LEO STRAUSS'S 1923 CELEBRATION OF "PAGAN-FASCISM"

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LEO STRAUSS'S 1923 CELEBRATION OF "PAGAN-FASCISM"

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 5:19 am

LEO STRAUSS'S 1923 CELEBRATION OF "PAGAN-FASCISM"
by Alan Gilbert
January 8, 2010

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In 1923, Strauss named his initial Zionism revealingly a “pagan-fascism.” In Breslau, he belonged to a reactionary Jewish youth group Juedischer Wanderbund Blau-Weiss [“Blue-White”], modeled on the German Wandervogel groups which, however, excluded Jews.

Wandervogel is the name adopted by a popular movement of German youth groups from 1896 onward. The name can be translated as rambling, hiking or wandering bird (differing in meaning from "Zugvogel" or migratory bird) and the ethos is to shake off the restrictions of society and get back to nature and freedom. The Wandervogel movement was officially established on 4 November 1901 by Herman Hoffmann Fölkersamb, who in 1895 had formed a study circle at the boys' Berlin-Steglitz grammar school where he was teaching. The Wandervogel soon became the pre-eminent German youth movement. It was a back-to-nature youth organization emphasizing freedom, self-responsibility, and the spirit of adventure, and took a nationalistic approach, stressing Germany's Teutonic roots

-- Wandervogel, by Wikipedia


These were groups of German young people with nationalist sentiments, who hiked together in the mountains. Blau-Weiss was even more militaristic. Strauss supported Blau-Weiss’s leader, Walter Moses, who imitated Mussolini (the latter had come to power in Italy in 1922). He sought to shape Blau-Weiss into an army (many of its members had not served in World War I, and liked the militarism). (Leo Strauss, The Early Writings, 1921-32 trans. and ed. Michael Zank, p. 73, n. 9). Strauss came to his authoritarianism young. As an authoritarian clique with a head, many Straussians replicate Strauss's odd affection.

Earlier in the same year, a Frankfurt Zionist group which had planned to merge with Blau-Weiss, had called for a revivification of Jewish culture and a gradual separation of Jewish culture from German. They criticized Blau-Weiss for its coolness, not to say hostility to Jewish culture. Strauss named Frankfurt’s stance as “mystical-humanist” and rejected it. As he put it in his “Response to Frankfurt’s `Word of Principle’”:

“One should not let oneself be deceived by the political demands of Walter Moses. What he calls ‘political’ is political in the ancient sense of the word, rather than the modern sense that is relevant to us. What is hidden behind this absolute negation of the sphere of ‘private’ is not a modern Leviathan, but rather the pagan-fascist counterpoint of that which, in the case of the Frankfurt faction bears a mystical-humanist stamp. [Hinter dieser absoluten Aufhebung der Sphaere des ‘Privaten’ steht kein moderner Leviathan, sondern das pagan-facistische Gegenstueck zu dem, was bei den Frankfurtern in mystisch-humanitaerer Praegung vorliegt] (To be sure, both of these attitudes are modern, even though they are antimodern, which is precisely what renders them inner-modern).” ( Strauss, Early Writings, p. 65; Gesammelte Schriften 2:300).

In the first sentence written in 1923, Strauss demonstrates an interest in the sweepingness of the ancient polis as a quasi-totalitarian enterprise rather than a Leviathan. He is already suspicious of Hobbes from the right and not just in the denial of his starting from individuals in the state of nature, Strauss’s detested “bourgeois” or “liberals” seeking to preserve their lives and comfort. Instead, Strauss celebrates a “pagan-fascistische” alternative. Strauss turns toward Plato more fully later on, but he perhaps always retained this “pagan-fascist” understanding of the political. [1] Of his early life, he and his daughter Jenny Strauss Clay both reiterate that he wanted to be a rural postman, reading Plato and Nietzsche. The interest in both deepened, but he was always, to a considerable extent, a Platonist, not just a Nietzschean. To the standard remark: I am not a conservative, left dangling by Strauss, his acolytes have hastened to answer: he was a philosopher. See the video of the 2007 APSA panel on Strauss’s May 1933 letter to Karl Loewith in which he affirms “the principles of the Right: fascist, authoritarian, imperial” here. They hasten to add that as of 1933, he had not yet “become Strauss,” particularly in terms of his interest in the Greeks. It is true that after emigrating to England and America, Strauss’s understanding of hidden writing deepened (though he seems to have been aware of it, and perhaps even practiced it from the first). Note he usually states only what he is not. But his later unstated answer to the question of what he is is also, plainly as of 1923, writing in his own person and about the Greeks, a “pagan-fascist.”

