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Politikon: South African Journal of Political Studies

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Eric Voegelin: an inquiry into the philosophy of order

EH Wainwright
Published online: 01 Aug 2007.

To cite this article: EH Wainwright (1978) Eric Voegelin: an inquiry into the philosophy of order, Politikon: South African
Journal of Political Studies, 5:1, 67-93, DOI: 10.1080/02589347808704732

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Eric Voegelin: An Inquiry into the
Philosophy of Order

In this paper an attempt is made to clarify some of the concepts used by
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Eric Voegelin in his analyses of the modern disorder of Western political forms,
and hit attempt to re-capture the classical insights for use in creating a political
philosophy that will have relevance for modern times. The three main concepts
are: (1) existence in tension, (2) representation, and (3) gnosticism. In addition,
an attempt is made to delimit the parameters of his philosophical inquiry into
the symbols and experiences of order, and to show how these have coalesced
into the traditional form of Western political order, and how thp knowledge
of the origins of Western form can be used to find an answer to Marxism and
modern "scientism".


Eric Voegelin perhaps is among the most important of the modern writers
concerned with the. present-dav revival of political philosophy, which Germino
(1967. p.7) characterized as "the most appropriate term to emplov in designating
that intellectual tradition which affirms the possibilitv of transcending the
sphere of immediate practical concern and 'viewing' man's societal existence
from a critical perspective". In doing so. Voegelin's output has reached amazing
proportions and consists of some 82 printed articles and 12 books, including
the important five-volume Order and History, of which four volumes have been
published to date.
The impetus behind his work is his belief that there exists a mounting
theoretical and critical challenge to the West both from the ideology of the
Marxist regimes of the East, and from the "scientism" of Western political
theorists. He classifies the challenge as the modern disorder, and his inquirv into
the dimensions of order is designed to restore order to the Western political
form. The Marxian challenge resides in the fact that, whereas communism
comes armed with a world view of man and his destinv (no matter how uglv and
inhumane the practice of communism mav be), the West lacks anv perspective
or vantage point from which to make rebuttal. It is ironic that Marxists, who
denv the independence of ideas from things, devote themselves to abstract areas
of thought such as metaphysics and moral issues within a comprehensive frame-
work of Marxian political philosophy, whereas the political scientists of the West
can find no answer to the communist picture of man within the framework of

Politikon Vol. 5 No. 1 Junie 1978 June 67

their positivistic mode of political philosophy.
Voegelin's work can be seen as an attempt to provide an answer to the
Marxian world view of man bv means of a recovery of the traditional political
philosophy of the West. His starting-point is in the political philosophy of
antiquity and the Judaic-Christian tradition. But these symbolic forms are the
starting-point for a new departure of Western form as an answer to the "gnostic"
modes of political "religions'" that have challenged the symbolic forms of
Western culture. Of necessity, any study of Voegelin's work must begin with his
views on the meaning of classical political philosophy and of the peculiar
technical vocabulary that was engendered during the course of forming the
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concepts of this philosophy, and of the concepts that he has developed in his
work. In the first instance, it is important to emphasize that Voegelin sees
political philosophy as a discipline that deals architectonically with the whole
of man's existence in community and covers all aspects that deal with man's
essential humanity. As communal existence somehow must structure institutions
that will regulate the formal, public relations between individuals, groups, and
•classes, it is inescapably political. The experience that gives rise to various
political institutions is expressed in terms of the symbolic forms, where the
symbols have meanings that, at one and the same time, have the ontological
and epistemological dimensions of metaphysics, the subordinate imprint of the
primary experience of the ordered cosmos, the revelation of Yahweh and the
epiphany of Christ, and, finally, the authoritative tradition of the political
structures that have reflected the reality of the experience of the symbolic forms.
It is important to note that in the undifferentiated world of antiquity, religious
institutions are also political institutions, and mythic rites have a political or
social dimension.
A knowledge of the philosophical vocabulary that was established bv Plato
and Aristotle is important for a studv of his work and also the three main
concepts in his thought that appear throughout his work. These concepts are:
(1) existence in tension. (2) representation, and (3) gnosticism. This last-named
especially is important as a generic concept that deals with any form of closed
philosophy that makes man his own saviour. Voegelin considers that the term
explains the mystic elements of the political "religions" such as Fascism and
Voegelin's examination of the primary experience of man — the perceived
analogy between the ordered hierarchy of the cosmos and the hierarchy of the
mediating political structure of the mesocosm — is centred around his under-
standing of the meaning of order as it has appeared in the various political
societies of the past. This primary experience is a constant in the consciousness
of man and explains why any political ideology that has cosmic significance is
attractive. The idea behind this aspect of his work is to recover the concept of
order as a political factor and to use it in reconstructing a political philosophy
that will present a satisfactory answer to the metaphysical challenge of Marxism.
The unifying theme of order and of its historic-symbolic constructs and of man's
search for the meaning of the order of his existence within his political institu-

tions. combines the most diversified elements into a homogeneous whole. Each
historical differentiation in the modes of this search for meaning is designated a
"leap in being". The first leap is now lost in the mists of time and probably
consisted of the genesis of political communities. The second leap was the
revelation to Israel of the transcendent God by Himself, whose order was also
revealed through His revelation of Himself as separate from His creation and His
delineation of Himself as the true telos for man. The third leap was the Hellenic
discovery of the order of wisdom, which is symbolized in philosophy. The final
leap was the discovery of the universal humanity of man. Each of these leaps
was accompanied bv an analogous political order, so that the cosmological mvth
of antiquity forms the religio-political model for the mesocosm. which is the
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mediating political structure between gods and men. The Israelite order of
revelation has the concomitant Kingdom of God as its political expression and.
when the apocalvptic attempt is made to realize this kingdom on earth, the
Israelite order compounds with the cosmic myth to form the Kingdom of Israel.
The order of wisdom, expressed through philosophy, makes the individual who
has attained knowledge of the ultimate reality that is the agathon (the Idea of
Good) into the analogue of the well-ordered state through the principle that the
state is the individual writ large. Finallv. the leap into the concept of universal
humanity is derived from the establishment of the ecumenic empires, which
were only organizational forms that reached out for a spiritual substance that
would fill them, and which thev found in the universal religions. Each leap thus
comprises a symbolic form and thev have all coalesced into the spiritual order of
Christ and the political construct of Christendom, which form remained the
basis for Western political order for nearly two centuries. The accompanying
diagram on the following page illustrates the relationship between the complex
forms and the Western form.
The leaps in being have a number of consequences, the most important
of which are:
(11 man's understanding of the structure of being changes.

(2) the truth of an existence under an old order changes into the truth of an
existence within a new order.

(31 the authority of the old order is broken and the truth of existence moves
from the compactness of an all-embracing explanation of being to a more
open and differentiated understanding of being,

(41 the notion of a universal humanity grows out of the changes that occur in
the consciousness of man.

Equally, it is pertinent to note that whereas the old order changes and gives
wav to the new order, the older form remains on the threshold of consciousness
and is apt to come to the forefront of consciousness at different times. Anv
political philosophy that deals with the symbolic forms of man's existence in

community must take cognizance of the imprint of experience that lies within
the subconsciousness of man.
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The Western order of symbolic forms is the product of a complex web of

relations that is derived from its own history. The factors that formed Western
order both are the origins and the conscious or subconscious substance of
Western form

The types of order, their symbolic constructs, and the political expression
of each construct are tabulated below. The types are the result of a leap in
being, and the symbolic form is the attempt to reflect the truth derived from
the leap in the form of a political order.


