd, in a neighborhood where reading, if any, probably did not go beyond the daily papers and where books would have seemed strange objects stored in libraries, to be told that a new neighbor, suspect anyway, was actually writing a book and needed a quiet atmosphere in which to carry on this peculiar practice. You never could tell about foreigners.
Whatever problems there may have been--and I never heard any report of hostility (even during a war when the Voegelins' marked accents might have aroused suspicion in some segments of the American public)--they lived in that house from 1944 to 1958, when they returned to Europe for what would be a stay of some years.
Aside from the housing problem, another significant event occurred in 1944: Eric's naturalization as an American citizen. I was his designated witness, the citizen whom the immigration authorities would quiz about the applicant's political and personal reliability. But before we got to the crucial moment of the hearing, there was a rather long period of preparation, during which Eric asked me some routine questions. One big issue did arise, having to do with a training booklet provided to would-be citizens by the division of naturalization. Eric would of course know its contents by heart. One day he asked me, "If the answers in the handbook are wrong, should I give the right answers or say what the handbook says?" Anyone with knowledge of officialdom will know what my answer was: "You say what the book says, even though you are sure you are telling a lie. If you correct an official publication of a government bureau, they will surely take you to be an unreformed Nazi, a Communist agent, or else a professional troublemaker." The situation was this: the handbook summarized various matters the candidate was supposed to know about--the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and legislation having to do with the duties of citizenship. Eric did not rely on this secondhand version. As a political scientist, he read the originals, which of course he saw through a highly trained professional eye; hence his sense that the handbook, meant for a diverse and unread laity, fell into technical inaccuracies or at least approximations of dubious reliability.
I was present during part of Eric's naturalization interview, where he conducted himself in a becomingly low-key way and without bursts of learning that might alarm the board. He passed without difficulty. I also underwent a private questioning. In general it had to do with Eric's potential for good citizenship, and of course I could be enthusiastic. I recall few details, but I do remember one large and unexpected stumbling block. I was asked how long I had known Eric or, more precisely, just when our acquaintance had begun. The exchange went approximately like this:RBH: Well, let's see, he came to LSU in 1942. Let's say about two years.The interrogator had the satisfied look of an examining attorney who has at last elicited an essential fact from a well-meaning but none-too-sharp witness. My last statement settled things. Later Eric told me that the officer had told him, "You had a very good witness. Professors usually aren't good about details. They tend to be vague, especially about dates. But Heilman really had the facts at his fingertips."
Naturalization Officer: You must be more specific.
RBH: Well, he came here from Alabama for our second semester. So I met him sometime in the first half of 1942.
N.O.: You must be more specific.
RBH. Since he came for the spring semester, he would have arrived in Baton Rouge in late January or early February. I met him not long after that.
N.O.: You must be more specific.
RBH: I probably met him sometime in February.
N.O.: That is too general.
RBH: Well, let's say I met him February 16.
Over time, Eric had become known as a faculty member of extraordinary knowledge, insight, and depth. But he had none of the feeling for easy or popular targets needed to create the spellbinder who elicits volumes of praise from students and garners teaching prizes. He was uniformly admired by the best students rather than being widely popular. He never tried to gratify or to upset auditors; rather, he wanted to expound ideas, which might do either. His aim was understanding, not approbation or the making of converts. Once he told me of a woman student upset by his presentations of political theory; she felt that his ideas raised unnecessary difficulties and underrated a success-marked actuality. Eric gave her an opportunity to tell what she would prefer. She said she just wanted to be "happy." What, Eric asked, did it take to produce happiness? She said, "I just want to be married, and have a family and a house and a car and a radio." In reporting this to me Eric was wondering how widespread her attitude was and, if it was a sound representative of American thought, how we had managed to last as long as we had. Eric was grateful for an American refuge, and he never evinced any European snobbery; but he would never hesitate to make a point that might displease chauvinists, those who took the status quo to be the ultimate social and moral achievement.
Eric was the ideal colleague for those special cases in which a student advisee would seek not to have his requirements met as quickly and easily as possible, but to be sent to the best minds on the faculty. That sort of thing does happen occasionally in academe, and it was wonderful to have an Eric to recommend to such seekers. He was quietly admired despite the difficulty of intricate and unfamiliar concepts. I have the impression--though I have no solid evidence on this--that when Eric offered a law school course in natural law, student responses were marked by the feeling that though these ideas had the merit of unusualness and depth, their connection with litigation was not altogether clear.
Eric not only attracted the best students, but he aroused the interest of townspeople drawn by the new intellectual range. Among these were my wife (who had also audited a course given by Cleanth Brooks) and Dorothy Blanchard (a sister-in-law of Mrs. Brooks), who one year sat in on Voegelin's course in Nietzsche. I got many reports on the flow of ideas, on student reactions, and occasionally on terminological problems. Eric's English was fluent, but the language was highly technical, the idioms came from philosophical vocabularies, and now and then a pronunciation was European--a source of an occasional problem that was more amusing than deeply vexing. The class heard about the Greek divinities "Ahtaynah" and "Tsoiss," and from context soon identified them as the goddess of wisdom and the head Olympian. But an apparently common noun, "wahzy," remained an unsolved mystery for weeks. Puzzlement was widespread. Because "wahzy" seemed to have aquatic connotations, the semifamiliar wadi came to mind, and the association seemed fitting: the word seemed to come up in contexts of the transmission of cultural influences through desert lands. But enlightenment had to come from Eric himself, who, questioned by students, explained, "Oh, you know, a watering spot in the desert." Oasis.
But problems of pronunciation were transitory and minor. Eric would ask me about them occasionally, and he caught on quickly to the representations of sound, inconsistent as they are, in English orthography. We moved on quickly from such mechanical matters. My longer-term role was that of explicator of American academic English, and finally I became a sort of consultant on Eric's own formal use of English (he had started writing his books and articles in English--surely the most difficult of the leaps into the New World). In time Eric asked me to read the typescripts of articles, reviews, and the like, and finally the texts of volumes that would become parts of Order and History. He particularly wanted me to catch slips in idiom. In one book he kindly included a paragraph to the effect that my influence upon his English had been beneficent. I wished that might be true, but I tried to avoid deceiving myself.
Being Eric's consultant on style was flattering but difficult. My philosophical shortcomings often left me feeling insecure in suggestions I wanted to make. I would see apparent problems in idiom, phrasings not in accord with the expectations of readers in English, locutions I felt to be literal translations of German idioms that, when Englished, still did not become English; but when I broached the subject, I would find that the way he had put the matter seemed to Eric essential to the accurate communication of his thought. In such cases I was not only failing to help Eric, but also causing him the additional labor of explaining his intent to a well-meaning but philosophically defective copyeditor. What I always hoped for, of course, was conspicuous and unmistakable derangements of idiom, the correction of which would make me look competently helpful rather than conceptually hopeless. Little luck of that kind. I can still hear his "But you see, Bob ..."
A reviewer of one of Eric's later books declared it a pity that Voegelin had given up writing in English. What the reviewer meant was that Eric's basic technical vocabulary and idioms were not always in line with standard academic English. I can understand this criticism, provided that it is aimed at stylistic mannerisms and is not used as a defense mechanism against his thought. For instance, "tension toward," a phrase Eric frequently used, seems to me not to work well because it runs counter to anglophone expectations with regard to "tension." But such views are not necessarily shared by readers of greater philosophical expertise.
I have already alluded to Eric's strong, nearly fastidious, sense of decorum. What was true of social relations was even more true of professional ones. When I dedicated a book to him--an essay on the relation of language and drama in Othello--he commented on the volume with a fullness, and with an appreciativeness of the intended honor, matched by no other dedicatee. His response took the form of a letter of two or three pages, single-spaced, which gave a handsome account of what he took the book to be doing. His reservations about my conclusions were so gracefully embedded in the descriptive text that I would have been able to ignore them had I wished to do so. I did not wish to, certainly, but by then I knew I was incapable of reshaping my critical praxis to make it less distant from the Voegelin ideal. I recognized that I instinctively fell into psychological criticism, of which--as I've said--Eric disapproved.
In 1948 Ruth and I left for Seattle, and after that Eric and I exchanged letters regularly, if not frequently (as did our wives). The correspondence continued when the Voegelins returned to Europe in 1958. Eric had accepted the directorship of the Bavarian state political science institute in Munich. This was a professional advancement, I suppose, but it never seemed to me that Eric suffered from the institutional angst so common among American professors. He thought about his work; in no way did his status, or his sense of achievement, depend upon what post he held or what university he served in. So though the Munich post may well have seemed a promotion, I imagine that his motivating influence in taking it was the strong pull of Europe after twenty years away, and of the Voegelins' native language.
They must have crossed the ocean about the time we were returning from a 1957-1958 sabbatical. When we returned to Europe in 1964-1965, the Voegelins generously asked us to visit. Eric invited me to speak at a seminar of his, and he also managed--against what resistance I know not--to encourage the department of English to sponsor a lecture by me. The chair of English was Wolfgang Clemen, and since we had both trafficked somewhat in Shakespearean imagery, there were grounds for our finding ourselves at least mildly simpatico. Then I received a letter--a sort of warning I took it to be--from a member of the Munich faculty who had taken his Ph.D. in our department at the University of Washington, where, the gifted son of an immigrant family, he had established himself both as a superior student and as a talented one-upper. The burden of his letter--we had had no prior correspondence--was that the department of English at Munich was "sophisticated," and that a visitor would want to mind his p's and q's lest he betray provincialisms that might embarrass him. Oh dear, I thought, I am in danger of disgracing not only myself but my sponsor, Eric. Well, I spoke to Eric's seminar--a seminar in some phase of political science--no doubt on some aspect of tragedy, the subject of a book I was working on, and had a vague sense, not too illusory I hoped, of having got by without betraying an appalling failure of sophistication (even though I had to speak in English, as the students were more at ease in it than I would have been in German). Eric had told me that he wanted his students to see what a competent American academic looked like. There may have been an implied contrast with the Munich professoriat, our impression of whom, conveyed largely in letters from Lissy, was of complacent, humorless, domineering types, very different from the gentility the Voegelins remembered in their Vienna colleagues.
The story might be better if I remembered the subject of my general lecture for the department of English, but I have blacked out the formal occasion. My recollections begin with the postlecture chitchat: Professor Clemen told the Voegelins and Heilmans he had arranged no social affair, and he suggested that we take off in cars for a public park where desired refreshments could be ordered. Off we went, an unorganized and uncertain medley of faculty, students, and others; there was little or no coherence among the twenty or thirty people who made up the park delegation. Feeling ill at ease in the what-do-we-do-next air from which no one seemed exempt, I latched onto several graduate students, proposed that we sit together, and asked them to order--the bill to me--whatever beer they liked and whatever food would go with it: cheese, chips, sausages, and so on. I no longer remember whether I paid or whether Clemen stopped by to pick up the check. I was trying to make conversation while observing Eric and Lissy walking around like lost souls, she looking thunderous and Eric grinning in a most singular fashion, as if this were an especially gratifying occasion. It wasn't long before Clemen stopped by to whisper a request in my ear: if I declared I was tired, this would enable him to flee, as he would like to do, because he took no pleasure in being here and could think of other things he would prefer to do. By then I may have been a little annoyed, and disinclined to play further the role of idiot boy to all these "sophisticates," but all voluntary action was suddenly ruled out by the onset of a thunderstorm. We were sitting in an insubstantial enclosure, I think under a light cloth or canvas covering that temporarily resisted the downpour, but the sides were open, and the storm blew through. Retreat was mandatory, and everyone had to hurry toward parking areas that seemed some distance away. Lissy, who did all the driving, had to dash through the rain for their car. From somewhere there was an umbrella available for the other three of us as we struggled through the rain. We got back to the Voegelins' apartment and chatted and had drinks during the drying-out process. Lissy's displeasure with the evening now expressed itself in denunciations of a social style she saw as a violation of all European, and especially Viennese, decencies. Eric continued to smile, delighted, it seems, by an unforeseen confirmation of his suspicions. As he put it, "I knew that something was wrong with the department of English, but it is much worse than I thought."