Paris, May 19, 1933

Dear Mr. Löwith,

On your behalf I have in the meantime made the necessary overture to Groethuysen, who is in London. Besides this I had occasion to speak with Van Sickle, the head of the Rockefeller Foundation, and informed him about you, your situation, your work and your interests. He made a note of your name, so I am sure he will remember it when he comes across it in Fehling’s letter.

As concerns me, I will receive the second year. Berlin recommended me, and that was decisive. I will also spend my second year in Paris, and I will attempt in this time to undertake something that will make my further work possible. Clearly I have major “competition”: the entire German-Jewish intellectual proletariat is assembled here. It’s terrible - I’d rather just run back to Germany.

But here’s the catch. Of course I can’t opt for just any other country - one doesn’t choose a homeland and, above all, a mother tongue, and in any event I will never be able to write other than in German, even if I must write in another language. On the other hand, I see no acceptable possibility of living under the swastika, i.e., under a symbol that says nothing more to me than: you and your ilk, you are physei subhumans and therefore justly pariahs. There is in this case just one solution. We must repeat: we, “men of science,” - as our predecessors in the Arab Middle Ages called themselves - non habemus locum manentem, sed quaerimus... And, what concerns this matter: the fact that the new right-wing Germany does not tolerate us says nothing against the principles of the right. To the contrary: only from the principles of the right, that is from fascist, authoritarian and imperial principles, is it possible with seemliness, that is, without resort to the ludicrous and despicable appeal to the droits imprescriptibles de l’homme [Google translate: inalienable rights of man] to protest against the shabby abomination. I am reading Caesar’s Commentaries with deep understanding, and I think of Virgil’s Tu regere imperio... parcere subjectis et debellare superbos. There is no reason to crawl to the cross, neither to the cross of liberalism, as long as somewhere in the world there is a glimmer of the spark of the Roman thought. And even then: rather than any cross, I’ll take the ghetto.

I do not therefore fear the fate of the émigré - at most secundum carnem:(8) the hunger or similar deprivations. - In a sense our sort are always “emigrants”; and what concerns the rest, the fear of bitterness, which is certainly very great, and in this sense I think of Klein, who in every sense has always been an emigrant, living proof for the fact that it is not unconquerable.

Dixi, et animam meam salvavi. [Google translate: I said, and have saved my soul.]

Live well! My heartiest greetings to you and your wife

Leo Strauss

My wife sends her thanks for your greetings, and reciprocates heartily.

Published Source: Leo Strauss, Gesammelte Schriften, Bd. 3: Hobbes’ politische Wissenschaft und zugehörige Schriften, Briefe (Heinrich Meier, ed.), Metzler Verlag 2001, pp. 624-25.

Translated by Scott Horton


Much of Strauss’s exoteric or surface writing has a perhaps harmless meaning, as Plato says, in the “imagination” of most readers. Strauss misleads them in what he says is a “salutary” fashion – this Straussian cliché, patronizing others, however, boomerangs against many commonplace beliefs of the students of Leo Strauss. For his writings also contain a concomitant, rather obvious reactionary meaning. Strauss’s writing is literal. He means exactly and no more than what the words say. But the words are ambiguous, their implication dual. For instance, those who defend him as a “constitutional democrat” choose only to infer a harmless meaning. During and after World War II, there are single sentences which, taken out of context and read only for themselves, have such a meaning. In 1923, however, what is later a barely hidden or esoteric meaning lies on the surface.

