Enmity and Tyranny - on Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss

This is a broad, catch-all category of works that fit best here and not elsewhere. If you haven't found it someplace else, you might want to look here.

Enmity and Tyranny - on Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 5:24 am


Enmity and Tyranny - on Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss, part 1
by Alan Gilbert
March 5, 2010



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.
Site Admin
Posts: 31201
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Enmity and Tyranny - on Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 5:25 am


For Schmitt, individuals may “entertain” themselves; they will no longer risk violent death:

If the distinction between friend and enemy ceases even as a mere possibility, there will only be a politics-free weltanschauung, culture, civilization, economy, morals, law, art, entertainment, etc. but there will be neither politics nor the state.

Strauss fixates on “entertainment”: “We have emphasized the word ‘entertainment’ because Schmitt does everything to make entertainment nearly disappear in a series of man’s serious pursuits above all, the ‘etc.’ that immediately follows ‘entertainment” glosses over the fact that ‘entertainment’ is really the ultimate term in the series, its finis ultimus.”[xli]

On behalf of war, Strauss abhors this “world of entertainment”: “it is impossible to mention politics and the state in the same breath as ‘entertainment’; politics and the state are the only guarantee against the world’s becoming a world of entertainment, a world of amusement, a world without seriousness.”[xlii]

Schmitt only hints at this antipathy:

A definitely pacified globe would be a world without politics. In such a world there could be various, perhaps very interesting, oppositions and contrasts, competitions and intrigues of all kinds, but no opposition on the basis of which it could sensibly be demanded of men that they sacrifice their lives. [xliii]

In contrast, Strauss brings out the Nietzschean sense of an inferior species, huddling under the rope stretched for the emergence of an acrobatic “Uebermensch.” One might name these “Notes” Strauss’s Nietzscheanization of Schmitt. But their common idea of a “great leader,” provoking or creating crises, and launching (apocalyptic) aggression is, in itself. unattractive. Further though he had soldiered in World War I, Strauss is heedless about the horrific slaughters, with a special penchant for children, of subsequent wars:

Here, too what Schmitt concedes to the pacifists’ ideal state of affairs, what he finds striking about it, is its capacity to be interesting and entertaining; here, too, he takes pains to hide the criticism contained in the observation ‘perhaps very interesting.’ He does not, of course, wish to call into doubt whether the world without politics is interesting; if he is convinced of anything, it is that the apolitical world is very interesting (‘competitions and intrigues of all sorts’); the ‘perhaps’ only questions, but certainly does question, whether this capacity to be interesting can claim the interest of a human being worthy of the name.[xliv]

Strauss speaks of Schmitt’s nausea over this possibility, a use which captures a reactionary existentialist sense of the term. Sartre and left existentialists, who have more concern for individuals and freedom, also have a “nausea” for bourgeois life, as does Marcuse, another student of Heidegger, for “one-dimensional man.” In considering death, Heidegger translates Marx’s commodity fetishism, Weber’s formal rationalization of the world, and Lukacs’ reification into falling into “the one,” a specific historical critique into an ontological “Sein zum Tode” and the putrefying historicity of “being toward death” of a soldier, a fascist soldier, out of which Strauss’s (and Schmitt’s) notion of the political takes flight. Strauss would later abhor Heidegger’s anti-semitism. But he cleaved to Heidegger’s rejection of ethics as beneath humans even though, he contradictorily, noted that Nazism made Weimar democracy look like a golden age.[xlv] He meant this critique of Heidegger primarily about Jews and the war-making of a “resentful, provincial German empire.”[xlvi] But he did not reexamine Heidegger’s characterization of ethics or think about what makes an ethical view attractive to others.

In contrast, theorists such as Hegel or John Rawls, who value the integrity of ethics,[xlvii] the life and equal liberties of each person, rightly reject Heidegger’s, Schmitt’s and Strauss’s denial of ethics. Now Schmitt’s fierce “moral” position is a kind of Catholicism, a virtue ethics, focused on revelation, obedience, courage, hope, and humility.[xlviii] But Schmitt’s is the “dark” Church (as in the Inquisition, genocide of indigenous people in the New World, slavery, and fascism). He even praises the “Marian”-like conduct of the Spanish conquistadors in the Americas.[xlix] But ethically speaking, such assertions of “character” do not take one far. For supposing we imagine an obedient and humble (not to mention efficient) Goering - Schmitt’s protector – or Schmitt himself. Do such character traits perfume the actions of candidate Nazi “Epimetheuses,” ascetic “Christians” who, eyes raised to heaven, pull the switches on the gas chamber? Catholicism condemns murder. Catholic just war theory emphasizes self-defense against aggression. Can Schmitt’s defense of any war or enmity be called moral? In what sense is it Catholic?

In a 1941 lecture on “German Nihilism,” Strauss, too, speaks misleadingly of the “morals” involved in a “decent young atheist’ despising the “last men.”[l] But such “morals” leads to the nihilistic destruction, once again in Nietzsche’s phrase, of “millions.” This is an example of Strauss’s altering a word to mean its opposite.[li] The terms amoral – sneering from on high - and in practice, often evil characterize this reactionary, Imperial vision. Admirably affirming the “decent “Anglo-Saxon empire” during World War II, Strauss was temporarily saved from his political vision.

But is there an ethical view which focuses parochially on the life of a national community and permits the murder of others? Which makes, as Strauss later insisted, a genuine “morality” for people “of one’s own kind” in contrast to a supposedly empty, cosmopolitan morality? Are European or Jewish children really more valuable than African, Indian, Palestinian, “heathen” children?[lii] Nietzsche suggests that there is slave morality – the morals Schmitt and Strauss denounce – and master morality. Master morality involves the sacrifice, once again, of myriad humans so that the Uebermensch may unfold as sipo matador, his tendrils seeking the sun high above the Malaysian forest on which he is a parasite. Nietzsche pathetically avers that exploitation is life.[liii] Before fascism, Nietzsche uses the term “morals” polemically; in his Nazi activity, Schmitt carries the term to a limit of individual and public degradation. Sadly, Strauss mirrored or refined Schmitt’s ideas. Though Strauss fiercely rejected Nazi murderousness toward Jews, he continued to use the word “morals” in an ethically incoherent, Nietzschean vein.[liv]

To underline another important difference between Strauss and Schmitt, however, The Concept of the Political does not – except for mentioning Lenin - develop the idea of internal or civil war. It articulates no idea of a racially pure or “homogeneous” community[lv] and barely hints at an internal enemy, though if politics is about enmity, then the notion of an internal enemy for the Right - say “Bolsheviks,” unions and “Jews” - is not far from Schmitt’s idiom and would soon become primary. For Schmitt, once again, “Jews” or the “Anti-Christ” are equivalent to “the last men”; his post-World War II Glossarium proclaims: “The assimilated Jew is especially the true enemy.”

Third, Strauss notes that the main animus in Schmitt’s view is anarchy, not peace, his main passion authoritarianism, not war. The “anarchist dogs with their fangs bared,” in Nietzsche’s phrase, threaten Europe.[lvi] Against anarchy, the Catholic Schmitt and the Nietzschean Strauss emphasize authoritarian rule:

In attempting to analyze your text more thoroughly, one gets the impression that the polemic against the Left, a polemic that at first glance appears completely unified, collapses into two incompatible or at least heterogeneous lines of thought. The opposition between Left and Right is presented 1) as the opposition between internationalist pacifism and bellicose nationalism and 2) as the opposition between anarchistic and authoritarian society. No proof is needed to show that in themselves these two oppositions do not coincide. In my review I have explained why the second opposition (anarchy versus authority) appears to me the more radical and in the final analysis the only opposition that comes into consideration.[lvii]

Despite Strauss’s intelligent differentiation of these two dimensions of argument, these Rightists favor both tyranny and war.

Strauss’s comments do not mention Schmitt’s 1922 Politische Theologie (Political Theology) which dwells on authoritarian sovereignty and “the state of exception.” “He is sovereign,” says Schmitt in its opening sentence, “who decides in the exceptional situation.”[Souveraen ist, wer ueber den Ausnahmezustand entscheidet]. German authoritarian regimes, those of Bruening, von Papen, Schleicher, and Hitler, both created and responded to a crisis, the death of the Weimar Republic. Strauss does not directly engage Schmitt’s decisionism - in a reference to Hobbes, Schmitt invents this term in Political Theology - or notion of the exception. As Schmitt puts it,

The classical representative of the decisionist type (if I may be permitted to coin this word) is Thomas Hobbes. The peculiar nature of this type explains why it and not the other type (an impersonal conception featuring norms) discovered the classic formulation of this antithesis: auctoritas, non veritas facit legem [authority, not truth, makes laws]. The contrast of auctoritas and veritas is more radical and precise than Frederick Julius Stahl’s contrast: authority, not majority. Hobbes also advanced a decisive argument that connected this type of decisionism with personalism and rejected all attempts to substitute an abstractly valid order for a concrete sovereignty of the state.[lviii]

Three points clarify Strauss’s agreement with Schmitt on this point. First, as Karl Loewith notes, Schmitt deals with a state of exception without endorsing the universal or the rule of law.[lix] Ironically though a “legal” theorist, Schmitt exhibits persistent revulsion for the law. As he says in Political Theology, the “exception in jurisprudence is analogous to the miracle [Wunder] in theology.”[lx] In his 1934 “Der Fuehrer Schuetzt das Recht,” (the Fuehrer Protects the Law), defending Hitler’s slaughter of the leaders of the S.A. (Sturmabteilung) and thousands of others, Schmitt avers, valid law springs only from the life of the people. In a state of the exception, to confront or protect oneself against an enemy, authoritarian decision creates such law. Such unique, authoritative “acts” exist in despite of liberalism, as an alternative or (fascist) enemy of liberalism:

In truth the Fuehrer’s deed was pure jurisdiction [Gerichtsbarkeit]. It did not understand justice but was itself the highest justice…The Fuehrer’s jurisdiction springs from the same source of law that all law of every people flows from. In the highest need [the state of exception] the highest law prepares itself and the highest grade of juridical development of this law appears. All law stems from the law of life of a people [Alles Recht stammt aus dem Lebensrecht des Volkes].[lxi]

Nothing Strauss says at this time about laws or the rule of law disagrees with Schmitt’s vision of decision and the state of the exception.[lxii]

Second, Strauss commends authoritarianism at least in dangerous or “exceptional” situations. It is one meaning of his and his followers saying that liberals do not take evil, for instance, the dangers of the Soviet enemy, seriously. To take enmity seriously, for Schmitt and Strauss, one needs a great leader who can act, setting the law aside. For America, Strauss’s students like Robert Goldwin and Herbert Storing emphasize “executive power” and celebrate arbitrary Presidential decisions in war like Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus or Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s concentration camps for Japanese-Americans (for others, these decisions seem counterproductive as well as immoral).[lxiii] Strauss and his political followers Americanize Schmitt’s ideas. But Schmitt bears a special animus toward the American Constitution:

It is precisely the exception that makes relevant the subject of sovereignty, that is the whole question of sovereignty. The precise details of an emergency cannot be anticipated, nor can one spell out what must take place in such a case, especially when it is truly a matter of extreme emergency and of how it is to be eliminated….If such action is not subject to controls, if it is not hampered in some way by checks and balances as is the case in a liberal constitution, then it is clear who the sovereign is....Although he stands outside the normally valid legal system, he nevertheless belongs to it, for it is he who must decide whether the constitution is to be suspended in its entirety.[lxiv]

Richard Cheney and John Yoo as well as Straussians like Harvey Mansfield and William Kristol made exactly this extreme authoritarian argument.[lxv]

Third, as Strauss does not seem aware, Schmitt’s Catholicism emphasized Jews, the adherents of law, as murderers of Jesus. In his posthumously published Glossarium for December 2, 1948, Schmitt would exempt Pontius Pilate:

The crucifixion of Christ was an event hors la loi [outside the law]. Who placed the Holy one hors la loi? The interplay of Jews and pagans. Pilate was not active as a judge in regards to Jesus; he did not sentence Him to death, but only handed him over to the administrative measure of crucifixion, under pressure from the Jews. I see no death-sentence tenor in the text of the Gospels. Rex Judaeorum is no sentencing tenor. Pilate was no judge.[lxvi]

Schmitt’s argument darkens. If the crucifixion was “outside the law,” why does Schmitt (also) condemn the “Jews’” dogmatic “adherence to the law”? [lxvii] (Why is Jesus’s murder not thought of as a particular lawless act?) To the standard anti-semitic condemnation of adherence to “law” Schmitt adds a charge of “ritual murder”:

The murder of Christ was a ritual murder [Der Mord an Christus war ein Ritualmord]. At the center of Christian belief stands a belief that our eon opened by a ritual murder…The son is ritually slaughtered (like Isaac), the father is simply killed…Beginning of Christianity: Acts of the Apostles chapter 7: You have murdered the successor.[lxviii]

Christ for Schmitt was a unique event. Salvation appears in history – calling on believers to act against the “enemy.” In this context, this political interesting term reveals bizarre theological significance. Christ (Hitler) and anti-semitic classification and murder are the “state of the exception”; Jews and “the law” the “Anti-Christ” that must be defeated. Schmitt’s politics and sociology mirror – and are rooted in – an irrational, murderous “theology.” Ironically, Strauss and his followers, except Heinrich Meier, never understood that this was the public significance of Schmitt’s “concept of the political.” In the post-World War II era, preparing Glossarium for posthumous publication, Schmitt was silent about his anti-semitism. For a long time, Strauss shunned the horror of Germany.[lxix] Despite the provocation of genocide, Strauss never reexamined the Nazi vision he had Nietzscheanized.

Still, Schmitt’s “state of the exception” is a useful concept in political science. Cold War American sociology and political science start from Max Weber’s ethically reductionist thought that a state controls a “monopoly of the legitimate use of force within a territory.” Weber, a Nietzschean, also refers to an enlivening “charismatic” authority, a view not far from that of his student, Schmitt.[lxx] Schmitt thinks about a state in crisis, in a state of emergency, and seeks where the “sovereign” power of decision lies. His account spells out the importance of Article 48 in the Weimar constitution (Schmitt recommended the use of that article to ban Nazis and Communists, a recommendation that, when rediscovered, led to his downfall as Prussian State Councilor in 1936). As a Constitutional institution, Article 48 weakened the Reichstag and invited, in difficult circumstances, the subversion of Weimar.[lxxi] Nonetheless, in considering these cases, Schmitt improves on Weber (with respect to the law – even Weber’s category of legal and “bureaucratic” authority – however, he is silent and decadent). Particularly in today’s America, one can see why some Weberians and postmodernists might be inclined to see Schmitt’s alternative – or a Weberian conception modified by Schmitt - as more precise.

Yet this argument of Schmitt’s has a fatal weakness. Once the rule of law is sacrificed, for instance, in the regime of the Fuehrer, what will restore it? Why should the state of emergency and war not become a permanent tyranny (perhaps even the very tyrant Strauss fears at the end of On Tyranny?) In addition, once disenchanted with Hitler circa 1938, Schmitt’s argument provides no way to resist him. Now, in a revolutionary situation where the old power is at odds with itself, popular resistance may overthrow it (as the Soviet-client regimes fell in Eastern Europe in 1989). But the “state of exception” and an unending series of mere “decisions,” as Schmitt does not recognize, may become a norm, even the banal norm, of a new regime. Put differently, Schmitt’s concept of the political promises an alluring (for reactionaries) vision of enmity, emergency and authoritarian decision, but very likely issues in the ordinary though murderous dictatorships of, say, Franco, Salazar, Pinochet, and perhaps Hitler (if the Nazis had defeated Russia and achieved the “Grossraum” – regional empire - that Schmitt envisioned as the post-nation-state unit of a new international nomos/“law”).

Fourth, from Weber, Strauss learned the importance of great power rivalry between empires (this point is a derived or secondary Nietzschanism about war). [lxxii] Looking at politics and sociology from the standpoint of great power rivalry, Weber was a parliamentary democrat, even supporting the Social Democratic Party, as an instrument to make Germany a Herrenvolk: “I have always looked at politics solely from a national standpoint, not only external politics but all politics. By this alone I orient my party allegiance.”[lxxiii] Though Weber died in 1920, the idea of a popular “revolution” to make Germany an international master-race would become sinister (for the colonized, it always was). England was the empire “on which the sun never set.” As a “have not” nation, the German empire rose against Great Britain. Transposing Carlyle, Weber articulated a German nationalism for the unending future:

‘Thousands of years have passed before thou couldst enter life, and thousands of years to come wait to see what thou wilt do with this thy life.’ I do not know if as Carlyle believed a single man can or will place himself in his actions upon the sounding board of this sentiment. But a nation must do so if its existence in history is to be of lasting value.[lxxiv]

Weber’s passion for parliamentary democracy and dominant role in post-World War II American sociology and political science has obscured his making of sociology subordinate to international rivalry as well as his racism.[lxxv] Akin to the Right, a Weberian vision helped instigate Strauss’s refinement of Schmitt’s concept of the enemy and “the exception.” [lxxvi] Thus, starting from war and power rivalry and with the important exception that law plays no role, Schmitt’s theory can be seen to modify Weber’s all the way down. Even Schmitt’s failed apology for the Nazi annexation of Czechoslovakia – the Reich Protectorate of Moravia and Bohemia – and his notion of the “Grossraeume” of three or four empires are modifications of Weber’s vision.

In the early 1920s, however, Strauss reported to Franz Rosenszweig, the Jewish existentialist theologian,[lxxvii] on being mesmerized by Heidegger compared to whom Weber – whom he had admired - was but “an orphan child.”[lxxviii] But across his peregrinations on Heidegger’s path to a reading of the Greeks, Strauss retained Weber’s imperial vision of politics, and sometimes reverted to a Weberian idiom (Weber’s defense of parliamentary democracy and his quasi-Nietzschean opposition to anti-semitism, however, differentiate him sharply from Schmitt).[lxxix] Aside from anti-semitism, Heidegger had a politics similar to Strauss’s, but did not articulate it in this way (in the 1930s, he phrased his sycophancy to Hitler, support for German withdrawal from the League of Nations, and opposition to technology in terms of German “authenticity,” not imperial rule). Ironically, Strauss would later bar his students from reading the “great philosopher,” Heidegger, but against Carl Schmitt, whose concepts had possessed him, Strauss left them unaware.[lxxx]

In his 1933 letter to Loewith, Strauss affirmed the “Principles of the Right, fascist, authoritarian, imperial.” Since its recent release, some followers of Strauss try to dismiss the letter as “unimportant.”[lxxxi] But note that Strauss’s refinement of Schmitt coheres with and gives force to this letter.



[i] Thanks to William Altman, Peter Minowitz, Tracy Strong, Robert Howse and Sanford Levinson for comments.

[ii] Carl Schmitt, Positionen und Begriffe in Kampf mit Weimer-Genf-Versailles, 1923-1939. Berlin:Duncker & Humblot, 1940, 1988, p. 272.

[iii] Strauss “Restatement” in On Tyranny (University of Chicago, 1948, 2000), p. 208.

[iv] Schmitt, Glossarium: Aufzeichnungen der Jahre 1947-1951 , ed. Eberhard Freiherr von Medem (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1991), p. 18.

[v] Writing this phrase in his May, 1933 letter to Loewith, Strauss had no sense of the murderousness of Hitler.

[vi] Strauss also imbibed Schmitt’s 1922 impression of “the soberness of Hobbes’s common sense.”

[vii] Strauss, Gesammelte Schriften , ed. Heinrich and Wiebke Meier, 3:624-25.

[viii] Strauss insisted on esoteric meanings in the works of medieval and ancient political philosophers; the very density and difficulty of his own writing strongly suggests the existence of such messages within it.

[ix] I distinguish these from some of his academic followers like Nathan Tarcov and Bill Galston, who oppose the Iraq War, and Michael Zuckert who condemns the Patriot Act.

[x] Cropsey prevented non-Straussian researchers from looking at Strauss’s papers in Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago, for instance his colleague Stephen Holmes, insisting that some letters might be “misunderstood.” I discuss this issue in the introduction to a special section on Strauss, Constellations, March 2009.

[xi] On a panel I organized about the letter at the American Political Science Association, 2007, Catherine Zuckert spoke of it as “unimportant.” See the video at democratic-individuality.blogspot.com, July 2009. But it is actually the theme of much of Strauss’s writing. See my “Leo Strauss: the courage to destroy” and “Leo Strauss’s 1923 celebration of ‘pagan-fascism,’” democratic-individuality.blogspot.com, August, 2009 and January, 2010.

[xii] Schmitt, The Concept of the Political (University of Chicago, 1996), pp. 67-68.

[xiii] Ironically, contra Cromwell, France, too, was a Catholic state. Schmitt’s quirkiness is often a passion for deceiving surface readers and offering esoterica.

[xiv] Heidegger, Sein und Zeit,Gesamtausgabe, bd. 2 (Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, 1977), Zweiter Abschnitt, Erstes Kapitel “Das moegliche Ganzsein des Daseins and das Sein zum Tode” and Fuenftes Kapitel, “Zeitlichkeit und Geschichtlichkeit.”

[xv] Heidegger’s speeches on behalf of Hitler’s withdrawal from the League of Nations are particularly instructive in this regard; “individuals” choose their Germanic being by assenting to the Fuehrer.

Strauss fantasized that nuclear war could also be an alternative to the age of the “last men” and that it might be good for history to cycle through again from its primitive beginnings. See my “Seceding from the last men: Leo Strauss’s fascination for nuclear war at http://democratic-individuality.blogspo ... ausss.html and “John Mearsheimer on the Germanic formation of Leo Strauss,” http://democratic-individuality.blogspo ... ation.html.

