In the work of Professor Germino’s prime mentor, Eric Voegelin, and that of Hannah Arendt, the subject of Professor Young-Bruehl’s biography, we have the head and the heart of a theory of man that understands politics as phenomenality, as self-disclosure in a space of appearances, originating in the “experiential locus of humanity.” This locus is a problematic “Between” in which, according to Germino, “man experiences the pull of the Divine Ground and the counterpull of evil and death,” or in which, according to Hannah Arendt, man experiences “the world,” including the “love of the world”: “The world lies in between people,” and people themselves are “between past and future.” In either case, however, it is a theory which, politically, seems remarkably self-centered. Hence it does not seem whole, or even fully political. It does not see itself as it is or as others see it.
Certainly, one would not deny that the work of Eric Voegelin and much in the work of Hannah Arendt provide an effective positive rallying point for anti-positivists—or more generally, for those who tend to resist what Jan Huizinga in 1935 called “the anti-noetic tendencies of our whole age.” But resistance to the antinoetic tendencies of our age and political philosophy are not necessarily one and the same thing; besides, resistance to the tendencies of “our age” may lead merely to intensified definition, or to being closed in by some of them.
Dante Germino here asserts, as he has before, the need for openness in society, and the most famous of the works by Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, emphasizes the evil effects of political closure. “Openness” is, as it were, “in.” It is the rallying point of “our age.” From J. Robert Oppenheimer’s famous lecture on “The Open Mind” to Karl Popper’s celebrated “Postscript,” The Open Universe, the “open society” has come summarily to represent the alternative to all the prejudice and provincialism that we despise and fear in others and in ourselves. It is hailed as the glory and the last best hope of the West and ultimately of the world because it represents both the first line of defense and the last comprehensive—if not impregnable—bastion of “man.” The “open society” is the highest impulse of the rationalist ethos, carrying all the baggage of enlightened liberalism. The “open society” is our standard for judging human society. In effect, it is our notion of “civilization,” in which the “welfare state” appears as merely a compassionate way station or necessary compromise.
Marxist and kindred ideological criticisms are usually limited to critiques of the welfare state as it exists now and promises to exist in the foreseeable future; they do not extend so far as the aim itself. After all, the Hobbesian origin of the Manifesto’s credo—”‘the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”—should be clear enough. And the ideal of the amateur once celebrated by aristocratic Victorian gentlemen is implicit if not vulgarized in Marx’s own claim that in the “future society” it will be possible “for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, to breed cattle in the afternoon, criticize after dinner, just as I like, without ever becoming a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critic.” Marx does not deny that his own cameo of human potential and attainment would fit neatly about the shoulders of a Xenophon or a Leonardo. But these are only individual exceptions “ahead of their time” and not social attainments: they are attainments earned despite the fact that others in society were but economic ciphers, because of which most humans have not attained anything of the species’ true potential. Since past society can provide little or no guide toward the understanding of that potential, man as yet has no proper history but only a “prehistory” of class struggle, that is, only economic history. History proper has been choked off. Society must be changed, opened up, and this opening must be universal in order for humanity to emerge in everyone and not just in the odd exception. Society must be changed for the sake of the average man so that he may be the “new man,” that is, truly “man.” Only then, in the open society of the future, that is, in communist or scientific “socialism,” the “average human type,” as Trotsky thought he foresaw, ”will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe, or a Marx.” It is for “man” that the enlightened universal classless society exists—or rather, thanks to the revolutionary action of prehistorical futurists, will exist—although it admittedly is now little more than a hope for and in “science.”
It goes without saying that the standard of the open society itself has received some criticism. Willmoore Kendall criticized it in “The Open Society and Its Fallacies” on the ground that the “openness” of a whole society, however liberal, can never attain the openness of one good mind, and that an open society is not necessarily an equitable society, or even a “society.” On the other hand, not all admitted friends of the open society entirely subscribe to all of Popper’s formulations for it. Germino and Arendt, for whom Popper is but a “leading positivist,” do not.