Walter Moses had criticized other Zionists for being lukewarm about emigrating to Palestine. In 1926, Blau-Weiss would establish a settlement there to continue German culture. But utopian communities, even when not in the desert, are a difficult life, city people struggling to adapt to the hard labor of the soil (see Gilbert, Marx Politics; also my anarchist grandfather JJ Cohen organized such a community in Michigan during the depression which was soon riven by conflict). The settlement abruptly collapsed as did then Blau-Weiss.

The Breslau or pro-Walter Moses group – Strauss noted in 1923 - had offered no intellectual critique of the Frankfurters. He criticized their inadequate efforts to name what they were doing. In the same moves he would later make against historicism, Strauss then indicted the Frankfurt manifesto for feigning “belief.” Theirs was not the faith of believers, but rather, a counterfeit in Strauss’s terms, a religiosity viewed from the outside by an explicitly modern historical consciousness. Where the original Jews believed in, were shaped as a people by ”God,” Strauss argues, the Frankfurters concern themselves arrogantly and insipidly with what is sacred to humans:

“It goes entirely without saying that no one who does not believe, or who does not at least have the will to believe, can say the prayers ‘Truthfully’; certainly not someone who, as is common practice today, thoroughly undermines the spiritual presuppositions of this belief by seeing in ‘God’ nothing but an expression for needs of the soul (especially for the ‘sanctification of the human being). Early Writings, p. 70.

In the sense of alienation (from a eudaimonist point of view, counterfeiting the right reasons for activities or relations – see my Democratic Individuality, ch. 7), they were moderns. He also sarcastically suggests they were feminists, lacking the bitter or hidden sting of manly doubt (maennlich herber Zweifel). Strauss is sometimes sufficiently crude about women to make one skeptical about his manhood (see Only a foolish reactionary would assert “there are no women philosophers” here). But Strauss was also, as he said, a modern in his anti-modernism. In contrast to the Frankfurters, Strauss himself called for orthodox belief, a return, as near as possible for those whom he would later call the many, to original belief:

“What is the use of these objections against a standpoint that, in the age of theological feminism, is so seductive and that will prevail in one way or another, killing off the hidden sting of a severe, manly doubt. All that these objections are meant to do is to emphasize urgently that, concerning things religious, demands based on the needs of national life mean just as little as demands based on the needs of the sanctification of the human being. These objections are meant to be a protest against the arrogant attempt to impose on us by diktat a definite mystical attitude, rather than a religious one, while trying to tell us that the affirmation of this attitude requires no ‘belief.’”

He then makes a telling point “But just so, it unwittingly hits on the truth, for it seems in fact to be an unbelieving attitude.”

Blau-Weiss had also been charged by the Frankfurters with unbelief as well as being “half-Fascist” (an understatement by Scholem at the time), Each seems right about the other. An Israel based on the nearness of the Torah was created by people for whom the Torah, in terms of belief, was not near. Strauss concludes the essay by saying:

“Finally, let me caution against a misunderstanding: it is not our intention to raise the slightest objection against the concrete demand of the members of the Frankfurt group relating to the study of the Bible and the central position of the Sabbath. It hardly needs saying that these demands follow just as immediately from our conception.”

But Strauss spoke largely for himself here. A majority of Blau-Weiss soon dismissed the “Bible as worthless.” (Strauss, Early Writings, 72, n. 72).

In addition, Strauss’s moves are strange and incoherent. The fault he sees in Frankfurt is also, as he says about himself as a modern, in Blau-Weiss. He can recommend the restoration of orthodox Jewish practice – “the study of the Bible and the central position of the Sabbath” - for others, but he could not be such a Jew himself. In fact, as an anti-modern as well as a supposed philosopher, he doesn’t believe at all. So his critique of the Frankfurters boomerangs, revealing his philosophical incoherence (he is manipulative with many of his acolytes; similarly, some of his followers – philosophically but especially politically - manipulate others).