The Voegelins were wonderful hosts and took us to see everything that should be seen by visitors to Munich--museums, churches, political and historical sites, restaurants. At all such spots Eric spoke with great ease and informality, a guide in control of all pertinent information, aesthetic and historical. One occasion brought out a response I had never seen in him: anger. A doorman or waiter was either inattentive or outright rude, and Eric grew furious. He told the man off, emphatically but not coarsely, and we went on our way. But his resentment at bad style was perceptible for quite a while.
In time the Voegelins wearied of Munich; my impression, gained from other sources, is that the disruptiveness of dogmatic student Marxists--a boorish tactic we have seen in this country--made Eric's educational mission seem excessively difficult. I never asked about this. In the late 1960s they returned to the States and made a permanent home in California. Eric was for a while a fellow of the Hoover Institute in Palo Alto. After he left the institute, Eric told me that the officials there were overly concerned with opposition to communism; Eric felt, if my inferences are correct, that this opposition committed resources and energies against an ideology he already saw as doomed. We began to see the Voegelins regularly again, for our son and his family lived in Palo Alto, and we had a pied-a-terre there. I remember well the July day in 1969 when we four were at my son's house, along with my son and his family, watching the TV broadcast of the moon landing. I had expected Eric to be uninterested or even in a skeptical or debunking frame of mind, but he seemed no less fascinated by the lunar scenes than the rest of us.
Before coming to the ending of the tale, I want to record a few impressions that may not be attached to specific events. As I have indicated more than once, I lacked the philosophical equipment to engage in activities that turned on technical consideration or application of Voegelin's thought. (In contrast, Cleanth Brooks--a friend of both of us--made use of a Voegelin idea in an essay on Walker Percy.) But one kept picking up snippets that might influence one's thought or writing. I always noticed Eric's use of the word science in the general sense of "knowledge"; repeatedly he would say something like, "Don't let the lab boys get away with monopolizing that word," that is, limiting its applicability to the management of aspects of physical reality instead of to the treatment of essence by philosophy. Thus he was always providing his listener with conceptual tools that were not necessarily part of his systematic thought. His sense of the varieties of religious experience--he once spoke about "the atheist religion"--was always present to me as I was working out the implications of the picaresque heart of Thomas Mann's brilliant Felix Krull. His idea of the "deformed community" directly influenced my sense of what goes on in Walter Van Tilburg Clark's The Ox-Bow Incident.
What I was doing was picking up individual ideas from printed or spoken word and using them to enlighten artistic practices rather than ingesting a philosophical system and letting it determine point of view. "System": my colleague Eugene Webb once told me he had given up studying Voegelin because the latter was "not a systematic philosopher." When I mentioned this to Cleanth Brooks, Cleanth replied that if Eric heard this complaint, he would say, "I'm pursuing truth, not constructing a system." Webb has, fortunately, since resumed his study of Voegelin.
After leaving the Hoover Institute, Eric, needing income, took up the study of the stock market. (I am assuming this chronology; I cannot vouch for it.) He undertook this intense research in his sixties, when many people opt for retirement. Eric did very well in this new venture; he told me once that it took him about two hours a day to spot and keep up with the trends that dictated buying and selling, and after his death Lissy told me that she had been left in a very comfortable financial situation. A lifetime as a profound theorist did not diminish his awareness of how the ordinary world goes and of how to survive in it; he accepted, so to speak, the ways of the world, as long as that acceptance did not run counter to his sense of what was fitting. Once Lissy got the notion that one had to be a church member to undergo funeral rites; Eric said, matter-of-factly, "All right, we will join a church then."
Although he could be sharply critical of American ways of doing things, Eric did not stint on praise when he felt it was due. He thought, for example, that American medical practice was superior to European. In the late sixties or early seventies, after he and Lissy had both had major surgery in Palo Alto, he said, "If we had stayed in Vienna, we would both be dead by now." After Lissy's surgery, Eric dashed to the hospital with the most elaborate bouquet he could find; he had laid hands on it at a florist's where it was part (it was an artificial bouquet) of the shop's permanent decor. He presented it with as ardent a speech as might have been delivered to a dying spouse in a Victorian novel. His words apparently implied that her situation was terminal; Lissy made clear that she was doing quite well, thank you, and expected to be around for a while.
Lissy had a great sense of humor and a nice touch of American slang, which showed up charmingly, mingled with an Old World style that was more literary than epistolary, in her letters to Ruth. Those letters nearly always ended with "So long, Ruth." Lissy and Ruth had occasional phone calls, and I would always hear my wife's laughter at the jests that came over the wire.
In Palo Alto the Voegelins put together a home of great elegance in both furnishings and ornament. I remember especially a large Kokoschka and a Japanese screen, which I believe Eric brought back from a trip to Asia (he had become interested in Eastern philosophies, and had made some progress in learning Chinese). There were no photographs in evidence; they did not go for the American practice of devoting wall space to a photographic family history. They lacked family, in the usual sense, and this was a source of some sadness. Relations with Lissy's family in Vienna were difficult, and may indeed have ended because her relatives were businesspeople who had welcomed the Nazi regime. Perhaps there were no survivors in Eric's immediate family. At one time, however, the Voegelins had welcome contact with--visited and were visited by--a niece of Eric's for whom they felt considerable affection. My notion is that the geographical separation prevented the development of an enduring relationship. The Voegelins spoke once or twice about having or adopting children, but it may be that by the time they were financially secure, age had become a bar to parenthood. They had a pair of dogs, of which they were, or at least Lissy was, very fond; these beasts seemed not to welcome our visits and adopted a frighteningly yapping and snarling style, in which they were reminiscent of the dreadful Caesar, who regularly alarmed guests at the Brooks home in Baton Rouge back in the forties. The Voegelins had cars, handsome ones; and as I've said, Lissy did all the driving. Eric had driven when they first had a car, I was told, but a mishap when he was at the wheel had led to Lissy's permanent assumption of the chauffeur's duties. This was not one of those cases I have known in which an intellectual's professed inability to drive seemed less an admission of incompetence than a claim to talents that rendered him superior to such mechanical activities. (Obviously I write as one who likes to drive.)
When Ruth and I visited our son and his family, we regularly called on the Voegelins, sometimes to share a meal and sometimes just to talk. The last time the four of us were together was in December 1984. Eric, who had been in failing health, was bedridden. We talked with him as he lay, in pajamas and a bathrobe, on a daybed in a smaller room (not primarily a bedroom, I think) down the hall from the main living room. I remember that his white hair was unusually long. He took pleasure in biblical readings--the books were mentioned, but I can't recall them--these often done by an attendant. One event during this visit stands out in my memory. Eric said, in a peaceful and unemotional way, without a hint of this-is-it heroism: "It is time to die." Lissy responded sharply, almost angrily: "But you do not think of me. What am I going to do?" We had never heard her use that tone with Eric, though she was always as independent as she was devoted.
Eric died about ten days later. He died on the same day as Charles Hyneman, formerly a political scientist at LSU, whom I am glad also to claim as a longtime friend. Charles was a sedulous student of practical American politics and thus presented a contrast to Eric, the theorist and philosophical historian. The American Spectator, founded by former students of Hyneman's at Indiana, remarked that the deaths of Voegelin and Hyneman had "lowered the intelligence level of the nation."
During visits to the Voegelins in Palo Alto we might, as I have said, dine together, or we might chat. Occasionally Eric would say, making a rare dip into colloquialism, "Bob and I must have some boy-talk." Off we would go to a restaurant, and by way of boy-talk Eric would hold forth on whatever topics he was currently exploring in his reading and writing. I have already mentioned Lissy's comment that Eric "had no small talk." I had plenty of it, but it seemed too small for the occasion. So I tended to be listener only, mortified by my incapacity to deal with the subjects on which Eric spoke easily and eloquently, and mortified too by the flattering implication that I was an equal partner in the conversation. I fell into the category that Peter Shaffer, in his 1968 play The White Liars, called "Takers" (as opposed to "Givers"). I have long remembered an aphorism of Eric's at one of these occasions: "Of course there is no God. But we must believe in Him." I understood, I thought, the concept of the indispensable symbol.
The disparity between the Giver and the Taker roles led, as it seemed to me it must, to a thinning of our relationship. My original duties as native informant virtually disappeared as Eric came to know more and more about America. He had read widely in literature in English, and he was a more than capable critic of what he read. Listening, however enthusiastic, was not enough. I knew Eric felt pressed by the vastness of the intellectual tasks in which he was engaged, and by the sense of a rapidly diminishing time in which to carry them out. I came to feel that I could be most helpful by not taking up time he could use more profitably in his study. We gradually reduced the number of our visits to the Voegelins, but there was never any diminution of their wonderful cordiality.
After Eric's death the matter came up in a conversation between Lissy and me. Perhaps I brought it up, wanting to explain myself, no doubt hoping to have been seen as considerate and helpful rather than indifferent or unfriendly. Lissy's comment went something like this: "Yes, Eric noticed that you weren't coming over as much. He wondered why. He was very sad about it. He was very fond of you." I wondered whether, as often happens with good intentions, I had blown it.
 Southern Review, n.s. 7, no. 1 (1971), 9-48; reprinted in The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 12, Published Essays, 1966-1985, ed. Ellis Sandoz (available Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999).
Michael Franz [asked a question about what made Voegelin laugh.]. Yet, I don't know how to respond to it in a straightforward way. Unlike Michael and most of Eric's students in Munich, he had no relation to wine or any other type of alcohol. He was drunk after one glass of wine, mostly bad wine. We thought that was funny. (He didn't enforce any kind of teetotaling regime and was actually very pleased when people enjoyed themselves with lots of wine at his parties, as his students did.) He despised people who could distinguish between good and bad wines. He considered them bourgeois and unserious. He poked fun at Winckelmann from the Max Weber Institute because he knew how to read wines. Voegelin was an illiterate in that regard. He was not very sophisticated when it came to opera, theatre productions, symphonic music, and movies either. Lissy made sometimes the mistake of taking Eric to the opera in Munich. He fell regularly asleep. She had always to poke him in the side when he started to snore.Abstract Art
One could sometimes provoke him to go and see a particular movie. He loved, for example, some of the early Beatles movies. Whether he accepted their music, I'm not sure. He certainly liked to use his familiarity with their movies to needle sometimes some of his stuffy colleagues. I experienced that at a dinner party in Cambridge, Mass. in March 1967, when he compared the Beatles with Gregorian music. At that time, he had not the slightest idea what he was talking about. But he enjoyed tremendously the baffled looks of the other dinner guests. He was amused.
Did Voegelin have a sense of humor? He liked jokes and gossip but was unable to remember most of it. Basically, he was not interested. If someone would ask me to characterize Voegelin in the social sphere, I would say that he was an intellectual elitist with proletarian tastes and sensitivities. He would always go to cheap restaurants and smoke even cheaper cigars. Coming from a long line of peasants myself, I know what I'm talking about. I didn't like the restaurants he picked.
Voegelin's humor was of a different kind. He had been brought up in Vienna on a weekly dosage of Karl Kraus' Die Fackel (The Torch). Anyone who wants to get a feel for what that education meant for intellectually sensitive people in Vienna should read Elias Canetti's The Torch. Canetti's remembrances of Kraus are Voegelin's. The Kraus humor was not the Saturday Night type of humor. It was biting, sarcastic, destructive. It was directed against the political, economic and cultural establishment of Austria and Germany during WWI and, then, the post-war republics, and, finally, Nazi Germany. Kraus's attacks on the Austrian and German emperors and their inane utterances are priceless and should be read now, at the time of George W. Bush's presidency. Kraus would have elevated George W. to emperor status, and Voegelin would have laughed. Eric thought Eisenhower was hilarious as president because of his peculiar oral speech behavior.
