Enmity and Tyranny - on Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss, part 1
by Alan Gilbert
March 5, 2010
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Here is a draft of an essay on “Enmity and Tyranny” to be published in Nomos, edited by Sandy Levinson and Melissa Williams, on Conservatism. It examines the complex interplay (doubtfully quite a dialogue) between Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss and its impact on current American politics. Schmitt is often hard to read in the 1930s and in his Glossarium (the diaries prepared after World War II intentionally for posthumous publiction). There is a kind of darkness here that emanates from his writing and penetrates the reader. As a longstanding fighter against the pseudoscience of eugenics, ingredient to IQ testing, and Nazism, I thought myself pretty steeled (so far as one can be) against lethal anti-semitism. But Schmitt’s Catholic and medieval anti-semitism I found hard to absorb – it has a creepiness, an indiscriminate murderousness, and a demonism about “masks” which goes right to the gut. Even the reactionary Friedrich Stahl, whom Schmitt praises as one of his few heroes in the 1920s, turns into the “enigmatic Jew Stahl-Jolson” in 1938, an enemy to be named and obliterated.
Schmitt’s allegiance to Hitler was only part of what prompted the outbursts of the 1930s and hidden writings post-World War II. When he fell out of favor with Hitler and feared for his life, he wrote The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes in 1938 in an even more baroquely anti-semitic vein than his fulminations as Nazi Prussian State Councillor in 1936 (there, however, he fingered Jews in the legal profession for genocide, saying the literature must be “purified” by prefixing each name with “the Jew such and such.” In addition, his diary, Glossarium, whose ugliness he saved for the far future, is a masterpiece of anti-Jewish lethality. Schmitt has of course become quite popular in postmodern circles, and some of his ideas are clear-cut and interesting although usually remarkably reactionary (even so, in 1960s, having been used to "justify" the slaughter of Soviet partisans and soldiers during World War II, he ironically turned to support guerilla war against the triumph of Satan or what Strauss called, in a quasi-Nietzschean vein, the rule of the last men, “the universal and homogeneous state.” He was, oddly, quirkier politically than Leo who shuns anything leftist.
Schmitt also provides names, for instance, the “he is sovereign who rules in the state of the exception” for what has come down, via Leo’s authoritarianism, as “commander-in-chief power” in America. Once established, these tyrannical policies, as Obama’s vacillations even about a few decent and intelligent things – deciding on an actual trial for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in New York at the urging of Attorney General Holder, then spinelessly and corruptly, at the bidding of Rahm Emmanuel, reversing himself – illustrate daily, have become embedded. As Jack Balkin rightly says, this is a bipartisan “legal” regime (since Democratic as well as Republican administrations agree to throw away habeas corpus and laws against torture). Nowhere else in the Western world is there cowardice about employing the legal system to go after terrorists.
In an initial version of the essay, I was puzzled about how Schmitt’s lethal anti-semitism could have escaped Strauss. Schmitt’s Nazism seemed to make little impact on Strauss; in 1933 letters from Paris reproduced by Heinrich Meier, he fumes oddly that Schmitt accepted his criticisms of The Concept of the Political and made it more coherently reactionary, but would not acknowledge Strauss. Not revulsion or even awareness of the Nazis with their ears everywhere as Klein and Loewith warned, but scholarly hubris possesses Leo.
With the aid of William Altman and Michael Zank, however, I have since seen what might be obvious about Strauss, yet his being, a German Jew who fled Germany and Hitler at the New School seems to refute. For instance, Hannah Arendt whom Leo courted said about Strauss straightforwardly: he wanted to join a party which would not have him because he was a Jew. Strauss and Klein (a much more attractive figure) were both Nietzschean reactionaries who hated the modern world and saw it as a deteriorated offshoot of the Jewish prophets. Both hoped for its transcendance by the National Revolution even in 1934, more than a year after Hitler came to power. Klein finally saw that the essence of Nazism was anti-Jewish ideology (anti-semitism was actually the cutting edge of a more general and equally genocidal racism, for instance against Slavs and Roma). But Strauss did not see shadows in Schmitt, because he shared the same political sympathies, down to a streak of subtle anti-semitism (that in an inversion of values, characteristic of slave morality, the prophets united the words poor, holy and friend and despise the world - these were some of Nietzsche’s memorable phrases from Jenseits Gut und Boese). Strauss would have been shocked by Schmitt’s Glossarium, had it seen the light of day, or even the 1938 Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes, but the threat even to himself of Nazism, Strauss didn’t get for a long time. In 1934, Klein apologizes for his support for Hitler, and Strauss replies: “don’t be a defeatist.”
