POLITICAL PHILOSOPY AND THE END OF REASON
Submitted to the University of Amsterdam in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the
Bachelor’s Degree of Philosophy
INTRODUCTION………………………………….………………………………………….2 CHAPTER 1 : RETURN TO THE CLASSICS ………………………………………………3 1.1 : THE SOCRATIC TURN………………………………………………………7 1.2 : THE APOLOGY OF SOCRATES…………..…………………...……………8 1.3 : THE DAIMONION OF SOCRATES………………………………………...12 1.4 : THE PLATONIC DIALOGUE………………...…………………………….17 CHAPTER 2 : HEGEL VS. STRAUSS…………………………………………………..…..21 2.1 : HISTORY AND MAN……………………………………………………….25 2.2 : POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY VS. PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY…………...28 2.3 : BEYOND THE LAST MAN…...…………………………………………….33 CONCLUSION : ……………………………………………………………………………..38 BIBLIOGRAPHY…………………………………………………………………………….41
This paper proposes that Leo Strauss’s political philosophy shares a ‘secret kinship’ with Hegel’s speculative philosophical aims. Because fully developing such a proposition would require a much broader analysis than what is here possible – the enormity of Hegel’s system combined with Strauss’s hermeneutic reading of texts typifying the ‘art of writing’ impede casual interpretations – this paper will instead focus on revealing a more than casual relationship with Hegel’s philosophy on the part of Strauss, as well as attempt to distill important similarities and differences based on his own stated views and chosen themes. With this in mind, it endeavors to wield in a similar manner the hermeneutic method Strauss says to have discovered in the “esoteric-exoteric” tradition: the practice of “reading between the lines” based on a serious appreciation of the limitations of thought and language. But it more than anything takes into account the conscientiousness with which Strauss stressed the political and philosophical problems surrounding this ‘art of writing’, making it more than just a literary idiosyncrasy. Accordingly, we hope this will not only reveal Strauss’s hidden kinship with Hegel, but also some of the fundamental problems that surround Strauss’s examination of political philosophy.
To this end, and in the context of Strauss’s hermeneutic method, this paper will begin by following Strauss’s emphasis on the need for a return to classic philosophy. It may be of use to state unequivocally that Strauss was not interested in a revival of classical teleology, morality, or the Greek way of life; his efforts were instead directed towards the revival of the fundamental problems that gave birth to political philosophy in the first place. One of these was the actualization and maintenance of a stable political order. In light of this question, as Strauss will remind us often, and due to the arbitrariness of chance and the limitations of human nature, the classics deemed the best polity as highly unlikely but nevertheless possible. Modern political philosophy, on the other hand, represents a fundamental change in terms of expectation. At the risk of oversimplification, modern political philosophy, according to Strauss, represents the movement in thought from that which the classics deemed the best political order ideally to what is best under the circumstances. This difference is also reflected in their political teachings. Strauss writes:
“The political teaching of the classical philosopher, as distinguished from their theoretical teaching, was primarily addressed not to all intelligent men, but to all decent men. A political
teaching which addressed itself equally to decent and indecent men would have appeared to them from the outset as unpolitical, that is, as politically, or socially, irresponsible; for if it is true that the well-being of the political community requires that its members be guided by considerations of decency or morality, the political community cannot tolerate a political science which is morally ‘neutral’ and which therefore tends to loosen the hold of moral principles on the minds of those who are exposed to it.”1
The pedagogical theme of philosophical teaching and education is strongly present throughout the work of Strauss. The quote above points in this direction, but it also brings into scope an important source underlying the tension between esoteric and exoteric writing, as well as that between philosophy and the city. This paper will attempt to give shape to these problems in light of the kinship between Strauss and Hegel.
Strauss, 1988: 89-90.
1. Return to the Classics In the introduction to Hegel After Derrida, Stuart Barnett explains how “postmodern thought remains caught in the awkward predicament of being able to challenge Hegel only with the tools that have been provided by Hegel.”2 He also adds a statement attributed to Foucault in relation to this essential dilemma: “to be anti-Hegelian is to be profoundly Hegelian.”3 Although Strauss was well aware of the Hegelian challenge to modernity – particularly in light of his readings of Nietzsche and Heidegger4 – he never referred to Hegel’s philosophical system in this context.5 Strauss instead spoke often of the historical consciousness as the principle of modernity, in particular concerning its influence on modern philosophy:
What distinguishes present-day philosophy in its highest form, in its Heideggerian form, from classical philosophy is its historical character; it presupposes the so-called historical consciousness. It is therefore necessary to understand the partly hidden roots of that consciousness. Up to the present day when we call a man a historian without qualification (like economic historian, cultural historian, etc.), we mean a political historian. Politics and political philosophy is the matrix of the historical consciousness.6
In What is Political Philosophy? (WPP), upon ending his historical survey of the most important political philosophers – which had naturally started with Socrates – Strauss comments on the last epoch, the ‘third wave of modernity,’ as having been inaugurated by Nietzsche. Although he does not mention his name explicitly, we can discern from the quote above that it also happened to end with Heidegger. On the other hand, the first wave begins, according to Strauss, with Machiavelli – “the founder of modern political philosophy” – and ends with Locke and Montesquieu, while the second begins with Rousseau and comes to a close with Hegel. What is left unmentioned – Heidegger as the height of present-day philosophy – is therefore significant. The question that inevitably crops up is: what comes next? To answer this question it seems we will also have to tackle the problem of Heidegger in light of Socrates, i.e. the end with the beginning. Along these lines Strauss will then also demonstrate how Nietzsche teaches us in Beyond Good and Evil that philosophy “is the most spiritual will to power (aph. 9): the philosophers of the future must possess that will to a
2 3 4
Idem., Barnett, 1998: 3. He actually saw Heidegger in 1922 in Freiburg during his postdoctoral year. 5 Nevertheless, it may be helpful to keep the image of Hegel as an all-encompassing and absolute presence in mind. 6 Strauss, A Giving of Accounts, in: 1997, pp. 463-464.
degree which was not even dreamed of by the philosophy of the past.”7 Nietzsche, who came after Hegel but preceded Heidegger, seems to set the stage for what would arise in the thought of Heidegger. We will explore this trajectory later. For now we observe that within this scheme there seems to be a dialectic tension between historical consciousness and political philosophy.8 Strauss eventually reveals that this antagonism mirrors a yet more fundamental tension, an unresolved conflict that is “the secret of the vitality of Western civilization:”9 the conflict between the Bible and Greek philosophy represents the “two conflicting roots of Western civilization.”10
This concern is visible throughout the thought of Strauss, but particularly in his later work. The trajectory of his thinking, steadily focusing on classical political philosophy, itself exhibits the important role he believed ancient thought continues to play with regards to “the crisis of our time, the crisis of the West.”11 At its core, Strauss explains, this predicament represents the replacement of modern political philosophy with ideology – “a teaching not superior in truth and justice to any other among the innumerable ideologies.” This practice itself was the result of the uncertainty brought about by the social and natural sciences’ historicist perspective, which emerged in its early (theoretical) guise in the eighteenth century; it continues to be felt with regards to the notion of purpose and the unfeasibility of any future vision or goal, let alone in attempts at some form of absolute or universal justification. In effect, the social sciences settled upon a dual account based on a teleological science of man and nonteleological natural science.12 No longer is the principle of modernity – i.e. the idea of progress in terms of prosperity, freedom, justice and equality13 – sanctioned by nature (natural right), nor redeemed by the conquest of nature. In turning away from the eternal, the limitations of human nature that became ever more apparent hereby forced the modern project to retreat from classical virtue (“rational Ought”) to the facts of social science (“neutral Is”). This development, or “process of rationalization,” as a result turned political philosophy – which by now, according to Strauss, had mostly become a history of political philosophy – into a discipline of logic, so that “What for the time being is still tolerated under the name of
Strauss, ‘Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil’, in 1983: 185. “To refer again to the most simple and at the same time decisive example, political science requires clarification of what distinguishes political things from things which are not political; it requires that the question be raised and answered “what is political?” This question cannot be dealt with scientifically but only dialectically. And dialectical treatment necessarily begins from pre-scientific knowledge and takes it most seriously. Pre-scientific knowledge, or ‘common sense’ knowledge, is thought to discredited by Copernicus and the succeeding natural science.” (Strauss, WPP: 24-25); Cf. also: Strauss, ‘Progress or Return’, in 1997: 120-121. 9 Strauss, ‘Progress or Return’, in 1997: 116. 10 Idem., 117. 11 Strauss, 1978: 1, 9. 12 Strauss, 1953: 8. 13 Strauss, 1978: 4
history of political philosophy will find its place within a rational scheme of research and teaching in footnotes to the chapters in logic textbooks which deal with the distinction between factual judgments and value-judgments...”14 The historical school’s interpretation of natural right in modern terms, i.e. in light of the “variety of unchangeable principles of right or goodness which conflict with one another,”15 helped bring about the rejection of natural right in favour of a concern, if not obsession, with facts. The move was not so much hastened by a rejection of the possibility of universal standards as by the rejection of a solution to the conflict produced by the existence of alternatives.16 This ‘universal purpose’, Strauss goes on to add, can be traced back to the aspirations of modern political philosophy, and its rejection of the classical attempt to found a society based on truth and justice. Strauss classified this degradation of conviction as an ailment of the Western mindset: “a society which was accustomed to understand itself in terms of a universal purpose [i.e. to a purpose in which all men can be united], cannot lose faith in that purpose without becoming completely bewildered.”17
By moving away from the burden of classical virtue, which had by the 16th century become safely repatriated into monasteries,18 and into the sphere of human action on the basis of shared desires – viz., ‘glory’ – modern political philosophy was born. Strauss identifies Machiavelli as the founder of modern political philosophy because he helped emancipate these passions, rejecting the natural ends assumed by the ancients.19 It is this critical disregard of the ‘question of the best political order,’ Strauss states, that distinguishes classical political philosophy from its modern incarnation.20
The focal point of Strauss’s return to the classics was the fate, and problem, of Socrates. We find an example of this in Socrates and Aristophanes, wherein Strauss describes “the problem of Socrates” in light of Nietzsche’s concern with the future of Europe, or ‘peak of man’21:
Strauss, 1978: 8. Strauss, 1953: 36. 16 Ibid., 17 Strauss, 1978: 3. 18 Strauss, 1988: 43. 19 “There is a hidden kinship between Machiavelli’s political science and the new natural science. The classics had taken their bearings by the normal case as distinguished from the exception; Machiavelli effects his radical change in the understanding of political things by taking his bearings by the exception, by the extreme case. As appears from Bacon, there is a close connection between Machiavelli’s orientation and the notion of torturing nature, i.e., of the controlled experiment.” (Strauss, WPP, 47) 20 Strauss, 1988: 79. 21 Strauss, ‘Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, 1983: 188-89; See also fn. 113 below. “Man reaches his peak through and in the philosopher of the future as the truly complementary man in whom not only man but the rest of existence is justified (aph. 207). He is the first man who consciously creates values on the basis of the understanding of the will to power as the fundamental phenomenon. His action constitutes the highest form of the most spiritual will to power and therewith the highest form of the will to power. By this action he puts an end to the rule of non-sense and chance (aph. 203). As the act of the highest form of man’s will to power the Vernatürlichung of man is at the same time the peak of the anthropomorphization of the non-human (cf. Will to Power nr. 614), for the most spiritual will to power consists in prescribing to
Rationalism is optimism, since it is the belief that reason’s power is unlimited and essentially beneficent or that science can solve all riddles and loosen all claims. Rationalism is optimism, since the belief in causes depends on the belief in ends, or since rationalism presupposes the belief in the initial or final supremacy of the good. The full and ultimate consequences of the change effected or represented by Socrates appear only in the contemporary West: in the belief in universal enlightenment and therewith in the earthly happiness, pacificism, and socialism. Both these consequences and the insight into the essential limitation of science have shaken “Socratic culture” to its foundation: “The time of Socratic man has gone.”22
It seems we must return to the pre-modern Socrates of classical philosophy.