[xvi] See my “Shadings - `they consider me a ‘Nazi’ here’ – Leo Strauss, July 3, 1933.” “Only a reactionary fool would say: ‘there are no women philosophers’” and “the clashing visions of Arendt and Strauss,” democratic-individualtiy.blogspot.com, ,

[xvii] Nietzsche is far subtler psychologically than Strauss makes out. As Hilary Putnam has pointed out to me, “How they strut about in a hundred masquerades, as youths, men, graybeards, fathers, citizens, priests, officials, merchants, mindful solely of their comedy and not at all of themselves . . . this eternal becoming is a lying puppet-play in beholding which man forgets himself, the actual distraction which disperses the individual to the four winds.” Schopenauer as Educator, ch. 4.

[xviii] Nietzsche, Jenseits Gut und Boese (Stuttgart: Alfred Kroener Verlag, 1921), paragraph 195. .

[xix] Strauss, GS 2:389; the translation is by Michael Zank; h/t William Altman

[xx] Strauss, GS, 3:512-13. Translation by William Altman.

[xxi] Strauss admired Weber until he was blown away by listening to Heidegger. But Weber fought anti-semitism. See my “Max Weber: a hero in fighting German anti-semitism” at http://democratic-individuality.blogspo ... -anti.html.

[xxii] See my “Using a God for politics: a note on the conjunction Athens and Jerusalem,” Dec. 8, 2009 at http://democratic-individuality.blogspo ... te-on.html

[xxiii] Strauss, GS 3:516-17; trans. William Altman. Scott Horton and Eugene Sheppard, both of whom aptly translated Strauss’s May 1933 letter to Karl Loewith, misunderstood the phrase “meskine Unwesen.” The latter refers to the usuriousness of current reality (“meskine” refers to Shylock or Fagin) and not to Hitler. I too made this error initially – Strauss, a German Jew and exile from Germany, could not be – a Nazi) which Michael Zank identified. These 1934 letters are a smoking gun about Strauss’s startling, counterintuitive political sympathies.

[xxiv] Strauss, “The Reeducation of the Axis Powers,” The Review of Politics, Oct. 26, 2007.

[xxv] Schmitt, Roman Catholicitism and Political Form, (orig. 1923) trans. G.L. Ulmen (Ct: Greenwood, 1996), pp. 10, 12-3. As a student of Max Weber’s, he responds powerfully to The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. His argument that Catholics have a different relation to the soil than Protestants, who can live anywhere prefigures Nazi “blood and soil,” of course, for Protestant peasants.

[xxvi] Meier, Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss: the Hidden Dialogue, trans. J. Louis Lomax, p. 65, n. 73.

[xxvii] Reproduced in ibid, p. 125.

[xxviii] Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, pp. 36-37.

[xxix] One might also question the psychological and ethical necessity of “enmity,” of manufacturing enemies.

[xxx] In the 1960s, he would celebrate guerilla revolt against “globalization” or “the universal and homogeneous state” (Strauss) in a potentially less authoritarian vein.

[xxxi] Schmitt, Political Theology, trans. George Schwab (Chicago, 1985), p. 59

[xxxii] To put it in her idiom from On Violence, Schmitt and Strauss dread a common power and revere violence against the enemy.

[xxxiii] Today Richard Cheney and John Yoo speak of “enemy combatants” who may be detained and tortured (short of death or “organ failure”) beyond any law. International law against torture, particularly the Geneva Conventions, signed by the United States technically refers to “prisoners of war.” The Supremacy Clause; Article 6, section 2 of the Constitution makes treatises endorsed by the United States the highest law of the land.

[xxxiv] Strauss, On Tyranny, p. 27. It is also the last word in his essay on Plato’s Minos in Liberalism Ancient and Modern, p. .

[xxxv] Nietzsche, Will to Power, par 964, 862.

[xxxvi] Ibid, pp. 40-41. To Loewith on June 23, 1935 (at age 36), Strauss wrote: “I can only say that Nietzsche so dominated and enchanted me [mich…so beherrscht und bezaubert hat] between my 22nd and 30th years, that I literally believed…every word that I understood of him.” Gesammelte Schriften, 3:648.

[xxxvii] Echoing Nazi conquests in the late 1930s, Schmitt would envision new imperial units of international “law,” “the Grossraeume” including a Germany swollen with eating Czechoslovakia and Poland, to replace fictively equal nation states. He would then speak of a Nomos der Erde, the Greek word for law supposedly supplanting diminished, merely positive “laws.” The German “Grossraum” would assume a (temporary) equality with the British empire, the Soviet empire, the American empire, and the like (Schmitt’s imagination, however, did not quite keep pace with Hitler’s appetite…).

[xxxviii] Meier, Lesson, 160-72.

[xxxix] Today, the “last men” has become a cliche of many academic as well as political Straussians, for instance, Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man.

[xl] Strauss, “An Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism” in Thomas Pangle, ed., The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism (Chicago, 1989), p. 31. Saying that Nietzsche “naturally would not have sided with Hitler [unlike Heidegger]. Yet there is an undeniable kinship between Nietzsche’s thought and fascism,” Strauss subtly identifies with Nietzsche. At the time, he probably identified with Heidegger’s rejection of his teacher Ernst Cassirer and his call for a “repeat” of World War I. See William Altman, “The Alpine Limits of Jewish Thought,” Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy, Volume 17, Number 1, 2009 , pp. 1-46.

[xli] Strauss, “Notes” in Meier, Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss. Trans. J. Louis Lomax (University of Chicago, 1995) p. 111. [Cited hereafter as Carl Schmitt]

[xlii] Ibid, p. 112.

[xliii] Meier brings out Schmitt’s indictment of bourgeois civilization in his first writing on Theodore Daeubler: “The achievement of vast material wealth, which arose from the general preoccupation with means and calculation was strange. Men have become poor devils; ‘they know everything and believe nothing.’ They are interested in everything and enthusiastic about nothing. They understand everything; their scholars register in history, in nature, in men’s own souls. They are judges of character, psychologists, and sociologists, and in the end, they write a sociology of sociology. Wherever something does not go completely smoothly, an astute and deft analysis or a purposive organization is able to remedy the incommodity. Even the poor of this age, the wretched multitude, which is nothing but ‘ a shadow that hobbles off to work,’ millions who yearn for freedom, prove themselves to be children of this spirit, which reduced everything to a formula of its consciousness and admits of no mysteries and no exuberance of soul. They wanted heaven on earth, heaven as the result of trade and industry, a heaven that is really supposed to be here on earth, in Berlin, Paris, or New York, a heaven with swimming facilities, automobiles, and club chairs, a heaven in which the holy book would be a timetable. They did not want a God of love and grace…After all the most important and last things have already been secularized.” Meier, Lesson of Carl Schmitt, p. 3. Strauss has a parallel invocation of Nietzsche, which even substitutes some Schmitt: “The morning prayer has been replaced by the reading of the morning paper…” “Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism” in Strauss, Rebirth, p. 31.

[xliv] Strauss, “Notes” in Meier, op. cit., p. 112.

[xlv] This may, however, be an exoteric or surface judgment of Strauss’s. His student, Werner Dannhauser, once said to me, slightly tipsily, at a party at Cornell many years ago: “What’s wrong with National Socialism, except the anti-semitism?” Strauss and Jacob Klein, “A Giving of Accounts,” St. John’s, 1973. Strauss, What is Political Philosophy and other essays, (Free Press, 1959), p. 55 .

[xlvi] Strauss, “The Reeducation of the Axis Powers.” Review of Politics, fall, 2007.

[xlvii] I coin this term in Democratic Individuality, ch. 1. Marx joins Rawls and Oakeshott in opposing this reactionary vision.

[xlviii] Meier, The Lesson of Carl Schmitt, (University of Chicago, 1998), p. 20 [cited hereafter as Lesson]. Subtle within a reactionary universe of discourse, Meier is oblivious to the questions that others who take ethics seriously would raise about his account.

[xlix] Offering no comment, Meier, Lesson, p. 166, endorses this claim: “the piety of the Spanish explorers and conquerors [bore] the sacred image of their historical deeds within the image of Mary, the immaculate virgin and mother of God.”

[l] David Janssens and Daniel Tanguay, eds., "German Nihilism, Leo Strauss," Interpretation 26 (1999): 353–78.

[li] Commenting on book 6 in The Action and Argument of Plato’s Laws, (University of Chicago, 1973), p. 87, Strauss speaks of the highest form of “equality,” that of the superior man who rules by himself. But this is, of course, the highest form of inequality.

[lii] Strauss’s vision is hideously embodied in the rabbis, linked to the Israeli Defense Forces, who advocate even the killing of “gentile” children. The darkness here is unbroken. See my “A rabbi licenses the murder of babies,” http://democratic-individuality.blogspo ... abies.html .

[liii] Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, par. 258-259, is a brilliant psychologist. But denying injustice, he makes real protest against oppression mere “resentment.”

[liv] Gilbert, Democratic Individuality (Cambridge University Press, 1990), ch. 1.

[lv] Schmitt, 1926 introduction, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, trans. Ellen Kennedy (MIT Press, 1985), pp. 8-14.

[lvi] Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, par. 202.

[lvii] Strauss to Schmitt, September 4, 1932, in Meier, Carl Schmitt, pp. 124-25.

[lviii] Schmitt, Political Theology, p. 33.

[lix] Karl Loewith, “The Occasional Decisionism of Carl Schmitt” in Loewith and Richard Wolin, eds., Martin Heidegger & European Nihilism (Columbia, 1995), pp. 142-43.

[lx] Schmitt, Political Theology, p. 36. Unlike Strauss, Schmitt believed in miracles.

[lxi] Schmitt, “Der Fuehrer schuetzt das Recht” from Schmitt, Positionen und Begriffe, pp. 228-29.

[lxii] Strauss offers the exoteric thought in On Tyranny, p. 193 that unwise leaders are better governed by laws. But his more powerful argument directly afterwards calls for nihilistic revolt against the “universal and homogeneous state.”

[lxiii] There is plainly more to be said for Lincoln’s decision perhaps blocking rather than creating sympathy for enemy action than Roosevelt’s degraded racism.

[lxiv] Schmitt, Political Theology, p. 7. In Constitutional Dictatorship, chs. xiv-xviii, Rossiter stresses the way Lincoln and Roosevelt cleaved to the Constitution. Compared to Britain and other democracies in similar emergencies, they kept in mind the restoration of the rule of law. In contrast, Schmitt’s and Strauss’s emphasis is on tyranny.

[lxv] Obama has worked more with Congress and eliminated some forms of torture. But he has protected the top figures in the Bush-Cheney administration from prosecution for war crimes, left the rule of law in limbo, and maintained claims of extra or illegal Presidential power “in the state of the exception.”

[lxvi] Glossarium, p. 208.

[lxvii] The Christian interpretation of the theological difference of Christ and the Jews here becomes ornamented with additional anti-semitic and inconsistent claims about Christ’s murder.

[lxviii] Ibid, 313.

[lxix] In his 1941 lecture “http://democratic-individuality.blogspot.com/2009/08/leo-strauss-courage-to-destroy.html,” he says that he is not German and that Jews should take no interest in Germany. But in his speech on “Nihilism,” he differentiates true nihilists and, potentially, national socialists from Hitler’s vulgar nihilism. See my Leo Strauss: the courage to destroy http://democratic-individuality.blogspo ... stroy.html. This distinction also appears in Heidegger about the time, Strauss reports, – after twenty years – when Strauss began to interest himself in the “great philosopher of our time” again.

[lxx] “Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart, this nullity imagines itself the greatest thing that civilization has produced.” These are the last men. Gilbert, Democratic Individuality, ch. 9.

[lxxi] Rossiter, op. cit., chs. iii-v.

[lxxii] The last four chapters of Gilbert, Democratic Individuality explore Weber’s imperialism and racism in relation to his social theory.

[lxxiii] Weber, Gesammelte Politische Schriften (Mohr, 1958), pp. 279, 152, 14. He named himself: “he only is a national politician [nationaler Politiker] who looks at internal politics from the standpoint of inevitable adaptation [Anpassung] to external political tasks.” (p. 282)

[lxxiv] H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, ed., From Max Weber (Oxford, 1948), pp. 385, 135.

[lxxv] His concept of status incorporated the inferiority of Poles in Germany and blacks in the United States. Gilbert, Democratic Individuality, pp. 403-05.

[lxxvi] Both Schmitt and Strauss moved in more reactionary circles than Weber. In a July 10, 1933 letter from Paris which Schmitt, having become Prussian State Councilor, did not answer, Strauss begs for an introduction to the French fascist, Charles Maurras:

“Meanwhile I have been somewhat occupied with Maurras. The parallels to Hobbes – one can probably not speak of dependence – are striking. I would be very glad if I could speak to him. Would you be in a position and willing to write me a few lines by way of an introduction to him? I should be deeply indebted to you if you could do so.” (Meier, Carl Schmitt, p. 128.)

Maurras led Action Francaise, a French reactionary party, and, like Schmitt and Strauss, would later support Hitler.

[lxxvii] With the nearness of mortality, Rosenszweig sent a draft of The Star of Redemption from the trenches of Macedonia in letters to his mother.

[lxxviii] As a liberal admirer of Weber, Stephen Holmes finds this phrase revolting (conversation, July, 2006).

[lxxix] Gilbert, Democratic Individuality, chs. 9-12. I stress an aspect of Weber’s thesis that capitalism arises from Protestant innerwordly asceticism which Weber does not mention: to combat Sombart’s anti-semitic notion that it comes from “soulless Jews, baked under the Oriental sun.” See also my Max Weber: a hero of fighting anti-semitism at democratic-individuality.blogspot.com. Curiously, Weber’s silence parallels Strauss’s later celebration of Machiavelli as causing the modern world without mentioning its opponent: Schmitt’s racist vilification of Spinoza.

[lxxx] I am indebted for this story to Catherine Zuckert (phone conversation, November, 2006).

[lxxxi] The word is Catherine Zuckert’s on a panel I organized on the letter at the American Political Science Association, 2007.
Site Admin
Posts: 31201
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Enmity and Tyranny - on Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 5:26 am

Enmity and Tyranny part 2: political theology
by Alan Gilbert
March 9, 2010

This comparatively brief second section of "Enmity and Tyranny" compares Schmitt and Strauss on what Strauss called the theological-political predicament – for him, the central aspect, though only referred to briefly, of long scholarly/political deliberation. See here for the first section. For Strauss and to some extent, for Plato, the esoteric or hidden meaning of political theology is the use of a god by a leader to put across authoritarian policies. I have another long essay on this matter called “Politics and the God,” based in Strauss’s ecstatic unearthings of hidden meanings, sometimes genuine discoveries, in Plato and others, in his letters to Jacob Klein in 1938 which I will post when it is about to be published. In those letters, Strauss provides a paradigm for scholarly enthusiasm. I also explore how one might interpret book x of Plato’s Laws as a subtle exercise in protecting a would-be Socrates, providing a seeming punishment of leading men walking with an atheist at night to counsel him for five years. But Klinias the Cretan can’t entirely withstand the Athenian Stranger, whom Plato finds quite doubtful and expects his students to, for a single day!.

In his 1922 Political Theeology, Schmitt blazed a trail in regard to authoritarianism ("he is sovereign who makes the decision in the state of the exception" is how the essay begins. Esoterically, he suggested that authoritarianism (fascist or later Nazi) mirrored a hidden Catholicism of Christ’s miracle against the rigid “law” of the Jews. As the most famous lawyer in Weimar and the Prussian State Councillor under the Nazis until 1936, Schmitt is paradoxical in his passion against the rule of law.

2. Strauss and Schmitt on “Political Theology”

Schmitt’s Political Theology (1922) promotes a striking analogy: as God makes miracles, so a leader gives (exceptional or arbitrary) “laws.” Implicitly, Schmitt relates the miracle of Christ opposed to the law of the Jews (theology) to the miracle of a leader acting against – or despite - the law (politics). In 1922, Schmitt traces this idea to Hobbes and coins the term decisionism to celebrate authoritarianism. In this first stage of Schmitt’s and Strauss’s confrontation with Hobbes, Strauss adopts Schmitt’s political vision, but fails to understand, for Schmitt, its theological counterpart.

But Schmitt translates every alternative argument into a political “theology”:

De Maistre said that every government is necessarily absolute, and the anarchist says the same; but with the aid of his axiom of the good man and corrupt government, he draws the opposite practical conclusion, namely that all governments must be opposed for the reason that every government is a dictatorship. Every claim of a decision must be evil for the anarchist, because the right emerges of itself if not disturbed by such claims. This radical antithesis forces him of course to decide against the decision; and this results in the odd paradox whereby Bakunin, the greatest anarchist of the nineteenth century, had to become in theory the theologian of the antitheological, and in practice the dictator of the antidictatorial.[i]

Earlier in that book, Schmitt suggests that all concepts of state are disguised theology and metaphysics.[ii] One might say that Schmitt arbitrarily theologizes both the politics of his opponents and all politics. Schmitt offers no argument for this affectation.[iii] Oddly, for a lawyer, he fails to recognize self-defense against murder; demolishing Nazi genocide, for example, would be liberating and hardly a “hypocritical theology.” Further, Bakunin opposed God, the State and capitalism (“ni dieu ni maitre’); though parallel oppositions, what connects them?

In addition, how does opposition to government as oppressive require an assumption that humans are “good”? If a reactionary makes humans evil enough, the evils of government may seem to pale in comparison; otherwise the two objects of argument – the diverse potentials of human nature; the justice of government – have no strong connection. Schmitt uses revelation to reshape others’ arguments. Others are, for him, mirrors in which he sees himself.

Heinrich Meier has rightly insisted on Schmitt’s deliberately hidden Catholicism which Strauss, in Meier’s idiom a “political philosopher,” does not confront (Strauss’s Platonic suggestion about a legislator’s use of political theology – though reactionary and in part overlapping – is not, as we will see, Schmitt’s Catholic authoritarianism). Schmitt ties the assertion of the dangerousness of man in politics – and hence, the need for enemies – to original sin. But Schmitt’s decision about who thinks about “the political” also needs argument. He tendentiously cuts out obviously political thinkers – even liberals and radicals who insist on revolutionary struggle do not qualify – according to the assumption of ineliminable dangerousness. “Man” is only capable of violence, exploitation and destruction; no other potentials are visible, let alone politically feasible. On this view, human potentials are not complex:

What remains is the remarkable and for many, certainly disquieting diagnosis that all genuine political theories presuppose man to be evil, i.e., by no means an unproblematic but a dangerous and dynamic being. This can be easily documented in the works of every specific political thinker. Insofar as they reveal themselves as such they all agree on the idea of a problematic human nature, no matter how distinct they are in rank and prominence in history. It suffices here to cite Machiavelli, Hobbes, Bossuet, Fichte (as soon as he forgets his humanitarian idealism), de Maistre, Donoso Cortes, H. Taine, Hegel who, to be sure, at times also shows his double face.[iv]

The arrogant Schmitt knows how to “rank Hegel” alluding to his “double face” – perhaps Schmitt reacts against dialectical possibilities of slaves struggling for freedom and Hegel’s theory of the modern state as a regime realizing equal freedom of individuals rather than mere violence and war. This simple, un-argued judgment is underpinned by a deliberately un-argued Catholicism:

The connection of political theories with theological dogmas of sin which appear prominently in Bossuet, Maistre, Bonald, Donoso Cortes and Friedrich Julius Stahl, among others, is explained by the relationship of these necessary presuppositions. The fundamental theological dogma of the evilness of the world and man leads, just as does the distinction of friend and enemy, to a categorization of man and makes impossible the undifferentiated optimism of a universal conception of man.[v]

Note that Schmitt subsequently has a horror of “the Jew Stahl-Jolson.”

Now politics has routinely involved war and revolution. Yet Schmitt offers no further reasons for the necessity of mortal enemies, or for the original sin – confined, if one subtracts the Protestant Stahl, to a few Catholic reactionaries – which purportedly underpins it.[vi] Once again, Schmitt cloaks this commitment in his discussion of politics as having an enemy because he believes there is no argument for revelation – one sees it or one does not. Supporting Hitler for Schmitt was a means. The rise of secular and Protestant culture were important features of the modern “mechanical,” “impersonal” rejection of Catholicism, but, for Schmitt, Jews were the anti-Christ.

The SS forced Schmitt out of leadership positions in 1936. In that sense, Schmitt, like Heidegger, did not participate directly in “the final solution.” But as we will see, none of this affects his precise contributions to the climate of anti-semitism which inspired genocide. Schmitt’s notion of internal enmities, distaste for law, celebration of “the exception” and “decisionism” also helped shape Nazi torture and mass murder of partisans – “enemies” or in the Bush administration’s lingo, “enemy combatants” - whom they did not consider soldiers or prisoners of war on the Eastern front.[vii]

According to Strauss’s exoteric interpretation of “the theological-political predicament,” revelation and reason have incommensurable starting points and reason cannot refute revelation. But if that is true, no one could reasonably object to Schmitt’s Catholicism, and his furthering, in this world, of genocidal anti-semitism. Meier’s Leo Strauss and the Theological-Political Problem (2007) rightly introduces some doubts about whether Strauss believes this surface argument. [viii] Exoteric argument, however, will do for an apology for Schmitt by some Straussian and many neoconservative readers. Serious conservatives like Scott Horton detest Schmitt, but the American “conservative” movement has become increasingly authoritarian; many are confused about these opposed alternatives.