Strauss’s friend Alexandre Kojeve went to see the great thinker Schmitt during the workers and students uprising of May 1968 in Paris. and spoke contemptuously to radical German students in Berlin – Carl Schmitt was the only intelligent man in Germany. Kojeve had a happier career as a would-be philosoher-tyrant and was something of a leftist, but never understood the possibilities of equal freedom in the modern world, and increasingly moved to a quasi-Straussian or Schmittian view. But he was at least the philosopher-advisor, economically speaking, to De Gaulle, who was a far more attractive statesman than Carl or Leo were drawn to.
As his May 1933 letter to Loewith reveals, Strauss himself might possibly have asked, as his student Werner Dannhauser once suggested to me: “What’s wrong with Nazism except the anti-semitism?” He was not put off by Schmitt’s anti-semitism because Strauss, too, had quite a streak of it. Following an aspect of Nietzsche, he endorsed the Kings against the prophets. His lifelong Zionism and yet arms length approach to Judaism - "the nearness of Biblical antiquity" as he speaks of it in his 1957 letter to the National Review - thus becomes clearer if more perverse. Schmitt is responsible for Strauss’s authoritarian politics in the sense of giving the names and arguments. Strauss and his political followers retail the buried Schmitt in America and reshape the American executive in a perhaps permanent, tyrannical direction. Still, a later section of the essay will suggest that Strauss’s emphasis on Machiavelli attractively counters Schmitt’s injection of racist venom into Strauss’s account of Spinoza. Here my friend Robert Howse is right that there is an important, and even admirable difference between Strauss and Schmitt. I will post the essay here in three segments.
Enmity and Tyranny
The English Constitution finally has elevated the subordination of soldiers under the bourgeois as a principle of its world-outlook and in the course of the liberal 19th century disseminated it on the European continent. Civilization in the meaning of this constitutional ideal is domination of a civil, bourgeois, essentially nonsoldierly Ideal [wesentlisch nichtsoldatischen Ideale]. – Carl Schmitt, Totaler Feind, Totaler Krieg, Totaler Staat [ii]
This end of History would be most exhilarating but for the fact, that according to Kojeve, it is the participation in bloody political struggles as well as in real work or generally expressed, the negating action, which raises man above the brutes. The state through which man is said to become reasonably satisfied is, then, the state in which the basis of man’s humanity withers away or in which man loses his humanity. It is the state of Nietzsche’s ‘last man.’ – Leo Strauss, On Tyranny[iii]
Jews remain always Jews. While Communists can better themselves and change. That has nothing to do with the Nordic race, etc. The assimilated Jew is especially the true enemy [Gerade der assimilierte Jude ist der Wahre Feind] – Schmitt, Glossarium, September 25, 1947[iv]
When you look into the abyss, the abyss looks into you – Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
This essay will argue that Leo Strauss’s politics are authoritarian and imperial or broadly speaking, reactionary, and not remotely conservative. A conservative admires the rule of law, particularly habeas corpus, and is an advocate of political and civil liberties, for example, freedom of religion and speech. In contrast, the essay will underline the influence of Carl Schmitt’s theoretically creative, if often weakly argued assertions on Strauss. Strauss’s “Notes” on The Concept of the Political do not differ from Schmitt politically, but purify his authoritarianism. Schmitt was guarded with his deferential young student; Strauss did not grasp how much Schmitt’s views of politics and law were shaped by anti-semitism, how much his “political theology” was hostile toward “me and my kind,” as Strauss would put it of Hitler.[v] But Schmitt was very interested in Hobbes and Spinoza, and fascinated by Strauss’s scholarship on them.
In an intimate spiritual exchange, as Schmitt adopted or sometimes transmogrified Strauss’s scholarship on Hobbes and Spinoza, Strauss took up Schmitt’s concepts of the “enemy,” “state of the exception,” the “great man” – a philosopher or statesman - who transforms the world, and contempt for the “rule of law.”[vi] For instance, the argument about “the state of the exception” derives, for both, from Hobbes. As early as his 1922 Political Theology, Schmitt named Hobbes’s decisionism or personalism, though as we will see, Hobbes’s conception is both more “common sense” – a favored term to describe Hobbes used by both Schmitt and Strauss – and more decent than that of his two admirers. Strauss’s commentary on Schmitt weaves the same Rightist cloth as his May 1933 letter to Loewith which avows “the principles of the Right – fascist, authoritarian, imperial” and dismisses “the childish and ridiculous inalienable rights of man.”[vii] In contrast to Schmitt’s racist vilification of Spinoza. Strauss would, however, substitute Machiavelli as the creator of the modern world.
