Contents I. II. Strauss' Preface to Hobbes Politische Wissenschaft The Living Issues of German Post-War Philosophy

III. Reason and Revelation IV. What can we learn from Political Theory? V. Notes on Schmitt's "Concept of the Political"

VI. Political Philosophy and History VII. Mutual Influence of Theology & Philosophy VIII. Gerhard Krüger's Review of Strauss' Spinoza Book (trans.)

This is an expanded collection of texts published separately over a period of 25 years. Added here to the two previously unpublished and inaccessible essays edited and made available for the first time in 2006 by Professor Meier (“Living Issues” & “Reason and Revelation”)

are several essays relevant to the theological-political problem, an autobiographical statement by Strauss, and a review (very difficult to obtain) by Krüger – a review which was praised highly by Strauss himself. All interpretive material has been excluded from this edition to make room for the more important writings of Strauss in his own voice. Only the best or original texts have been used for this collection. This valuable edition will serve as an introduction to the core of Strauss’ thought, but also provides trained and experienced readers with some of the finest examples of Strauss’ art of writing in their earlier, but fully mature expression.

April 2009.

Leo Strauss

What Can We Learn From Political Theory?
Editorial note: punctuation has been put inside quotation marks, spacing has been standardized, and paragraphs have been indented. Strauss’s corrections of typographical errors have not been noted. (Lecture to be delivered in the General Seminar of the Summer Course 1942, July 1942) The title of this lecture is not entirely of my own choosing.1 I do not like very much the term political theory;2 I would prefer to speak of political philosophy. Since this terminological question is not entirely verbal, I beg leave to say a few words about it. The term “political theory” implies that there is such a thing as theoretical knowledge of things political. This implication is by no means self-evident. Formerly,3 all political knowledge was considered practical knowledge, and not theoretical knowledge. I recall the traditional division of the sciences into theoretical and practical sciences. According to that division,4 political philosophy, or political science, together with ethics and economics, belongs to the practical sciences, just as mathematics and the natural sciences belong to the theoretical sciences. Whoever uses the term “political theory” tacitly denies that traditional distinction. That denial means one of these two things or both of them: (1) the denial of the distinction between theoretical and practical sciences: all science is ultimately practical (scientia propter potentiam); (2) the basis of all reasonable practice is pure theory.5 A purely theoretical, detached knowledge of things political is the safest guide for political action, just as a purely theoretical, detached knowledge of things physical is the safest guide toward conquest of nature: this is the view underlying the very term political theory. The term political theory has another important implication. According to present-day usage, theory is essentially different, not only from practice, but above all from observation. If a man is asked “how do you account for this or that event?” he may answer: “I have a theory,” or “A number of theories may be suggested”; sometimes, one is asked: “What is your theory?” What is meant by “theory” in such cases is the essentially hypothetical assertion of a cause of an observed fact. The assertion being essentially hypothetical, it6 is
“making” is crossed out and “choosing” inserted by hand. “theory” is underlined by hand. All handwritten and typed underlinings have been converted to italics. 3 “Originally” is crossed out and “Formerly” inserted by hand. 4 “distinction” is crossed out and “division” typed above it. 5 ` The following handwritten note was added at the bottom of the page: Science, d’ou ` prevoyance; prevoyance, d’ou action (Comte). 6 “it” is inserted by hand.
2 1




essentially arbitrary: my theory. What is seen—Hitler’s rise to power e.g.—is not a theory, but our differing explanations of Hitler’s rise to power are our theories. This use of the term theory is of fairly recent date. The original ´ meaning of the Greek verb u1vr1v, with which “theory” is connected, is to be an envoy sent to consult an oracle, to present an offering, to be present at festivals:7 to look at, to behold, to inspect, contemplate, consider, compare . . . , i.e., the original meaning of the term does not warrant at all the distinction of theory from observation; it rather excludes it; it certainly does not justify the identification, or almost identification, of theory with an essentially hypothetical kind of knowledge. I have some misgivings as regards these two connotations of the term theory, which are, to repeat, (1) the implication that a purely theoretical discussion of political questions is possible, and (2) the view that political knowledge as a whole consists of observation of “data” and hypothetical explanation of these “data”; I prefer therefore the term political philosophy which does not imply these assumptions. By political philosophy, we understand the coherent reflection carried on by politically minded people, concerning the essentials of political life as such, and the attempt to establish, on the basis of such reflection, the right standards of judgment concerning political institutions and actions; political philosophy is the attempt to discover the political truth. Accordingly, I would not speak of the political philosophy of Hitler, e.g., Hitler being not interested in truth and relying on intuition rather than on methodic reflection. It is legitimate, however, to speak of the political thought, or of the political ideas, of the Nazis. All political philosophy is political thought, but not all political thought is political philosophy. (E.g., the very terms “law” and “father” imply political thought, but not political philosophy. Political thought is as old as the human race, but political philosophy emerged at some definite time in the recorded past.) I think we owe it to philosophy that we do not use its noble name in vain.

I shall then discuss the question “What can we learn from political philosophy?” For the purpose of a summary discussion, it is advisable to sketch first the argument in favor of the negative. It seems as if we can learn nothing from political philosophy. For: (1) One may doubt whether there exists such a thing deserving to be called political philosophy, (2) even if there were a political philosophy in existence, we would not need it, (3) even if we would need it, its lessons would necessarily be ineffectual. (1) There is no political philosophy because there are many political philosophies; only one of them, if any, can be true, and certainly the layman

“hence” is crossed out by hand.



does not know which is the true one. When we ask: what can we learn from political philosophy, we mean, of course, what can we learn from the true political philosophy? We can learn nothing from the wrong political philosophies, although we may learn something on the occasion of them. The situation in political philosophy is not fundamentally different from that in the other branches of philosophy. Philosophy means the attempt, constantly renewed, to find the truth, the very term philosophy implies that we do not possess the truth. Philosophy is, at best, possession of clear knowledge of the problems—it is not possession of clear knowledge of the solutions to the problems. The basic questions in all branches of philosophy are as unsolved today as they were at all times; new questions have been raised from time to time, the interest has shifted from one type of question to others, but the most fundamental, the truly philosophic questions remain unanswered. This is, of course, no objection to philosophy as such: but it is an objection to the expectation, or the claim, that philosophy is a safe guide for action. One may try, and people did try, to seclude from the realm of philosophy the questions which do not seem to permit of a universally acceptable answer, but in doing so, one is merely evading the questions, not answering them. I have been trying to remind you of that melancholy spectacle called the anarchy of the systems, a phenomenon which is almost as old as philosophy itself and which seems to have so profound roots in the nature of philosophy and of its objects that it is reasonable to expect that it will last as long as philosophy itself. That spectacle becomes perhaps even more melancholy if one considers political or social philosophy by itself. One could take almost any fundamental question of political philosophy, and one could show that no answer exists which is universally accepted by honest seekers of the truth, to say nothing of the partisans of the various camps. (E.g., is justice of the essence of the State?)8 (2) But even if we could be reasonably certain that a given political philosophy is the true political philosophy, one could say that one cannot learn anything important from it as far as political action is concerned. For that kind of knowledge which is indispensable for reasonable political action is not philosophic knowledge: practical wisdom, common-sense, horse sense, shrewd estimation of the situation, these are the intellectual qualities which make up the successful man of affairs: he does not require political philosophy for his guidance. I may refer to the story told in England of H.G. Wells meeting Winston Churchill and asking about the progress of the war. “We’re getting along with our idea,” said Churchill. “You have an idea?” asked Wells. “Yes,” said Churchill, “along the lines of our general policy.” “You

This parenthesis was added by hand.



have a general policy?” Wells persisted. “Yes,” answered Churchill, “the K. M. T. policy.” “And what is the K. M. T. policy?” asked Wells. “It is this,” replied Churchill, “Keep Muddling Through.” The fact that this muddling through led to disaster in the case of Singapore and Libya9 is evidently not a proof of the necessity of political philosophy, considering that neither the Japanese generals10 nor Rommel are political philosophers to speak of. I have not the slightest doubt as to the possibility of devising an intelligent international policy, e.g., without having any recourse to political philosophy: that this war has to be won, that the only guarantee for a somewhat longer peace-period after the war is won, is a sincere Anglo-Saxon-Russian entente, that the Anglo-Saxon nations and the other nations interested in, or dependent on, Anglo-Saxon preponderance must not disarm nor relax in their armed vigilance, that you cannot throw power out of the window without facing the danger of the first gangster coming along taking it up, that the existence of civil liberties all over the world depends on Anglo-Saxon preponderance—to know these broad essentials of the situation, one does not need a single lesson in political philosophy. In fact, people adhering to fundamentally different political philosophies have reached these same conclusions. (3) But even if it were true that we could not find our bearings in the political world without being guided by political philosophy, i.e., by the one true political philosophy, the possibility would still remain that the orientation supplied by political philosophy would be ineffectual: political philosophy might teach us what should be done, and yet we might be certain that this knowledge would not have the slightest influence on the unpredictable course of events: a set of microbes killing Hitler may seem to have an infinitely greater political significance than the clearest and best demonstrated lesson in political philosophy. If we look at the whole course of the history of political philosophy, we seem to learn that “it is almost a law of the development of political thought that political conceptions are the by-product of actual political relations” (McIlwain, Growth, 391)11. As Hegel said, the owl of Minerva starts its flight in the dusk, philosophy comes always too late for the guidance of political action; the philosopher always comes post festum; philosophy can merely interpret the result of political action; it can make us understand the State: it cannot teach us what should be done with regard to the State. One may wonder whether there are any significant political concepts, or ideas, which are the product of political philosophy: all