1.1 Socratic Turn
In 399 B.C.E. Socrates was accused of crimes against Athens, found guilty notwithstanding his objections, and duly imprisoned. Despite given the opportunity to choose an alternative to the death penalty, such as paying a fine or banishment from Athens, Socrates declined, refusing to sanction his guilt and instead tying his fate with the laws.
The charges were two-fold: a) failing to worship the Athenian gods and in their place introducing novel forms of divinity, and b) the corruption of Athenian youth. Of the two charges brought against Socrates – impiety and corruption of the youth – it is the first that helps us begin to understand the change in consciousness that Socrates embodied and helped bring about. To be more specific, the charge of impiety rested on the accusation that he not only dishonoured the gods of the Athenian people, but introduced his own.
1.2 Apology of Socrates Strauss begins his commentary on Plato’s Apology of Socrates by pointing out that it is the only Platonic work that has Socrates in the title, despite the fact that all of Plato’s dialogues – whether visibly or as a hidden presence – have Socrates as their main protagonist. As such,
nature what or how it ought to be (aph. 9). It is in this way that Nietzsche abolishes the difference between the world of appearance or fiction (the interpretations) and the true world (the text). (Cf. Marx ‘Nationalökonomie und Philosophie’, Die Frühschriften, ed. Landshut, pp. 235, 237, 273.).” 22 Strauss, 1966: 6-7.
Strauss concludes that “all Platonic dialogues are ‘apologies’ of or for Socrates,”23 which in turn makes the Apology “the dialogue of Socrates with the city of Athens (cf. 37a4-7).”24 Strauss also points out that Socrates contrasts his speaking truthfully from his accuser’s attempts at persuasion in terms of art and virtue. Socrates does not need to resort to any art in his speech (rhetoric) because he does not intend to conceal anything: he speaks the truth because he is sure of the justice of his deeds. His accusers, on the other hand, by speaking persuasively have spoken artfully (technikos). Strauss explains that Socrates’ strategy is in response to his accuser’s charging him with being an artful speaker – “that he could render the weaker speech the stronger (18b8-cl).”25 That he states from the onset that he will not speak artfully does not mean that he cannot. Strauss clarifies that he can: “he can speak artfully.”
To this end, when defending himself, Socrates distinguishes between the older charges of his first accusers on the one hand, and the later charges by Meletus, Antyus and Lycon (18a-b) on the other. He begins by refuting the earlier charges, those that through rumour fashioned an image of a man claiming to be wise, who speculated on the nature of the heavens and subterraneous, and whose power of persuasion could make evil seem good. He finds these more dangerous because they have been allowed to poison other people’s perceptions, particularly the young, leading many to assume that the man in question is impious and godless. These allegations are also the hardest to deal with, for the slanderers are mere shadows that can not be made to answer for their words, while the effect may already influence not only the members of the Athenian court, but “you”, i.e. all Athenians. When repeating the accusation that brought forth the slander and charge against him – “Socrates is an evil-doer, and a curious person, who searches into things under the earth and in heaven, and he makes the worse appear the better cause; and he teaches the aforesaid doctrines to others” (19b-c) – he mentions as an example Aristophanes’ comedy the Clouds, which presents a picture of a certain ‘Socrates’ more interested in natural philosophy – which he does not disparage – but which is at odds with how he has visibly and audibly comported himself. Indeed, he appeals to their senses in recalling the truth of these matters amongst themselves. He then goes on to refute reports of his teaching, particularly teaching which was monetarily compensated.
23 Strauss, ‘On Plato’s Apology of Socrates and Crito’, 1983: 38. (Reprinted from Essays in Honor of Jacob Klein (Annapolis: St. John’s College Press, 1976). 24 Idem., 25 Idem., 39.
The appeal to witnesses – those who have seen and hear him speak and act – is meant to affirm the positive side of his teaching, and in the context of Socrates’ defense, is an obvious strategy.
Strauss helps reveal further insights in the different depictions by Plato and Xenophon. In his comments on Plato’s Apology and Crito, Strauss remarks how
Socrates devotes twice as much time, or space, to the refutation of the charge of the rumor that he is teaching others as to the refutation of the charge that he investigates the things beneath the earth and the heavenly things and that he renders the weaker speech the stronger, and this despite the fact that that rumor is not a general rumor. He proceeds like Xenophon in the Memorabilia, who devotes much more space to the refutation of the incredible corruption charge than to the refutation of the more credible impiety charge. Plato’s Socrates discusses the rumor according to which he attempts to educate human beings and charges money for it. Again he flatly denies the truth of what is said about him. But this time he does not ask the jury to tell one another whether they never ever heard (or seen) him attempting to educate human beings while charging money for it; such transactions may be strictly private.26
There is a distinction between private and public morality that Strauss is highlighting, and which is presumably informing the choice of the Platonic Socrates to discuss the ‘incredible corruption charge.’ As it happens, Socrates commences by praising those who have attempted to produce in others, through teaching, even if in return for financial compensation, the sort of human and civic virtues that deserve being praised; a monetary compensation is only an expression of this recognition by he who values the teaching. But he was never a teacher in this sense; he spoke, philosophized, and had public intercourse with whomever would listen and engage with him. He therefore disputes the validity of any such claim. Yet, if we, following Strauss, consider that he doesn’t attempt to refute this charge explicitly, we can nevertheless see how bringing up the matter does allow him to publicly make mention of his own investigations into the nature of wisdom. By taking up the corruption charge, he is able to discuss the alleged content on which this is based: that there is some doctrine that he claims to possess and which makes him think he has something to teach, whether for money or not. He mentions Gorgias, Prodicus and Hippias; “alien ‘sophists’” according to Strauss, whom Socrates praises while simultaneously casting “some doubt on the possibility of that art”, i.e.
Strauss, ‘Plato’s Apology of Socrates and Crito.’ In: 1983, p. 40.
rhetoric. Strauss adds that Socrates “had not cast any doubt on the possibility of the study of the things aloft and the like.” Plato, of course, does this by means of his theory of Forms, which he had Socrates in one way or another develop dialectically throughout the dialogues.27
So in this manner Socrates is able to take up the question of wisdom on which his first detractors had pegged their slanderous accusations. It gives him an opportunity to cast doubt not only on some sophist teachers – Strauss notes that he had not included Protagoras, the most famous and respected sophist – but also on that which most Athenians considered as authoritative: the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi.
Socrates accomplishes this by introducing a story not known to the assembly: Chaerephon – friend not only of Socrates, but of the assembly – had once been impetuous enough to ask the Oracle if there was any man wiser than Socrates. The Oracle replied by proclaiming Socrates the wisest. Socrates was perplexed when he heard of this, for although he naturally believed that the god spoke the truth – to do otherwise would be against its’ nature – he was also certain that he possessed no wisdom, small or great. In order to solve this riddle, he set out in search of a man wiser than he, but met disappointment throughout. He spoke to politicians, poets and artisans; though they all believed themselves to be wise, they all grew angry at him when he tried to show them that they were in point of fact not as wise as they had hoped. Indeed, he took this as his mission – a necessity laid upon him – for “the word of God…ought to be considered first,” even if it meant making powerful enemies. But in the end he came to understand the riddle of the god, and how it is fundamentally true that only God is wise:
…but the truth is, O men of Athens, that God only is wise; and in this oracle he means to say that the wisdom of men is little or nothing; he is not speaking of Socrates, he is only using my name as an illustration, as if he said, He, O men, is the wisest who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing. (23a-b)
27 According to Charles H. Kahn, the idea of a single theory of the Forms throughout the Platonic corpus is in fact simplistic. It is used as the ontological foundation of most epistemic inquiries, be it aesthetics, theory of language, moral psychology, ethics, philosophy of nature, political theory, theology, cosmology and, of course, love, desire and the philosophical life. Keeping in mind that the Apology is considered one of Plato’s earliest dialogues, it can be argued that the formulation and development of the Forms became more fully developed throughout succeeding dialogues, making it difficult to distill a single coherent theory underlying them all. Kahn holds that, despite all this, “there is a singly underlying vision of reality for which Plato has invented a series of different literary expressions, each of which is tailored to the needs and concerns of the particular dialogue in which it appears.” Ultimately, Kahn takes this to represent a conscious use of literary flexibility based on Plato’s awareness of the limitations of the written word, which was expressed in the Phaedrus, but even more so reflects “his deeper sense of the human condition as one in which the rational soul’s access to reality is limited by its incarnation and its continual involvement in sense perception, so that what we say and think about intelligible reality is inevitably permeated by appearance and opinion (doxa).” (See: Kahn, 1996: 330, 386.)
Strauss recognizes the ‘purely negative content’ of this (human) wisdom, and how it makes a distinction from the ‘pre-Delphic’ wisdom that “was possessed by [Socrates] or possessed him.”28 In fact, Socrates strengthens his refutation of the charge that he does not believe in gods – and which had only been used to add credence to the primary charge of corruption – when he challenges Meletus, asking him whether he is accusing him of intentionally trying to corrupt the youth. Socrates leads Meletus into a trap by exhorting him to state clearly whether or not he is claiming that he corrupted others by introducing them to new gods. When Meletus asserts the claim of atheism, Socrates is able to take him to task in an unequivocal way, arguing that Meletus therefore admits that Socrates is not a complete atheist.29 In regards to his divinely authorized mission, he shows that it rested upon his daimonion. 30
It is through this implied absence – or negation – of wisdom that Socrates shows how it is not so much the claim of impiety that is propelling the wrath of most Athenians, but the fact that they identify with those Socrates has examined, i.e., they too believe themselves to be wise. Strauss describes the manner by which Socrates develops his ‘beautiful’ refutation:
At the end of this refutation of the “first accusers” Socrates has succeeded in making intelligible the official accusation as he chooses to read it: the corruption charge precedes the impiety charge, and the impiety charge contains no reference to “’the things aloft” and the like. Instead he makes the impiety charge to read that “he does not believe in the gods in whom the city believes but in other demonic things (daimonia) that are new.” He has not prepared us for the daimonia.31
According to Hegel, this ‘daimonion’ (daemon) is the new god Plato characterized as an internal oracular force, representing both subjective conscience and divine providence, while also serving as a guide to the Good. In this context we can see Socrates’ daimonion playing an
Strauss, ‘On Plato’s Apology of Socrates and Crito.’ In: 1983, p. 41. Strauss also writes that Socrates “has shown that whatever wisdom he possesses was elicited by the Delphic oracle, i.e., that there was no pre-Delphic wisdom and hence there is no need any more for distinguishing between physiologia and atheism.” (p. 42-3) The reference to ‘physiologia and atheism’ was clarified earlier by Strauss in his remark that although Socrates mentions having questioned politicians, poets – “whose ‘wisdom’ does not appear to be different from that of the prophets and of those who delivered oracles” – and artisans, he does not “say explicitly that he examined the farmers (perhaps farmers did not claim to be wise—cf. Xenophon, Oeconomicus 15), the gentlemen who mind their own business, or the sophists (and physiologists).” This statement make clear that from the perspective of post-Delphic Socratic wisdom, the nature of sophistic logic and rhetoric is fundamentally impious. It is atheistic because it does not derive its authority from the gods, which is how it was possible for Protagoras to claim man as the ‘measure of all things.’ It also places the ‘problem of Socrates’ in a particularly Straussian perspective (theologico-political problem). 30 Cf. Horkeimer: “Socrates died because he subjected the most sacred and most familiar ideas of his community and his country to the critique of the daimonion, or dialectical thought, as Plato called it.[...] His daimonion was a more spiritual god, but he was not less real than the other gods were believed to be. His name was supposed to denote living force. In Plato’s philosophy the Socratic power of intuition or conscience, the new god within the individual subject, has dethroned or at least transformed his rivals in Greek mythology.” (Horkeimer, 2004: 7-8) 31 Strauss, ‘Plato’s Apology of Socrates and Crito,’ in 1983: 43.
