by Bart C. Labuschagne and Reinhart W. Sonnenschmidt (eds). Leiden & London: Brill, 2009. 454pp. Hardback. €120.00 /$179.00. ISBN: 9789004172074

Reviewed by Stephen McDougal, Department of Political Science/Public Administration, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Email: mcdougal.step[at]


In good conscience, I cannot recommend this collection of essays to the general community of ‘law and courts’ and/or ‘socio-legal’ scholars. Then again, I am a social scientist, and the book presents primarily works of professional philosophy. Individual essays are likely to be of considerable value to readers with specialized interests in certain philosophers and/or topics. For this reason, I summarize and make comments below on each of the fifteen essays contained in the book. First, however, I will offer a few general comments so you can decide whether it is worth reading the rest.

Taken as a whole, the book is more a gathering of like-minded arguments, in which the most important issues are ‘solved’ through familiar paradigmatic philosophical turns. Most of the essays are authored squarely within a Christian religious tradition – and a northern European Protestant one, at that. More importantly, the essays are steeped to the greater extent in the classical tradition of Western European philosophy, verging on metaphysics. On these pages, there simply IS a transcendent reality to which humans ought to strive for true happiness and being. Given all that, there is an interesting variety of conventional philosophical narratives here around two themes: (a) how (not whether) the source of order in liberal democratic society is to be discovered, and (b) the relative extent to which that source should be labeled “politics” and/or “religion” and/or “law” and/or something else.

Most individual authors look to the great western philosophers and/or western legal history to make a particular comment on how secular modernity now threatens liberal democratic freedom because it is becoming severed from its spiritual roots. To the greater extent, what distinguishes one essay from another are the philosophers and historical periods relied upon. Some essays are more history than philosophy, while others are close discussions of one or two of The Greats and little more.

There is an ostensible third theme: the essays as a tribute to the works of Eric Voegelin. Unfortunately, this is not carried through very well. There is no chapter summarizing Voegelin’s work. Few essays actually engage him. In some, he appears only in footnotes, and in a few he makes no appearance at all. Nonetheless, Voegelin’s problem with modern life is the authors’ problem, one way or another: coping with the “dangers” of modernity, liberalism and secularism.

Most of the authors are associated with the Institute for Political Science at the [*253] University of Duisburg-Essen or the Faculty of Law at the University of Leiden. The essays arise from a 2006 “Colloquium on Law, Religion and Politics: Philosophical Perspectives from Leiden and Duisburg”, which itself was part of an ongoing program on Social Cohesion and the Law.
I offer comments on the individual essays below, reserving as best I can more specific observations to the end.

An introductory essay, “Philosophical Reflections on Religion, Politics and Law,” by editors Bart C. Labuschange and Reinhard W. Sonnenschmidt states the central problematic quite succinctly: “How can multicultural, multi-religious and mass societies be held together under a single legal order that is also experienced as a just legal order?” From modernity and liberalism come most of our current answers and arguments. But, following from Voegelin, modernity and liberalism are both labeled as suffering from a “lack of articulation of fundamental values from which the modern state derives its legitimacy” (p.3). It is a familiar observation, perhaps, but how the problematic is proffered is important here.

The problem of order is characterized – rather paradigmatically, in my view – as the divergent and even conflicting loyalties of multicultural society. Yet, rather than engaging the sociological fact of growingly multicultural societies, the editors place the matter overtly on holistic, transcendent and idealized visions of true human community – “man as a whole” (p.5). Spirituality is inherent. It cannot really be ignored. When “men” are in true community, all traits of their being, from the physical to the spiritual and religious, are satisfied. The point is paradigmatic in this volume, not hypothetical (of course, readers not sharing this paradigmatic view will find much to argue with. In this way, some of the essays will be useful teaching tools in honors or graduate courses.). Finally, the editors look to Voegelin as providing a direction:

“Voegelin’s motto for his research and academic endeavor is clear: back to the spiritual and religious roots of Western civilization, in order to rediscover the historical sources from which this civilization derives its essence” (pp.4-5).