Voegelin's Krausian sense of humor permeates his 1964 lectures on Hitler and the Germans. One has to read those lectures, in order to get a glimpse at Voegelin's ability to combine analysis and laughter. He uses laughter to destroy the fellow travelers of megalomaniacal power.
Before you go out and trash Peggy Guggenheim and abstract art, including Pollock, in the name of Voegelin, I would like to warn you. Voegelin loved abstract art and bought a painting by Bacci (which Paul Caringella inherited) from Peggy Guggenheim in Venice. It was hanging in the Voegelin flat in Munich and later in Palo Alto. The Voegelins loved it when Americans dropped in and asked them whether they had painted it themselves. The most famous American to ask that question was Eleanore Dulles, the sister of the famous brothers and the aunt of the cardinal. There were also some Germans who wanted to ask that question, however, they lacked the American audacity to make fools of themselves.Willy Brandt
* * *
I read the Heilman memoir in its German version when it was published in Sinn und Form last year and was surprised about the Kokoschka reference. I have never seen a Kokoschka hanging in Voegelins' Munich or Palo Alto house. Paul would have become a very rich man, indeed, if the Bacci would have been certified as a Kokoschka. My explanation for the Heilman reference is simple, Heilman must not have shared Eric Voegelin's aesthetic taste or wasn't wearing his glasses when he looked at the canvas. But then, I myself may have needed glasses decades ago!
By the way, I don't know whether Hans Sedlmayr ever commented on the Bacci in Munich. Maybe he suspected that Voegelin had finally lost the "Mitte", after all that was the title of Sedlmayr's famous attack on modern art, Der Verlust der Mitte (the loss of the center). Unlike Voegelin Sedlmayr stayed in Vienna and taught from 1936 to 1945 at the University of Vienna. In 1945 he was suspended by the Allies from his job and shared Heidegger's fate until 51 when he was hired by the University of Munich. Voegelin admired Sedlmayr's erudition in European art history, and Sedlmayr frequently quoted Voegelin as philosophical authority in his attack on modern art (see, for example, Sedlmayr's book Der Tod des Lichtes, 1964). Like most of Voegelin's colleagues at the University of Munich, Sedlmayr was not amused by Voegelin's lectures in 1964 on "Hitler and the Germans". Voegelin couldn't care less and was delighted on his part about their reactions.
* * *
Yes, the Voegelins had a Christo "bundle". They didn't buy it. It was given to Eric as a farewell present by Murri Selle and Klaus-Hartmut Olbricht, young, non-student admirers of Voegelin's in Munich who belonged to the wide social circle around the Institut. They were professionally connected with the art milieux in Germany and Italy. They toured the exhibitions and wrote about them in newspapers, magazines and journals. Eric loved their oral reports about their trips. The fact that he didn't throw away the flower bundle indicates recognition. Paul got it authenticated as a Christo object.
Voegelin didn't like Willy Brandt. I think he took it personally that Brandt, when he was mayor of West Berlin, fell asleep during a talk he gave. Lissy alleged that Brandt was drunk. Be that as it may, when Brandt became chancellor of West Germany in the fall of 1969 the whole Republican establishment at Hoover was in uproar. They didn't like Brandt and his Ost-Politik. I had just arrived in Stanford in September and was elated about the election and Brandt becoming chancellor. For me it was important that a political refugee from Nazi Germany would finally make German politics become existentially "legitimate" again. You may call that romantic or whatever, but we young Germans had had enough of all those compromised figures from the past that were littering our political landscape. Voegelin knew that about the attitude of his Munich students, and he agreed with us. That was the important bond that existed between us and the re-emigrant who came back from America to introduce us to a world of learning we had no knowledge of. Voegelin was, in that sense, a romantic also. He never stopped me from attacking Stefan Possony in Stanford in long debates over German foreign policy. He would have never admitted that but, in a way, he liked that conspiratorial relationship that he had established with his students against the Germans who were in denial.
Now, that bond did not stop us from disagreeing with him on many issues. Many of us didn't like Voegelin's cold war rhetoric that shines through so clearly in his Autobiographical Reflections. We were in support of the slow process of undermining the legitimacy of the East German regime from within. We supported a slightly different policy of pulling the rug out from under the regime.
During the late 1960s, Professor Voegelin indulged in a wonderfully entertaining digression in his class at Notre Dame about conspiracy theorists and people who believed in flying saucers. It was masterful. I can't do it justice, but what I carried away from it was this: some people are so alienated from the demanding, unremarkable, grueling routine of daily life, and from the reality of the existential tension in which they live, that they want some outside truth (the conspiracy theorist's discovery; It's the Rockefellers!) or outside, higher power (walking off a spaceship on the White House lawn) to resolve the painful tension of mysterious unknowing and abiding silent suffering.
I came to the LSU campus in the Fall of 1948 to follow an undergraduate education at a small denominational college (major in history) with graduate work in history at our State University. Married housing was not available immediately so I was assigned a room in a crowded dormitory with two undergraduate students. One of them was pouring over books that included the Gospel of John for a class with somebody by the name of Eric Voegelin in the Government Department. This puzzled me immensely. I had been raised in one of the many rural churches of the Southern Baptist Convention but my selection of it's undergraduate college for GI Bill education was based strictly on circumstances, not on religion. I had taken the two required courses in Bible, no more. I remember being mildly surprised at first that a professor at a State University considered one of the Gospels to be among the documents for serious study.Bergson - Epilogomena
Consequently, when the time came for me to choose my courses and emphases, I decided that a minor in Government would be a logical choice for a history major and thus, soon found myself in classes and a seminar with Voegelin.
I cannot, now, place my experiences with him in any strict chronological order. One of them that stands out was my discovery of his humility and intellectual honesty when challenged on a point of historical fact. He made it clear that for the most part, students should obtain the annals of history from available references and not expect that he would bother with this in class.
Well, came the time when he was lecturing on the issue of the Unam Sanctum by Boniface VIII. As he drew out the background for the issue, he gave reasons and circumstances that did not include the importance of the Jubilee year in 1300. I raised my hand and as politely as possible informed him that I had been taught by a medieval scholar in our history department that the impressive visitation of Rome by Pilgrims in the Jubilee year was significant in heartening the old Pope to believe he had more support in Christendom than he had surmised, and that consequently he had issued a bull scolding Philip in 1301 followed by the Unam Sanctum in 1302.
I was afraid of a scolding but instead, he assumed a quite businesslike attitude and assured the class that perhaps he needed to check this point.
This gave me no feeling of having won a point. I knew quite well, even by then, that he had read that Papal Bull in the Latin and knew more about it than I did. What I took from his response was a display of intellectual honesty that drew me even more energetically to consider his interpretation of history. He still had a quite pronounced accent so I strained to hear every word and tried to transcribe as closely as I could. I still have some of those class notes.
Once he suggested in class that we read Nicolas Berdiaev's The Meaning of History. I read it eagerly during the following weekend and on Monday morning stopped by his office to so inform him and to share with him my enjoyment of its wisdom. Instead of the little pat on the head (figuratively speaking) I expected, he shifted his cigar to the other side of his mouth, fixed me with one of his resigned stares and responded, "I never ceased to be amazed at zeze students who tell me zay have read a book like Berdiaev over zee weekend!!! I have read zat book four times and STILL do not fully understand it!"
What a beguiling lesson in humility!! Fifty+ years later at the age of 80 I remember that little chastisement with great fondness and love. I'm also still trying to understand Bergson "more fully."
I recall, also, that on one occasion I complained to him how miserably equipped I was in language study to EVER master materials that he knew so well. I think he sensed that I was begging him to show me some shortcut to reaching his level of knowledge and characteristically, he pointedly refused to sugarcoat. He nodded that he understood the problem but that there was simply no easy solution. When, today, I read his sage comments about the "pitiful" products of the educational system that turns poorly trained people over to the scholars for "finishing" I know what he means. I really think that at bottom, this was the driving force in his work. He really DID blame the pitiful, woefully lacking, intellectual climate responsible for acceptance by societies that had proud cultural histories of murderous, ideological gangs whose vulgarity he could never find adequate words to describe.
But, without the Hitler gang, Pearl Harbor, etc., would the path of this rural country bumpkin ever have crossed this great star on the educational horizon? As long as I have breath in my body, I shall continue to "sit at his feet."
One of my classes with Voegelin was a seminar which met at his home on a weekly basis. For each session, a student had been assigned a book on which to report during that session. This would form the basis for that evening's work. I was assigned Bergson's Two Sources of Morality and Religion. I went to Voegelin's office after I had read the book to see if I had understood what it was saying. After summarizing the conclusions I had drawn as to what Bergson was saying, I stopped and waited for his response. I was a bit startled when he replied, "You have understood Bergson." That was all. But, I discovered that I was not home free. When my night came to report on the book to the group, I delivered myself of a little summary of Bergson's life and work drawn from the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Voegelin's eyes revealed his dissatisfaction when he reproved me. "Where did you get this stuff?" he asked me. It was immediately evident that it might well have been better if I had just elected not to fit Bergson into the philosophical world via the Britannica even if I DID own a set I had purchased for $5.00 a month back in 1947.Baptist criticism
He was even rougher on the only woman student in the class who was a colleague among our graduate students in history. She was assigned to read a title by Collingwood, the exact title of which I do not remember but it had to do with meaning in history.
As she began reporting on this book, Voegelin grew demonstrably more and more impatient. Finally, he could contain himself no longer and virtually exploded as he inquired, "Young lady have you READ ziz book?" She replied in the affirmative but he pressed further. "All of it?" Then, she admitted that there was one part at the end she had NOT read. It was titled, "Epilogomena" she said and continued, "Quite frankly, I didn't know what this word meant so looked it up in the dictionary and found the meaning as "afterthoughts" so I determined from this that it was not important." This almost brought Voegelin out of his chair. "My dear young lady," he burst out, "you do not look up important words such as this in ze tool of a publisher's trade. Scholars make ze dictionary, not ze other way around!"
I am telling this story exactly as I recall it. The young woman involved worked part time at the University Press and I've often wondered if he did not KNOW that. It could have been that in part, he was reflecting experiences he had had in dealing with editors who wished to change his vocabulary here and there. I have also wondered since that time if Lissy, his wife may have scolded him privately for treating the young woman so harshly. I read in one of his letters to his friend Shuetz that "Lissy said I could not possibly repay such a lovely dinner in Paris by writing a bad review" of some article Shuetz had written. Interpreting most such situations turn out to be a mixed bag. All of us learned a lesson from the incident. What he did was simply in his nature and yet, this was by far the most vigorous tongue-lashing I ever saw him deliver. I'll bet (grin) no one of us EVER left an "Epilogomena" unread after that.
During the semester in which I was taking my first course with Voegelin, the wife and I, who were both raised as Southern Baptists, decided one Sunday morning to attend the little Baptist church just off campus that was intended to serve students primarily. It happened that I had merely a speaking acquaintance with the local Baptist leader who was overseeing the little church but on this particular Sunday, a young preacher was scheduled to deliver the sermon.Max Herschberger
In introducing him, the older man, told the congregation quite openly and frankly that the young man had discussed the subject of his "message" with him beforehand and that he, as a mature adviser, had strongly advised him not to pursue that subject. He said, however, that the young preacher felt "an overwhelming call of the spirit" to "deliver this message" at this particular time and so he, the older man, agreed that he should follow the "inclination of the spirit" [I am paraphrasing these quotes but they give the gist of what was said].
