In 1714, the philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz asked a seemingly simple question which is at the heart of all serious explorations of human existence and the cosmos itself: “Why is there something, rather than nothing?” In a very real sense, that is the question which Eric Voegelin confronted through his entire career, and it is the question which forms the core of Anamnesis.
In earlier phases of his career, Voegelin had approached Leibniz’s question by examining discrete, particular institutions or ideas which have occurred in history; in a sense, he sought his answers in specific examples or actions. By the mid-1940’s, however, Voegelin had begun to move away from this approach and had, instead, adopted the view that ideas as such are only embodied in human culture; he believed that societies, nations, even civilizations, are but part of the unfolding of human consciousness expressed as history.
In Anamnesis, Voegelin further links the evolving human consciousness both with the particular individual and with the mysterious and divine beginning and end of the cosmos as perceived by human beings. In this sense, the patterns of human history are subordinate to the larger patterns of human consciousness, and the question for Voegelin is how to link these two polar points.
In order to effect this linkage, Voegelin first found it necessary to clear away what he considered philosophical debris from the...
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