Book Review

Anamnesis by Eric Voegelin

Anamnesis by Eric Voegelin

Mankind has spent an inordinate amount of his time on this planet mucking about in a social, cultural, and philosophical disorder whose end result has more often than naught been war, famine, and pestilence. On the other hand, our bipedal species has also experienced periods of ordered social construct. Unfortunately, these periods of intellectual or spiritual “illumination” are of fairly short duration and are typically followed by the “misconstruction of reality by disoriented human beings.” Indeed, life is challenging!


As Thomas Aquinas via Aristotle has shown, man is a thinking creature, a being with intelligence and the ability to reason, to act rationally. Reason is his intellectual meat and he demands, or at least some do, to be fed. He yearns for the truth of reality. He seeks the openness to the Question. The Greeks had two terms for reason, nous and ratio: nous, then, seeks not only knowledge but knowledge attracted toward the divine ground, the transcendent; ratio (reason) is the “directional factor in the tension of consciousness “as the quest for the ground” which orders it and thereby gives it structure as open inquiry.” Together, these divinely ordained intellectual attributes inherent within man compliment each other, where ratio “is the existential response of nous to the Question.” The intrinsic desire in Man, derived from this merger of reason and revelation (the Logos), in his existential experience of the tension between the immanent and transcendent, leading us to inquire, to ask the Question.


In his essay, The Soul and the Transcendence of the Human Person (Christian Faith and Human Understanding) Msgr. Robert Sokolowski argues, “It is not the case that spiritual things are given to us only through introspection or through self-consciousness or feelings. To say this would be to speak in a Cartesian way: everything spiritual would be inside. Rather, spiritual activity is present whenever we do things that escape the confinements of space, time, and matter…We do this all the time and we do it in a public way.”


The existence of the “spirit,” or as the Greeks say, the pneuma, is ably defined by the philosopher, Eric Voegelin, who said that spirit is the “presence of the transcendent pole of the tension of existence as a force ordering the soul from within.” Consequently, we see that the “spiritual” is both external and internal to man. We might argue then that the condition of being wholly human is an apperception of the communion of intellect and spirit. And so, to exclude either element (reason or spirit) is to present a being not quite human, a being malformed, grotesque and alien, even to itself. No philosopher of the 20th Century, perhaps in history, approaches an understanding of the etiological problem posed by Aristotle, “that man does not exist out of himself but out of the divine ground of all reality,” then does Eric Voegelin. To begin the process of understanding Dr. Voegelin (and it is a process) I was advised by a very kind philosophy professor to read Anamnesis. Foolishly, I did not take her advice and began to read his book, The Ecumenic Age. I read nearly 100 pages before admitting defeat.


In many ways, Anamnesis provides a foundation for Voegelin’s thinking on the question of human consciousness, but it is within the context of his sundry disquisitions that the intrinsic questions related to God (the divine ground), man, law, politics, psychology, and history are addressed. In reading these essays there occurs the almost pure pleasure of illuminated irruptions, like shooting stars on a clear summer’s night, that convey the delight of understanding some aspect of his work. These little intellectual victories are important because they provide the impetus to continue the arduous trek up the linguistic mountain Dr. Voegelin has placed before the reader. In these works we encounter the consciousness of the concrete human being, forever challenged by the temptation of egophanic revolt; the deformation of “school-philosophies” that cannot abide the question nor permit debate, and the problem of a restrictive and “deformed” contemporary existence.


Perhaps, his most important essay is Reason: The Classic Experience. Here Voegelin explores: The Tension of Existence; Psychopathology; and Life and Death in a perspicacious disquisition that can take the reader’s breathe away. Voegelin brilliantly explicates the emergence of the nous, which was the result of the Greek philosopher’s efforts to thwart “the social disorder of their age” and instilled an understanding of self consciousness, arguing that this was an epochal event “that constituted meaning in history” and gave birth to the concept of the “philosopher.”


“To have raised the tension of order and disorder in existence,” Voegelin writes, “to the luminosity of noetic dialogue and discourse is the epochal feat of the classic philosophers. This epoch has established the life of reason in Western culture in continuity to our own time; it does not belong to the past, but is the epoch in which we still live.” To be honest, Voegelin is very difficult to read and it is best that you have access to a “Voegelin” dictionary just in case you’d care to know what nous, noetic, metaxy, and pneumatic differentiation happen to mean. He is not only open to criticism but invites it, and on more than one occasion his work was “undermined” by new findings. He abhorred ideology and never sought to construct an iron bound “system” that would be impervious to criticism; his only objective was to “…look(s) ahead to a new opportunity for discovery and explication.” Eric Voegelin spent his life seeking the truth of things.


No philosopher, certainly of this century, better explicates the pernicious deformations inherent in the ideological derailments of the postmodern era, and no collection of essays is better prepared to present to the curious reader the essential Voegelin, a man who grasped the significance of alienation, “…the turning away from the ground toward a self that is imagined to be human without being constituted by its relation to the divine presence,” a concept that established the foundation for the disorders of man. Anamnesis is a collection of very important essays that analyzes the existence of man in the reality of the divine ground. It is an intellectual tool employing a reason, a noetic differentiation, capable of lifting the reader toward a spiritual awareness of the ground; to the truth of being.

-- Reviewed by Robert Cheeks on 19/01/2007

Further Information
ISBN-10: 0826207375
ISBN-13: 9780826207371
Publisher: University of Missouri Press
Publication Date: 30/04/1990
Binding: Paperback
Number of pages: 240
URL: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/search?keywords=9780826207371&index=books&linkCode=qs&tag=marksbookrevi-21

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