Type of order Main symbol and place Political form

Cosmic (1) mediating structure; the city of the gods, which also
mesocosm is the city of man
(2) omphalos (world-centre) centre of order within political
(Egypt) order

Revelation Kingdom of God with direct Kingdom of Israel compounded

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rule of Yahweh through His with cosmic symbolism

spirit-designated representative

Wisdom agathon (the ultimate good) (l)Polis, the city that has the
which is the measure of man moral improvement of its ci-
and his political order tizens as its goal
(Greece) (2) Polis en logois, the city of the
model known only in words

Ecumene Universal-religions — Christian- Ecumenic empire as organiza-

ity, Islam, Confucianism, Hin- tional shell allied to ecumenic
duism religion


The Platonic and Aristotelian insights are concerned mainlv with the
anthropocentric shift in emphasis that was inaugurated bv Socrates. This shift
was from the study of nature Cphysis) to the study of man as the centre of his own
existence, and the Platonic discovery of the political order of anv community as
the analogue of the order within the soul of the man who had attuned himself to
the order of transcendent reality, and, as such, was the measure and the standard
of the political community and its societal order. That is, Plato's insight is that
the polis is the individual writ large and that, in its existential order, a political
societv reflects that order in terms of the psyche of the highest type of human
being. The philosopher who had had the experience of the ultimate reality of the
Good (the Agathon) was the measure of all political institutions because, within
the complex of his experience of the Agathon, he had formed "his character into
habitual actualization of the dianoetic and ethical virtues" and thus was capable
of the "imaginative re-enactment of the experience of which theory is an expli-
cation" (Voegelin, 1952, p.67). To this type of man. Plato transferred the
authority of the political order of Athens because the philosopher had attained
the serenity of spiritual order within his soul and thus was able to pronounce
on existential matters with the authority of knowledge of what was good both for
the individual and for his societv. thus covering both the private and. the public
orders of the individual and his political order. Voegelin remarks that, sur-
prising as this transfer of authority may sound, "Plato's claim has proved
historically quite sound. The order represented bv Callicles has gone down in

ignominy: the order represented bv-Plato has survived Athens and is still one of
the most important ingredients in the order of the soul of those men who have
not renounced the traditions of Western civilization" (1957. p.39).
In both Plato and Aristotle, there is the notion that the nous (reason,
intelligence) of man is cognate with the divine Nous by wav of the logos (law.
reasoning power) that was common to both, and that man must seek the divine
Nnus through the zetema (philosophical inquiry) in order that he may experience
in his soul the inner balance that will allow him to live in accordance with
reason and virtue. Both agree that it is the task of the political order so to
structure its institutions that it will encourage the attainment of the life of
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reason. Society must actively support the zetema that seeks the divine Nous that
is substantial to the world of things and lives and minds, that finds in the soul
something similar to divine Realitv. that searches for the ethic that places man's
final end ftelos) in the knowledge of the Ground of all Being. For the seekers who
attain to such knowledge are those that can determine what is the right order for
a society, for thev are both measure and standard for the classification of the
empirical varieties of social institutions as well as the private morality of the
inhabitants of the society. In essence, the seekers are the representatives of their
society in that thev are the best that their societv can produce and the structure
of this societv must reflect the order that it has itself produced in the psyches of
its best men.
It is interesting to note that Plato's anthropological principle also is
reflected in his political terminology: for example, politeia refers not only to an
institutional pattern, such as a particular regime, but also to the good order
(constitution) within the souls of the leading philosophers: and the division and
distinction that Plato makes between the various civic virtues of a political order
is reflected also in the virtues of the classes that make up a society. Each class
must possess predominantly the particular virtue that is characteristic of the
class, as a soldier must possess, above all other virtues, the virtue of courage so
that he mav defend the political order against its enemies. That is. the anthro-
pological principle can be summarized as follows:

(1) the character of a given political order is the reflexion of the psyches of its
ruling elite.

(2) the best societv will reflect the pattern of right order of the psyche of the
best men in its institutional order.

(3) the best men are those who have attained knowledge of the truth of the
divinde realitv that is themeasure of man, and have applied the measure
to themselves, and. through themselves, to their political order.

Aristotle identified the spoudaios (the mature man) as the best man and
connects individual and societv to the bios theoretikos (the life of reason,
contemplation) as the best life and as the ultimate good (eudaimonia) for both.

The societv that corresponds to this man is called the spoudaia polis (literally,
the mature polis). which is that political community that achieves the highest
societal good, the polis eudaimon. Although the society as a whole is a reflexion
of the spoudaios. the inhabitants are not all capable of reaching the heights
that the spoudaios can attain, and the non-spoudaioi are divided into three

(11 the responsible man. practical but non-philosophic (he can still be a
member of the ruling elite).

(2) those men who still realize the value of the order that is represented in the
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spoudaios. but who do not have anv leadership qualities in themselves

and carry out faithfully the intention of the rulers.

(31 finally, at the bottom of the pyramid, the nihilistic, hedonistic masses who
have no understanding of the hierarchy of values, but who appreciate the
ordered society in which they live.

It is noteworthy that the mature man is the "representative" of every man.

and the masses have the right to demand of him that he present to them his
answers to the unfathomable mystery of human existence and the relation
between the being of man and the Being of transcendence. Voegelin systematized
his understanding of the classical theory of the best man in his important essav
"Industrial society in search of reason" (1960) and his "Reason: the classic
experience" (1974). where he attempted to apply the postulates of the classical
society to modern industrial society. He considered that it is the specific task of
government to actualize an order within which men mav live together in peace
and justice, and that this actualization can best be carried out by understanding
the classical insights into the life of reason and by creating political institutions
that will nuture and protect such life. In sum, the classical postulates are:

Cl1 "Man participates in the Logos or transcendent Nous.

(21 The life of reason consists of actualizing this participation and making it
sufficiently important so that it becomes an influence on the development
of character.

f 31 In regard to the life of reason, men are potentially equal, but empirically
("for whatever reason) thev are unequal in the application of their po-

(41 Men capable of an optimum application are a minority in every society.

(51 \ society has a de facto hierarchical structure in terms of actualizing the

life of reason." (1960. p.34.)

That is, it is axiomatic that the end of human life is contemplation, or the direct
and intuitive awareness of good; that action is the means to that end: that a
society is good to the extent that it renders contemplation possible for its mem-
bers; and that the existence of at least a minority of contemplatives is necessary
for the well-being of that society. In addition, Voegelin (1960, p.35) added the
following postulates. He remarks that these were implicit in the political philo-
sophy of Plato and Aristotle, but only became explicit later.

(1) "The psychic tension of the life of reason is difficult for the majority of the
members of a society to bear.
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(2) As a result, any society in which the life of reason has reached a high
degree of differentiation has a tendency to develop, along with the life of
reason, a 'mass belief. Bv sheer social expansion, mass belief mav reduce
the life of reason to socially meaningless enclaves or even forcefully
suppress it.