He was not far into his sermon when I began to wonder if he were not the kind of young preacher we had often joked about at the denominational college where I had gotten my B.A., i.e., one who saw the initials GPC written in the sky and decided the initials stood for "Go Preach Christ" while it was more obvious that the real message had been, "Go Plow Corn!!"
Of course, I was only beginning my contact with Voegelin but I already suspected that this fellow was WAY over his head and even worse, had not the education to recognize it. He should, indeed, have listened to and abided by the council of his senior advisor.
He lit into Voegelin with the inflamed rhetoric of a fiery evangelist taking Voegelin to task for teaching college students that the image of Christ changed according to the culture in the epochs succeeding the revelation, wanting the students to hold fast to the dogma that Jesus was "the same yesterday, today and forever," etc.
The next time I saw Voegelin in the hall, I asked him if he knew that he was the subject of a sermon in that little church the previous Sunday. He listened and then smiled, saying that no, he had not heard about it but was glad that SOMEBODY was paying attention to his work. I had the impression that this was probably not the first time he had heard of the "yokel" response to his scholarship.
My pilgrimage was already out of the clerical establishment and this episode revealed to me that Voegelin's teaching offered more of an adventure in a search for the truth of existence (a phrase I didn't even know at that time) than any church attendance could yield. Even to this day, out of respect and deference to my wife who is not intellectually inclined but who has been my faithful companion for 58 years yesterday, and, at the time was working as a secretary for the History Department in order for me to pursue my studies, I have never formally removed myself from church membership.
But, this incident stayed with me and became a sort of beginning of my recognition that the clerical establishment was not for me. Indeed, long afterward, in the 1960s after we came to New Orleans, we DID discover and join a Baptist Church which was much more intellectual and liberal in its views and I even became a deacon for a few years. After the death of a beloved teen-age daughter, my grief was so deep that it created another re-appraisal of my relationship to a clerical establishment. It has been only in the past two years that I have concluded that Voegelin was probably a Christian only in the non-dogmatic sense as described by Niemyer in an article about Voegelin's spiritual position that Notre Dame was kind enough to send me.
That young man's rashness and dogmatic ignorance on that Sunday morning has continued to sum up for me the assault on the openness (a la Bergson) that was the hallmark of Eric Voegelin to the very end. That young man could have learned to appreciate Christianity so much more deeply if he had been able to break out and simply hear what Voegelin was REALLY teaching. It reminds me still today of the awesome power of dogmatism and closure of the soul against the spirit - a direction which Voegelin warned could lead to nothing but perdition while the "spirit moves on" in history.
In our Physics Department at the University of New Orleans, there was a genius who had been a graduate assistant of Einstein in his younger years and had done important work in the field of optics. His name was Max Herschberger. I came to know him because in my position on the University Religious Council, I was a member of two or three seminars on Old Testament writing given by our Jewish rabbi and Max Herschberger loved to whet his deep interest in philosophy by attending these discussions. He was a rather chubby little man who the women often referred to as a little "teddy bear." I watched him take on around 30 opponents in chess at one time and beat most of them.Visit to UNO
As Chairman of the Scholar-in-Residence committee of the Council, I was able to secure Voegelin's agreement to visit the campus (I believe it was the early seventies) for a week's series of lectures to designated classes and some open lectures as well. I had purchased and read, at that time, the first two volumes of Order and History which, of course, I asked him to autograph.
Max Herschberger appeared rather late for the first night's open lecture and took a chair in the back. Voegelin, in the course of his talk referred to Einstein and remarked that the latter had said some pretty silly things when speaking out of his field. Herschberger, made a beeline for me at the end of the talk and implored me to schedule some time in which he could confer with Voegelin. I could think of no place in the rather tight schedule except breakfast the next morning in the cafeteria of the student union building where we had Voegelin housed. Voegelin readily agreed and so the next morning, these two dear old German professors talked vigorously and, I guess, to their heart's content. I'm sure that Max took him to task about Einstein but I was busy with the schedule for the day and was not able to sit in on the conversation. Herschberger later thanked me profusely for arranging the meeting.
I only recall one of the open lectures in which Voegelin made a reference with which I was familiar from Israel and Revelation and I was proud to show off my knowledge by querying, "Song of the Harper?" to which he nodded his head and repeated it. Oddly enough, I do not recall the "Debate of a man contemplating suicide with his soul" being mentioned but I think it must have been as he references that piece frequently in his articles as evidence of a situation in ancient Egypt he considered to be similar to our own modernity.
I don't recall what honorarium we paid him but most of our honorariums were relatively modest. He remarked to me during the course of the week that his health was very good and he looked forward to continuing his work for a long time. I don't think he had as yet held the interviews with Eugene Webb that formed the basis of Webb's splendid intellectual biography of his work.
Voegelin did not bring his wife with him but you know by now that I consider Lissy as the kind of life's companion to him that Mrs. Hershberger had to Max who, during his final years on campus was almost never seen out of her company. Four beautiful people who enriched my life. I was only exposed to Lissy's warm hostessing on the one occasion of that series of seminars at his house somewhere around 1950.
During the course of Voegelin's visit to our UNO campus, I recall stepping into the room during the last few minutes of a talk he was giving to a group of political science scholars. I recall only hearing him say to them at the end of what must have been something of a heated exchange something like, "If you neglect the spiritual aspect of man's existence, you have mutilated ze science, that is all I am saying!" My memory cannot vouch for the accuracy of the first nine words of that sentence but I distinctly remember the rest of the sentence as it was said with some gusto.Substitute teacher
During the week he was with us, I arranged a little party at our home so that friends among the faculty and administration could have an opportunity to socialize with him. My two little daughters went on to bed but as the party was beginning to get underway, the youngest could not resist running into the room in her pajamas and bare feet to greet the guest. She was usually highly active, jumping around on the sofa and becoming the center of attention. Before we persuaded her to return to bed, Voegelin drew me aside and with a most concerned look, ask me the following question: "Shouldn't ze child have shoes on?" He was concerned for her health. The "child" is now thirty-six years of age!!
I told her not long ago that I would love to have the three paragraphs at the close of "End of Worldly Existence" in his Israel and Revelation read at my funeral. I asked Voegelin during his stay here how he could write such beautiful poetic prose as illustrated by those three paragraphs. He reply was, "Well, I had Homer as my model."
I realize how very fortunate I was looking back over my life to have had, in reality, three fathers - my biological father who raised us well, an uncle who ushered me into the world of earning a living and finally, Eric Voegelin who became the center of my intellectual and philosophical life. That, my friends, is "grace!!" I'm sure he has worthier "children" galore but not one who is more thankful than I.
Soon after I had taken one of Voegelin's courses which dealt, generally, with the subject matter of the period covered in Cohn's The Pursuit of the Millennium, I was engaged in a seminar with our history professor who taught modern Europe, one of my chosen five fields. I was his ONLY student in this course and we met in his office weekly so I came to know him very well. So well, in fact, that when, for some reason, Voegelin had to be off campus, and this professor, though not affiliated with the Government Department, was asked to teach Voegelin's course in the latter's absence. This young professor had noted that I took notes rather zealously and he had evidently discovered in conversation that I had taken this particular course with Voegelin only recently. He asked if he might borrow my notes from the course so that he could get a better idea of what material Voegelin covered and how he treated it. I have some notes from Voegelin's class still in my file cabinet and they may be the very notes I lent to this professor. At any rate, I readily agreed and after two or three weeks he kept his promise to return them to me.Robert J. Harris - Charley Roland
In returning the notes, he unburdened himself somewhat unfavorably as to his reaction to their content. I know now, of course, that his acceptance of "modernity" was the very opposite of Voegelin's attitude toward it. He saw the "enlightenment" in quite different light than that expressed in Voegelin's assessment of Marx and Comte (I don't think Voegelin's critique of Hegel had made much of an impression on me then. "Where in the world, he asked me, does he get such stuff as this??"
At the time, I considered this difference more or less along the lines of the current view of Voegelin among both faculty and graduate students at the time. He was notorious for having enormous numbers of books checked out of the library (faculty had unlimited privileges, not accorded graduate students), something mentioned by one of his colleagues, a man named Simpson who was a faculty colleague in the English Department in an article in the Southern Review on Voegelin's position as an educator and intellectual. Voegelin was also seen frequently walking among the hedges and flowers behind the Law Building where the Government Department was housed, lost in meditation. Let me hasten to add that this was something "I" never personally observed but others must have. I'm not sure that any but a few of them who were very close to him could have known that he would one day, after a relatively short tenure at LSU be awarded the rare title of "Boyd Professor" in recognition of his talent and usefulness to the University as a senior faculty member.
Aspects of these observations are sometimes tangential to personal memories of Voegelin but may clarify a point or two. I've sometimes been asked to verify the story about how many cigars Voegelin consumed daily, something I'm unable to do and I take Ellis Sandoz' word for it.Velikovsky - LSU residency and after
But, I don't believe that Voegelin was alone in possessing certain interesting personal habits or traits at LSU. Graduate students are notable for finding these quickly among the faculty members of their acquaintance, especially those who have the power to retard or advance graduate careers. I could tell interesting stories about T. Harry Williams and others who happened to be "big guns" at LSU during my five years there.
For example, Robert J. Harris was head of the "Government" department at LSU and it was Harris who brought Voegelin there from the University of Alabama according to the Autobiographical Reflections. I remember just as vividly as I do the seminar at Voegelin's home, a seminar with Dr. Harris. On the first day, as we were seated around a rectangular table, he sat at the head of the table with his chair turned away from the table so that he had to turn his head backward in a peculiar sort of way in order to face and talk to us. His first act was to begin reading a book listing the organizations that existed in the United States at the time alphabetically. He pointed out that there were six Abraham Lincoln societies. His point was the American proclivity for solving problems through organizing clubs.
Voegelin speaks warmly in the "Reflections" about Harris and his friendship and about learning from him "a good number of things" including the construction of Supreme Court decisions.
I may have spoken earlier of the gossip among the graduate students about how many library books Voegelin had checked out. In his long article on Voegelin in the book, Eric Voegelin's Significance for the Modern Mind, Lewis Simpson remarks that an inquiry about a certain book brought the information that it was checked out to Voegelin on a "long-overdue charge." The "long-overdue" characterization surprises me because I understood at the time that the faculty members were given no time limit on returning books as we were. At any rate, Simpson says that he asked that the book be recalled and it was returned "promptly."
I think that I have not previously recounted one rather amusing incident involving a colleague among the graduate students in history. Charley Roland, who later taught at Tulane University and the University of Kentucky, had written his doctoral dissertation on the sugar plantations in Louisiana, that stretch from where I now live up the Mississippi River to Baton Rouge. I do not recall now whether Voegelin was his assigned minor professor or acting in that capacity for somebody else but I do recall Charley telling the story of the encounter. He said that Voegelin, in returning it to him informed him that Mrs. Voegelin had read it with interest but wondered what one could find in the story that could not be found in Frank Yerby's Foxes of Harrow. I sensed no feeling of resentment, only of amusement on Charley's part. I remember that he expressed great admiration for Voegelin's amazing knowledge of the origin of ideas and symbols. Charley was already an accomplished lecturer before he left grad school. I have no memory of any extensive association with others among Voegelin's students.
I would like to mention something here that perhaps someone can help supply. In one of his courses, Voegelin put on the blackboard a mathematical formula which he cited as evidence that there is no such thing as Progress "with a big P," only progress with a small "p." If I jotted that formula down, it became misplaced. If anybody remembers it I'd be very much obliged if it could be posted. I do not believe I've seen it at any of the Voegelin sites on the net.