“Gallipoli” and “Egypt” are crossed out and “Singapore” and “Libya” are inserted by hand. 10 “Tojo” crossed out and “the Japanese generals” handwritten. 11 Charles Howard McIlwain, The Growth of Political Thought in the West, From the Greeks to the End of the Middle Ages (New York: Macmillan, 1932).




political ideas seem to go back to political fighters, statesmen, lawyers, prophets. Would philosophers have spoken of mixed constitutions but for the fact that such constitutions had been devised by such nonphilosophic lawgivers as Lycurgus?12 Would Montesquieu have taught in 1748 that the separation of executive, legislative, and judicial power is desirable but for the fact that such a separation had been effected, to a certain extent, in England by the Act of Settlement of 1701? What is the political philosophy of Plato and Aristotle but a reflection of the Greek political reality? The influence on political events of Alexander the Great is infinitely greater than that of his teacher Aristotle—and Alexander’s political activity is diametrically opposed to the principles laid down by Aristotle.

Now, even if we have no knowledge of our own to oppose to these arguments, we cannot help being impressed by an argument to the contrary which is taken from authority. If political philosophy is an evident failure, how is it understandable that quite a few men of superior intelligence were convinced that political philosophy is the necessary condition of the right order of civil society, or, to quote the most superior and the most famous of these men, that evils will not cease in the cities until the philosophers have become kings or the kings have become philosophers? Shall we say with Pascal that Plato’s Republic was meant by Plato himself as a joke? It would certainly be rash to take this for granted. All the more so since Pascal himself continues his remarks on Plato’s and Aristotle’s political philosophies as follows: “They wrote on politics as if they were organizing an insane asylum; and they pretended to consider politics as something grand, because they knew that the madmen to whom they were talking believed [themselves] to be kings and emperors. They accepted the assumptions of these madmen, in order to make their madness as harmless as ´ might be” (Pensees, Brunschvig, n. 771). Even according to Pascal, Plato and Aristotle did believe that political philosophy is of some practical use.

Let us then consider first the second argument, which was to the effect that we can know without any political philosophy what should be done in the political field, as regards international policy e.g. Now, a reasonable policy, I take it, would be along these lines: human relations cannot become good if the human beings themselves do not become good first, and hence, it would be a great achievement indeed if foundations for a peace lasting two generations

This sentence is added by hand at the bottom of the page.



could be laid, and hence the choice is not between imperialism and abolition of imperialism, but between the13 tolerably decent imperialism of the Anglo-Saxon brand and the14 intolerably indecent imperialism of the Axis brand. Such a policy, as we all know, is by no means generally accepted; it is attacked not only by those who dislike the burden, and the responsibility, which go with the decent hegemony, but above all by a group of infinitely more generous political thinkers who deny the assumptions, implied in that reasonable policy, concerning human nature. If for no other purpose, at least in order to defend a reasonable policy against overgenerous or utopian thought, we would need a genuine political philosophy reminding us of the limits set to all human hopes and wishes. In other words, even if it were true that man does not need political philosophy absolutely speaking, he does need political philosophy as soon as reasonable political action is endangered by an erroneous political teaching. If Zeno had not denied the reality of motion, it would not have been necessary to prove the reality of motion. If the sophists had not undermined the basic principles of political life, Plato might not have been compelled to elaborate his Republic. Or, to take another example, people would not have been willing to accept the policy of toleration, which was the only way out of the religious wars and hatreds of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, if they had not become convinced by political philosophers that it was not their religious or moral duty to rebel against heretical governments; the political philosophers did not inaugurate the policy of toleration, this was done by reasonable statesmen, but these statesmen never would have succeeded but for the help of the political philosophers who enlightened public opinion. These and similar examples merely show that political philosophy is necessary to defend a reasonable course of action, which was discovered and embarked upon independently of political philosophy, against allegedly true political teachings, which endanger that reasonable course of action; these and similar examples, I say, merely show the necessity of political philosophy as a sort of political apologetic. Such apologetics are evidently useful, and since they are bound to be backed by the politicians or statesmen whom they support, they are not necessarily ineffectual. The difficulty concerns political philosophy proper, which is not the handmaid of a reasonable policy, but its architect, as it were. Let me put the question this way: Is it true that all significant political concepts or theses are the by-product of political life, or the work of statesmen, politicians, lawyers, prophets, and not of philosophers? For argument’s sake, I will assume that it is true in all cases in which it could seem to be true before one has sifted the evidence. There is certainly one fundamental political concept which is necessarily of philosophic origin because its very

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“a”is crossed out and “the” is inserted by hand. “a” is crossed out and “the” is inserted by hand.



conception is, so to speak, identical with the emergence of philosophy as such. This concept is the concept of natural law or natural right. For “nature” is the fundamental philosophic discovery. Truth, Being, even World, and all other terms designating the object of philosophy are unquestionably older than philosophy, but the first man who used the term “nature”—I think, it was Odysseus, or Hermes, the god of thieves, merchants, and Athenian democracy—was the first philosopher. The only contribution of philosophy to politics of which we can be absolutely certain is the concept of natural law or natural right, a law or right which is not made by man nor by gods, which has the same force everywhere, and which sets an absolute limit to human arbitrariness. “Nature” was the first and decisive and, I think, the most unambiguous discovery of philosophy. But one does not understand the meaning of the term nature if one does not bear in one’s mind that from which nature is distinguished and to which it is opposed. If everything were nature or natural, nature would be a very empty concept. The men who discovered “nature,” conceived of nature as the opposite of convention or law. Natural things, they observed, are everywhere the same, but the conventions vary from country to country, from city to city. Fire burns in Persia as well as in Greece, that fire burns is necessary; men are generated by men, and dogs by dogs—these things are necessary, but the laws concerning inheritance, theft, sacrifices, etc. are different in different countries and even in the same country at different times: these laws are essentially arbitrary, they are conventions. On the basis of that distinction, the idea arose that it should be possible to discover such an order of life as is good and right everywhere because it is in accordance with the one and unchangeable nature of man; this natural order is the only truly legitimate standard for judgments on the arbitrary enactments of monarchs and republics, and it is the only reliable guide for reform and improvement. Up to then, people had tacitly or expressly identified the good with the inherited or the old; from that moment, men began to distinguish the good from the old: “We are seeking the good, and not the old” (Aristotle).15 With regard to this fact, we may say: philosophy is the antitraditional force; the liberation from the opinions of the past, the opening up of new vistas is, and always has been, of the essence of philosophy. As long as philosophy was living up to its own innate standard, philosophers as such, by their merely being philosophers, prevented those who were willing to listen to them from identifying any actual order, however satisfactory in many respects, with the perfect order: political philosophy is the eternal challenge to the philistine. There never has been, and there never will be a time when the medicine administered by political philosophy has been and will be superfluous, although it must always be administered, as all medicine must, with discretion. This holds true in particular of our time; for in our

Politics 1269a 3–4.



