Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Robert P. Hunt on Leo Strauss III

In honor of Phil and Eli, here is one last excerpt from Robert P. Hunt's essay Christianity, Leo Strauss, and the Ancient/Modern Distinction:

"Strauss’s concern about the practical political dangers caused by (the Christian) adherence to immutable first principles of natural law arises precisely because Strauss (and, one could argue, many of those who adopt a Straussian reading of intellectual history) believes that “the guiding theme of political philosophy is the regime rather than the laws.” The fundamental questions of political life become “regime questions.” In his analysis of Plato’s Laws in What is Political Philosophy?, Strauss provides the following definition of “regime”:
Regime is the order, the form, which gives society its character.Regime is therefore a specific manner of life. Regime is the form of life as living together, the manner of living of society and in society, since this manner depends decisively on the predominance of human beings of a certain type, on the manifest domination of society by human beings of a certain type. Regime means that whole, which we today are in the habit of viewing primarily in a fragmentized form: regime means simultaneously the form of life of a society, its style of life its moral taste, form of society, form of state, form of government, spirit of laws. We may try to articulate the simple and unitary thought, that expresses itself in the term politeia, as follows: life is an activity which is directed towards such a goal as can be pursued only by society; but in order to pursue a specific goal, as its comprehensive goal, society must be organized, ordered, constructed, constituted in a manner which is in accordance with that goal; this, however, means that the authoritative human beings must be akin to that goal.14
In short, “classical political philosophy”—that form of political philosophy which Strauss most admires—“is guided by the question of the best regime.” And the best regime itself is, in principle, concerned with the comprehensive ordering of society consistent with its collective telos.15
To argue that Strauss wants merely to return to the classical model of politeia as the self-sufficient and comprehensive form of human association is to miss the point here. For example, Strauss would undoubtedly find the modern liberal regime’s commitment to religious liberty to be an improvement upon the classical view of society. Yet in his very adoption of the classical idea of “regime,” he seems to endorse at the political level what John Courtney Murray described as “a single, homogenous structure, within which the political power stood forth as the representative of society in its religious and in its political aspects.”16 Strauss’s very embrace of the question of what constitutes “the best regime” and his philosophical assumption of a conflict between reason and revelation cannot permit him—or anyone, for that matter, who commits himself to classical regime questions in the same manner as Strauss—to appreciate the extent to which a revelation—inspired worldview renders such classical regime questions largely irrelevant.
John Courtney Murray has cogently argued that Christianity has “freed man from nature by teaching him that he has an immortal soul, which is related to matter but not immersed in or enslaved to its laws. . . . It has taught him his uniqueness, his own individual worth, the dignity of his own person, the equality of all men, the unity of the human race.”17 For the committed Christian, this conception of man’s personal spiritual dignity does not sit atop the classical conception of man as a rational animal. Rather, it transforms that conception with the light of its radiance into something other than “Platonic,” “Aristotelian,” or “Kantian” Christianity. In freeing man from nature, it has rendered the most fundamental of classical regime questions largely irrelevant since no “regime” short of the Kingdom of God in its fullness can satisfy man’s thirst for heaven. In fact, the very effort to answer such a question (i.e. “What is the best regime?”) in anything resembling political terms (either “ancient” or “modern”) might be indicative of the fact that one has applied categories of political analysis more characteristic of a resident of the earthly city.
Strauss’s discomfort with any premature reconciliation of the possible truths made known through reason itself and the truths known through promulgation of the Divine Law forces him to “distinguish” political philosophy from political theology. “By political theology we understand political teachings which are based on divine revelation. Political philosophy is limited to what is accessible to the unassisted human mind.” Moreover, “political philosophy rests on the premise that the political association—one’s country or one’s nation—is the most comprehensive or the most authoritative association.” 18
Why one should base one’s political philosophy on any such premise Strauss does not answer fully, but it does provide insight into his distinction between “ancients” and “moderns.” Ancient political philosophers defined “the best regime” as one in which moral virtue was promoted and the hierarchy of natures within human nature itself was given its due; modern political philosophers lowered man’s sights and grounded “the best regime” in man’s passions, self-interest, and some conception of human equality. In other words, the fundamental shift in political philosophy for Strauss is a shift in what characterizes the best regime. For Strauss, to begin from the revelation-inspired premise that any effort to define the most comprehensive or authoritative association in political terms is itself impious is to be untrue to the goals of political philosophy, whether ancient or modern.
Christian political philosophers need not accept Strauss’s charge precisely because, unlike Strauss, they do not assume that reason and revelation are in conflict with each other. Rather, they begin from a contrary premise, laid out eloquently by Etienne Gilson:

If we admit, as we really should, that the miracles, the prophecies, the marvelous effects of the Christian religion sufficiently prove the truth of revealed religion, then we must admit that there can be no contradiction between faith and reason. . . . When a master instructs his disciple, his own knowledge must include whatever he would introduce into the soul of his disciple. Now our natural knowledge of principles comes from God, since He is author of our nature. These principles themselves are also contained in the wisdom of God. Whence it follows that whatever is contrary to these principles is contrary to the divine wisdom and, consequently, cannot come from God. There must necessarily be agreement between a reason coming from God and a revelation coming from God. Let us say, then, that faith teaches truths which seem contrary to reason; let us not say that it teaches propositions contrary to reason. . . . Let us rest assured that apparent incompatibility between faith and reason is similarly reconciled in the infinitewisdom of God.19
Gilson’s account of the reasonable basis for assuming a fundamental compatibility between faith and reason reflects the view of St. Thomas Aquinas, whose main point, as Gilson notes, was “not to safeguard the autonomy of philosophy as a purely rational knowledge; rather, it was to explain how natural philosophy can enter into theology without destroying its unity.”20 By seeing the Divine as “infinite wisdom,” St. Thomas—as well as those Christian philosophers who follow in his footsteps—renders such an explanation less problematic. By construing the Divine primarily as supreme lawgiver, Strauss actually seems to adopt a more voluntaristic view of revelation-inspired norms, thus making his desire to protect the autonomy of philosophy against the incursions of political theology more understandable. At the same time, however, it leads the careful reader to wonder precisely whata purely autonomous natural (as opposed to political) philosophy—as Strauss understands that term—can tell us about the nature of things.
The Christian philosopher begins with an assumption that the universe is intelligible, Strauss with the assumption that “philosophy is essentially not possession of the truth, but quest for the truth. The distinctive trait of the philosopher is that ‘he knows that he knows nothing,’ and that his insight into our ignorance concerning the most important things induces him to strive with all his power for knowledge.”21 Whether a purely autonomous natural philosophy can take us anywhere beyond the acknowledgement that there are important questions to be asked is a question that Strauss leaves unanswered."

There is, once again, a lot to unpack here.  Nonetheless, the part that jumped out to me was that "Christian" and "Non-Christian" philosophers come to what both would see as ageless questions with two different sets of assumptions.  The former assumes that the universe is intelligible and the latter that "he knows that he knows nothing."  The question, for our purposes, is which approach the founders took?  Unless I am missing something, I think almost all of them came to the table with the same assumptions as the former group.

63 comments:

Pinky said...

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I've been spending a lot of time on Strauss. Not just what Strauss wrote; but, what others have written about Strauss--both supportive and antagonistic.
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Hunt seems to want Strauss to be seen as subjective in his teachings. I don't think that is true from what I've read so far. I have admitted elsewhere that I haven't read a lot; but, it's been a careful reading.
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Strauss does reify there is an age old conflict between Athens and Jerusalem that continues still. I don't see him taking sides on that argument. Hunt seems to think otherwise. From what I've read, it looks to me as though Strauss had to have been an atheist. His support of religion was entirely as a way of keeping order in society. I think Strauss saw religion as the myth that keeps order in society. Here is that word again, exotericism.
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Do you think otherwise?
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Brian said...

In freeing man from nature, it has rendered the most fundamental of classical regime questions largely irrelevant since no “regime” short of the Kingdom of God in its fullness can satisfy man’s thirst for heaven.

As was just discussed in the comments of Hunt/Strauss part II, it is not Catholic Christianity, but Protestant Christianity, that renders these questions irrelevant.

To confound matters, the founders were usually anti-Catholic heirs of protestantism, trying to cobble Natural Law back into prominence.

Let me see... anti-catholic, check. Post-protestant unitarian/deist/other heresies, check. Non-atheist proponents of reason and (catholic?) Natural Law, check.

Well I am again reminded why I've been confused so often here.

Brian said...

Strauss does reify there is an age old conflict between Athens and Jerusalem that continues still. I don't see him taking sides on that argument. Hunt seems to think otherwise.

Here is a famous quote from NRH, where Strauss seems to imply that revelation is superior to reason. But he's just playing. Strauss was almost certainly an atheist.

