What Europe? Eric Voegelin on the Mediterranean and the Atlantic modernities. The concept ‘multiple modernities’ has during the last decade established itself in social and political theory, not least due to contributions made by Shmul Eisenstadt. The debate on multiple moderntities has served to question certain eurocentric assumptions about modernity and has also reignited the question of European particularity in a world historical perspective. This paper will discuss how ‘Europe’ itself can be considered a result of (at least) two different modernities, as proposed by the political theorist, Eric Voegelin. Eric Voegelin talked of two spatio-temporal specific modernities, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic modernities. In short, for Voegelin the Atlantic modernity with its breakthroughs in the 17th and 18th centuries was a specific figuration that should not be mistaken for ‘modernity’ but should instead be seen as one specific and highly problematic development. It is exactly the fact that this peculiar figuration was institutionalised that tends to blindfold us from not recognising a Mediterranean modernity as an alternative rather than a predecessor to the Atlantic modernity. The main aim of this paper will be to reconstruct Voegelin’s analysis and to point out its relevance for the current debate on multiple modernities, but also to assess Voegelin against other ideas and against recent debates on the identity of Europe.
Eric Voegelin; Modernity; Atlantic modernity; multiple modernities; Mediterranean modernity
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Council for European Studies at Colombia University, Chicago, 2008