(3) In the case of early Jewish society, Jeremiah diagnosed this tendency as
the 'fall' of the people away from the 'true God' to 'false gods'. At the
height of the spiritual flowering of the Middle Ages in the West, Joachim
de Flore conceived of a 'Third Realm' in the framework of history, and
this has, with a certain number of variations, become an element of mass
beliefs in the West today.
Plato was aware of the problem when, for reasons of political
expediency, he made concessions to the 'popular myth' and accepted it as
a parallel to existence in philosophical form. Examples prove that mass
beliefs can assume many different forms. When the situation is favorable,
as in the case of the Hebrews and the Greeks, the people can retain, or
revert to, a living polytheistic myth; when, as at the height of the Middle
Ages in the West, no living myth exists, the search for a mass belief is
directed toward immanentist symbols of the apocalyptic or secularist-
ideological type.

(4) The co-existence of mass beliefs and the life of reason in a society has.
since the Stoics, been classified under the headings of theologia civilis and
theologia naturalis.

(5) The rise of ideologies to social and political power in modern society must
be considered in the context of attempts to establish a civil theology".
The "mass beliefs" that seek to make a political "religion" serve as the
source of an objective morality for the political order are the "gnostic" modes
of making immanent the transcendent source of order in terms of an idealized
picture of "communist" or fascist man. Voegelin's acceptance of the classical
position with regard to excellence and inequality has led to accusations that
he is an elitist, a fascist, or a Catholic conservative who has little or any regard

for the myth of democracy. Of this classification he has said: "On my religious
'position', I have been classified as a Protestant, a Catholic, as anti-Semitic and
as a typical Jew; politically, as a Liberal, a Fascist, a National Socialist and a
Conservative; and on my theoretical position, as a Platonist, a Neo-Augustinian,
a Thomist, a disciple of Hegel, an existentialist, a historical relativist and an
empirical sceptic; in recent years the suspicion has frequently been voiced that I
am a Christian" (1961, p.280). In point of fact, Voegelin is a philosopher; one
who is concerned with man's existence in a political order and with the manner
in which man has symbolized or represented the brute fact of this existence, and
of his attempts to come to grips with the meaning of man's existence on this
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earth. He considers that man must continually seek the meaning of his existence
in the divine Ground of all Being, which is a spiritual Absolute, ineffable in
terms of discursive thought, but susceptible of being directly experienced and
realized within the human mind. The Beyond of all mundane existence is the
source of order within the soul of man and the man who has experienced and
realized the reality of the beyond is the measure of political order and human


Any attempt to come to an understanding of Voegelin's thought must

realize that the brute fact of man's existence and of man's participation in being
is central to his thought. "Man," he says 0967, p.147) "exists in erotic tension
toward the divine ground of his existence". He is "disturbed by the question of
the ground; by nature he is a questioner (aporein) and seeker (zetein) for the
whence, the where to, and the why of his existence; he will raise the question:
why is there something, why not nothing" (ibid). Man is not peripheral to being,
but being itself — finite being — is the condition of his existence and he
participates in the mystery of this existence, which is the total involvement of
all men in the totality of the order of Being. He becomes aware of the finite
nature of his existence when he realizes that "the structure of existence is
complicated; it is not known once for all" (1973, p.4), and the whole of Being is
something that lies outside of the finite structure of his knowing. Thus, he
discovers "himself as being not a world unto himself, but an existent among
others; he experiences a field of existents of which he is a part. Moreover, in
discovering himself in his limitations as part in a field of existents, he discovers
himself as not being the maker of this field of existents or of any part of it.
Existence acquires its poingnant meaning through the experience of not being
self-generated but having its origin outside itself (1967, p. 149). This illumi-
nating discovery is a function of the intellect (nous), which has sought and found
the origin of its own existence outside of its own being. This discovery takes
place through a number of well-defined stages, which also slide into each other:

(1) the apprehension of the transitory nature of human existence, and the

experience of things that are of a more durable nature (such as the ordered
cosmos that surrounds man),

(2) the slowly-evolving question about the origin of human existence and
about the structure of the experience of existence and the question of

(3) the formulation of questions about the perceived order that appears to
surround the structure of existence,
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(4) the rational elaboration of the experience of existence and of its compo-
nent parts and symbols into an all-embracing explanation of symbols and

(5) the realization that it is man's purpose to seek knowledge of the reality
that lies behind his existence, for the search is a function of his being.

The source of order and of experience and the object of man's search for
meaning in existence is the ground of being that is, and must remain, unknown
in itself: a mystery for man. All man can do is to form a symbolic construct "to
which the predicate of 'existence' is applied by courtesy of analogy" (Voegelin,
1956. Order and History, volume 1, p.150, hereinafter referred to by volume
and page number). Man can indeed describe the source by means of attributes,
such as Plato's description of the source as the Ultimate Idea of the Good-in-Itself
(the Agathon), and man can know something of the source through Revelation
or through epiphany, but essentially the Being of Being remains a mystery. But
the feeling of existential unrest, the desire to know, "the feeling of being moved
to question, the questioning and seeking itself, the direction of the question-
ing toward the ground that moves to be sought, the recognition of the divine
ground as the mover" comprise the components of the experiental complex that
man must somehow symbolize in an understandable form (1973, p.4). The
symbol of the ordered cosmos, which man peoples with a hierarchy of gods, is
what man knows in an undifferentiated mode of knowledge and the form in
which he experiences this order is the political community that he calls "civili-
zation", and that he structures to accord with the perceived analogy of order in
the cosmos. Voegelin holds that this undifferentiated experience is the primary
experience of man and is a factor to be considered in any symbolic form of politi-
cal philosophy. That is, the symbolic form of political order is the civilizational
order; and the order of this civilization is derived from or based on a particular
experience of the divine ground of Being. The expressions of such orders in
terms of revelation, wisdom, and universal humanity are the symbolic forms in
which man has sought meaning in his existence. Within the form itself faith
and knowledge are not antithetical concepts, for the one is derived from the
other and the reality of the ground of being thus possesses a structure, a con-
stitution, that is independent of human thinking, or willing, or knowing. How,

then, can man know the realitv of the divine ground that supplies him with the
model for his private and public orders? Voegelin says that the "knowledge of
the something that 'exists' beyond existence is inherent in the noetic structure of
existence" (1967. p.150). and that man has the noetic duty of exploring the
whole of the structure of his existence in terms of the two poles of Being. The
philosopher, the spoudaios, knows because he participates in the "noetic struc-
ture" of the divine Nous, and in so far as his thought does so participate, he
must refrain from any attempt to force the structure of reality into a framework
of preconceived notions that will make a "second" reality to take the place of
divine reality. Such an attempt must inevitably lead to the gnosis of making
immanent the transcendent, for the "second" reality is a tool of analysis and
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does not itself lie in the province of existence itself. The creation of the ideal
communist man who will inhabit the world as his own saviour is just such a
second reality. In contrast to the construct of man-his-own-saviour, it was one of
Plato's most insightful moments that caused him to say that concerning the
content of the Agathon nothing can be said; it can only be experienced by the
soul that had experienced the trauma of the periagoge (conversion, the whole
turning around of the individual soul from the "death" of mundane existence,
to the "life" of the order of wisdom) and had then attuned itself to the ex-
perience. One does not know divine reality, one can only experience it.
But, man's existence is a historical existence, and a historical existence,
of necessity, is a political existence, for the individual joins the stream of being
— the field of other existents — at differing stages of their existence in a field
called history. This means that man has both the ability and the capacity to
discover in his own past the meanings that preceding existents have allocated
to their experience and understanding of the meaning of their existence and to
the order in which this meaning and understanding appears. From this insight,
Voegelin derives the theory that because "the existence of man in political
society is historical existence ... a theory of politics, if it penetrates to principles,
must at the same time be a theory of history" (1952, p. 150). Specifically, histori-
cal experience is the experience of the structured order of a political reality, and
of the manner in which man has created symbols for his own understanding of
his own existence in history. But history also is the record of the conflict between
existence in the "truth" of any particular form of order and the various modes
of existence that are deficient in this respect. Thus history — whether recorded
or not — represents the story of man's struggle adequately to express the par-
ticular truth of an experience of existence within a particular order. The
political realities of the societies of the past are attempts to reflect the struggle
to express the truth of their existence in order as they see it, and each of these
realities is a meaningful concretization of a form of truth. This truth is expressed
in terms of symbols and institutions, which the society develops as its own self-
interpretation and which supply the outward form of the society's representa-
tion of itself as an entity that can act.


