Woodstock, the Beatles and Community:
Relating without God

VOEGELIN: [One] of the imaginary obstacles (to give a time-problem again) is that one believes much has happened in history. Not much has happened. Two thousand years of doctrinization is a very short period—and we are at the end of it now.

O'CONNOR: The end of it in what sense? It won't go that way again?

VOEGELIN: It has run to its death in practice. Everybody knows today that doctrines are wrong. Every leftist student is as much against the communist establishment as against our establishment. They are against doctrine. Their solutions are wrong, but their revolution is right.

The forms are of course atrocious. If you go into the details, say, "community, " and ask "What is it? What are those Beatles? That Woodstock?"—it is a perversion (don't be shocked) of the perichoresis of the Trinity. You get an immediacy of reality on the community level but without the dimension of divinity. You are God yourself on that community level. Community desire in the form it assumes today is on the one hand a positive desire to get community and, at the same time, in its defect, a transfer of the divine community into a human community. Homonoia in the classical and Christian sense is out because that is a community constituted through openness toward God. To produce a community by relating—that is a fallacy.

O'CONNOR: Yes, it's a fallacy—but a child somehow has to satisfy its exploring tendencies before it can grow up in some ways.

VOEGELIN: There you have said the deciding thing: a child—but not a grown-up person. Let's assume that when you are twenty-one you have sufficiently grown up to understand at least the point that you can't produce community by relating.

O'CONNOR: By merely relating.

VOEGELIN: You can when you are four or five years old, but not when you are twenty-one. That kind of relating is not so new. It was a postulate of Rousseau. And relating to one another in a community without God is a transfer of the theological category of perichoresis to human relations.

O'CONNOR: Of course if one passes that insight on to someone, it's a doctrine. I mean: It won't be understood until it has been learned.

VOEGELIN: And there are social processes that have to run their course; there's nothing you can do about it. You can try, of course, to impress individuals—

O'CONNOR: You can try to shorten their experience—they don't have to repeat it for ten years.

VOEGELIN: But you can't do more; you can't influence the social process as a whole; that probably has to go through all the misery of revolutions and world wars until even the most stupid person understands that he doesn't get anywhere that way. It is our critical situation today that these revolutionary communal experiences that started in the eighteenth century have run to their death now.

O'CONNOR: The revolutionary experiences?

VOEGELIN: The revolutionary communes, which are an attempt to solve the problem of social life through communal experiences without the personal experience of existence. That this has run to its death you can see very well in a man like Paul Ricoeur. In his essay on "Angoisse," in Histoire et Vérité, he asks the question, "What will become of us if we can no longer believe in French sociology and Hegel?" Why is that such a problem to him? Because he really believes that reality can be interpreted from the level of community experiences and not from the level of personal experience of the tension of existence toward God. Or one can advert to the deculturation period when meditatiave practice disappears.

O'CONNOR: Of course one can't predict whether the community experience may, by boredom, work people into meditative pratice.

VOEGELIN: Oh, as a prediction: Nothing lasts forever! We'll get a religious revival; it will come. . . .

CW VOL 33,
The Drama of Humanity
and Other Miscellaneous Papers, 1939-1985
Conversations with Eric Voegelin
at the St. Thomas More Institute for Adult Education,
Montreal, November 9th, 1970.
pp 304-306.

Note: Voegelin's interlocutor was Fr. Eric O'Connor, Director of the Thomas More Institute. This was the third of four conversations. They took place in 1965, 1967, 1970 and 1976.