International and constitutional lawyers like Scott Horton and Sandy Levinson have discerned a role for Schmitt in the Bush-Cheney administration’s rationales for torture of prisoners – “enemy combatants” - and lawlessness - “executive power,” some elements of which – for instance, indefinite detention at Guantanamo – remain under Obama. The first section of this essay – “Strauss’s Nietzscheanization of Schmitt” - will suggest that Strauss was a decisive intermediary for Schmitt in this relationship, nurturing similar ideas, translating away Schmitt’s Catholicism or racism, and legitimizing him on the American Right. The second section – “Strauss and Schmitt on Political Theology” shows how both fuse religion in popular culture with authoritarianism. Where Schmitt was a believing “Christian” (at least in anti-semitism), Strauss was, though steeped in Judaism, an atheist, who adopted a political or in his idiom, philosophical view of religion. Strauss hints at five esoteric ideas about the uses, for a tyrant-legislator, of the divine.[viii] But, once again ironically, their common ideas motivate – unintentionally and, what would have been horrifyingly for Strauss, exiled from Germany, if he had known - the public role of Schmitt’s “Catholic” racism in expunging Jews from the law. The third section – “`Great Men’ and Anti-Semitism: Machiavelli, Hobbes and Spinoza” – highlights a clash of interpretations over which thinker engendered modernity (unlike most theorists, neither doubted that some great man, alone, produced the reign of “the Anti-Christ” or the “last men”). Nonetheless, after World War II, Schmitt’s influence in Germany resembles that of Strauss and his political followers in Reagan’s, Bush’s and, with some attenuation, Obama’s America.[ix]
1. Strauss’s Nietzscheanization of Schmitt
Long suppressed by his literary executor Joseph Cropsey, Strauss’s May, 1933 letter to Loewith has recently achieved notoriety.[x] Though detesting Nazi anti-semitism, Strauss affirms “the principles of the Right – fascist, authoritarian, imperial,” and avers: “As long as a spark of Roman spirit [he refers to the Roman empire] glimmers in the world, there is no need to crawl to any cross, even the cross of liberalism.” Still, some followers take these sentiments as a private expression of despair at Hitler’s ascent to power, perhaps indicating Strauss’s politics at the time, but having little bearing on other writings.[xi] On the contrary, the politics of Strauss’s 1932 critique of Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political, I will suggest, are precisely those named in the letter.
Schmitt organized The Concept of the Political around a binary opposition. Great politics involves having a national enemy, preferably a great one. It divides the world between friend (one’s soldiers and allies) and enemy. The aim of politics is to drive the enemy back inside his borders or annihilate him. Politics becomes stirring when Cromwell denounces Spain or Lenin the bourgeoisie:
With regard to modern times, there are many powerful outbreaks of such enmity: there is the by no means harmless ecrasez l’infame of the eighteenth century; the fanatical hatred of Napoleon led by the German barons Stein and Kleist (“Exterminate them [the French], the Last Judgment will not ask you for your reasons”); Lenin’s annihilating sentences against bourgeois and western capitalism. All these are surpassed by Cromwell’s enmity towards Papist Spain. He says in his speech of September 17, 1656: ‘The first thing therefore, that I shall speak to is That that is the first lesson of Nature: Being and Preservation…The conservation of that, ‘namely of our National Being,’ is first to be viewed with respect to those who seek to undo it, and so make it not to be. Let us thus consider our enemies, ‘the Enemies to the very Being of these nations’ (he always repeats this “very Being’ or ‘National Being,’ and then proceeds): ‘Why, truly, your great Enemy is the Spaniard. He is a natural enemy. He is naturally so; he is naturally so throughout – by reason of that enmity that is in him against whatsoever is of God…He is ‘the natural enemy, the providential enemy,’ and he who considers him to be an ‘accidental enemy’ is ‘not well acquainted with Scripture and the things of God,’ who says; `I will put enmity between your seed and her seed.’ (Gen III: 15) With France one can make peace, not with Spain because it is a papist state, and the pope maintains peace only as long as he wishes.[xii]
In both cases - with Catholic Spain and those threatened by proletarian revolution - Schmitt’s sympathies are the opposite of what he depicts as political greatness.[xiii] Though this passage relies on Cromwell’s vigor, it also illustrates Schmitt’s passion, rhetorical fierceness, and quirkiness.
For each individual, according to Schmitt, the realm of politics is the realm of mortality, and thus, serious. Alone in this opposition, an individual may be asked to give his life. Interestingly, this is the sole mention of individuals by Schmitt or Strauss in this exchange: only states and statesmen, not ordinary individuals, have value.