The manner in which a society represents itself as ready for action in the
sphere of human affairs consists of an elaborate series of institutional and
symbolic forms that reflect the society's attempt to create an order that will give
meaning to the mere facts of the group's existence as an entity. The order itself
is the expression of the reality of the political existence of the society and the
symbols and institutions are those that will adequately express the reality of the
order and will enable it to act xns-d-xns other political orders. The reality origi-
nally was engendered by the attempt to understand existence and to express
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this understanding institutionally. That is, the symbols and institutions of a state
are intended as a more or less adequate representation of the society's self-
interpretation and must represent both the reality of its existence and the order
in which this existence is encompassed and, at the same time, must form a
mediating structure between the poles of existence — man and God. The
symbolic representations of reality "permit of concentrating into an emotional
and volitional substance that which, if viewed empirically, is a stream of human
action, articulated by behavior patterns and purposes of highly questionable
unity" (1949, p. 190). Government is mutual coercion, mutually arrived at, and
the symbol of a political unity thus does not set out to describe or to replace
reality, but it has the function of creating the universally accepted self-image
of the community as a single unit, in which the symbols harmonize conflicting
interests into a unity of purpose. The image is pre-symbolic in that an image
that is applied to an "abstract reality" (such as a political community) gradually
becomes representative of a "symbolic reality", where unity is derived from
satisfaction with the self-interpretation of symbols. The symbolic reality then
fixes itself in the consciousness of men and gradually becomes reality, and this
reality then becomes the only one that can express the existence of a particular
political order. Finally, the symbol becomes the thing itself. Thus, the image of
Pharoah as a man who symbolized the organic juncture between the gods and
the political realm gradually becomes the symbol of the authority of the gods,
and finally he becomes a god himself.
Voegelin's theory of representation in terms of symbolic forms is divided
into three categories: elemental representation, existential representation, and

1. Elemental representation

Representation in the elemental sense includes such major processes as the

election of the members of a legislature by popular vote; the relation between
the executive and legislative branches of government and the relation of both
to the judiciary; the frequency of elections; the role of parties in the election
process; and the process of legislation itself. The observance of these processes
of elemental representation — irrespective of the nature of the representation
and of the represented and of the principles by which both are guided in their

decisions — are political activities and these will not provide the "desired sub-
stance" of the symbolic form (1952, pp.34—36) for these processes cover only
the external realization of one special type of articulation and representation.
In order to be truly representative it is not sufficient for any government to be
representative in the elemental sense; it must also be "representative in the
existential sense of realizing the idea" of the state in terms of the state's own
interpretation of the meaning of its concrete existence as one state among many.

2. Existential representation

Thus, existential representation and not elemental representation is the

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real test of the viability of representative institutions, and failure to distinguish

between the two forms of representation leads to a misunderstanding about the
form and meaning of order and to disorder on the international scene. In
political theory the question frequently arises of who represents whom. Voegelin
illustrates the increase in the number of persons who are eligible to be repre-
sentatives by analysing the symbolism of the Kingdom of England. In the first
instance, the king is the only symbol of the existential order of the realm; in his
person he is the realm and often is called "England". Later, the King-in-Council
came to personify the realm of England, and, finally, it was the King-in-Par-
Iiament who represented the realm as an entity ready for action in the sphere of
international relations. Thus, when the political philosopher approaches a social
and political reality, he finds that the reality itself has created its own self-
interpretation, for men do not wait for philosophy to explain the meaning of
their existence for them. Human society is like a little world — a cosmion —
that deliberately sets out to illuminate itself with meaning from within itself.
The human beings who inhabit the political order continually create and main-
tain the symbols of meaning as both the mode and the condition of their self-
realization. These symbols — in various stages of compactness and differentia-
tion of the symbolic political constructs — give meaning to the fact of the
existence of the society in reality and makes for each individual member of that
society a complete explanation of his existence within the peras (boundaries or
limits) of that societv's representation of itself vis-a-vis those not within it. The
symbolism forms the time-bound parameters of society and also conditions the
relations between the individual members of the group and the relations of the
individual with the illuminated whole of the existing reality.
This illumination is an essential part of man's political existence within an
order, and it is the single fact with which any political philosophy must begin.
That is, a theory of politics must start with an understanding of the rich body of
self-interpretation of a society and proceed from there by means of a critical
evaluation and clarification of the symbolism that explains the society to itself
and to others before it can create an understanding of the symbols of political
order. The principle perhaps can be clarified at a pragmatic level by noting
that there is some question as to whether the government of the Soviet Union,
for example, is representative in the elemental sense. There seems to be little

doubt that the Soviet government possesses the outward form of representative
institutions, but there is some doubt as to whether its constitution and elections
are genuine when compared to, say, the British constitution and elections;
further the question arises of whether the Soviet government is meaningful in
that it truly represents the Russian peoples. But, while there "may be radical
disagreement on whether the Soviet government represents the people, there can
be no doubt whatsoever that the Soviet government represents the Soviet society
as a political society in form for action in history" (1952, p.37). That is, the
Soviet government truly represents the ideas expressed in the political reality of
the Soviet Union.
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3. Articulation
Voegelin's elaboration of the notion of existential representation shows
that the symbolism of the representation of the people must be articulated by
determining the number of people who shall act as representatives and the
persons who constitute the representible units. Articulation thus is prior to
representation and is a momentary end-point of a historical process through
which the members of a society structure that society for action. The limit of
articulation is the clarified symbolism of existence in political reality, and, more
important, of the individual consciousness of both symbolism, and articulation.
Voegelin notes that to be "conscious of something is an experiential process
polarized by the cognative tension between the knower and the known. The
several meanings of reality can be made intelligible by going through the
successive acts of reflection on the process of consciousness. If, in a first act of
reflection on the process, we turn toward the pole of the known, the object of
cognition will be something we acknowledge as real. If, in a second act, we turn
toward the pole of the knower, the human carrier of cognition as well as his
images and language symbols referring to the known, will move into the position
of the something acknowledged to be real. And if, in a third act, we turn
toward the experiential process and the cognitive tension as a whole, the process
will become the something we acknowledge to be real. Following the acts of
reflection, the meaning.of reality moves from the known to the knower and
ultimately to the process that is structured by the participation of, and by the
cognitive tension between the knower and the known in the experience" (1970,
p. 187). In knowing both symbolism and its expression within the political order
that he inhabits the knower partakes of the existence of his society as a unit that
requires representation, and the extension of representation to each unit is the
end-point of articulation. The whole that is known as representation presents
the final form of truth for a particular society, where the existential representa-
tion of the society is also the representative of truth (1952, p . 75).