If we take a bird's-eye view of the secular struggle between philosophy and theology, we can hardly avoid the impression that neither of the two antagonists has ever succeeded in really refuting the other. All arguments in favor of revelation seem to be valid only if belief in revelation is presupposed; and all arguments against revelation seem to be valid only if unbelief is presupposed. This state of things would appear to be but natural. Revelation is always so uncertain to unassisted reason that it can never compel the assent of unassisted reason, and man is so built that he can find his satisfaction, his bliss, in free investigation, in articulating the riddle of being. But, on the other hand, he yearns so much for a solution of that riddle and human knowledge is always so limited that the need for divine illumination cannot be denied and the possibility of revelation cannot be refuted. Now it is this state of things that seems to decide irrevocably against philosophy and in favor of revelation. Philosophy has to grant that revelation is possible. But to grant that revelation is possible means to grant that philosophy is perhaps not the one thing needful, that philosophy is perhaps something infinitely unimportant. To grant that revelation is possible means to grant that the philosophic life is not necessarily, not evidently, the right life. Philosophy, the life devoted to the quest for evident knowledge available to man as man, would itself rest on an unevident, arbitrary, or blind decision. This would merely confirm the thesis of faith, that there is no possibility of consistency, of a consistent and thoroughly sincere life, without belief in revelation. The mere fact that philosophy and revelation cannot refute each other would constitute the refutation of philosophy by revelation.

King of Ireland said...

Brian,

I do not personally think that regime questions are irrelevant and Hunt confuses me here as well. Aquinas certainly did not think regime questions irrelevant.

King of Ireland said...

As far as the long Strauss quote, natural law according to Romans 1 and 2 does not seem to oppose the use of reason. I am not sure why Strauss thinks that the two are mutually exclusive.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well I am again reminded why I've been confused so often here.

Gentlemen, we cannot overlook the unique characteristic that made the American Founding---Protestantism. No other religion has 34,000 sects!

Can you imagine 34,000 sects at each others' throats? Oy.

I'm a latecomer to the study of Protestantism, but I'm told by some Protestants that I have a decent handle on its history, better than most Protestants.

Hey, I have no skin in this game. "The regime," as Strauss puts it, and as it went down in Britain and America in the 1700s, requires a fulkuva lotta tolerance.

Me, I think the Americans, our Founders, done did pretty good. They even put up with the Roman Catholic Charles Carroll and let him sign the Declaration of Independence.

And EVERYBODY hated the papists!

Nobody in America hates anybody in 2010 more than the Protestants hated the Roman church in 1776. We gotta get back to that. IMO.

Brian said...

All I mean, Tom, is that if I'm going to "get it" I gotta learn how it came about that a bunch of Protestants rejected the typically Protestant fideism you've been highlighting lately. All the names and dates and isms get blurry pretty quick.

Brian said...

My problem is I've put my focus on Strauss-specific issues and glossed over the rest. I've got catch up to do is all.

Brian said...

Oh, and King, I've retired the "Eli" moniker.

King of Ireland said...

"All I mean, Tom, is that if I'm going to "get it" I gotta learn how it came about that a bunch of Protestants rejected the typically Protestant fideism you've been highlighting lately."

Very good question and it seems to me that they either did one of two things:

1. Applied faith alone to soteriological issues only

2. Like Jon states they started making the Bible say things it did not or at least became open to interpretations that were not that common in Protestantism



Of course you still had your people like Frazer today that thought politics and government was a distraction from saving lost souls.



I think what I have been trying to illustrate is that these Protestants were not coming up with anything new when the incorporated natural law and less literal interpretations on things like Romans 13 and Genesis being an allegory.

They were probably not influenced directly by the schoolmen who came before them but did come to many of the same conclusions when reason came off the taboo list.

My issue with our nation is we think that all this great political thought was part of, or descended from in the possible case of Locke if you call him an Enligtenment figure, some great Protestant invention and that the world before 1517 lived in slavery. That is simply not true.

The truth about Aragon and many other medevil republics based on the rights of the people to consent is a lost history in Protestant nations. That is why we think all this was Enlightenment thinking when it was not.

Pinky said...

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I don't see Hunt making any point about Strauss.
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Strauss makes a point of the conflict between reason and revelation.
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I am a tenth generation American and remember stories my grandparents told me about their youth including some pretty hairy stuff on Catholics. Some of my ancestors were Mennonite.

The Founders lived in pretty simple times compared to how sophisticated things have come to be now. The idea of the Wizard of Oz hiding behind the curtains in Emerald City probably wouldn't have gone over very well back in 1776.
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There are powerful forces that seek to control world destiny just the same as there were powerful forces in 1776. The difference is that those forces are hidden today and they were out in the open then. The Catholic Church and the English monarchy were the two most visible forces.
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According to Strauss, those forces--in order to be successful--would support the idea that redemption is not of this world; but, salvation comes in the after life. That comes to humanity through the process of revelation.
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Pinky said...

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According to what Strauss taught in his lecture on political history, this guy had a lot to say about the Founding in just the same way he had a lot to say about what's going on in society today.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

I happen to agree with Pinky's Strauss-the-man. But even his friends like George Anastapolo are uncertain about his personal religion. Like Washington, Strauss, in my view wasn't certain enough of his own religious doubts to destroy the faith of others.

Who knows? And in the end, it doesn't matter.

If Strauss, a Jewish refugee from Hitler's Germany, found it fit to not destroy the Christian ethos---regime---of the nation that gave him safe harbor, that would actually be my argument.

