The treatise on “Political Religions” was published for the first time in Vienna in April of 1938. Since the national-socialist provisional management of the publishing house did not promote its circulation, the treatise remained almost unknown. However, it did become well enough known to find as critical a response among knowledgeable readers as my earlier writings. These criticisms reproach me for presenting my case in such an overly objective manner that it actually seemed to support those conceptions of the world and movements, in particular National Socialism, which it was intended to oppose. It lacked the decisiveness of making a judgment and condemnation, which would put beyond all doubt my own outlook.The quotation is the entirety of Eric Voegelin's prefatory remarks to his 1938 volume, The Political Religions.
These critics touch on the basic questions surrounding the present world situation and the individual's attitude toward it. Today there is one type of politicizing intellectual—and the critics meant here usually belong to this circle—who proclaims his deep aversion to National Socialism through strong ethical judgments. He considers it his duty to battle it with any literary means. I can do the same: Anyone able to read will recognize my deep aversion against any kind of political collectivism on the basis of the verse by Dante that precedes the treatise, and my store of educated and less-educated expressions of condemnation is impressive. There are reasons for my not spreading this aversion before a large audience in the form of politicizing outbursts. In fact, although there are many reasons supporting this attitude, I can only touch upon one essential reason here.
Political collectivism is not only a political and moral phenomenon. To me its religious elements seem much more significant.
Choosing to take up the struggle with literary means in the form of ethical counter-propaganda is important, but such a struggle will become questionable when it hides the essential. Doubly questionable, as a matter of fact, since it diverts attention from the fact that a deeper and much more dangerous evil is hidden behind the ethically condemnable actions. And its own means will become ineffective and questionable when it finds no deeper reason than a moral code. Thus, although I do not mean to imply that the struggle against National Socialism should not also be an ethical one, it is, in my opinion, not conducted radically enough, because the radix, the root in religiousness, is missing.
When considering National Socialism from a religious standpoint, one should be able to proceed on the assumption that there is evil in the world and, moreover, that evil is not only a deficient mode of being, a negative element, but also a real substance and force that is effective in the world. Resistance against a satanical substance that is not only morally but also religiously evil can only be derived from an equally strong, religiously good force. One cannot fight a satanical force with morality and humanity alone.
Nonetheless, this difficulty cannot be remedied by resolve alone.
There is no distinguished philosopher or thinker in the Western world today who, firstly, is not aware—and has not also expressed this sentiment—that the world is experiencing a serious crisis, is undergoing a process of withering, which has its origins in the secularization of the soul and in the ensuing severance of a consequently purely secular soul from its roots in religiousness, and, secondly, does not know that recovery can only be achieved through religious renewal, be it within the framework of the historical churches, be it outside this framework. Such renewal, to a large extent, can only be initiated by great religious personalities, but everyone can be ready and willing to do his share in paving the way for resistance to rise up against the evil.
It is precisely in this respect that the politicizing intellectuals fail completely. It is dreadful to hear time and again that National Socialism is a return to barbarism, to the Dark Ages, to times before any new progress toward humanitarianism was made, without these speakers even suspecting that precisely the secularization of life that accompanied the doctrine of humanitarianism is the soil in which such an anti-Christian religious movement as National Socialism was able to prosper. For these secularized minds the religious question is a taboo, and they are suspicious of bringing it up seriously and radically—perhaps they would also consider this barbarism and a relapse into the Dark Ages.
Thus, I believe that discussing the basic religious issues of our times as well as describing the phenomenon of evil that is to be combated is more important than participating in that ethical defensive struggle. If my representation gives rise to the impression that it is too “objective” and “advertises” for National Socialism, then that to me seems to be a sign that my representation is good—for the Luciferian aspects are not simply morally negative or atrocious, but are a force and a very attractive force at that. Moreover, my representation would not be good if it gave rise to the impression that we are concerned with merely a morally inferior, dumb, barbaric, contemptible matter. That I don't consider the force of evil to be a force of good will be clearly evident to all readers of this treatise who are open to religious questions.
Cambridge, Mass. Christmas 1938
For the moment, I propose the text to the learned readership for their consideration.
I will have commentary and enlargement this week-end.