From Два града
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Spiritual illness of the Modern era.


Analphabetentum. Also Ignorance. The term of Eric Voegelin.


Spiritual illness of the Modern era.


Eric Voegelin

We are confronted with the task of clearing out all the ideological junk in order to make the conditio humana visible once again.

How can this be done? Again there are difficulties. For naturally one can only clear things out by becoming conscious of the presence and by having at one’s disposal the expressions adequate for making it conscious. These adequate expressions are of course to be found in classical philosophy, in the whole history of Christianity, of scholasticism, etc., in humanistic philosophy up to the eighteenth century; they are absolutely the dominant ones. But under the influence of the development of the ideologies, which took over the classic and Christian vocabulary for understanding presence and reinterpreted it as an instrument for the prevention of knowledge of the presence under God, the words have simply changed their meanings. Therefore it is not easy even to speak about what is at issue here — for example, about the truth of existence, or freedom of existence under God — nor to speak about reason as the organ sensitive for the reception of transcendent being, or about the spirit, etc., for all these expressions have become ideologized. And this is an international, not only a German, problem.

However, the Western peoples are in a more favorable situation, even though all the ideological dirt has piled up there too...

The German philosophical language that we use here was first developed in the eighteenth century. The man who coined most of the German philosophical vocabulary was Christian Wolff, and after him, Kant. These were the two most important figures. Only from that time on do we have a German vocabulary for the treatment of the problems, developed during the period of the ideologies and therefore loaded from the beginning with the meanings of the Enlightenment and of Romantic gnosis. As a result, one cannot, as is possible for example in England and America or in France, still use expressions such as “intellect” or “spirit” or “reason” and assume that—at least by the educated section of the population, which is very numerous in these countries — these words will be understood as a Plato understood them, or a Saint Thomas or a Bodin, or seventeenth- and eigthteenth-century authors, or as how up to now English-speaking poets like T. S. Eliot understand them. This entire dimension of meaning, where these expressions were indeed created in order to elucidate and express the presence under God, has been essentially suppressed in the German language. So that when you are speaking of “reason” in public, it is extraordinarily difficult to get across that you mean something other than, for example, the “reason” occurring in the Critique of Pure Reason. Or if you are speaking of “spirit,” that something other than what Hegel understood by “spirit” is meant, or than what after him the epigonic human sciences understood by “spirit.”[1]:72-74

Eric Voegelin

In statistics we speak of illiterates as persons who cannot read or write. And the word has this meaning in other languages, too. But in English, better than in German, we have worked out that a man can possibly read and write at the primary school level but still may be a totally stupid guy who cannot express himself with regard to very wide ranges of reality, especially matters of reason and the spirit, and is incapable of understanding them. Such a man is an illiterate. The question is now, can one simply introduce the word “illiteracy” into German as Illiteratentum? I would hesitate to do so and would rather use the established German word Analphabetentum, extending this expression Analphabet to stupidity and to the deficient command of language through loss of reality, in terms of the English meaning of “illiteracy.” So there is illiteracy among people who are able to read and write very well, but who, as soon as it is a matter of understanding a problem of reason or of spirit, or questions about right action, of justice, are completely uncomprehending, because they do not get it. There the loss of reality can be noticed, which then also expresses itself in the deficient command of language[1]:90.


  •  Voegelin, Eric. Hitler and the Germans / Eds. Ellis Sandoz, Gilbert Weiss, William Petropulos. — Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1999. — 296 p. — ISBN 0-8262-1216-6.


  1. 1,0 1,1  Voegelin, Eric. Hitler and the Germans / Eds. Ellis Sandoz, Gilbert Weiss, William Petropulos. — Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1999. — 296 p. — ISBN 0-8262-1216-6 [Show in Citavi].