"Society" must be kept safe from "philosophy." Confused as they might be about cosmic truth, the US continues to be the world's safest haven for any religious dissenter.

One would be an ingrate to undermine one's safe haven for him and his family. Ingratitude is ungracious, ignoble, dishonorable, stupid and self-destructive. Eh?

Pinky said...

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The reason Strauss did not find "...it fit to not destroy the Christian ethos--regime..." was far more about myths keeping order in society than anything else. Tell the masses what they need to know to keep them in line--exotericism. Keep them thinking that there will be a future judgment in the after life.

I think he would now say we are entering into a period of nihilism. And that these wars are destroying civilization--war is movement--unrest--destruction--barbarism. This is deja vu all over again. When will some Jean-Jacques_Rousseau appear on the scene? Pretty soon.
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Here is where you find neo-conservatism doing its dirty work ...
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Pinky said...

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Here you see it:
Regime is the order, the form, which gives society its character.
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To expose Christianity as a myth would be to break the regime that is our society.
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Problem is that war takes away our "Greekness"--our "Americaness" and it is turning us into barbarians. Our regime is broken.
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Do I misunderstand Strauss?
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Jonathan Rowe said...

The way I understand Strauss' religion is that he was a fervent atheist hiding in a philosopher's closet.

I've heard stories that he believed all "real" philosophers were atheists, even if they exoterically claimed to believe in God. That's why Strauss and company endorse the esoteric atheist Locke. Locke was a "real philosopher."

Pinky said...

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I see Jonathon agrees with my understanding of the differences between exoteric and esoteric ways.
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One thing: in Strauss's own words, he was not a philosopher; but, a scholar. In my view, he was a good one at that.
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Brian said...

Do I misunderstand Strauss?

Pinky, you see in Strauss exactly what I see (and what Shadia Drury sees). There is certainly a sinister quality about it. But it is not as if Strauss himself is making up myths for the sake of controlling people. I think he's just calling reality as he sees it.

We gotta believe something. We need a worldview, and we need to believe there's some point in life. If it turns out there ain't nuthin out there, no good can come of broadcasting the news to the world. (But the cat is already out of the bag!) In this, I agree with him whole-heartedly, and yet it puts those who no longer believe, yet understand the value of faith, in the dilemma of having to dishonestly go along with the myths.

Pinky said...

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I think you are dead on target, Brian. Strauss isn't calling for anything but peace and quiet--if that is possible. But, Straussians? That's another case--philosophers who think they know best.
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This period in which we find ourselves today is the nihilism that Strauss warns against. And, it is the result of modernity's liberalism that allows for the education of the underclasses. Once people lose their beliefs, they have no further reason to go along with the traditional myth that kept society at rest.
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That's what happened in Germany and what gave rise to the Nazi regime.
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The neo-conservatives have completed their dirty work. Now comes the payoff.
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It doesn't look good.
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Pinky said...

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Of course history repeats itself and it is especially so when the people don't know their history.
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American's do not--as a general rule--know history; but, they have been caught up in the exoteric teaching that had kept us in line.
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TVD wrote, "Society" must be kept safe from "philosophy." Confused as they might be about cosmic truth, the US continues to be the world's safest haven for any religious dissenter.. And, that expresses the problem of liberalism. It allows for cultures to come into confrontation and that leads to the loosening of strict controls over what is "truth" and what is not "truth". Other than that, conservatism would champion our "truth" and nothing would be able to undermine our restful time. "Allowing foreign regimes in past our borders is a result of the panty-waisted liberalism. We need real men to stand up for our conservative values. What has happened to manliness here in America?"
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Fear? Fear of facing something other than the traditions of the regime? Is our American regime so frail? I hate to accept that.
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Brian said...

But, Straussians? That's another case--philosophers who think they know best.

I'm not entirely sure about Straussians because they're so hard to understand, and because they can't be lumped into any neat category. But neo-cons for sure are just politicians and intellectuals doing what their types always do. There's a somewhat tenuous connection between neocons and Strauss, but they'd be what they are even without him. Have not some Christians tarnished the name of Christianity by their acts? Is not some science used for evil? So it is with Strauss and his "gentleman" hangers-on. I won't blame him for it.

Pinky said...

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There's a somewhat tenuous connection between neocons and Strauss, but they'd be what they are even without him.
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Right! It is a tenuous connection. Two different sets of Straussians; one studies Strauss, the other (neo-cons) goes off on a tangent once they see human nature being laid bare (in their minds anyway). I think the reason they'd be the same is that they don't understand the more complete story of history. "Eternal Vigilance" gets a deeper perspective in retrospect.
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Have not some Christians tarnished the name of Christianity by their acts? Is not some science used for evil?
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The wars turn us all into barbarians. We have lost our Americanness.
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jimmiraybob said...

