Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Response to Charles Butterworth 2

                                

     Here are some striking further questions and challenges  from Charles Butterworth on the post Shadings – They consider me a ‘Nazi’ here” – Leo Strauss, December 3, 1933, here,   sent before he saw my last response here

       "Dear Alan, In a word, I think you have now let your preconceptions about Leo
Strauss outrun your evidence. It is, admittedly, difficult to pin him down.  But that is all the more reason to be utterly precise when trying to define this man. Here are two objections and a final general query. 1.  What possible evidence do you have to justify saying that "Leo
Strauss greatly admired Weber and studied him with some care (he was a third generation in Weber's lineage: Carl Schmitt was Weber’s student and Strauss's mentor)?" a.  Chapter Two of Natural Right and History is a masterful
critical analysis and then refutation of Weber's sociological enterprise, especially of the fact-value distinction.  Strauss, like many others, admired Weber's scholarship and recognized his great stature.  But, as he noted in that conversation with Rosenzweig, Heidegger's analytical skills made Weber look like an orphan-child. b.  What prompts the assertion that Schmitt was Strauss's mentor?  Strauss wrote a very critical review of Schimitt's book, Der Begriff des Politischen.  In the review, he pointed to the way Hobbes might clarify what lay behind Schmitt's analysis.  Schmitt was intelligent enough to discern how well Strauss had grasped his argument as well as its flaws and gracious enough to recommend Strauss for a Rockefeller fellowship to France.  (That this was also a convenient way
to get an otherwise potentially troublesome Jew out of Germany was merely icing on the cake.) 2.  Here, too, what is your evidence for claiming that Strauss's “views were much more tolerant of anti-semitism than Weber’s?” a.  Strauss never denied his Jewishness and belittled Jews.  To the contrary, his autobiographical statement shows how involved he was in figuring out a solution to “the Jewish question” that would not destroy Jewishness. b.  He was, by his own admission, not observant.  But that is not a criterion for not being anti-Semitic, is it? c.  Strauss’s political Zionism was his answer to how Jews
could withstand the National-Socialist onslaught without sacrificing their self-respect and without crawling on bended knee to beg for Christian decency.

3.  Are you aware of whom Weber is quoting at the end of the antepenultimate paragraph of the Protestant Ethic?  Repeatedly, I have asked Nietzsche scholars to show me where this phrase occurs in Nietzsche's oeuvre:  “Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this
nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved.” To date, no one has been able to locate it.  Could it be a bad recollection by this otherwise meticulous scholar, even perhaps a witty pastiche to prove a point?  I do look forward to your responses to nos. 1 and 2, but would also be grateful for a reference for no. 3.  Best wishes, Charles"

Dear Charles,

      Strauss says he admires Weber beyond all others before he listened, urged by Klein, to Heidegger.  That makes sense to me.  He is very critical of many thoughts of Weber – I agree with his surface argument about value-freedom against Weber, though I am struck that he applies it so badly in the case of Brown v. Board of Education  - the Clarks, the psychologists cited in the Supreme Court decision were a) not value free (so he is wrong for indicting them as value free if he read them)  and b) were right on the issue of racism, and Strauss in his support for James Kilpatrick, a leading segregationist, was dead wrong and – in politics -  ugly – see here).  But he follows Weber in interpreting great power rivalry as the main point (Schmitt does also).

      Schmitt was Weber’s student (Weber had died in 1920 roughly at the beginning of Strauss’s academic career, and they had not met).   Schmitt  wrote a long piece about Roman Catholicism and its public impact as opposed to uniform, empty, spiritless, corrupting Protestantism  to challenge Weber’s Protestant Ethic morally.  Given the Nietzschean confusion about morals – that murdering a million people so that the Uebermensch may flourish, or that exploitation is nature, is just some form of morals,  an equivalent to valuing every human life - they all occasionally take practical moral stands without being quite aware when or that their stands are moral.  Protestantism is oppressive and constricting for humans, Schmitt wishes to suggest; Catholicism is better.   The confusion: they also vehemently take stands that are close to sheer evil, notably Schmitt. (Schmitt was an eccentric Catholic who disparaged Nietzsche; his stands are analogous on the last men - the influence of Satan - to Nietzschean ones, however).  In proclaiming what is evil as a form of morality, Nietzscheanism is about ethics self-refuting, or to look at it another way, Nietzsche reduces all morals to a will to power, whereas his justified will to power, that of the Uebermensch, is itself perhaps moral and would need a straightforward moral argument to sustain it.  But such a justification  could never be sanely attempted at the expense of slaughtering millions – hence the motives for metaethical reductionism and relativism. 