Thankfully, none of these essays discuss a return to Western European political or legal roots. So perhaps modernity’s and liberalism’s gifts of political democracy and the rule of law are not also at issue. This is important, because the Introduction left me with four concepts: order, diversity, unity and democracy, with the explicit emphasis on order. In this choice, the editors cast the individual essays in a traditionalist context, which in turn makes ‘diversity’ problematic. My anchor-point in the following discussion is more a social science choice: how does each author deal with the reality of, as well as the desirability of, our evermore multicultural human condition?

The first three essays are labeled “philosophical-historical perspectives.” The opening essay by Andreas A.M. Kinneging, “Eric Voegelin’s Philosophy of Law and Ethics,” offers a quick review of Voegelin’s broad themes, and then a critique from a neo-Platonic point of view. Kinneging discusses “the essence of law” (p.17), and “the telos of law in society” arising as part of “the order of being” (p.19), all of which rests [*254] on an “ontological ought.” The source of social order and of the order of the human soul rests upon being in “attunement” with that “ought.”

I emphasize the term “an ontology” because I wish to avoid any authoritarian implications in Kinneging’s arguments. Voegelin held that these acts of transcendent discovery and attunement are an ongoing aspect of the good life. The ontological ought needs to be reimagined, rediscovered and reconstituted in each historical age (Federici, 2006:27; Harvard, 1982:90). There seems, then, no transcendent formula, as such, for perfect and perpetual “attunement.” Kinneging describes this process as one of imaginative trial and error: “men of good will, men of virtue with well-ordered souls can fathom it” (p.23). But, given his orientation to telos and ontology as derivable from traditional roots, I can only read Kinneging’s argument as ideologically conservative. Do his points embrace a multicultural world, or a democratic one?

Kinneging notes Voegelin’s emphasis on how the order of the soul comes in large measure from one’s openness towards “the transcendent reality of the order of being.” Then, relying primarily on Platonic philosophical categories of existence, Kinneging argues that Voegelin did not go far enough – i.e., was not Platonic enough – “a shortcoming in his understanding of the order of being itself” (p.27). Kinneging’s summary and critique struck me as antiquated. The order of being itself? It is paradigmatic within this philosophy, of course, that such things exist and are knowable.

Benjamin Bilski’s essay, “Plato’s Political Ontology: On the Nature of Man and Regime” continues this vein, juxtaposing Plato and Voegelin in a close, almost technical examination. The essay presumes substantial knowledge of Platonic philosophy, and as such is a piece for specialists. Bilski summarizes the ordering of the city and of the soul, laying out a Platonic ontology, “the kind of natural law and meritocracy that characterizes the idea of political justice in the just state” (p.50). These “transcendent forms” are knowable via “philosophical schemes” which “can also be used to judge a given religion” without poetics or ideology (p.64). Bilski’s treatment reduces religion to politics, and law seems absent. Multicultural society seems not to be a focus here. He makes only passing reference to Voegelin (p.34,n.2,3).

Bart C. Labuschagne’s essay “Religion and Order” takes the matter from Augustine to Hegel, turning the book’s problematic into an expressly traditional and religious one: the moral and spiritual backbone of secular, liberal [and western, too] democracies is “withering away” because of a lack of “traditional religiosity” (p.72). Secular liberalism and modernity fail us because they “cannot articulate the moral and spiritual sources from which they derive [their] high constitutional value” (pp.72,75). Such a suppression of religion brings only the tyranny of the majority (pp.81-2). There should instead be an open discussion, he argues, an accommodation not of spirituality, so much as a balance which can only be achieved by awaking the critical spirit of people – not “the” people – as a necessary precondition (pp.91-2). Nonetheless, Labuschagne seems to [*255] offer a philosophical model of religion which is inherently Christian. More unfortunately, he raises (only in passing) the question of whether Islam fits the model (p.73), and then concludes (again, only in passing) that it is “doubtful” (p.92) — which raises the question of whether the Muslim world would be part of Labuschange’s discussions.