time, we are confronted not merely with the Philistines of old who identify the good with the old or the actual, but with the Philistines of progress who identify the good with the new and the future. But of this, I shall have to speak somewhat later. If it is true that the concept of a natural law, or of a natural order, is coeval with philosophy itself, we are justified in speaking of the legitimate utopianism inherent in philosophy as such. This utopianism is the very soul of Plato’s and Aristotle’s political philosophy whose primary and guiding purpose is to discover that “constitution,” that order of civil society, which is “natural.” And this utopianism is legitimate because it is not deceptive: the philosophers I am speaking of call the perfect order of society an ´ object of 1yÒ xh which means both wish and prayer: that perfect order is the object of the wish, or the prayer, of all decent people. Since it is acceptable, and meant to be acceptable, to decent people only, it is not a theoretical construction, but a practical ideal. By calling it candidly an object of wish or prayer, they left no doubt as to the gulf separating the ideal from reality, they considered that the realization of the ideal is a matter of chance, of lucky circumstances which may, or may not, arise. They did not make any predictions. While completely suspending their judgments concerning the realization of the ideal, they were definite as to the ideal itself: this ideal was, and was meant to be, the standard of sincere, uncompromising judgments on the real. The practical meaning of this utopianism was not, to repeat, to make any predictions as to the future course of events; it was merely to point out the direction which efforts of improvement would have to take. They did not seriously believe that the perfect order of society would ever become a reality; for, being an object of wish or prayer, there is no necessary reason why it should; but they felt that any actual order could bear improvement, substantial improvement. The relation of the ideal, or the utopia, to reality, as they conceived of it, may be described this way: there is a common, ordinary civil justice which consists in obedience to the law of the land and just administration of that law; that justice is not concerned with the justice of the law itself; it is for this reason a very imperfect justice, for every law, every legal order is bound to be only imperfectly just; therefore, justice must be supplemented by equity which is the correction of legal justice in the direction of perfect justice; the equitable order, or, as we might prefer to say, the order of charity is the utopian order; that utopian order by itself is essentially the object of wish or prayer, and not of political action; equity, or charity, by themselves are not capable to subsist on this earth without the solid, somewhat brutal, imperfectly just, substructure of common justice; common justice must be “completed,” corrected by considerations of equity or charity—it can never be supplanted by them, although all decent men would wish, or pray, that it could. It is for this reason that traditional political philosophy, or moral philosophy, frequently took on the form of exhortation, or moral advice. For if



you do not believe that the perfect condition can be brought about by political action, you cannot hope for more than that one or the other of those in power might be induced, by moral appeal, by advice, by exhortations, by sermons, to do his best in his station along the lines of decency and humanity. This approach was underlying one special genre of political literature in particular, the mirrors of princes. While mentioning the mirrors of princes, I have come to the great turning point in political philosophy, to the starting point of the development in the course of which the traditional utopianism of the philosophers and, we may add, of the theologians, was gradually replaced by the modern utopianism of the social engineer. The mirrors of princes provoked the displeasure, the disgust, the passionate reaction of Machiavelli. Opposing the whole tradition of political philosophy, he did not wish to study any longer how men ought to behave, but how they do behave. He felt, not without good reason, that princes are not likely to listen to moral advice. From this he drew the conclusion, which no good man would have drawn, that he ought to teach princes how they could be efficient, if wicked. Machiavelli is the father of modern political philosophy, and16 in particular of that trend of modern political philosophy which came into being as a reaction to his teaching. For very few philosophers were prepared to follow him on his dangerous course. The general trend was along these lines: people accepted Machiavelli’s critique of the utopianism of the philosophic and theological tradition; they admitted that the traditional ideals are too lofty to be put into practice, but, they argued, one cannot limit oneself to merely describing how men are and behave; men must be taught how they should be and behave. Thus a compromise between Machiavellianism and the tradition came into being: the idea to lower the traditional standard of conduct in order to guarantee the realization of these lower standards. Political philosophy attempted, therefore, to discover standards whose realization would be necessary, or automatic, and, hence, no longer an object of mere wish or prayer. The natural standard of human societies is the common good; the problem was to reconcile the common good, the common interest, with the private good, the private interest. The answer which was given was this: the common good is the object of enlightened self-interest, or: virtue is identical with enlightened self-seeking. Accordingly, the primary task of political philosophy became to enlighten people about their self-interest. The idea was that the necessary outcome of general enlightenment about self-interest would be that people would no longer interfere with that natural, automatic process which would bring about social harmony but for people’s foolish interference with that process. The guiding motive of all men—this is the “realistic,” “Machiavellian” assumption underlying this modern utopianism—is self-interest. Self-interest, as we actually find it, unenlightened self-interest, necessarily

“and” handwritten



leads to conflict, to the war of everyone against everyone, but this conflict is by no means necessary: everyone can be brought to realize that he would be better off in peace. What you have to do is to enlighten people about their selfinterest: enlightened self-seekers will be as cooperative as unenlightened selfseekers are untractable. Enlightenment will gradually make superfluous the use of force. The trouble with this idea, or rather the fallacy underlying this idea, is this: however enlightened a man may be about his self-interest, the object of his enlightened self-interest is not necessarily identical with the object of his strongest desires. This means: the original conflict between moral demands and desires remains intact—it merely becomes much more difficult to cope with. For the conflict between moral demands and desires has its natural remedy: which is the appeal to [a] sense of duty, honor, or however you might like to call it. The appeal to the enlightened self-interest necessarily lacks that moral sting. Enlightened self-interest requires as much sacrifice as justice itself—but the exclusive appeal to enlightened self-interest weakens the moral fibers of men and thus makes them unable to bring any sacrifice. Things become, not better and clearer, but worse and more confused, if self-interest is replaced by self-realization. Another implication of this utopianism is the assumption that people really and basically want the object of their enlightened self-interest, that only lack of information prevents them from willing it. Actually, at least some people want more: power, precedence, dominion. And these dangerous people, even if few in number, are able to counteract the whole effort of enlightenment by employing17 various devices, which sometimes are more effectual than the quiet voice of enlightening reason. What I am alluding to is the wellknown fact that this modern utopianism naturally forgets the existence of the “forces of evil” and the fact that these forces cannot be fought successfully by enlightenment. We know a number of people who were honest enough to admit that they had forgotten the existence of evil; we can only hope that they will never do it again. One sometimes hears this kind of reasoning: during the last century, man has succeeded in conquering nature; natural science has been amazingly successful; all the more striking, and all the more regrettable, is the failure of the social sciences; the failure of the social sciences to establish social harmony, when contrasted with the success of the natural sciences, appears paradoxical. But it is paradoxical on the basis of modern utopianism only. For what is the human meaning of the success of the natural sciences? That man has become enormously more powerful than he has ever been. But does a man necessarily become a better, a nicer man by becoming more powerful? Let us consider for one moment under what conditions it would be reasonable to say that man becomes better by becoming more powerful. This would

“employing” is inserted by hand.



be reasonable if all wickedness, nastiness, malevolence, aggressiveness were the outcome of18 want. For as far as this is the case, one could make men better by satisfying their wants. This view is underlying the famous theory of frustration and aggression. The decisive fallacy expressed in this theory is the assumption that frustration is avoidable, that a life without some sort or other of frustration is possible at all, or that full satisfaction of wants is possible. I must try to explain this somewhat more fully. The view that enlightened self-interest leads to public-spiritedness and even to social harmony, whereas only unenlightened self-interest leads to social conflict, is not altogether erroneous. The error creeps in as a consequence of the ambiguity of the term “wants.” Which are the wants whose satisfaction is the object of enlightened self-interest as distinguished from the object of unenlightened self-interest? Philosophers of former times used to distinguish between the necessary and the superfluous things. And they held that if all men were satisfied with the necessary things, with the truly necessary things, with what the body really and absolutely needs, the products of the earth would be sufficient to satisfy these wants without any fight among human beings becoming necessary. In other words, they held that the only guarantee of universal harmony is universal asceticism. Accordingly, they believed that the basic vice, the roots of all social conflict, is the desire for superfluous things, for luxury.19 Now, one of the first actions of modern utopianism was the rehabilitation of luxury. It was assumed later on20 that if all men were interested exclusively in raising their standard of living, their comfort, in the commoda vitae, social harmony would follow; it was assumed that the object of enlightened self-interest is, not the bare minimum of subsistence, but the highest possible standard of living. No sensible person can be unmindful of the great blessings which we owe to the victory of this tendency, but one is justified in doubting that it has brought about any higher degree of social harmony, or that it has brought us any nearer to universal peace. The number and the extension of the wars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are not sensibly smaller than the wars of earlier ages. The curious thing about the present-day utopist is that he appears in the garb of the most hardboiled realist. He does not speak of moral ideals—he speaks of economic problems, economic opportunities, and economic conflicts. He has learned in the meantime that mere enlightenment, that mere change of opinions, would not do, he insists on the necessity of changing of

“of” is inserted by hand. Plato’s Republic—the true city, the healthy city, called by Glaucon the city of pigs— Glaucon is dissatisfied with the vegetarian food of the nice peaceful people—he gets his meat—and he gets with the meat: war. [Strauss’s hand written footnote] 20 “later on” is inserted by hand.