The main mode of what Voegelin considers to be representation in

untruth is called "gnosticism" and it comprises the class of political philosophies
that attempt to escape from the inherent uncertainty and limitations of the
condicio humana; to allay man's existential anxiety by creating a "second"
reality as an adequate representation of truth. "Gnosis" is the traditional name
of a "group" or "school" of early Christian writers of the period between 30 A.D.
and 300 A.D. At one time it was believed that gnosticism was one of the
Christian heresies that flourished at the time, but it is now known that it was a
wide-spread religious movement and appeared slightly before or contempora-
neously with Christianity. The word means "knowledge" and it reflects the main
objective of the movement, which was to determine the scope of knowledge as
opposed to belief.. Its main claim was that the gap that traditionally existed
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between the human and the divine could be bridged by means of the possession
of gnosis. In place of a more or less valid conception of man's existence in the
uncertain truth of the Hellenistic thinkers and of Jewish and Christian faith in
the unseen, unknown God, gnosticism offers the privileged knowledge that will
liberate men from uncertainty. This knowledge, in modern times, ranges from
an understanding of the march of reason through the world to an understanding
of the dialectics of historical materialism. In contrast to Plato — who viewed
the soul as the link between man and a realm of order — gnosticism tries to sever
this link by asserting that man's soul is alien to the cosmic realm of order and
that man must rely on his "acosmic self. Nature is not a part of man's existence;
rather is it a hostile and negative force that holds man in bondage. Man must
fall back on himself, become self-reliant in the face of a hostile environment.
Also, because the cosmos and its order are alien to man, so too is the source of
the order and there can thus exist no body of law derived from the order and its
source which is both independent of and superior to man-made rules. The
gnostic man then becomes a "law unto himself in the power of his knowledge
and because this self-centred existence estranges him from nature and society
his existence is projected in to the future and the present, in which all men live,
is belittled. This self-centred ("immanent") existence liberates man from his
links with the natural order of the cosmos and reduces him to a frightened
being, exposed to the onslaught of basically hostile forces. (Jonas. 1965, passim.)
The gnostic myth is concerned precisely with translating the brute fact-
uality experienced in the gnostic vision of alienated existence into an explana-
tory scheme that derives the given state from its origins (the Beginning) and at
the same time presents the promise of overcoming the horror of alienated
existence in a paradise here, now, on this Earth (the Eschaton). Voegelin says
that whether the explanatory scheme "assumes the forms of libertarianism or
ascetism preferred in antiquity or the modern forms of constructing systems
which contain the ultimate truth and must be imposed on recalcitrant reality
by means of violence, concentration camps, and mass murder, the addict is
dispensed from the responsibilities of existence in the cosmos. Since gnosticism
surrounds the libido dominandi in man with a halo of spiritualism or idealism,
and can always nourish the righteousness by pointing to the evil in the world,
no historical end to the attraction is predictable once magic pneumatism has

entered history as a mode of existence. Nevertheless, it is a dead end inasmuch
as it rejects the life of spirit and reason under the conditions of the cosmos in
which reality becomes luminous in pneumatic and noetic consciousness. There
is no alternative to an eschatological extravaganza but to accept the mystery
of the cosmos. Man's existence is participation in reality. It imposes the duty of
noetically exploring the structure of reality in as far as it is intelligible and
spiritually coping with the insight into its movement from the divine Beginning
to the divine Beyond of its structure" (Voegelin, IV, p.28).
Voegelin has also said that gnostic thought holds "certain conceptions of
man, society, and history that are too obviously incongruent with the reality that
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is within the range of our empirical knowledge." (I, p. xiii) This reality can be
examined in terms of the noetic structure of man's experience of the divine
ground of being.
Perhaps it was these thoughts that stung Voegelin into giving some
concrete particulars on his ideas of the "good society". As was to be expected,
there are strong classical elements in his "El concepto de la , ,bueno sociedad"
(1960) and he noted that the good society has to be sufficiently large and wealthy
to be able to afford the "luxury" of the life of reason for the minority that is
capable of attaining the life of reason. The organization of the society must be
such that the life of reason becomes a social and political factor of some import-
ance, because the life lived by the men who attain this goal will be the measure
of the lives of all who inhabit the society. This classical ideal should be the basis
for the modern industrial society but it is not a a priori given, for any societal
organization must be flexible and varies in accordance with the state of empiri-
cal knowledge of human nature and society. Human nature is indeed a constant
factor and the nature of society is conditioned by the fact that the whole of ex-
perience of existence is present in all of its fullness, but man does not know the whole
ot the constant and neither does he know the tullness of the range of human expe-
rience of existence; each of these are subject to an increasing awareness and under-
standing. The life of reason must have a social efficiency, for it is the noetic structure
of this life that lays bare the dimensions of human existence and its erotic tension
toward the divine ground of being; thus the term "good society" does not imply a
harmonic whole but the percolation of the life of reason throughout the members of
the society; in their consciousness of existence. History seems to be open-ended and
a present origin (Beginning) will be someone else's past; the symbolism of a Begin-
ning is always in man's consciousness and the primary experience of the divine
reality of an ordered cosmos moves man's consciousness from the Beyond of all
cosmic contents. Thus, the existence of a society is always in the historic pre-
sent, the In-between (Plato's metaxy) and can never be a historical end-point.
Even the best of societies is subjected to the cyclical flow of an existence in which
it begins, exists in the metaxy, and disintegrates. But, before it disintegrates as a
political entity, it has recorded its particular version of the historical truth of
order. The eschaton of a paradise on Earth, such as Marx's dream of the com-
munist state, is incompatible with the reality of an open-ended history, for
history is linear and has no ending, for all states of being are in the metaxy.

Voegelin also stresses the fact that the classical model is not completely
viable in view of new physical factors in man's existence in modern industrial
society as well as certain ideas in the modern state. The physical factors are
communication facilities. The ideas of elemental representation, federalism,
and Christianity also play a role. In the light of Christianity as the symbolism of
a universal humanity, the Beyond has become a part of existence in that it has
revealed itself to men. It has taught man that the experience of existence is no
longer limited to a mundane existence on earth, but that the expression of being
through the political organization of society is transcended by the expression of
existence in the Beyond of revelation.
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The themes of existence and representation and the symbolization that

pertains to these themes is taken up and brought together in Voegelin's magnum
opus — Order and History. The symbols cannot be understood without penetra-
ting to the depth of the particular experience(s) of existence and the manner in
which it was represented through the engendering of symbols, for each symboli-
zation is an attempt to answer a question about existence; such questions arise
when the old answers are no longer adequate. The search for the meaning of
symbols therefore is the history of the search for emergent truths about man's
fundamental problems, whatever the result of the search may be. But the
experience cannot be known unless the symbol can be traced back to some point
in time in which it was an adequate expression of an experience of some part of
the structure of man's existence. Truth lies at the level of the experience itself
and not at the level of the propositions and symbolisms that articulate the
content of the experience. But the appropriate representation of a society's
understanding of the truth of its own reality is symbolized in the institutional
structure of that society.
Each society that has represented itself as ready for action in political
existence is "burdened" with the task of discovering an order that endows the
"fact of this existence with meaning". This factual existence is the political
reality of the society's representation of itself; and the existence is expressed
through a formal series of symbols and political institutions. "For the great
societies, beginning with the civilizations of the ancient Near East, have created
a sequence of orders, intelligibly connected with one another, as advances to, or
recessions from, an adequate symbolization of truth concerning the order of
being of which the order of society is a part" (I, p.ix). These ancient symbols are
a part of the "primary experience" of man and remain with him always.
Voegelin considers that it is not the task of the philosopher to present
specific models or paradigms for any political reality; rather is it the philosopher's
task to disentangle the symbols — both those of the ancient world and those of
the modern world — so that they mav be understood. Once understood, society
may then re-structure itself in terms of an order that will reflect the truth as it

