Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Anamnesis consists of a series of interrelated essays grouped into three parts: “Anamnesis,” “Experience and History,” and “What Is Political Reality?” The common thread which unifies these three parts and the individual chapters within them is Eric Voegelin’s examinations of human consciousness and his theories to account for its presence and force in history.

The word “anamnesis” is originally Greek and means “remembrance,” or “calling to mind.” It has connotations of more than memory, however, particularly as used in this work. Voegelin uses the term “anamnesis” to mean human consciousness unfolding and discovering itself and the world and, in that process, creating society and making history possible. The essays in the volume are sustained explorations of this idea.

The first part of the book sets the groundwork, as Voegelin dismisses those philosophers who seek to avoid essential questions by creating closed, self-contained systems. For Voegelin, there are fundamental questions which are the essential purpose of any legitimate philosophical approach. They include concerns such as the nature of reality, the nature of human consciousness, and how human consciousness impinges upon the world. According to Voegelin, these questions are more important than any philosophical system.

In part 1, Voegelin proposes a radical reexamination of those fundamental questions, one based on both public and private considerations. By public considerations, Voegelin means those symbolic forms which are unique to human society. These may be actual events, such as those occurring in history; they may be dramatic reenactments, such as the rituals of politics or religion; or they may be symbolic language, such as that found in myths. By private considerations, Voegelin means those events which helped shape the individual as he or she matured. In a chapter titled “Anamnetic Experiments,” Voegelin considers some occasions which occurred in his own life,...

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(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Germino, Dante. Political Philosophy and the Open Society, 1982.

Germino, Dante. “Voegelin’s Anamnesis,” in The Southern Review. N.s. VII (Winter, 1971), pp. 68-88.

McKnight, Stephen, ed. Eric Voegelin’s Search for Order in History, 1978.

Sandoz, Ellis, ed. Eric Voegelin’s Thought: A Critical Appraisal, 1982.

Webb, Eugene. Eric Voegelin: Philosopher of History, 1981.