Mass murder is, however, mass murder, even if Schmitt were seeing “visions” of the Last Judgment and a muscular Christ hurling “Jews” and other sinners into oceans of fire. If one wishes to see deeply into Schmitt’s political theology about Jews, for a few years at Nazism’s height, Hitler approximated Schmitt’s vision of Christ. [ix] One might think carefully before opting for Strauss’s exoteric conclusion that the choice of philosophy or science as opposed to revelation has no rational basis.

Even Strauss’s naming of “the theological-political predicament,”[x] however, suggests another point of view: a philosophical or perhaps esoteric one. If such a point of view were not primary, why isn’t this “the theological-philosophical problem”? To put the issue in a non-Straussian idiom, Gilbert Harman analyzes ordinary and scientific reasoning as inductive inferences to the best explanation. To figure out anomalies, one assesses competing explanations, and the best one – often, a counterintuitive, surprising one – is that which best fits the evidence. Differing or “incommensurable” starting points are not decisive, as in the exoteric “theological-political problem,” but rather the course of reasoning as a whole. In explanation and often prediction, science and philosophy strikingly outdo revelation.[xi] Strauss himself, it should be underlined, never doubted specific scientific theories.

More importantly, Strauss provides many reasons to doubt his surface presentation of “the predicament.”[xii] First, as Strauss emphasizes, both Hobbes and Spinoza devastatingly criticize miracles (supposed “revelations”).[xiii] Second, Strauss shared Plato’s vision of the “theological-political problem.” For instance, in Strauss’s 1973 Action and Argument of Plato’s Laws, appeals to god are necessary for a tyrant to become a legislator and put over his laws among people who could not see their rationality.[xiv] Third, emulating mystics in this respect, Strauss recommends that his followers wear the garment of piety to cloak their ultimate beliefs and public purposes. Here, he invokes Plato’s sophronisterion from book 10 of the Laws: a decent young atheist is put in prison and forced to walk at night for five years with members of the Nocturnal Council until he stops saying the wrong thing in public or is put to death.[xv] Fourth, Strauss celebrates Al-Farabi as a Medieval Platonist who recommends the rule of the legislator-king-philosopher-imam. Al-Farabi suggests that some of Plato’s followers work gradually or “provisionally” to change the regime from a democracy into a philosopher-tyranny or in today’s idiom, authoritarianism:

As an example of this, he mentioned the Athenians (his own people) and their ways of life. He described how to abolish their laws and how to turn them away from them. He described his view regarding the way in which they could be moved gradually, and he described the opinions and the laws toward which they should be moved after the abolition of their ways of life and laws.[xvi]

According to Strauss, both Plato and Farabi “presented what [they] regarded as the truth by means of ambiguous, allusive, misleading, and obscure speech.”[xvii] On the surface as in the Seventh Letter, Plato avoided Athenian politics; Al-Farabi’s “misleading” interpretation gestures to contemporary and future philosophers within Islam about what a Platonic politics means.

Fifth, in an April 22, 1957 letter to Kojeve, Strauss indicates the usefulness to a philosopher of rhetors, who appeal to the religious prejudices and fears of the people:

I do not believe in the possibility of a conversation of Socrates with the people…the relation of the philosopher to the people is mediated by a certain kind of rhetoricians who arouse the fear of punishment after death; the philosopher can guide these rhetors but cannot do their work.[xviii]

These five aspects undercut the surface interpretation in Strauss of the “theological-political predicament” and reveal a decisive meaning of Strauss’s “Platonism,” his profoundly authoritarian politics.



[i] Schmitt, Political Theology, p. 66.

[ii] Ibid, p. 36.

[iii] Nor does Heinrich Meier who celebrates it. Lesson, ch. 1.

[iv] Schmitt, Political, p. 61.

[v] Ibid, pp. 64-65.

[vi] For Hegel, Christianity is the religion of individual freedom because of the notion of original sin. Philosophically, Hegel reinterprets this idea to suggest that freedom is not natural; instead, each individual must self-consciously realize her freedom in institutions consistent with the freedom of every other person. In contrast, Catholic reactionaries fixate on the priestly meaning of original sin.

[vii] Scott Horton has emphasized an analogy of the Nazi’s Schmittian policies on the Eastern front and the Bush administration’s international empire of torture prisons for “enemy combatants” in the so-called “War on Terror.” Ironically, given the influence of his ideas in murdering Russian partisans, Schmitt “On the Partisan” (1962), defends guerilla fighters against Alexandre Kojeve’s “universal and homogenous state.” His account includes Mao and Fidel, and has sometimes been taken up on the left.

[viii] In this book, Meier suggests rightly that Strauss sided with political philosophy (see especially pp. 23-28). But that argument undercuts Meier’s earlier “political theological” extenuations of Schmitt.

[ix] Ghopal Balakrishnan, The Enemy: an Intellectual Portrait, pp. 253-55 rightly notes that at the end of the War, Schmitt condemned “planned killings and inhuman cruelties” toward Russians and Jews. The German defeat and his year and a half in prison at Nuremburg plunged him into depression, however, and revivified his anti-Jewish prejudices.

[x] He uses this term in his “Preface” to Spinoza’s Critique of Religion,, p. 1.

[xi] Harman, “Inference to the Best Explanation.” The Philosophical Review, 1965.

[xii] Strauss’s essay “Athens and Jerusalem” states the seeming problem in the way that Meier indicates.

[xiii] Hobbes, Leviathan, ch. 26. 37, 42.

[xiv] Strauss, Action and Argument of Plato’s Laws, pp. 141-42.[cited hereafter as Action] Strauss suggests that a sentence of Avicenna on the importance of the Laws, however, enabled him to understand Maimonides and Al-Farabi. What is Political Philosophy, p. 161.

[xv] “Those led into error by folly but not possessing a bad character are to be condemned to stay in the sophronisterion for no less than five years, during which time no citizen may visit them except the members of the Nocturnal Council who are to take care of their improvement; if after the lapse of the five years a man of this kind is thought to have come to his senses, he will be released; if he relapses, however, he will be punished with death.” Strauss, Action, p. 155.

[xvi] Al-Farabi, The Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, trans. Muhsin Mahdi, lines 22, 19-23, 10. Plato’s Timeaus has the idea that a vanished but great Athens was ruled by a philosopher-king. See my “Plato’s vision of Atlantis and the subversion of Athens,” http://democratic-individuality.blogspo ... on-of.html, June 17, 2009.

[xvii] Strauss, What is Political Philosophy and other Essays (Illinois: The Free Press of Glencoe, 1959), pp. 154, 145,

[xviii] Tracy Strong, “Exile and the Demos: Leo Strauss in America,” American Political Science Association, 2007. emphasizes this letter. According to Stanley Rosen, Strauss’s first student, Strauss told him in the late 1950s: first, we will get students jobs in liberal arts colleges where they will be the “most knowledgeable” and “charismatic” faculty members. They will then go on into receptive foundations and, as occasion arises, right-wing administrations. Rosen told Strong this story, and confirmed it to me by email.
Site Admin
Posts: 31201
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Enmity and Tyranny - on Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 5:33 am


Enmity and Tyranny, part 3: Strauss's Machiavelli as an antidote to Schmitt's Spinoza
by Alan Gilbert
March 15, 2010

On the surface, as a defender of the ancients, Strauss grandly attributes to Machiavelli the founding of the modern world. Machiavelli somehow lowers the horizon of philosophy, argues for forcing fortune, eliminates the seemingly rare or accidental quality of the best regime for the ancients, moves toward making a low calculation of power common. But this story is elliptical, even for Strauss, in two ways. First, Strauss thought Machiavelli close to Plato and Xenophon on the role of a philosophical tyrant, a legislator who was advised by a philosopher, using God to put over authoritarian policies (see Strauss, Thoughts on Machiavelli, pp. 291, 293). Second, with Nietzsche, in 1932, Strauss attributed modernity to the Jewish prophets and their fascinating identification of the poor with “true,” “holy” and “friend,” their hostility to the “world” dominated by the rich and the aristocrats (See Enmity and Tyranny, part one here). Machiavelli is, as it were, a proxy for the earlier role of the prophets.

But perhaps with the experience of Nazi genocide which Strauss at the very last understood, he recoiled from stating this explicitly. He was still sympathetic to true national socialism or true nihilism, but without the anti-Jewish murderousness (see here and here).

I had initially thought that Strauss’s emphasis on Machiavelli was sheerly admirable, a gesture against the anti-Jewish viciousness of Schmitt. I enjoy finding decent things politically in Strauss (they are surprisingly rare), and added this to his letter to the National Review in 1957, criticizing from the standpoint of conservatives (again, he does not say that he himself is a conservative), the journal's anti-semitism. I still think the emphasis on Machiavelli rather than Spinoza is an important merit in Strauss, but one which is more clouded by his dark view of modernity and its connection to the prophets than I had previously understood. Still putting Machiavelli to the fore as the progenitor of the last men served for Strauss as a useful proxy for the Jewish prophets, one which grew more important to him at the end of World War II and subsequently.

It is not clear, however, that he changed his 1932 view. Machiavelli could have been, in this respect, a vehicle for the Prophets and even I suppose for the Christians whom Machiavelli mocked and blasphemed (his view antedates Nietzsche and is something Strauss found amusing and sympathetic). But the connection Strauss implies between Christianity with its emphasis on the poor and Machiavelli is not obvious. Seemingly misguided, Strauss gives no argument for it. One would have to track both his early hints and later views on Machiavelli carefully to see whether and how Machiavelli really leads to “the last men” as opposed to providing, esoterically, an account of the philosopher-tyrant. Are the two themes conjoined in Strauss (one exoteric, the other hidden) or is the hidden message about Machiavelli the dominant one?

In this context, one might consider Harvey Mansfield and Carnes Lord, both Republican activists, who support, as Harvey puts it, the tyranny of the bold, war-making leader – Bush. Correspondingly, Lord was an undersecretary of state in the Reagan administration. Both explicitly invoke Machiavelli. Thus, the leader must shape politics, Lord avers in The Modern Prince (2003; currently, Professor at the Navel War College). Like Mansfield and Strauss, Lord is utterly fixated on the dangers of “feminization,” namely peace, contrasting the ostensible virtues of “manliness.” Such manly men have destroyed the American economy, reduced America largely to a war complex, and in Mansfield’s case, done heroic work in the defense of brutality, stupidity and torture. The putative negative side of Machiavelli for these two – and perhaps for Strauss* – is not obvious.

Strauss had had intimate contact, through advice, teaching and admiration, with Schmitt. He was, very likely, aware, to some extent, of Schmitt’s anti-semitism. His 1928 Spinoza’s Critique of Religion would be the source for Schmitt’s musings on the role of Hobbes and Spinoza in modernity. But even there, however fascinated Strauss was by Hobbes, Strauss saw both Hobbes and Spinoza as variants on Machiavelli, the former as the (proximate) founder of the modern current. In contrast, Schmitt, a Catholic anti-Nietzschean, did not grasp Strauss’s or Nietzsche’s identification of the prophets as the cause of modernity. Instead, following Strauss’s 1928 commentary, he fixated on the “outsider” Spinoza as the source of the modern world. One might say that Schmitt missed the root of Strauss’s more subtle anti-semitism in his rejection of the prophets. The latter was the cause of their common sympathy for the National Revolution. Nonetheless, however grandiose and un-argued Strauss’s view of Machiavelli is, Strauss’s Machiavelli admirably serves as an antidote to Schmitt’s anti-semitic venom about Spinoza. Here is the last section of “Enmity and Tyranny”:

3. “Great Men” and Anti-Semitism: Hobbes, Spinoza and Machiavelli

In The Concept of the Political (1928), Schmitt hailed Hobbes as the theorist of war to the death between individuals in the state of nature, a mirror of his own view of politics. This marks a second stage of Schmitt’s – and Strauss’s – confrontation with Hobbes.

Though calling Hobbes “by far the greatest political theorist,” Schmitt ignores his starting point in individual reasoning about death. Like Strauss, Schmitt believes that a point of view emphasizing individuals is itself a sign of decadent “liberalism.” Instead, Schmitt stresses Hobbes’s state of nature in the international sphere, each regime threatened by others with death. In contrast, Strauss rightly points out that Hobbes was not an advocate, like Schmitt, of international enmity. Instead, he was the “bourgeois” or “liberal” theorist of the transformation of a state of nature of individuals, by agreement of all who fear violent death, into a state of civilization, ruled by a Leviathan, a “mortal god,” who guarantees the physical security and economic comfort of each. Here, Strauss improves Schmitt’s scholarship:

If it is true that the final self-awareness of liberalism is the philosophy of culture, we may say in summary that liberalism, sheltered by and engrossed in a world of culture, forgets the foundation of culture, the state of nature, that is, human nature in its dangerousness and endangeredness. Schmitt returns, contrary to liberalism, to its author, Hobbes, in order to strike at the root of liberalism in Hobbes’s express negation of the state of nature. Whereas Hobbes in an unliberal world accomplishes the founding of liberalism, Schmitt in a liberal world undertakes the critique of liberalism.[i]

If one wants to understand Strauss’s later anti-democratic emphasis on “nature” in Natural Right and History, one should listen carefully to this observation.[ii]

In his 1938 The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes, however, Schmitt reverses his ground. In a third stage of argument about Hobbes, Schmitt starts from Hobbes’s recognition of individuals and focuses on the relation of the English patriot Hobbes and “the Jew” Spinoza in the emergence of liberalism. In effect, Schmitt adopts Strauss’s criticism of his second understanding. Now he celebrates a near political and religious unity of the Leviathan: Hobbes’s solution to the “theological-political problem.” Yet Schmitt then underlines a subtle “flaw” in Hobbes, his skepticism about religion and the sovereign’s religious commands which will, in the hands of others, create a gash in Leviathan’s belly and allow a modern understanding to drain his life away.

On this version of Schmitt’s argument, Hobbes establishes a genuine moral underpinning for the mortal god. Protection of individual security motivates obligation to the state (protego ergo obligo).[iii] But for all Strauss’s rhetoric that Hobbes founds liberalism, Hobbes’s emphasis – securing the life and privacy of each person is a great moral good – intimately connects, as Schmitt realizes, to “total,” authoritarian aspirations. Contra Strauss, Hobbes initiates a modern thought about individuals in a state of nature to argue for a pre-modern, authoritarian conclusion. Schmitt and even Strauss aver that Hobbes is the “most political” thinker.

More obviously, however, Hobbes is a profoundly anti-political thinker, seeking the suppression of dissent and debate in the authority of Leviathan, the overweening of dangerous individual freedom of thought in the command of “the mortal god.” Though the state protects each individual’s security and economic prosperity in Hobbes, all other goods, including political and religious freedom of conscience and dissent, are, as a public matter, wiped out. In 1932, Strauss and Schmitt start from states; both despise liberalism and lack a sense of ethics. Their non-individual starting point is, once again, anti-liberal and anti-modern; yet Schmitt and Strauss end up with a post-modern though anti-liberal emphasis on a “total,” that is, fascist or authoritarian state.

In 1938, however, Schmitt transforms his earlier stress on the political as war – and Hobbes’ state of nature as its highest expression – into a moral emphasis on Hobbes’ provision of internal security for each individual. By this time, the Nazis had removed Schmitt as Prussian state councilor. They had promised the security of “Aryans”; Schmitt had discovered, however, the horrifying irony that under fascism, no one – not even Carl Schmitt - is safe.[iv] In contrast to his earlier adulation of Hitler, his 1938 book, amazingly, does not mention the “Fuehrer” or the Nazis. Hobbes, he notes, invokes the “Leviathan” but three times in his lengthy book. Schmitt emphasizes the medieval “jewish-cabbalistic sources” of the image, its hidden meanings. Perhaps Schmitt himself offers esoteric messages. As David Dyzenhaus and Jan-Werner Mueller suggest, perhaps one such meaning is that the Nazis have failed in their Hobbesian obligation to provide security.[v]

Hobbes presents his theory as an example of geometric or deductive reasoning from axioms. His moral emphasis, however, leads to a fundamental contradiction of which neither Schmitt nor Strauss is aware. Each individual’s fear of violent death establishes a common justice or a common good – a Leviathan to protect them. But they must then, Hobbes asserts, accept all the Leviathan’s commands, including religious ones, as law: only obedience to the Leviathan’s words can provide security against individual slights, resentments, and murderousness. But suppose such laws threaten their existence. When locked up, says Hobbes, they can rattle their chains; in war, they may run away. But why can they take only these steps? Avoiding violent death is Hobbes’s core moral value, the starting point of the argument. Hobbes contradicts himself: a Leviathan cannot become a tyrant, and if he does, his commands are dust. In this respect, Locke’s argument is more consistently Hobbesian: when the tyrant acts like “a lion or tiger,” he may be killed by popular revolution like any threatening beast in the jungle of nature. Nonetheless, a refusal to submit to state murder, on Hobbes’s argument, presages Lockean revolt; his vision has a decency absent in Schmitt or Strauss.

Yet Schmitt experienced Hobbes’s contradiction personally and viscerally. As State Councilor, he had licensed the SS; now only Hermann Goering’s protection saved him. Still, in 1938, Schmitt offers only esoteric criticism of Hitler. His conception does not contain Hobbes’s tension, his emphasis on individual fear of death. He organized – and could organize – no revolt against tyranny.[vi] He could not even hint at it. Far from a “concept of the political,” Schmitt (and Strauss) disarm the political, despise individual conscience, and disable revolt against tyranny.

Worse, the 1938 account of Hobbes amplifies the stridency of Schmitt’s anti-semitism. He accuses “outsiders,” the Jews, of driving a wedge between the state and religion, and "draining the life out of" the Leviathan. For Hobbes, the Leviathan determines civil and religious law. Yet Hobbes offers a wonderfully skeptical chapter on miracles. His favorite term for such events is “strange,” a “strange deviation of nature.”[vii] But what is strange or “immediate” like the first rainbow one sees often becomes familiar or “ordinary” in nature:

Seeing Admiration and Wonder is consequent to the knowledge and experience wherewith men are endued, some more, some lesse; it followeth, that the same thing, may be a Miracle to one, and not to another. And thence it is, that ignorant and superstitious men make great Wonders of those works, which other men, knowing to proceed from Nature (which is not the immediate, but the ordinary work of God,) admire not at all: As when Ecclipses of the Sun and Moon have been taken for supernaturall works, by the common people; when nevertheless, there were others, could from their naturall causes, have foretold the very hour they should arrive.[viii]

Only the Leviathan’s command can make public agreement of these clashing views; otherwise, according to Hobbes’s mistaken psychology, the slightest disagreement or indignity will lead to war to the death[ix]:

For if the Law declared be not against the Law of Nature (which is undoubtedly Gods Law) and he undertake to obey it, he is bound by his own act; bound I say to obey it, but not bound to believe it: for mens beliefe, and interior cogitations, are not subject to the commands, but only to the operation of God, ordinary or extraordinary.[x]

Note that the law of nature here – self-preservation – undercuts obedience when the Leviathan threatens the subject. But as Hobbes emphasizes, private belief and “interior cogitations” are each “man’s” own. This according to the Catholic Schmitt who believes in miracles – and the total state’s ostensible “right” to determine individual belief – is the gash. But following Schmitt’s argument, one might ask, does not Hitler’s state then have the same right? Does not Schmitt’s criticism of Hobbes render incoherent Schmitt’s esoteric criticism of the Nazis? One may insist on protection (and self-defense); the state commands all public expressions including forbidding any notice of the absence of protection (or self-defense). Amusingly, Schmitt’s esotericism is even more bizarrely self-refuting than Strauss’s.[xi]

As a metaphor for what would Spinoza would call the political theology of the king’s power, Hobbes emphasizes Moses and God’s covenant with him as a legislator:

At Mount Sinai, Moses only went up to God; the people were forbidden to approach on paine of death; yet were they bound to obey all that Moses declared to them for Gods Law. Upon what ground, but on this submission of their own, Speak thou to us, and we will heare thee, but let not God speak to us, lest we dye? By which two places it sufficiently appeareth, that in a Commonwealth, a subject that has no certain and assured Revelation particularly to himself concerning the Will of God, is to obey for such, the Command of the Common-wealth: for if men were at liberty to take for Gods Commandements, their own dreams and fancies, or the dreams and fancies of private men; scarce two men would agree upon what is Gods Commandement.[xii]

Hobbes designs the Leviathan to suppress all “dreams and fancies of private men” which lead, on his account, to civil war; yet this extinction is only public or formal, not real. “I conclude therefore, “ says Hobbes, “that in all things not contrary to the Morall Law (that is to say, to the Law of Nature,) all Subjects are bound to obey that for divine Law, which is declared to be so, by the Laws of the Commonwealth.”[xiii] Note again the caveat – the law of nature requires each individual to defy his own violent death at the hands of the state. Beyond this, Hobbes permits complete internal freedom of religion so long as the individual publically adheres to the will of the sovereign.