important political role. Strauss alludes to this by callings Socrates’ refutation “so beautiful because it leaves entirely open whether Socrates believes in the gods of the city.”32 In other words, there is a relation between the Socratic argument (method) depicted in Plato’s Apology and public opinion based on piety that Strauss finds important. Likewise, there is a relation between this daimonion and the Platonic dialogue.
1.3 The daimonion of Socrates Hegel describes the Socratic method in Lectures on the History of Philosophy as a “subjective form of dialectic” whose mode is the discourse and its aim to unveil the universal notion buried within the particular thoughts of his interlocutors. A fundamental precondition is the desire for knowledge – already part of the natural consciousness of independent thought –, which Socrates confronted by challenging his interlocutor’s assumptions. In this manner he tried to show that one’s lofty pursuit of the truth of the natural world and divine being remains shallow if one does not scrutinize the foundations of the endeavour itself. The guiding principle was that “man has to find from himself both the end of his actions and the end of the world, and must attain to truth through himself.”33 Socrates accomplished this by exposing riddles, paradoxes, and aporias hidden just beneath the surface of commonsense opinion, thereby demonstrating the limits of the knowledge so many of the poets, rhetoricians, and pseudo-philosophers of his day claimed to possess.
According to Hegel, dialectic thought manifests itself through the interplay of subjective individuality and the universal principle that we see at play in Socrates’ daemon and the Platonic dialogue. Hegel speaks of a “pure, deciding individuality” whose conscience is “knowledge of what is right.” In this sense, the daemon embodies and guides conscience. It is the subjective consciousness that the Platonic Socrates embodied dialectically. Plato illustrates this by way of contradiction, or negation: the principle of self-sufficient particularity comes about by the liberation of consciousness from consciousness.
Hegel also talks of the ‘characteristic form’ of the subjective principle embodied by Socrates. He refers to it as the ‘Genius’ of Socrates, whose role rests within the faculty of the imagination, though we need to see it in more dialectic terms so as to broaden the purely
Idem., 44. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy. Part 1, Sect. 1, Ch. 2, 1: 2B. [Hyper-text]
cognitive image underpinning the modern sense of the word. Hegel writes that “the Genius of Socrates stands midway between the externality of the oracle and the pure inwardness of the mind; it is inward, but it is also presented as a personal genius, separate from human will, and not yet as the wisdom and free will of Socrates himself.” Its’ importance lies in the necessity of individuality that it represents, not in what it reveals through reflection, since this is just a “deficiency in the universal, [that] in its indeterminateness, is unsatisfactorily supplied in an individual way, because Socrates’ judgment, as coming from himself, was characterized by the form of an unconscious impulse.” For this reason, Hegel writes that the Genius of Socrates should not be confused with Socrates himself, nor his convictions or opinions. Instead, it is more akin to a subjectivized oracle. But apart from not being external, another crucial difference is that it
reveals itself in [Socrates] through nothing other than the counsel given respecting these particular issues, such as when and whether his friends ought to travel. To anything true, existing in and for itself in art and science, he made no reference, for this pertains to the universal mind, and these dæmonic revelations are thus much more unimportant than those of his thinking mind. There is certainly something universal in them, since a wise man can often foresee whether anything is advisable or not. But what is truly divine pertains to all, and though talents and genius are also personal characteristics, they find their first truth in their works which are universal.34
Hegel also adds that despite its’ subjectiveness, Socratic consciousness is not aware of its necessity. Conscience therefore remains abstract, reflecting natural morality. He compares this with ‘modern times,’ and how notions such as conscience and responsibility reflect the “power of decision” that comes with subjective freedom.35 Modern consciousness on the other hand is determined to base its decisions “according to grounds of common sense, and consider [these] as ultimate.” But he grants that Plato was aware of a yet ‘deeper principle’ that brought about Socrates’ inward turn towards subjective reflection. Consequently, in manifesting the principle of subjective freedom in public, Socrates also helped bring about the fall of Athens. This is the result of the uncertainty that Socrates’ moral doubt produced:36
Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy. [Hyper-text] This explains how Hegel could call the Republic “a proverbial example of an empty ideal … the embodiment of nothing other than the nature of Greek ethics.” See: Hegel, Preface, Philosophy of Right, 2005: 20. 36 Compare Nietzsche’s thoughts depicted by Strauss below.
This deepest life of morality is so to speak a free personal consciousness of morality or of God, and a happy enjoyment of them. Consciousness and Being have here exactly the same value and rank; what is, is consciousness; neither is powerful above another. The authority of law is no oppressive bond to consciousness, and all reality is likewise no obstacle to it, for it is secure in itself.37
Strauss likewise remarks on how “radically different from the Delphic oracle” the daimonion of Socrates is. Strauss’ perspective, focusing less on its historical relevance but on its political significance, brings us to a matter that is nevertheless relevant in our own context. Continuing his reading of Plato’s Apology, Strauss comments on how Socrates uses his daimonion to explain his absence from political activity, in light of his move from a “purely negative understanding of human wisdom to a more positive understanding indicated by the term ‘philosophizing’.”38 He is the ‘gadfly’ of the Athenian people because “the god’s oracles commanded him to spend his life philosophizing and examining himself and others,”39 but it is his daimonion that prevents him from engaging himself politically. Socrates commented that this had been a reasonable, and prudent, counsel, for had he become a politician, and remained as vocal as is his nature and calling, he would not have survived as long. Strauss adds that “if a man fighting for the right wishes to preserve his life even for a short time, he must lead a private not a public life.”40 This would seem to be the case, but in the context of Socrates, more important is how his divine daimonion then made it possible for him to perform the divine mission of the oracular god. Strauss points out that
the daimonion was familiar to the audience while they knew nothing of the Delphic command addressed to Socrates, the daimonion was effective from his childhood while Apollo’s command reached him when he was already known as wise; the daimonion never urged him forward while Apollo always did; and while his obedience to Apollo’s commands made him hated and thus brought him into mortal danger, the daimonion by keeping him back from political activity saved him from mortal danger or preserved his life; it acted as it were on the premise that life is good and death is bad while the Delphic command proceeds from the opposite premise (cf. Socrates and Aristophanes 82, 114, 125).41
37 38 39
Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy. [Hyper-text] Strauss, ‘On Plato’s Apology of Socrates and Crito.’ In: 1983, p. 45. Idem., 40 Idem., 46. 41 Idem.,
Strauss concludes with an important comment: that with “a view to the primary purpose of Socrates’ speech it is not superfluous to note that from what he says about the daimonion no argument can be derived for refuting the impiety charge.”42 The daimonion, in this sense, would seem to be rhetorically advantageous. In a bracketed sidenote in the middle of his commentary Strauss even compares it to eros. He does this by placing it in the context of the Theages, “a dialogue now generally regarded as spurious”
but which Strauss finds
illuminating enough to comment upon at this stage, since it supposedly gives “The most intelligible account of the daimonion.” Here Socrates describes himself as an erotikos – an expert in erotic things (viz. desire for knowledge, philosophia) – and thus cannot teach those who wish to become an ‘outstanding Athenian statesman,’ which requires actual knowledge of “blessed and noble things.” When a father, asking Socrates to teach his son the political arts, fails to understand this explanation and instead takes it as an excuse not to help his son, Socrates stops referring to himself as erotikos and instead continues by referring to his daimonion. In other words, “Socrates has recourse to his daimonion after the recourse to his being erotikos was of no avail; his daimonion replaces his being erotikos because it fulfills the same function—because it is the same.”44 In this sense, the “daimonion is the forbidding, the denying aspect of Socrates’ nature, of his natural inclinations; its full or true aspect is his eros as explained in the Symposium: eros is daimonic, not divine.”45 (second emphasis mine) Strauss then ends this sidenote by including a quote from Aristotle: “The nature of the other animals is daimonic, but not divine … Dreams then would not be god-sent but indeed daimonic.” [Aristotle, De div. per somnia 463b14.]46 Strauss in this manner illustrates the relevance of the concept of daimonion in terms of different contexts. In the first Socrates refers to his daimonion as a divine form of guidance, but which also helps him counter charges of being impious. The context is the Athenian assembly, i.e. a public forum situated in the past. In the second account of daimonion the context is a private setting and the audience is, naturally, the reader of the dialogue. But Strauss has already warned that the account is “generally regarded as spurious,” so it is not meant to teach anything of objective value that can be attributed to the historical Socrates. But yet he also wrote that it is “the most intelligible account of the daimonion.” The daimonion is meant to be relevant not only in the context of a historical Socrates, or the public assembly of
42 43 44
Idem., Idem., Idem., 46-7. 45 Idem., 47. 46 Idem.,
ancient Greek Athens, but that of the reader as well, who being capable of distinguishing between spurious and authentic historical dialogues, should also seek between spurious and authentic concepts. The question then is: in determining natural or divine causes – whether in terms of daimonion or eros – how does one discern which is spurious and which is authentic? This hermeneutic problem has fueled the debate surrounding the “problem of Socrates” from the very beginning. For Strauss, the point is not so much to answer the question as to understand what the problem entails.