institutions; he does not hesitate to recommend social revolution, unbloody21 or otherwise. I am aware of that. Nevertheless, I must insist on the basic agreement between him and his grandfather of the eighteenth century. No one will misunderstand me as if I were saying anything against economists. I still remember the papers read by Drs. Feiler and Marschak in last year’s summer course,22 papers which culminated in the thesis that the most important economic problems necessarily lead beyond the sphere of economics into the sphere of moral decisions. But to come back to the trend of my argument, modern utopianism is not without good reason inseparable from economism, as distinguished from economics. For modern utopianism ultimately rests on the identification of the common good with the object of enlightened self-interest understood as a high standard of living. The original thesis was that man would be determined by economic impulses, if he were enlightened, whereas actually he is determined by such foolish impulses as pride, prestige, etc. The next step was the assertion that man is in fact decisively determined by economic impulses and economic factors. The basic social or political facts are the economic facts: “the first private owner is the true founder of the State,” “power goes with property.” In its fully elaborated form, it is the economic interpretation of history which boasts of its more than Machiavellian realism, and which has nothing but contempt for the utopian socialism which it supplanted. But to say nothing of the withering away of the State—which will still be a matter of pious or impious hope [a] long time after the withering away of Marxism will have been completed—what is more utopian than the implication of Marx’s famous sentence: “Hitherto, the philosophers have limited themselves to interpreting the world; what matters is that the world be changed.” For why did the philosophers limit themselves to interpreting the world? Because they knew that the world in the precise, unmetaphoric sense of the term, the universe, cannot be changed by man. Marx’s innocent looking sentence implies the substitution of the little world of man for the real world, the substitution of the whole historical process for the real whole, which by making possible the whole historical process sets absolute limits to it. This substitution, a heritage from Hegel’s idealistic philosophy, is the ultimate reason of Marx’s utopian hopes. For is it not utopian to expect a perfect order of society, which is essentially perishable? To expect men to put all their will, hope, faith, and love on something which is admittedly not eternal, but less lasting than this planet of ours? To mistake eternity for a time of very long duration, for some billions of years, is the privilege of nonphilosophic men; it is the mortal sin for a man who claims to be a philosopher. If all human achievements, the jump into liberty included, are not eternal, the germ of ultimate destruction will be noticeable even in the

21 22

“bloody” crossed out and “unbloody” typed above it. Arthur Feiler and Jacob Marschak, New School economics colleagues.



highest human achievements, and hence the so-called perfect order on earth is bound to be a delusion. Much more realistic were the philosophers of old who insisted on the fact that the realization of the ideal is essentially a matter of chance, or the theologians of old who insisted on the fact that the ways of providence are inscrutable to man. Modern utopianism is based on the assumption that the realization of the ideal is necessary, or almost necessary. By “almost necessary” I mean that but for an avoidable human shortcoming the ideal would necessarily be realized. The peak of modern utopianism was reached in the apparently least utopian political philosophy of the last centuries, in the political philosophy of Hegel. For, contrary to Plato and Aristotle and their followers who had insisted on the fundamental difference between the ideal and the real, the reasonable and the actual, Hegel declared that the reasonable is the actual and the actual is the reasonable. A general survey of the history of political philosophy is apt to create the impression that there is no political philosophy from which we can learn anything because there is a disgraceful variety of political philosophies which fight each other to [the] death. Deeper study shows that this impression is misleading. It would be absurd to say that deeper study shows us all political philosophers in perfect agreement; it does show us, however, that there was a tradition of political philosophy whose adherents were in agreement as regards the fundamentals, the tradition founded by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, which was transformed, but not broken under the influence of the biblical virtues of mercy and humility, and which still supplies us with the most needed guidance as regards the fundamentals. We do not need lessons from that tradition in order to discern the soundness of Churchill’s approach, e.g., but the cause which Churchill’s policy is meant to defend would not exist but for the influence of the tradition in question. This tradition is menaced today by a spurious utopianism. No one will deny that the basic impulse which generated that utopianism was generous. Nevertheless, it is bound to lead to disaster because it makes us underestimate the dangers to which the cause of decency and humanity is exposed and always will be exposed. The foremost duty of political philosophy today seems to be to counteract this modern utopianism. But to describe the service which political philosophy can render, not merely today, but at all times, one would have to say that political philosophy teaches us how terribly difficult it is to secure those minimums of decency, humanity, justice, which have been taken for granted, and are still being taken for granted, in the few free countries. By enlightening us about the value of those apparently negligible achievements, it teaches us not to expect too much from the future. In the last analysis, political philosophy is nothing other than looking philosophically at things political—philosophically, i.e., sub specie aeternitatis. In thus making our hopes modest, it protects us against despondency. In thus making us immune to the smugness of the philistine, it makes us at the same time immune to the dreams of the visionary.



Experience seems to show that common sense left to itself is not23 proof against these faulty extremes: common sense requires to be fortified by political philosophy. Man’s modern venture which has been amazingly successful in many respects, makes us distrustful of all teachings which insist on the fact that there are certain absolute limits to human progress: have not many of the allegedly existing limits proved to be surmountable? But the question is whether the price which had to be paid for these conquests was not, in some cases, too high, in other words, whether it is not still true that man can indeed expel nature with a hayfork, but that nature will always come back with a vengeance. By erecting the proud edifice of modern civilization, and by living within that comfortable building for some generations, many people seem to have forgotten the natural foundations, not dependent on human will and not changeable, which are buried deep in the ground and which set a limit to the possible height of the building. In practical terms, this means that the task before the present generation is to lay the foundations for a long peace period: it is not, and it cannot be, to abolish war for all times. To quote a great liberal of the last century, Henry Hallam: “the science of policy, like that of medicine, must content itself with devising remedies for immediate danger, and can at best only retard the progress of that intrinsic decay which seems to be the law of all things human, and through which every institution of man, like his earthly frame, must one day crumble into ruin” (Const. Hist. 1:182).24 This sounds pessimistic or fatalistic, but it is not. Do we cease living, and living with reasonable joy, do we cease doing our best although we know with absolute certainly that we are doomed to die? At the end of the third part of King Henry the Sixth, after the victory of his house, King Edward the Fourth says: “For here, I hope, begins our lasting joy.” All the commentary that is needed is implied in the fact that Edward’s brother Richard, afterwards King Richard the Third, is silently present. At the end of Richard III, after that bloody tyrant had been slain, the victorious Henry VII concludes his speech by saying: “peace lives again: That she may long live here, God say amen!” The prudent Henry VII, the favorite of Bacon, was wiser than the ill-fated Edward IV. A wise man cannot say more than the father of Henry VIII did, and he cannot seriously hope for more. To what God did say “amen” after the victory of Henry VII, is recorded in the histories. It is hard to face these facts without becoming cynical, but it is not impossible. The philosophers advise us to love fate, stern fate. The Bible promises us God’s mercy. But the comfort which comes from God is as

“a sufficient guarantee” is crossed out. Henry Hallam, The Constitutional History of England from the Accession of Henry VII to the Death of George II (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1880).




little pleasant to the flesh as is the love of fate. For the flesh, which is weak, wants tangible comfort. That tangible comfort—a man-made eternal peace and happiness—non datur. We have to choose between philosophy and the Bible.


Political philosophy is not a historical discipline. The philosophic questions of the nature of political things and of the best, or just, political order are fundamentally different from historical questions, which always concern individuals : individual groups, individual human beings, individual achievements, individual "civilizations," the one individual "process" of human civilization from its beginning to the present, and so on. I n particular, political philosophy is fundamentally different from the history of political philosophy itself. The question of the nature of political things and the answer to it cannot possibly be mistaken for the question of how this or that philosopher or all philosophers have approached, discussed or answered the philosophic question mentioned. This does not mean that political philosophy is absolutely independent of history. Without the experience of the variety of political institutions and convictions in different countries and at different times, the questions of the nature of political things and of the best, or the just, political order could never have been raised. And after they have been raised, only historical knowledge can prevent one from mistaking the specific features of the political life of one's time and one's country for the nature of political things. Similar considerations apply to the history of political thought and the history of political philosophy. But however important historical knowledge may be for political philosophy, it is only preliminary and auxiliary to political philosophy; it does not form an integral part of it. This view of the relation of political philosophy to history was unquestionably predominant at least up to the end of the eighteenth century. I n our time it is frequently rejected in favor of "historicism," i.e., of the assertion that the fundamental distinction between philosophic and historical questions cannot in the last analysis be maintained. Historicism may therefore be said to question the possibility of political philosophy. At any rate it challenges a premise that was common to the whole tradition of politiA Hebrew translation of this paper appeared in Eyoon-Hebrew Philosophy, I (1946), 129 ff. 30
Journ-a1 of





