Voegelin’s “The New Science of Politics”: Chapter Two: Representation & Truth

Before I get into this chapter, I am coming to realize that I need to read this book a second time. I’ve gotten used to Voegelin’s way of speaking and writing, so there’s not a comprehension issue. But, the content is so dense and rich that I want to make sure I fully grasp it. The reading is going well, so I may just start at the beginning after I finish it a few days from now.

Okay, now to this chapter.

If representation is theoretically a representation of the institution, and the institution is an articulation of societal action in the form of the state, then the action of the state comes forth from an idea. This idea, for each society, is its truth.

I am not saying “its truth” in the post-modern sense, meaning it is a relative truth, but it is the truth of of that society’s understanding of the cosmological order. This is the same as saying that an institution, state, society is a microcosm.

At the same time, we can understand and critique the state by using Plato’s anthropological principle, which say that the polis (or society) is man written large.

The anthropological principle is a good tool for understanding a society because it helps us to realize that the society is a reflection of the souls of the people that make it up. To understand it, we need to get at the souls of the people that make up the society, and specifically, how do they understand the cosmos? Is it meaningless? Is it mechanical? Does it emanate from the transcendent or is it merely material? Know the order of the souls of the people and you will know the idea that forms the nucleus of a given society.

We can also use the anthropological principle as a critique. To do this, we evaluate the order and orientation of the souls of the people to therefore critique the idea of that society and judge it’s truth.

The psyche is the sensory organ of the soul. As it opens, it must become aware of the transcendent, according to Voegelin. (I am making a hash of this piece and it’s proof to my opening statement of needing to reread this book.)

A soul that is oriented towards the transcendent is “mature” in the Platon sense. (Again, how? I need to revisit the text.)

Essentially, we can critique a society based on how “mature” the souls of its people are. So, souls open to and oriented towards the transcendent (to God) are mature and societies comprised of such men are better societies than those that do not have such men forming their polis.

Voegelin makes the following, lovely statement.

“The validity of the standards developed by Plato and Aristotle depends on the conception of a man who can be the measure of society because God is the measure of his soul.1

Thus, we can critique and evaluate societies to the degree that their animating idea, their truth, is a revelation of God.


  1. Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Polotics, (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1987), 70; emphasis mine