Strauss had noted, as mentioned earlier, that Socrates’ “refutation is so beautiful because it leaves entirely open whether Socrates believes in the gods of the city.”47 Yet regardless of the truth, its’ political relevancy is illustrated further when Socrates informs the assembly that the trial itself seems to be sanctioned by his daimonion. Strauss writes how “now on the day of his trial ‘the sign of god’ did not oppose itself at any moment to anything he did and in particular never while he delivered his speech, although in other speeches it had stopped him in the middle.”48 More importantly, the “silence of the daimonion on this day suggests that what happened to Socrates is something good: to be dead is not bad.” The crucial weight of this revelation by Socrates illustrates the core of this paradox. Whereas before the daimonion had intervened mostly with regards to insignificant matters, now it is making itself felt in a matter of life and death. But Socrates had said earlier, and Strauss commented upon, how it had prevented Socrates from becoming a politician, which Socrates interpreted as an indication of how his daimonion has always moderated his behaviour in order to preserve his life, which he therefore equated with the good. In other words, the virtuous life was predicated upon the belief that his daimonion was divine, and this itself on the belief that divinity and the good are coextensive. What is paradoxical is not how death, or sacrifice in this context, could be considered good; the Greek mindset was familiar with beliefs in reincarnation and the transmigration of souls, and these also play an important role in the Platonic dialogues, particularly in the Phaedo which deals with the death of Socrates. The paradox is actually brought to light by Plato’s presentation of Socrates, which in this point, Strauss points out49, is at odds with the Socrates of Xenophon, who gives his advanced age as reason enough to die. Instead, Socrates’ conduct in the trial – as represented by Plato – illustrates, in this sense, the more positive side of the Socratic method, “according to which it is the greatest good for man to exchange speeches every day about virtue and kindred things
Idem., 44. Idem., 52. 49 Idem., 51.
or to ‘philosophize,’ and an unexamined life is not worth living for man.”50 Strauss highlights the significance from a historical, and modern, perspective, when he writes that “this silence of the daimonion is all the more remarkable since its function seems to have been to preserve his life; this may by the reason why it is now called ‘the sign of the god,’ i.e., why the distinction between the daimonion and Apollo’s command is blurred. In his speech to his condemners he had not questioned their premise that death is a great evil.”51 Strauss is in this manner illustrating how the action of the Platonic Socrates makes evident the political relevance of laws based on the ‘premise that death is a great evil’ or the ‘great hope that death is simply good.’ The distinction between natural and divine causation is therefore brought to light by philosophical activity. Yet, this philosophical intervention is not only itself saturated by the ambivalent manner of Socrates’ defense, but the indeterminate nature of a historical Socrates. After all, it would seem that the basis of the positive content of Socratic wisdom, particularly in contrast with its negative elenchus (method), points to a theory of morality based on either natural or divine law. The distinction is made by the ambivalence created within and in-between dialogues, as in the case of his daimonion, which he appeals to in public in terms of divine messages that reveal themselves to him only, while in private (Crito, 46b) he gives more weight to a rational faculty as the means of reconciling his actions with the logos, or rational order of things (i.e. law of nature), without making any mention of any ‘signs of the god.’
1.4 Platonic Dialogue Hegel did not treat these ambivalences in the same manner as Strauss. In Philosophy of Right he describes the daemon as the expression of a will that “has not yet fathomed the depths of self-consciousness,” remaining in the “undifferentiated condition of substantial unity.”52 This removal from a state of being-for-itself is the condition of a will that lacks self-certainty, i.e., of a “self-consciousness [that has] not yet arrived at the abstraction of subjectivity, nor…yet realized that an ‘I will’ must be pronounced by man himself on the issue to be decided.”53 The daemon of Socrates therefore is the manifestation of this transition – or “moment within the Idea” – that leads the will to recognize itself from within. This process of self-knowing is the beginning of genuine freedom, which in terms of the Idea “consists precisely in giving each of
Idem., 52. Idem., 52 Hegel, Philosophy of Right, § 279. 53 Idem.,
the moments of rationality its own present and self-conscious actuality.” It is this “I will” which Hegel situates at the nexus between the modern and the ancient worlds.54
Hegel is concerned in reconciling, or synthesizing, the subjective within the Absolute and visa versa, not with a literary investigation of what exactly is Plato’s original doctrine in relation to Socratic or pre-Socratic teachings.55 Neither does he take seriously the idea that there is an esoteric and exoteric content consciously developed by Plato. To him, philosophy proper is the conscious development of the Idea, and this is not the possession of the philosopher, but the other way around.
Philosophy teaches us that all the properties of spirit exist only through freedom. All are but means of freedom; all seek and produce only this. It is an insight of speculative philosophy that freedom is the sole truth of spirit.56 57
Hegel in fact defines ‘esoteric’ in terms of a teaching consciously kept hidden from the ‘uninitiated’. But because he thinks of true philosophical and speculative content in relation to the Idea, which manifests itself as reason and freedom, he does not only see ‘true’ knowledge as inherently decipherable, but incapable of being concealed.
When philosophers discourse on philosophic subjects, they follow of necessity the course of their ideas; they cannot keep them in their pockets; and when one man speaks to another, if his words have any meaning at all, they must contain the idea present to him. It is easy enough to hand over an external possession, but the communication of ideas requires a certain skill; there is always something esoteric in this, something more than the merely exoteric.58
Idem., “We must stand above Plato, i.e. we must acquaint ourselves with the needs of thoughtful minds in our own time, or rather we must ourselves experience these needs. Just as the pedagogue’s aim is to train up men so as to shield them from the world, or to keep them in a particular sphere — the counting-house, for instance, or bean-planting, if you wish to be idyllic — where they will neither know the world nor be known by it; so in Philosophy a return has been made to religious faith, and therefore to the Platonic philosophy. Both are moments which have their due place and their own importance, but they are not the philosophy of our time. It would be perfectly justifiable to return to Plato in order to learn anew from him the Idea of speculative Philosophy, but it is idle to — speak of him with extravagant enthusiasm, as if he represented beauty and excellence in general. Moreover, it is quite superfluous for Philosophy, and belongs to the hypercriticism of our times, to treat Plato from a literary point of view, as Schleiermacher does, critically examining whether one or another of the minor dialogues is genuine or not. Regarding the more important of the dialogues, we may mention that the testimony of the ancients leaves not the slightest doubt.” (Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy.) 56 Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of History, trans. J. Sibree: 17, 20, 22. Quoted and referenced in McCarney, 2000: 66. 57 Cf.: “For when all present speculative philosophy expresses the universal as essence, this, as it first appears, has the semblance of being a single determination, beside which there are a number of others. It is the complete movement of knowledge that first removes this semblance, and the system of the universe then shows forth its essence as Notion, as a connected whole.” (Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy, ‘Plato and the Platonists.’: Hyper-text) 58 Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy. [C. Pt. 1, Ch. 3A; Hyper-text]
For Hegel this problem is therefore irrelevant from the point of view of philosophy of history, which recognizes the movement of Reason in History, i.e. it recognizes the speculative content of Plato’s philosophy in the progressive movement of consciousness.
Plato’s point of view is clearly defined and necessary, but it is impossible for us to remain there, or to go back to it; for Reason now makes higher demands.59
In other words, speculative philosophy is the dialectical development of a speculative and rational form of hermeneutics into a philosophical system that encompasses all of philosophical thought. Speculative philosophy supposedly neutralizes not only the problem of esoteric reading brought forth by Strauss, but the more generally recognized challenge of literary and historical hermeneutics.
Mysteries are in their nature speculative, mysterious certainly to the understanding but not to reason; they are rational, just in the sense of being speculative. The understanding does not comprehend the speculative which simply is the concrete because it holds to the differences in their separation; their contradiction is indeed contained in the mystery, which, however, is likewise the resolution of the same.60
According to Hegel what is esoteric is therefore inherently speculative, and the speculative – because it is both dialectical and rational – is philosophical thought actualizing itself. Science is the logical delineation of this thinking in a rational, exoteric, and structured whole. Hegel’s dialectical system is a synthesis of the esoteric-exoteric duality that Strauss wants to keep alive.
This being said, it is of interest to consider some of the Platonic concepts Hegel has integrated into ‘his’ system, such as the notion of ‘recollection.’ He mentions how the Meno best develops this idea by means of aporia, the exposition of paradox that the Socratic method uses to stimulate thinking. In this manner, Plato shows how consciousness recognizes the true nature of knowledge when it actualizes its own essence as the object of thought. Hegel sees Plato developing in this manner the union of thought and the individual soul on the basis of immortality, thereby securing the moral content of Greek life within the newly subjectivized
Idem., [C. Pt. 1, Ch. 3A; Hyper-text] Idem., [Intro. B-2; Hyper-text]
individual consciousness. But recollection does not imply remembering things that memory has somehow forgotten or until now was incapable of comprehending. Instead, it is that which reminds the individual of how the absolute determines the whole yet exists in the individual soul whenever it is moved by desire towards beauty, the good, or truth, i.e. knowledge of the Idea.
But what Plato expressed as the truth is that consciousness in the individual is in reason the divine reality and life; that man perceives and recognizes it in pure thought, and that this knowledge is itself the heavenly abode and movement.61
Hegel’s idea of recollection is similar to Plato’s (and similarly distinguishes it from mathematical [Pythagorean] truths)62 in that what is recollected is not some actual ‘memory’, which is only ‘picture-thinking’ without content or actuality, but a reminder of the movement of Spirit, or, to put it in more Platonic terms, the true motion of the whole. Furthermore, Hegel describes Science as the “method of this movement,” which as the process of Spirit seeks to know itself. In fact, because this movement is the coming-into-being of spirit, its’ logical necessity is as much “knowledge of the content, as the content is the Notion and essence—in other words, it alone is speculative philosophy.”63 The ‘natural consciousness’ – i.e. pre-philosophic consciousness – is constantly forgetting the ‘truth’ in the experience [cf. Heidegger], which is why it must constantly restart its own movement, a process that produces nothing except the “simple history of its movement,” or “dialectic of self-certainty.” On the other hand, the dialectic of speculative philosophy is the movement of the logical form (“immanent rhythm of the Notion”)64 of the Absolute, or Reason, and requires ‘restraint’ and ‘strenuous effort,’ itself an “essential moment of the Notion.”65
Idem., [C. Pt. 1, Ch. 3A; Hyper-text] Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, Preface § 42. Also, as mentioned earlier, Kahn mentions how in the Meno, in the context of a slave-boy’s ‘recollection’ of geometric truths, Plato uses the Orphic-Phythagorean doctrine of reincarnation as the background for his own theory of a priori metaphysical recollection, whose mathematical basis added weight to his own vision. See: Kahn, 1996: 69, 99-100. 63 Idem., Preface § 56. 64 Idem., § 58. 65 Idem.,
2 Hegel vs. Strauss
The historical perspective that Hegel adopts is clearly discernible. The relevance of the fate of Socrates manifests itself for Hegel by the manner in which he represents the transition from the ethical life of the ancient world to that of moral subjectivity. But morality in the form of subjective self-determination remains abstract, i.e. it is based more on conviction than on objective truth. In such a context there is no longer any means with which to determine good from evil, but it raises the particular self-consciousness, the “I” of selfhood, to the status of absolute certainty. Because in this scenario objective goodness is solely determined by this universal subjectivity, it is only ones’ convictions that determine the shape and form of the abstract good. According to Hegel, far from serving universal self-consciousness, it is this breach in the ethical life of the ancients that helped bring down the Greek and Roman worlds. The principle of self-sufficient particularity brought with it ethical corruption; this is the basis of Hegel’s statement that Greek ethics was based on an ‘empty ideal’, and why he later states that in the Roman world “[the process of] differentiation comes to an end with the infinite diremption [Zerreiβung] of ethical life into the extremes of personal or private selfconsciousness and abstract universality.”66 True ethical life manifests itself in the unity of the subjective and objective good whose concept has freedom as its content. The ethical in this sense combines the sphere of right – which lacks subjectivity – and morality – which can only be actual in the subjective form. Accordingly, Ethical life is “the concept of freedom which has become the existing [vorhanden] world and the nature of self-consciousness.”67 This is the Idea of freedom. But it is important to note that it is ultimately the necessary manifestation of the Idea of the good in individual life; i.e. individuals are only truly free in and of themselves as self-conscious reflections of an infinite and absolute power, whose rationality is contingent self-awareness aware of its truth, allowing subjective consciousness to actualize its content as a system in the ethical sphere. This is therefore not an alien authority nor is it mere rational faith. It is divine law actualizing itself through self-consciousness, and which only speculative thinking can discern as the substance of the moment.
