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Ideas as a Business

October 13, 2021

The election of Ronald Reagan was the culmination of the new President’s striving–three times—for the GOP’s nomination for President. We conservative intellectuals had been striving to be heard for a longer time.

So many obstacles stood in our way if we sought a career in academe: finding a graduate degree program with conservative scholars; taking seven or more years to complete a Ph.D. dissertation; finding employment in Academe and attaining academic tenure.

Others in “the Movement” were solicitous and slowly we saw that we were being recognized, a former movie actor identified as “conservative” was elected Governor of California, wealthy businessmen supported conservative activists, influential “Think Tanks” were founded and, finally, one of our own was elected President of the United States.

I secured a Presidential appointment and for the four years of Reagan’s first term, we conservatives accomplished more than what most “Movements” accomplish. During that time, however, say from 1970 to 1984, I noticed subtle changes in the actions of persons and organizations. Those changes revealed that “the Movement” that had been driven by ideas was now a business.

That is not a complaint.

After all, I had “a great ride” during which I met Russell Kirk, Bill Buckley and even dined with Frederich Hayek. I worked for my local Republican Committee during Nixon’s  campaign for President, saw President Kennedy standing in an open car on 14th Street in DC, worked for Barry Goldwater and was admitted to graduate studies with Gerhart Niemeyer, Eric Voegelin and Fr. Stanley Parry.

But when the end came, and “the Movement” became a business, I had a sense of loss.

As I relate in Ennobling Encounters, those years with Voegelin were transformative because there were others who realized that “Voegelin had done it” by tying together a history of consciousness that revealed a connection between our religious faith and our intellect.

Those of us who encountered Eric Voegelin experienced a conjoining of spiritual and intellectual striving that motivated us to pursue careers in teaching and writing about political philosophy.

We mortal beings are “set in our ways” and in the past most acolytes of Eric Voegelin were “academics,” scholars employed as college teachers

Some of my writings were published in Voegelinview, the online journal of the Voegelin Society. But in the intervening years between Voegelin’s death in 1985 and today, the study of Eric Voegelin’s ideas became a business.  

Though few of my associates with whom I travelled the same road of scholarship are employed as college teachers, and even fewer are members of APSA, the Voegelin Society is led by professional “academics” and annual meetings are designed to attract students of Voegelin to gather together at annual APSA meetings.

When I gave a paper at a Voegelin Society meeting, however, I simply walked in to the room where I was scheduled to speak, presented my analysis of Leo Strauss’ Natural Right and History, and left. Maintaining membership in APSA is expensive and members receive APSA publications filled with insipid essays published for self-advancement.

I can recall only one paper since I was a member of APSA that was worth reading: Martin Diamond’s essay on the Federalist Papers. Professor Diamond died in 1977.

Why, then, continue the Voegelin Society’s connection to APSA?

The reason, I sense, is because Voegelin studies have become a business.

Here are example of panels at the recent Voegelin Society meeting at APSA in Seattle. Imagine Eric Voegelin’s curiosity if he walked the halls of that event and saw that, of thirteen panels, four bear no, or very little, relation to Eric Voegelin:

Panel 3. Civil Religion, International Pluralism, and Statesmanship

Panel 4: Intersecting Themes in Classical Political Thought

Panel 5: Roundtable: Constitutional Stress Tests in an Age of Populism

Panel 11: Political Theory as a Resource for Political Challenges

The eight other panels bear the marks of PoliSci as a profession.

I cannot imagine what a young scholar in his or her late twenties would gain from attending the Seattle meeting of the Voegelin Society at APSA annual meeting.

Moreover, where might he or she have attended graduate school in Government and learned anything of interest? And did he or she expect to find employment at the event’s “Job Mart”?

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