During the time that I was taking a course with Voegelin, I became aware of Velikovsky's newly published two volume work, Worlds in Collision. I recall my surprise that he attributed the "reddish dust" on the "Red Sea" to the entrance of Venus (I hope I'm recalling this correctly) as a younger body into the earth's orbit, causing not only this dust but the "sun to stand still" for Joshua. My surprise was caused by my understanding that it had already been discovered that the rendition of "Red Sea" was incorrect and that the body of water being referred to was the "Reed Sea." I had not been assigned this work but was merely reading it for interest. I decided to inquire of Dr. Voegelin what he thought of the book. His response was both immediate and emphatic; "Trash," was his immediate verdict and it was uttered in such a manner as, it seemed to me, to invite no further discussion. I've read in subsequent years about the "Velikovsky problem" and so have been reminded of that brief exchange many times. As I understand the "problem" it has to do with the discomfiture of some of the astronomers in finding Venus to be hotter than they had once believed it to be thus conferring upon Velikovsky some degree of respectability. I'm, admittedly, no judge at all in this "controversy" and so have to continue to assume that Dr. Voegelin was leading me in the right direction.Church membership - Peter Bertocci
Let me say in this connection that if Voegelin offered any courses in which biblical material such as the Mosaic revelation, Pauline visions or the Gospel of John were offered, I was not privileged to take them. When I later purchased and read the first volume of Order and History it was my introduction to his vast knowledge and theorization in this particular area.
I have mentioned before that I ended my residency at LSU in 1953 and conducted an LSU residence program on the Canal Zone for three years prior to completing my doctorate in 1957. I began my teaching career at a small denominational college in the State and during that time, a former colleague in another social science field invited me to read a paper on the subject of my dissertation at a conference being held at his institution. Israel and Revelation had been published by that time and a severe critic of Voegelin's work read a paper at the same conference. I was unprepared to judge the criticism for reasons given above but felt a strong personal resentment about the criticism. I "pondered these things in my heart" so to speak and read with increasing interest the other volumes as they became available. The fourth volume reinforced my personal memory of Voegelin's intellectual honesty and integrity.
Let me say that I have a friend and colleague of my own age in the field of history, both of us retired from the same institution, who would have no interest in Eric Voegelin whatsoever and not long ago I spoke to a former colleague in the political science department who informed me that as far as he knew nobody in the department had any particular interest in Voegelin.
On the other hand, I recently found a group in the political science department at Radford University in Virginia, one of them being Nick Pappas, with a strong interest in Voegelin's work. I'm going to attempt to interest them in the forum as I know they would have some interesting contributions to make.
I remember being, perhaps, TOO bold in blurting out the question to Voegelin when he was on our campus in 1971 as to whether or not he was affiliated with a church. Heilman is right that Voegelin was seldom angry or impolite with anybody. Voegelin mumbled something about "Lutheran" which led me to assume that he had been, perhaps, baptized as a child in that church but had not been an active church member. This was clarified for me somewhat in Heilman's book. On page 100, he says that "Once Lissy got the notion that one had to be a church member to undergo funeral rites; [this was after he had left the Hoover Institute] Eric [Heilman called him by his first name] said matter-of-factly, 'All right, we will join a church then.' "
I think quite often of another man who became influential in my life. I met Dr. Peter Bertocci of Boston University (a Personalist philosopher) in 1958 and was associated with him on two other occasions, one of them being another of my contributions to our invited scholars as was Voegelin. Bertocci was a confessed Methodist Christian, one of his books being, Religion as Creative Insecurity. But I think along the line of Voegelin, of Bertocci's little booklet, "Education and the Vision of Excellence," a lecture he gave at Boston University in 1960. In it, he makes a plea to educate the person to the full extent of his ability at whatever stage of intellectual level that person might be in life. He insists [a favorite word of his] that there is no reason that the person destined to be a day worker all of his life should be deprived of as much of the knowledge of Plato as that person's individual capabilities might allow and not to shove him aside simply because she/he/it could not become a college graduate or even a high school graduate.
I know that Voegelin complained frequently of the students presented to him for further education after they had been "ruined" by poor or neglected training and I do not think that if they had ever had the occasion to talk with each other that Voegelin would have disagreed. Why would I say that. Well, in the main, because while others of Voegelin's graduate students were more oriented than I at the time to the concept of transcendence, I NEVER felt that he considered me and others like me to be dunces who were not worth the time of an obviously hard-working, dedicated scholar with years of experience. I think also of Charles Hampden-Turner, another of our Scholars-in-Residence whose writings have steadily emphasized the unifying elements inherent even in capitalism (The Seven Pillars of Capitalism, Maps of the Mind, Radical Man, etc.)
What if such men as Eric Voegelin, Peter Bertocci, Charles Hampden-Turner and perhaps others that evforum members might name, could have served on a blue-ribbon committee to set up the curriculum and aims, say of a junior college. Voegelin first taught me about Plato's provision in the constitution-building of the Laws for a "Nocturnal Council" While I was taking Voegelin's courses, I was majoring in Latin American history (colonial and modern) so I know that Simon Bolivar actually drew up the first constitution for Bolivia as virtually a copy of Plato's model, if (grin) one can imagine such an anomaly. But a child of the enlightenment such as Bolivar could easily believe in the workability of raw Plato (grin) in that environment. Bolivar went through his own learning process, however and when he left Cartagena for the last time he pronounced that "he who makes a revolution, plows the sea."
Heilman's information that Voegelin played the stock market in his declining years, learned to do so quickly and did quite well (according to Lissy) was quite an eye-opener for me!! The rumor among the his graduate students was that he and Lissy were not at all happy shopping in supermarkets but preferred the small shops where fresh produce (farm-to-market) was much preferred. Heilman, however, does not mention that so I wonder about it. I'll just stow it away until some intimate (Paul Caringella?) produces a full scale biography of "Bob and Ruth's" "Eric and Lissy." I'll be the first in line if I'm permitted to live until that day.
[Reprinted from Modern Age, 1981, v. 25, pp.381-87, by permission of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute].
From man and scholar, Eric Voegelin has become a kind of monument, and a cult has sprung up around him as, also in their lifetimes, around Hegel and Heidegger. Yet it is a different cult; the former two never left their homeland, were beneficiaries of its honors, and participated in its public, even its political, life. Both were echt Deutsche, intrinsically German, in attitude, style, philosophical form and language. Their contemporaries were their posterity: the echoes and the resonances were in before they died, although perhaps more in Heidegger's case than in Hegel's who died young for a philosopher. But both spawned, in equal measure, imitators, admirers, epigones exaggerating their jargon; their ideas and influence extended far and wide. Hegel begot the "Hegelian" right and the "Hegelian" left, and also Marx, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, each of them, in his turn, fountainheads of modernity. Heidegger is the father of contemporary existentialism (Sartre's is a poor copy) and of the rebellious process-theologians, whether in the classroom at Tübingen or in the South American jungle.
Voegelin has nothing to do with such glories and -- embarrassments. He is not a public man; but an expatriate; he is not interviewed in Der Spiegel, is not "controversial" politically; his fate at the hands of posterity cannot be easily guessed: do his followers really understand him well enough or, as Professor Albright suspected it in his comprehensive review of Order and History, will they disregard his "theistic emphasis" and elaborate a "Hegelian historicism" of their own? (Of this, later).
The most important difference with Hegel and Heidegger is that Voegelin's real public is in America and generally in the Anglophone world where he is placed on a pedestal by a restricted circle of cognoscenti. In his native Germany -- nemo propheta in patria sua -- he has fervent partisans, but also antagonistic and irony-filled critics. They represent a quasi-posterity insofar as the "new science of politics" has not succeeded in liquidating the old: Voegelin's German critics belong to socialist, positivist or neo-rightist schools who reject political science with the large doses of philosophy, religion and mythology that Voegelin has introduced. They also reject what they regard as the irrational (in fact, non-positivistic) element in his opus, partly because they see German political scholarship safer when patronized by the American academic fashion (behaviorism, neopositivism, statistical methods, etc.), that is, by the study of Gesellschaft, than led back to the exploration of the Gemeinschaft with its historical consciousness and symbols.
In this sense, Voegelin is marginal to German political science. Here are two reactions, uttered in my presence, by German politologues: Professor W.H. relates that when Voegelin showed him proudly around in the library of his institute in Munich, he (W.H.) could not suppress the temptation to ask: "Where are the books on politics?" since most of what he saw was on gnosticism, religion, oriental myth, or they were archaeological documents. Another critic, Professor A.M., cannot forgive Voegelin his vast "abstractions," his realism (A.M. is a nominalist), his system-building. In fact, for these same reasons, Prof. A.M. once attacked Voegelin and the writer of these lines -- but more vehemently Voegelin for having switched the spelling of his first name: Eric instead of Erik! (Intellectuals are less forgiving than rival primadonnas!)
Even far afield (still speaking of Europe), Voegelin is less than understood, or, if understood, less than fully appreciated. Mircea Eliade's Diary (Fragments d'un Journal) contains one reference to him, the kind one reserves for an eccentric. At their first (only?) meeting Voegelin spoke of the modern ills as imputable to the revival of gnosticism, and to nothing else. He was surprised, Eliade notes, when I was puzzled.
These few markings suffice for a rudimentary outline of Voegelin's public portrait, or at least caricature. The man is made of one piece, and this integrality has the label "scholar." Whenever I saw him, alone or in company, the impression was unmistakable: old-world courtesy and the aloofness of the scholar, interested in scholarship alone. Only there, in that self-drawn magic circle, do his eyes light up with passion shining in them. When the moment, or the lecture, is over, there follows a retreat to distracted politeness, and the mask of attention is worn again. I have it from a German disciple that the Institute in Munich could have flourished -- if only director Voegelin had frequented the Bavarian politicians and City fathers with more assiduity and ardor. Instead, luncheons agreed on were forgotten -- and Voegelin was found in his study, reading. Understandably, the funds got scantier and the jealousies emboldened by his nonresistance. Which explains why Voegelin told me with genuine disgust in his voice that he could not stand it in Munich any more, and preferred Stanford by far. (Obviously, in California he was sheltered from the necessity of politicking and administering). The conversation took place in Rome, in 1968, and we were strolling after a long congressday, in the direction of the Trinita del Monti (Spanish Steps). Voegelin's memories seemed indeed bitter, not even softened by by the respect with which the intellectual right of Italy surrounded him -- in contrast to the French intellectual right where he was practically unknown. True, the Italians, north of Rome, are much more attuned to German scholarship than Frenchmen east of Paris.
In the United States throughout the last thirty years, Voegelin has steadily moved from the peripheries to the center, accompanied by recognition, now bordering on adulation. I once wrote in a review of one of his books that this phenomena was to some extent incomprehensible. Americans, scholars included, respect the specialist, distrust the polyhistor in whom they suspect, pardon my word, a charlatan. The man who draws with an equal ease from several disciplines, creates in America an almost tangible malaise. Voegelin is, of course, such a man, that is, a "scholar's scholar," who writes the same book throughout his career, pursues the same gnawing problems, learns languages, studies new methods, ranges far afield, invades other territories -- all in order to get nearer the questions which haunt him. In a different area, Edmund Wilson was such a man among native Americans. He was, however, a leftist, thus better tolerated; Voegelin is a "rightist," as a silly and malevolent review of the New Science of Politics by Moses Hadas suggested.
But, precisely: is Voegelin a rightist, that is, a conservative attuned to American conservativism? Besides his books and lectures let me also refer to his letters to me and thus piece together an answer. Here is a passage from a note (February 12, 1969) in which he thanks me for the German translation (I think) of my book on Sartre, Ideologue of Our Time:the first three chapters that I have read are magnificent and give a splendid insight into the pitiable state of intellectuals getting old and discovering that they are empty.In a second letter, about the same book, he agreed with me, or rather with St. Augustine whom I quoted, that these intellectuals and their (gnostic) forebears have engaged in a fornatico fantastica with ideas -- thus showing the conservative's judgmental and instinctive recoil from empty speculation associated with certain leftist/radical literature and scholarship. In the already-quoted review, Albright too finds Voegelin in a much profounder sympathy with Hebrew-Christian tradition than the man to whom he compares him, Toynbee.
