Sources of order in history: Voegelin and his critics.

Author:Butler, Gregory
Position:Reviews - Eric Voegelin: The Restoration of Order - Book Review
 
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Eric Voegelin: The Restoration of Order, by Michael P. Federici. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2002. xxxvi+249 pp. $24.95 cloth, $14.95 paper.

The discipline of political theory has witnessed some dramatic changes over the past half century. Perhaps the most compelling of these is the ever-growing scholarly dissatisfaction with behaviorism and positivism, and the attendant resurgence of interest in classical and Christian traditional philosophical approaches. The horrors of modern totalitarianism have shattered our illusions about the possibility of a "valueneutral" or strictly "empirical" social science, and have led to a renewed appreciation for the ethical and spiritual roots of Western civilization. As a consequence, one finds a rich body of contemporary literature that not only resurrects the wisdom of Greek, Roman, and Christian political thought, but also calls into question many widely held assumptions about the origins, meaning, and significance of modernity, from political, spiritual, and cultural perspectives. In Eric Voegelin: The Restoration of Order Michael Federici presents a valuable introduction to the thought of perhaps the most reputable post-War political theorist to explore these dynamics with full philosophic and theologic rigor.

While there are at least two outstanding introductory texts already available (Eugene Webb's Eric Voegelin: Philosopher of History and Ellis Sandoz's The Voegelinian Revolution, both published in 1981), Federici's work is distinctive in two ways. First, it seeks to "disseminate Voegelin's political theory to a broader audience than seems to have been reached by the existing literature" (xxxv). Specifically, Federici wishes to render the "deep and philosophically penetrating" Voegelinian corpus more accessible to the advanced undergraduate student. As the author is well aware, no secondary source can eliminate the interpretive difficulties that beginning students will invariably encounter, as "there are no shortcuts" (xxxv). It is certainly possible, however, for a good writer and teacher to present central Voegelinian themes in such a way as to awaken in the reader a sense of their profound importance for our time, and ultimately to inspire the student toward further study of the primary texts. This relatively brief book meets this challenge quite well. In addition, Federici's work represents a timely scholarly supplement to the existing literature. The book incorporates a range of primary source material that has only recently become available through the University of Missouri Press's Collected Works of Eric Voegelin project. Federici has also included a wellconceived and highly thoughtful discussion of Voegelin's recent critics (chapter 7), some of whom studied directly under Voegelin and are now highly respected political theorists in the prime of their careers. Consequently, this book-length introductory treatment of Voegelin's political thought not only is able to reach an undergraduate audience, but does so in the light of all available source material and contemporary scholarly critique.

Largely based on a literary chronology, the expository portion of the book (principally chapters 1-6) provides an overview of the core ideas that characterize Voegelin's distinctive approach to political theory. Very early in his academic career Voegelin was concerned with the nature of political ideology, and was particularly interested in understanding the source of its power in the modern West. As...

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