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.

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: 23282
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: 23282
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Return to Articles & Essays

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests