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Voegelin, On Classical Studies

Voegelin, On Classical Studies

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MODERN
AGE
A
QUARTERLY
REVIEW
On
Classical
Studies
ERIC
VOEGELIN
A
REFLECTION
on classical studies, theirpurpose and prospects, will properly startfrom Wolfs definition
of
classic philology
as
the study
of
man’s nature
asit
has be-come manifest in the Greeks?The conception sounds strangely anach-ronistic today, because
it
has been over-taken
by
the two closely related processesof the fragmentation
of
science throughspecialization and the deculturation
of
Western society. Philology has becomelinguistics; and the man who manifestedhis nature in the Greek language has be-come the subject-matter
of
specialized his-tories
of
politics, literature, art, politicalideas, economics, myth, religion, philoso-
phy,
and science. Classical studies are re-duced to enclaves in vast institutions ofhigher learning in which the study of man’snature does not rank high in the concernsof man. This fragmentation,
as
well
as
theinstitutional reduction, however, are notsensed
as
a
catastrophe, because the“climate of opinion” has changed in the
two
hundred years since Wolfs definition.The public interest has shifted from the na-ture of man
to
the nature of nature and tothe prospects of domination
its
explorationopened; and the
loss
of
interest even turnedto hatred when the nature of man provedto be resistant to the changes dreamed
up
by intellectuals who want to add the lord-ship
of
society and history to the mastery
of
nature. The alliance
of
indifference andhatred, both inspired by
libido dominandi,
has created the climate that is not favor-able to an institutionalized study of thenature of man, whether
in
its Greek or anyother manifestation. The protagonists
of
theWestern deculturatian process are firmlyestablished in our universities.Still, the end of the world has not come.For “climates of opinion,” though they lastlonger than anyone but their libidinousprofiteers would care, do not last forever.The phrase was coined by Joseph Glanvill
(1638-1680)
;
t has received new currency,when Alfred
N.
Whitehead resumed it
in
his
Science
and
the Modern World
(1925)
;
and, following the initiative of Whitehead,
2
Winter
1973
 
the changes of
this
modern climate eversince the seventeenth century have becomethe subject of Basil Willey’s perceptive andextensive
Background
studies, beginning
in
1934.
Through Whitehead‘s, as well asthrough other initiatives, we know by nowwhat the problem is
;
Whitehead has stated
it
flatly: “Modern philosophy has beenruined.” More explicitly
I
would say: TheLife of Reason, the ineluctable conditionof personal and social order, has been de-stroyed. However, though these statementsare true, one must distinguish between theclimate of opinion and the nature of man.The climate
of
our universities certainly
is
hostile to the Life of Reason, but not everyman
is
agreeable to have his nature de-formed by the “climate” or,
as
it
is
some-times called, the “age.” There are alwaysyoung men with enough spiritual instinctto resist the efforts of “educators” whopressure for “adjustment.” Hence, the cli-mate is
not
static; through the emotionallydetermined constellation of opinions of themoment there
is
always at work the re-sistance of man’s nature to the climate. Theinsight into this dynamics underlies thestudies of Willey.
As
a
matter of fact,neither the changes in the climate from in-difference to hostility, nor the concomitantwaning of institutional support for the Lifeof Reason, nor the fanatically accelerateddestruction of the universities since theSecond World War, could prevent the prob-lem of the climate from being recognized,articulated, and explored in the Iight of
our
consciousness of human nature. The reflec-tions in which we are engaged here andnow are
as
much
a
fact in the con-temporary situation as the notorious “cli-mate.” The freedom of thought is comingto life again, when the “climate of opinion”is no longer
a
massive social reality impos-ing participation in its partisan struggles,but
is
forced into the position of
a
pathological deformation of existence,
to
be explored by the criteria
of
reason.This
is
the setting in which the question
of
classical studies must be placed. On theone hand, there
is
a
powerful climate ofopinion in our universities opposed
to
ac.
cord them any function at all, becauseclassical studies inevitably represent thenature of man as it has become manifestin the Greeks. On the other hand, there areundeniable symptoms
of
the climate crack-ing up and the nature of man unde-formed reasserting itself. If
this
movementtoward a restoration
of
reason should gainsufficient momentum to affect the institu-tional level, classical studies would becomean important factor in the process
of
edu-cation.
I
shall reflect on the
two
points
in
this order-though some disorder maycreep
in
as we are dealing not with alterna-tives belonging
to
the past but with an on-going process.
THE
EFFORT
of the Greeks
to
arrive at anunderstanding of their humanity hasculminated in the Platonic-Aristoteliancreation of philosophy
as
the science of thenature of man. Even more than with theSophistic
of
their times the results are inconflict with the contemporary climate ofopinion.
I
shall enumerate some principalpoints of disagreement:
1.
Classic:
There
is
a
nature of man,
a
definite structure
of
existence that putslimits on perfectibility.
Modern:
The nature
of
man can bechanged, either through historical evolu-tion
or
through revolutionary action,
so
that a perfect realm of freedom can beestablished in history.
2.
Classic:
Philosophy
is
the endeavor toadvance from opinion
(doxa)
aboutthe order of man and society to science
(episteme)
;
he philosopher
is
not
a
philodoxer.
Modern
Age
3
 