Mesmerized by Heidegger, Strauss also draws on the reactionary argument of Sein und Zeit (Being and Time - 1927). Ordinary mortality, says Heidegger brilliantly, is somebody’s else’s, falls into the alienated realm of “the One” [das Man]. But authentic being-toward-death involves facing one’s own mortality and choosing the possibility - soldiering for the Fatherland - which is available to one’s generation.[xiv] Heidegger’s existentialism is often believed to be concerned with mortal individuals as opposed to Hegel’s dialectical “world-spirit.” But Heidegger is concerned only with the death of the individual soldier, whereas Hegel focuses on each individual’s free will and insight into a regime that upholds each person’s equal public and private freedoms. In Heidegger (and Strauss and Schmitt), fascism reeks of death.[xv]
Heidegger’s notion of historicity and authentic being-towards-death cohere with Schmitt’s Concept of the Political. In 1933, both joined the ascendant Nazis, a course from which Strauss, who admired the Nazis, was forbidden as a Jew. This is perhaps hard for a 21st century American, distant from the1930s German Right, to absorb.[xvi] Ironically, Strauss and his friend Jacob Klein were Nietzschean Jews, detesting democracy and the last men, who glimpsed in the National Revolution, a transformative order. Nietzsche was hostile to gutter Anti-Semiterei – Strauss had to hide his Jewishness and interest in philosophy in public and would not have sympathized with Nietzsche but for his rejection of some features of anti-semitism - yet blamed the Jewish prophets for the modern age.[xvii] The Jewish inversion of values, Nietzsche argued, had identified the word “poor” with “holy” and “friend.”[xviii] In his 1932 Geistige Lage der Gegenwart (Spiritual Situation of the Present), Strauss embroidered Nietzsche from the Right:
The end of this struggle is the complete rejection of tradition neither merely of its answers, nor merely of its questions, but of its possibilities: the pillars on which our tradition rested; prophets and Socrates/Plato have been torn down since Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s partisanship for the kings and against the prophets, for the sophists and against Socrates – Jesus neither merely no God, nor a swindler, nor a genius, but an idiot. Rejected are the theorein and ‘Good-Evil’ – Nietzsche, as the last enlightener.
Through Nietzsche, tradition has been shaken at its roots. It has completely lost its self-evident truth. We are left in this world without any authority, without any direction.”
He continues insistently: “and even so, the Bible: we can no longer assume that the Prophets are right; we must earnestly ask whether the kings are not right’.[xix]
Writing to Strauss, June 19-20, 1934, more than a year after Hitler had come to power, Klein finally understood that the essence of Nazism was anti-semitism (he had not yet surmised that it was to murder Jews). Klein first notes that he had once had a view much like Strauss does now – seeing in National Socialism an antidote to the last men, that he had even suggested this view to Strauss, and wanted to correct his serious error. He now sees National Socialism as an inverted Judaism without God, and imagines that it will be but another (horrible for Jews) version of modernity.
It’s necessary for me to correct an error I’ve made repeatedly; it concerns National-Socialism…
I previously believed that it constituted part of that general and necessary movement that, having emerged from ‘liberalism,’ had at the same time had a dialectical [aufhebende] tendency to abolish it. In the framework of this movement, anti-Semitism also had its own place and an increasingly well-defined basis. All things considered, however, it constituted only one—though hardly adventitious—sideshow [Nebenerscheinung]. I expressed this thought, in a letter to you earlier this year. But this is simply not true.
National Socialism has basically only one principle: its anti-Semitism. Everything else is basically not national-socialist: it is entirely external imitation of Russian and Italian matters, beginning with the head-gear of the Hitler Youth and ending with certain senseless propositions relevant to Germany that have nothing whatsoever to do with what is actually happening. With respect to these imitations, National Socialism is certainly also part of that general movement. But it is only linked in order to vitiate it. That which concerns anti-Semitism, on the other hand, involves a matter of greater scope. It is actually the first decisive struggle [der erste entscheidende Kampf] between what has long since borne the name of God and godlessness. About this there can be no doubt. The battle is decisive precisely because it gives itself a battleground determined by Judaism. National Socialism is ‘perverted Judaism,’ nothing else: Judaism without God, i.e. a true contradiction in terms.”[xx]
On June 23, 1934, Strauss responds startlingly that he is repelled by Klein’s “defeatism.” Even in mid-1934, more than a year after Hitler came to power, he was unwilling to hear of the Nazis that they were virulently anti-Jewish. He still looks to a dialectical, imitation Hegelian Aufhebung of modernity embodied in the National Revolution (this affectation of triads is Strauss’s sole gesture at Hegel). Repelled by God, Jewish or Christian, Strauss offers the Nietzschean thought about Klein’s vision of National Socialism as “perverted Judaism”: only if the whole modern world is. Why the Nazis would then be an “Aufhebung” of this world is unclear (of course, the genocide does transcend, as Strauss finally notices in “What is Political Philosophy?,” the defects of the Weimar republic).
Note that Strauss does not see German modernity as mainly a secularization of Christianity (Weber’s view about the ghosts of Protestant vocation[xxi]); instead, he focuses on the Jewish prophets. Strauss preferred the kings to the prophets. And though one could try to reduce this statement merely to context, a local thought, not something Strauss deeply believed, the two had obviously corresponded and thought about these issues. It seems a deliberate response to Klein’s serious remark.
Now to your general remarks, which surprised—not to say repelled—me through their defeatist tone. That one learns from events is good—but it does not follow that one can say what’s correct through them. And that is what you’re doing, it seems to me. There is absolutely no excuse ‘to crawl to the cross,’ I mean to speak of ‘God.’ And even if we were confined again in the ghetto and thereby compelled to go to the Synagogue and uphold the entire Law, we would do it as Philosophers, i.e. with an unspoken but nevertheless decisive reservation. I have considered the problem of the replacement of the civil state by the communities (Kehillah) in the last year and seen that this in principle changes nothing for our kind although almost everything in outward form. That Revelation and Philosophy as opposed to Sophistry—i.e. as opposed to the whole of modern Philosophy—are united, I dispute as little as you. But that changes nothing as concerns the fundamental difference between Philosophy and Revelation: Philosophy is possibly under one roof with belief, prayers, and preaching but can never combine into one.
Philosophy and revelations, Strauss says, are a conjunction, not opposites.[xxii] They exist “under one roof” in diverse potentials of authoritarian “theological-political” rule: using a God to persuade believers to go along with otherwise controversial proposals or to coerce those who do not. He continues:
That National Socialism is perverted Judaism I would admit. But only in the same sense in which I admit this description for the whole modern world—National-Socialism is only the last word in ‘secularization,’ i.e. the belief in the harmony that produces itself from itself or the reign of passion and feeling or in the sovereignty of the Volk.[xxiii]
Strauss’s quasi-Nietzschean sympathies for Nazism lingered at least until the onset of World War II. These reactionary attitudes provided a screen for the racism of Schmitt which otherwise would probably not have entirely escaped Strauss. When the horror of the genocide finally broke through to the stunningly resistant Strauss, he renounced any identification with the Germans.[xxiv]
Sketching the intimate relation of Schmitt’s and Heidegger’s thinking for Strauss will clarify his eccentric form of reaction as – the idea is startling - a pro-Nazi Jew. For Schmitt, the choice for Hitler and war had obeyed a commandment of faith to make a commitment. For Heidegger, becoming a Nazi was a sign of existential care, of authentic being in the world. Schmitt’s Nazism stemmed from a Catholic sense that the world has become mechanical under Protestant influence, ruled by technology.[xxv] Analogously, Heidegger powerfully criticized the dominance of technology. As a lapsed Catholic, Heidegger spoke in a quasi-Catholic idiom.
Dismissive of Nietzsche,[xxvi] Schmitt views the decadence or secularization of culture as the rise of the anti-Christ; in a Nietzschean vein, Strauss sees it as the realm of the “last men” (in a Heideggerian idiom, he might also have seen it as the inauthentic realm of the “One”). Since Nietzsche derides Christianity as a projection of slave morality and Schmitt was a reactionary Catholic, Schmitt had no inclination to reword himself as Nietzsche (that is a flaw in Heinrich Meier’s thesis about the “conversation” between Schmitt and Strauss). But Schmitt’s “Catholicism” is deadly and belligerent. Schmitt is an inventor of perspectives; Strauss is mainly a brilliant, reactionary scholar. Nonetheless, many kinships exist between Schmitt and Nietzschean reaction, feeding into Strauss’s four refinements of Schmitt: 1) on the primacy of “the political,” 2) on revulsion for the “last men” 3) on the centrality of authoritarian rule, and 4) on imperialism and great-power rivalry. I will consider and offer a critical perspective on each of these claims.
First, speaking within a prevailing neo-Kantian paradigm, Schmitt treats the idea of friends and enemies, characteristic of politics, as but one of many spheres of culture. In contrast, in a letter of September 4, 1932, Strauss suggests that mortal political combat is the primary opposition which subordinates the others:
The ultimate foundation of the Right is the principle of the natural evil of man; because man is by nature evil, he therefore needs dominion. But dominion can be established, that is men can be unified only in a unity against - against other men. Every association of men is necessarily a separation from other men. The tendency to separate (and therewith the grouping of humanity into friends and enemies) is given with human nature. It is destiny, period.[xxvii]
Strauss follows Hobbes’s vision of a state of nature in which each man – innocently evil – seeks his own benefit, including self-protection, and sometimes kills others to gain it. He distinguishes natural evil from spiritual wickedness which, as we will see, is Schmitt’s central, overlapping point.