"At best, he considers virtuous men, i.e., the virtue of others, to be useful."

-- On Tyranny, by Leo Strauss


For Strauss, being in the Zionist political movement embodied the same moves or self-contradictory and condescending split he would later make about politics as contrasted to philosophy. The others or the many are to be orthodox Jews as much as possible, with no modern self-awareness. Or in a Christian nation, they are to follow Nationalism (the German National Revolution) or for Straussian neo-cons, Evangelicism. Strauss, however stood apart from the others, as do his neocon followers today (though their understanding of Leo beyond being a reactionary, is slight). As he wrote in 1934 to his friend Jacob Klein, if the two returned to the Middle Ages, to the ghetto, they would go to the synagogue “with a decisive reservation,” that is, as philosophers or atheists. Recall his phrase in the May, 1933 letter to Loewith, “I will not crawl to any cross, even the cross of liberalism. And better than any cross, the ghetto.” Many of us took his reference to the ghetto as hostile; I chose the word desperate. I was mistaken. It was quite deliberate; Strauss preferred the ghetto or the return to an imagined stone age after nuclear war to the deteriorated rule of the Prophets – modernity. See "Seceding from the last men" here. He was, indeed, anti-modern.

Here is also the root of his career-long hostility to the separation of church and state (see here, here, and here). But Strauss, as he says in the initial citation, was an anti-modern, hence also a modern. He imagined himself to be a would-be or perhaps German Jew in Palestine, even if not as stridently as the majority of Blau-Weiss. Later, he would seek to be: a philosopher. In both incarnations, he tried to manipulate others, to foist on them beliefs for their “own good.” These beliefs, I am sad to say, are “noble lies” since that idea has been asserted by some and widely denied by acolytes to be the heart of Strauss’s view. I agree with his acolytes this far – that philosophical tyranny and not noble lies or exoteric speech is the central idea. The important grain of truth in the criticism, however, is that the nature of exoteric writing is to offer noble lies to sleepy followers and to the many; this stems, as I have suggested, from Plato’s Phaedrus, lines 275d-277a - see here). These lies Strauss himself found unattractive and incoherent, just better for others than modern secularism.

But this stance underlines the condescension which unsurprisingly, given his core beliefs, marks Strauss and some of his followers (there are students of Strauss who admire his scholarship and are in no way condescending toward others – Charles Butterworth, Peter Minowitz, George Anastaplo, and Herbert Storing, among others. At his best, Strauss let his students go free. There is no whiff of condescension for instance in his relation with Seth Benardete; this relationship is admirably scholarly, and in no obvious way political. But the situation is different with many other students, where the fear and dislike of outsiders, the looking down on them, the fear of injury from the other, the kneeling to Strauss as on a pedestal is to fore (in the letters in Regenstein Library at Chicago, those of Walter Berns or Allan Bloom or Robert Goldwin, for example). Strauss is on a higher plane to them than Walter Moses was to him. For all his reverence for Strauss, Cropsey apparently complained privately that around Strauss, as a German Jew, he felt, as a Hungarian Jew, inferior (h/t to Steve Holmes). The master set this tone deliberately and from the first.