The second section of the book is labeled “politico-religious perspectives” and consists of three essays by Claus-E. Barsch. Together they are almost a book within the book. The first essay, “Politics and Religion in the Philosophy of the Enlightenment I,” treats the issue of religion and politics in the philosophies of Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke and Rousseau. His initial question is what sort of “theory of legitimization of political power and legal order can be extracted” from their works (p.98). But, the matter quickly turns to religion: “Whether the solution of the political-religious problem posed by our Enlightenment philosophers can actually be found in negating or rejecting religion. . . ?” (p.99)

The answer (obviously) is “no,” and the greater part of the essay is a treatment of Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke and Rousseau on the issue of individual religious freedom. Barsch’s task is “to bring back to mind the long history of the relationship between politics and religion, a history that was very much alive during the time of the Enlightenment” (p.99). What he presents is evidence that none of these western philosophers embraced the notion that you or I have a personal right to choose our own faith. Under Hobbes’ social contract, “human beings are no longer, in the strict sense of the word, individuals any more” (p.106). The Leviathan Sovereign is the new god, a mortal god to be sure, but one that “holds the right to order what the Christian citizen has to believe” (p.108). In Spinoza, Barsch finds the distinction between freedom of thought in religion, which Spinoza advocated, and freedom in religious practice which Spinoza admitted is controlled by the sovereign authority (pp.116-17). Barsch presents the same conclusion for Locke (p.121), although Barsch admits that neither Spinoza nor Locke explicitly dealt with the issue (pp.116, 118). Rousseau’s well-known distinction between the Christian Scriptures and organized religion is noted, but Barsch paints the same picture: in Rousseau, the unity of the state is threatened by endless conflict due to “separations.” Religion and politics must be unified, or the state cannot govern (p.122). Thus, in this reading of Rousseau, the social contract still precludes individual religious liberty. There is no freedom “from religion” (p.126) or any separation of church and state (p.126). All this, Barsch argues, arises from the essential principles of contract theory. He does not explain adequately why.

Barsch’s second essay is devoted entirely to Kant. The question is the same, of course, and although the philosophical method is distinctive, the answer is also still the same. Kant’s concept of freedom and enlightenment encompassed the ability to “make public one’s knowledge in all matters” (p.131). Yet, within the complex Kantian commonwealth as described by Barsch, “citizens’ freedom of religion is limited . . . . [We are] free to argue but still obligated to obey whatever the sovereign orders” (p.155). [*256]

Barsch is also quite clear that Kant’s views of religion fit only within the traditions of Protestant Christianity (p.159), but he does not seem concerned about that. He also acknowledges that Kant presumes a social unity that avoids contradictions with contemporary concepts of individual rights TO religion and FROM religion (p.161). He paraphrases Kant’s position: “The legislator may and should decide that atheists, Muslims, Catholics and visionaries have no political rights” (p.165). In other words, Barsch’s analysis of Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Rousseau and Kant leads to the argument that the “[p]olitical theory of [the] Enlightenment is no paradigm for pluralism in society” (p.165).

Barsch’s third essay, “Basic Outlines of the ‘Political Science of Religion’,” is an attempt to create new “political science of religion” as a science of the “should” (p.167). It is a philosophical model expressed in four levels of being. He struggles with his set of philosophical abstractions and categories in order to try to encompass the existential reality of pluralism within unified, uniform ontological knowledge of the transcendent, including science and all religion (p.168). This places me, however, back at having to accept the transcendent reality of yet another set of proffered ontological categories. Moreover, how this model provides FOR a paradigm of pluralism in society is not at all clear.

Part C is dedicated to “Systematic-Philosophical Perspectives: On Evil, Love and Violence, Totalitarianism and the Current Meaning of the Enlightenment.” First off, Peter Berghoff offers “The Diabolical Dimensions in the Shapes of Political Reality,” an essay on evil and the diabolical dimensions of being, expressed in signs and symbols which can be organized into six ontological levels. It is an effort at encompassing the existential variety within the human condition without trivializing the reality of human evil by utterly relativizing it. It is a nice try and worthy of the attention of anyone with a particular interest in such things.

In “Love and Violence: Dialectical Reflections on the Phenomenology of the Crusade,” Timo J.M. Slootweg discusses the phenomenology of “crusade” – not of The Christian Crusades of feudal Europe, but of the crusading characteristics of Enlightenment philosophy when it is used to condemn religious authority as breeders of intolerance and superstition. This is not the lesson Slootweg draws from his two Enlightenment philosophers: Hegel and Kierkegaard. His stated problematic is the contemporary religious crusades, a fanatical revitalization of religion wherein all overtly religious parties hold the “firm conviction that they have God on their side” (pp.223-24). Examples abound, and although Al-Qaeda is the likely prototype, Slootweg’s treatment seems to fit equally well U.S. Christian extremism (see generally, Rossing, 2004; Dark, 2005). It has ancient lineage in human politics (Brague, 2007). In the main, however, Slootweg seems ultimately concerned with “the crusades of modernity against the remaining knights of faith” (p.250). He presents Hegel and Kierkegaard as offering decidedly different arguments about the proper understanding of religion. [*257]

The first half of Slootweg’s contribution is an argument about how Hegelian philosophy, like Barsch’s philosophers above, is steeped in Christian tradition and views religion as integrating the state at the deepest levels of existence (pp.229-30). “That is why the state ought to require all citizens to belong to a religious community” (p.230).