cal philosophy and apparently never doubted by it. I t thus seems to go deeper to the roots, or to be more philosophic, than the political philosophy of the past. I n any case, it casts a doubt on the very questions of the nature of political things and of the best, or the just, political order. Thus it creates an entirely new situation for political philosophy. The question that it raises is to-day the most urgent question for political philosophy. I t may well be doubted whether the fusion of philosophy and history, as advocated by historicism, has ever been achieved, or even whether it can be achieved. Nevertheless that fusion appears to be, as it were, the natural goal toward which the victorious trends of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century thought converge. At any rate, historicisni is not just one philosophic school among many, but a most powerful agent that affects more or less all present-day thought. As far as we can speak at all of the spirit of a time, we can assert with confidence that the spirit of our time is historicism. Never before has man devoted such an intensive and such a comprehensive interest to his whole past, and to all aspects of his past, as he does to-day. The number of historical disciplines, the range of each, and the interdependence of them all are increasing almost constantly. Nor are these historical studies carried on by thousands of ever more specialized students considered rnerely instrumental, and without value in themselves: we take it for granted that historical knowledge forms an integral part of the highest kind of learning. To see this fact in the proper perspective, we need only look back to the past. When Plato sketched in his Republic a plan of studies he mentioned arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and so on: he did not even allude to history. We cannot recall too often the saying of Aristotle (who was responsible for much of the most outstanding historical research done in classical antiquity) that poetry is more philosophic than history. This attitude was characteristic of all the classical philosophers and of all the philosophers of the Middle Ages. History was praised most highly not by the philosophers but by the rhetoricians. The history of philosophy in particular was not considered a philosophic discipline: it was left to antiquarians rather than to philosophers. A fundamental change began to make itself felt only in the



sixteenth century. The opposition then offered to all earlier philosophy, and especially to all earlier political philosophy, was marked from the outset by a novel emphasis on history. That early turn toward history was literally absorbed by the "unhistorical" teachings of the Age of Reason. The "rationalism" of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was fundamentally much more "historical " than the " rationalism " of pre-modern times. From the seventeenth century onward, the rapprochement of philosophy and history increased almost from generation to generation at an ever accelerated pace. Toward the end of the seventeenth century it became customary to speak of "the spirit of a time." In the middle of the eighteenth century the term "philoeophy of history" was coined. I n the nineteenth century, the history of philosophy came to be generally considered a philosophical discipline. The teaching of the outstanding philosopher of the nineteenth century, Hegel, was meant to be a "synthesis" of philosophy and history. The "historical school" of the nineteenth century brought about the substitution of historical jurisprudence, historical political science, historical economic science for a jurisprudence, a political science, an economic science that were evidently "unhistorical" or a t least a-historical. The specific historicism of the first half of the nineteenth century was violently attacked because it seemed to lose itself in the contemplation of the past. Its victorious opponents did not, however, replace it by a non-historical philosophy, but by a more "advanced," and in some cases a more "sophisticated" form of historicism. The typical historicism of the twentieth century demands that each generation reinterpret the past on the basis of its own experience and with a view to its own future. It is no longer contemplative, but activistic; and it attaches to that study of the past which is guided by the anticipated future, or which starts from and returns to the analysis of the present, a crucial philosophic significance: it expects from it the ultimate guidance for political life. The result is visible in practically every curriculum and textbook of our time. One has the impression that the question of the nature of political things has been superseded by the question of the characteristic "trends" of the social life of the present and of their historical origins, and that the question of the best, or the just, political order has been superseded by the ques-



tion of the probable or desirable future. The questions of the modern state, of modern government, of the ideals of Western civilisation, and so forth, occupy a place that was formerly occupied by the questions of the state and of the right way of life. Philosophic questions have been transformed into historical questions- or more precisely into historical questions of a "futuristic" character. This orientation characteristic of our time can be rendered legitimate only by historicism. Historicism appears in the most varied guises and on the most different levels. Tenets and arguments that are the boast of one type of historicism, provoke the smile of the adherents of others. The most common form of historicism expresses itself in the demand that the questions of the nature of political things, of the state, of the nature of man, and so forth, be replaced by the questions of the modern state, of modern government, of the present political situation, of modern man, of our society, our culture, our civilization, and so forth. Since it is hard to see, however, how one can speak adequately of the modern state, of our civilization, of modern man, etc., without knowing first what a state is, what a civilization is, what man's nature is, the more thoughtful forms of historicism admit that the universal questions of traditional philosophy cannot be abandoned. Yet they assert that any answer to these questions, any attempt at clarifying or discussing them, and indeed any precise formulation of them, is bound to be "historically conditioned," i.e., to remain dependent on the specific situation in which they are suggested. No answer to, no treatment or precise formulation of, the universal questions can claim to be of universal validity, of validity for all times. Other historicists go to the end of the road by declaring that while the universal questions of traditional philosophy cannot be abandoned without abandoning philosophy itself, philosophy itself and its universal questions themselves are "historically conditioned," i e , . . essentially related to a specific "historic" type, e.g., to Western man or to the Greeks and their intellectual heirs. To indicate the range of historicism, we may refer to two assumptions characteristic of historicism and to-day generally accepted. "History " designated originally a particular kind of linowledge or inquiry. Historicism assumes that the object of historical knowledge, which it calls "History," is a "field," a "world"



of its own fundamentally different from, although of course related to, that other "field," "Nature." This assumption distinguishes historicism most clearly from the pre-historicist view, for which "History" as an object of knowledge did not exist, and which therefore did not even dream of a "philosophy of history" as an analysis of, or a speculation about, a specific "dimension of reality. ' ' The gravity of the assumption in question appears only after one has started wondering what the Bible or Plato, e.g., would have called that X which we are in the habit of calling "History." Equally characteristic of historicism is the assumption that restorations of earlier teachings are impossible, or that every intended restoration necessarily leads to an essential modification of the restored teaching. This assumption can most easily be understood as a necessary consequence of the view that every teaching is essentially related to an unrepeatable "historical7' situation. An adequate discussion of historicism would be identical with a critical analysis of modern philosophy in general. We cannot dare try more than indicate some considerations which should prevent one from taking historicism for granted. To begin with, we must dispose of a popular misunderstanding which is apt to blur the issue. It goes back to the attacks of early historicism on the political philosophy which had paved the way for the French Revolution. The representatives of the "historical school" assumed that certain influential philosophers of the eighteenth century had conceived of the right political order, or of the rational political order, as an order which should or could be established at any time and in any place, without any regard to the particular conditions of time and place. Over against this opinion they asserted that the only legitimate approach to political matters is the "historical" approach, i.e., the understanding of the institutions of a given country as a product of its past. Legitimate political action must be based on such historical understanding, as distinguished from, and opposed to, the "abstract principles" of 1789 or any other "abstract principles." Whatever the deficiencies of eighteenth-century political philosophy may be, they certainly do not justify the suggestion that the non-historical philosophic approach must be replaced by a historical approach. Most political philosophers of the past, in spite or rather because of the non-historical character of their thought, distinguished as a matter



of course between the philosophic question of the best political order, and the practical question as to whether that order could or should be established in a given country at a given time. They naturally knew that all political action, as distinguished from political philosophy, is concerned with individual situations, and must therefore be based on a clear grasp of the situation concerned, and therefore normally on an understanding of the causes or antecedents of that situation. They took it for granted that political action guided by the belief that what is most desirable in itself must be put into practice in all circumstances, regardless of the circumstances, befits harmless doves, ignorant of the wisdom of the serpent, but not sensible and good men. I n short, the truism that all political action is concerned with, and therefore presupposes appropriate knowledge of, individual situations, individual commonwealths, individual institutions, and so on, is wholly irrelevant to the question raised by historicism. For a large number, that question is decided by the fact that historicism coines later in time than the non-historical political philosophy : "history" itself seems to have decided in favor of historicism. If, however, we do not worship "success" as such, we cannot maintain that the victorious cause is necessarily the cause of truth. For even if we grant that truth will prevail in the end, we cannot be certain that the end has already come, Those who prefer historicism to non-historical political philosophy because of the temporal relation of the two, interpret then that relation in a specific manner: they believe that the position which historically comes later can be presumed, other things being equal, to be more mature than the positions preceding it. Historicism, they would say, is based on an experience which required many centuries to mature-on the experience of many centuries which teaches us that non-historical political philosophy is a failure or a delusion. The political philosophers of the past attempted to answer the question of the best political order once and for all. But the result of all their efforts has been that there are almost as many answers, as many political philosophies as there have been political philosophers. The mere spectacle of "the anarchy of systenis," of "the disgraceful variety" of philosophies seems to refute the claim of each philosophy. The history of political philosophy, it is asserted, refutes non-historical political philosophy as



such, since the inany irreconcilable political philosophies refute each other. Actually, however, that history does not teach us that the political philosophies of the past refute each other. It teaches us merely that they contradict each other. It confronts us then with the philosophic question as to which of two given contradictory theses concerning political fundamentals is true. I n studying the history of political philosophy, we observe, e.g., that some political philosophers distinguish between State and Society, whereas others explicitly or implicitly reject that distinction. This observation compels us to raise the philosophic question whether and how f a r the distinction is adequate. Even if history could teach us that the political philosophy of the past has failed, it would not teach us more than that non-historical political philosophy has hitherto failed. But what else would this mean except that we do not truly know the nature of political things and the best, or just, political order 1 This is so far from being a new insight due to historicism that it is implied in the very name "philosophy." If the "anarchy of systems" exhibited by the history of philosophy proves anything, it proves our ignorance concerning the most important subjects (of which ignorance we can be aware without historicism), and therewith it proves the necessity of philosophy. It may be added that the "anarchy" of the historical political philosophies of our time, or of present-day interpretations of the past, is not conspicuously smaller than that of the non-historical political philosophies of the past. Yet it is not the mere variety of political philosophies which allegedly shows the futility of non-historical political philosophy. Most historicists consider decisive the fact, which can be established by historical studies, that a close relation exists between each political philosophy and the historical situation in which it emerged. The variety of political philosophies, they hold, is above all a function of the variety of historical situations. The history of political philosophy does not teach merely that the political philosophy of Plato, e.9.) is irreconcilable with the political philosophy, say, of Locke. It also teaches that Plato's political philosophy is essentially related to the Greek city of the fourth century B.C., just as Locke's political philosophy is essentially related to the English revolution of 1688. I t thus shows that no



political philosophy can reasonably claim to be valid beyond the historical situation to which it is essentially related. Yet, not to repeat what has been indicated in the paragraph before the last, the historical evidence invoked in favor of historicism has a much more limited bearing than seems to be assumed. I n the first place, historicists do not make sufficient allowance for the deliberate adaptation, on the part of the political philosophers of the past, of their views to the prejudices of their contemporaries. Superficial readers are apt to think that a political philosopher was under the spell of the historical situation in which he thought, when he was merely adapting the expression of his thought to that situation in order to be listened to at all. Many political philosophers of the past presented their teachings, not in scientific treatises proper, but in what we may call treatise-pamphlets. They did not limit themselves to expounding what they considered the political truth. They combined with that exposition an exposition of what they considered desirable or feasible in the circumstances, or intelligible on the basis of the generally received opinions ; they communicated their views in a manner which was not purely "philosophical, " but at the same time " civil. "' Accordingly, by proving that their political teaching as a whole is "historically conditioned,'' we do not at all prove that their political philosophy proper is "historically conditioned." Above all, it is gratuitously assumed that the relation between doctrines and their "times" is wholly unambiguous. The obvious possibility is overlooked that the situation to which one particular doctrine is related, is particularly favorable to the discovery of the truth, whereas all other situations may be more or less unfavorable. More generally expressed, in understanding the genesis of a doctrine we are not necessarily driven to the conclusion that the doctrine in question cannot simply be true. By proving, e.g., that certain propositions of modern natural law "go back" to positive Roman law, we have not yet proven that the propositions in question are not de jure naturali but merely de jure positive. For it is perfectly possible that the Roman jurists mistook certain principles of natural law for those of positive law, or that they merely "divined, " and did not truly know, important elements of natural
Compare Locke, Of Civil Gouernment, I, Sect. 109, and 11, Sect. 52, with his Essay Concerning Human Unde~standing, 111, ch. 9, Sects. 3 and 22.




law. We cannot then stop at ascertaining the relations between a doctrine and its historical origins. We have to interpret these relations; and such interpretation presupposes the philosophic study of the doctrine in itself with a view to its truth or falsehood. At any rate, the fact (if it is a fact) that each doctrine is "related" to a particular historical setting does not prove at all that no doctrine can simply be true. The old fashioned, not familiar with the ravages wrought by historicism, may ridicule us for drawing a conclusion which amounts to the truism that we cannot reasonably reject a serious doctrine before we have examined it adequately. I n the circumstances we are compelled to state explicitly that prior to careful investigation we cannot exclude the possibility that a political philosophy which emerged many centuries ago is the true political philosophy, as true to-day as it was when it was first expounded. I n other words, a political philosophy does not become obsolete merely because the historical situation, and in particular the political situation to which it was related has ceased to exist. For every political situation contains elements which are essential to all political situations: how else could one intelligibly call all these different political situations "political situations7'? Let us consider very briefly, and in a most preliminary fashion, the most important example. Classical political philosophy is not refuted, as some seem to believe, by the mere fact that the city, apparently the central subject of classical political philosophy, has been superseded by the modern state. Most classical philosophers considered the city the most perfect form of political organization, not because they were ignorant of any other form, nor because they followed blindly the lead given by their ancestors or contemporaries, but because they realized, at least as clearly as we realize it today, that the city is essentially superior to the other forms of political association known to classical antiquity, the tribe and the Eastern monarchy. The tribe, we may say tentatively, is characterized by freedom (public spirit) and lack of civilization (high development of the arts and sciences), and the Eastern monarchy is characterized by civilization and lack of freedom. Classical political philosophers consciously and reasonably preferred the city to other forms of political association, in the light of the standards of freedom and civilization. And this preference was not a



peculiarity bound up with their particular historical situation. Up to and including the eighteenth century, some of the most outstanding political philosophers quite justifiably preferred the city to the modern state which had emerged since the sixteenth century, precisely because they measured the niodern state of their time by the standards of freedom and civilization. Only in the nineteenth century did classical political philosophy in a sense become obsolete. The reason was that the state of the nineteenth century, as distinguished from the BIacedonian and Roman empires, the feudal monarchy, and the absolute monarchy of the modern period, could plausibly claim to be at least as nluch in accordance with the standards of freedom and civilization as the Greek city had been. Even then classical political philosophy did not become conlpletely obsolete, since it was classical political philosophy which had expounded in a "classic" manner the standards of freedom and civilization. This is not to deny that the eniergence of niodern deniocracy in particular has elicited, if it has not been the outconie of, such a reinterpretation of both "freedom" and "civilization" as could not have been foreseen by classical political philosophy. Yet that reinterpretation is of fundamental significance, not because niodern democracy has superseded earlier forms of political association, or because it has been victorious-it has not always been victorious, and not everywhere-but because there are definite reasons for considering that reinterpretation intrinsically superior to the original version. Naturally, there are some who doubt the standards mentioned. But that doubt is as little restricted to specific historical situations as the standards themselves. There were classical political philosophers who decided in favor of the Eastern monarchy. Before we can make an intelligent use of the historically ascertained relations between philosophic teachings and their "times, '' we must have subjected the doctrines concerned to a philosophic critique concerned exclusively with their truth or falsehood. A philosophic critique in its turn presupposes an adequate understanding of the doctrine subjected to the critique. An adequate interpretation is such an interpretation as understands the thought of a philosopher exactly as he understood it himself. All historical evidence adduced in support of historicisni presupposes as a matter of course that adequate understanding of the philosophy of the past



is possible on the basis of historicism. This presupposition is open to grave doubts. To see this we must consider historicism in the light of the standards of historical exactness which, according to common belief, historicism was the first to perceive, to elaborate, or at least to divine. Historicism discovered these standards while fighting the doctrine which preceded it and paved the way for it. That doctrine was the belief in progress: the conviction of the superiority, say, of the late eighteenth century to all earlier ages, and the expectation of still further progress in the future. The belief in progress stands midway between the non-historical view of the philosophic tradition and historicism. It agrees with the philosophic tradition in so f a r as both admit that there are universally valid standards which do not require, or which are not susceptible of, historical proof. I t deviates from the philosophic tradition in so far as it is essentially a view concerning "the historical process'' ; it asserts that there is such a thing as "the historical process'' and that that process is, generally speaking, a "progress" : a progress of thought anct institutions toward an order which fully agrees with certain presupposed universal standards of human excellence. I n consequence, the belief in progress, as distinguished from the views of the philosophic tradition, can be legitimately criticized on purely historical grounds. This was done by early historicism, which showed in a number of cases-the most famous example is the interpretation of the Middle Ages-that the "progressivist" view of the past was based on an utterly insufficient understanding of the past. I t is evident that our understanding of the past will tend to be the more adequate, the more we are interested in the past. But we cannot be passionately interested, seriously interested in the past if we know beforehand that the present is in the most important respect superior to the past. Historians who started from this assumption felt no necessity to understand the past in itself; they understood it only as a preparation for the present. I n studying a doctrine of the past, they did not ask primarily, what was the conscious and deliberate intention of its originator? They preferred to ask, what is the contribution of the doctrine to our beliefs? What is the meaning, unknown to the originator, of the doctrine from the point of view of the present? What is its meaning in the light of later discoveries or inventions?





They took it for granted then that it is possible and even necessary to understand the thinkers of the past better than those thinkers understood themselves. Against this approach, the 'Lhistoricalconsciousness" rightly protested in the interest of historical truth, of historical esactness. The task of the historian of thought is to understand the thinkers of the past exactly as they understood themselves, or to revitalize their thought according to their own interpretation. If we abandon this goal, we abandon the only practicable criterion of "objectivity" in the history of thought. For, as is well-known, the same historical phenomenon appears in different lights in different historical situations; new experience seems to shed new light on old texts. Observations of this kind seem to suggest that the claim of any one interpretation to be the true interpretation is untenable. Yet the observations in question do not justify this suggestion. For the seemingly infinite variety of ways in which a given teaching can be understood does not do away with the fact that the originator of the doctrine understood it in one way only, provided he was not confused. The indefinitely large variety of equally legitimate interpretations of a doctrine of the past is due to conscious or unconscious attempts to understand its author better than he understood himself. But there is only one way of understanding him as he understood himself. Now, historicisni is constitutionally unable to live up to the very standards of historical exactness which it might be said to have discovered. For historicism is the belief that the historicist approach is superior to the non-historical approach, but practically the whole thought of the past was radically "unhistorical." Historicism is therefore compelled, by its principle, to attempt to understand the philosophy of the past better than it understood itself. The philosophy of the past understood itself in a non-historical manner, but historicism must understand it "historically." The philosophers of the past claimed to have found the truth, and not merely the truth for their times. The historicist, on the other hand, believes that they were mistaken in making that claim, and he cannot help making that belief the basis of his interpretation. Historicisnl then merely repeats, if sometimes in a more subtle form, the sin for which it upbraided so severely the "progressivist" historiography. For, to repeat, our understanding of the thought



of the past is liable to be the more adequate, the less the historian is convinced of the superiority of his own point of view, or the more he is prepared to admit the possibility that he may have to learn something, not merely about the thinkers of the past, but from them. To understand a serious teaching, we must be seriously interested in it, we must take it seriously, i.e., we must be willing to consider the possibility that it is simply true. The historicist as such denies that possibility as regards any philosophy of the past. Historicism naturally attaches a much greater importance to the history of philosophy than any earlier philosophy has done. But unlike most earlier philosophies, it endangers by its principle, if contrary to its original intention, any adequate understanding of the philosophies of the past. It would be a mistake to think that historicism could be the outconie of an unbiased study of the history of philosophy, and in particular of the history of political philosophy. The historian may have ascertained that all political philosophies are related to specific historical settings, or that only such men as live in s specific historical situation have a natural aptitude for accepting a given political philosophy. He cannot thus rule out the possibility that the historical setting of one particular political philosophy is the ideal condition for the discovery of the political truth. Historicism cannot then be established by historical evidence. I t s basis is a philosophic analysis of thought, knowledge, truth, philosophy, political things, political ideals, and so on, a philosophic analysis allegedly leading to the result that thought, knowledge, truth, philosophy, political things, political ideals, and so on, are essentially and radically "historical." The philosophic analysis in question presents itself as the authentic interpretation of the experience of many centuries with political philosophy. The political philosophers of the past attempted to answer the cluestion of the best political order once and for all. Each of them held explicitly or implicitly that all others had failed. It is only after a long period of trial and error that political philosophers started questioning the possibility of answering the fundamental questions once and for all. The ultimate result of that reflection is historicism. Let us consider how f a r that result would affect political philosophy. Historicism cannot reasonably claim that the fundamen-



tal questions of political philosophy must be replaced by questions of a historical character. The question of the best political order, e.g., cannot be replaced by a discussion "of the operative ideals which maintain a particular type of state," modern democracy, e.g.; for "any thorough discussion" of those ideals "is bound to give some consideration to the absolute worth of such ideal^."^ Nor can the question of the best political order be replaced by the question of the future order. For even if we could know with certainty that the future order is to be, say, a communist world society, we should not know more than that the communist world society is the only alternative to the destruction of modern civilization, and we should still have to wonder which alternative is preferable. Under no circumstances can we avoid the question as to whether the probable future order is desirable, indifferent or abominable. I n fact, our answer to that question may influence the prospects of the probable future order becoming actually the order of the future. What we consider desirable in the circumstances depends ultimately on universal principles of preference, on principles whose political implications, if duly elaborated, would present our answer to the question of the best political order. What historicism could reasonably say, if the philosophic analysis on which it is based is correct, is that all answers to the universal philosophic questions are necessarily "historically conditioned," or that no answer to the universal questions will in fact be universally valid. Now, every answer to a universal question necessarily intends to be universally valid. The historicist thesis amounts then to this, that there is an inevitable contradiction between the intention of philosophy and its fate, between the nonhistorical intention of the philosophic answers and their fate always to remain "historically conditioned. " The contradiction is inevitable because, on the one hand, evident reasons compel us to raise the universal questions and to attempt to arrive at adequate answers, i.e., universal answers ; and, on the other hand, all human thought is enthralled by opinions and convictions which differ from historical situation to historical situation. The historical limitation of a given answer necessarily escapes him who gives the answer. The historical conditions which prevent any answer from being universally valid have the character of invisible walls. For
A. D. Lindsay T h e ilfodern Democratic State (Oxford, 1943)) I , 45.



if a man knew that his answer would be determined, not by his free insight into the truth, but by his historical situation, he could no longer identify himself with or wholeheartedly believe in, his answer. We should then know with certainty that no answer which suggests itself to us can be simply true, but we could not know the precise reason why this is the case. The precise reason would be the problematic validity of the deepest prejudice, necessarily hidden from us, of our time. If this view is correct, political philosophy would still have to raise the fundamental and universal questions which no thinking man can help raising once he has become aware of them, and to try to answer them. But the philosopher would have to accompany his philosophic effort by a coherent reflection on his historical situation in order to emancipate himself as far as possible from the prejudices of his age. That historical reflection would be in the service of the philosophic effort proper, but would by no means be identical with it. On the basis of historicism, philosophic efforts would then be enlightened from the outset as to the fact that the answers to which they may lead will necessarily be "historically conditioned." They would be accompanied by coherent reflections on the historical situation in which they were undertaken. We might think that such philosophic efforts could justly claim to have risen to a higher level of reflection, or to be more philosophic, than the "naive" non-historical philosophy of the past. We might think for a moment that historical political philosophy is less apt to degenerate into dogmatism than was its predecessor. But a moment's reflection suffices to dispel that delusion. Whereas for the genuine philosopher of the past all the answers of which he could possibly think were, prior to his examination of them, open possibilities, the historicist philosopher excludes, prior to his examining them, all the answers suggested in former ages. He is no less dogmatic, he is much more dogmatic, than the average philosopher of the past. I n particular, the coherent reflection of the philosopher on his historical situation is not necessarily a sign that, other things being equal, his philosophic reflection is on a higher level than that of philosophers who were not greatly concerned with their historical situation. For it is quite possible that the modern philosopher is in much greater need of reflection on his situation because, having abandoned the resolve to look at things



sub specie aeteruzitatis, he is much more exposed to, and enthralled by, the convictions and "trends" dominating his age. Reflection on one's historical situation may very well be no more than a remedy for a deficiency which has been caused by historicism, or rather by the deeper motives which express themselves in historicism, and which did not hamper the philosophic efforts of former ages. It seems as if historicism were animated by the certainty that the future will bring about the realization of possibilities of which no one has ever dreamt, or can ever dream, whereas non-historical political philosophy lived not in such an open horizon, but in a horizon closed by the possibilities known at the time. Yet the possibilities of the future are not unlimited as long as the differences between men and angels and between men and brutes have not been abolished, or as long as there are political things. The possibilities of the future are not wholly unknown, since their limits are known. I t is true that no one can possibly foresee what sensible or mad possibilities, whose realization is within the limits of human nature, will be discovered in the future. But it is also true that it is hard to say anything at present about possibilities which are at present not even imagined. Therefore, we cannot help following the precedent set by the attitude of earlier political philosophy toward the possibilities which have been discovered, or even realized since. TVe must leave it to the political philosophers of the future to discuss the possibilities which will be known only in the future. Even the absolute certainty that the future will witness such fundamental and at the same time sensible changes of outlook as can not even be imagined now, could not possibly influence the questions and the procedure of political philosophy. It would likewise be wrong to say that whereas non-historical political philosophy believed in the possibility of answering fundamental questions once and for all, historicism implies the insight that final answers to fundamental questions are impossible. Every philosophic position implies such answers to fundamental questions as claim to be final, to be true once and for all. Those who believe in " the primary significance of the unique and morally ultimate character of the concrete situation,'' and therefore reject the quest for "general answers supposed to have a universal meaning that covers and dominates all particulars," do not hesitate to



offer what claim to be final and universal answers to the questions as to what "a moral situation7'is and as to what "the distinctively moral traits," or "the virtues'' are.4 Those who believe in progress toward a goal which itself is essentially progressive, and therefore reject the question of the best political order as "too static," are convinced that their insight into the actuality of such a progress "has come to stay." Similarly, historicism merely replaced one kind of finality by another kind of finality, by the final conviction that all human answers are essentially and radically "historical." Only under one condition could historicism claim to have done away with all pretence to finality, if it presented the historicist thesis not as simply true, but as true for the time being only. I n fact, if the historicist thesis is correct, we cannot escape the consequence that that thesis itself is "historical" or valid, because meaningful, for a specific historical situation only. Historicism is not a cab which one can stop at his convenience : historicism must be applied to itself. I t will thus reveal itself as relative to modern man; and this will imply that it will be replaced, in due time, by a position which is no longer historicist. Some historicists would consider such a development a manifest decline. But in so doing they would ascribe to the historical situation favorable to historicism an absoluteness which, as a matter of principle, they refuse to ascribe to any historical situation. Precisely the historicist approach would compel us then to raise the question of the essential relation of historicism to modern man, or, more exactly, the question as to what specific need, characteristic of modern man, as distinguished from pre-modern man, underlies his passionate turn to history. To elucidate this question, as far as possible in the present context, we shall consider the argument in favor of the fusion of philosophic and historical studies which appears to be most convincing. Political philosophy is the attempt to replace our opinions about political fundamentals by knowledge about them. Its first task consists therefore in making fully explicit our political ideas, so that they can be subjected to critical analysis. "Our ideas7' are only partly our ideas. Most of our ideas are abbreviations or residues of the thought of other people, of our teachers (in the broadest sense of the term) and of our teachers' teachers ; they are abbreviations and residues of the thought of the past. These 4 John Dewey, Recofistruction i n Philosophy (New York, 1920), 189 and 163 f.