On the other hand, from a letter of Voegelin on November 17, 1970, I concluded that he did not entertain the conservative's compulsive optimism and the "what can we do about it..." approach to historical developments. The American variety of conservatism -- often an updated copy of nineteenth-century liberalism -- is predicated on the assumption that man is free to shape destiny, and that it is enough to will events; things turn our way. In comment on my review of his Science, Politics, and Gnosticism, Voegelin wrote:Thank you ever so much for this perceptive review which indeed brings out the problem that worries me all the time: whether anything can be done about the intellectual and spiritual disorientation of the time in an effective manner, or whether one must let the social process run its course, with the hope only of perhaps helping this or that man in his personal troubles. At present, I am rather inclined to believe that nothing really effective can be done, but that the philosophical work must go on, in order to keep alive the possibility of return for those who are willing to turn around. Whether the situation arises in which such a turning around becomes socially relevant, however, I do not know... (But) things simply do not go on in the same way forever. As an empirical rule one might say that so-called "periods" last for 250 years. Counting such a "period" from, say 1750, as marking the opening of the Enlightenment, we should now approach th time when this "period" has run its course.The passage is clearly non-conservative (if anything, it is Platonic): an unfathomable force is at work in history which leaves us unaware of its motives and changes; a person may only influence a small and willing circle, but a large number of persons is subject to an enigmatic law or to "periods," uncontrollable by us in its or their historical rhythms. Next to Plato, Giambattista Vico's New Science comes to mind, or if you call the enigmatic law "divine providence," you have the Christian view. We also hear the echo of Plato's Seventh Letter: the philosophical work must go on in the hope that a few are willing to turn around. All this is light years away from the activism it engenders.
Let us leave the matter of Voegelin's conservatism, and inquire whether he is a "Christian thinker," which would be the second pillar on which the reverence of conservatives, at least of the traditionalist kind, would rest. The raising of the question is legitimate because as a thinker of the German tradition, it is prudent to ask whether that tradition, in spite of Voegelin's opposition to Hegel and the Hegelians, did not leave its mark on him too. After all, "German philosophy," long before the officially so-called idealists, that is, since Meister Eckhart, Cusanus, Schwenckfeld, Oetinger, and then from Kant to the contemporary theologians -- is united in its effort to recover the (subjective!) experience of "participation in the divine reality" (Voegelin's phrase), without positing a transcendent God whose "I Am Who I Am" makes him independent of man experiencing him or not. In other words, German philosophy has been to date the most grandiose enterprise of immanentizing the divinity, a more devastating enterprise than that of the clumsy materialists: Marx, or second-rate rebels, from the philosophes to Sartre. Indeed, comparing Sartre to Heidegger, one sees clearly the differences of quality of the atheistic rebellion of the first who sees in God the Great Bourgeois, a political opponent, and of the second whose aim is to dissolve God and Platonic ontology in a nihilistic flux. Of the two, Sartre, with all his viciousness, seems like a nasty child throwing stones at a funeral procession, while Heidegger, with a Herr Professor's respectability, is an immensely dangerous destroyer of the logos and of the Word.
Thus I was understandably surprised when, six days after the last-mentioned letter, on November 23, 1970, Voegelin wrote to me apropos of an article I publishes in Modern Age ("The Cult of the Self"), calling Hegel's, Heidegger's and Sartre's speculative enterprise "attempts at recovering the experience of participation in the divine reality," attempts that "miscarried." I admit that I did not perceive this attempt; on the contrary, I saw a conscious campaign to replace the "divine reality" with substitutes like "World Spirit," the philosopher's "unveiling of Being," or the fusion of en-soi with the pour-soi. Moreover, I find that like "value," the term "experience" is the alibi of German idealists when they wish to avoid speaking of "reality"; it is the key term to their subjectivism, because while reality is a tenacious thing, you can do all sorts of things with experience, even remove it from what we actually experience. See Husserl's case who "brackets" ordinary experience so that what remains is indeed "the aging intellectual's discovery of his own emptiness."
Thus, skipping some stages of my self-interrogation concerning the Voegelinian concepts, let me quote from my review of his Ecumenic Age:Hebrews and Greeks pierced the cosmos in the direction of the "unknown God of the beyond," as Voegelin calls him. Was this God further articulated, made more real, less unknown thanks to Christian revelation? We are not told, as the Christian God too was experienced, to be sure in a more articulate manner, but still only experienced. But so were the intra-cosmic gods and Socrates' daimon. Is there any difference?In my own mind I had come to the very hesitant and tentative conclusion that there were streaks in Voegelin's thought which remind the reader of the ambiguities in German speculation. At that point I read Albright's review of Order and History which helped to some extent. Albright actually distinguishes three main strands in Voegelin's "eclectic philosophy," one of which is the Hegelian. He finds, however, in favor of Voegelin for two reasons: Voegelin's concept of Order is more concrete and manageable than Hegel's Geist, and his theism allows our philosopher to see the ordering principle as being outside the world, not immanent as Hegel's. Since Albright regards historicism [as] pernicious, and leading to self-divinization, he locates in the Voegelinian opus a healthy antidote.Incarnation is the reality of divine presence in Jesus as experienced by the men who were his disciples and expressed their experience by the symbol "Son of God" and its equivalents; while Resurrection refers to the Pauline vision of the Resurrected, as well as to the other visions which Paul, who knew something about visions, classified as the same type as his own. (reviewer's italics).
Let matters rest at that. Anyway, the seventies saw Voegelin strike out on new endeavors which showed his interest in the concrete and the wide-ranging. He traveled to Malta, the Yucatan, to Stonehenge, in pursuit of the relationship between cosmology and architecture, a relationship shedding direct light on the way men found and shape their civitas. On this subject there is as wide a range of documentation as the wide world of human habitation, but the privileged place for Western man is Italy, the birthplace of the city in our sense -- at least until the modern monster appeared with its three heads, the automobile, the housing project, and Le Corbusier. The City as a replica of the cosmos is one of mankind's main preoccupations, is strangled by modern urbanists, but in fact by our desacralized civilization: the city has become a temporary convenience, a "facility" (a horrible word) containing smaller "facilities": prisons, hospitals, schools, office buildings.
Voegelin's attention thus turned to the fundamental questions of civilization. One thing must have lead to another in his mind, not according to the prescriptions of pedantic research, but with the happy intrusion of imagination and fantasy. From time to time I received echoes of what had just captured Voegelin's imagination, through letters ("have you read Del'Arco's work on Parmigianino, a treasure house of information on the new sorcery through artists in the 16th century?"); through visits to his library (by coincidence we were reading Titus Burkhardt's Alchemy at the same time); through a lecture sponsored by I.S.I. on Karl Jaspers' "axial years"; through correspondence about a newly discovered animal thigh-bone (or was it a tibia?) on which ancient man recorded the phases of stellar motion.
All this shows that Voegelin is the paradigm of the scholar: forever moving in pursuit of the latest intuition demanding documentation; then a further digging to yet deeper roots, the new continuously integrated with the work of a lifetime. Study never ends. At the age of 79 in 1980, the thank you note for my latest book testifies:Theists and Atheists has just arrived. I could not read it thoroughly in one day [?] but I have gone through it. I must say this an excellent presentation of the various isms connected with your central issue [the varieties of atheism], and I am most grateful to have it as a help in my own studies concerning the experiences back of the various isms and of the reality distorted by them.Then this delightful little glance under the austere scholar's mask, apropos of an article of mine on the Marquis de Sade:...it is excellent, as it stresses the importance of his appearance in the context of modern intellectualism. I myself take special pleasure on occasion to irritate people who talk about the death of God by referring them to Encore un effort... [a Sadean tract] as the key document that illuminates the pornographic and criminal purpose of the deicide.II
There is a certain ambiguity about Voegelin's fame. I noticed, for example, that Russell Kirk calls him a historian, Albright a "philosophical historian," in Germany he is a Politologe, in America he is often referred to as a "philosopher." Besides, he is not obviously out of place among students of religion and mythology; on the other hand, the philosopher's label does not quite fit if that profession is tied to the elaboration of formal metaphysics, an epistemology, an ethical investigation, and a more direct and detailed study of politics than is provided in various parts of his writings. As a consequence, Voegelin puzzles many of his readers; they must be attracted to his ideas and mature through the experience of modern disorder before they discover him. He intrigues before he is read.
I noticed this in two very dissimilar milieux, in France and in South Africa. The French left is too Jacobine and/or Marxist to read and appreciate the author of From Enlightenment to Revolution and Science, Politics and Gnosticism. He would be regarded, if known, as hopelessly Germanic, but on the wrong side. David Rousset expressed the judgment if the entire Sartrian generation in an episode he recounts in Les jours de notre mort, his captivity in Hitler's concentration camps. He and other intellectuals managed to engage the guard in conversation (a way of skipping work for a few minutes) and Rousset told him he was a professor of philosophy. "Then tell me," said the guard, "Who is the greatest German philosopher?" "Hegel, of course," was the self-assured answer. If this is not quite so any longer, the new "greatest" are Nietzsche and Heidegger.
As for the French right, the figure of Maurras still so dominates its intellectual-political landscape that no rival is admitted. And Maurras detested the Germans, Germany, and the Germanic spirit. Perhaps the last great German thinker that the French (Catholic) right admires is Albertus Magnus, teacher of St. Thomas.
Academic South Africa is split between Anglophones and Afrikaaners, the first group generally too radical to study Voegelin, the second, profoundly Calvinistic, too much the disciples of orthodox theologians -- to accept the legitimacy of philosophy, which is human wisdom as against divine studies. Yet on both occasions when I taught in South Africa I was asked to acquaint my colleagues with Voegelin's teaching -- and they were exclusively Afrikaaners, very appreciative and interested ones, although it is an English-speaking South African, E.H. Wainwright, who devoted his bulky doctrinal dissertation to Voegelin's ideas.
Finally, in the United States where, as said before, he offers no less a puzzle to his contemporaries than he will, most probably, to future generations. Recently, a young and profoundly reflective scholar, a genuine admirer of Voegelin's achievement, raised in conversation the the interesting point whether Voegelin is not, basically, in opposition to the American tradition of democracy. Indeed, can a disciple of Plato be anything but an acerbic critic of democracy, of the excesses it by its nature engenders, and of the tyrannic regime it calls forth?
The question leads one to assume that, in the foreseeable future, Voegelin's influence even in his exilic home will remain limited to a relatively small circle of political thinkers, able to overcome the temptations of the idola fori. At any rate, it will be an indirect influence on most students of politics. It is not only Voegelin's aloof temperament, it is also the nature of his quest which explains what he once told me, as I inquired why he does not descend into the academic arena (we may have more than one reason today so to phrase it) and teach less infrequently (I meant of course graduate students): "I refuse to teach illiterates who have been taught by illiterates!"
Is there a "conclusion" to this brief philosophical portrait, sketched almost entirely with the help of personal impressions? I can do no better than recopy a passage from a letter in which, prompted by my questions, Voegelin gave perhaps the best summary of his teaching. I had formulated the question after reading the text of his lecture in Pittsburgh, On Gospel and Truth, enclosed in his letter of November 23, 1970.
