An American Scholar return to Germany: Eric Voegelin in Munich (1958-1969)

Pedro T. Magalhães

Research output: Conference materialsAbstract


This paper focuses on Eric Voegelin’s return to the Old Continent, twenty years after his forced migration to the United States, following Austria’s Anschluss. In 1958, Voegelin moves from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to the Ludwig-Maximilian University, in Munich, where he becomes the first Ordinarius in Political Science, charged with the task of directing a newly founded Institute.
The paper seeks to explore the peculiarities of this return by comparing it with the aspirations, goals and achievements of other scholars coming back from American exile to Germany after 1945, in particular Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, who had returned earlier to the Federal Republic to reestablish the Frankfurt Institute of Social Research. The differences between the trajectories of Voegelin and the Frankfurt School scholars are notable. Besides the obvious ideological divergence, Voegelin returned to Germany as an American citizen, without any intention of giving up on such a status, whilst Horkheimer and Adorno came back as Germans with a strong personal and political commitment to pick up where they had left in the Weimar Republic. Whereas Voegelin had no political connections in Germany, and the reasons for his return were, to a significant extent, those of any other scholar in search of a more suitable environment to pursue his intellectual projects, Adorno and (especially) Horkheimer had access to key political decision makers at various levels and were consciously involved in setting up new intellectual foundations for the Federal Republic.
Despite these differences, however, there are also striking similarities. Even if Voegelin did not intend to become a public intellectual in Germany, he had some scores of his own to settle. His 1964 series of lectures on “Hitler and the Germans” attracted significant public attention because of its virulent criticism of whole sectors of German society – from the churches to the academia –, which he viewed as accomplices of the Nazi atrocities. On the other hand, Voegelin and the Frankfurt School also had a common enemy: positivist social science. Thus, both the Frankfurt and the Munich Institutes resumed in Germany an intellectual struggle against mainstream, quantitative social science that had begun earlier in America. Voegelin may have thought that it was a “good thing” to bring “the spirit of American democracy” to Germany (Autobiographical Reflections, p. 116), but he surely did not want to bring the predominant (lack of) spirit in American political science with him as well. Both Voegelin and the Frankfurt School scholars had been rather marginal, though at times quite vocal, voices in the American social scientific scene. Deep down inside, most mainstream colleagues would not have considered them ‘scientists’ at all. Looking in retrospect at the legacy they left in Germany, one can hardly say that either of them succeed, in the long run, in reshaping social science in a non-positivist direction.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2019
MoE publication typeNot Eligible
EventComing home: the post-war return of refugee scholarship - University of Helsinki
Duration: 10 Apr 201912 Apr 2019


ConferenceComing home: the post-war return of refugee scholarship

Fields of Science

  • 517 Political science

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