In addition, Slootweg distinguishes Hegel’s attitude toward religious “feelings” – as opposed (I presume) to philosophically derived religious “truths.” So-called “uneducated opinion” that claims the status of objective truth will end up destroying it. He quotes Hegel that claims which implicitly raise subjectivity to assertions of truth and thus of right (and power, I would add) are dangerous to the laws and institutions of the state. “Hegel’s crusade was against the transcendent surplus of religion” (p.231). Slootweg also documents how this position was the platform for Hegel’s open anti-Semitism, part of “a long tradition of anti-Semitic hatred” (pp.233-34). I view these Hegelian implications as dismissing faith (“feelings”) in an implicit claim of philosophical superiority and privilege. What, then, of diversity?

During his transition to Kierkegaard, Slootweg states firmly in his own voice his agreement with the premise of the editors: that liberalism has such deep and subjective religious roots that “when this religious source dries up, this will eventually mean the end of it [liberalism]” (p.242). Thus, in my reading, Slootweg’s turn to Kierkegaard is almost refreshing -- odd, perhaps, but refreshing! In Kierkegaard, there is a shift of emphasis from the ontological to the existential, but a missed opportunity to move beyond Christian limitations.

In Kierkegaard, you and I finally get a role in things. In Kierkegaard, the human condition remains dependent on a posited Transcendent Reality. But, Religion is not transcendent truth. Religion is the practice of Faith – human lives and hearts focused by and upon the faith out of which the meaningfulness of their existence comes. Slootweg seems to use Kierkegaard more negatively, as a criticism of modern secular liberalism. If religion is not Truth, he writes, then to reduce faith “to this or that ‘positive’ interpretation is . . . superficial . . . , unable to reach beyond the surface to the underlying values, experiences and practices of faith” (p.240). With our corruptible human intelligence [read: secularism?], “freedom, subjectivity and ethics all tend to evaporate to what is no more than an abstract autonomy” (pp.242-43). And, that is not enough to be the source of order in human society. It only creates a “numbing sense of public-life” (p.243).

Slootweg relies on Kierkegaard to supply the palliative: Christian Love (p.243), conceived of as a practice of faith. As a practice, Faith “does not ontologically precede a moral decision” (p.244); it is that decision. Ordered liberty “cannot be the product of a dialectally derived science” [read: Marxism?]; it, too, is a practice of faith (small ‘f’, no doubt). Nor can freedom arise from some posited secular Good, i.e., some “pre-existing and underlying moral essence.” Freedom and order, rather, come out of fathoming “the deep and wide gap between the natural and the transcendental ... which cannot be transgressed by knowledge alone” (p.244). [*258] Consequently, “[r]eligion is a necessary, quasi-transcendental precondition to circumvent [a] disintegration of community. It enhances the necessary commitment and freedom of choice, because the possibility of social cohesion in a genuine society (in short: humanity) is founded on the possibility of a personal and religious self.” (p.248)

The only alternative seems to be atheism, “reactionary and fundamentalist” secularism, treating religion as extremism, thus “opposing the most basic interests of a healthy democracy” (p.248). We “make room for faith by stressing the limits of reason” (p.249). Whether this includes ontological philosophy is not made clear.