Pinky - That's what happened in Germany and what gave rise to the Nazi regime.

Are you saying - or was Strauss saying - that Nazi Germany lost it's unifying Christian belief system? It seems to me that there was a strong Christian faith presense during that period.

Martin Luther was scathing with respect to the Jews and there was an strong anti semitic mood in germany prior to Hitler and the Nazis. To read some of his later work is like looking at a road map for the holocaust. And, the Nazi regime often used religious language in general in order to mitigate church interference/resistance.

It seems to me that the successful rise of Hitler was more to do with the apparent attempt to solve secular, crippling economic concerns that were outside of the pervue of religion, especially employment. Not to mention the Nazi emphasis on homeland and racial identity and its mobilization of national pride in the shadow of WWI defeat.

His persecution of intellectuals, homosexuals, gypsies and the jews were apparently consistent with and popular among some religious tenents/religionists in an effort to rid society of immoral influences.

I'm fully aware that there were also Catholics and Protestants that actively or passively worked against the regime, but they represented an underground and largely non-unified resistance.

Rather than organized Christianity providing a clear clarion call to resist it was the consciencious objection and courage of individual actors, employing their faith beliefs, that resisted. At the same time there was resistance by people representing a wide spectrum of non-Christian religious piety and motivation (don't tell me there weren't agnostics and atheists - infidels - resisting as well as jews, etc.) but with a near singular moral conviction.

It was more a shared moral conviction, shared among individuals and informed by a multitude of faith options, that ultimately provided a moral correction from fascist German atrocities. So, contrary to the necessity of a shared myth providing for the safety and security of society, I would differ and cite a shared moral perspective that is found in all societies large and small that can be mobilized by religious or superstitious myth).

Look at slavery as one modern example of a shared, secular moral perception trumping Abrahamic Scripture.

Pinky said...

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It's my opinion that the points you bring up, JRB, are pertinent to the American Creation as a representation of the historical implications involved.

I don't think it was so much so that that Nazi Germany lost it's unifying Christian belief system as it was that system was being challenged by other regimes. And, that said challenge was causing a nihilism that threatened the very existence of Germany's long time held traditions.
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I think Strauss is a very complex thinker, i.e., he thought in complex terms. He goes back and resurrects Thucydides showing that the Germans were in fear of losing their identity as Germans. He blames that on modernity and its liberalism that allows the wolf (so to speak) into the door.
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Something similar is taking place here in America at the present time. Strauss warns us against that and claims that exotericism is the answer. Everyone should be taught the myth that keeps us at rest.
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I don't think we've given Strauss enough credit regarding the way history unfolds. It seems to me that he would take a different approach at discussing American Creation than what seems to be the main stream current.
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But, that's going to take some unwinding. I think it is worthy of us to let this area get unpacked.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

One thing about the exoteric Strauss---he doesn't further or cheerlead for the Christian ethos "myth." He simply refuses to destroy it. That isn't lying.

Esoterically, he expresses his reservations in the footnotes for those who care enough to look for them.

As for non-religiosity in Germany, it was also responsible for the Nazism itself. That door swings both ways.

For the problem of the Christian Church's weakness in opposing Hitler, see Dietrich Bonhoeffer and "the Confessing Church," a fascinating story.

As for the neo-cons, they are an unneeded complication here. As ex-leftists, they owed as much to Trotsky as Strauss.

Pinky said...

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When it came to cheerleading a regime, I think Strauss's main message was, "Whatever floats your boat."
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That puts it in the vulgar. heh heh
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Tom Van Dyke said...

True dat. If a society makes it safe for philosophy, it works for Strauss, whose foremost concern, the highest thing, is philosophy.

Brian said...

One thing about the exoteric Strauss---he doesn't further or cheerlead for the Christian ethos "myth." He simply refuses to destroy it. That isn't lying.

That's a somewhat fine distinction. Implicit in all of this is the idea that a myth is necessary and good. Strauss, and all wise philosophers, are in a dilemma through no fault of their own, but simply through their awareness of reality.

Non-philosophers cannot conceive that what is good is not true, and if they should ever find out what the philosopher thinks, after believing the philosopher to be a friend or mentor or authority, there is going to be some hurt feelings and distrust -- the kinds of reactions one has to being lied to. Again, not at all Strauss's fault, but an unavoidable result of his view of reality -- which, after all, may be more or less correct.

For the problem of the Christian Church's weakness in opposing Hitler, see Dietrich Bonhoeffer and "the Confessing Church," a fascinating story.

Also see Milton Mayer's "They Thought They Were Free". If you ask me, a literal Romans 13 is tolerable sometimes, noxious others, and occasionally disasterous. How to judge the difference, unless you are eternally hostile to government? But a defiant attitude almost always comes packages with its own problems.