The question by me (with apologies for its length):Your letters and and lecture focus my attention again on what I should call the Voegelinian formulation of the present predicament, and beyond, of the Western problematics... You recognize two channels through which Western man emerged from oriental cosmogonies: Israel and Hellas. If you regard these channels [as] equivalent, and philosophy climaxing in Plato, then natural reason -- which feeds philosophy -- must by itself be capable of protecting Western man from attempts to deform his reason (your expression in Pittsburgh). If, however, reason "shrivels" (your word) without God, then philosophy is not sufficient without God's most direct manifestation, that is, revelation. Indeed, if Plato is the last word, and if, according to this last word the Cosmos is the only visible image of God, then two consequences follow: one, the scientific view of the universe hopelessly overrules the Platonic view, Descartes defeats Plato; two,a universal mechanism may be detected which organizes history into epochs, turning them on and off according to some periodicity. Thus after Descartes, Hegel too defeats Plato.Voegelin's answer:
My own conclusion is that natural reason is not sufficient to return us to the life of reason once we are derailed; only a personal God, acting not via some historical mechanism, but through the mind and soul of man, can make us "turn around"..."Natural reason" is a theological category. Plato and Aristotle did not know that their reason was "natural," but were quite aware of God as the moving reality of their existence. The medieval opposites of Reason and Revelation are simply not compatible with the reality of historical texts. Hence, both Classic Philosophy and Christian Revelation are "revelation." If I say that both are "equivalent," that means that they are both expressive of the fundamental structure of existence. The Gospel conception of existence, however, has differentiated the problems further than Classic Philosophy, inasmuch as the eminence of truth present in existence has been more energetically clarified. Classic philosophy does not suffer from an insufficient penetration of experience, but from the hesitation to make the existential insights the center of philosophy. For both Plato and Aristotle, the cosmos remains the eminent divine presence. Hence we have the following situation: Regarding the analysis of noetic consciousness, Classic Philosophy is in many points superior to anything the Gospels have produced; regarding a total view of reality, in which the truth of noetic consciousness should dominate, the Gospels are superior to to Classic Philosophy. Hence, Philosophy and Christianity are not alternatives. We have to face the fact that truth in history reveals itself not on a single line, but in complicated patterns, parallels, convergences and fusions.One may still agree or disagree. But not on the fact that in Voegelin we face the paradigmatic scholar-historian-philosopher, one of the profoundest explorers of the age.
I recall a brief discussion I had with EV in the late 60's on Nietzsche. I recall telling EV that I believed that some philosophers model their writings, consciously or unconsciously, on a very specific variety of human experience. I told EV that I felt that Sartre modelled his philosophy on the experience of a resistence fighter, on the experience of having to believe that everyone is your enemy and of not being able to trust anyone. To this, EV just snorted. I then told him that Nietzsche appears to use dance as the model for philosophy and that I had written a little paper on Philosophy as Dance in Nietzsche. I pointed out to EV that Nietzsche described Zarathustra as a dancer, that he saw himself making a pas de deux over the ideas of history and that his ideal was described as the one who 'leaps over'. To this EV said "Of course! I should have seen it." At which time he had to leave into his cab. I never got around to asking him about it again.Frivolity
A recent email caused me to recall some of EV's occasional frivolity, and subtlety, in social settings. I thought that the members of this forum might enjoy this.Look it up
I was present when Eric Voegelin had the following exchange with participants at one of his lectures:
Participant 1: "Mr. Voegelin, may I tape record your lecture?"
EV: "Why? Are you planning not to listen?"
Participant 1: "Some lecturers do not like it."
EV: "Why? Are they ashamed of what they say?"
Participant 2: "Can I use some of the things that you said tonight in a paper?"
EV: "Only if you understood it."
Participant 2: "Then do I have your permission to quote you?"
EV: "Yes, if you think it will help you."
I am always tempted to tell a story when questions such as yours arise about how EV once reacted to a request for a clarification of a word he had just used in a public lecture back in the late 60's. EV had used a German word in the course of his lecture. I forget what it was; that is not important. At the end of the lecture a very sober sounding professor stood up to ask things like "That word, xxxxx, it is very interesting. Do you know when it first entered philosophical parlance? Do you know of any other authors who use it? Would you say that it is a technical term?" To this long and drawn out dissertation, which I have significantly abbreviated, EV replied, "What are you talking about? It means 'light'. It is a very ordinary word. Children use it. If you want to know what it means, look it up." With this, EV paused and then added, "All of the words that I use are ordinary words. If you have difficulty with the words that I use, look them up ... Next question?"More Pogo
One weekend in his lecture circuit around Ottawa and Montreal EV stayed with us, my wife and I. On the Saturday afternoon my wife and I had to make our way out to buy provisions. EV chose to stay and relax. I pointed out my rather extensive library of philosophical and historical works and assumed that he would be happy mulling through them.
When my wife and I returned, I somehow got around to asking EV if he had found something interesting to read. He replied, "Yes, I read this book", pointing to my "Anthology of Pogo". I had regarded this book that I received as a gift as a quaint coffee table conversation piece, nothing more. I stood surprised. I do not remember my exact words but I believe that I said something to the effect, "Do you mean to tell me that the renowned scholar Eric Voegelin stayed at my house to read Pogo cartoons?" To this EV immediately replied, "But this man is very good." Which, I took to mean that he consided Walt Kelly, the creator of Pogo, to be very perceptive. I stared at the book wondering what I had missed and promised myself to find out what EV was seeing. I am not sure that I ever have.
Since then I have heard similar stories about EV and Pogo out of LSU but nothing that might shed light on what EV found so intriguing.
Martin Sattler Recollection from 1974
Martin Sattler, a former graduate student of Eric Voegelin, has written the following recollection and comment to the evforum (April 2006) on the recent posthumous publication of Hans Kelsen's critique of Voegelin's The New Science of Politics (1952) and published with the almost identical title, A New Science of Politics [Ontos Verlag, Frankfurt, 2005].
[Mr. Sattler's abbreviations have been spelled out here.]
Kelsen wrote his 125 page critique in English. So it wasn't translated by [Eckhart] Arnold, the editor of the volume.
I have a copy of the original [ms]. Voegelin told me, when he gave it to me in 1974, that Kelsen was a great scholar and that he had learnt so much from him dealing with texts.
Voegelin thought indeed that Kelsen was vulnerable if this critique became publicly known.
"What shall I do with it?" I asked Voegelin.
"Do what ever you want. I think it is not very clear and not elucidating for Kelsen's well known philosophical standpoint."
So I did nothing. It reads very defensive and also not very well informed about the very rich content of The New Science of Politics.
"Kelsen's argument is very weak," Voegelin said to me.
The last sentences of [Kelsen on page 125 paraphrase the last page of Voegelin]:In the catastrophic situation to which gnosticism with its destruction of the truth of the soul has driven modern civilization,Voegelin sees -- at the end of his book -- a glimmer of hope, for the American and English democracies which most solidly in their institutions represent the truth of the soul [and] are, at the same time, existentially the strongest powers (NScP, p.189). This is the -- quite contradictory -- truth of gnosticism as to the nature of modernity. It is the end [of] Voegelin's gnostic dream.How can Kelsen accuse Voegelin of gnosticism if he argues that the categories of philosophia prima and Christian faith on the one side and gnostic derailment on the other are not applicable in political thought in the first place?
Now that Arnold has published the critique, maybe, we have to reread and discuss it all.
On page 189 of the original New Science of Politics Voegelin continues (in 1952):But it will require all our efforts to kindle this glimmer into a flame by repressing Gnostic corruption and restoring the forces of civilization. At present the fate is in the balance.Maybe we failed? Do they know in Washington and London that they should have represented the "truth of the soul" in their political activities? Did the efforts kindle the glimmer into a flame? The verdict of Voegelin on modernity is not contradictory in itself as Kelsen claims but the "efforts" in politics in the last 54 years might have been not strong enough.
I've received a very gracious request to share something to which I alluded in a previous posting, the "Eric Voegelin Method" of reading the Wall Street Journal. It had never occurred to me to write it up, which is an absurd oversight considering what a very great gift to me this short lesson turned out to be; so I am very grateful indeed for the spur to attempt it now, and hope to do it justice.The Wise Man
This was on a late November Friday in 1980, and I think it was the third time I visited the Voegelins at the house on Sonoma Terrace at Stanford. Considering that I was a perplexed, obnoxious 27-year-old who had pestered him with several turgid letters, and considering that I had visited before and had very likely had little of interest to offer on those previous occasions, his indulgence and hospitality really have to be rated well beyond any normal generosity. Lissy Voegelin's hospitality, of course, was so suffused with sweetness and grace that far more obnoxious visitors were probably thoroughly disarmed.
The conversations of these visits were fairly one-sided. I would ask a question and the answer would have my head spinning in a few seconds, since it would take off in a direction so unanticipated that I would barely get my bearings with the start of the answer by the time the trip came to its end. And when he did the asking, the questions were just as unexpected, and my answers probably those of any other village idiot. None of it was remotely what I expected from reading his works, which I had been doing on and off since the middle of 1973. But like the works themselves, even when surprising, perplexing, challenging, frightening, there was an overwhelming and compelling substance in the experience that demanded attention and response.
The "lesson" came after a question from me that I don't remember, but it must have been the last straw -- I thought I had "philosophical problems" I wanted to discuss, but this last question he dismissed with a wave of his hand: "No, no, no, your problem is exactly the same as my problem, which is to make money faster than the politicians can steal it from me. In order to philosophize I need an income. The first duty of any young person is to try to understand the world around him, the world he lives in. It is complex -- everything is global! The decision of some bureaucrat half a world away can destroy your livelihood! If you want to understand the world around you, you have to do a little work, you have to go to the sources, just like in any other investigation." By this time he had gone over to fetch the day's Journal.
[Digression: on both previous visits, the subject of newspapers had come up, and I had heard somewhat similar exhortations. "There are a few good newspapers, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal; but you have to read them -- students don't want to bother." Earlier in the conversation on this visit, the same topic had arisen, but he only mentioned the WSJ. I remember asking "New York Times?" He answered, but without the same enthusiasm, "Also good. But not the editorial page!"]
We went and stood by the windows onto the patio, where the light was better. "Look, you can do this in twenty minutes a day. Start here." He pointed to column 3 on the front page, the "World-Wide" column under "What's News." He jabbed at the heading and ran a finger all the way down the column. "You read all of these. If you want to know more there will be references to articles inside, but this is the important part. Then you read the first few of these." He pointed to column 2, the "Business and Finance" part of "What's News," and ran down about half the column. "These give you the most important business developments." Then he turned it over -- I don't think the paper had yet been split into two sections, but don't quite remember -- and threw open pages from the back to reach the editorials. Again he jabbed at the page -- these were not aggressive jabs, but rather slow & deliberate, yet ever so slightly depreciative, as if to say "this is merely the elementary work you must do in order to fulfill your first duty as a young person!"
This jab was at "Review and Outlook" (the Journal's unsigned editorials). "You read both of these. And then this <jab>," the top half Board of Contributors piece, "these are regular -- top people."
Now earlier in the afternoon, being completely and utterly innocent of any economic knowledge whatsoever, I had asked about what to read for the basics, expecting some standard text like Samuelson, but probably not Samuelson. Yes (it's coming back now), this is where the newspapers had come up: the newspaper is the economics textbook -- it's all source material! This seemed like a staggering job, figuring it all out from scratch, out of the daily news. "It is all there -- the real reasons that things happen, the things people say about what happens and why they make their decisions. There is a good economist, McCrrracken, he writes in the Wall Street Journal every six or eight weeks, he was Ford's economic advisor."
So now, pointing at the Board of Contributors space, he said, "This is where you find Paul McCracken. He's a good economist, read him. Not [with withering sarcasm] ze grreat Milton Friedman -- McCrrrracken! Here you find the thinking that actually lies behind what happens in the world. You see, these are the people who actually produce, do the work, that everything depends on. If they decide one day to stop doing it, the whole world falls apart."