Defenders of Strauss, such as Heinrich Meier, emphasize that Strauss had yet to move into the Greeks, to “become Strauss.” They insist on Strauss’s idea of a political philosophy which decodes esoteric meanings, for instance in Plato and his followers. But that view could be consistent with Strauss’s and Schmitt’s common view of the political which clashes with the Greeks. Strauss and Schmitt deny in politics what Aristotle, Socrates and Plato affirm: a common good. Politics, for the former, is primarily about war, not even about the commonality forged by defending oneself and one’s country against aggression. In a Catholic idiom, Schmitt’s rhetoric initially seems to appeal to just war: surely, the enemy might aggress against one’s people. But only one of two parties can, in fact, be an aggressor. Ironically, Schmitt later “unmasks” oppressive claims about humanity or justice, notably those of the World War I victors.[xxviii] But this “unmasking of the motivations” of others disguises his own motivations and masks, which are passionate but often surpassingly immoral.
In a further irony, at this time, Strauss’s vision is that of Polemarchos in book 1 of Plato’s Republic – that justice is helping friends and harming enemies. Polemarchos invokes Simonides – Xenophon’s protagonist in his Hiero - as the proponent of this view. (331d) Socrates shows that such a policy – Strauss’s in 1932 - is that of tyrants like Periander and Xerxes (336a). Socrates also questions Thrasymachus’ contention that “justice is nothing but the advantage of the stronger,” a variant of Polemarchos’s view. But as Socrates elicits, it is hard to identify one’s true friends and enemies. More importantly, what happens when “the stronger” mistakes his “advantage”? (339c-e) Some idea of a common good – what, in fact, upholds the freedom and security of most citizens – is an antidote in Socrates, Plato and Aristotle to Schmitt’s and Strauss’s dogged focus on enmity.[xxix]
Beyond this, is the “political” solely the purview of the “statesman” or authoritarian “decider”? Consider great examples of resistance to injustice like Henry David Thoreau saying “no” to a Constitution which sanctioned slavery and to the U.S. seizure of large parts of Mexico, or Martin Luther King’s campaign of civil disobedience to integrate downtown Birmingham stores against the urging to “wait, wait” of some white clergymen. King and his followers, one might say, illustrate the power of decision (and in that sense, resemble Schmitt’s sovereign, although Schmitt excludes all but a Fuehrer from decision[xxx]). In the words of Pericles, deliberation before war marked Athenian democracy; Athenians sought words and conflicts of opinion before they reached fateful decisions. Athenian assemblies were not the bourgeois, parliamentary “talk shops” derided by Schmitt (una clase discutidora as he invokes his fellow Catholic reactionary, Donoso Cortes[xxxi]). In 1922 for Schmitt, only the monarch or tyrant’s edict is sovereign; in his initial phase of engagement with Hobbes, he wants the Leviathan to “decide” and crush independent thought. To recall another of Strauss’s contemporaries, Schmitt is the anti-Hannah Arendt.[xxxii] Thoreau, King and Athenian democrats are true examples of the political. Schmitt’s and Strauss’s ostensible “political” is the authoritarian, anti-political rule of a single man.[xxxiii]
Second, Strauss sharpens Schmitt’s intimation of a possible death of belligerent “politics.” Strauss derives from Nietzsche’s story of the “last men” a vision of warrior nobility. Living with the nearness of death, a warrior looks up at the night sky and sees the stars. In contrast, the “last men,” “flea beetles,” huddle against each other, and blink. Theirs is no longer a human stature. Such insects highlight the coming “Uebermensch.” Throughout his life, Strauss reiterates this image; he invokes it to scorn “the universal and homogenous state,” that is, peace, freedom and individuality, to which he imagines, following Heidegger, both the Soviet Union and the U.S. tend.[xxxiv] Strauss never says exactly what he disagrees with in modern freedom and individuality. For the triumph of the Uebermensch at a “sacrifice of millions” means the sacrifice of the freedom, well-being and individuality of human beings.[xxxv]
The permanent value of such treatises as Aristotle's Politics and Poetics is found at the opposite extreme to anything that we can call doctrinaire. Just as his views on dramatic poetry were derived from a study of the existing works of Attic drama, so his political theory was founded on a perception of the unconscious aims implicit in Athenian democracy at its best. His limitations are the condition of his universality; and instead of ingenious theories spun out of his head, he wrote studies full of universal wisdom. Thus, what I mean by a political philosophy is not merely even the conscious formulation of the ideal aims of a people, but the substratum of collective temperament, ways of behaviour and unconscious values which provides the material for the formulation. What we are seeking is not a programme for a party, but a way of life for a people: it is this which totalitarianism has sought partly to revive, and partly to impose by force upon its peoples. Our choice now is not between one abstract form and another, but between a pagan, and necessarily stunted culture, and a religious, and necessarily imperfect culture....
