Eric Voegelin on Race, Hitler, and National Socialism
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Eric Voegelin on Race, Hitler, and National Socialism. (2018). The Political Science Reviewer, 42(1), 167-196.


Eric Voegelin barely escaped Austria with his life in 1938, after the Gestapo had failed to confiscate his passport. Having given anti-Nazi lectures and published two books that criticized the modern race idea in 1933, Voegelin’s academic career was not only terminated, but his life was in jeopardy after the Anschluss. When the Gestapo visited Voegelin’s home, Lissy Voegelin lied about her husband not being there and said that his passport was at the police station. After the Gestapo officer left, Lissy called her brother, who had taken their passports to obtain a visa to Switzerland, to retrieve them. She then ordered her husband to pack immediately and leave. During the night, Eric Voegelin wandered from coffeehouse to coffeehouse until he caught the first train in the morning to Zurich. Three days later Lissy followed him. Voegelin eventually emigrated to the United States and secured a professorship at Louisiana State University (1942–1958), where he published his most well-known works: The New Science of Politics (1952) and Order and History: Volumes I–III (1956–1957). He also became an American citizen in 1944. In 1958 he accepted the Max Weber Chair in Political Science at Munich’s Ludwig Maximilians Universität and founded the Institut für Politische Wissenschaft. In 1964 Voegelin gave a series of lectures about Hitler and the Germans which generated both enthusiastic agreement and angry rejection. In 1969 Voegelin returned to the United States to join Stanford University and the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace. After retirement from the university he continued his work to the day of his death on January 19, 1985. This article explores how Voegelin understood and responded to the rise of National Socialism with an analysis of his two books on the modern race idea as well as his retrospective view of these events when he returned to post-war Germany. On a personal level, Voegelin’s criticism of National Socialism costed him his academic career in Austria and almost his life; on a professional level, Voegelin’s critique of the Nazi’s racial ideology was the start of his own intellectual exploration of political ideologies. Being neither Jewish, Catholic, nor a communist, Voegelin’s reasons for resisting National Socialism were not one of identity politics but instead existential and intellectual; or, as he put it, the reasons for rejecting National Socialism could simply be reduced to “a primitive one”: “I have an aversion to killing people for the fun of it” (CW, p. 74).

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