Pinky said...

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I see the word, government, being used here.
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I wonder what that word means in light of any discussion that centers on philosophy.
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Does it refer to what ever is issuing the rules,eg., the church? Could it mean the media? Does it mean We the People? Or does it mean that wizard behind the curtain?
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Brian said...

As for the neo-cons, they are an unneeded complication here. As ex-leftists, they owed as much to Trotsky as Strauss.

Right on. I brought them up only to dismiss them.

Pinky said...

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I don't see how the neo-cons can be dismissed.
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Maybe you could explain that one?
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Probably not.
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Brian said...

Well, the informal rule on the board is to stay clear of current politics as much as possible.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Interesting, Brian. From the internet:

"In his book, They Thought They Were Free, Milton Mayer interviewed Germans who discussed how their society changed right before their eyes, and how, despite Hitler's rhetoric, God was nowhere to be found. As one interviewee put it:

"The world you live in -- "your nation, your people" -- is not the world you were in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way."

TVD: The institutional German church decided to stay out of politics, so that the church and its primary job of saving souls could continue unmolested.

Brian said...

TVD: The institutional German church decided to stay out of politics, so that the church and its primary job of saving souls could continue unmolested.

But, to be fair, the transformation happened right out in the open, in front of everyone, not just the church, and a whole lotta people never caught on. More like they were dragged along. I'm not going to call it a conspiracy, but according to Mayer the way it unfolded, it almost seemed designed to put everyone to sleep. So, even if the church had been politically involved in some meaningful way -- assuming it wasn't, I don't know enough -- it's likely it would have enabled the state rather than hindered it.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'm working from memory here, Brian, but I believe it was the fideist Karl Barth hisself who kept the church out of the line of political fire, Bonhoeffer who returned from America to Germany to put himself in it.

The irony here is that whether the church stays in or out of the prevailing politics, it gets a paddling regardless.

But I agree, there is the added dimension of the "putting everyone to sleep." I have thought of Europe for quite awhile now that its inheritors are like tenants, looking and living among "the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays," but in a world they never made. One that they neither sweated nor suffered nor died for.

One feels different about a rental house or a hotel room than about one's home.

jimmiraybob said...

TVD: The institutional German church decided to stay out of politics, so that the church and its primary job of saving souls could continue unmolested.

I'm afraid that this is not absolutely true. There were other motivations at work including anti-semetism, nationalism, anti-communism that lead in some cases to outright aiding and abetting the Nazis by parts of the Church (including after the war).

A book that is on my "to read" list is, The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930-1965 (2001) by Michael Phayer. One reason that it's on my list is that it has been most often reviewed as fair but frank. I don't want to waste time with obvious tirades such as Hitler's Pope, etc., - too little time and too much to read already.

I'm not just picking on the RCC but I don't know much about the state of the Protestant Church. It was a messy time.

To smooth over inaction though, in favor of insisting that non-involvement was to focus on saving souls is tantamount to continuing the silence that led to the ultmate crisis with no turning back.

"And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose.

Tom Van Dyke said...

To smooth over inaction though, in favor of insisting that non-involvement was to focus on saving souls is tantamount to continuing the silence that led to the ultmate crisis with no turning back.

JRB, I did not write that approvingly. It was in reference to a recent discussion of fideism. At the Founding, there were a significant minority of very religious people who cared not for politics but only the saving of souls.

However, there is an irony in that most folks today who castigate the German church's inaction seem to be those who militate for a separation of church and state in America, that religion should shut the hell up.

As for the Roman church, it was a minority sect in Germany; the study of the Confessing Church is far more interesting and probative, in my view.

As for Phayer's book, Catholic scholars consider it in the same attacking mode against Pope Pius as "Hitler's Pope."

In their view, the facts are on Pius' side. A rebuttal is here:

http://www.catholicleague.org/research/whywepublishedpiuswar.htm

Pinky said...

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Yup, this site is dedicated to the American Creation and not to what came to the downfall of Nazi Germany. Modernity had brought Germany to the place where heavy influences were coming from Moscow and from Washington, D.C.. Germany was being pulled in two directions.
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My thinking on what Strauss has to say about Nazi Germany and how that comes over to America has to do with how he dealt with liberalism. His claim was that liberalism brought nihilism to Germany and THAT is what destroyed their spiritual connections. Germans were losing the force exoteric teachings had had on them. They were losing their faith.
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His focus on how liberalism influenced the Germans was on the time before World War I--not WW-II; but, WW-I.
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When America was being founded the movement that brought it on was out of modernity even though there was a distinct influence on the people from Christianity. I think we can see that and agree on the facts involved.
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Did the Founders expect that their liberal ideas would take us as far as we have come toward shooting ourselves in the foot?
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Pinky said...