Strauss contrasts his thinking from Hegel’s philosophy in a discourse with his Hegelian friend Alexandre Kojève68:
Hegel, Philosophy of Right, § 357. Hegel, Philosophy of Right, § 142. 68 Strauss, Leo. Restatement on Xenophon’s ‘Hiero’. in: 1988: p. 111.
Hegel continued, and in a certain respect radicalized, the modern tradition that emancipated the passions and hence ‘competition.’ That tradition was originated by Machiavelli and perfected by such men as Hobbes and Adam Smith. It came into being through a conscious break with the strict moral demands made by both the Bible and classical philosophy; those demands were explicitly rejected as too strict. Hegel’s moral or political teaching is indeed a synthesis: it is a synthesis of Socratic and Machiavellian or Hobbian politics. […] Hegel’s teaching is much more sophisticated than Hobbes’s, but it is as much a construction as the latter. Both doctrines construct human society by starting from the untrue assumption that man as man is thinkable as a being that lacks awareness of sacred restraints or as a being that is guided by nothing but a desire for recognition.” [emphasis mine]
Here Strauss not only shows the basis with which he distinguishes himself from Hegel, but confirms an important characteristic of his philosophy. Strauss is not critical of Hegel for historicizing Plato’s Idea of Good, for he sees Hegel in this sense in a historical context, i.e. he is in a sense a Hegelian in that he recognizes his dependence on a historical consciousness and that the attempt at synthesizing classical and biblical thought is at the root of modern consciousness, of which he is an inheritor. He is nevertheless critical of Hegel’s failure to take seriously the pre-political philosophical consciousness, instead making it a stage of the Absolute. Strauss notes that Hegel’s philosophical system relies on the concepts developed in the Platonic dialogues. In the comment above (“Both doctrines construct human society by starting from the untrue assumption that man as man is thinkable as a being that lacks awareness of sacred restraints or as a being that is guided by nothing but a desire for recognition”) Strauss demonstrates that he sees modern historical consciousness as a synthesis of Hegel’s historical interpretation of the unity of natural consciousness and desire for recognition – i.e. not philosophical desire, or eros, as developed in the Platonic Socrates, but Machiavelli’s desire for ‘glory.’ Strauss, recognizing the inescapability of historical consciousness, instead tries to take it back to its historical origins not only to show what it has missed, but also the path that it was tempted to follow. All the same, we cannot ignore that Strauss does not openly disagree with Hegel’s, in comparison, dismissive interpretation of the Platonic dialogues, nor his explicit disavowal of the importance of esoteric-exoteric teaching. In fact, Strauss’s comments on Hegel are few and never elaborate. The most Strauss has written on Hegel was in reply to Kojève on the subject of tyranny.
This ambivalent manner of juxtaposing his views against that of Hegel can be also discerned in On Classical Political Philosophy. Here Strauss first includes a reference to Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy meant to illustrate the manner in which “modern political philosophy frequently calls itself political “theory.” In the footnote he then adds a quote from Hegel’s work in its original German: “If we wish to see practical philosophy reappear, we shall find it; but, on the whole, we shall not see it become really speculative until very recent times.”69 He then immediately refers to Hegel’s admonition that political philosophy must not concern itself with stipulating what ought to be but instead concentrate on unveiling and understanding the rational basis of political life, i.e. the modern state. Strauss does not mention that this comes from Hegel’s Preface to the Philosophy of Right; this is sufficiently recognizable. His earlier referenced quote is of more interest for it comes from the section on ‘Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans’ of Hegel’s Lectures. In the same section, Hegel writes:
[In moral life] we have the speculative Idea, the absolute essence, in its reality, and in a definite, sensuous existence; and similarly the moral life is submerged in actuality as the universal spirit of a people, and as their laws and rule. […] The universal consciousness, the spirit of a people, is the substance of which the accident is the individual consciousness; the speculative is thus the fact that pure, universal law is absolute individual consciousness, so that this last, because it draws there from its growth and nourishment, becomes universal selfconsciousness.70 [emphasis mine]
Note here how chance (accident) is rationalized as an element in the now necessary – from the modern perspective – progress of the absolute (spirit), thereby validating his comment on Hegel’s “sacred restraints” (necessity, or fate) and “desire for recognition” (universal selfconsciousness). In CM Strauss writes that modern philosophy no longer takes into account the classic distinction between nature (physis) and convention (nomos) precisely because of “the reasoning which was meant also to dispose of chance.”71 Chance holds a similarity with convention however: the validity of a convention is attributed to a chain of tradition or human acts just as a chance event is justified in light of the causal – i.e. ‘natural’ in the narrow sense of the term – chain which preceded it. Because this “distinction between nature and
69 Original quote: “Wir werden ueberhaupt die praktische Philosophie nicht spekulativ werden sehen, bis auf die neuesten Zeiten.” (Hegel, Vorlesungen ueber die Geschichte der Philosophie, ed. Michelet-Glockner, I, 291; quoted: Strauss, 1988: 88 fn. 16.) [Trans. from Hypertext] 70 Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy, [Hyper-text]. 71 Strauss, 1964: 15.
convention can only be provisional or superficial,” any attempt at a “universal consideration regarding the concatenation of the causes” would then require the demonstration of “preceding causes which are relevant for the explanation of conventions.” Strauss specifies the problems that would arise for legislators in this context:
The difficulties which were encountered along this way of explaining conventions led people to question the very notion of convention as some sort of making; customs and languages, it was asserted, cannot be traced to any positing or other conscious acts but only to growth, to a kind of growth essentially different from the growth of plants and animals but analogous to it ... We shall not insist on the kinship between the classical notion of “nature” and this modern notion of “growth.” It is more urgent to point out that partly as a consequence of the modern notion of “growth,” the classical distinction between nature and convention, according to which nature is of higher dignity than convention, has been overlaid by the modern distinction between nature and history according to which history (the realm of freedom and values) is of higher dignity than nature (which lacks purposes or values), not to say, as has been said, that history comprehends nature which is essentially relative to the essentially historical mind.72
This is important in relation to WPP, for although Strauss states explicitly how Hegel’s theory of political philosophy is completely antithetical to “the raison d’être of classical political philosophy”73, he directs us to Hegel’s quote after first writing that “on the other hand, it is no accident that modern philosophy frequently calls itself ‘theory’.”74 [emphasis mine] In other words, it is not due to chance that chance would be justified in terms of a speculative progress. Strauss almost seems to acknowledge Hegel’s pairing of the development of modern philosophy – from a practical philosophy to a philosophical system (theory) – with the speculative aspect that nevertheless was – and is – present throughout its historical advance. This ‘speculative’ aspect therefore seems significant, for it appears to point hermeneutically to an aspect discernable in Hegel’s system and, as we will see, in its reception in the thought of Nietzsche and Heidegger: a dialectical relation between historical consciousness [culminating in a science of wisdom] and political philosophy [experience of wisdom, e.g. recollection].
Idem., 16. Strauss, 1988: 88. 74 Idem.,
2.1 History and Man In What is Political Philsosophy?: the first three essays – What is Political Philosophy?, Political Philosophy and History, and On Classical Philosophy, precede his Restatement on Xenophon’s ‘Hiero’, which is itself a response to Kojève’s commentary on his own initial commentary of the Hiero. All these essays mention Hegel at least once. In fact, six out of the ten full-length essays in WPP mention Hegel. In comparison, Heidegger – seen as Strauss’s silent interlocutor by Steven B. Smith75 – is mentioned only on the first and last essay. In making that comment Smith makes a reference to the last essay in WPP – based on a speech that Strauss gave in memory of his friend and colleague Kurt Riezler – which is worth following. Here, in qualifying Heidegger’s influence on Riezler’s later thought, Strauss writes the following: “One has to go back to Hegel until one finds another professor of philosophy who affected in a comparable manner the thought of Germany, nay, of Europe. But Hegel had some contemporaries whose power equaled his or at any rate whom one could compare to him without being manifestly foolish. Heidegger surpasses all his contemporaries by far.”76
Strauss, despite being a contemporary, explicitly distinguishes himself from Heidegger. He does this by not only focusing on the primacy of the political (political life and political things),77 but by building his own philosophy upon a critique largely indebted to Heidegger’s – and Nietzsche’s – attack on the ‘modern project.’78 The challenge comes not only from Heidegger’s philosophy but also from the fact that he had allied himself to the Nazi movement; an act formalized (“in speech”) in his infamous inaugural address as rector of Freiburg University on May 27, 1933. But the matter’s seriousness stems not from a single act, which could then arguably be explained as ‘a mistake,’ but by Heidegger’s obstinate silence on the matter if not his repudiation of guilt by association, as well as his republication in 1953 of his 1935 lecture on metaphysics which made it impossible to ignore the relation between the political act and a philosophy impressed by the “inner truth” of National Socialism:
The stuff which is now being bandied about as the philosophy of National Socialism—but which has not the least to do with the inner truth and greatness of this movement (namely
Smith, Steven B., 2006: 108-9. Strauss, 1988: 246. 77 Strauss, 1978: 11. 78 Idem., 7.