The danger of a National Church becoming a class Church, is not one that concerns us immediately to-day; for now that it is possible to be respectable without being a member of the Church of England, or a Christian of any kind, it is also possible to be a member of the Church of England without being -- in that sense -- respectable. The danger that a National Church might become also a nationalistic Church is one to which our predecessors theorising about Church and State could hardly have been expected to devote attention, since the danger of nationalism itself, and the danger of the supersession of every form of Christianity, could not have been very present to their minds. Yet the danger was always there: and, for some persons still, Rome is associated with the Armada and Kingsley's Westward Ho! For a National Church tends to reflect only the religious-social habits of the nation; and its members, in so far as they are isolated from the Christian communities of other nations, may tend to lose all criteria by which to distinguish, in their own religious-social complex, between what is universal and what is local, accidental, and erratic. Within limits, the cultus of the universal Church may quite properly vary according to the racial temperaments and cultural traditions of each nation. Roman Catholicism is not quite the same thing (to the eye of the sociologist, if not to that of the theologian) in Spain, France, Ireland and the United States of America, and but for central authority it would differ much more widely. The tendency to differ may be as strong among bodies of the same communion in different countries, as among various sects within the same country; and, indeed, the sects within one country may be expected to show traits in common, which none of them will share with the same communion abroad.
The evils of nationalistic Christianity have, in the past, been mitigated by the relative weakness of national consciousness and the strength of Christian tradition. They have not been wholly absent: missionaries have sometimes been accused of propagating (through ignorance, not through cunning) the customs and attitudes of the social groups to which they have belonged, rather than giving the natives the essentials of the Christian faith in such a way that they might harmonise their own culture with it. On the other hand, I think that some events during the last twenty-five years have led to an increasing recognition of the supranational Christian society: for if that is not marked by such conferences as those of Lausanne, Stockholm, Oxford, Edinburgh -- and also Malines -- then I do not know of what use these conferences have been. The purpose of the labours involved in arranging intercommunion between the official Churches of certain countries is not merely to provide reciprocal sacramental advantages for travellers, but to affirm the Universal Church on earth. Certainly, no one to-day can defend the idea of a National Church, without balancing it with the idea of the Universal Church, and without keeping in mind that truth is one and that theology has no frontiers.
I think that the dangers to which a National Church is exposed, when the Universal Church is no more than a pious ideal, are so obvious that only to mention them is to command assent. Completely identified with a particular people, the National Church may at all times, but especially at moments of excitement, become no more than the voice of that people's prejudice, passion or interest. But there is another danger, not quite so easily identified. I have maintained that the idea of a Christian society implies, for me, the existence of one Church which shall aim at comprehending the whole nation. Unless it has this aim, we relapse into that conflict between citizenship and church membership, between public and private morality, which to-day makes moral life so difficult for everyone, and which in turn provokes that craving for a simplified, monistic solution of statism or racism which the National Church can only combat if it recognises its position as a part of the Universal Church. But if we allowed ourselves to entertain for Europe (to confine our attention to that continent) the ideal merely of a kind of society of Christian societies, we might tend unconsciously to treat the idea of the Universal Church as only the idea of a supernatural League of Nations. The direct allegiance of the individual would be to his National Church alone, and the Universal Church would remain an abstraction or become a cockpit for conflicting national interests. But the difference between the Universal Church and a perfected League of Nations is this, that the allegiance of the individual to his own Church is secondary to his allegiance to the Universal Church. Unless the National Church is a part of the whole, it has no claim upon me: but a League of Nations which could have a claim upon the devotion of the individual, prior to the claim of his country, is a chimaera which very few persons can even have endeavoured to picture to themselves. I have spoken more than once of the intolerable position of those who try to lead a Christian life in a non-Christian world. But it must be kept in mind that even in a Christian society as well organised as we can conceive possible in this world, the limit would be that our temporal and spiritual life should be harmonised: the temporal and spiritual would never be identified. There would always remain a dual allegiance, to the State and to the Church, to one's countrymen and to one's fellow-Christians everywhere, and the latter would always have the primacy. There would always be a tension; and this tension is essential to the idea of a Christian society, and is a distinguishing mark between a Christian and a pagan society.