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ERATA
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This line: "... and not to what came to the downfall of Nazi Germany."

Should have read: "...and not to what came to BE the downfall of Nazi Germany.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The question is whether Euro-style "modern" liberalism is the same as the "classical liberalism" of the Founders [and the British as well, although their courses diverge].

But thx for the refocus, Pinky.

I will add here that I wonder if German "rationalism," the term for 19th century Biblical criticism that have much in common with, say, Jefferson's, resulted in a backlash, the "fideism" of the early 20th century in Germany.

Karl Barth in particular led the way, his fideism very close to what we call today "evangelicalism" in America: far more hostile to reason, indeed Barth was hostile to Thomism and "natural theology." Back to "faith alone saves," and more Lutheran than Luther.

It's an area that I haven't done a lot of work on, but have always thought there may be something there. Comment and corrections invited.

jimmiraybob said...

TVD,

I'll look at - and copy/paste into my "to read" list - the article that you cite. As I said I've placed so much on the list I don't want to waste time and these days have a tendancy to want to know what I'm getting into.

As to the appropriateness of breaking away from the founding into the "future," I think that there are direct implications for America's founding ideolological principles in later history and our sense of nationhood (after all we did take our principles on the road to Europe).

I see it as bearing on Straus' thesis that was being discussed.

Anyway, I don't want to belabor the point.

jimmiraybob said...

TVD,

I read the Catholic League article. While it doesn't call out any specifics regarding Phayer's book it does give some resources rebutting accusations against the RCC and the Pope's role. I'll keep Phayer and the CL resources on the list.

Tom Van Dyke said...

That's all I ask, JRB, look at the evidence, decide for yourself. I'm not up on the controversy and am not particularly interested in defending against anti-Catholic agendae. I was aware that Pius' defenders claim they debunked the charges.

I did notice the article claim that

John Cornwell recently stated that he now finds it "impossible to judge" Pius XII, in light of "the debates and evidence" that followed publication of his now-discredited Hitler's Pope.

But I have no doubt that many, perhaps the pope himself, had feet of clay. But Rabbi Dalin did call Pius a "Righteous Gentile."

As for Strauss, I admit elsewhere that we are indeed Straussians in our approach: as Hogeland put it, that we parse the texts "to death." But this is not a bad thing in my view---I don't even think historians have read them all that carefully yet. Like amateur astronomers, we can contribute to the greater study.

As to the appropriateness of breaking away from the founding into the "future," I think that there are direct implications for America's founding ideolological principles in later history and our sense of nationhood (after all we did take our principles on the road to Europe).

Yes, I agree we do a nice balancing act around here, preferring light to heat. The heat comes pretty quick if you're not careful.

King of Ireland said...

If you ask me, a literal Romans 13 is tolerable sometimes, noxious others, and occasionally disasterous. How to judge the difference, unless you are eternally hostile to government? But a defiant attitude almost always comes packages with its own problems."


Centuries of Christian thought on proper ways to resist tyranny deal with all this. It seems the main goal was to achieve a balanced system that neither promoted tyranny or anarchy.

I think we see the roots of this in the DOI when Jefferson lists the abuses of the king and says that government should not be changed for light and transient reasons.

A little discussed topic is how this more conservative view seen when he had work with others and the Congress for consensus seems to contradict his more personal thoughts about a revolution being good every 20 years or so.

King of Ireland said...

"Well, the informal rule on the board is to stay clear of current politics as much as possible."

As the author of this post I say lets wave that rule for this post in that at times the historical discussion gains clarity when the present is considered. That is if anyone is still commenting.

I would say this should be the exception and not the rule IMO.

King of Ireland said...

"The question is whether Euro-style "modern" liberalism is the same as the "classical liberalism" of the Founders"

This is the ultimate question and is at the center of my interest in this topic. I was also the question at the center of my post on Fukuyama.

King of Ireland said...

"Yes, I agree we do a nice balancing act around here, preferring light to heat. The heat comes pretty quick if you're not careful."

I think we do a good job too. I have seen more light than heat.

Pinky said...