Second, while Strauss offered this defense as an intellectual gloss on what Blau-Weiss wanted in Palestine, it did not affect what Blau-Weiss did. The colony in Palestine was a Jewish Wandervogel group, seeking nature, the dark Forest - or the desert - and Rilke (unlike the words of Heidegger or the music of Wagner, the beautiful words of Rilke were misused among young German bigots and perhaps later in the Hitlerjugend – to delude themselves about their sensitivity. This misuse has little to do the poems themselves however – see my "When the poem sees into you," The Denver Quarterly, 1992 ).[2] The followers of Blau-Weiss saw themselves as Germans, that is, without any residue of Jewishness other than a – for them – negative political identity. For Strauss and probably for others, this is the difficulty of being Nietzschean Jews – as Nietzscheans, they despise the prophets for creating the dangerous celebration of the poor as “holy” and “friend,” and leading over epochs to secular culture. But they were also Jews. The movement with which they sympathized otherwise was directed murderously at them (See “Shadings: ‘they call me a ‘Nazi’ here’ – Leo Strauss, December 3, 1933” here). Against any explicit Jewish identity, Strauss (and others) tried to assimilate (hence, the ferocity of Strauss’s rejection of German identity – the Nazis had had as a purpose he at last realized only murdering Jews - at the end of World War II. Strauss had been with them in spirit, sympathetic to the National Revolution, sympathetic as a “philosopher” or scholar – his chosen identity – and they had slaughtered the people from which he came and would have cut his throat despite all his protestations of loyalty).

Strauss and Blau-Weiss would have been Germans if they could have been. For political reasons – as anti-democrats, revering Walter Moses, not Moses - they looked down on the egalitarian or anti-slavery heart of Jewish culture as well as on latter day affectations – the Frankfurters. They ignored their own pathetic affectation – in the case of the majority, despising the Bible and lording their Germanness over others (the Ost-juden) in fleeing Germany to Palestine or in Strauss’s case, asserting a resuscitated worship of God for the many (attempting to return to the original Judaism as moderns – but as Heraclitus says, one can’t step in the same river twice) while scorning it for himself. At least the majority attempted briefly to be straightforward German followers of Mussolini in Palestine (only Woody Allen could have imagined such characters; the only sense in which they were “halbfascistisch”in Scholem’s phrase was that they didn’t know which end was up). Thus they quickly abandoned the project and then Blau-Weiss itself.

But Strauss had already adopted masked authoritarianism coupled with, supposedly, a “salutary” God for the masses. Too bad Strauss didn’t give up this deceitful and in terms of political aims - a fierce government for ever fiercer war - very likely monstrous view. There has been no good or decent or even tolerable “fascism”: and the Dick-Cheney/neocon efforts in the United States, only failing because they lost militarily (if the US had temporarily subdued Iraq and Afghanistan, they could perhaps have gone on to destroy the world as well as America) are still much more dangerous than is often realized (particularly because a rebirth after the Obama era, is unfortunately a not so distant possibility). In Cheney’s case, though mad, he was quite possibly darkness incarnate; the rest are often bewildered and pathetic like William Kristol. But it is hard to see how humanity will survive on this planet for say, another 200 years given global warming and continuing American wars, despite the potential leadership of Obama (meaning something more sturdy than what he is actually offering). The movie Wall-e caught this possibility nicely even though social scientists and universities have yet to get their minds around it. Continuing wars even with gestures at global warming (say, some future Republican avatar of McCain) have no hope.

I should underline another unattractive meaning of being exoteric [esoteric?] or being in disguise. It is to be a poseur, to affect something which one does not believe, to foist “salutary” foolishness – or viciousness - on others whom you regard as fools. Strauss affected being a German so thoroughly that he convinced himself to be for the National Revolution and horrified the German-Jewish intellectual proletariat in Paris. He quickly saw the affectations in others. To the wall of German hostility toward Jews, he formed a poseur identity, and refused to see the same incoherence and affectedness in himself.

In response to the Frankfurt “Word of Principle,” Strauss stresses for Breslau, as he will throughout his career, power-politics (see my "Do Philosophers Counsel Tyrants?," Constellations, March 2009 here). Far from being an “apolitical” philosopher as the Zuckerts and Fukuyama, inter alia, tell themselves, Strauss was a power-politician from the beginning and to the core. His later scholarly writing is shaped by this care (Heidegger) or ultimate concern (Tillich). In his “Prefatory Remarks,” Strauss says:

‘The term ‘Breslau’ refers to the German-Jewish and power-politics-oriented wing of Blau-Weiss, which in recent months, attained a leading position in Blau-Weiss.”