This is important, since I feel that Slootweg may be underestimating the impact of Kirkegaard’s philosophy. First a disclaimer: I have read some of Kierkegaard’s writings for personal interest, and I read him as a theologian, not a philosopher; I did not do much re-study of his philosophy for this review. That being said, I recall Kierkegaard’s works largely as instruction for the faithful, i.e., those of us living our everyday lives and not really caught up in the machinations of professional ontological philosophy. For me, his central teaching is the unavoidable Leap of Faith that the each individual believer must make if he/she is to grasp the faintest glimmering of God’s Existence, much less the beauty of Creation and of one’s place within It. The practice of Faith goes beyond the practice of a religion. Organized religious communities are the sites for much of the practice of Faith, but not all of it by any means. Nor, I would posit, is it limited to Christianity. Faith, regardless of the specific (and inherently limited) religious tradition, becomes the ultimate human reality – yet, still penultimate to the Transcendent Reality humans strive for. One can make important claims of knowledge about the human condition in such strivings, as all of the authors in this volume most certainly do. Yet, their various claims of transcendent knowledge are harder for me to see in the shadows of Kierkegaard. Are there not limits to this form of human knowledge as well? As Garrison Keillor once noted (and I paraphrase): The truth of God’s existence and the beauty of Creation is a truth as plain as the nose on your face. But, like the nose on your face, you make yourself dizzy if you stare at it too long.

Nevertheless, in Kierkegaard, Slootweg finds an ontological dynamic of law, politics and religion, with faith playing the primary role: “Both politics and law are just like religion proper, related to something of a transcendent dimension that can never be simply and definitively ‘dug up’ and integrated” (p.252).

Presumably then (following Voegelin?), the Transcendent must be re-integrated continually and repeatedly, lest things calcify: “democracy should always question its own identity [or] democracy ceases to exist and gives way to totalitarianism” (pp.252-53). Religious concepts, with their express focus on the transcendent, are essential to doing that (p.254). Kierkegaard, however, wrote entirely within the Christian Tradition, and he was unconcerned with any other religious tradition.

So, once again, I seem left with a puzzle: if liberal democracy can only exist [*259] efficaciously within its own historically peculiar origins, then up to this point, these essays have offered criticisms and prescriptions even more clearly rooted in those same historically peculiar origins. It would be easy to read the whole thing as one immense tautology. Also, I fear that in Slootweg’s treatment, Christian Faith and Love take on more ontological airs that I recall Kierkegaard intending. Call it metaphysics or not! It seems another exercise in meta-narrative.

David A.J. Suurland’s “Totalitarianism and Radical Islamic Ideologies” considers “the validity of the application of the totalitarian paradigm to radical Islam” (p.258) Relying heavily on Hannah Arendt’s work, he offers a familiar summary of the rise of European totalitarianism in “mass man” and anomie. He then claims that “the same general pattern appears to have taken place in the Islamic world over the past few decades” (p.268). Regrettably, there are no references to any scholarly source for this insight. Nonetheless, he then presents comparisons between early 20th century European culture and politics and early 21st century Muslim culture and politics as running along similar lines: a renewed longing for spiritual salvation and unity, prohibition on questioning as evidence of unbelief, and so on. These are described as being axiomatic in both European Totalitarianism and Radical Islam. Yet, Suurland also notes some important political distinctions in Radical Islam’s transnational scope and its decentralized leadership (pp.270-76). He concludes that Radical Islam “amounts to totalitarianism”, and although a clear distinction needs to be drawn with non-radical Islam, the author views co-existence with Radical Islam is impossible (p.305).

Paul Cliteur and Geoff Gordon offer a review of the “opposite sides of the Enlightenment” by summarizing and contrasting the works of Jonathan Israel and Ian Burma. I am not familiar with either author, so let me say only that the essay presents an accessible discussion as well as an interesting demonstration that the intellectual arguments surrounding Enlightenment philosophy are not new. In addition, the themes the authors focus on can give considerable contour to an understanding of the debate.

The last four essays are labeled “Practical-Philosophical Perspectives: Dealing with Religious Pluralism under the Constitution, or: The Challenging Varieties of Religious Experience in Modern Democracies.” They begin with Detlef David Bauszus’s “The Religious Aspects of the Founding of the American Republic: A Design of Religion and Reason.” Bauszus treats his essay as an opportunity to “challenge the view that [the Founders] established a purely and entirely secular state” (p.337). “to polarize as incompatible the politics of Locke’s Second Treatise and the theology and cosmology of the Old and New Testaments was simply unthinkable to the founders of the United States” (p.342).