In contrast, Spinoza makes the founding principle of the state an individual’s freedom of thought and expression. He keeps Hobbes’s idea that the sovereign decides and obligates in public expression; still, his new formulation leads, for Schmitt, to the development of the anti-Christ: a secular culture based on individual freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. For Spinoza, ”transvaluing,” as it were, Hobbes’s values, the “true purpose” of the state is freedom. Taking individuals more seriously, he gives Hobbes’ account a different, democratic emphasis:

…peoples’ free judgments are very diverse and everyone thinks they know everything themselves, and it can never happen that everyone will think exactly alike and speak with one voice. It would have been impossible therefore for people to live in peace, unless each one gave up his right to act according to his own decision alone. Each one therefore surrendered his right to act according to his own resolution, but not his right to think and judge for himself. Thus no one can act against the sovereign’s decisions without prejudicing his authority, but they can think and judge and speak without restriction, provided they merely speak or teach by way of reason alone.[xiv]

They can also act in elections. About piety and religious freedom of expression, Spinoza argues: only public ceremonies are bound by the sovereign’s command –“the highest form of piety is that which is practiced with respect to peace and tranquility.”[xv]

In Schmitt’s anti-semitic idiom, however,

Only a few years after the appearance of the Leviathan, a liberal Jew noticed the barely visible crack in the theoretical justification of the sovereign state. In it he immediately recognized the telling inroad of modern liberalism, which would allow Hobbes’s postulation of the relation between external and internal, public and private, to be inverted into its converse. Spinoza accomplished the inversion in the famous Chapter 19 of this Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, which appeared in 1670. Already in the subtitle of his book he speaks of the libertas philosophandi [freedom of philosophizing]. He begins his exposition by maintaining that in the interest of external peace and external order, the sovereign state power can regulate the public religious cult and that every citizen must accommodate himself to this regulation. Everything that refers to religion receives its legal validity, vim juris, only through the command of the state’s power. The state’s power, however, determines only the external cult. Hobbes laid the groundwork for separating the internal from the external in the sections of the Leviathan that deal with a belief in miracles and confession. The Jewish philosopher pushed this incipient form to the limit of its development until the opposite was reached and the leviathan’s vitality was sapped from within and life began to drain out of him.[xvi]

Contrasting the English patriot, Schmitt attributes corruption – the gutting of Leviathan - to “Jews” as “outsiders” and “spectators”:

Spinoza’s treatise is dependent on Hobbes. But the Englishman did not endeavor with such a proviso to appear out of context of the beliefs of his people but, on the contrary to remain within it, whereas the Jewish philosopher, on the other hand, approached the religion of the state as an outsider, naturally provided a proviso that emanated from the outside. Hobbes focused on public peace and the right of the sovereign power: individual freedom of thought was an implicit right open only as long as it remained private. Now it is the reverse: individual freedom of thought is the form-giving principle, the necessities of public peace as well as the right of the sovereign power having been transformed into mere provisos. A small intellectual switch emanating from the nature of Jewish life accomplished with the most simple logic and in the span of a few years, the decisive turn in the fate of the leviathan.[xvii]

In describing the contrast, Schmitt is right; for Hobbes, freedom of religion and thought is implicit, an unstated right which still publically affirms the greatness of Leviathan; in Spinoza, these principles, including freedom of speech, are form-giving principles. In explanation and assessment, however, Schmitt is a monster. That he blames the “Jews” even in a text which does not adulate Hitler underlines a fundamental contribution to the climate of genocide.[xviii]

At the beginning of his book, Schmitt tells of the “medieval-cabbalistic” interpretation of Leviathan in which Leviathan and Behemoth, the sea monster and the land monster, go to war. By covering Behemoth’s mouth and nose with his fins, Leviathan chokes him, a metaphor, Schmitt interestingly comments, for naval blockade. Many fall. “Jews,” Schmitt avers, find it “kosher” to consume the flesh of the corpses of strangers. “Jews,” he adds, fear heathens’ sexual vitality:

According to such Jewish-cabbalistic interpretations, the leviathan represents the ‘cattle upon a thousand hills’ (Psalms, 50:10), namely the heathens. World history appears as a battle among heathens. The leviathan, symbolizing sea powers, fighting the behemoth, representing land powers. The latter tries to tear the leviathan apart with his horns, while the leviathan covers the behemoth’s mouth and nostrils with his fins and kills him in that way. This is, incidentally, a fine depiction of the mastery of a country by a blockade. But the Jews stand by and watch how the people of the world kill one another. This mutual ‘ritual slaughter and massacre’ is for them lawful and ‘kosher’ and they therefore eat the flesh of the slaughtered peoples and are sustained by it. …Looked at from the perspective of the Jews, each [Leviathan, Behemoth] is an image of heathenish vitality and fertility, the ‘great Pan’ that Jewish hatred and Jewish feelings of superiority have transformed into a monster:[xix]

Schmitt fixates on the image “ritual slaughter” which he later imposes on the crucifixion of Christ.[xx] His are not simply the ravings of a non-IQ testing, pre-eugenics, “medieval” Catholic bigot. As the most distinguished law professor in Germany and Prussian State Councilor, Schmitt Nazifies the law. At an October 3-4, 1936 conference which Schmitt organized on “Das Judentum in der Rechtswissenschaft” (Judaism in Jurisprudence), Schmitt proclaimed:

The addition of the word and the designation ‘Jewish’ is no formality, but rather something essential because, after all, we cannot prevent the Jewish author from using the German language. Otherwise the purification of our law literature will not be possible. Whoever writes ‘Stahl-Jolson’ today has brought about more thereby in a genuinely scholarly and clear way than the lengthy expositions against the Jews which move in abstract phrases and by which not a single Jew feels affected in the concrete.

In a breath of Nazism/dark “Catholicism,” Schmitt adds:

If for objective reasons it is necessary to cite Jewish authors, then only with the addition ‘Jewish.’ The healing exorcism will set in already with the mere mention of the word ‘Jewish.’[xxi]

In his inaugural address, Schmitt passionately invokes Hitler’s words against “Jews” and “Bolsheviks”:

But the most profound and ultimate meaning of this battle and thus also of our work today, lies expressed in the Fuehrer’s sentence: ‘In fending off the Jew, I fight for the work of the Lord.’

(Hitler powerfully affects Christianity here; how much deeper is Schmitt’s “Catholicism”?[xxii]) As an official of the Reich, Schmitt names “single Jews” to be “affected in the concrete” as Hitler’s genocide would. His release at Nuremburg was wrong. He was technically guilty of preparing – making more precise - the way for mass murder. He handed out yellow stars in the “legal” literature.[xxiii]

As Meier rightly emphasizes, Schmitt kept these views – though not publically – after World War II.[xxiv] He hunted Jews to “unmask them.” Friedrich Stahl, an assimilated Jew who had changed his name from Jolson to avoid bigotry, had been an influential conservative defender of the Prussian monarchy, often cited by Schmitt in the 1920s. But now, Schmitt does not care what Stahl actually thought. Instead, he paints “Stahl-Jolson” as one of the shifting “masks” of an “enigmatic,” “demonic” fellowship:

It is completely wrong to make him out to be an exemplary, conservative Jew compared with other, later Jews, who unfortunately were no longer so. Therein lies a dangerous failure to appreciate the essential insight that with every change of the general situation, with every new period of history, a change of the general behavior of the Jews, a change of masks possessing demonic enigmaticness also occurs so quickly that we grasp it only with the most careful attention; by comparison, the question about the subjective credulity of a particular participating Jewish individual is altogether uninteresting.[xxv]

This underlying belief disregards evidence and is irrational. In this context, one wonders how Schmitt interpreted the “subjective credulity” of “the Jew Strauss” with whom he had engaged in so complicated a dance, from whom he had learned much?[xxvi]

Following Schmitt, however, Strauss asserts a bizarre “great man” thesis about the emergence of socio-political ages. As Stephen Holmes suggests, there are many reasons to doubt Strauss’s thesis about Machiavelli spawning the modern world:

The discovery of America, the Reformation and the religious civil wars, the invention of the magnetic compass, gunpowder, the telescope and the printing press, the emergence of state bureaucracies – none of these factors can be reduced to Machiavellianism, though all had a decisive impact on the contours of modernity. To say that Machiavelli single-handedly unleashed acquisitiveness on the modern world , is to rule out, with little justification, a whole series of other causes for the rise of the modern commercial ethos.[xxvii]

As is often the case, Strauss adduces no argument in defense of his position. But what motivates its un-argued vehemence?

In conversations/correspondence, both Schmitt and Strauss emphasized the role of Hobbes in the creation of modern liberalism and more strikingly, his founding – what Schmitt, once again, names “decisionism” – of their authoritarianism. Guarded toward his deferential young student and occasionally a friend of individual Jews, Schmitt hid much of his anti-semitism. In Heidegger, the anti-semitism, though accompanied by personal viciousness toward his teacher and his own students, was superficial[xxviii]; in Schmitt, it is his hidden view. As a reactionary believer that the prophets ultimately created the “last men,” Strauss was predisposed to accept or ignore Schmitt’s abstract anti-semitic insinuations, even though he would have found Schmitt’s later anti-semitism appalling. In any case, Strauss and Schmitt shared an enthusiasm for the Leviathan. A creative scholar but not an original philosopher or thinker – all the distinctive concepts such as “the enemy” and “the state of exception” are Schmitt’s - Strauss oriented himself toward Schmitt’s “great philosopher” thesis.

Politically, Strauss shared Schmitt’s distaste for Spinoza’s politics; Strauss’s Spinoza’s Critique of Religion downplays Spinoza’s ideas of freedom of thought and speech or democracy. But where Spinoza had corrupted the modern world for Schmitt,[xxix] the subtle Machiavelli, for Strauss, introduced the transformation that led to modernity: Strauss’s Machiavelli deflects Schmitt’s Spinoza.[xxx] When Schmitt became a Nazi, Strauss learned bitterly that Schmitt no longer responded to his letters. To answer an incipient genocidal interpretation helped motivate Strauss’s insistence on an alternate “great man.”

As the central contrast between Strauss and Schmitt, Heinrich Meier pits political philosophy (Strauss) against “political theology” (Schmitt).[xxxi] This (meta)theoretical or type of perspective contrast disguises the way in which they are, absent Schmitt’s anti-semitism, twin reactionaries in politics. The opposition about which “great man” spawned modernity, coupled with the racist venom Schmitt injects in his account of Spinoza (as well as Moses Mendelsohn and “Stahl-Jolson”), is more revealing politically, morally and intellectually. Whatever the defects of Strauss’s interpretation of Machiavelli, its role as an antivenin for Schmitt is admirable.

Yet even in the scholarly interplay between Strauss and Schmitt, Strauss first learned profoundly from Schmitt’s emphasis on Hobbes’s decisionism and authoritarianism. In 1922, Schmitt again refers to Stahl respectfully,[xxxii] The 1920s pamphlets or long essays are conceptually striking and evince little trace of the anti-semitism brought out by his union with the Nazis. Perhaps Schmitt’s anti-Jewish ferocity came not so much from his “Catholic” prejudice, but from his relation to Hitler. In that case, he adopted a duplicitous Catholic “mask” for his Nazism in his post-World War II Glossarium.

In any case, in the 1920s, what Schmitt admires as “concrete sovereignty of the state” is personalism and lawlessness. At this time, Schmitt eschews Hobbes’s emphasis on the fear of death of each individual and the common reasons to embrace the Leviathan.

On Schmitt’s view, Hobbes was caught up in the vision of science and geometry of the 17th century. Still, he praises, in an elliptical authoritarian vein, Hobbes’s “soberness of healthy common sense” about “law”:

He illustrated this with one of those comparisons that in the soberness of his healthy common sense, he knew how to apply so strikingly. Power or order can be subordinate to another just as the art of the saddler is subordinate to that of the rider; but the important thing is that despite this abstract ladder of orders, no one thinks of subordinating the individual saddler to every rider and obliging him to obey.[xxxiii]

Ironically, Schmitt’s comment about Hobbes’s “healthy common sense” would only strike an authoritarian. This is nothing like, though Schmitt’s claim draws its force from, Hobbes’s appeal to each individual’s common sense in avoiding violent death by opting for Leviathan.

Perversely given his insane hatred of “Jews,” Schmitt developed his later view of Hobbes and Spinoza from a close study of Strauss’s Spinoza’s Critique of Religion (1928). After World War II, the American authorities confiscated Schmitt’s copy of the book with his library and sold it. Purchased initially by Karl Loewith, Schmitt’s copy of Spinoza’s Critique eventually came into the possession of Heinrich Meier. In a handwritten note, Meier reports, Schmitt calls his 1937 reading a “second encounter” with Strauss:

1st encounter: Spring 1932, 2nd encounter: Summer 1937, 3rd encounter: (1st re-encounter): July 1945 (impetus: the conversation with Eduard Spranger 6-30-45).[xxxiv]

There is something almost slapstick - perhaps only Mel Brooks might have imagined it - in Schmitt’s venomous “theology”: Schmitt developed his anti-semitism by wrestling often favorably with the interpretation of a Jew…

Yet Schmitt’s emphasis in Political Theology on authoritarianism and “common sense” also reappears in Strauss’s more careful account of Spinoza’s Critique of Religion. Strauss contrasts Hobbes’s straightforward or “positive” development of the Leviathan out of the rational need of each individual to protect himself from violent death with Spinoza’s nonpolitical, in Strauss’s terms “metaphysical” account. Repeating Schmitt, Strauss speaks of “the actually much more concrete-minded and sober Englishman, with his regard for sound common-sense” [xxxv] (perhaps his account of Spinoza’s “metaphysical” conception of right also draws on conversations with Schmitt). Schmitt’s conception of Hobbes as a patriotic English theorist – as an “insider” in contrast to the “outsider Jew” - expresses, in turn, the force of Strauss’s account, with an injection of vehement anti-semitism. Yet Schmitt’s 1922 words on Hobbes’s “sober common sense” weighed on Strauss six years later. Having adopted this view in scholarship, Strauss then refined it.

Ironically, however, Schmitt’s “political theology” resembles Spinoza’s much more than Hobbes’s. The esoteric meaning of Schmitt – his irrational (in his own terms, revealed and unprovable to others), anti-Jewish “theological” discourse – technically refutes his notion of the “political” (the real enemy, avers Schmitt, is the “Anti-Christ,” and behind every “error,” even Hitler’s, is a “Jew”). But in terms of reasons, even Schmitt’s original idea of the political is not grounded like Hobbes’s. The notions of “enemy” and “state of exception” are but an induction from the fact that war and violent revolution (political change in a broad sense) are common historical events to the idea that they are necessary to “humanity”’s future. Schmitt tricks up this idea with admiration for bellicosity as the genuinely “human” and truckling toward kings and tyrants as a companion religiosity. There is a “common sense,” a rationality and, more importantly, a decency in Hobbes which Schmitt lacks.

Meier remarks on two underlinings in Strauss’s text by Schmitt. The first is on Spinoza’s conception of right:

[Spinoza] does not define natural right in terms of man, but only applies to man a concept of natural right otherwise gained.

Every individual – not only every human individual but every individual simply – has as much natural right as it has power. For the power through which individuals exist and act is not their own nor does it arise out of their essence, but is the eternal power of God himself. In God, in the original source of all power and of all right, power and right are one and the same, and since all natural beings are determined by God to exist and to act in the peculiar manner in which they exist and act, since the eternal power of God is effective in their power, power and right are one and the same in all the natural things too.[xxxvi]

Altering Hobbes, Spinoza suggests, humans have the power and hence the “right” to do what is necessary for “self-preservation.”[xxxvii]

Strauss comments:

From what has been established regarding the opposition between Hobbes and Spinoza, it follows that Spinoza has no possibility at all of understanding after the manner of Hobbes the germination of the pacific attitude, of honesty, from men’s concern to preserve their lives, thus no possibility of understanding the social contract. Spinoza too discusses the case adduced by Hobbes – the promise extracted by the robber. His decision is entirely different. Since the right of a man is identical with his power, he has a perfect right to break every promise if breaking his promise seems to him advantageous. The right to break a promise is given with the power to break it.[xxxviii]

Note, however, that Spinoza’s theological understanding among men becomes the corrupt principle: might equals right. [xxxix] On Meier’s report, Schmitt comments that this is “the most audacious insult ever to be inflicted upon God and man."[xl] Yet Schmitt does not disagree with the error – the denial of justice - in Spinoza’s formulation. [xli] Contradicting his own notion of “right,” however, Spinoza was a path-breaking democrat and advocate of freedom of thought in the 17th century, one who paid a heavy price in ostracism and public silence[xlii]; in contrast, Schmitt’s is a far more extreme, religiously-ornamented authoritarianism or genocidal “might makes right” view all the way down.[xliii] If Spinoza’s view “is the greatest insult to God and man,” what then is Schmitt’s?
Site Admin
Posts: 31201
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Enmity and Tyranny - on Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 5:33 am


Second, in an interestingly careless (for the later exoteric Strauss) effort to provide “context,” Strauss includes a footnote of Colerus’s gossip about Spinoza which fuels Schmitt’s bizarre account of Leviathan and Behemoth:

‘…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 enjoyed taking his magnifying glass and observing the midges and flies through it, and engaged in his investigations.’

Strauss invokes a tradition of revulsion here, but – tone-deaf – attempts to conjure Spinoza’s “pleasure as a spectator”:

If one speaks in this context of cruelty (as does Schopenauer), it is meaningless; but even to speak of ‘scientific interest’ (as does Freudenthal) 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 necessity of God.[xliv]

Schmitt comments: “atrocious” (and perhaps includes Strauss in the judgment).[xlv] But the intelligence of Schmitt’s verdict is undone by his subsequent murderousness; Schmitt threw living human beings onto the Nazis’ “web.”

In The Lesson of Carl Schmitt, Heinrich Meier comments on the subtle Schmitt-Strauss interaction only in three long footnotes.[xlvi] Unlike the earlier book on Strauss and Schmitt, Meier’s footnotes are solely for the cognoscenti, an elliptical “dialogue” with esoteric resonances for both Meier and Schmitt. Yet this later interaction reveals far more of the substance of the Strauss/Schmitt relationship – of the irony of Strauss’s adulation of Schmitt and absorption of Schmitt’s authoritarianism, of the horror of Schmitt’s anti-semitism and the irony of his studying and “transvaluing” the interpretation of a Jew near to his own – than Meier’s Carl Schmitt, Leo Strauss and The Concept of the Political[xlvii] alone reveals.

Now Meier explores the fact of Schmitt’s anti-semitism more deliberately than any other author.[xlviii] But perhaps as an admirer of Schmitt as well as Strauss, he is reluctant to criticize it more than stylistically, around the edges – for instance, he says Schmitt’s comments on naming “Jew” lawyers are “ugly.” For so smart and theoretically inventive a political and legal theorist, what Schmitt reveals about himself in responding to Strauss’s interpretation of Spinoza is sad. But Strauss’s adulation of Schmitt is tragic (in 1933, he wrote breathlessly, “Allow me, Professor, to submit that the interest that you have shown in my studies of Hobbes represents the most honorable and obliging corroboration of my scholarly work that has ever been bestowed upon me and that I could ever dream of"[xlix]).

During World War II, Strauss recoiled at the horror of Nazism, saying that Jews could have no interest in the Germans. But justified revulsion need not lead to thought. Strauss, as we have seen, long favored the “National Revolution.” As I have underlined, Strauss reshaped Nietzsche about Jews to the Right; he admired the Kings and hated the prophets. His anti-semitic enthusiasms provided a screen for Schmitt. Still, that Schmitt’s Nazism did not provoke in Strauss a fundamental reassessment of authoritarianism – something deeper than adoration of Churchill’s statesmanship in World War II – reveals the fundamentally dogmatic or unphilosophical character of Strauss’s core politics.

In his copy of Spinoza’s Critique of Religion, Schmitt refers delphically, according to Heinrich Meier, to a “3rd encounter: (1st re-encounter): July 1945 (impetus: the conversation with Eduard Spranger 6-30-45).”[l] A “famed philosopher and teacher,” as Schmitt names him, Spranger contrasts Schmitt’s writings which are “spiritual” (geistvoll) and “transparent” (durchsichtig) with his “personality” and “being” as murky (truebe) and occluded (unklar), and raises the affecting question of who Schmitt is (“Wer bist du? Tu quis es?).[li] Schmitt does not say much about his being, only that it has the stillness of the river Mosel (“tacite rumore Mosella”). Famously if enigmatically, he then suggests that his case is one of a “bad, unworthy but authentic Christian Epimetheus.” [Es ist der schlechte, unwuerdige und doch authentische Fall eines Christlischen Epimetheus][lii]

In Greek myth, Epimetheus and his brother Prometheus were Titans, assigned by the gods to populate the earth with animals and men. But Epimetheus exhausted the gifts on animals, leaving Prometheus’s creation, man, helpless. Epimetheus is a figure of improvidence, regret and excuse. But the clever Prometheus stole fire from the workshop of Hephaestos on Olympus. In a paradigm of sexism, the enraged Zeus sent Pandora, the first woman, with a jar of evil spirits to marry Epimetheus – who did so despite Prometheus’s warnings - and trouble men.[liii] Schmitt’s naming of his own being – a Christian Epimetheus - is neither flattering nor reminiscent of the still Mosel.[liv] Epimetheus is a wastrel and a fool.

Les Amis, in his book Commemorating Epimetheus (2009), reinstates the value of Epimetheus. He is credited with bringing to the world our knowledge of dependency on each other described phenomenologically in terms of sharing, caring, meeting and dwelling and loving.

-- Epimetheus, by Wikipedia

In joining the Nazis, Schmitt had tried to postpone, as an eschaton, the last judgment, and had done things that he regrets (“bad, unworthy”), but were, nonetheless, honest. He does not mention Strauss in this essay, though he does indicate that the conversations with Spranger may have led to “a third encounter.” One can only guess at what Schmitt’s note meant, perhaps that Schmitt had done “unworthy” things toward the Jews, participated in what was, as German defeat neared, deportation and mass murder. To say his actions were bumbling though “authentic” and “Christian,” does not recognize the crime. Alternately, perhaps Schmitt had relied on Strauss’s thoughts, but not acknowledged him (the faithlessness about scholarly inspiration Strauss reacted to in 1933). That could have been an Epimethean error occasioned by his decision for Nazism. If so, republication of Strauss’s “Notes” with the translation of The Concept of the Political would have made some amends.[lv] This stage in the relationship seems more “occluded” than Schmitt’s “being.”