the encounter between global technology and modern man)—is casting its net in these troubled waters of ‘values' and ‘totalities'.79
Although Heidegger was not the only thinker to have supported the Nazis, he was, according to many, the greatest thinker to do so. In a prologue – written in 1959 but subsequently left unspoken – in honor of his good friend Jacob Klein’s sixtieth birthday, Strauss brings up the continuing challenge that Heidegger – “who surpasses in speculative intelligence all his contemporaries and is at the same intellectually the counterpart to what Hitler was politically”80 – presented to Klein and Strauss. This is complemented by his remarks elsewhere mentioning how Heidegger continued to praise National Socialism as an ideology “long after Hitler had been muted and Heil Hitler had been transformed into Heil Unheil.”81 Such an inescapable fact could not but present a problem to all those “sensitive to greatness.”82 Despite all this, if not because of it, Heidegger’s actions did not prevent Strauss from calmly observing and engaging with what he describes in that same unspoken prologue as Heidegger’s “[attempt] to go a way not yet trodden by anyone or rather to think in a way in which philosophers at any rate have never thought before,” concluding with certainty “that no one has questioned the premise of philosophy as radically as Heidegger.”83
Of course this last remark is intended as a challenge. In the prologue mentioned above Strauss further comments:
Klein alone saw why Heidegger is truly important: by uprooting and not simply rejecting the tradition of philosophy, he made it possible for the first time after many centuries—one hesitates to say how many—to see the roots of the tradition as they are and thus perhaps to know, what so many merely believe, that those roots are the only natural and healthy roots. [...] Klein was the first to understand the possibility which Heidegger had opened without intending it: the possibility of a genuine return to classical philosophy, to the philosophy of Aristotle and of Plato, a return with open eyes and in full clarity about the infinite difficulties which it entails.”84
79 Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics, trans. Ralph Manheim (Yale University Press, 1959), p. 199; in German, p. 208; Quoted in: Sheehan, Thomas. ‘Heidegger and the Nazis.’ The New York Review of Books, Vol. XXXV, No. 10 (June 16, 1988), pp. 38-47. 80 Strauss, ‘An Unspoken Prologue,’ in 1997: 450. 81 Strauss, 1983: 30. 82 Strauss, 1988: 246. 83 Strauss, ‘An Unspoken Prologue’, in 1997: 450; See also: Smith, 2006: 109. 84 Idem.,
Heidegger’s philosophy became representative of that “infinitely dangerous moment when man is in a greater danger than ever before of losing his humanity”85 precisely because it radically questioned the premise of that philosophical tradition: it brought to the fore unequivocally how far uprooted rationalism is willing to go in order to emancipate itself from whatever it deemed as the essential ontological predicament. Strauss draws an interesting comparison between Heidegger and Aristotle. He says that Heidegger was “protected against the danger of trying to modernize Aristotle” due to his Catholic origin and training, but immediately adds that by being a (non-Christian) philosopher, Heidegger “was not tempted to understand Aristotle in the light of Thomas Aquinas.” Instead, “his intention was to uproot Aristotle: he thus was compelled to disinter the roots, to bring them to light, to look at them with wonder.”86 In other words, Strauss is suggesting that Heidegger did not turn to Aristotle from the perspective of modern thought and attempt to make him the precursor of modern science, nor from the medieval scholastic tradition of Aquinas so as to “[justify] the sacred doctrine [i.e. revealed theology] before the tribunal of philosophy,” i.e. to prove divine revelation in terms of rational truths.87 Instead, Heidegger helped unveil the nihilistic tendency of modern political philosophy by remaining silent about ethics and politics.88 Maybe he even chose to live (act) according to the “mystery of all history” that Strauss writes Nietzsche had discovered in the present – “i.e. the alternative which now confronts man, of the utmost degradation and the highest exaltation.89.
What nevertheless becomes visible with Heidegger was the effect that the rise in historical consciousness had on philosophy, resulting in a conscious move away from biblical morality and the modern scientific belief in progress. By willingly collaborating with the Nazis (“Germany at its most irrational mood”), Heidegger ‘unintentionally’ forces philosophy to take political philosophy seriously, i.e. by demonstrating that philosophy is inherently, and necessarily, political, even when it says it isn’t. Particularly Heidegger’s abandonment of philosophy – his ‘turn’ or “Kehre” – in favour of a new rootedness (Bodenständigkeit) based on art illustrated the core of the dilemma. Without specifying the example of Heidegger, Strauss describes the essence of this problem in WPP:
85 86 87
Strauss, ‘Philosophy as Rigorous Science,’ in 1983: 33. (Reprinted from Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy 2, no. 1 ) Idem., Strauss, 1952: 19-20. 88 Cf. Michael Gillespie, ‘Martin Heidegger’, In History of Political Philosophy, 1987: 888. 89 Strauss, 1983: 33.
Men are constantly attracted and deluded by two opposite charms: the charm of competence which is engendered by mathematics and everything akin to mathematics, and the charm of humble awe, which is engendered by meditation on the human soul and its experiences. Philosophy is characterized by the gentle, if firm, refusal to succumb to either charm.90
According to this template, Heidegger would seem to characterize someone who has fallen for the charm of humble awe: the acquiescence of reason before the essential experience. Heidegger’s resignation due to philosophy’s inability to dispel the encroaching “movement of modern technology” before the fundamental (ontological) ‘abyss’91 led him from a position of resoluteness to a withdrawal based on a studied anticipation of some new form of revelation. Steven B. Smith includes an interesting fragment from the famous interview Heidegger held with Der Spiegel in 1966 (it was not printed posthumously until 1976, in accordance with Heidegger’s wishes):
Philosophy will not be able to bring about a direct change of the present state of the world. This is true not only of philosophy but of all purely human mediations and endeavors. Only a god can still save us (Nur noch ein Gott kann uns rennen). I think the only possible salvation left to us is to prepare readiness, through thinking and poetry, for the appearance of the god, or for the absence of the god during the decline; so that we do not, simply put, die meaningless deaths, but that when we decline, we decline in the face of the absent god.92
2.2 Political Philosophy vs. Philosophy of History
Throughout Strauss’s reflections on the problem of Heidegger we sense the presence of Hegel. At times Strauss is unequivocal about his significance, while on occasion he alludes to him indirectly. In City and Man, for example, Strauss writes:
But precisely since the West is the culture in which culture reaches full self-consciousness, it is the final culture: the owl of Minerva begins its flight in the dusk; the decline of the West is identical with the exhaustion of the very possibility of high culture; the highest possibilities of man are exhausted. But man’s highest possibilities cannot be exhausted as long as there are
Strauss, 1988: 40; See also Smith, 2006: 128. Strauss, 1983: 30. 92 Heidegger, ‘The Spiegel Interview,’ in Martin Heidegger and National Socialism: Questions and Answers, Gunther Neske and Emil Kettering, eds., New York: Paragon, 1990, 56-57. Quoted in Smith, 2006: 125.
still high human tasks—as long as the fundamental riddles which confront man, have not been solved to the extent to which they can be solved. We may therefore say that Spengler’s analysis and prediction is wrong: our highest authority, natural science, considers itself susceptible of infinite progress, there cannot be a meaningful end or completion of history; there can only be a brutal stopping of man’s onward march through natural forces acting by themselves or directed by human brains and hands.93
Compare these comments with what Strauss wrote in ‘Philosophy as Rigorous Science’:
[Hegel’s] system of philosophy, the final philosophy, the perfect solution of all philosophic problems belongs to the moment when mankind has solved in principle its political problem by establishing the post-revolutionary state, the first state to recognize the equal dignity of every human being as such. This absolute peak of history, being the end of history, is at the same time the beginning of the final decline. In this respect Spengler has merely brought out the ultimate conclusion of Hegel’s thought. No wonder therefore that almost everyone rebelled against Hegel.94
Both these fragments mirror each other, but serve different purposes within the context in which they have been placed. What should first be mentioned is that although Hegel is not mentioned by name in the first fragment he is hinted at by means of a reference he made famous in Philosophy of Right: the owl of Minerva.95 Secondly, they are found within the first few pages, written by Strauss, of City and Man and Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy (SPPP). CM even ends by mentioning Hegel once again.96 This book, which begins by mentioning the “crisis of the West” and a philosophy which speaks of the inevitable decline of Western culture after reaching its “highest possibilities,” ends with a study on the highest peak of Greek culture and its subsequent decline: Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian Wars. However, it also ends with “the all-important question which is coeval with philosophy
Strauss, 1978: 2. Strauss, 1983: 32. Minerva is the Roman version of the goddess the Greeks knew as Athena. Greek mythology portrays Athena as the goddess of wisdom, civilization, weaving and cunning. She is the daughter of Metis, goddess of cunning, and Zeus, lord among gods. Her birth was initially frustrated by the efforts of Zeus himself who feared a prophecy foretelling that the power of Metis’s children would overshadow his own. He therefore tricked Metis after laying with her into turning into a fly and swallowed her, but it was too late; Metis was already pregnant with Athena. Zeus then suffered unbearable headaches on account of Metis’s hammering and weaving when crafting a helmet and robes for her daughter, ending only when he was cleaved on the forehead with a double-headed Minoan axe (differing accounts present either Prometheus, Hephaestus, Hermes or Palaemon doing the favour). Athena then springs forth from his skull fully clothed and armed, and becomes his favourite daughter. 96 “We would have great difficulty in doing justice to this remote or dark side of the city but for the work of men like Fustel de Coulanges above all others who have made us see the city as it primarily understood itself as distinguished from the manner in which it was exhibited by classical political philosophy: the holy city in contradistinction to the natural city. Our gratitude is hardly diminished by the fact that Fustel de Coulanges, his illustrious predecessors, Hegel above all, and his numerous successors have failed to pay proper attention to the philosophic concept of the city as exhibited by classical political philosophy.” (Strauss, 1964: 241.)
although the philosophers do not frequently pronounce it—the question quid sit deus.” What is (a) god? A similar development can be discerned in SPPP. Beginning with ‘Philosophy as Rigorous Science and Political Philosophy’ Strauss then includes two separate essays discussing Platonic dialogues: the first analyzes Plato’s Apology of Socrates and Crito while the second is titled ‘On the Euthydemus,’ another Platonic dialogue. Following these investigations Strauss includes ‘Preliminary Observations on the Gods in Thucydides’ Work,’ thereby focusing on the “all-important question” that he explicitly stated only at the end of CM, even if it is implicitly discussed throughout the book. Furthermore, CM performs a chronological regression. It begins, after the introduction discussing the “crisis of the West,” with Aristotle’s Politics, thereafter moving to Plato’s Republic, with Thucydides as the last object of study although chronologically speaking he precedes both Plato and Aristotle.97 This reversal in time is intentional: CM begins after the decline of the (modern) West and ends before its previous decline. By doing so such a plan directs the reader to the possibility of barbarism that lies beyond the peak of Greekness. SPPP does not follow such an outline. After the chapter on Thucydides’ gods Strauss turns to Xenophon’s Anabasis, which is then followed by a discussion on Natural Law, and then to ‘Jerusalem and Athens,’ i.e. revelation vs. reason.