Bauzus relies extensively upon the political communications of the day – particularly public speeches, pamphlets and sermons – to establish the “religio-political nexus” (pp.338-47), i.e., the central cultural contexts and foundations for the establishment of the Federal Government in 1789. He argues for the [*260] likemindedness of “the people and their leadership” (p.344), shows how the rhetoric of covenant, repentance, confession, cleansing and forgiveness were ubiquitous, and cites how official days of public prayer and fasting were common. Quoting John Adams, Bauszus characterizes U.S. society at the Founding as “united ... [by] the general principles of Christianity and Protestantism” (p.353).

This is not a new historical insight (e.g. Noll, 1992:ch. 5). But, as an ontological argument it raises questions in my mind: If the Constitution of 1789 is a “feat of faith and reason,” then should not “the framing and meaning of the Constitution” (p.354) be determined as a consequence of appeals to natural law and rights through the “Christian or ‘traditional’ idea of these matters” (p.359)? If I adopt Bauszus’s argument, am I then forced to accept the current ideological claims of the Religious Right that the United States is a Christian Nation and ought to be ruled openly as such?

And most pointedly, what do I do with the emphatic provision of Article VI, section 3, clause 3, that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States”? Bauszus claims the Constitutional Convention was just too busy with political and economic matters to care much about religion (p.357). That may have been true, but it is hardly a good reason for him to ignore totally the one provision of the original document where the word is explicitly used.

I might also point out that Madison (Federalist No.s 47-51) expected, and planned for, politicians who would not be “virtuous” (in his terms) – or “men with well-ordered souls,” in Kinneging’s or Bilski’s terms, above. In any event, Bauszus is not wrong as much as narrow and selective. His dependence on official documents in describing or explaining existential social and political circumstances is troublesome, at best.

In “Taking Pluralism Seriously: The US and the EU as Multicultural Democracies,” Hans-Martien Th.D. ten Napel and Florian H. Karim Theissen present a discussion of multiculturalism and the consociational model of democracy. Although two closely related concepts, ‘consociationalism’ is presented as pertaining to the institutional arrangements in a multicultural society, while ‘multiculturalism’ pertains to its philosophical underpinnings (p.362). Using the Netherlands as “a near perfect multicultural democracy in practice” (p.365), they construct a six-point model as a basis for comparison with the United States and the European Union.

In many ways, this essay is unique in the book. ten Napel and Theissen have a clear, definitive focus on pluralism; its desirability is not glossed over, but openly embraced; and its essential characteristics are spelled out: group autonomy, power-sharing and “recognition and accommodation of religious, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity” (p.365, also 370-72), firmly rooted in “cultural liberty” (p.366) and universal human rights (p.367). Consequently, religion cannot be considered in isolation, but as one factor that makes a society multicultural (p.369). [*261]

ten Napel and Theissen also note how the recent development of stable Muslim communities in the Netherlands has created stress. Cultural liberty calls for accommodating Muslim’s reliance on the Qur’an and thus legal pluralism. However, the reaction of Dutch society has been a resurgence of majoritarian political rhetoric and calls for religion to be banned from the public square, which the authors term returning to “the neutral or laicist state of the 19th century” (pp.370-71). Their assessment of the U.S. and the E.U. is based on “official policy documents, legislation and case law” (p.372), and as such takes a formalist tone which unfortunately leaves unaddressed many issues that are of importance to the socio-legal community.

The contribution of editor Reinhard W. Sonnonschmidt, “Law, Politics and Religion: In Search of Criteria for Understanding Modernity,” reprises Hobbes’ absolute sovereignty and then compares it with Robert Lifton’s “ideological totalism” (pp.399-403). He evokes Peter Bernholz’s categories of secular ideologies (pp.403-05) to set up an argument that Gnosticism (of one form or another) offers counter-points. Thus, in history at least, “Modernity and Gnosticism are essentially linked” (p.405). The remainder of the essay is devoted to a discussion of Voegelin as Gnostic. What follows is an interesting comparison of “classic” and “modern” assertions about the nature of the human condition (see especially pp.406-07). The essay concludes with a clear plea for the Christian idea of “mankind,” community, and spirit (pp.408-11). This must begin in the universities, it is claimed, since the “deculturing” of modern life – i.e., “the life of reason” (citing Voegelin) – began there (p.408).