         I invoked this interconnnection between the three thinkers  in perhaps too vivid a way, metaphorically, to indicate that Strauss put a lot of effort and admiration into Weber  - among other reasons, as a fellow Nietzschean, as someone who didn’t attack Jews, etc - and then encountered Heidegger, and  became critical of Weber.  He disagreed with his Doktorvater Cassirer and moved, as the famous “Remarks” indicate, into a close and searching relationship with Schmitt (one which he praises to the skies and I think without irony).  I think this has some relationship to a spiritual lineage (Weber wanted to see German faces a thousand years hence, and both the others might have agreed with that) even though the differences are clear enough.  It is something a lot stronger on my view, has more passion in it, than a merely academic lineage.  If one reads Strauss’s late lecture Why we remain Jews, he intentionally sounds like a Weberian, looking at religion from the standpoint of sociology, as a scientist (this is a vehicle for speaking as an atheist which is not simply exoteric)…Across serious criticisms and differences, he retains central points of contact with Weber – again great power rivalry.  Interestingly, Strauss is far closer to Schmitt and Weber on this point, than either is to the more poetic and somewhat less practical Heidegger. The connection with Schmitt was far closer than with Weber and of course, once again, Strauss was to the Right of Schmitt. That is, Strauss  was not simply recommending Hobbes as your phrasing here seems to suggest; he was correcting Schmitt's error about Hobbes for whom the struggle to the death, among peoples, was not pure enough, who founded the detested liberalism and suggesting that Schmitt's anti-liberalism did not go far enough, did not cause the horizon of liberalism to vanish...

       I also reverse the question: on what basis do you suggest that Schmitt saw Strauss, then or ever, as “a troublesome Jew”?  He helped him get to France – which Strauss wanted, and was persistently and profoundly interested in Strauss’s interpretation of Spinoza.  Schmitt mostly makes this into the Jew Spinoza who creates the Satanism of the modern world, whereas Strauss, admirably in this regard, blames the last men on Machiavelli; in this respect, Strauss resembles what I admire in Weber, but Weber liked the Jews as a warrior people and did not buy in to Nietzsche’s hostility to democracy or even the poor.

         On your second question, in the original essay, I emphasize Strauss’s statement in his 1932 Religioese Lage der Gegenwart [Religious Situation of the Present] that

“The end of this struggle is the complete rejection of tradition neither merely of its answers, nor merely of its questions, but of its possibilities: the pillars on which our tradition rested; prophets and Socrates/Plato have been torn down since Nietzsche.  Nietzsche’s partisanship for the kings and against the prophets, for the sophists and against Socrates – Jesus neither merely no God, nor a swindler, nor a genius, but an idiot.  Rejected are the theorein and “Good-Evil” – Nietzsche, as the last enlightener.”

     “Through Nietzsche, tradition has been shaken at its roots.  It has completely lost its self-evident truth.  We are left in this world without any authority, without any direction.” (GS 2:389; trans. Michael Zank; h/t William Altman).”

Strauss continues insistently: “and even so, the Bible: we can no longer assume that the Prophets are right; we must earnestly ask whether the kings are not right.” 

Strauss went the whole way with what he took to be Niezsche.  Nietzsche mocked  gutter Antisemiterei but his own view about the slave revolt in morals lends itself easily to fascism (he is not wrongly regarded as the father of European fascism) and even to Nazism.  It is after all the Jews and the prophets, which played out as secular culture lead to the last men.  Strauss says this fiercely in 1932.  No statement of the kind appears in Weber, and Weber is only Nietzschean with regard to the ghosts of Protestant vocation and the emptiness in which they conclude (he, too, looks to a national revival – Valhalla – but not one which will extinguish a secular culture seen as Jewish).  As I emphasize in the essay here, Weber is far better than Strauss and Nietzsche on this point.

      Now Strauss, as you rightly say, was for Jews standing up and in the subtle relationship between Strauss and Schmitt over Spinoza, Strauss plainly and admirably stands for Machiavelli at the origins of the modern world (a view again qualified by his admiration for Machiavelli as nearest to Plato on legislation and the notion that a wise man needs a tyrant).   I didn’t emphasize this aspect of Strauss’s political zionism in the essay and I am happy to affirm it now.  But it doesn’t alter the basic point about Strauss’s hostility to the prophets and his fantastic connection of that - really the movement for justice for ordinary people everywhere for which Strauss has zero sympathy or even recognition - to modern decadence.

       On point 3, I said that Weber’s beautiful remark was Nietzschean in spirit.  I meant: it was different, creative and as gaudy a Niezschean thought as the last men.  I like it better than Nietzsche because it is plainly eudaimonist (as I emphasize in Democratic Individuality), that is sensualists without heart are corrupt, defile the decent reasons for relationship, as are specialists without spirit, those of routine. Weber here prefigures Arendt’s phrase about the banality of evil; there is here a kind of Nietzsche-Weber-Heidegger – “falling” into the “one” – Arendt lineage of insight, all stemming from Nietzsche’s tale of the last men.   The reason one thinks of the last men is because of the idea of “this nullity,” and its hubris: and this imagines itself the greatest thing that civilization has accomplished.  Consider the punditocracy in mainstream American  newspapers about for example whether Palestinians are human beings and Weber’s thought may emerge with some force.  It is Weber’s own, one of his best thoughts, and the words are not  in Nietzsche that I know of.

      Amusingly, Tracy Strong has an independent recollection of your possibility; his note to me: “the quote you have from Weber I am convinced I found once not quite word for word in the two volume of Nietzsche's Nachlass called Die Entschuld des Werdens (Kroner Verlag) and was so excited that I did not take it down -- and have never found it again... go figure.”

    Un otro fuerte abrazo,

    Alan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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