In addition, Schmitt’s imprisonment at Nuremberg dulled such regrets. His Glossarium written in the late 1940s, revives his ferocious anti-semitism, which he plans, “Pandora”-like, to visit again upon the world (he allowed the Glossarium to be published only posthumously in 1991). Schmitt never came to terms with his eccentric relationship with Leo Strauss.

Similarly, neither Strauss nor his followers have confronted clearheadedly his relationship with Schmitt. For those Straussians who insist on Strauss’s brief, exoteric affirmations of constitutional democracy (ones immediately qualified or undercut by Strauss), his shift mainly to the Greeks[lvi] and “the art of writing” gives a hope that Strauss “when he became Strauss,” is different politically from the Strauss of the early 1930s. But nothing in this scholarly or meta-political transcendence overcomes Strauss’s career-long admiration for war and Empire, disgust for the “last men,” or zeal for authoritarian politics. As I have argued elsewhere, Strauss found for these early sympathies esoteric counterparts in Plato’s idea that a tyrant becomes a philosopher-king (or philosopher-tyrant) who rules, although wisely, without laws.[lvii]

In addition, Schmitt’s revival on the post-War German Right led by Armin Mohler, his student, features a sharper enmity toward the Soviet Union (parallel to the standard conservative reception of Strauss’s On Tyranny), an increased emphasis on religiosity (Catholicism or “Christian Democracy”) as part of a flight from defeated, overtly irreligious fascism or Nazism (this is one sense of Strauss’s “theological-political problem” realized, for example, in the recent unity of American Straussians and neoconservatives with Evangelicals[lviii]), an insistence on the West as an “Abendland” (an evening land, a land of cultural decadence – one thinks of Allan Bloom and “the last men”), and strengthened authoritarianism (or “executive power”).[lix] For instance, the journalist Winfried Martini worked closely with Schmitt in denouncing the “softness” of West German democracy.[lx]

In this context, one might listen carefully to Nathan Tarcov’s insistence in this volume that Strauss recommends a tougher policy toward evil than liberals. Strauss expresses realism, as Tarcov suggests, but also, as he may not hear, authoritarianism. Furthermore, Strauss’s students, Robert Goldwin and Herbert Storing, translated authoritarianism into “prerogative” and “executive power,” making it palatable on the American Right.[lxi] These four features of the Schmitt revival in West Germany parallel the recent influence of Leo Strauss, through his political followers, in the Reagan and Bush administrations. The belligerence against an Islamic enemy – one far removed in Iraq and possibly Iran from Osama Bin Laden and September 11th – evokes eerie parallels with The Concept of the Political (the neoconservative trashing of internal enemies, the adoption by Stephen Cambone, assistant Secretary of Defense, of the term “lawfare”[lxii] – war through the perversion of law – and Alberto Gonzalez’s Gleichschaltung of the Justice Department carry this parallel perhaps a step further than Strauss). Subtract Schmitt’s anti-semitism – concealed because of his and his followers’ post-War silence about his Nazism - and the parallels between Schmitt on the post-War German Right and Strauss on the American Right are ominous (though Cheney and the American Right have had a far more deadly impact).[lxiii] The historian Jan-Werner Mueller rightly speaks of the “practical political theology in authoritarian shape” evoked by the German Right[lxiv]; this point equally applies to the influence of the political Straussians in the Bush-Cheney administration in the United States.[lxv]

Except for the most extreme forms of torture,[lxvi] the Obama administration has adopted many features of Bush’s notion of executive power. In the words of Yale constitutional lawyer Jack Balkin, it has made of these polices a “bipartisan legal regime.” It does so, because to allow investigations of Bush crimes from torture to the perversion of the Justice Department, would result in many high officials going to jail. But the price of this “pragmatic” cover-up is a terrible one. The era of habeas corpus may have passed in American law. The restoration of torture awaits but a new crisis, a new President. In the movement to elect Obama, ordinary people fought for decency. Yet the influence of Schmitt and Strauss in “the state of the exception” now threatens to override the rule of law for Republicans, Democrats, and ordinary citizens as well.



[i] Strauss, “Notes,” pp. 101-02. Meier cites Schmitt’s moderated enthusiasm for Hobbes in the 1933 edition.

[ii] Despite an exoteric, opening sentence about Jefferson’s memorable expression – “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence, Strauss affirms at p. 122 the classical idea of natural right: “inequality.” See Gilbert, “Do Philosophers Counsel Tyrants?”

[iii] Schmitt mentions this “feudal idea” for lord and peasant but does not stress it in The Concept of the Political, pp. 52-53. In contrast, Hobbes emphasizes this notion for each individual.

[iv] Marx’s opening of the Eighteenth Brumaire in which the second Napoleon’s troops, defending “the family, religion, property, and order,” shoot down individual capitalists on their balconies captures what Schmitt discovered.

[v] Jan-Werner Mueller, A Dangerous Mind: Carl Schmitt in Post-War European Thought (Yale, 2003), p. 41.

[vi] His 1962 Theory of the Partisan, however, suggests a guerilla revolt against globalization (“the universal and homogeneous state”).

[vii] Hobbes, Leviathan, ch 37, p. 470.

[viii] Ibid, p. 471.

[ix] Gilbert, Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? (Princeton, 1999), ch. 4,

[x] Hobbes, Leviathan, ch. 26, p. 332.

[xi] There is a self-refuting sanctimony shared in the esoteric conversations of Kojeve, Strauss and Schmitt. In Berlin in 1968, Kojeve spoke to hundreds of radical students, apparently recommending only that they read the Greeks, and sought out a meeting with the “one German who can think,” Carl Schmitt.

[xii] Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 333. Schmitt omits Moses.

[xiii] Idem.

[xiv] Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, ch. 20, paragraphs 6 and 7.

[xv] Ibid, par. 8.

[xvi] Schmitt, The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes (CT:Greenwood Press, 1996), p. 57

[xvii] Schmitt, ibid, pp. 57-58. In Glossarium, p. 290, Schmitt reiterates this judgment: “Salus ex Judaeis? Perditio ex Judaeis? First of all, enough of these pushy Judaies! When we [Christians] were divided among ourselves, the Jews sub-introduced themselves. So long as that has not been grasped, there can be no salvation. Spinoza was the first to sub-introduce himself.”

[xviii] Dietrich Bonhoeffer underlined the tight link between jews (“first they came for the jews and I said nothing”) and everyone else (“then they came for me and there was nobody left to protest.”).

[xix] Ibid, pp. 8-9.

[xx] Schmitt drew from pre-modern anti-semitism. For instance, in 1912, the Tsarist regime tried “the Jew” Beilis for “ritual child-murder.” The Bolsheviks led a campaign against this outrage.

[xxi] Both of these passages are courageously cited by Meier, Lesson, p. 154. Yet Meier can bring himself to speak only of “the ugliest tirades he would ever publish” (p. 154) and, more aptly, the “terror-filled tradition of Christian anti-Judaism” (p. 153). Note, however, that what is “ugly” is not necessarily wrong, and that terror, for example against criminals, is not simply a bad thing. Perhaps directing the Carl Siemens Stiftung and a man of the Right himself, Meier cannot bring himself to speak of genocide. The other alternative for a very intelligent follower of Strauss and Schmitt is that these passages have some esoteric meaning…But Meier is closely allied with Straussians. This possible interpretation reveals the danger – an encouragement to an incoherent “subtlety” cultivated by both Strauss and Schmitt and an error of judgment about a dark matter - for anyone who undertakes to report favorably on them.

[xxii] A widely practiced vulgar Catholicism pursued by some Popes is, among other things, anti-semitic and murderous, however.

[xxiii] I do not believe that executing monsters is helpful to overcoming fascism. In this, I admire Bishop Desmond Tutu, No Future without Forgiveness, who traces the importance of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in healing the earth. But Schmitt was guilty of crimes against humanity…

[xxiv] Meier, Lesson, p. 154.

[xxv] Cited in Meier, Lesson, p. 152, n. 37.

[xxvi] In post-War letters to Mohler, Schmitt refers to Strauss respectfully as a “weighty author” on Leviathan and mentions On Tyranny. Carl Schmitt, Briefwechsel mit einem seiner Schueler (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1995), pp. 422-23, 171.

[xxvii] Holmes, The Anatomy of Anti-liberalism (Harvard, 1993), p. 84.

[xxviii] For instance, Heidegger removed the dedication to Edmund Husserl from Sein und Zeit (Being and Time).

[xxix] Meier, Lesson, p. 152, n. 7.

[xxx] In Spinoza’s Critique of Religion, pp. 226-28, Strauss already has the embryonic view of Machiavelli as the engenderer of Spinoza (and perhaps the modern world) which he would fully develop in the United States:

“[Spinoza’s] analyses of political facts take their bearings partly by actual institutions of various states, and partly by the political reflections of the ‘most ingenious Machiavelli’ (and other publicists). Even Spinoza’s realistic program came into being under the influence of the art of the Florentine of which he thought so highly, and which gave the decisive impulse to Spinoza’s political theory - indeed, one may even trace that program directly to the programmatic statement of Machiavelli in Chapter XV of Il Principe. It would seem that Spinoza was impressed by the opposition there established between what is imagined and what is factual, between life as it is and life as it should be, and by the equation of moral demands with the unreal, which is, as such, unworthy of consideration.”

[xxxi] Meier, Lesson, p. 173.

[xxxii] Schmitt, Political Theology, p. 33.

[xxxiii] Ibid, p. 34.

[xxxiv] Meier, Carl Schmitt, p. 110, n. 128. Meier’s work grows out of the arcana of Schmitt’s relationship to Strauss.

[xxxv] Strauss, Spinoza’s Critique of Religion, trans. E.M. Sinclair (New York: Schocken, 1965), p. 236. [cited hereafter as Spinoza’s Critique].

[xxxvi] In this book, Strauss does not offer an esoteric reading of Spinoza. Perhaps this is one of the passages to which he refers in the concluding sentence of his 1962 Preface: “I understood Spinoza too literally because I did not read him literally enough.” Spinoza’s Critique, p. 31.

[xxxvii] Strauss, Spinoza’s Critique, pp. 231-32. Meier, Lesson, p. 117, n. 48.

[xxxviii] Strauss, Spinoza’s Critique, p. 235.

[xxxix] In chapter 16, par. 2, of the Theological-Political Treatise, Spinoza invokes an even more explicitly might makes right formulation than Strauss’s: “For example, fish are determined by nature to swim and big fish to eat little ones, and therefore it is by sovereign natural right that fish have possession of the water and that big fish eat small fish. For it is certain that nature, considered wholly in itself, has a sovereign right to do everything that it can do, i.e., the right of nature extends as far as its power extends.”

[xl] Meier, Lesson, p. 152, n. 78.

[xli] Strauss also is highly tempted by Thrasymachus’s notion that justice is the advantage of the stronger, at least, as Plato says in the Seventh Letter and has the Athenians Stranger say in the Laws, in all existing cities. Here is a difference of Strauss and to a lesser extent Plato with Socrates’s great discovery of the question: what is justice?

[xlii] At the end of his 1962 introduction to Spinoza’s Critique of Religion, Strauss suggested that the had not read Spinoza literally enough. Perhaps this contradiction expresses some exoteric intention, in Strauss’s idiom on Spinoza’s part. But one cannot remove the democracy and the public significance so easily from Spinoza’s argument (even in 1928, as he would often, Strauss largely ignored its decent political character). It is doubtful that this genuine contradiction in Spinoza’s argument results from a practice of hidden writing.

[xliii] Contrast serious Christians, the martyred Pastor Niemoller or the heroic attorney James Helmuth von Moltke, with Schmitt’s bigotry.

[xliv] Strauss, Spinoza’s Critique, p. 302, n. 302. See also my “John Mearsheimer’s Contextualism about Leo Strauss, part 2,” democratic-individuality.blogspot.com, February 5, 2010.

[xlv] Idem. Meier elicits the same story of Leviathan and Behemoth from Schmitt’s Land und Meer (1942) with the obsessive addition that “Jews,” like spiders, “feast” on the prey and make “beautiful tents” from the hair: “But the Jews, they [ostensible medieval cabbalists] say further, stand on the sidelines and watch the battle. They eat the flesh of the animals that kill each other, skin them, build beautiful tents out of the fur, and celebrate a festive, millineal banquet. That is how the Jews interpret world history.” Meier, Lesson, p. 156.

[xlvi] Mainly, this relationship is embodied in the way Schmitt read Strauss intently at different times, since Strauss may not have read the 1938 book on Hobbes and, apparently, has no remarks on it. Meier, Lesson, p. 110 n. 128, 117 n, 148 and 152 n. 77.

[xlvii] In the German subtitle, Meier refers to a “conversation among the absent.” Since the Nazis enforced Strauss’s absence, that seems adequate. J. Louis Lomax, the American translator, inaccurately subtitles his book: “the hidden dialogue.” Though misguided - Strauss got no chance to respond to Schmitt’s anti-semitism directly - that “Straussian” locution reflects Meier’s intent in the book. Strauss did, however, as I have emphasized, celebrate Machiavelli as an esoteric or inexplicit answer to Schmitt’s Spinoza, but this is not Meier’s point.

[xlviii] See, however, Carl Gross, Carl Schmitt and the Jews

[xlix] Strauss to Schmitt, March 13, 1933 in Meier, Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss, p. 123.

[l] Meier, Carl Schmitt, p. 110, n. 128.

[li] Carl Schmitt, “Gesprach mit Eduard Spranger,” in Ex Capitivate Salus: Erfahrungen der Zeit 1945/47 , Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1950, 2002, p. 9.

[lii] Ibid, pp. 10, 12. Meier, Lesson, ch. 4.

[liii] The analogy with Eve – and a deep religious distrust of and controllingness over women – is striking.

[liv] Of the Mosel, he also uses the word “nachgiebig” – pliable – which does not fit the river but does fit a Christian Epimetheus. Meier, Lesson, ch. 4 omits foolishness and pliancy.

[lv] Meier, Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss, p. 8, n. 7

[lvi] In 1923, he already suggested that the leader of the “pagan-fascist” Zionist group, Walter Moses, had a Greek vision of politics (one of a wise ruler dominating others). See Leo Strauss, The Early Writings, trans. Michael Zank, GS 2: and my “Leo Strauss’s 1923 celebration of ‘pagan-fascism’’ at democratic-individuality.blogspot.com, http://democratic-individuality.blogspo ... pagan.html, January, 2010. The difference as with hidden writing is much more limited than those who see an epochal break in Strauss’s vision might hope.

[lvii] Gilbert, “Do Philosophers Counsel Tyrants?”

[lviii] See my “Leo Strauss’s 1923 celebration of ‘pagan-fascism’’ at democratic-individuality.blogspot.com, op. cit.

[lix] Mohler stressed “Presidentialism,” an analogue of Cheney’s “commander in chief power.” Mueller, A Dangerous Mind, p. 140.

[lx] Martini and Hanno Kesting invoked the Portuguese dictator Salazar’s estado novo. Interestingly, in his “Restatement,” On Tyranny, p. 188, Strauss overtly acknowledges Salazar’s “beneficial tyranny.” See Gilbert, “Do Philosophers Counsel Tyrants” for an analysis of this as the esoteric message of Xenophon’s Hiero.

Kojeve denies our contention that the good tyranny is a utopia. To substantiate his denial, he mentions one example by name: the rule of Salazar. I have never been to Portugal, but from all that I have heard about that country, I am inclined to believe that Kojeve is right, except that I am not quite certain whether Salazar's rule should not be called "post- constitutional" rather than tyrannical. Yet one swallow does not make a summer, and we never denied that good tyranny is possible under very favorable circumstances. But Kojeve contends that Salazar is not an exception. He thinks that circumstances favorable to good tyranny are easily available today. He contends that all present-day tyrants are good tyrants in Xenophon's sense. He alludes to Stalin. He notes in particular that the tyranny improved according to Simonides' suggestions is characterized by Stakhanovistic emulation. But Stalin's rule would live up to Simonides' standards only if the introduction of Stakhanovistic emulation had been accompanied by a considerable decline in the use of the NKVD or of "labor" camps. Would Kojeve go so far as to say that Stalin could travel outside of the Iron Curtain wherever he liked in order to see sights without having anything to fear? (Hiero 11.10 and 1.12.). Would Kojeve go so far as to say that everyone living behind the Iron Curtain is an ally of Stalin, or that Stalin regards all citizens of Soviet Russia and the other "people's democracies" as his comrades? (Hiero II. II and 11.14.)

-- On Tyranny, by Leo Strauss

[lxi] Goldwin, “Locke” in Strauss and Joseph Cropsey, eds., History of Political Philosophy (University of Chicago, 1963). Storing, “The Presidency and the Constitution” in Joseph Bessette, ed. Toward a More Perfect Union (American Enterprise Institute Press, 1995).

[lxii] Cambone worked on a Ph.D. on the American founding with Strauss’s student Harry Jaffa at Claremont.

[lxiii] The House Minority Report on Iran-Contra, often emphasized by Cheney, was written for him by a student of Strauss and Walter Berns, Michael Malbin.

[lxiv] Jan-Werner Mueller A Dangerous Mind, pp. 138-39. Emigrating to America, Strauss could not have gotten appointed to a University position as a fascist, let alone a sympathizer of the German National Revolution; he was even more delphic about his politics. As a Jewish refugee from Nazism, the New School appointed him, and Hans Morganthau, another German-Jewish refugee and chair of the University of Chicago political science department, helped him to move there.

[lxv] Some of Strauss’s students at Chicago also studied with Albert Wohlstetter, the influential, mathematical nuclear strategist who played a central role at the Rand Corporation. Alex Abella, Soldiers of Reason. Paul Wolfowitz, Abram Shulsky and Francis Fukuyama all worked at and wrote analyses for Rand. The Wohlstetter/Rand influence is separate from and helped particularize Strauss’s. See also my “John Mearshemer’s contextualism about Leo Strauss,” part 2 .

[lxvi] Thanks for this point to Steven Wagner.

*As I have emphasized here, Strauss, unlike Mansfield, might well not have supported the overconfident and fantasy-based American neoconservative crusade to reshape the Middle East by war.
Site Admin
Posts: 31201
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Enmity and Tyranny - on Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss, pa

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 5:35 am

Shadings: “They consider me a ‘Nazi’ here” – Leo Strauss, December 3, 1933
by Alan Gilbert
September 9, 2009

My head spins with a hundred plans, of which none is likely to be realized: England, U.S., Palestine. France is out of the question – in part because of the circumstance that they consider me a ‘Nazi’ here.

-– Strauss to Gerhard Krueger, December 3, 1933

Der Kopf schwirrt mir von hundert Plaenen, von denen vermutlich keiner realisiert werden wird: England, USA, Palaestina. Frankreich scheidet voellig aus – zum teil infolge des Umstands, dass ich hier al ‘Nazi’ gelte. Gesammelte Schriften, 3:435 – my apologies for a mistaken page number in a previous post – h/t Charles Butterworth).

“The German-Jewish intellectual proletariat,” as he specified in his letter to Loewith on May 19, 1933, is who considered Strauss a Nazi in France in 1933. He had taken a definitive turn toward Heidegger, after Heidegger’s pointed nationalist rebuff of Strauss’s doctoral teacher (Doktorvater) Ernst Cassirer in Davos. An offshoot of Locarno, the Davos meetings were the central symbol of the new Franco-German peace (the conferences lasted fatefully from 1928-32). Heidegger wanted a do-over (Wiederholung) of the World War. He and Schmitt joined the Nazi party on May 1, 1933 (May Day to mock the left or perhaps the decent). It took some ferociousness about politics on Strauss’s part to have earned this reputation as a “Nazi” even in December of 1933.

Strauss’s position is complicated and a bit elliptical (he tended to use words even in letters with a deliberate ambiguity, to experiment with some amusement with hidden writing). Strauss puts the word Nazi in scare-quotes. Perhaps he could not quite say, even to this friend, that he thought National Socialism was the birth of a new age, one that cancelled slave morality as Nietzsche and Heidegger articulated it, from the Jews to the Christians, democrats and communists, the whole secular perversion. The last men.

As Charles Butterworth has pointed out to me, one should beware of thinking of the “last men” as simply secular. Consider Sarah Palin and her followers. I think this is an apt understanding of Nietzsche. And at least in the early 1930s, it was also Strauss’s. Strauss seems to have wanted to get beyond, with Nietzsche, even Moses, to revert to the kings rather than the prophets (see his 1930 “Religioese Lage der Gegenwart” [“Religious Situation of the Present”]):

“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 theorem 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.” (GS 2:389; trans. Michael Zank; h/t William Altman).”

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.”

Strauss was a despised Jew, one who pretended as much as possible not to be a Jew in public (the well-known story of his studying with Jacob Klein in a coffee shop, pretending to be businessmen and shouting out “Nietzsche!” to watch the expression on Klein’s face). Strauss wanted to be a German, part of the remaking of Germany against the decadence of modern bourgeois or as he put it, liberal culture, the decadence of Weimar. But he also furthered a political Zionism, an analogue to his sympathy for the German national revolution as an alternative to the liberal culture he despised (“the ridiculous and childish imprescriptible rights of man” and perhaps the “meskine Unwesen” – the wretched nonentity - of the May 19, 1933 letter to Loewith). Strauss also feared and detested the Nazis’ treatment of “me and my kind as by nature – phusei – subhuman.” But he did not yet see this as the center of Nazism (Klein who had previously thought the National Socialists might be a national revolution had already come to this, see his letter to Strauss of June 19-20, 1934, GS 3:512 cited below) . Perhaps in writing to Krueger, Strauss was troubled by others’ identification of his position, even though it was also a position he took and out of probity - integrity - had to take (hence the identification of others). Perhaps he was shocked at the depth of hostility his enthusiasm for the National Revolution generated. In response, he would leave Paris but not change his views.

