I’m always on the lookout for original thinking on the larger patterns of history, as a way to get a reading on where we are, and as a way to tell what time it is. Voegelin satisfies.
Here is a brief summary of one note I jotted while listening to an early-1970s recording of Voegelin himself, speaking on the meaning of history:
He says that history moves in three steps. First there is an era of order, which then invariably disintegrates, leading to (and this is the part I love) the “disordered construction of reality by disoriented human beings.” It’s as though the periods of disintegration create societies that suffer from a kind of collective post-traumatic stress disorder, preventing them from returning to a (new) state of order. Voegelin’s metaphor for such a troubled society is the metaphor of “dis-orientation,” of aimlessness. To this apt metaphor he adds the insight that lost human beings construct realities that are distorted and disordered. We do this as a way to soothe, or to mask, or perhaps even as a futile attempt to annihilate, this nagging sense of lostness.
We 21st-century Americans are disoriented, and have constructed a disordered reality. That’s not to say that everything is going to hell in a handbasket tomorrow. It just means that general distrust– of others and of institutions– is growing; that our fetish for seeking security through state-sponsored violence and through unrestrained acquisitiveness is eroding our humanity; and that, despite historically unprecedented widespread material abundance, we rank strangely high in measures of unhappiness, like suicide rates and addictions.
In order to be healthy today, people must, to some degree, resist some (not all) of the attractions of the distorted reality in which we live and move.