can be brought to understand it. And it is just this task that Voegelin has set for
himself. His thought reaches back into the distant past — ancient Mesopota-
mia — when man first began recording his experience of existence in order; for
"the order of historv emerges from the history of order" (I, p.ix). The study of
this order is the studv of the symbolization of an understanding that lifted
mankind from an earlier order to a more fully differentiated one. And in this
historv of order, which is open-ended like all history, comes the order or structure
of history. It is not a structure of progress from primitive, backward times to a
"higher" order of civilization (except in a material sense), but it shows "men of
the same nature as ours wrestling with the same problems as ours" under con-
ditions that differ and with "less differentiated instruments of symbolization"
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(II. p p . 5 - 6 ) .
This search (zetesis) is undertaken by the philosopher, the spoudaios, who
does so as the representative of all mankind, for philosophy "is not a solitary but
a social enterprise. Its results concern everyman; it is undertaken by the sapiens
representatively for everyman. More specifically the represented have the right
to. receive answers not only to their own questions but also to hear answers to
brilliant and well propagated errors which threaten to disintegrate the order of
existence in everyman personally." (Voegelin, 1967, p. 144.)
Voegelin's zetesis for order takes place within the framework of three
general principles (I, p.60). These are:

"(a) The nature of man is constant.

(b) The range of human experience is always present in the fullness of its

(c) The structure of the range varies from compactness to differentiation."

The Aristotelian symbolism of "essence" or "nature" as being that without

which a thing would not be what it is defines human nature as constant; for man
is man, what makes him so is "human nature". This nature cannot change, for
then man would not be man; this notion is not just per definition but the mere
idea of a change in the essence of man is contradicted by man's irrevocable
experience of being what he is, distinct from all other partners in the community
of being.
Each society formed by man is part of his experience of this community
and every society is "burdened with the task, under its concrete conditions, of
creating an order that will endow the fact of its existence with meaning in terms
of ends divine and human", and because the nature of man is unchanging,
previous attempts to "find the symbolic forms that will adequately express the
meaning, do not form a senseless series of failures." For this reason, Voegelin's
examination of the historical and social order of existence in community should
be seen "not as an attempt to explore curiosities of a dead past, but as an inquiry
into the structure of the order in which we live presently." (I, pp.ix and xiv)

The "form" in which the range of man's experiences of being exists
consists of the -symbols from which the experience of order structures institutions,
and the whole of experience is present in the completeness it possesses. It is man's
understanding of the range of experience and his symbols in which he expresses
the range that differ over time. What changes in history is not human nature but
man's consciousness of order. In the early, cosmological society, for example,
man's consciousness of the order of existence is one where he is only a part of the
whole structure of being; the gods are those who sustain both the world and
society and, in turn, are sustained by man's own participation in the drama of
being through his ritual actions. The part of man' in the maintenance of the
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ordered structure of existence is to ensure the continuance of cosmological

activity (which leads to order) by means of the careful, detailed observation of
the rituals that sustain and cause order to continue. The fear that that which is
as it is might suddenly cease to be so demands that man do his share in ensuring
that things will continue as they have done so in the past. But, to be certain
about the world and of his part in maintaining the order of things, man needs
knowledge not only about how things are and how they work, but also about the
unknown ground for being. He expresses his understanding in terms of symbols
that are created to render intelligible the source of the order that he helps to
maintain and of which he is a part. These symbols interpret the known in
analogy to that which is known or is believed to be known; and what man knows
is that an order exists in his existence. Voegelin's search also deals with the
unfolding of a human consciousness of the meaning of the perceived order and
of the manner in which man has created a symbolic construct to reflect per-
ception and consciousness. Man is not differentiated from the order of being
but contains and is contained bv the order. The cosmological experience of
order freezes the compactness of the' experience of existence into static institu-
tions and it is only when the experience itself becomes differentiated (the "leap
in being") that the expression of order can move away from the all-embracing
whole of the all-explanatory symbolism. The first differentiation — the Israelitish
"leap in being" — is when the construction of "world-history unfolds the mean-
ing that radiates from the motivating centers of experience". Here the reality of
the Will of God and of His wav with men "is experienced in the concrete situa-
tion" and "world history becomes meaningful in so far as it reveals the ordering
will of God" in every stage of the process of this history (I, p. 150). (It should
here be noted that the symbol "God" stands, not for a single personal god, but
for ultimate being, experienced as to theion, the divine).
The compact experience of existence is one in which "God and man, world
and societv form a primordial community of being" (I, p.l). This quaternarian
field of being indicates the starting point of Voegelin's philosophy of history and
also delineates the range within which his enquiry into the order of existence
moves. The statement also supplies information about the meaning of ex-
perience and symbolization. Realitv is symbolized as a "community of being"
that is articulated into a fourfold relation between the symbols "God", "man",
"world", and "societv". The field of being is not simply postulated, but it arises

through the symbol-forming consciousness of man as an expression of experience
in its most comprehensive reach. The mode of this comprehensive and funda-
mental experience is implied by the use of the term "community", for man ex-
periences himself as a participant in a whole that is greater than himself and
both is like and unlike himself. The experience of the whole is formed as a
sensed awareness of mutual interpenetration, sameness, or oneness of all that
falls within the purview of consciousness. But this existential structure both "is
and is not a datum of human experience" (I, p.l), and man's understanding of
the plenitude of this experience is conditioned by:
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(1) his participation in being, and

(2) his knowledge that he is not really the whole of which participation bears

The primordial community is the first fact in man's experience and as such
it is neither capable of explanation, nor, indeed, is it in need of explanation: it
is man's primary experience. Man knows his society because he participates in
the being that the society represents. He cannot withdraw to "look around and
take stock of what he sees as far as he can see", for he is not a spectator, but an
actor "playing a part in the drama of being and, through the brute fact of his
existence" he is committed to playing his role without knowing what the role is
and without knowing at what point he has joined the drama (I, p.l). There
seems to be no vantage point outside the historical continuum that entrains and
entraps all existence and all reflexion on being and therefore the observer must
participate in the continuum. "Man's partnership in being is the essence of his
existence, and this essence depends on the whole, of which existence is a part.
Knowledge of the whole, however, is precluded by the identity of the knower
with the partner, and ignorance of the whole precludes essential knowledge of
the part. This situation of ignorance with regard to the decisive core of existence
is more than disconcerting; it is profoundly disturbing, for from the depth of
this ultimate ignorance wells up the anxiety of existence" (I, p.2).
Participation in being is the most fundamental experience of man; it is the
primary datum of life itself. "The great stream of being, in which he flows while
it flows through him, is the same stream to which belongs everything else that
drifts into his perspective" (I, p.3). But, whereas man can learn about the
actuality of the societal order in which he exists through his participation in
being, the source of the order must remain forever an ineffable mystery. Be-
cause the origin of the order in which he lives is unknown, man knows that he is
not the whole of being and this causes him to live in a field of tension in which
his existence within history results from the manner in which he experiences
himself as being ordered by the whole of being of which he is a part, and by the
gods who create that order that he experiences. The experience of consubstan-
tiality is not homogeneous but is articulated through tensions within the field of
consciousness that are identifiable as separate polarities. These "poles" are