It is hard to take in what Nietzsche meant on the Right in Europe: that all secular culture was in some sense an offshoot of the glittering Jewish transvaluation of values: the “poor” as “holy” and “friend.” That all that must be uprooted; that Nietzsche and Strauss admired the kings, not the prophets (see my The Prophet Amos and the King’s Man Amaziah here). One can also hear the visceral contempt of upper class intellectuals, particularly in Germany, for both the poor and the Jews. As I pointed out about Max Weber in Democratic Individuality (ch. 9-12), the one physics professor who was a Social-Democrat, concurring with the large working class socialist movement growing with each election, was fired in 1904. Guess the authorities were worried about “Social Democratic” physics before their successors banned Einstein for not producing “German” or “Aryan” physics. Here class prejudice, racism and anti-radical ideology and demonism fuse (anti-radical ideology: the view that outside agitators, usually foreigners, stir up otherwise contented people – “dupes” – to protest or go on strike or rebel against a war or segregation or…. The central contradiction: the views are “irrational” and must not be discussed; yet even one such person, one Angela Davis among the 3,000 faculty members at UCLA, is sufficient danger to require firing her. Pied pipers. It is hard to imagine a more anti-democratic view). One reason that Weber’s discussion of Marx’s theory is so weak (particularly in his analysis of the rise of capitalism), is that he knew hardly any radicals, particularly as equals; Georg Lukacs, was of course his best student, and the one of whom he speaks in “Science as a Vocation”: if you are a jew, toil without hope (“lasciate ogni speranza”) in German academia (see Democratic Individuality, ch. 9). There was a distaste among many – not Weber or Nietzsche – for Jews and of course, a mad distaste, including for Weber and Nietzsche, toward workers and communists (my friend Tracy Strong has written to me about the subtleties of Nietzsche, how easily one may mistake him, as in part the Right did; I will post on this soon).

In his striking article on “The Alpine Limits of Jewish Thought,” Will Altman has brought to the fore two citations from Strauss’s correspondence with Jacob Klein. On June 19-20, 1934, Klein writes, “Nazism is perverted Judaism.” The context of the letter is worth absorbing. He first suggests that he had once had a view much like Strauss does now – seeing in National Socialism an antidote to liberalism and communism or the last men - had even perhaps suggested it to Strauss, and wanted to correct the error

“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.” (trans.Will Altman)

Es liegt mir dran, einen Irrtum zu korrigieren, den ich frueher immer begangen habe. Es handelt sich um den Nationalsozialismus….

Ich glaubte frueher, er stele einen Teil jener allgemeinen und notwendigen Bewegung dar, die eine aus dem ‘Liberalismus’ stammende und ihn zugleich aufhebende Tendenz hat. Im Rahmen dieser Bewegung hat auch der Antisemitismus einen bestimmten Platz und eine allen Beteiligten gerecht werdende Begruendung. Aber im Grunde genommen stellt er, so betrachtet, nur eine (wenn auch nicht zufaellige) Nebenerscheinung dar. Diesem Gedanken gab ich, wenn ich mich recht erinnere, noch vor einem Jahre in einem Brief an Dich Ausdruck. Das ist einfach nicht wahr.

Der Nationalsozialismus hat ueberhaupt nur ein Fundament: eben den Antisemitismus. Alles andere ist ueberhaupt nich nationalsozialistisch: es ist ganz aeusserliche Nachamung russischer and italienischer Dinge, angefangen mit der Kopfbedeckung der Hitler-Jugend und endigend bei gewissen in Deutschland sinnlos verwandten Saetzen, die schlecthin gar nichts mit dem, was wirklich geschieht, zu tun haben…Es ist tatsaechlich der erste entscheidende Kampf zwischen dem, was von Alters her den Namen Gott traegt, und der Gott-losigkeit. Daran ist nicht zu zweifeln. Der Kampf ist darum entschidend, weil er sich auf den vom Judentum bestimmten Kampfplatz begibt: der Nationalsozialismus ist ‘pervertiertes Judentum’ nichts anderes: Judentum ohre Gott, d.h. eine wahre contradictio in adjecto. (GS, 3:512-13)

On June 23, 1934, Strauss responds startlingly that he is repelled by Klein’s “defeatism.” Even in mid-1934, he was unwilling to hear of the Nazis that they were mainly anti-Jewish. He still looks to a dialectical, imitation Hegelian (perhaps more accurately Nietzschean) aufhebung of modernity inherent in the National Revolution. 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. Note this is not a thought that German modernity is the secularization of Christianity (Weber’s view about the ghosts of Protestant vocation); it is about the secularization of the Jewish prophets. Strauss clearly preferred the kings to the prophets. And though one could try to reduce it 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.”

“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.” (GS 3:516-17; trans. Will Altman).

Nun zu Deinen allgemeinen Bemerkungen, die mich durch ihren defaitistischen Ton uebberascht, un nicht zu sagen, entsetzt haben. Dass man aus den Ereignissen lernt, ist gut – aber es geht nicht an, dass man sich durch sie das Richtige sagen laesst. Und das tust du wie mir scheint. Es gibt keinerlei Anlass, ‘zu Kreuze zu kriechen,’ ich meine, von ‘Gott’ zu reden. Und selbst wenn wir wieder in das Ghetto gepfercht und so gezwungen wuerden, in die Synagoge zu gehen und das ganze Gesetz zu halten, so meussten wir auch das also Philosophen tun, d.h. mit einem wenn auch noch so unausgesprochenen, aber gerade darum um so entschiedeneren Vorbehalt. Ich habe mir das Problem der Ersetzung des Staates dur die Gemeinde (Kehillah) im letzten Jahr wohl ueberlegt und gesehen, dass das fuer unsereinen prinzipiell nichts aendert, wenn auch in der Form beinahe alles. Dass Offenbarung und Philosophie gegenueber der Sophistik, d.h. genenueber der gesamten modernen Philosophie, einig sind, leugne ich so wenig wie Du. Aber das aendert nichts an der fundamentalen Differenz zwischen Philosophie und Offenbarung; die Philosophie ist mit Glauben, Beten under Predigen vielleich unter einen Hut, aber niemals in eins zu bringen.

Dass der Nationalsozialismus pervertiertes Judentum ist, wuerde ich zugeben. Aber nur in demselben Sinn, in dem ich es fuer die ganze moderne Welt zugebe – der Nationalsozialismus ist nur das letzte Wort der ‘Saekularisierung,’ d.h. des Glaubens an die sich von selbst herstellende Harmonie oder an das Recht der Leidenschaft und das Gefuehls oder an die Volkssoveraenitaet.

Leo has many deep scholarly insights (he worked harder and longer and on different people than other scholars, opened a whole range of study where the middle ages had been a closed book to most political theorists, discerned, sometimes accurately, hidden writing, soared but also perhaps killed himself through late night study; the mind moves to the last, even though “my fingers refuse me their services.” On scholarly interpretation, his standpoint, so strange to Americans and possessing a kind of probite or outspoken intergrity, has flashed a surprising and sometimes brilliant light on many thinkers, not otherwise considered (he is also remarkably foolish on Rousseau and Hegel and Marx and Socrates, and even sometimes perhaps Plato and others nearer to his heart). A different outlook is, as Weber suggests, ingredient to scholarly discovery, to seeing things that the “mainstream” doesn’t and is complacent about, to provoking insight…His teaching has intrigued a diverse group of devoted followers, many of whom do not dream, despite the now infamous 1933 letter to Loewith – they misread the “Principles of the Right” to suggest opposition to Hitler - that he held such a political outlook. As Joseph Cropsey once said to Steve Holmes, then a junior professor with Cropsey at Chicago, in denying his request to look at the letters in Regenstein: “some might be misunderstood.” I have finally understood I think and the point of this essay is to reveal just why Cropsey said it. Strauss’s politics were – and I suspect continued to be (see here and here) – sublimely foolish and dangerous.

But philosophically, Strauss also offers few thoughts of his own about these matters (except perhaps Zionism). His response to Loewith is entirely derived from an enthusiastic and, in this respect, crude version of Nietzsche. As Strauss would later say in “Origins of Heideggerian Existentialism,” Nietzsche “naturally” would not become a Nazi because he was more thoughtful about Jews – even seeing them as stronger and possibly renewing of European culture – than Germans. He even cites this thought from Nietzsche in his talk on “Why we remain Jews.” Perhaps like Heidegger, Strauss too was striving to be a true national socialist, to lead as a jew the eradication of the prophets. But the image of a race, one that had transvalued the value of the “poor” and brought modern secularism to its decadence in the last men, was alive in Strauss’s words in the 1930s. Think again of the “meskine Unwesen” (meskine – an Italian, French, Portuguese word highly associated, as Altman has pointed out, with Shylock or Fagin). Meskine identifies the wretched or miserly capitalist features of liberalism. Why else did Strauss choose this non-German word? Did he himself not sympathize then with the National Revolution?

Strauss did not write to Jacob Klein affirming the “principles of the Right” in May 1933. But his friends all knew. By July 6, 1933, Klein understood Strauss’s inclination occasionally, as a matter of probity, to take up frightening positions and he himself was perhaps frightened just then by Strauss’s political pigheadedness. But being aware of and sharing Strauss’s fear for the jews (a party that hates “me and my kind as by nature subhuman” as Strauss had written to Loewith), Klein may also have thought of Strauss simply not being prudent, proclaiming what he saw as the virtues of the national revolution and keeping in silence his fear about the Jews. Charles Butterworth has wisely suggested this to me, and I think it may be right. This would be a decisive shading: Strauss was imprudently in favor of the national revolution because he did not quite focus on its anti-semitism of which he was also aware. But there is another, I am afraid, more likely alternative: Strauss then thought that National Socialism, despite its drawbacks, was a genuine antidote to the liberalism which he despised (and thus that Jews or at least German Jews may have been better off under the National Socialists; in the letter to Loewith, he had said, he would not crawl to any cross, even the cross of liberalism, and better than any cross the ghetto: he genuinely admired the Roman imperial spirit. But that spirit was incarnated by the German right. If the meskine Unwesen of modern decadence, the liberal - hear Strauss’s distaste - and capitalist greedy last men, is what needs to be fought (rather than referring ambiguously somehow only to Hitler), then perhaps even the Hakenkreuz - the Swastika which was still a cross or kreuz – might realize this struggle (As Will Altman put it cleverly in an email: “Fight fire with fire: only an anti-cross cross can destroy the Jewish matrix of the Christian cross”). If one recognizes this ambiguity in the May 1933 letter (I did not; the two translators Eugene Sheppard and Scott Horton did not, although Sheppard has apparently – Altman informs me – changed his view about the phrase; Peter Minowitz, who has wrestled with some of these issues in attempting a somewhat cautious defense of Strauss’s politics did not; yet once Altman pointed this out, relying on an insight of Michael Zank, it is hard not to see it), the whole meaning shifts. The National Revolution, Strauss is suggesting subtly to Loewith in May 1933, is still the antidote to modern decadent, Jewish-inspired culture, even though it hates “me and my kind.” No wonder Jews – even Heideggerian Jews - were repelled. (GS, 3: 624-5).

Loewith originally may have entertained thoughts like this as Klein explicitly had (Loewith had been Heidegger’s assistant; Strauss and Loewith were both young Jewish reactionaries in politics). Politically more astute, however, Loewith realized what the Nazis were about more quickly than Klein, let alone Strauss. But Loewith as his response indicates – “I do think it counts very much against the German Right that it will actually not tolerate the spirit of science and German Jews” (GS 3: 626 ) - reacted with fear to what Strauss was becoming (Altman has some interesting insights into this in discussing Loewith’s fine article criticizing the empty decisionism of Schmitt and by implication Strauss in “The Alpine Limits of Jewish Thought” – available on the web if one googles William H.F. Altman). I should also note: these reactionary Jewish intellectuals were all proud to be Germans; they all shared racism toward Eastern Jews, the Ostjuden. What the Nazis did in power, however, would eventually persuade Strauss that Loewith and Klein were right - that murdering Jews was the main point. So Strauss later moved away from the vulgar National Socialism of Hitler – as he put it in his 1941 lecture on “German Nihilism,” though not from true national socialism – see Leo Strauss: the courage to destroy here. As I noted here, Strauss was still a German nationalist, admired blitzkrieg, and even in the 1941 lecture, an army with freedom of movement (General Rommel, the desert fox, had recently taken command of the Afrikakorps).

In July 1933, Klein wrote:

“Do you know that I am frightfully pissed off at you?!! The following rumors circulate about you in Berlin, and namely, by the following paths: a) Gordin – Gurwitsch – Leo Strauss; b) Hans von Sch. – Hannah Arendt – Dr Stern – Leo Strauss: ‘Herr. Dr. Leo Strauss has become a French nationalist, even though he was previously a German nationalist.’ You need send me no philological-historical clarifications of this noteworthy sentence – I can reconstruct for myself the circumstance – but why in the world did you not shut your mouth in front of these people??!! Or why do you express yourself in a way that directly leads to such interpretations?! I have begged Hilde to have a big talk with you on this matter – I hope that she might tend to you with her own temperament.” – Jacob Klein to Strauss, July 6, 1933, GS 3: 466.

Weisst Du, dass ich furchtbar wuetend auf Dich bin?!! Folgende Geruechte zirkulieren ueber Dich in Berlin, und zwar auf folgendem Wege: a) Gordin – Gurwitsch – Leo Strauss; b) Hans von Sch. – Hannah Arendt – Dr. Stern – Leo Strauss: “ Herr. Dr. Leo Strauss sei franzosischer Nationalist geworden, nachdem er frueher deutscher Nationalist gewesen sei.’ Du brauchst mir keine philologisch-historische Aufklarung dieses bemerkensweten Satzes zu schicken – ich kann mir den Tatbestand schon rekonstuieren -, aber warum um alles in der Welt haelst Du nicht diesen Leuten gegenueber den Mund??!! Oder warum aeusserst Du Dich in einer Weise, die gerade zu sochen Interpretationen herausfordert?! Ich habe Hilde gebeten, Die in diesem Punkte eine grosse Rede zu halten – ich hoffe, dass sie das mit dem ihr eigenen Temperament besorgt. -

The Nazis were the German national revolution. Individuals got fired in German schools before 1933 for saying they were pro-Nazi. The bitter mockery of the rumor – that Strauss was now a French national revolutionary or fascist – Strauss had requested Schmitt to arrange a meeting for him with Charles Maurras, the leader of Action Francaise and anti-semite in Paris - stems from shock and distaste at Strauss’s fierce enthusiasm for an anti-modern, national revolution, one whose main animus was plainly directed against Jews. Strauss’s letter to Schmitt is, unintentionally I suspect, a model of what he later called exoteric writing. He wanted to discuss Hobbes with Maurras, because Maurras had coincidentally said some similar things about Hobbes. It was thus a purely scholarly interest. No doubt Schmitt, Strauss and Maurras all shared a scholarly interest in Hobbes. But it was in the light of the urgent transformation of Europe. They were all extreme reactionaries, fascists. A bizarre anti-semite even by then fascist standards (though he in a 1938 book on Hobbes would cite as true one view of “the Jew Strauss”), Schmitt had become a Nazi just then, Maurras was sympathetic to Nazism, and Strauss…. (Strauss to Schmitt, July 10, 1933 in Meier, Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss, p. 128; Sheppard, pp. 56-57). Because Strauss was a Jew and Schmitt now Prussian State Councilor under Hitler, Schmitt had ceased to respond to Strauss’s letters. Hilde was Loewith’s wife.

Strauss’s enthusiasm for national socialism paralleled his Zionism. He was a Zionist who hoped for the dissolution among Jews in Palestine of modern secular sentiments, who, with Weber, saw secularization as a lapsed Christian stance (the “ghosts” of lapsed Protestant vocation haunt the modern capitalist). He also scorned cultural Zionism or any orientation other than political. It is why in 1957, to the National Review he would emphasize “the nearness of biblical antiquity” in Israel, a nearness “a conservative should admire” (even though he suspects it will fade). As a Zionist, that was as near as he could get to the Nietzschean root (the kings and not the prophets). In the 20s, he had scorned cultural Zionism or any other orientation than political and national-socialist; in his 1923 article “Response on Frankfurt’s ‘Word of Principle,’”[Antwort auf das ‘Prinzipielle Wort’ der Frankfurter], he sided with the Jewish Wanderbund Blau-Weiss, an imitation of the German youth wanderers who excluded Jews) headed by the fuehrer Walter Moses (Gerschom Scholem styled the group “semi-fascist”). He endorsed the means necessary to the Jewish national revolution even though he himself proceeded toward those means with “a necessary reservation.” His 1957 letter both spoke of what an American conservative might believe (even though he was not such a conservative) and what Jews in Israel might believe (even though he retained this “reservation”). His dying letters to Scholem, however, take on occasional shadings of mysticism and ecstatic (if one may use such a word about Leo) affection for Jewish spirituality.

As Strauss came to see Nazism more clearly, he was torn; he moved, later in the War, to the position that the Nazis main purpose was to kill Jews. Even before, there is a powerfully moving letter to Klein in 1933 with hopes that Klein will see Strauss’s father and gratitude that he did (he switches from an experimental English into German to discuss this). He speaks of how “it must be going very badly with my father. The shop [in Kirchhain] is ruined.” (December 1, 1933, GS 3:424; see also Klein to Strauss, January 26, 1934, GS 3: 487-88). Strauss was frightened for his father and perhaps had some inkling that his father might perish in the camps. But of course, as Klein mentions, the father did not understand Strauss, and Strauss perhaps also had a kind of self-conscious denial, an outspokenness quite late about the National Revolution and a hinting at it even after. His failed courtship of Hannah Arendt and the lingering bitterness on both sides perhaps testify, in Strauss, to the same kind of rivenness.

According to Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, in 1932, Strauss had been attracted to Arendt who later apparently commented brutally to several friends that Strauss defended a party which had no place for him because he was a Jew:

“Hannah Arendt’s tolerance for intellectuals who failed to understand the darkening political situation grew weaker as her allegiance to the Zionists’ critique grew deeper. Leo Strauss, the author of a much admired critique of quite a different sort, Die Religionskritik Spinozas, met with a curt rejection from Hannah Arendt for his lack of awareness. Strauss, an associate of the Hochschule fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums, met Arendt at the Prussian State Library and made an effort to court her. When she criticized his conservative [sic –Reactionary] political views and dismissed his suit, he became bitterly angry. The bitterness lasted for decades, growing worse when the two joined the same American faculty at the University of Chicago in the 1960’s. Strauss was haunted by the rather cruel way in which Hannah Arendt had judged his assessment of National Socialism; she pointed out the irony of the fact that a political party advocating views Strauss appreciated could have no place for a Jew like him. (Jung-Bruehl, Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World, p. 98).

Why authors like Jung-Bruehl, particularly in America, refer to fascism or Reaction as if it were conservative in the Burke or Oakeshott sense is something of a mystery. The use provides cover for authoritarianism – as in the so-called neo-conservatives. Fascism or authoritarianism or Reaction is, and is only, decadent conservatism, conservatism which has forgotten or lost itself, no longer a defense of the rule of law, habeas corpus and individuality. Kneeling to Throne and Altar, or as of the twenties, giving a salute to Der Fuehrer or Il Duce is a very different understanding from valuing individual liberty – the equal liberty of each individual. The motive of transition of course is fear of working class radicalism and the dangers of communism – the lower orders, those crude creatures cannot be, they are surely not…individuals - and being willing to do anything – often far worse than communists and to innocents – to fight it. In other words, fascism is demented conservatism or conservatism on steroids.

With care in his Straussophobia, pp 36-38, Peter Minowitz checked the story with Jung-Bruehl who wrote to him “graciously” that she had interviewed three associates of Arendt who had told her. It was Arendt’s story (we do not get to hear Leo’s). Trying to distance Strauss from Arendt, Peter points out cleverly that those who retail the story give credence to Heidegger’s mistress, a woman who gave herself “body and soul” to a married man (the last is a little moralistic and silly). But Peter’s response begs the question: why did Arendt who knew Strauss well think that he was a willing adherent of National Socialism, even speaking with his Jewish friends and potential lovers in support of it? Why was Arendt who was so bedazzled by Heidegger intellectually as was Strauss, then a Zionist as was Strauss, affronted by Weimar to an extent (Heidegger/Arendt Letters, Ludz, ed., p. 160), perhaps like Strauss, so put off by Strauss? Peter is silent. That Strauss was amazingly to the Right of Arendt, a Reactionary which she was not, that he had taken up the unspeakable national revolution might be a reason. Perhaps, she gave her body, but not her soul to Heidegger (she was fierce on Eichmann and the banality of evil, but never criticized Heidegger or even spelled out her differences with him; her late appreciations of Heidegger on his 80th birthday admire a purposeless thinking – a way through the woods - and refer to his Nazism delicately as the “one time” he entered politics and an “escapade” named by others a “mistake” – p. 160). She exclaims with bemusement: “Who but Heidegger would have thought of seeing National Socialism as the “encounter between global technology and modern humanity?” (what Heidegger thought, critical of liberalism and socialism, with their emphases on man against nature, is actually an admirable point of contact between the philosopher and deep environmentalism or ecology – see Michael Zimmerman’s Heidegger’s Confrontation with Modernity). But Strauss did give his soul to that great philosopher and the German “national revolution” in 1933, and after, 20 years silence, again after Heidegger began speaking of true national socialism in 1953 (as usual, Strauss reports that he had not attended to Heidegger for 20 years, but does not say explicitly what suddenly came to interest him and invoked a new passion for, as he put it, the only great philosopher of our era – perhaps there will be another one in Burma in 2200 Strauss helpfully imagines). There is one sentence in “What is Political Philosophy?” which suggests that Nazism made “discredited democracy” look like a “golden age” (Peter rightly emphasizes it; Will suggests that looking “literally” at that sentence, it indicts Parliament and American democracy too). But of course a wise authoritarian regime, a fascist one, willing to use brutal means if they would promise success against “the enemy” might be even more golden…

Until two late letters to Scholem where Strauss speaks repetitively of Heidegger as a great mind lodged in a kitsch-soul, he did not much criticize Heidegger, then or later (the last sentences of On Tyranny in 1948 are a criticism though earlier in the essay - p. 27 - he refers to a continuity driven by technology between liberalism and communism, the US and the Soviet Union, both heading into tyranny for which Heidegger’s national socialism was an antidote; in the “Origins of Heideggerian existentialism,” he seems to criticize Heidegger but even there, the literal meaning – that Heidegger was a Nazi - is perhaps not a criticism (he also speaks, with Heidegger, of a “dark night of the world” and with Nietzsche, of the need for a planetary war followed by European domination). Except perhaps for the “golden age” in “What is Political Philosophy?.” there is no sentence in Strauss that rivals Arendt’s phrase: “this mistake [about the Nazis as the planetary confrontation with technology, liberalism and socialism] is modest compared with the far more decisive error that consisted of avoiding the reality in the Gestapo’s secret rooms and the torture hells of the concentration camps which were set up immediately after the burning of the Reichstag, in favor of supposedly higher realms.” (p. 160) Unlike Strauss, Arendt was not into exoteric writing (in the end, Strauss detested Hitler, but not a possible true nihilism or national socialism). Strauss speaks of murdering Jews toward the end of the War, but also never of the camps.