However, at the center of this book Strauss has included his ‘Note on the Plan of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil.’ In light of this fact a brief remark can be mentioned as to the plan of Strauss’s own book. Strauss was deeply influenced by Nietzsche. In a letter to Karl Löwith dated 23 of June, 1935, Strauss wrote: “I can only say that Nietzsche so dominated and bewitched me between my 22nd and 30th years, that I literally believed everything that I understood of him—and that is, as I see clearly from your work, only a part of his teaching.”98 So we find at the center of Strauss’s study on ‘Platonic political philosophy’ a chapter on a philosopher who considered himself Plato’s antagonist. Strauss in this chapter writes: “Nietzsche intends then to overcome Plato not only by substituting his truth for Plato’s but
97 In a review of David Grene’s Man in his Pride: A Study in the Political Philosophy of Thucydides and Plato, written in 1950, Strauss speaks positively of Grene’s attempt to articulate the relation between the political philosophies of Thucydides and Plato: “In the extreme situation in which man lived in fifth-century Athens, Thucydides and Plato ‘defined the range within which … all political speculation in the West can be seen to move.’ This would seem to mean that the two classics of political philosophy are opposed to each other; Grene uses the word ‘polarity.’ By implication he rejects the accepted view, which may be stated as holding that the Sophists (and not Thucydides) stand at the opposite pole to Plato; and that modern political philosophy has transcended the limits within which all classic political philosophy remained. One might wish that the author had shown why the political teachings of Thucydides and Plato can be said to mark ‘the limits within which, in its view of political man, our Western tradition has developed.” But one could say in defense of Grene’s reserve that we are barely beginning to discern the region in which the answer to questions of this kind, nay the proper formulation of questions of this kind, has to be sought.” City and Man, based on the Page-Barbour lectures he delivered in 1962, and subsequently expanded during 1963, is Strauss’s contribution to this endeavour. See Strauss, ‘Criticism: Sixteen Appraisals,’ In Strauss, 1988: 299-302. 98 Strauss, Leo and Löwith, Karl, 1988, “Correspondence,” in Independent Journal of Philosophy, vol. 5/6, p. 183. Quoted in Kenneth Hart Green, ‘Leo Strauss as a Modern Jewish Thinker’, Editor’s Introduction to: Strauss, 1997: 63 n.30.
also by surpassing him in strength or power. Among other things ‘Plato is boring’ (Twilight of the Gods, ‘What I owe to the Ancients’ nr. 2), while Nietzsche surely is never boring.”99 Furthermore, in describing the plan of Nietzsche’s book, Strauss has the following to say:
The book [Beyond Good and Evil] consists of nine chapters. The third chapter is devoted to religion. The heading of the fourth chapter (“Sayings and Interludes”) does not indicate a subject matter; that chapter is distinguished from all other chapters by the fact that it consists exclusively of short aphorisms. The last five chapters are devoted to morals and politics. The book as a whole consists then of two main parts which are separated from one another by about 123 “Sayings and Interludes”; the first of the two parts is devoted chiefly to philosophy and religion and the second chiefly to morals and politics. Philosophy and religion, it seems, belong together—belong more closely together than philosophy and the city. (Cf. Hegel’s distinction between the absolute and the objective mind.) The fundamental alternative is that of the rule of philosophy over religion or the rule of religion over philosophy; it is not, as it was for Plato or Aristotle, that of the philosophic and the political life; for Nietzsche, as distinguished from the classics, politics belongs from the outset to a lower plane than either philosophy or religion.”100
Looking at Hegel’s conceptualization of absolute and objective mind (or ‘spirit’) as Strauss recommends above, we make the following observations: according to the outline of Hegel’s Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences the triad of Objective Spirit is made up of Law (Right), Morality and Ethics, while Absolute Spirit has Art, Religion, and Philosophy as its constitutive elements. Furthermore, just as the absolute spirit finds in philosophy the culmination of its content through art and religion, the Absolute Idea finds in the absolute spirit the ascendancy of wisdom (Knowing): the individual self-consciousness of the subject that through the actualization of his self-sufficiency – freedom – in the state rediscovers (recollects) in philosophy the unity of self-conscious reason and absolute truth, i.e. man (subjective spirit) becomes reacquainted with his divine nature (unity with Absolute Idea) by understanding that the actualization in history of freedom and reason is the necessary revelation of God to himself. Man is the necessary mediation of Spirit through Nature, just as History mediates the process of Reason by which Consciousness becomes self-certain of its Being as the actualization of Spirit. The process is both cyclical and emanationist, but involving a necessary return to itself. Reason represents the return of spirit to itself through
Strauss, 1978: 183. Strauss, ‘Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, In 1983: 176.
philosophy, and this is only possible if philosophy recognizes itself as the culmination of spirit through (revealed) religion and art, as well as recognizing that this process represents the emanation of spirit by means of the idea of freedom, itself culminating in the modern state by means of self-conscious subjects. Finally, Hegel’s Logic represents the emanation of God by means of Nature from which the process of Spirit’s self-knowledge in time and space culminates in the self-consciousness of Absolute Being (God) as Absolute Wisdom (Science). Hegel’s system is therefore meant to represent the recollection of this wisdom as a philosophical science. Hegel refers to it as speculative because it mirrors the self-consciousness of absolute truth, but because it is mediated by philosophy it attains the character of systematic science. When Hegel speaks of philosophy he means speculative philosophy – the actualization of self-conscious (Absolute) Spirit. In this sense, speculative philosophy is the synthesis of reason and speculative wisdom: the latter can also be found in (revealed) religion as its content and in the intuitive truth of the arts. According to this scheme, we can observe that, indeed, philosophy and religion belong more closely together than philosophy and the city (state). Karl Löwith affirms this:
For an understanding of Hegel’s system, his philosophy of religion is even more important than his philosophy of the state. It is not just one component of the whole system, but its spiritual center of gravity.101
Strauss recognizes this when he mentions Hegel’s synthesis of classical and Biblical morality, as well as “Socratic and Machiavellian or Hobbian politics:102 both these characterizations represent the emphasis on classical “virtue” and modern “freedom” that Hegel’s philosophy of history attempted to subordinate to the service of his philosophic system. But as Strauss mentions in WPP, this historical approach sought to conceive of the right order as inevitable, as an essential necessity of human action and being, and therefore it contradicted what the classics understood as the right order. What Strauss refers to as “Machiavellian” is the lowering of the standards (classical virtues) necessary for the right order as he defined it, based on a revaluation of human nature. Selfishness, desire for glory, becomes the basis of his political teaching; and the state, or republic, now becomes a “controlled experiment,” not the attempt to create heaven on earth. But the Hegelian synthesis was also condemned to collapse,
Löwith, 1964: 47. Strauss, 1988: 111.
a development expressed by thinkers such as Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. All these observations forces us to reappraise the themes tackled by Strauss in both CM and SPPP: the fundamental tension between philosophy and religion in the city is not necessarily the fundamental problem for modern (political) philosophy.
There seems to be a more than casual relation between Hegel, Nietzsche and Heidegger that Strauss is bringing to the fore. In CM Strauss writes, following the first quote:
“If science is susceptible of infinite progress, there cannot be a meaningful end or completion of history; there can only be a brutal stopping of man’s onward march through natural forces acting by themselves or directed by human brains and hands.”103
Although according to the above mentioned quotes it may seem that Strauss is presenting Hegel’s philosophy of history as a prelude to Heidegger’s radical historicism – the “highest self-consciousness” of modern thought – it may be more precise to say that Hegel’s prelude was a prelude to “the only book published by Nietzsche”104 – Beyond Good and Evil – and which was given the subtitle “Prelude to a philosophy of the future.” Heidegger’s vision for the future was clearly Nietzschean:
The two men who, each in his own way, have introduced a counter movement to nihilism— Mussolini and Hitler—have learned from Nietzsche, each in an essentially different way. But even with that, Nietzsche’s authentic metaphysical domain has not yet come into its own.105
2.3 Beyond the Last Man
As Strauss presents it, Hegel arrives at the end of the second wave of modernity: he is the culmination of his time which found expression in Rousseau’s desire to return to nature and Kant’s idealism. The third wave is initiated by Nietzsche and ends with Heidegger, though he does not state this explicitly. The first had begun with Machiavelli and was brought to a close by means of Locke’s substitution of property as the fundamental need of man: “economism is Machiavellianism come of age.”106 Despite this historical trajectory, Strauss shows us the
Strauss, 1978: 2. Strauss, ‘Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, 1983: 175. 105 Sheehan explains in the footnote to this quote that “the text has been omitted from the published version of the course, Schellings Abhandlung “Über das Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit” (1809) (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1971). It is cited by Carl Ulmer in Der Spiegel (May 2, 1977), p. 10.” Quoted in: Sheehan, 1988: 49. 106 Strauss, 1988: 49.
need to not abandon the notion of reason. He does this in CM by moving beyond Hegel’s image of the ‘owl of Minerva’ back towards the pre-philosophic city, but also by drawing the contours of what followed in his wake. Hence the manner in which he tackles Nietzsche can be seen as an explicit attempt to draw attention to the need to reassess in earnest the result of the collapse of reason not only through Nietzsche, but also his “successor” Heidegger. This is the closest he gets to mirroring his own personal attachment and debt to these philosophers, except in his ‘Preface to Spinoza’s Critique of Religion’107 and on rare public occasions108. In fact, Strauss even begins his comments on Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil with a personal pronoun. Not only is this extremely rare,109 but he even directs our attention to Nietzsche’s own recourse to this same tactic in the chapter Wir Gelehrten (‘We Scholars’): “the only [chapter in Beyond Good and Evil] in whose title the first person of the personal pronoun is used.”110 In characterizing himself as a “handmaiden to philosophy,”111 “Nietzsche wishes to emphasize the fact that apart from being a precursor of the philosophers of the future, he belongs to the scholars and not, for instance, to the poets or the homines religiosi.”112 This is an affirmation of what was stated above concerning Nietzsche’s locating philosophy or religion above politics, but also indicates that he was compelled to address “religiosity” in order to fulfill his role of “handmaiden to philosophy,” in light of that contrary democratic trajectory by which scholars and scientists sought to emancipate themselves from philosophy.113 Strauss writes that because Nietzsche’s doctrine of the “will to power” states dogmatically that “God is dead” in order to validate that in the context of chaos and meaninglessness, “all order originates in man, in man’s creative acts, in his will to power.” Therefore, any attempt to interpret meaning is inevitably an anthropomorphism, including the
107 In a letter to Kojève, dated May 29, 1962, Strauss tells him about the new preface to his old book on Spinoza that he was about to complete (alongside his preparations for the publication of City and Man): “It comes as close to an autobiography as is possible within the bounds of propriety.” (Strauss, 2000: 309) In brief, this preface shows how the rediscovery of the ‘art of writing’ had helped him reappraise Jewish-medieval and classical philosophy, but more importantly the ‘problem of Socrates’ in light of the “theologic-political problem.” He ends this preface by saying that “As a consequence of this [i.e. the ‘art of writing], I now read the Theologico-political Treatise differently than I read it when I was young. I understood Spinoza too literally because I did not read him literally enough.” (Strauss, ‘Preface to Spinoza’s Critique of Religion,’ in 1968: 257). 108 See ‘A Giving of Accounts’ and ‘An Unspoken Prologue’ in Jewish Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity. 109 Strauss’s views on the public disclosure of private thoughts and the genesis of one’s thinking were openly addressed in a meeting with Jacob Klein meant to provide an ‘account’ of the origin and development of their thinking: “Some faculty members, I was told, had misgivings about this meeting. The only ones which are justified concern this question: is it proper for people to talk about themselves in public? The general answer is: no.” What made that particular meeting an exception according to Strauss was that they were both old men and that they were going to talk about an issue of public concern: virtue. (Strauss, ‘A Giving of Accounts.’ In 1997: 459.) 110 Strauss, ‘Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, 1983: 186. 111 Cf. Nietzsche, who in The Birth of Tragedy, writes: “Indeed, Plato has given to all posterity the model of a new art form, the model of the novel—which may be described as an infinitely enhanced Aesopian fable, in which poetry holds the same rank in relation to dialectical philosophy as this same philosophy held for many centuries in relation to theology: namely, the rank of an ancilla [handmaid]. This was the new position into which Plato, under the pressure of the demonic Socrates, forced poetry.” (Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, in 2000: 91); 112 Strauss, ‘Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, 1983: 186. Earlier in p. 176 Strauss indicates that in the preface “[Nietzsche] intimates that his precursor par excellence is not a statesman nor even a philosopher but the homo religious Pascal (cf. aph. 45).” 113 Cf. Strauss in City and Man: “But in our age it is much less urgent to show that political philosophy is the indispensable handmaid of theology than to show that political philosophy is the rightful queen of the social sciences, the sciences of man and of human affairs: even the highest lawcourt in the land is more likely to defer to the contentions of social science than to the Ten Commandments as the words of the living God.” (Strauss, 1978: 1)
attempt to derive meaning beyond God. Every act and thought is necessarily a creative act. This however places atheism in an ambiguous position: will it “belong to the free mind as Nietzsche conceives of it” or will the philosopher of the future instead return to the worship of the god Dionysos “or will again be, as an Epicurean might say, a dionysokolax114 (cf. aph. 7)?”115 Earlier Strauss had written that “The doctrine of the will to power—the whole doctrine of Beyond Good and Evil—is in a manner a vindication of God”116 while now he adds that the above mentioned ambiguity “is essential to Nietzsche’s thought; without it his doctrine would lose its character of an experiment of a temptation.”117 This is because Nietzsche’s will to power, as the title suggests, is transmoral. “Nietzsche does not mean to sacrifice God for the sake of the Nothing,” but instead, “prompted by ‘some enigmatic desire,’ has tried for a long time to penetrate pessimism to its depth and in particular to free it from the delusion of morality which in a way contradicts its world-denying tendency.”118 Nietzsche’s will to power is therefore “a decidedly non-theistic vindication of God.”119
His service to philosophy – prelude to a philosophy of the future – therefore takes the form of a “replacement of the natural by the authentic.” Strauss explains that this is related to the historicization of philosophy, which relocated truth as a function of time and place after it had first undermined unnatural (i.e. conventional) and supra-natural claims to universal norms.120 This then made history the essential component, even more so than the natural sciences, of the modern sense of progress:
History takes the place of nature as a consequence of the fact that the natural—e.g. the natural gifts which enable a man to become a philosopher—is no longer understood as given but as the acquisition of former generations (aph. 213; cf. Dawn of Morning aph. 540). Historicism is the child of the peculiarly modern tendency to understand everything in terms of its genesis, of its human production: nature furnishes only the almost worthless materials as in themselves (Locke, Two Treatises of Government II sect. 43).