The final essay is “From Transcendence to Introcendence: The Consciousness of Political Reality and Psycho-Esoteric Constructions of Salvation” by Andreas Dordel and Andrea Ullrich. The central thesis is that “so-called secular modernity generates as a reflex secular-religious phenomena like ‘New Age’-Movement Esotericism and a psychological boom of conceptions and methods of self-discovery ... [which] act as religious substitutes in the existential search for order” (p.415). Because “the techno-instrumental rationality of the modern world is quite not able to catch the existential human questions [of] philosophy and religion” (p.416), alternatives have arisen, including detestable “political religions” like Nazism and Radical Islamism, as well as mainstream “psycho-markets” of self-awareness theories and self-help methodologies (pp.416-17).

A long list of authors, mostly mid-20th century western psychologists, is discussed. For reasons not clear, L. Ron Hubbard is lumped together with Carl Jung. The authors argue that out of all these writings has come “an increasingly secular change of esotericism from spiritual to ‘psychologizing’ interpretations of existence” (p.418) which will not work. It creates only an ideology of “utopian desire for fulfillment” which cannot anticipate “the limits of existence and real possibilities of fulfillment” (p.427). It is axiomatic in the authors’ narrative that humans strive for the noetic, but the secular conceptualization of The Self cannot provide “the transcendent grounds of existence itself” (p.431). [*262]

The authors return to Voegelin: political society cannot exist without a “common world of ideals and consciousness” providing a “centre of legitimacy,” which can only be accomplished in overt reference to Transcendent Reality. Likewise, individual souls can only achieve “attunement” because “the Spirit itself is operating in man” (p.435, quoting Voegelin). The “introscendence” of secular society is destructive of all this. In society, it generates claims about the ‘right solution’ before the politics of an issue even begins (p.440). And in the life of the soul, introscendence transforms spirituality into a commodity (p.442).

If nothing else, this collection demonstrates the tenacity of this form of philosophical narrative. Yet, it seems evident just from these essays that Transcendent Reality lends itself to many different orderings when put into human categories. There is considerable variation in the descriptions of the “order of being” offered in the book – Barsch has four levels, Berghoff six, and so forth. I did not calculate an average. What would be the point? Since this is not a critical review, I will say no more about that.

My guiding question above was: “How does each author deal with the reality of – as well as the desirability of – our evermore multicultural human condition?” Answer: On the whole, not very well. There are great difficulties in seeking to grasp the reality of multicultural social life within these kinds of traditional philosophical categories. Through my postmodern haze, claims of ontological truth are also claims of authority and contain implicit demands for acquiescence. Then again, the same claims and demands are made by the hard-core secularism these authors lament, as well as any form of religious fundamentalism.

Too many arguments presented here are implicitly exclusionary (Introduction, Bilski, Labuschagne, Slootweg, Suurland, Bauszus), and as far as I can tell this is a consequence of dwelling so rigidly within a Protestant Christian tradition. There are exceptions, of course (ten Napel and Theissen; Dorel and Ullrich; perhaps, Berghoff). But, there is little effort here to look beyond – little sense that other ancient traditions just might share something with Christianity and have something to teach. Ignoring multiculturalism will certainly not work, nor will striving to encompass it within the limited scope of traditional western philosophy. I repeatedly found it difficult to NOT evoke concepts of domination and hegemony as I struggled with these essays – and those are words that I generally do not like to use.

Yet, I cannot dismiss the underlying problematic these authors are struggling with. I need not share, however, in their presumptions about ultimate reality or human community which are, well, traditional. So I am left only with disturbing questions: By what set of circumstances do human beings “return” to roots that whither in the postmodern condition? And, could we return so selectively – religious and cultural roots revived, but political and economic ones left dormant? Are we really so clever?

Brague, Rémi. 2007. THE LAW OF GOD: THE PHILOSOPHICAL HISTORY OF AN IDEA. Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press. [*263]


Federici, Michael P. 2002. ERIC VOEGELIN: THE RESTORATION OF ORDER. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books.

Harvard, William C. Jr. 1982. “Notes on Voegelin’s Contributions to Political Philosophy,” in Ellis Sandoz, editor, ERIC VOEGELIN’S THOUGHT: A CRITICAL APPRAISAL. Durham: Duke University Press.

Noll, Mark A. 1992. A HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY IN THE UNITED STATES AND CANADA. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.


© Copyright 2010 by the author, Stephen McDougal.