For the most part, Political Philosophy and the Open Society is a redaction of the neo-Augustinian doctrines of Eric Voegelin. It is devoted to revealing and continuing the “revival of political theory” as “one of the momentous intellectual and cultural developments of our time,” and to “highlighting” the contributions of Eric Voegelin to this revival. Still, Professor Germino does more; he goes further. The open society as understood by Professor Germino is a spiritual rather than a material society. He agrees that it is “only on a global scale that the open society idea can be realized, for mankind is in principle one community.” But even on that scale world government would only include the bodies of all those living, not their souls. The soul transcends the limits of any worldly society. It is the souls of men which are at home in the open society. The open society includes the souls of all those living, as well as all those who have ever lived or who ever will live. Germino is silent about whether this habitation is to be understood as being simultaneous and whether it is simply egalitarian. His point is that the open society is “not a concrete society existing in the world, but a symbol which indicates man’s consciousness of participating. . . in the mystery of a reality which moves toward its transfiguration.” As such one might suppose that it—or that what it represents or is supposed to represent—exists, and always has and will so long as there are men, whatever men say or do on earth. Professor Germino, it seems, does so suppose, but, instead of being led by this supposition to reconsider, for example, certain familiar doctrines of stoicism more thoroughly and openly than he has done, he goes further and insists that “the open society is a paradigm to be approximated but never fully attained.” That is, “the open society. . . is the valid goal for human beings to seek in their collective efforts,” viz., through political action.
This is a dubious exhortation. And Germino allows himself to drift into humdrum editorializing. Lest anyone suppose that such a conception reduces politics to mere ritual, the author provides an exemplary guideline for our “collective efforts.” Since “elites” rule and have done so in all worldly societies, and since the spiritual or symbolic society actually presumes a multiracial composition, one should not shrink from setting forth programs intended to diversify the worldly elites as much as possible along color lines, not excluding “a conscious policy of favoring for a time the entrance of nonwhite persons into elite positions as against equally qualified whites.” He goes on to insist that “The white sector must willingly assume the task of redressing generations of injustice inflicted on nonwhites.” If I am not mistaken this is the only reference to justice in the book. No doubt the author passionately believes that the injustice inflicted by whites on nonwhites is much greater than that which has presumably been inflicted by “elites” on “nonelites” for millennia. But the policy he advocates for racially proportioning the world actually redresses or resolves nothing. In fact, it further suppresses the problem he ostensibly wishes to keep in the foreground as a piece of austere political realism, namely, the problem of “elites,” to say nothing of the genuine problem of justice. The answers to these problems, he apparently assumes, are provided by the “revival” of political theory. As for “political realism,” Germino implies that if existing elites will only adopt his policy now and alter themselves “for a time” in redressing the injustices of the past, then the future, in the hands of the new “open” elites, will take care of itself
We can now see why Professor Germino claims that the Voegelinian revival of political theory as highlighted by him is best seen as a “new phase in the development of liberalism.” Or, rather, as he admits, “a form of liberalism,” and, as such, merely one form of liberalism among others. The new open liberalism derived from Voegelin is theocentric where the old closed liberalism derived from Hobbes or Locke is anthropocentric, and it is positive rather than negative, following T. H. Green rather than the classical liberals, in its conception of freedom. It thus corrects and completes what Hobbes began. According to Professor Germino: “Welfare state liberalism, from the New Deal onwards, has done much to correct” the old negativity in the United States already. But because it limited itself too much to material considerations, New Deal liberalism did not go far enough in the direction of the true welfare state. As directed by the new liberal theorist, “the open liberalism of the future will have to involve itself far more immediately and directly than ever before with providing richer cultural opportunities to increasing members of people.”
The political theorist as “revived” or “highlighted” by Germino thus represents the true vanguard of the worldly society, leading not into the postrevolutionary socialist future, of course, but into the “post-modern” symbolic society. In this as in other things the doctrine of the “open society” as set up by Professor Germino reminds one of nothing so much as the “Open System” as set up by Ernst Bloch. The stance of Germino, or of Voegelin as interpreted by Germino, is to everyday liberalism as that of Bloch is to everyday Marxism. Germino takes his orientation from Voegelin because, according to him, “it is Voegelin who has done most to reintroduce the reality of the spiritual dimension into contemporary discussion of politics and the open society.” Voegelin, says Professor Germino, is “among the great mystic-philosophers,” for he insists that “theophanic experiences are authoritative in terms of illumining the structure of reality,” including, doubtless, the structure of regimes. The great modern regimes are not founded upon such experiences, however, which gives a character of unreality or of the evasion of reality in the public life and affairs of our times, and which, therefore, makes the Voegelinian “revival” of political theory momentous.
Ultimately, “openness is a moment of metaphysical insight.” Thus, for Professor Germino, the momentous crisis of our time, i.e., of contemporary political philosophy and hence of contemporary politics, is at length traceable to a derailment of Western metaphysics. The derailment of metaphysics has led to positivism. To demonstrate the poverty of positivism, Germino defers to other texts and dwells mainly on the fact that positivism denies or is unresponsive to the “eschatological dimension of reality.” Like Marxism, it is closed to an essential feature of human life and therefore it essentially distorts human life. Professor Germino asserts that not merely the positivistic theories but “all previous political philosophy has been burdened with a limited horizon.” In other words, all previous political philosophy has been closed. Myth, on the other hand, is itself “a mode of openness”; there are only closed interpretations of myths. Professor Germino’s ultimate thesis can be formulated by saying that in order to cast off the burden of all previous political philosophy we must avoid any closed interpretation of the open society.
It is this conception which, although it could seem merely to reduce politics to ritual and political philosophy to myth in its attempt to resolve the crisis of political theory through symbology, according to Germino represents the very threshold not of the rebirth but of the birth itself of true political philosophy. “From the perspective of the open society,” he says, “politics itself takes on a new meaning.” This newly discovered meaning of politics is lacking in all previous political philosophy because all previous political philosophy was closed to politics as understood in the perspective of the open society. Hence the attempt to revive political philosophy leads to the discovery that political philosophy has never existed. “In fact, it may be argued that. . . political philosophy has yet to begin” even now.
Clearing the way for this beginning is the task of Political Philosophy and the Open Society. The author does not present the new, true political philosophy here. He winningly insists that for him to do so would be immodest. With the help of others, no doubt, it will emerge in the future. In highlighting Voegelin’s contributions he is merely preparing the way for it; i.e., Germino is the midwife. However, the professor’s midwifery seems less likely to promote political theory than to “make a thought miscarry.” While openness—”openness toward the transcendental ground,” toward the experience of theophany, the “peak experiences” which nourish “self-actualization”—is necessary for the existence of political philosophy, it is not and has never been sufficient for it because it provides no self-knowledge. One may in such openness arrive unwittingly at the experience of tumidity, as Longinus observes, or mere self-inflation, without ever arriving at knowledge or “science,” still less “political science.” It is very difficult to distinguish these experiences, Longinus teaches, although it is necessary to do so, for they are not distinguished by the experiences themselves. One may be carried away by God knows what kind of postulations and “discoveries.”