In late reflections, Strauss speaks of Heidegger’s power and how he began to dominate first Germany and then Europe. In her celebratory letters for Heidegger’s 80th birthday – actually, read by her in a radio broadcast at the time and published in the Munich newspaper Merkur - Arendt speaks of the same phenomenon in a deeper and more beautiful way, one of passion and an artist’s creativity (her words have widely influenced poets like Denise Levertov) which suggest that she and Strauss would have had, when they first met, something unique and deep in common:

“Let me begin, then, with this public beginning...with the year 1919, the teacher’s entrance into the public sphere of the German academy at the University of Freiburg for Heidegger’s fame is older than the publication of Being and Time in 1927; indeed, it is questionable whether that book’s unusual success – not only the immediate sensation it caused, but above all its extraordinarily lasting influence, which very few of the writings of this century can match – would have been possible were it not for, in a word, the successful teaching that preceded it, and which the book’s success, at least in the opinion of those who were students at the time, only confirmed.”

“There was something strange about this fame, perhaps even stranger than that of Kafka in the early twenties, or that of Braque and Picasso in Paris a decade earlier, to name only a few artists who were also unknown to what is generally understood as the public and yet exerted an extraordinary influence. For in Heidegger’s case, there was nothing available for the fame to be based on, nothing written, except for lecture transcripts that circulated from hand to hand; and the lectures addressed texts that were well known – they contained no teachings that could have been paraphrased and passed on. Little more than a name was known, but the name made its way through all of Germany like the rumor of a secret king. There was something completely different from the ‘circles’ centered on and directed by a ‘master’ such as the George circle, which, although known to the public, was set apart from it by the aura of a secret that only the members of the circle were supposed to know. Here there was neither secret nor membership; those whom the rumor had reached did know one another, because they were all students; there were some friendships among them, and later of course the occasional clique was formed, but there was never a circle and nothing esoteric was involved” (Hannah Arendt/Martin Heidegger, Letters, 1925-75, ed Ursula Ludz, p. 149)

The George-kreis was much like the Straussians and did involve something esoteric (she may have been thinking of Strauss, too, here). What Heidegger did was to revive thinking in a mysterious and yet striking way, which Arendt then names, and to give rise to many different strands of creativity – Arendt and Strauss, but Loewith, Tillich, Marcuse, Sartre (at a distance) and many others. Arendt continues:

“Who heard the rumor, then, and what did it say? At that time, after the First World War, there may not have been any rebels at German universities, but there was a widespread uneasiness about the teaching and learning going on at all academic institutions that were more than mere professional schools, and among all the students to whom studying meant more than preparation for a profession. Philosophy was not a field that led to a well-paying job but rather, the field for those determined to become paupers – it was that very determination, in fact, that made them so demanding…But they didn’t know what they really wanted, either. The university usually offered them either schools – the neo-Kantians, the neo-Hegelians, the neo-Platonists, etc. – or the old school house discipline, in which philosophy compartmentalized into such fields as epistemology, aesthetics, ethics, logic, and the like, was not so much taught as finished off by abysmal boredom…”

“The rumor that drew them to the lecturer in Freiburg and somewhat later to Marburg said that there was someone who actually realized the things Husserl had proclaimed, who know that they were not an academic matter but a matter for thinking people – and had been so, of course, not just since yesterday and today but for a very long time – and who, precisely because the thread of tradition was broken for him, was discovering the past anew. What was technically decisive was that, for example, Plato was not talked about, nor was his theory of ideas spelled out. Rather, through an entire semester, a dialogue was pursued and interrogated step by step so that there was nothing millenary anymore in the teaching, but only an absolutely contemporary problematic. All this probably sounds quite familiar to you today, because so many now work this way; before Heidegger, no one did. The rumor put it quite simply: thinking is alive again; the cultural treasures of the past, which everyone had believed dead, are being made to speak again; whereby it turns out that they are saying quite different things from what one had skeptically assumed. There is a teacher; one can learn, perhaps, to think." (pp. 150-51)

That Strauss was, in the brilliance of his teaching at Chicago, a child of Heidegger is revealed deeply in this statement (we may also see it in Strauss’s late report of his 1920s remark to Franz Rosenszweig, that upon hearing Heidegger’s teaching of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Strauss had realized comparatively that Weber, whom he had previously admired beyond others, was “an orphan-child” (Waisenkind). Arendt’s entire letter/speech is worth reading carefully.

Strauss was undoubtedly drawn to Arendt by what she had learned directly from Heidegger. They could have bonded in this common project as well as in Zionism. Though Strauss was moved by Heidegger and had listened to lectures, however, he had not studied closely with him or known him well. Strauss may have divined from Arendt – it may by then also have been a rumor among students of Heideggerian leanings – that Arendt had been involved with Heidegger, which might also have presented psychological difficulties for Strauss, who was, at that point, in awe of Heidegger and of course would forever growl afterwards “there are no women philosophers.” It was self-evidently a stupid saying – since Arendt who lectured down the hall from Leo was a far more creative and decent political philosopher (see here; she admired the French Resistance and the democracy of Athens, which Strauss detested); also Mike Goldfield’s remarks in the video of the 2007 debate at APSA here. It was repeated to their eternal embarrassment by Strauss’s students Allan Bloom (when Bloom said this at the American Enterprise Institute, a woman raised her hand, stood up, said “I am a philosopher,” turned her back on him, and walked out) and Werner Dannhauser. Here is the pain of foundered relationships among those like Strauss and Arendt who were seemingly quite close, except for the bitterness of Nazism: if Hannah was nasty about Strauss’s proclivity for National Socialism, Strauss and his acolytes were mustily reactionary and grotesque about women, Hannah to the point, and poor Leo a fool.

On this relationship, Charles Butterworth has pointed out to me that Arendt worried about the Palestinians, a view that might have made, if acted upon, a home for Israel in the Middle East (the regime is now a dauntingly self-destructive militarism in disdain of people in the Middle East and reveals the true meaning of the term “neoconservative”): “Strauss is a Zionist who has no concern for the people in Palestine who would be hurt by the Zionist enterprise. Arendt, like Judah Magnes, did have that kind of concern. That was certainly a big divide. At Chicago, after her discovery of the banality of evil and willingness to blame Jews for believing the Lord would save them, the divide become only greater.” There were certainly other sources of the hostility which Jung-Bruehl’s story recounts. But Arendt plainly saw Strauss’s affection for the national revolution as central to their differences and made that cuttingly clear to her friends.

In her last letter for 20 years, Arendt had written to Heidegger, speaking of the love they both affirmed, asking about how Heidegger had apparently not recognized her, and implying anti-semitism:

“But: I had already stood before you for a few seconds, you had actually already seen me – you had briefly looked up. And you did not recognize me. When I was small child, that was the way my mother once stupidly and playfully frightened me.” (Sept. 30, 1929, p. 51).

Heidegger did not respond until Winter 1932-33: “The rumors that are upsetting you are slanders that are perfect matches for other experiences I have endured over the last few years.” He offered a long list of Jews he was helping (he seems surrounded by Jews) and concludes “Whoever wants to call that ‘raging anti-Semitism’ is welcome to do so.” (p. 52) In withdrawing Husserl’s name from the dedication of Being and Time, he would do less well as Nazi Rektor-Fuehrer at Freiburg in 1933-34. Physically as well as spiritually, he traded his trademark black clothes for the Nazi uniform.

In 1932, Arendt would, unsurprisingly, have been pointed with Strauss about Heidegger’s National Socialism, and her bitter humor probably reflects pretty much what he thought. It can have been, for Strauss, no pleasure to see his two great mentors, Schmitt and Heidegger, join the Nazis on May 1, 1933, when he could not.

In 1932, Strauss had been to the Right even in comparison with Schmitt whom he refines and provokes to go further (still somehow within the horizon or as it were, the spider’s web of liberalism). He concludes his remarks with a thought about the urgent task of the moment (one might ask: what just then makes the task urgent?);

“We said that Schmitt undertakes the critique of liberalism in a liberal world, and we meant thereby that his critique of liberalism takes place within the horizon of liberalism; his unliberal tendency is restrained by the still unvanquished ‘systematics of liberal thought.’ The critique introduced by Schmitt against liberalism can therefore be completed only if one succeeds in gaining a horizon beyond liberalism. In such a horizon Hobbes completed the foundation of liberalism. A radical critique of liberalism is thus possible only on the basis of adequate understanding of Hobbes. To show what can be learned from Schmitt in order to achieve that urgent task was the principal intention of our notes.”(Meier, Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss: the Hidden Dialogue, p. 119)

He added to this thought in a letter to Schmitt of September 4, 1932:

“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 in this sense destiny period.” (The Hidden Dialogue, p. 125).

Little did Strauss understand he was speaking of Germans that would soon strike not only against Rohm and social revolution (the S.A.), unions, Communists, Roma and “Jew-dominated liberalism and Bolshevism” but…against even national revolutionaries like Strauss. He would be more aware that he spoke of Israel against Palestine (in the 1957 letter to the National Review, he hails “the diadem of an independent judiciary” in Israel. This may be partly exoteric – he hated the American Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, see Sotomayor, Brown v. Board of Education, Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s doll studies, and Leo Strauss here – but it is the most heartfelt praise of a liberal institution in Strauss’s writing and I doubt that it is simply exoteric). Nonetheless, with Heidegger in 1953, he would stand for true national socialism and his view – replacing liberal institutions with much more authoritarian, tyrannical institutions – has become increasingly influential in America, in part through the efforts of the main, politically active part of his students (and their students).

Those who revere Strauss speak of his exchange with Schmitt to suggest that he was moving to the new ground of studying the ancients. But at this time, Strauss was in favor of the German national revolution. He criticizes Schmitt for admiring Hobbes’s vision of the war of all against all as if it prefigured Schmitt’s own stance on the importance of enemies (a nation defines itself by a great enemy for both Schmitt and Strauss in 1932). Instead, for Strauss, Schmitt is misguided. In speaking of individuals who seek to avoid violent death and gain some comfort in life – Hobbes’s message - Hobbes speaks as the liberal dawn of what will become, for Nietzsche and Strauss, the last men (Schmitt is an arcane Catholic, and detests Nietzsche; he thinks that the last men are the triumph of Satan, put off by a catechon, something that holds back the end). As a philosophical (but hardly just a philosophical) purpose, Strauss avows, one must go to another unnamed place. That was the place of Heidegger’s philosophical politics. Of Schmitt. That was also the place of the rumors in Paris. The German national revolution.

Edgar Allen Poe once wrote a revelatory mystery, “The Purloined Letter,” in which his detective C. Auguste Dupin at last discovers it in plain sight: in the filigreed mail rack in a minister’s apartment. Strauss is often disarmingly literal – he says something with a plain meaning, like “I did not consider Heidegger again for 20 years” or “I am not a conservative” – which only hints at but does not spell out what he does think. One can always avoid the implication, look the other way. He leaves the indulgent reader to imagine that a German Jew in exile could not have supported the German national revolution. Yet evidence of Strauss’s meaning imposes itself in the rumors in Paris and Germany. He cannot stay in Paris because “here they consider me a ‘Nazi.’

Perhaps the obvious thought eludes those who identify with Strauss. What great change in Germany were Strauss and Schmitt awaiting in 1932 and 1933?**



*He was often so in a self-destructive way, consider his publication of Philosophy and Law as a candidate for a job as professor of religion at Hebrew University in Jerusalem: Scholem wrote of him that to announce himself as an atheist and to identify Maimonides as a philosopher and hint at Heidegger and atheism would pretty well finish him as a candidate - maybe 3 people would vote for him anyway; he referred to the “suicide” of an able mind. Strauss was a despised and frightened Jew who sometimes burst out, shockingly (consider again his joke about pretending to be businessmen with Klein in a coffee shop and shouting “Nietzsche”). Though he didn’t like the prophets, he could speak in a prophetic and thundering voice, even if he would then be shunned. He also wanted, too much, to be German. And he appalled all the Jews and other decent Germans he knew. Say the truth, might be his motto, even if you are despised or die (as opposed to courage which this does reflect, the intelligence of such a maxim of course depends upon what one takes to be the truth). That was the point of the long nihilist peroration at the end of the “Restatement” to On Tyranny – see here. Further, there were hidden boxes within boxes within boxes. Reining himself in enough to be exoteric and depend on careless American readers and even followers - a German Jewish exile from Hitler just can’t be a fascist, let alone an adherent of the German national revolution, let alone, a true National Socialist. Didn’t he oppose the ‘vulgar’ Hitler, that “insane tyrant”?

**At p. 97 of Eugene Sheppard’s Leo Strauss and the Politics of Exile, he says this, but quickly turns away from the shocking political implications of this insight: “In the commentary on Carl Schmitt’s Concept of the Political (1932), for example, Strauss pointed to the as yet unnamed paradigm that was to burst from the depths of Weimar politics and constitute a ‘horizon beyond liberalism.’ The intellectual influence of Schmitt, and especially Heidegger, along with the concomitant distancing from Ernst Cassirer, neo-Kantianism, and even Husserlian phenomenology – all contributed to Strauss’s critique of Weimar.”
Site Admin
Posts: 31201
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Enmity and Tyranny - on Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss, pa

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 5:35 am

Only a foolish reactionary would assert that "there are no women philosophers"
by Alan Gilbert
August 31, 2009

I correspond now with many Straussians, and am very engaged in a debate about how Strauss bred dark reaction in American politics. One, skeptical of patriarchy in philosophy but not entirely convinced about it, wrote me the following note:

“I do not for a moment think that [Strauss’s] belief in women’s intellectual inferiority was a response to having been rejected by Arendt. That belief is rooted in Plato and Aristotle, indeed, in all the authors whom Strauss most admired; and it is rooted in Jewish tradition, perhaps even in Hebrew Scripture. It seems wrong, but it is not irrational. [The act of the woman at the American Enterprise Institute’s who announced I am a philosopher, turned her back on Allan Bloom and walked out] was great fun, but it was not a sufficient refutation. Nor, let us be perfectly honest, was his assertion sufficiently proven. We have decided today to ignore that argument. But we have not yet shown that it is false, have we?”

My Democratic Individuality, ch. 1, is a straight up refutation of all forms of bigotry about human equality (that we all have an equally sufficient capacity for moral personality to understand the law and participate in political life). It focuses on the issue of slavery, but the subjection of women, or anti-semitism/Orientatism towards jews and Arabs or any putative justification of colonialism is equally at issue. In modern philosophy, scientific explanations, like ordinary ones, are forms of induction (Only mathematics is deductive). This style of explanation, either in a detective novel or about slavery and sexism or about quantum mechanics is named inductive inference to the best explanation in a famous article by Gilbert Harman, Philosophical Review, 1965. Through analysis of relevant evidence (determined by the relevant contending theories), it may turn out that a surprising hypothesis is in fact such an explanation. The argument I give shows that so-called natural slavery – and slave-hunting as a form of just war – believed by Greek slave-holders and even Aristotle are rightly rejected by Montesquieu and Hegel on Aristotelian grounds (there are not distinct groups of people who lack the mental capacity to govern themselves and “need” to be ruled by others).

To certain hidebound reactionaries (and in this respect, Leo and his followers Bloom and Dannhauser, are mustily reactionary), it is just obvious that there are no women philosophers.

Unfortunately, for Leo, Hannah Arendt, who was a more imaginative and creative Heideggerian and in fact, her own person philosophically much more than Strauss, taught right down the hall at Chicago. Arendt has a view of power, resting on the coming together of people nonviolently versus the inefficacy of (elite) violence in revolutionary circumstances which may be the single most powerful argument illuminating the potentials of nonviolent movements (In The Unconquerable World, Jonathan Schell adapts it; it is his central argument in a very good book). Arendt’s 1967 view precedes and foreshadows the fall of the authoritarian regimes or what are perhaps inadequately called totalitarianisms in Eastern Europe in 1989. This is a more significant and interesting argument – just one argument of Arendt’s – than any produced by Leo Strauss or any follower of Strauss, period (as Leo used to say). It is also vastly superior to Max Weber’s influential Nietzschean reduction of ideas to power, his misguided notion that states control the means of violence in a territory and have only forms of legitimacy, a view that renders nonviolence, as it is with Strauss (who was in this respect, a Weberian or a crude Nietzschean) outside politics altogether. But this view now dominates American political science and sociology, what I sometimes style Weber with the lights gone out (see Democratic Individuality chs. 9-12). In his view, violence is power and dominant; legitimacy is secondary, an adjunct to successful coercion. In contrast, her view makes the power of oppressed people (with an implied common good) central and repressive violence ineffectual. In a Nietzschean idiom, Arendt’s view transvalues Weber’s terms in a revelatory way of thinking about power from below (even the Chinese Communist Revolution which she mistakenly dismisses as coming from the barrel of a gun). This is just one important argument by Arendt.

In ethics and social theory, today, Martha Nussbaum is a very important figure. She worked out with Amartya Sen the notion of individual capabilities - that we should judge development or democracy on the basis of its furthering of individual capabilities, and not misleading judgments about average per capita income or idle statements about how democracies don’t go to war with one another (see here and here). In Development as Freedom, based on this argument, Sen adapts his own previous work on famine to show that no society which has an opposition newspaper (as in modern democratic India) has a famine as opposed to British-ruled Calcutta in 1943. This is, once again, a very large philosophical or social theoretical argument, perhaps the most telling one on behalf of party-competition as opposed to an authoritarian alternative. The two arguments together – one by a woman, the other by a man who collaborated with a woman - are certainly among the most significant arguments in ethics/political philosophy/social theory of the last half century.

As I have noted repeatedly, Strauss was a brilliant scholar and his exoteric/esoteric distinction sometimes casts enormous light on ancient and medieval thinkers. Yet he offers no interesting philosophical arguments (his arguments are driven by a sublimely reactionary standpoint, without attention for example to why any person might be a modern democrat or without offering any intelligent argument against democratic views; instead, he invokes the mantra of Nietzsche’s “last men.”) As argument, his emphasis on hidden writing, however insightful as scholarship, is often radically defective. In the Republic, Plato offers a great psychological indictment of tyranny; yet he points hiddenly, I suggest, to the notion that a tyrant of a certain kind becomes a philosopher-ruler or philosopher-tyrant. The surface argument refutes the esoteric pointing; the argument as a whole is incoherent or self-refuting (see my “Do Philosophers Counsel Tyrants?,” Constellations, March 2009, here).

Mike Goldfield points to the irony of Arendt teaching down the hall from Strauss at Chicago as Strauss offered his reactionary proclamations (for a thundering German Jew to sound like Colonel Blimp takes effort). See the 2007 APSA debate over Strauss 1933 letter to Loewith here. Goldfield’s is an amusing rejection of this tale, even if one doesn’t know that Strauss himself cultivated this view largely, I think, because Hannah rejected him romantically and not simply because of its ostensible presence in Plato (I will post on this matter later this week). Strauss liked to say that he preferred Xenophon who he analogized to Jane Austen – one who leaves certain things unsaid - in contrast to Plato who he analogized as Dostoevsky. Neither novelist is an obvious comparison, but what Strauss meant to celebrate in Austen is that she teaches us about virtue, about being your own person, not into it for the money or status, about eudaimonism. Some brilliant novels are also philosophical. Instead of just contradicting himself, Leo might have noticed…

Plato is sometimes invoked as the father of Strauss’s patriarchal view – an emanation of power which has always been stupid and is today in tatters. But even the Republic, despite its terrible hierarchy in the “city in speech,” does not invoke slavery. In my judgment, Plato here followed Socrates, as is visible in the Meno. Socrates says to Meno, bring me any slave, and then, through asking him questions, shows that the slave can prove, upon reflection and discovery of his own errors, one of the most advanced theorems of Euclidean geometry. (In Strauss’s semester course on the Meno, Goldfield tells me Strauss somehow managed to miss or skim over this issue; the lectures have apparently now been posted and I will check them soon, but the best one can hope is that Strauss notices them enough to contradict himself or didn’t see that Socrates rejects his view point-blank). Socrates then says that souls, which are neither simply male nor female, animal nor human, have this knowledge from eternity (both in human form and not), and can recollect it through questioning. This is a pure egalitarian argument, as radical as it gets (it is amusing that those Straussians who assert that every argument is in Plato - I suppose in embryonic form - have overlooked this one). I will not elaborate on the distinction between Plato or Plato’s Socrateses and what Socarates might have thought here. But that Plato himself believed something like this can be seen also in the Myth of Er of the end of the Republic. In this context, Aristotle’s weak argument in book 1 of the Politics is an effort to contradict Socrates.