Modern:
No
science in such matters
is
possible, only opinion
;
everybody
is
en-titled to his opinions; we have
a
plural-ist society.
3.
Classic: Society
is
man written large.Modern: Man
is
society written small.
6.
Classic: Man exists in erotic tensiontoward the divine ground of his exist-ence.Modern: He doesn’t; for
I
don’t; andI’m the measure of man.Classic: Man is disturbed by the ques-tion of the ground; by nature he is aquestioner (aprein) and seeker
(ze-
tein) for the whence, the where to, andthe why of his existence; he will raisethe question: Why is there something,why not nothing?Modern: Such questions are otiose(Comte)
;
don’t ask them, be a socialistman (Marx)
;
questions to which thesciences of world-immanent things cangive no answer are senseless, they areScheinprobleme (neopositivism)
.
Classic: The feeling of existential un-rest, the desire to know, the feeling ofbeing moved to question, the question-ing and seeking itself, the direction ofthe questioning toward the ground thatmoves to be sought, the recognition ofthe divine ground as the mover, are theexperiential complex, the
pathos,
inwhich the reality of divine-human par-ticipation (metalepis) becomes lumi-nous. The exploration of the metalepticreality, of the Platonic metaxy,
as
wellas the articulation of the exploratoryaction through language symbols, inPlato’s case of his Myths, are the centralconcern of the philosopher’s efforts.Modern: The modern responses to thiscentral issue change with the “climateof opinion.”In Locke the metaleptic reality and itsnoetic analysis
is
transformed into theacceptance of certain “common opin-ions” which
still
bear an intelligible re-lation to the experience from which theyderive. The reduction of reality to opin-ion, however,
is
not deliberate; Locke
is
already
so
deeply involved in the cli-mate of opinion that
his
awareness forthe destruction of philosophy through,the transition from episteme to doxa
is
dulled. Cf. Willey’s presentation of theLockean case.Hegel, on the contrary, is acutelyaware of what he is doing when he re-places the metaleptic reality of Plato andAristotle by his state of alienation as theexperiential basis
for
the constructionof his speculative system. He makes itexplicitly his program to overcome phi-losophy by the dialectics of a self-reflec-tive alienated consciousness.In the twentieth century, the “climateof opinion” has advanced to the tacticsof
the
“silent treatment.”
In
a case likeSartre’s, metaleptic reality is simplyignored. Existence has the character ofmeaningless
facticiti
;
its endowmentwith meaning
is
left to the free choice ofman. The choice
of
a
meaning for ex-istence falls with preference on the opin-ion of totalitarian regimes who engage inmass-murder, like the Stalinist; the pref-erence has been elaborated with par-ticular care by Merleau-Ponty. The tac-tics
of
the “silent treatment,especiallyemployed after the Second World Warby the “liberation rabble,” however,make
it
difficult
to
decide in individualcases, whether the counterposition tometaleptic reality is deliberate, orwhether the
libido
domimndi
is
runningamok in
a
climate of opinion that
is
tak-en for granted, without questioning, asultimate reality.
On
the whole,
I
havethe impression, that the consciousness ofa counterposition
is
distinctly less alive
4
Winter
1973

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