Enmity and Tyranny - on Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss

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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.”
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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.
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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
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