Eric Voegelin – A Brief Biography (Part 1)

This series of texts will briefly present the biography of Eric Voegelin based on the work “Autobiographical Reflections,” published in 2008, in which he offers a historical and biographical context of his motivations based on the development and articulation of his ideas in several fields of knowledge.

Born in Cologne, Germany, on January 3, 1901, and died in California, United States, on January 19, 1985, Erich Hermann Wilhelm Voegelin established himself as a multidisciplinary intellectual, as many of his ideas were developed from politics, history, the nature of consciousness and the divine presence. Voegelin studied at the University of Vienna in Austria and became a professor of Political Science at the Faculty of Law. However, before this period, specifically between 1919 and 1922, Voegelin had the opportunity to study works of different natures, such as Pure Theory of Law by Hans Kelsen and the works of Ludwig Von Mises and Joseph A. Schumpeter. However, (VOEGELIN, 2008).

The development of his ideas originated from his curiosity in studying works from different fields. As an optional subject, he studied eight years of Latin, six of English, and two of Italian. Due to the historical context, he also had the opportunity to study, first-hand, Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity in 1917. Furthermore, the works of Karl Marx, such as Capital, also influenced him, albeit for a short period. (VOEGELIN, 2008).

However, one intellectual who profoundly impacted Eric Voegelin’s ideas was Max Weber. Voegelin himself explains Weber’s influence at specific points: (a) his essays on Marxism established Voegelin’s rejection of Marxism as an ideology; (b) Weber’s last lectures made it clear to Voegelin that ideologies do not constitute science and that ideals do not replace ethics; (c) the importance and scope of Weber’s comparative studies. Voegelin describes Weber as a mystical intellectual who “saw the promised land but was not allowed to enter” (VOEGELIN, 2008, p. 33).

Weber, as well as the founder of Sociology, Augusto Comte, had a strong influence on his thinking. In addition to him, Voegelin was attracted to the studies of Hans Kelsen due to his analytical rigor. Kelsen not only wrote the Pure Theory of Law but also designed the Austrian Constitution of 1920, in addition to being a member of the Constitutional Court. This does not mean that Eric agreed with all of them; on the contrary, he differed from Kelsen not due to his theories but despite ideological differences regarding divergent sources of Political Science, more specifically in the Pure Theory of Law, as it constituted a neo-Kantian methodology (VOEGELIN, 2008).

In 1938, Eric Voegelin was fired from his job by the Nazis due to his opposition to Hitler’s ideas and thus emigrated to the United States. He went on to teach at Harvard University in the Department of Political Science. It was from 1942 onwards that he developed his most important works: The New Science of Politics (1952) and the first three volumes of Order and History: Volume I (Israel and the Revelation), Volume 2: (The World of the Polis), and Volume 3: (Plato and Aristotle) (VOEGELIN, 2008).



VOEGELIN, Eric. Reflexões Autobiográficas. São Paulo: É Realizações, 2008.

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