There was a little more along the same lines, his paging through the welter of commodity prices, exchange rates, securities quotations, spot prices, and all the rest, saying, basically, that here was the whole world on the pragmatic plane, the cost of being in it -- and that mastering it is simply a general obligation. And somewhere in here was the remarkable statement I mentioned before, "Do this every day and in three months you will be better informed than 99% of the people you will ever encounter for the rest of your life!"
Well, I can't say that has come entirely true; but then, after all, I have at times slacked off on reading every single item in the "World-Wide What's News" column. That must take its toll on the percentages. Still, I haven't missed an issue in 20 years -- except for Black Monday, when it was sold out everywhere long before I took my daily walk to buy the paper. And there have been times when the 99% figure did seem almost eerily real, like the day after the '94 midterm elections, when everyone I met seemed shell-shocked, and a friend who was working as a statistician at Cal reported that ashen-faced university staff were actually walking around streaming with tears. I had simply assumed that everyone already knew it would be a bloodbath for the Democrats, and was quite astonished to find that it came as a surprise to anyone.
Well, enough of this. Although it can't hope to convey the massive presence of the man, I suppose in its own way this is the right centennial tribute, every bit as formative, perhaps (on a more mundane level), as the exquisite prose that has been a companion for a quarter of a century. I hope someone out there finds it useful!
Thank you, Teacher.
I'd like simply to report his response to youthful questions of the same sort I asked in 1977 or so. After a brief and pungent summary of the Aristotelean notion of the spoudaios, he concluded (with that slight smile and narrowing of the eyes that always seemed to indicate "you really ought to know better than to look for an easy answer"), "... so if you wish to know what is the right thing to do in some specific situation you put a spoudaios in that situation and you observe what he does."
Perhaps this is the occaision to recall a couple of my memories of Eric Voegelin. You must understand it was 1960 and I was a nineteen year old undergraduate student. To give you the setting: The classroom was the ground floor auditorium of the Law school building at Notre Dame. American Oxford Gothic architecture. The classroom ran the whole width of the building so there were rows of windows on both sides. In the front center was a stage with proscenium arch and stairs leading up at either side. On the stage was a desk, a lectern and a blackboard. There were 80 or 100 students in the class in a room that would have held 400 or so. We sat in rows of theater seats. As far as I recall, Dr. Voegelin always wore a three piece suit. Bob Cihak took a picture once in class and he has promised to make it available.
Here is one recollection. It was a Monday morning. The class bell rang and Dr. Voegelin was not poised at the lecturn ready to begin, as was his custom. Instead he paced back and forth, removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. He put his glasses back on and turned in our general direction and said: "I watched television Friday night and I have not yet recovered!"
I never forgot that and, in 1986 when our TV broke down, we never went back to watching broadcast television. The withdrawal symptoms affected me for at least a year after that.
In 1991 Paul Caringella told me that in his later years, EV used to occaisonally watch a TV program without ill-effect. Just so long as he wasn't required to remember it!
Eine kleine Erinnerung
(This was forty-odd years ago and I was a sophomore at Notre Dame.)
One day I went to class (still in the law school auditorium)--on a Wednesday, as I recall--and there was a notice posted on the door that class would not meet until the next class day (Friday). This was unusal because EV was always reliable and punctual. Also, his was the only class that I never cut.
On Friday when class began I noticed that EV had a bright red mark on the bridge of his nose and another on the right side of his forehead. Class went as usual and he said nothing.
That weekend we learned that he had been attacked by muggers while walking between his apartment and the University. We were angry and wanted to do something to help. We learned that graduate students were already providing him with a bodyguard. There was nothing we could do.
Almost immediately Theodore M Hesburgh CSC, the President of the University and the man who was instrumental in bringing EV to Notre Dame, ordered that accomodations be prepared for him at the Morris Inn, a hotel at the edge of campus for visitors and alumni. Since the Morris Inn rooms were small and rather spartan, I believe they must have knocked down some walls in order to create enough connected space to call an "apartment."
Ten years ago I learned from Paul Caringella that EV told him that he was beaten because he had no money to give the robbers. After that, he made it a point to carry $100 with him at all times so that he could reward a robber for his labor and avoid a beating!
Guns, Bull Connor, and race
In 1960 or '61, in those days of my youth, friendship was easy and undemanding. We only asked for cordiality and sympathy and humor.
I had a friend whom I will call Tom. He was an able student in the General Studies program at Notre Dame. One of his shortcomings was that he liked guns perhaps too much. In fact, he was required at one point to remove from his residence hall a 9mm Luger automatic pistol together with its box of ammunition.
I had been trying to persuade Tom to come with me and audit one of Voegelin's lectures. It was a Monday morning, I think, and over the weekend, an Alabama sheriff named Bull Conner had used dogs and electric cattle prods to break up a negro civil rights demonstration. It had all been captured by TV cameras and it was unpleasant to see.
When we arrived Voegelin was already on the stage of the law school auditorium, striding back and forth, obviously agitated and distracted. When the class bell rang he stopped striding and turned to us. In a loud voice he said: "Someone should go down there with machine guns and teach them a lesson!" Of course the "them" were the redneck segregationists.
When EV said this I looked at Tom and Tom was looking at me. He had this wicked, sly grin on his face. And I thought to myself, why did I have to bring Tom of all people to this particular lecture?
I later learned that EV was cautioned when he began his career in Alabama to keep quiet about race issues. It must have been exceedingly difficult for him, since he knew more and had written more about race theory nonsense than probably any other living man!! In fact his books on race were perhaps the chief reason he had to "escape in his socks" from the Nazis Gestapo.
"WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND THEY ARE OURS." -- Oliver Hazard Perry, letter to General Harrison after the victory over the British fleet at Lake Erie, 1813.
Forty odd years ago, when I was a very sophisticated, but shy, nineteen year old, I wandered into the public cafeteria at the Notre Dame South Dining Hall. It was about 10:00 o'clock in the morning. I had stayed up late (probably in a bull session) and had slept through breakfast so I came to the cafeteria to get coffee and a roll. The cafeteria was a rackety place, with terra cotta floors and brick walls and vaulted gothic ceilings frescoed with pioneer priests greeting Indians. The tables and chairs were heavy oak. It was the kind of place where, if the kitchen helper dropped a tray of silver, the noise hurt your ears.
But on this morning at this time of day the cafeteria was almost empty. As I walked along heading for the tables, I saw professor Voegelin sitting at a table reading the newspaper. He could have been upstairs in the private faculty dining room if he had wished, but he was down here in the public room. I don't know why I did it, but I thought it would be nice to sit at the same table so I walked up and said: "May I sit here, Professor?" He looked around quickly and then nodded without really looking up from his paper, which was spread wide open in front of him, held up with both hands. I sat down and started to drink my coffee. I certainly was not going to bother this lofty figure; I was determined to keep my mouth shut.
As I sat there, I sort of leaned forward casually to see what Professor Voegelin was reading. I was so startled that I forgot myself and practically shouted: "Why Professor Voegelin, you're reading the funnies!" Scarcely missing a beat and without looking up, he tapped one of the cartoon panels with his forefinger and said, "Yes, this 'Pogo' is very good."
'Pogo' was the daily cartoon strip drawn by Walt Kelly. I believe Kelly drew and wrote from somewhere in Louisiana. His characters were swamp creatures which might be found not too far from Baton Rouge where Voegelin spent a large part of his teaching life. I believe it was Kelly who coined the phrase which he put in the mouth of Pogo: "We have met the enemy, and they is us!"
A visit with Lissy Voegelin
In October of 1992, I decided to visit my son who was then living in Oakland, California. Oakland is across the bay from San Francisco and I had never before visited this beautiful area of the United States. I thought it would be a nice opportunity to meet Paul Caringella, Eric Voegelin's personal assistant for many years, so I called him from my home in Ohio and arranged to meet him at Stanford University in Palo Alto, a city just south of San Francisco. With my son beside me, I finally got to meet Paul at the Hoover Institution on the Stanford campus. He took us to the cemetery where Eric Voegelin had been buried in January of 1985. It was on a hill top with a lovely vista. One could see many miles across valleys to the distant hills. It was the kind of beauty for which California is famous. A single small wind-blown tree broke the horizon. Nothing else impaired the view: no monuments, only simple flat headstones. Paul pointed out the headstone for the man lying next to Voegelin. It said simply, "Wiseman."
Later my son and I, and a visiting friend of my son from Baden, Germany, a young electrical engineer named Ulrich, went with Paul to visit Lissy Voegelin at the Voegelin home in Palo Alto. We came by appointment and Lissy awaited us sitting up in bed in the master bedroom. She looked elegant and regal in a blue robe, with her freshly permed thick white hair.
Lissy said she never spoke German anymore (I believe she said that she and Eric made it a rule to talk together only in English.) But in the case of Ulrich, when he stepped forward to be introduced, she took his hand and said a few things to him "auf Deutsch."
Paul told Lissy that I had some memories of Eric at Notre Dame back about 1960 and Paul thought Lissy would enjoy them; enthusiastically she encouraged me to share my memories. To put a time frame around events I asked her if she remembered when Eric was beaten by muggers as he walked in the night from school to their apartment. Of course she remembered all this very clearly. It was shortly after this that that my story takes place. This is the story I told Lissy:
"I took Professor Voegelin's "New Science of Politics" course when I was a junior undergraduate at Notre Dame. I decided I would buy extra copies of THE NEW SCIENCE OF POLITICS and give them as Christmas gifts to friends. I thought it would be great if I could have them signed by Professor Voegelin, so I went up to him after class one day (as far as I recall the only time I ever spoke to him in the classroom) and asked him if he would be willing to autograph copies of his book? He glanced at his pocket calender and told me to come to his apartment the following day at 1:00 P.M. "
(I still clearly recall the appointment was for a Saturday. By this time the Voegelin's had moved into the Morris Inn for safety as a result of the mugging incident already mentioned. The Morris Inn was a low budget functional cinderblock motel for weekend guests. Father Hesburg, the then university president, had ordered some walls knocked down to combine individual guest rooms into a single habitable apartment.)
"Promptly at one o'clock I knocked at the Voegelin's door. The door opened narrowly and a graduate student stood there blocking my view. I still remember the scowl on his face when I told him I had an appointment. He told me to wait. Then I was led into a foyer or anti-room located at the center of a kind of rabbit warren of low ceilings and narrow halls and doorways.
"I stood there with my armload of books for a few minutes and into the room bounded Professor Voegelin wearing his three-piece suit and a public smile (I sensed he had just put on the jacket.). He sat in a small upholstered chair and rubbed his hands together enthusiastically.
'Well! What do we have here today?' he asked.
"I told him I had these books for him to sign. I handed him four copies of the NEW SCIENCE. ( He signed with a ball point pen he took from his coat pocket. I hadn't had the presence of mind to bring a fountain pen. Nor did I have the presence of mind to suggest a sentiment or even a date on any of the copies.)
'There you are,' he said, handing back the slender blue volumes.
'Would you also sign these, Professor?'
I offered him my three volumes of ORDER AND HISTORY (There were only three then!). He took them and looked at them speculatively, flipping open one of the volumes.
'You don't expect me to sign all of them, do you?'
'Yes, please' I said.
But it is customary for an author to sign ONLY the first volume of a multi-volume work. ' "
At this point, Lissy Voegelin interrupted my story:
"I hope you made him sign! You did make him sign?" "Yes, I said, "he signed them all."
"Good!" she said, "I'm glad you made him do it."
When the visit with Lissy was over, we filed out of the room. I was the last to leave. I stopped and looked at her and she at me. For a moment the masks fell away and we looked at each other with tenderness and sadness. Then I left her home and returned to Ohio.
I pray for the repose of Eric and Lissy at the memorial of every mass.
Return to the Eric Voegelin Study Page.Bill McClain (firstname.lastname@example.org)