designated by the symbols that define the structural boundaries of experienced
reality. Hence, the experience of oneness of being differentiates itself as a
community in which man participates as both a polarity and as a member. It is
precisely the tension of this participation in being that each individual experien-
ces as "the essence of his existence" (I, p.2). The differentiation of the experien-
ced) of order does not run the full course within any particular, concrete
civilization or within the various societies that comprise that order, even though
the full range of experience is present. Rather, the accumulation of experienced)
extends through the plurality of societies in time and space, into a "world-
historic process" toward which each civilizational order contributes the measure
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of its own experience(s) of existence and its own symbolism of that experience.
That is. the symbolic form of a particular society is the mode of that society's
participation in the "adumbrated world-historic process that extends indefinite-
ly into the future" (I, p.60). History has no recognizable meaning (eidos or
essence) but it "creates mankind as the community of men who, through the
ages, approach the true order of being that has its origin in God; but, at the
same time, mankind creates this history through its real approach to existence
The primitive level of contribution to the process of history is the compact
world in which gods and man, world and society form the single community of
existence and man knows the divine ground of being through the fact of his
participation. There is a singular correspondence between the government of
the cosmos and the government of human society, between the structure of the
universe by the gods and of the structure of human society by men, for "to
establish a government is an essay in world creation. When man creates the
cosmion of political order, he analogically repeats the divine creation of the
cosmos" (I, p. 16). These two entities — cosmos and human society — thus are
merely two aspects of a single reality and are complementary and comparative;
the king who sustains the society by representing it is naturally compared to the
gods who sustain the universe that represents the work of their hands.
Voegelin considers that there can be no investigation of man's history that
is separated from man's ancient preoccupation with theological and meta-
physical questions. History itself is a theological concept derived from the
Israelite "leap in being" that constituted Israel as a people living in the historical
present under God. The concept is intimately connected to the civilizational
order that stems from the manner in which the members of a society structure
their institutions in terms of the order that structures being. This order is
derived from the "divine ground" — which can be in the order or above it —
and is the ultimate reality of existence. History is the history of order and the
order cannot be examined without taking into account the ground of its being.
Again, the actuality of the "form" in which man conceives of his society
is conditioned by his experience of participation in a world of existents that is
divine because the world and all existents partake of divine order. The order
thus experienced constitutes a sort of conceptual boundary (peras) to man's
thought and conduct; and when both thought and conduct break through the

barrier of the peras the movement constitutes a "leap in being". These "spiritual
outbursts" are not "phenomena in a history of mankind" but are "the sources of
meaning in history and of such knowledge as man has of it". Precisely because
man becomes conscious of his "humanity as existence in tension" in the In-
between (the Platonic metaxy) the spiritual outbursts that are the differentiating
aspects of the leap in being are "experienced as meaningful inasmuch as they
constitute a Before and After within time that points toward a fulfillment,
toward an Eschaton out of time". History is the symbol that moves man's
participatory experience of existence away from the endless, repetitious cycle of
nature and thus cannot be the story of a "stream of human beings and their
actions in time" but must be seen as the "process of man's participation in a
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flux of divine presence" (IV, p.6). That is. "civilizational form" results from
the "interpenetration of institutions and experiences of order" (I, p.60). and
the concomitant extension of experience beyond the compact world when
divinitv is removed from the world and symbolization shifts toward "what is
more lasting than the visibly existing world ... toward the invisiblv existing being
beyond all being in tangible existence" (I, p.6).


The stages that constitute a leap in being develop from an increasing

emergence of meaning in which man's participation in existence is experienced
in ever greater differentiation from the source of the experience. The stages
themselves are:

(1) The cosmological myth, which, to the best of our knowledge, is the "first
symbolic form created by societies when they rise above the level of tribal
organization" (I, p.14). This form is defined as "the symbolization of poli-
tical order by means of cosmic analogies"; a form in which the "life of
man and society is experienced as ordered by the same forces of being
which order the cosmos, and cosmic analogies both express this knowledge
and integrate social into cosmic order" (I, p.38). The "subject matter"
of the cosmological myths is not the "content of the stories but the expe-
riences symbolized by means of the stories". (IV, p.63) And the major
experience of man is consubstantiality with divine order and man trans-
lates this experience of the substantive oneness of being into the political
community that reflects the oneness.
The "cosmos of the primary experience is neither the external world
of objects given to a subject of cognition, nor is it the world that has been
created by a world-transcendent God. Rather, it is the whole, to pan, of an
earth below, and a heaven above — of celestial bodies and their movements;
of seasonal changes; of fertility rhythms in plant and animal life; of human
life; birth and death; and above all, as Thales still knew, it is a cosmos full
of gods". This last point must be stressed: that the gods are intracosmic,
for the facile categorizations of polytheism and monotheism miss the point

of the world permeated by divinity. The numbers of the gods are relativelv
unimportant, the emphasis is on man's consciousness of divine realitv as
intracosmic or transmundane but also pervading the whole of being
including man. "This togetherness and one-in-anotherness is the primary
experience that must be called cosmic in the pregnant sense". (IV, p.69)
The mystery of being awes man and creates within his soul an anxietv
of existence and a horror of a fall from being into the nothingness of non-
existence. This fear motivates the creation of "symbols purporting to
render intelligible the relations and tensions between the distinguishable
terms of the field" (I, p.5). The fear, for example, that the sun will not rise
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tomorrow if he does not faithfully carry out his part in ensuring the
continuance of cosmic order is what makes man live in erotic tension
toward the source of order. The fear of the fall from being that will occur
from his failure forces man to examine the texture of the experiental
ground of consciousness in order to render experience intelligible.

(2) The examination of the texture of being brings about the second leap in
being, which is derived from the "differentiating experience of a world-
transcendent divine being" (I, p.51) where the "interplay of experiences in
the struggle of the spirit for its freedom from encasement in a particular
social organization" (I, p.183) leads to the establishment of a particular
community (Israel) as a people under God. It does so representatively for
mankind even though "the universalist implications of the experience were
never successfully explicated within Israelite history" (I, p.164). This
constitution of a community under a God who revealed himself to man was
the construction of the beginnings of a "paradigmatic world-history" from
the "variegated contents of myth and history" (I, p.185), and moved man
from cosmic consubstantiality into historical consciousness. The symbol of
this movement was the berith (covenant) that opposed the authenticity
of the experience of an intangible divinity to the compactness of a "divin-
ized" world. The berith is traditionally associated with Abram who
became Abraham, whose "spiritual sensitiveness" to God created an "order
of existence in opposition to the world" and transformed "the symbol of
civilizational bondage" to an ordered cosmos into a symbol of "divine
liberation" (I, p.15). The fulfilment of the original berith was when Moses
led the "Chosen People" out of bondage into the desert to form a people
who would be able to experience divinity external to themselves.