thoughts were once explicit and in the center of consideration and discussion. I t may even be presumed that they were once perfectly lucid. By being transmitted to later generations they have possibly been transformed, and there is no certainty that the transformation was effected consciously and with full clarity. At any rate, what were once certainly explicit ideas passionately discussed, although not necessarily lucid ideas have now degenerated into mere implications and tacit presuppositions. Therefore, if we want to clarify the political ideas we have inherited, we must actualize their implications, which were explicit in the past, and this can be done only by means of the history of political ideas. This means that the clarification of our political ideas insensibly changes into and becomes indistinguishable from the history of political ideas. To this extent the philosophic effort and the historical effort have become completely fused. Now, the more we are impressed by the necessity of engaging in historical studies in order to clarify our political ideas, the more we must be struck by the observation that the political philosophers of former ages did not feel such a necessity at all. A glance at Aristotle's Politics, e.g., suffices to convince us that Aristotle succeeded perfectly in clarifying the political ideas obtaining in his age, although he never bothered about the history of those ideas. The most natural, and the most cautious, explanation of this paradoxical fact would be, that perhaps our political ideas have a character fundamentally different from that of the political ideas of former ages. Our political ideas have the particular character that they cannot be clarified fully except by means of historical stndies, whereas the political ideas of the past could be clarified perfectly without any recourse to their history. To express this suggestion somewhat differently, we shall make a soniewhat free use of the convenient terminology of Hume. According to Hume, our ideas are derived from "impressions "from what we may call first-hand experience. To clarify our ideas and to distinguish between their genuine and their spurious elements (or between those elements which are in accordance with first-hand experience and those which are not), we must trace each of our ideas to the impressions from which it is derived. Now it is doubtful whether all ideas are related to impressions in fundamentally the same way. The idea of the city, e.g., can be said to be derived from the impressions of cities in fundamentally the



same way as the idea of the dog is derived from the impressions of dogs. The idea of the state, on the other hand, is not derived simply from the impression of states. It emerged partly owing to the transformation, or reinterpretation, of more elementary ideas, of the idea of the city in particular. Ideas which are derived directly from impressions can be clarified without any recourse to history; but ideas which have emerged owing to a specific transformation of more elementary ideas cannot be clarified but by means of the history of ideas. We have illustrated the difference between our political ideas and earlier political ideas by the examples of the ideas of the state and of the city. The choice of these examples was not accidental ; for the difference with which we are concerned is the specific difference between the character of modern philosophy on the one hand, and that of pre-modern philosophy on the other. This fundamental difference was described by Hegel in the following terms : "The manner of study in ancient times is distinct from that of modern times, in that the former consisted in the veritable training and perfecting of the natural consciousness. Trying its powers at each part of its life severally, and philosophizing about everything it came across, the natural consciousness transformed itself into a universality of abstract understanding which was active in every matter and in every respect. I n modern times, however, the individual finds the abstract form ready made."' Classical philosophy originally acquired the fundamental concepts of political philosophy by starting from political phenomena as they present themselves to "the natural consciousness," which is a pre-philosophic consciousness. These concepts can therefore be understood, and their validity can be checked, by direct reference to phenomena as they are accessible to "the natural consciousness." The fundamental concepts which were the final result of the philosophic efforts of classical antiquity, and which remained the basis of the philosophic efforts of the Middle Ages, were the starting-point of the philosophic efforts of the modern period. They were partly taken for granted and partly modified by the
5 T h e Phenomenology of the Mind, tr. J . B. Baillie, 2nd edition (London, New York, 1931), 94. I have changed Baillie's translation a little in order to bring out somewhat more clearly the intention of Hegel's remark.-For a more precise analysis, see Jacob Klein, "Die griechische Logistik und die Entstehung der modernen Algebra," Qzcellew und Stzcdien zur Gesclzichte der Matkematik, Astronomie umd Physik, vol. 3, H e f t 1 (Berlin, 1934), 64-66, and H e f t 2 (Berlin, 1936), 122 ff.



founders of modern political philosophy. In a still more modified form they underlie the political philosophy or political science of our time. I n so far as modern political philosophy emerges, not simply from "the natural consciousness," but by way of a modification of, and even in opposition to, an earlier political philosophy, a tradition of political philosophy, its fundamental concepts cannot be fully understood until we have understood the earlier political philosophy from which, and in opposition to which, they were acquired, and the specific modification by virtue of which they were acquired. I t is not the mere "dependence" of modern philosophy on classical philosophy, but the specific character of that "dependence," which accounts for the fact that the former needs to be supplemented by an intrinsically philosophic history of philosophy. For medieval philosophy too was "dependent" on classical philosophy, and yet it was not in need of the history of philosophy as an integral part of its philosophic efforts. When a medieval philosopher studied Aristotle's Politics, e.g., he did not engage in a historical study. The Politics was for him an authoritative text. Aristotle was the philosopher, and hence the teaching of the Politics was, in principle, the true philosophic teaching. However he might deviate from Aristotle in details, or as regards the application of the true teaching to circumstances which Arisotle could not have foreseen, the basis of the medieval philosopher's thought remained the Aristotelian teaching. That basis was always present to him, it was contemporaneous with him. His philosophic study was identical with the adequate understanding of the Aristotelian teaching. I t was for this reason that he did not need historical studies in order to understand the basis of his own thought. I t is precisely that contemporaneous philosophic thought with its basis which no longer exists in modern philosophy, and whose absence explains the eventual transformation of modern philosophy into an intrinsically historical philosophy. Modern thought is in all its forms, directly or indirectly, determined by the idea of progress. This idea implies that the most elementary questions can be settled once and for all so that future generations can dispense with their further discussion, but can erect on the foundations once laid an ever-growing structure. I n this way, the foundations are covered up. The only proof necessary to guarantee their solidity seems to be that the structure stands and grows. Since philosophy demands, however, not merely solidity so understood, but lucidity



and truth, a special kind of inquiry becomes necessary whose purpose it is to keep alive the recollection, and the problem, of the foundations hidden by progress. This philosophic enquiry is the history of philosophy or of science. We must distinguish between inherited knowledge and independently acquired knowledge. By inherited knowledge we understand the philosophic or scientific knowledge a man takes over from former generations, or, more generally expressed, from others; by independently acquired knowledge we understand the philosophic or scientific knowledge a mature scholar acquires in his unbiased intercourse, as fully enlightened as possible as to its horizon and its presuppositions, with his subject matter. On the basis of the belief in progress, this difference tends to lose its crucial significance. When speaking of a "body of knowledge" or of "the results of research,"e.g., we tacitly assign the same cognitive status to inherited knowledge and to independently acquired knowledge. To counteract this tendency a special effort is required to transform inherited knowledge into genuine knowledge by re-vitalizing its original discovery, and to discriminate between the genuine and the spurious elements of what claims to be inherited knowledge. This truly pliilosophic function is fulfilled by the history of philosophy or of science. If, as we must, we apply historicism to itself, we must explain historicism in terms of the specific character of modern thought, or, more precisely, of modern philosophy. I n doing so, we observe that modern political philosophy or science, as distinguished from pre-modern political philosophy or science, is in need of the history of political philosophy or science as an integral part of its own efforts, since, as modern political philosophy or science itself admits or even emphasizes, it consists to a considerable extent of inherited knowledge whose basis is no longer contemporaneous or immediately accessible. The recognition of this necessity cannot be mistaken for historicism. For historicism asserts that the fusion of philosophic and historical questions marks in itself a progress beyond "naive" non-historical philosophy, whereas we limit ourselves to asserting that that fusion is, within the limits indicated, inevitable on the basis of rnodern philosophy, as distinguished from pre-modern philosophy or "the philosophy of the future." New School for Social Research

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