Under Glenn’s favorable interpretation of Strauss’s contribution to the recovery of political philosophy, Strauss’s view that the claims of reason and revelation are “mutually exclusive” need not be accepted by Roman Catholics. Rather, the Roman Catholic political philosopher can appropriate Strauss’s teaching in support of moral realism in the battle against subjectivism and relativism. In other words, Strauss shares with Roman Catholics an aversion to liberal modernity and provides a powerful philosophical argument for rejecting it, particularly in its positivist and radical historicist dimensions. The “ancient”/ “modern” distinction is a powerful hermeneutic tool through which one can embrace the moral realism of the “ancients” and reject the increasing nihilism of the “moderns.”8
And yet a closer reading of even the exoteric Strauss should give Roman Catholics pause before they embrace Strauss’s distinction. First, Strauss’s brand of “moral realism” is one which seems to be, at best, ambivalent to Christianity’s contribution to the history of political philosophy, particularly in its political ramifications. Second, Strauss’s distinction between ancients and moderns seems to be based primarily on the relationship between the philosopher and the city, not on whether the human mind has the capacity to grasp truths grounded in the nature of things. The first point is addressed obliquely in Natural Right and History, the second more directly What is Political Philosophy?
In his introduction to Natural Right and History, Strauss seems to indicate that “Roman Catholic social science” is preferable to most of “present-day American social science” in that it is not necessarily committed to “the proposition that all men are endowed by the evolutionary process or by a mysterious fate with many kinds of urges and aspirations, but certainly with no natural right.”9 In short, Straussimplies that Roman Catholic social science is at least open to the possibility of some view of natural right, implying for political philosophy the argument for a hierarchy of natural ends. The problem, however, is that “the modern followers of Thomas Aquinas” (i.e. neo-Thomists) have been forced to accept “a fundamental, typically modern, dualism of a nonteleological natural science and a teleological science of man” that seems to break with the views of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas himself, thus pushing, one infers, much of contemporary Catholic social thought in a non-teleological, imperativist direction.10 A possible implication: for Roman Catholics to salvage their own tradition from the shoals of the liberal politics of modernity, they must embrace a more fully (as envisaged by Strauss) Aristotelian Christianity and its hierarchical, prudentialist view of politics rather than a form of Kantian Christianity with its egalitarian and imperativist implications.11
And yet, at the very end of Strauss’s chapter on “Classical Right”—at the virtual center of the work itself—Strauss indicates that the problem with even St. Thomas Aquinas himself, a Thomas not read through the prism of neo-Thomists such as Jacques Maritain and Heinrich Rommen, is that “the Thomistic doctrine of natural right, or more generally expressed, of natural law, is free from the hesitations and ambiguities of the teachings, not only of Plato and Cicero, but of Aristotle as well.” Thus, for St. Thomas, there are certain immutable first principles of natural law that “suffer no exception, unless possibly by divine intervention.” Under a Thomistic dispensation, reason and revelation are reconciled in such a manner as to imply (1) that all men are conscience-bound to obey the natural law, even in its immutable first principles, and (2) that this places an undue burden on the latitude exercised by statesmen in their pursuit of the common weal. Thus, Montesquieu (a “modern” under any reasonable interpretation of Strauss’s “ancients”/”moderns” distinction) “tried to recover for statesmanship a latitude which had been considerably restricted by the Thomistic teaching.” The seeming gap between the “ancient” teleological view of political life and at least the early “modern” view (embodied in the writings of Machiavelli and Montesquieu) is bridged by a common rejection of immutable first principles that would limit the statesman’s capacity to do what might be necessary to serve the regime.12 It would seem, therefore, that the only way for political philosophers to salvage political wheat from the chaff of St. Thomas’s effort to reconcile reason and revelation is to return to a more overtly “classical” view of politics, or perhaps to argue for a Christian view which more greatly minimizes the difficulties caused by the ‘Christianizing” of “classical” political philosophy by portraying the Christian view of politics as an interesting footnote to Greek classicism.13"
I think Hunt's main point is that one does not have to throw in completely with all the implications of ancient philosophy to avoid the pitfalls of modern relativism. The "immutable first principles" discussed here would seem to be rooted in imago dei and the inherent worth of the individual. My question is why any regime, whether ancient or modern, that would reject these principles is worth serving?