Professor Elisabeth Young-Bruehl’s For Love of the World is thoroughly documented, intelligently written, and carefully detailed—as well as very long, indulgent, and blandly opinionated throughout. The book is tacitly based on the notion that as complete and devoted a description as possible of the selected activities and affairs of Hannah Arendt will convey something about the present world or “our dark times” or the “human condition”—or Hannah Arendt—that Arendt’s own writings lack The result is something like an entertaining plot outline of aHamlet without the Prince but with some of the hisses and applause. Devoted to the idea of Hannah Arendt, or to the effects of that idea, it does not do justice to the ideas of Hannah Arendt
Hannah Arendt, no less than Eric Voegelin, is concerned with “events.” Events have consequences. Indeed, in Hannah Arendt’s view, it seems that Western civilization has been overtaken by events. “Not ideas but events change the world.” She begins her account of these events and, therewith, of the change or end of the Western tradition not as Voegelin did, with the derailment in metaphysics of the experience of the divine and its illumination, however, but with the shock of the experience of evil and its darkness—not the darkness of the so-called “Dark Ages” but the “radical” “darkness of our time”—that is, with the “experience of totalitarianism.” “Totalitarian domination as an established fact. . . has broken the continuity of Occidental history.” With it, “the thread of tradition finally broke.” The Western tradition has “lost its anchorage, its beginning and its principle, and is cut adrift.” Hannah Arendt, therefore, determined to make a new and original beginning, if not according to her own doctrine of “action” at least in speech. Here, as Voegelin himself pointed out in his famous review of The Origins of Totalitarianism, her beginning seems to imply a traditional or theological way of proceeding, since only good of some sort could recognize “radical” or “absolute” evil as such. Hence, what Arendt called in another context the traditional Western “conceptual framework of values” remains essentially intact in her own new beginning in speech. Within this framework it appears to Hannah Arendt that the emergence of totalitarianism in Germany and Russia broke the continuity of Occidental history because, in her terms, it is “something entirely new” and “original.” To understand it, to resist and master this central event of our times, we must begin anew with every single thing and again seek its specific human meaning or use.
For this it is necessary to understand anew what it means to be human. Hannah Arendt presents this new beginning in The Human Condition: A Study of the Central Dilemmas Facing Modem Man. To be human is to be conditioned: for Hannah Arendt this is the human condition. The human condition is a political condition: “All aspects of the human condition are somehow related to politics.” The central dilemmas facing modern man, however original they may be, are thus somehow political dilemmas. To gain the new understanding of politics made necessary by these dilemmas, it appears that we must first understand that the continuity of Western thought was “not lost because of historical circumstances and the adversity of reality but because no tradition had foreseen the appearance of totalitarianism or its reality.” In other words, the problem of traditional thought does not lie in totalitarianism after all. The originality of totalitarianism only shows it up. The problem is somewhere behind and before the original event of totalitarianism. This is the meaning of Hannah Arendt’s description of the contemporary intellectual dilemma as “thinking without bannisters” as unanchored thought struggles toward understanding of the new and the lost
The heart of Arendt’s conception of politics is what we still with some justification regard as the Carlylean vision of the public hero. Her glorification of “pure politics” disdains the mere “administration of things,” in Engel’s language, and, finally, is impatient even with the everyday phenomena with which, following Heidegger, she began. At times she seems equally indignant toward totalitarian or antibourgeois doctrine, which blots out the public, and toward the bourgeoisie, who do not rise to it, as though they are for all practical purposes equal. Rather, she loves the novel. She seeks the exaggerated heroic polis in which “the extraordinary becomes the ordinary,” as in epic or tragedy. In so doing, she imposes quite literal demands upon political life far beyond any made by Plato, except as a dream, or by Aristotle or by the original Western tradition of political thought. She distorts politics.
Dr. Young-Bruehl, a pupil of Professor Arendt and a novelist, presents her story with unobtrusive discipulor piety. The writer is her teacher’s student, however, and in reading judgments like: “Her [Arendt’s] estimate of McCarthy’s power over the Hindenburg of his day, Eisenhower, was exaggerated,” one hardly knows whose exaggeration is which. Yet in the end, it perhaps matters little that she presents her subject as more smooth and coherent than was the case. The work becomes more edifying in this way. For in her description of the flame of thought, she cannot help reminding us that understanding is necessary for judgment—today, no less than it ever was.