Athens imprisoned women as patriarchal societies have since. But as I noted in several posts from Crete this summer, the earlier societies of the Cycladic islands and Crete were women-led, comparatively egalitarian, trading communities. Plato’s story of Atlantis in the Timeaus was anti-democratic – Plato himself, as Al-Farabi emphasizes was an enemy of Athens in this fundamental respect – and reimagines Atlantis in a nasty, hierarchical and authoritarian way. See Plato's Atlantis and the subversion of Athenian democracy here and What is lost in Plato's story of Atlantis here. As I also traced, the Mystery religions brought the goddess – Demeter (the great mother from Crete) - into Athens. They celebrated a kind of equality which influences some of Socrates' thinking (a participant in the Mysteries) and probably Plato’s. See Crete, the mystery religions, and Athenian democracy here.

Even Plato notes that women may be guardians. But his story of the city in speech in the Republic – a sexual mocking of women and men wrestling naked together – means to invert the today no longer understood Cretan practice of young women and men vaulting over the bulls’ horns (two of the five remaining frescoes or statues in the archaeological museum at Santorini feature this), Plato often varied stories, but in an Athenian patriarchal vein, he needed especially to bury this one under the metaphorical lava of the volcanic eruption (on Santorini in the 16th century b.c.) which destroyed Crete. It was replaced with the unlovely warrior (Aryan) civilization in which a master is buried with his weapons (often along with slaves and women, his alleged subordinates).

In the Symposium, Plato also invokes Diotima who teaches Socrates about love (she is a prophet from Mantinea, who postponed the plague for 10 years, a mocking account if one thinks of the role of the plague in Thucydides in undermining Athens during the Peloponnesian War, and of course teaches the wonders of boy-love to Socrates). But is her presence not a refutation of Strauss’s prejudice? Was she not speaking to Socrates of the matter of boy-love because that was what Socates was into (I guess he was “bi” as some like to say, but primarily into beautiful boys as Plato’s dialogues show). Strauss identifies and makes creative use of the exoteric/esoteric distinction – one of its more obvious applications is the story of Platonic love based on Socrates and Alcibiades in the Symposium. But bigotry against gays and lesbians is equally a prejudice.

As Strauss also overlooks, Ibn-Rusd (Averroes) in his commentary on Plato’s Republic takes the vision of women guardians very seriously. He says that the comparatively rich Cordoba and the other Arab cities are poor because they treat half the population as plants, not as humans. Women could – and should – be lawyers or join other professions. That was an original Platonic philosophical insight as of the 13th century - probably more advanced than anything in the Middle East till the 19th or 20th century (some Arab Marxists at least had better insights). Similarly, Ibn-Rusd probably beats any European philosopher until Mill or Engels. Ibn-Rusd understood the argument in Plato well and applied it in a novel way (the most interesting insight, that goes beyond Plato, in that volume). Was he not – obviously – right?

Forms of exploitation or power over others always lead, over long historic epochs, to the idea among the exploiters that those who are dominated lack the capacities to participate in political life. Hence I argue in Democratic Individuality, for a notion of limited moral objectivity (Greek notions that at least some males have a capacity for a free political life) and for moral progress. That the prevailing structure of power puts the words of prejudice toward others into the mouths of many, and even sometimes otherwise smart people, ones who have some real insights, is no reason, we can now see historically to believe that the prejudices they also espouse are true. With the character of Roxanne who defies the tyrant Usbek in the Persian Letters, with the slave in the Phenomenology, Montesquieu and Hegel attacked this reactionary view in a way which is ultimately, as more and more evidence emerges, putting it out of business. The first chapter of Democratic Individuality suggests that this view, not the ideology of the dominators, is an inference to the best explanation.

Despite various forms of American decadence currently, one positive feature of American life is the emergence of large numbers of women in advanced education. I taught a course on Ethics and International Affairs this summer. 16 of 21 students were women, and the most interesting philosophical argument in the class about the lingering influence of the social science idea of “value” – the one involved in the hope to be value free, see American moral judgments here – was offered by a woman. Sen emphasizes capabilities, but when he begins to speak of conflicts of ethical goods or hard cases, he reverts to a notion of values which fails to distinguish such goods or such cases from their opposites. Nazis have values, patriarchs have values, etc.

In the law, in international studies and in the humanities, women now are majorities in classes (and one of the peculiarities of patriarchy – in its harms to boys and men is that this may continue for quite a while). Soon philosophy faculties, at the junior level at least, are likely to become predominantly women. Very soon, no one will still think that this reactionary argument about women has any merit – because it doesn’t.

Larry Summers recently got into trouble because of avowing that women may lack insight into physics or mathematics compared to men. Guess he never heard of Marie Curie (there is a particularly beautiful poem by Adrienne Rich about Curie and about the devoted study of x-rays, which breeding cancer, killed her young). Harvey Mansfield got all manly in defense of Larry. But the truth is that Larry is in this respect, as in wanting to dump toxic waste off South Africa, just a reactionary fool.

Andrew Sullivan with whom I often agree for example about Obama or about the harms of torture or the dangers of empire, admires (with criticisms) Charles Murray. Everyone has their flaws. But the Bell Curve of Murray and Herrnstein rests on IQ testing which merely operationalizes intelligence to whatever IQ tests test (the definition is circular and uninteresting; IQ tests actually just predict how people will do in class-, gender- and race- structured schools). Herrnstein once wrote a laughable article in the Atlantic Monthly - 1990 - about how black and brown people are outbreeding whites. The national IQ is falling, he suggested. White women better get out of college and breed. This is just warmed over eugenics and even King Canute, telling the sea to stop where his finger pointed, had less hubris…

Herrnstein had a religion of IQ testing (he once debated Chomsky, and if one wants to see the difference between brilliance and the stammering religion of method, that exchange is a paradigm – see Ned Block and Gerald Dworkin, The IQ Controversy). If one knows what is wrong with operationalism in philosophy of social science (the view that we differ about the meanings of concepts like intelligence and democracy and therefore we should develop a way of measuring these things that somehow skirts these differences rather than providing some reasons and evidence for thinking one thing as opposed to another – a hopeless, anti-intellectual and in practice, perverse and reactionary method - one will not be tempted to demonstrate one’s foolishness in this way. Once infamous, Herrnstein is already earning, in this respect, the criticism of silence.

The argument about women in philosophy is no different from other forms of hierarchical prejudice, for instance, the argument for “Kinder, Kueche, Kirche” (childen, kitchen, church) as the Nazis used to put it. Women have not been in political life or lawyers or novelists or whatever; therefore they cannot be. Hillary Clinton just ran for President. The supposed merits of this unattractive argument vanish before our eyes, as Strauss liked to say. It is no inference to the best explanation. Of a particularly hopeless, sexist remark in Strauss, Peter Minowitz in his recent Straussophobia, says: I will not attempt to defend this. He does not bother to give any version of the foregoing argument. Strauss’s assertion is the cant of fools.
Site Admin
Posts: 31201
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Enmity and Tyranny - on Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss, pa

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 5:36 am

Strauss’s Vision of a Great Anti-modern Tyrant and its Bizarre American Consequences
by Alan Gilbert
June 2, 2009

In early April, I gave a lecture at Rob Howse’s seminar at NYU Law School on Strauss’s On Tyranny. Below this introduction, I post the handout from the debate. Howse has written important essays on Strauss, especially one on Strauss and Schmitt, and we had a debate on Strauss’s views, in which I underlined the connection of On Tyranny (1948) with Strauss’s later remarks, in Thoughts on Machiavelli (1958) on the tyranny of philosophical-founders or legislators. I also invoked a prophetic, desperate and frightening passage from Strauss’s “Restatement” in On Tyranny, one that envisions nuclear destruction as a return to a human “spring” as if everything would grow anew and then cycle through again to the “last men” (Strauss’s Nietzschean vision of today’s “decadence”). It is fortunate that many of Strauss’s political followers do not read him that carefully, or take in esoteric meanings often dropped, as here, on the surface of the text. The Wolfowitzes, Shulskys and Bill Kristols among others seem to advocate endless war to achieve parliamentary democracy and capitalism (if they had succeeded in bombing Iran, particularly with nuclear “bunker-busters” at Natanz a mere 50 km. from Teheran, one might wonder if Strauss’s vision would not have been realized in the midterm after-effects). Howse rightly infers that these counselors to power cannot have had the same vision as Strauss – waging endless war to elevate the last men, is a silly, though in practice monstrous contradiction. The On Tyranny passage from 1948 is, however, both dark, and bizarrely consistent.

I also offer two citations from the Strauss archive in Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago (I was the first nonStraussian admitted to it, last fall). See here. One recommends to Illinois Senator and Republican Presidential candidate Charles Percy that the US should conquer Cuba just like the Soviet Union conquered Hungary. Written a year after the Cuban missile crisis, which had nearly brought on nuclear war (that was humanity’s nearest miss, and we were barely saved from it, as Robert McNamara reveals in the Errol Morris documentary “The Fog of War” by the ability to listen and pursue a decent course of President John F. Kennedy and Khrushchev), this policy both prefigures Cheney-like barbarism and would quite possibly have brought on the nuclear war which humanity had barely escaped.

The second citation suggests that Percy needs to moderate the American affection for technology and progress, the hope that the world could mitigate poverty. As Stephen Holmes saw brilliantly in the discussion following the debate, this stance challenges liberalism and communism in so far as both are based on technological advance. This is Strauss’s typical skepticism, based on Heidegger whom he initially was mesmerized by and always thought the one “great philosopher” of our time, and Nietzsche. Strauss offers a Nietzschean denunciation of the epochs-long revolt of the poor, the triumph of “slave morality” and equality, and following Heidegger, envisions the horrific standing reserve of technology, the coming “night of the world.” This passage does show how Strauss, through his allegiance to European reaction, was outside the sphere of liberalism entirely, barely able to touch it. The reactionary policy recommendation to Percy linked to the passage from On Tyranny on a fanciful return to the “spring” from nuclear winter shows that the modern nihilists, however destructive (the political Straussians led by the non-Straussian though always counselled by Straussians Richard Cheney), can’t touch Strauss in his darkest moments.

Alexandere Kojeve, the brilliant Russian-French scholar of Hegel, Marxian of a kind, and the man who ran De Gaulle’s economic policies and fostered European Union (amusingly, a successful “philosopher-king” or more aptly, philosopher to the king and without so much bloodiness – he was not directly involved in De Gaulle’s colonial war in Algeria, or the French army’s torture of prisoners) was the second participant in On Tyranny. He had learned from Strauss. Both engaged in exoteric or surface writing with a subtle or esoteric meaning. A principal way of revealing such meanings is to seem to comment on a text but suddenly say out-loud or on the surface what you take its hidden meaning to be. Kojeve’s response to Strauss originally entitled “The Political Action of Philosophers” does exactly this. It says, seemingly differently from Strauss, that many modern tyrants are good tyrants, listening to or capable of listening to philosophers, mirroring the advice of Xenophon’s Simonides to Hiero. For Strauss and Kojeve, that advice is the “political action of philosophers.” It is a rather odd point for a former Marxist, with sympathies for Mao, since mass movements seem to be the point of Marxism, not advice to tyrants. But though driven out of Russia, from an aristocratic background, Kojeve admired Stalin and perhaps merged his sympathies with – or just wanted to toy with Strauss – about this.

Strauss’s enmity in the essay is directed against the Soviet Union and its surface meaning is to indict a final tyrant from whom there is no escape; many conservatives, including Timothy Fuller, a wonderful political theorist from Colorado College, take his contribution in On Tyranny to be a use of Xenophon’s dialogue on ancient tyranny to indict the final tyrant. But this is a slight of hand. Xenophon’s Hiero is a defense of tyranny – the classic one by a wise man among the ancients as the citation I give below from Strauss’s writing 10 years later plainly says. Many Straussians think On Tyranny is mainly a debate, and that Strauss defends the ancients, Kojeve, the moderns. But at core, this is not really a debate. Kojeve reveals Strauss.

The final citation, much neglected in Anglo-American academia, is from Plato’s Phaedrus. It shows that he and not Strauss had the idea of “the art of writing”; it is what the dialogues are meant to do. Hence, they are the subtle masterpieces, a labyrinth, in which the student – Plato’s students in the Academy and later adepts - may quest for hidden meanings. Strauss invokes the line numbers in the Phaedrus though he does not cite the passage. As I emphasize, Strauss was on to a kind of writing practiced among ancient and medieval authors – his primary claim to discovery, which should be honored – even though he is often wrong about what the meanings are, and even when right, frequently disguises what he is saying in the same way as those he studies (see my earlier post, “Do Philosophers Council Tyrants,” Constellations 2009). Strauss was a wonderful scholar, with unusual persistence in studying texts, who brings attention to Farabi, Maimonides and Xenophon, for example, into modern scholarship. But he was not good at argument. As I also suggest in that essay, Strauss was a cryptographer, not a philosopher. As the first citations reveal, it would have been much better for the world if he had really kept his hands, and that of the sect he set in motion, out of politics, or if he had ended up in Israel, furthering a much more local brand of philosopher-tyranny (if Strauss had defended Arabs, which given his work on Farabi, he was perfectly capable of doing, rather than a Jewish “national socialism” – unfortunately, the core defect of Zionism and particularly Strauss’s teenage and later Zionism – he might even have been able to mitigate some of the disaster of “the transfer” and subsequent Israeli policy; his politics were, however, not so philosophical or decent as that).

I hope to post the dvd that was made of my lecture and a debate – or at least a sketching of differences - with Rob Howse shortly.

“The Political Action of Philosophers”: advising tyrants and rebelling against the “end of history”

1. The Meaning of On Tyranny

“Xenophon is that writer who for Machiavelli has come closest to preparing his questioning of the imagined prince. Xenophon’s Hiero is the classic defense of tyranny by a wise man.” – Strauss, Thoughts on Machiavelli (1958), p. 291.

“As soon as we consider the context, we can see that Aristotle treats tyranny as a monstrosity [sic –the Politics also says something different about the rule of “the outstanding man”] whereas Machiavelli rather deals with tyranny as essential to the foundation of society itself. In this point, as well as in others of the same character, Machiavelli is closer to Plato than to Aristotle. Plato does not hesitate to make his founder of a good society, the wise legislator, demand that he be supported by a tyrant.” - Strauss, Thoughts on Machiavelli , p. 293.

2. Two key passages in On Tyranny:

“The experience of the present generation has taught us to read the great political literature of the past with different eyes and different expectations. The lesson may not be without value for our political orientation. We are now brought fact to face with a tyranny which holds out the threat of becoming, thanks to the ‘conquest of nature’ and in particular human nature, what no earlier tyranny ever became: perpetual and universal. Confronted by the appalling alternative that man, or human, thought must be collectivized wither by one stroke and without mercy or else by slow and gentle processes [note here that the Soviet Union and the United States are equated], we are forced to wonder how we could escape from this dilemma.” – Strauss, On Tyranny (1948), p. 27.

“Xenophon’s Socrates makes it clear that there is only one and sufficient title to rule: only knowledge and not force and fraud or election [note how Strauss rules out democracy here] or , we may add, inheritance makes a man a king or ruler. If this is the case ‘constitutional’ rule, rule derived from elections is not essentially more legitimate than tyrannical rule, rule derived from force or fraud. Tyrannical rule as well as ‘constitutional’ rule will be legitimate to the extent which the tyrant or the ‘constitutional’ rulers will listen to the counsels of him who ‘speaks well’ because he ‘thinks well.’ At any rate, the rule of a tyrant, who comes to power by force or fraud or having committed any number of crimes is essentially more legitimate than the rule of elected magistrates who refuse to listen to such suggestions, i.e. than the rule of elected magistrates as such.” - Strauss, On Tyranny, p. 75.

3. Strauss’s Reply to Kojeve’s Vision of History

“The Philosopher must go to the market to fish for potential philosophers. His attempts to convert young men to the philosophic life will necessarily be regarded by the city as an attempt to corrupt the young. The philosopher is therefore forced to defend the cause of philosophy. He must therefore act upon the city or upon the ruler.” Strauss, “Restatement,” On Tyranny (published, 1961, written 1950), p. 205

“The end of history would be most exhilarating but for the fact, according to Kojeve, that it is the participation in bloody political struggles as well as in real work or, generally expressed, the negating action which raises men 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” – Strauss, “Restatement,” p. 208

“There will always be men [andres] who will revolt against a state which is destructive of humanity or in which there is no longer the possibility of noble action or of great deeds. They may be forced into a mere negation of the universal and homogeneous state, into a negation not enlightened by any positive goal, into a nihilistic negation. While perhaps doomed to failure, that nihilistic revolution may be the only action on behalf of man’s humanity, the only great and noble deed that is possible once the universal and homogeneous state has become inevitable. But no one can know whether it will succeed for fail We still know too little about the workings of the universal and homogeneous state to say anything about where and when its corruption will start. What we do know is only that it will perish sooner or later (see Friedrich Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach). Someone may object that the successful revolt against the universal and homogeneous state could have no other effect than that the identical historical process that has led from the primitive horde to the final state will be repeated. But would such a repetition of the process – a new lease on life for man’s humanity – not be preferable to the indefinite continuation of the inhuman end? Do we not enjoy every spring although we know the cycle of the seasons, although we know that winter will come again? Warriors and workers of all countries, unite, while there is still time to prevent the coming of ‘the realm of freedom’ Defend with might and main, if it needs to be defended, the ‘realm of necessity’ ” - Strauss, “Restatement,” p. 209.

4. Strauss’s Counselling of Senator Charles Percy

Strauss himself attempted to advise Senator Charles Percy of Illinois, a Republican Presidential candidate in 1964. In a memorandum to Percy of October 24, 1961, his language recalls the “Restatement” to On Tyranny and recommends a brutality which he thinks will cow the Soviet Union into submission:

“There cannot be a modus vivendi until Russia abandons Communism, in the sense that it ceases to act on the premises of Communism; for it is utterly uninteresting to us and the rest of the non-Communist world whether the Russians go on paying lip-service to Communism, provided they have become convinced that the Free World is here to stay, and they act on this conviction. To bring about this change of mind, the West must be as tough and, if need be, as brutal as the Communists are to the West. The West must demonstrate to the Communists, by words and deeds which allow no possibility of error, that they must postpone forever the establishment of the Communist world society.

But the modus vivendi demands also a radical change on our part – a change of outlook or expectations which will necessarily issue in a change of policies. I can only speak of the change of outlook. Hitherto the West has believed in the possibility of a perfectly just society (federationist or unitary) comprising all mankind –a society rendered possible in the first place by universal affluence and ultimately by the increase in human power to be brought about by technology or science. Everyone has now become aware of the fact that the great enterprise which was meant to bring about the abolition of misery, has in fact brought about what we may call the absolute misery: namely the possibility that, so to speak, a single tyrant can destroy the human race. We must rethink radically the expectation which has pervaded our thoughts and actions in all domains, that the human condition is thinkable without the accompaniment of misery. By this I do not deny that it is the duty of humanity to relieve misery wherever one can. [an exoteric remark, for Percy] - Strauss papers, Regenstein Library, University of Chicago

After the Cuban missile crisis and the narrowest miss at nuclear war [Cuba had over 100 armed nuclear missiles of which the Kennedy administration was unaware], Strauss wrote to Senator Percy on February 12, 1963:

“Dear Mr. Percy,

I believe that the following points have not been made, or at least have not been made with sufficient audibility: 1) To speak in the only language which Khrushchev understands, Cuba is our Hungary; just as we did not make the slightest move when he solved the problem in his back yard, Hungary, he cannot, and will not make the slightest move if and when we take care of the problem in our back yard, Cuba .”

5. Plato’s Phaedrus on the double nature of dialogues and what Strauss would call “exoteric” writing

“Socrates: Writing Phaedrus, has this strange quality, and it is very like painting; for the creatures of painting stand like living beings, but if one asks them a question, they preserve a solemn silence. And so it is with written words; you might think they spoke as if they had intelligence , but if you question them, wishing to know about their sayings, they always say only one and the same thing. And every word, when once it is written, is bandied about, alike among those who understand and those who have no interest in it, and it knows not to whom to speak and to whom not to speak; when ill-treated or unjustly reviled, it always needs its father to help it; for it has no power to protect or help itself.

…in my opinion, serious discourse about them [justice and similar subjects] is far nobler when one employs the dialectic method and plants and sows in a fitting soul intelligent words which are able to help themselves and him who planted them, which are not fruitless but yield seed from which there springing up in other minds other words capable of continuing the process for ever and which make their possessor happy, to the furthest possible limit of human happiness.” Plato, Phaedrus, 275d-277a

“I am very anxious to have a review by you [of Strauss’s essay on Xenophon’s Hiero] because you are one of the three people who will have a full understanding of what I was driving at.” – Strauss to Kojeve, December 6, 1948
Site Admin
Posts: 31201
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Return to Articles & Essays

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 7 guests