(3) The Greek experience of differentiation is the third leap in being into the
noetic mode of attunement to being. The term noetic is a part of the
technical vocabulary of classical philosophy and is derived from the word
nous, which means, variously, reason, thought, mind, and the noetic
mode refers to a thinker's reflective, self-conscious experience of existential
order. The noetic mode thus is a rational enquiry into the truth of being
and into man's existence within the world, society, and history. This

zetema (philosophical enquiry) is conducted as a penetration into the
vertical dimensions of existence — the depths and heights of human
consciousness. It seeks to discover through a mediative sifting of the
substantive content of experience the source and configuration of ultimate
reality and its order. Voegelin calls this inward zetesis (search) the search
for the Ground (aition, arc he) that is the ultimate cause.
The Hellenic differentiation is the achievement of a number of
Greek philosophers ending in Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Here the
symbolic form of existence is not the paradigmatic history of Israel but
philosophy, which finds its optimal expression in the Platonic dialogue.
The discovery of philosophy is not as radical a differentiation of the
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primary experience of the cosmological myth as is Revelation, for, in Israel

God is in search of man; in Hellas man is in search of God. The philosopher's
search for the divine sophon "slowly dissolves the compactness of cosmic
order until it has become the order of world-immanent being beyond
which is sensed, though never revealed, the unseen transcendental mea-
sure" (II, p.52). In contrast, Israel receives revelation, which immediately
reveals the spiritual order of existence in all its dimensions including its

The symbolic forms of Israel and Hellas finally coalesce into the idea of
universal humanity, which unfolds in time and space beyond the orders of the
concrete societies. At this point in his studies Voegelin noted that the "contex-
tual structure" of history showed that the "meaningful advances" in the "differ-
entiating consciousness" of man were always accompanied by an underlying
stratum of cosmological symbolism. "This peculiar structure in history", he
notes, "originates in the stratification of man's consciousness through the process
of differentiation. The truth of existence discovered by the prophets of Israel
and the philosophers of Hellas, though it appears later in time than the truth of
the cosmos, cannot simply replace it, because the new insights, while indirectly
affecting the image of reality as a whole, pertain directly only to man's con-
sciousness of his existential tension". But when the "image of reality" reveals
itself to man as the divine ground of existence, this structures a new layer over
the cosmological layer, for revelation causes man to discover the "something
in his humanity that is the site and sensorium of divine presence and he finds
such words as psyche, or pneuma, or nous to symbolize the something". These
terms designate the response of man to the reality of the revealed presence of
God and they pertain to man's consciousness of "his humanity in participatory
tension toward the divine ground, and to no reality beyond this restricted area"
(IV, p.9). The consequence of this discovery is that the symbols are transferred
to the new knowledge of divine reality because the experience of the "creative
and ordering force in the cosmos" remains as an undertone to the new ex-
perience. Again, the enquiry into the truth of existence embarks on "the long
process of developing the adequate symbols for its expression" and "one can
observe the various attempts at coming to terms with the problem of cosmic -

divine presence". And. no matter the particular form in which the new truth is
symbolized, it must still provide for the primordial experience of divine presence
— "not onlv in the soul but in the cosmos in its spatio-temporal existence and
order" (IV. p.9V
Voegelin's insight about the persistence (as well as the deformation in
Gnostic speculations) of the primary experience in the consciousness of man
emerged from his attempt to bring about more meaningful conceptual distinc-
tions in the cosmological mvth itself. The data that determine the structure of
the issue are based on two prinicples:

"(a) the Bevond and the Beginning which ever since antiquity have symbolized
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the directions in which the presence of divine reality is experienced and

(b) the cosmogony as the symbolism which expresses the experience of the
divine-cosmic Beginning" (IV, p.10).

The general concept that applies to all the variegated symbolisms "en-
gendered bv the experience of divine initiative in the existence of the cosmos"
is the cosmogonic myth. "The concept then will apply not only to the mytho-
speculative forms developed in the imperial societies of the Ancient Near East,
but also to the more compact symbolisms in the pre-imperial, tribal societies;
and not only to cosmogonies in strictly cosmological form in which divine
presence is symbolized by the intra-cosmic gods, but also to the cosmogonies in
which these gods have been affected, to a lesser or greater degree, by the spiritual
outbursts which locate divine reality in the Beyond of all intramundane content.
The concept will make the dynamics of the issue intelligible. While
cosmogony is a constant, the manner of its symbolization is affected by the
increasing luminosity of existential consciousness. By their impact on the sym-
bolization of the Beginning, the hierophanic events which illuminate conscious-
ness in the direction of the Beyond thus create historically a secondary field of
differentiations" (IV, pp. 10 — 11).


Voegelin believes that Western man's search for meaning in existence is

conditioned by the modes of experience that he has had of the symbolic form of
order, and both the search and the symbolic form have universalistic implica-
tions. The results of this search have been symbolized in the types of politico-
religious orders, and the expression of the symbolic form has found its way into
personal, social, and historical types that delineate man's existence in community.
In the first instance, all communal existence is political, for man must arrive at
a means of structuring formal relations and providing institutions to regulate
these relations. Secondly, the experience of political order has been structured
in such a manner as to reflect a particular truth that is dominant in a society in

time. At different times in man's history certain types of order have been
dominant, and Voegelin has identified four main types. These are: (1) the order
of thecosmos, (2) the order of revelation, (3) the order of wisdom, and (4) the
order of universal humanity. The complex relation between symbolic form and
the factors that condition the form are:

(1) the existence of the ordered cosmos as the reality of which man has a direct
and intimate experience through physical contact and through an uns'elf-
conscious "knowledge"; as such it is the initial, the primary, experience of
man and it becomes the model for a particular form of political order.
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The order is reflected in:

(a) the city of the gods, which is an analogue of the order of the cosmos,
and forms the link between man and cosmos,

(b) the cosmic myth, which is the undifferentiated awareness of being as

a unity, and is the basis for the city of the gods,

(c) the Hesiodic mvth within the Homeric framework, which forms the
initial starting-point for the Greek differentiation of experience into
the order of wisdom,

(2) the slowlv evolving awareness of the hierarchy of being and then of the
diversification of being, which awareness is expressed as:

(a) the experience of questioning as the constituent of man's humanity,

(b) the process of a movement from the awareness of ignorance about

being to active attempts to dispel this ignorance; this is the Socratic
position with regard ,to not-knowing,

(3) the leap in being, which is a direct result of the attempt to dispel ig-
norance through the pneumatic and the noetic illumination of conscious-
ness: the first is the Israelite leap, which brings God into the flux of
historical process, and the second is the Greek leap, which establishes
philosophy as its constitutive form; both issue in new types of order:

(a) the order of revelation, which results in man's endeavour to create

the perfect political order on earth as an analogue of the Kingdom of
God and introduces into political thought the problem of an apoca-
lyptic consciousness,

(b) the order of wisdom, which is an attempt to relate man's intelligence

(nous) to divine Nous so that the state of being-in-relation can
become a measure of a political order; the undertone of the apoca-

lyptic consciousness is also present as a residue of Hesiodic thought,

(4) the process of history, which is experienced as a flux of being in time and
in which the differentiations of questioning consciousness and the leaps in
being occur, and, in their occurrence, they constitute the flow of history.

(5) the eschatological movement in the process toward a cause (aitia) outside
of its own structure; this is a movement that may be experienced either as
the deformed experience of gnosis or as the metastatic arrest that will end
the flux of being in time; or it may be a genuine attempt to answer the
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complex of questions about the experience of man of his existence as a

quest for meaning.


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