-- The Idea of a Christian Society, by T.S. Eliot
It is not of advantage to us to indulge a sentimental attitude towards the past. For one thing, in even the very best living tradition there is always a mixture of good and bad, and much that deserves criticism; and for another, tradition is not a matter of feeling alone. Nor can we safely, without very critical examination, dig ourselves in stubbornly to a few dogmatic notions, for what is a healthy belief at one time may, unless it is one of the few fundamental things, be a pernicious prejudice at another. Nor should we cling to traditions as a way of asserting our superiority over less favoured peoples. What we can do is to use our minds, remembering that a tradition without intelligence is not worth having, to discover what is the best life for us not as a political abstraction, but as a particular people in a particular place; what in the past is worth preserving and what should be rejected; and what conditions, within our power to bring about, would foster the society that we desire. Stability is obviously necessary. You are hardly likely to develop tradition except where the bulk of the population is relatively so well off where it is that it has no incentive or pressure to move about. The population should be homogeneous; where two or more cultures exist in the same place they are likely either to be fiercely self-conscious or both to become adulterate. What is still more important is unity of religious background; and reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable. There must be a proper balance between urban and rural, industrial and agricultural development. And a spirit of excessive tolerance is to be deprecated. We must also remember that -- in spite of every means of transport that can be devised -- the local community must always be the most permanent, and that the concept of the nation is by no means fixed and invariable. It is, so to speak, only one fluctuating circle of loyalties between the centre of the family and the local community, and the periphery of humanity entire. Its strength and its geographical size depend upon the comprehensiveness of a way of life which can harmonise parts with distinct local characters of their own. When it becomes no more than a centralised machinery it may affect some of its parts to their detriment, or to what they believe to be their detriment; and we get the regional movements which have appeared within recent years. It is only a law of nature, that local patriotism, when it represents a distinct tradition and culture, takes precedence over a more abstract national patriotism. This remark should carry more weight for being uttered by a Yankee.
-- After Strange Gods, by T.S. Eliot
In his posthumously published “Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism,” Strauss extols Nietzsche’s vision, allowing his own esoteric views to appear:
in contradistinction to the European conservatives, [Nietzsche] saw that conservatism as such is doomed. For all merely defensive positions are doomed. The future was with democracy and nationalism. And both were regarded by Nietzsche as incompatible with what he saw to be the task of the twentieth century. He saw the twentieth century to be the age of world wars, leading up to planetary rule. If man were to have a future, this rule would have to be exercised by a united Europe. And the enormous task of such an iron age could not possibly be discharged, he thought, by weak and unstable governments based on democratic public opinion. The new situation required the emergence of a new aristocracy...The invisible rulers of that possible future would be the philosophers of the future. It is certainly not an overstatement to say that no one has ever spoken so greatly and so nobly of what a philosopher is than Nietzsche.[xxxvi]
In this passage, the putative “greatness” of Nietzsche’s speech has to do with the rule by “invisible philosophers” over a war-devastated, race-dominated world. To Strauss, this is “noble”; others might find it monstrous. Invoking parable instead of argument, Strauss oddly prefers worldwide race war to peace, freedom and individuality.[xxxvii]
Schmitt’s vision of the “Antichrist” of secular or supposedly “Jewish” modernity emerges from his peculiar Catholicism (Nazism, to which Schmitt fiercely adhered, restored neither Catholicism nor religiosity). To hold off Satan and extend history, Schmitt emphasizes each unique choice of an “enemy” as a “catechon.” [xxxviii] On one level, he regards Satan as realized in modern culture. On another, one fully realized in his Nazism and Glossarium (his post-World War II diaries), he sees the Anti-Christ as incarnate in “Jews” and the “law.” Still his public idiom in The Concept of the Political coincides with Strauss’s belligerent vision as an alternative to the “last men” and can be reworded, in these central respects, as Nietzschean.[xxxix] As Strauss emphasizes, Nietzsche opposed gutter anti-semitism (Antisemiterei) and would very likely not have become a Nazi though “there is an undeniable kinship between Nietzsche’s thought and fascism.” Yet once again, his notion that Jews created the vision of the poor – an anti-life, “slave morality” filled with irrational “resentment” and leading to Christianity, democracy and socialism - is not far.[xl] How easily a Nietzschean idiom can “mask” pure anti-semitism is underlined, however, by Strauss’s unwitting translation of this (at this time perhaps not fully consciously worked out) aspect of Schmitt.