2348. Comment on Eric Voegelin

His powerful studies run strong current in the background of serious political thinking but is worth a larger public. But it is hard reading. This note provides some pointers.

Voegelin was interested in how early humans experience the world consciously . In that consciousness  they  found parallels between the cosmos (such as the constellations) and the social structure which in turn gave rise to the beginnings of early politics and the sculpting of the governance of the community  in fidelity to the perceived cosmos . If the stars were coherent (moving together around the north star is a stable pattern ), perhaps social life was also. The fact that the planets do not move with the stars made the heavens dynamic and lead to the gods. Early humans had time to contemplate these in the log night sky where such correspondences could be slowly felt.

The cosmic civilizations that emerged with increasing population  were  based on the microcosm macrocosm  parallel  insight of Paleolithic hunter gatherers.   It was conservative “Hey don’t try to change society, you will mess up the cosmos”.   The word cosmos, from  pre classical   Greek  was the word used naming the pattern of silver studs on a horse collar. That pattern idea, (the mind works this way), projected upwards seeing the patterns in the constellations, – the metaphone in quite direct – gave us “cosmos”. Since the silver studs  also made a kind of  necklace, we get “cosmetics”.  This gives lots of insight on how early humans thought and he origin of the idea of political order in the cosmos.  That cosmos and  cosmetics share a common origin is (fill in your favorite word)

What is important here is that the people are conscious and in that consciousness discover correspondences.  Archeology also finds  that patterns of  that early cave users took the constellations as superstructure (most of us now how to dind at least Orion in the night sky) for some animal cave paintings, again making a connection between the cosmos and pragmatic lives of hunting.

Voegelin goes on to describe, as in the lecture, that early humans found similarities in their perceptions between the cosmos and society,  but  as empire becomes  oppressive rebellion meant   taking steps out of  the cosmos symbolism of the repressive order into more social. Moses led the people out of cosmic empire  into a new ordering principle,  for Israel, history and for the Greeks,   philosophy  Note it is people trying to understand how to live – political order – that led them to find correspondence between part of reality and social structure. Voegelin is looking for the emergence of political order in their consciousness in the world they inhabited – including the night sky and the seasons.

As Voegelin makes clear in the last volume  of Order  and History, things get murky because society is more differentiated and accumulates mistakes  in articulating Order.  

BTW order  for V order requires five  structures in thought:  self, society, history, cosmos and the usually problematic “divine”  I would venture that what V means by divine or god is really the unnamable beyond what can be seen  to what cannot be seen but we all  we all experience. That there is a beyond we can feel but can’t articulate..  

Voegelin  did an earlier seven volumes on the history of political thought, not published until long after the Five Vols of Order and History which is a  bit easier and helpful. Very detailed, showing among other things the dependence of much of our political thinking on the middle ages. Consciousness was not considered in this earlier history.

Our dilemma in the West is we have gone from the emperor god (Rome) to Christianity with its god in the sky in an  ethical and caring world that in turn was broken apart by science, leaving us individuals with a moral sense but no longer subordinated to a moral universe. Hence modern fragmentation. We have the serious question: can a society survive without an agreed upon frame?

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