It’s said that writers need two lives: one to experience, one to write about experience. It occurs to me we actually need three, in order to reread in the third life the books we read in the first and second. What a difference 30 years make as I take up Eric Voegelin again. Volume 5 in The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, edited by Manfred Henningsen (University of Missouri Press, 2000) includes The Political Religions, The New Science of Politics, and Science, Politics, and Gnosticism; I began again with the second of these.
In my years at National Review there was always a good deal of joking (by no means disrespectful) about “immanentizing the eschaton,” the phrase that Bill Buckley made more popular than a professor of political philosophy could ever do. The truth is that Voegelin skewered modernity (“gnosticism”) more deftly and completely than any other writer I can think of. Here he is on the “pneumopathological state of mind” represented by Puritanism:
In the sixteenth century [Richard Hooker’s time] the dream world and the real world were still held apart terminologically through the Christian symbolism of the two worlds. The disease, and its special variety, could be diagnosed easily because the patient himself was supremely conscious that the new world was not the world in which he lived in reality. With radical immanentization the dream world has blended into the real world terminologically; the obsession of replacing the world of reality with the transfigured dream world has become the obsession of the one world in which the dreamers adopt the vocabulary of reality, while changing its meaning, as if the dream were reality.
Voegelin (who died in 1985) thought that the “dream world” might collapse with the advent of the next generation. A conservative, Eric Voegelin certainly was. Just as surely, he was not a pessimist.
—Chilton Williamson, Jr.