From Strauss in his lecture, An Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism:

"Existentialism belongs to the decline of Europe.
"...
"...
"The First World War shook Europe to its foundations. Men lost their sense of direction . The faith in progress decayed. The only people who kept that faith in its original vigor were the communists. But precisely this showed to the non-communist the delusion of progress. Spengler's Decline of the West seemed to be much more credible. But one had to be inhuman to leave it at Spengler's prognosis. Is there no hope for Europe? And therewith for mankind? It was in the spirit of such hope that Heidegger perversely welcomed 1933. He became disappointed and withdrew. What did the failure of the Nazis teach him? Nietzsche's hope of a united Europe ruling the planet, of a Europe not only united b ut revitalized by this new, transcendent responsibility of planetary rule, had proved to be a delusion. A world society controlled either by Washington or Moscow appeared to be approaching. For Heidegger it did not make any difference whether Washington or Moscow would be the center. America and Soviet Russia are metaphysically the same. What a decisive for him is that this world society is to him worse than a nightmare. He called it the 'night of the world.' It means indeed as Marx had predicted, the victory of an ever more completely urbanized, ever more completely technological West over the whole planet--complete leveling and uniformity regardless of whether it is brought about by iron compulsion or by soapy advertisement of the output of mass production. It means unity of the human race on the lowest level, complete emptiness of life, self perpetuating doctrine without rhyme or reason; no leisure, no concentration, no elevation, no withdrawal; nothing but work and recreation; no individuals and no people, but instead 'lonely crowds.'"
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Pinky said...

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Sound familiar?
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jimmiraybob said...

Side note

Comments have made it through moderation at William Hogeland's place.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thx, JRB. Hogeland was on C-Span today. Exc stuff.
____________

Pinky, I believe Strauss calls it the joyless quest for joy."

King of Ireland said...

Pinky,

It does not have to be that way.

Pinky said...

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What doesn't have to be what way?
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Pinky said...

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And, who was it, Tom, called it the "sickness unto death"? Sarte?
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King of Ireland said...

"What doesn't have to be what way?'


A rudderless meaningless life. But this is not the site for that discussion.

What is relevant to here is the seeming hopelessness of the society that forsakes the idea of God. Strauss, if he was an atheist, must have been miserable. At least Marx and others had some hope for a future better world on earth.

With that said, many religions that focus on the nether world to the exclusion of this world do that same thing in the other direction. They live miserably and with no purpose for the here and now waiting to die.

Anyway this has been a good discussion.

Pinky said...

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Of course you see that what Strauss is saying is that the German nation was in a "rudderless" and "meaningless" condition.

Heidegger was just then beginning to explicate existentialism. Strauss is saying that this is what laid the groundwork that eventually brought the National Socialists (Nazis) to power.
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Strauss puts existentialism on the shoulders of liberal democracy which was coming out of Washington, D.C., as far as the Germans were involved. So, he's laying the responsibility at the feet of academia as it was in central Europe.
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Pinky said...

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So, all in all, Strauss lays the source of America's Founding in modernity as it drew out the ideals of the Christian traditions that set the form for the colonial regime. It was the direct result of liberalism which brought about democracy which, in turn, evolved into liberal democracy in the late nineteenth century America after the Civil War.
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According to Strauss, it looks like the people are losing the conviction in their mind as a result of liberalism, KOI, and the security of our liberties is going down the tubes. We're slipping into a state where work and recreation are the only things--a joyless quest for joy. Right, Tom?
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T.J. seems to have been correct.
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Ya think?
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So, is a national socialism the answer?
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Tom Van Dyke said...

We're slipping into a state where work and recreation are the only things--a joyless quest for joy. Right, Tom?

That is the criticism of modernity. Bourgeois materialism? No philosophy [Strauss' biggest concern]. No God, no telos [the Pope's, along the same lines]. No reason for being, except creating a reason [existentialism], making man the measure of all things?

What's so great about man? Where is the reason for "creating" arbitrary, subjective reasons for being in the first place? Who needs reasons? Why not just be hedonistic, if it feels good, do it?

Who needs liberty, if the state provides for all our material needs and pleasures? Give us bread, circuses. As Spinal Tap's late drummer Mick Shrimpton put it, "As long as there's, you know, sex and drugs, I can do without the rock and roll."

Pinky said...

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But, that's where reason come in, Tom.
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And leaders give out with the Noble Lie so that order is established.
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Half a dozen of one thing and six of the other.
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The problem is that--sooner or later--the ones who keep the herd in line will get carried away with the myth and will come to believe it themselves. Or, at least, they will see that it is the way to actually gain the power necessary to rule the world. That's what Hitler did. And, I think it is the road that the neocons were on; but, they didn't consider our Constitution that only gives them eight years to do their dirty work.

Some of us even believe that our top leaders are true believers.
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Ground Hog Day with Bill Murray doing the weather...
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Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah

Tom Van Dyke said...

I didn't get into the noble lie thing, but what's missing is that people actually believe it, that there is a God and our rights come from him.

Now you might be above all that superstition, and some leaders might cynically exploit it, but that does not make it a lie.

Pinky said...

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What was great about our Founding Fathers was that they were a DISINTERESTED lot and truly cared about We the People more than they cared about themselves.
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Pinky said...

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But, today, Ayn Rand has come to be the philosopher of the far right.
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Too bad there are so few of us who can live up to the quality our Founding Fathers presented to us.
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Too damned bad!!
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Tom Van Dyke said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/After_Virtue