Here to end the galut (the exile, the diaspora), Strauss aimed to bring into being a real German-Jewish community or state, one with “land and soil…aristocrats and peasants.” Strauss could not long for such a regime without hierarchy. Kibbutzim were not his fantasy even among Jews. Rooted in the desert, he yearned for a rural, reactionary Jewish community. He also fought for the normal reality of a power against a shadowy world of ghost-people (Volksgespenst):

“It is our opinion that not only is the German Jewish youth movement not lacking a meaningful direction of its own, but that this meaningful direction is essentially identical with that of the German Jewish development in general. In order to have a convenient name for this direction, we propose to speak on an ‘entering into reality’ [‘Einwirklichung’], that is, of the tendency to gain access to normal historical ‘reality’ (land and soil, power and arms, peasantry and aristocracy). We see the decisive difference between Zionism and assimilation in that the latter aimed at entering into the reality of individuals only and not of the people. Hence in the final analysis, Zionism does not mean a ‘return to the people’ – that is its meaning only in contrast with the ‘individualism’ of assimilation – but rather a return to reality, to a normal political existence; and for this reason, Zionism and assimilation form a united front against the galut.” [Early Writings, trans. Michael Zank, p. 68]

Strauss’s thought here is exceptionally vivid. One can see how he became so determined a realist and fan, with Max Weber, of empire. Weber had such a vision because Germany was a “have-not” nation, one subordinated to England (see my Democratic Individuality, ch. 10 and 11). More vividly, Strauss took it up because Jews were in exile, not a nation. In this respect, Strauss was always a Weberian or Schmittian Zionist, one who oriented himself centrally to power politics. As I mentioned here, in a debate on realism with Michael Doyle, Steve Krasner and me at the APSA, John Mearsheimer began “What did the Jews in Germany lack? What did the Moslems in Croatia lack? A state. And therefore they could have genocide committed against them.” Before the existence of Israel, Strauss’s is an even more telling version of the same point. Realists can be democrats – Morganthau - or against the waste of lives and oppression – Mearsheimer - but the force of realism as a view entering into reality (Einwirklichung), for an individual and people of dreams who are stigmatized and murdered by others, is clear. Modifying Mearsheimer, one could envision a political form involving nonviolent non-cooperation – for instance, that encouraged by the King of Denmark in wearing a yellow star along with others - but the idea of the collective power of the people is central and a life-and-death matter here.

In his 1925 “Ecclesia Militans,” adorning cleverly a Jewish "Church" with the militarism of Catholicism, Strauss focuses, as he often does, on military metaphors, vividly impressed on him in his service in World War. He was aflame with military tactics; his intellectual moves were moves of a would-be political power. He later made the sect – ghettoized it in Sean Walsh’s telling phrase – to prepare for war. He begins:

“The Jewish Church – as here and elsewhere, we refer to the separatist orthodoxy of Frankfurt – is on the offensive. This fact is of interest to us, but it does not frighten us. We know all too well that not all offensives succeed. Perhaps the attack of the Orthodox will run aground on the barbed wire fences in front of our position, so that it may not even be necessary for us to defend the front line, let alone call for a retreat. As long as we keep cool heads and strong hearts, the evil old enemy [alt boese Feind] will pose no danger to us. His cruel armor [sein grausame Rustung] is the joyful rough-and-ready of his rhetoricians, who surmount obstacles of logic by means of enthusiasm.”

"Let us cast another glance at the arms [Wehr und Waffen] of our enemy, the fiercest and most vicious enemy…” [3]

Here, he corrects the silliness or utopianism of Isaac Breuer who sees the Balfour declaration as a “miracle,” with the acid reality of power politics:

“Reading about Herzl, one hardly believes one’s eyes: that he dared to make a reckless leap among the great powers,’ a leap that happened to bound to the national home only through its ‘miraculous concurrence’ with the World War. Is this fair? Unless we are misinformed , Herzl knew that, if the peoples render it a political service, then the Jewish people would have to offer them a political service in return. What we are dealing with, then is not a ‘leap,’ but a playing off of power against power, as is the case in all politics. Hence the connections between the real foundations of political Zionism and the real foundations of the World War is not a miraculous connection but a natural one. We call attention to the fact that the destruction of Turkey, and the struggle for the minorities, were war objectives of the Entente, and that the Entente – above all, England – had an interest in a favorably disposed Jewish public. The genius of Herzl consisted neither in a ‘leap’ nor in a ‘cry’ but in the politicization of the Jewish people.” (Early Writings, trans. Zank, p. 128)

In a “Comment on Weinberg’s Critique” (1925), Strauss takes issue with Weinberg’s suggestion that European ideas are necessary for Zionism:

‘This worldview has been picked up from the alleys of Europe, or, at best, from its brochures, and I do not understand how it is supposed to be justified as obligatory for Zionists. When we Zionists speak ex cathedra [referring to the chair that was the symbol of the teacher in the ancient world -- Wikipedia], that is as Zionists, we may only rely on things that are justified by the situation of Jewry, in our case, by the situation of German Jewry. What is justified by this situation is the will to the Jewish state, to Jewish external politics." (ibid. p. 120).

But of course, Zionism is profoundly a reflection of European nationalism and efforts at self-determination. Strauss's view here is, once again, confused.

In “Biblical History and Science” (1925), Strauss subtly underlines the role of religion in spurring the people on to fight. Dubnow, he says, was mistakenly

"of the opinion that, even in those days, God was for the big battalions; it goes without saying that strength is not identical with superiority in numbers and armaments. For example, ‘zeal for God’ is, objectively speaking, quite an essential factor in the morale of an army, and thus of its strength, regardless of whether God exists and helps or does not.” (Strauss, Early Writings, trans. Zank, p. 135). Here Strauss’s thought prefigures the kind of zeal (Yiddishkeit), for genocide in Gaza, offered by the leading rabbi to the Israeli army Brigadier-General Avichai Rontski here. The connection of these early writings and what is most rotten and self destructive in Israel today is unfortunately striking.

Strauss's 1939 remark about his teaching at the New School, that he overran the standard views of Socrates among his students like a blitzkrieg has this same militarist and, for a Jew, startlingly reactionary bent (see Blitzkriegs here).

In America, in disparaging the appeal to individual rights of the Declaration of Independence in a posthumously published essay on Thucydides, he would speak of the Louisiana Purchase as expressing “the harsh grandeur of power-politics.” The affection for power politics was why he failed to blanch (even Carl Schmitt did) at the story of Spinoza throwing flies on the spider’s web to watch “nature” take its course (see Spinoza’s Critique of Religion, p. 302, n. 302). Despite his sensitivity here, Schmitt would later throw “Jew” lawyers on to the web of the Nazis (I discuss this in “Enmity and Tyranny,” not yet published). Lenin, too, looked clearly at power politics, but unlike Strauss or Schmitt, as an opponent of their indecency. [2]

If Spinoza's pathos is to be rightly understood, we must compare the passage "Pisces a natura determinati sunt ad natandum, magni ad minores comedunt" (Tr., p. 175), with his actual behavior. Colerus reports (and there is no reason to doubt the truth of his report):

"When Spinoza was at home, he was no burden to anyone, but spent most of his time sitting quietly in his room. When he was weary from his investigations, he came down and conversed with the other inmates of the house on everything that was going on, even of trifles. He also took pleasure in smoking an occasional pipeful of tobacco; when he sought some other diversion, he would catch a few spiders and have them fight one another; or he caught a few flies, tossed them onto the spider's web, and greatly enjoyed watching this combat, even laughed at it. He also used to take his magnifying-glass, and observe the smallest midges and flies through it, and engaged in his investigations." If one speaks in this context of "cruelty" (as does Schopenhauer), it is meaningless; but even to speak of "scientific interest") (as does Freudental) is to misjudge the level of the pleasure experienced by Spinoza: not the mere lex naturae, but the summum naturale ius, which belongs to all events, and therefore also to the victory of the stronger, is the correlate of the pleasure felt by Spinoza as spectator: the actors are the large fish and the small fish, the rulers and their subjects, whose power and struggle are modes of the eternal power and necessity of God.

-- Spinoza's Critique of Religion, by Leo Strauss


Since Strauss’s early political Zionism was connected, even so, to maintaining his status as a German Jew, one can understand perhaps more easily how he came to support the German National Revolution in 1933. In addition, in an appendix on "Strauss's First Zionist Article" in his forthcoming Leo Strauss and National Socialism, Will Altman has suggested that the etiology of Strauss’s fascism moves through his experience in the Zionist youth movement (perhaps affected by some admiration for Mussolini) into support for the National Revolution. Peter Minowitz sent me a footnote he wrote in Straussophobia (it is hard to look at Strauss with care, as Peter has done, and not see some of this stuff on the surface, barely hidden, glittering through) on Strauss’s longtime friend and fellow Heidegger aficianado, Hans Jonas. Peter refers to Nicholas Xenos’s book Cloaked in Virtue: Unveiling Leo Strauss and the Rhetoric of American Foreign Policy (Routledge, 2008):

“I address the Mussolini matter at Straussophobia, p 214 n28, part of which I here reproduce: ‘In a casual comment that Xenos accurately paraphrases, Jonas states that Strauss had been an early supporter of Mussolini (frühzeitig Mussolini-Anhänger). The only thing Jonas says to delimit the adjective ’early’ is that Mussolini was not yet anti-Semitic (Hans Jonas, Erinnerungen [Frankfurt on Main: Insel Verlag, 2003], 262). Italy did not adopt its racial laws (the Carta della Razza) until July 1938. On Jonas’s experiences and reflections concerning Strauss, also see Erinnerungen 92–95, 261–62, 314; he traces their friendship to the year 1921 (475).” [4]

I should note an interesting nuance here. Nietzsche despised Antisemiterei (vulgar or street anti-semitism). It was why reactionary Jews could find his views attractive. Likewise Heidegger had many Jewish students and a lover though he willingly cooperated in the party of the death camps and never apologized for it. I too detest factory farms -- any human being should -- but Heidegger’s attempt to analogize the death camps with them reveals at once a kind of insight, technology, one should add for profit, run amok – and moral idiocy…

I would qualify Altman’s point by noting that Strauss begins from a stark appreciation of Nietzsche’s identification of the revolt of the poor in the Jewish prophets. In contrast, he celebrated the rule of the kings (see his 1932 "Die geistige Lage der Gegenwart" [The Spiritual Situation of the Present] here). His approach to Zionism was dazzlingly original (Leo went his own way here), cultured (Nietzsche, Plato, Schmitt) and, in the worst sense, Germanic.

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Notes:

1. In his last book, The Action and the Argument of Plato's Laws (1973), Strauss studies a theocracy in which the ordinary members have the same tastes and feelings (the Athenian Stranger's solution to "the theological-political problem." In discussing Hobbes and particularly Spinoza in Spinoza's Critique of Religion (1928), Strauss criticized the idea of public assent but private freedom of thought for ordinary people as the crack (or break) through which the modern world poured in.

2. In “Wozu Dichter?” [What are Poets For?], Heidegger elevates Hoelderlin compared to Rilke partly on the grounds that Hoelderlin is more of a nationalist.

3. Given this 1925 rhetoric, one might note that Strauss came fully formed as a reactionary to his 1932 Remarks on Carl Schmitt's The Concept of the Political. Of course, the intellectual interaction between the two had already begun.

4. In nearly his last letter to Scholem (in Gesammelte Schriften, 3:770-71) Strauss wrote: "Jonas now proclaims himself a philosopher. If he is a philosopher, I want to be a pants-cutter." Strauss was often quite nasty about even his friends (his analogy lumps Jonas with Buber, who was not a friend).
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