“How malicious philosophers can be! I know of nothing more venemous than the joke Epicurus permitted himself against Plato and the Platonists: he called them Dionysiokolakes. That means literally—and this is the foreground meaning—“flatterers of Dionysus," in other words, tyrant’s baggage and lickspittles; but in addition to this he also want to say, "they are all actors, there is nothing genuine about them" (for Dionysokolax was a popular name for an actor).” (Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, trans. Walter Kaufmann, in 2000: 204) 115 Strauss, ‘Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, 1983: 179. 116 Idem., 178. 117 Idem., 179. 118 Idem., 180. 119 Idem., 181. 120 Idem., 186; Cf. Strauss, 1953: 14-45.
With this realization in mind, Nietzsche then asks himself if the philosopher of the future, the creator of values, “compared with whom men of the rank of Kant and Hegel are only philosophic laborers,”121 ever existed. Strauss tells us that Nietzsche had given an affirmative answer in the sixth chapter by speaking of Heraclitus, Plato and Empedocles. He concludes from this that in a way, for Nietzsche, the philosopher of the future was always the ‘bad conscience’ of his time. Strauss therefore highlights the distinction that Nietzsche draws upon in mentioning Hegel in this segment, i.e., “The philosopher as philosopher belongs to the future and was therefore at all times in contradiction to his Today.”122 They do not belong to or represent the peak of their epoch. This thinking leads Nietzsche to characterize, in the next chapter (“Our Virtues”), the historical sense itself as “our great virtue,” leaving only “intellectual probity” as the virtue of the future:
Probity includes and completes “our great virtue of the historical sense.” Yet probity is an end rather than a beginning; it points to the past rather than the future; it is not the virtue characteristic of the philosophers of the future; it must be supported, modified, fortified by “our most delicate, most disguised, most spiritual will to power” which is directed toward the future. Surely our probity must not be permitted to become the ground or object of our pride, for this would lead us back to moralism (and to theism). […] As the act of the highest form of man’s will to power the Vernatürlichung of man is at the same time the peak of the anthropomorphization of the non-human (cf. Will to Power nr. 614), for the most spiritual will to power consists in prescribing to nature what or how it ought to be (aph. 9).123 [emphasis mine]
In this reading of Nietzsche’s text Strauss therefore seems to indirectly hint at an important element of Heidegger’s new philosophy – probity in the face of impending nihilism leading to the “anthropomorphization of the non-human” – while at the same time pointing to the basis of his ‘false step.’124
Idem., 187. Idem., 123 Idem., 188-89. 124 Compare this in light of his speech dedicated to the memory of Kurt Riezler, particularly how he contrasts him to Heidegger: “Human dignity, Riezler suggests among other things, stands and falls by shame and awe because man’s greatness is co-present in his littleness and his littleness is co-present in his greatness… By invading men’s privacy one does not come to know them better—one merely ceases to see them. For man’s being is revealed by the broad character of his life, his deeds, his works, by what he esteems and reveres not in word but in deed—by the stars for which his soul longs if it longs for any stars. […] In pondering over Riezler’s highest aspiration, I had to think more than once of Thucydides—of Thucydides’ quiet and manly gentleness which seeks no solace and which looks in freedom, but not in indifference, at the opposites whose unity is hidden; which does not attempt to reduce one opposite to the other; and which regards the higher of the opposites not, as Socrates did, as stronger but as more vulnerable, more delicate than the lower.” (Strauss, ‘Kurt Riezler’, in 1988: 260; See also above fn. 60.
Being the last chapter of a prelude to a philosophy of the future, it shows the (a) philosophy of the future as reflected in the medium of conduct, of life; thus reflected the philosophy of the future reveals itself as the philosophy of the future. The virtues of the philosopher of the future differ from the Platonic virtues: Nietzsche replaces temperance and justice by compassion and solitude (aph. 284).125 [emphasis mine]
My attempt has been to try to uncover a more than casual relation between Strauss and the Hegelian system, which he both mirrored and diverged from in revealing ways. Although this has been far from exhaustive, I have nonetheless tried to show where elements of this kinship can be detected. I have not, however, been able to unearth why he did not confront Hegel more directly in his philosophy. Yet, considering that he did not do this either with Heidegger and Nietzsche (besides a “note on the plan”), both of whom were clearly influential on his philosophy, it may be safe to assume that the whole body of his work is in a way a reaction to, and development of, the most important problems that their thought laid bare.
Strauss has been attempting to move philosophy back from the ‘emancipated passions’ of modernity to the question of ‘sacred restraints’ that lies at its’ roots, i.e. classical political philosophy. This meant acknowledging the role of the historical consciousness Hegel helped emancipate, while using it to reverse his synthesis of classical and Biblical morality. At the same time, this consciousness must avoid the dual charm of awe and competence which cemented itself in the western mindset. I don’t want to suggest that Hegel necessarily represents the key to the philosophy of Strauss. Instead, in relating the work of Hegel and Strauss I have tried to illuminate the nature of certain problems of political philosophy as envisaged by Strauss, such as the ‘crisis of the West’ and its’ loss of confidence in the principle of progress – the progress of reason and freedom. Not only is Strauss’s philosophy conscious of the limits of reason and self-conscious of its historical development, in itself it also represents an attempt to protect and develop further the core of philosophy, viz., political philosophy, an engagement largely repudiated by Hegel and Heidegger: Hegel rejected the classic preoccupation with what ought to be, while Heidegger claimed to have disenfranchised his metaphysics from politics altogether. In contrast, Strauss’s attentiveness to the role of political philosophy was both complemented by his deep appreciation of the origins of the ‘crisis of the West’ – which he felt was rooted within this discipline – and illuminated in light of what he felt exhibited the height of classical philosophy.
The main difficulty has been reconciling Strauss’s hermeneutic interpretation and the ‘art of writing,’ which makes it much harder to explain following a more systematic approach to
political philosophy. Because the scientific approach126 and its underlying historical assumptions lies at the basis of Strauss’s critique, it would have been counterintuitive to the goal of this paper to take for granted – i.e. not consider honestly and seriously, without assuming to ‘know things better’ – those very complaints and judgments that informed Strauss’s philosophy, and which took hermeneutics beyond its literary focus by applying it to the history of political philosophy.
Be this as it may, two things can be said of Strauss’s hermeneutic method and his overall intention. If Hegel represents the cave of modernity in its absolute, logical, form, then Strauss’s hermeneutics seems to be the best alternative in breaching its’ walls. It keeps alive both its’ speculative origins and the historical consciousness that informs it by means of the dialectic127, but avoids succumbing to the emanationist logic that takes progress as a given. In this sense, Strauss’s philosophy represents the most serious answer to Heidegger’s repudiation of politics and morality by confronting the challenge that their limitations represent, yet without destroying the roots that inform them. Instead, his recovery of the relevance of classical political philosophy and the recovery of the ‘art of writing’ accomplishes two things which actually complement each other: it recollects128 for modern philosophy the significance of the crucial distinction between virtue and natural right, and it exceeds the limitations of language by simultaneously revealing its necessity in virtue of its political bearing. Strauss’s philosophy is in a sense a synthesis of modern (Hegelian) historical consciousness and Socratic (political) philosophy, but only to the extent that he does not fall for the temptation of attempting to formalize that synthesis. His debt to Hegel is implicit in his critique:
The genuine understanding of the political philosophies which is then necessary may be said to have been rendered possible by the shaking of all traditions; the crisis of our time may have the accidental advantage of enabling us to understand in an untraditional or fresh manner what was hitherto understood only in a traditional or derivative manner. This may
“The preoccupation with scientific proof of things which everyone knows well enough, and better, without scientific proof, leads to the neglect of that thinking, or that reflection, which must precede all scientific studies if these studies are to be relevant. The scientific study of politics is often presented as ascending from the ascertainment of political ‘facts,’ i.e., of what has happened hitherto in politics, to the formulation of ‘laws’ whose knowledge would permit the prediction of future political events. This goal is taken as a matter of course without a previous investigation as to whether the subject matter with which political science deals admits of adequate understanding in terms of ‘laws’ or whether the universals through which political things can be understood as what they are must not be conceived of in entirely different terms.” (Strauss, 1988: 24) 127 See above p. 4 n. 8. 128 “The problem of natural right is today a matter of recollection rather than of actual knowledge. We are therefore in need of historical studies in order to familiarize ourselves with the whole complexity of the issue. We have for some time to become students of what is called the ‘history of ideas.’” (Strauss, 1953: 7)
apply especially to classical political philosophy which has been seen for a considerable time only through the lenses of modern political philosophy and its various successors.129
Strauss, 1978: 9.
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